I’ll be honest. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of walking poles. I have been open to the idea that they would be useful for mountaineers, perhaps, but I’ve always wondered why the “average walker” would bother. I mean, they are just an extra thing to carry, get in the way, and mean you haven’t got your hands free for snacks…
West Highland Way. And poles.
But when I was planning my West Highland Way hike and looked into the benefits of poles versus no poles, I realised I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t have them. I guess a long-distance hike taking me nearly 100 miles through the Scottish landscape wasn’t really an average walk. All my research suggested that my knees and hips would thank me if I gave into the benefits of poles, especially considering I was carrying a (probably too heavy) pack. The experts say that poles help your posture when you walk, which in turn helps prevent aches and pains, and helps you keep your footing when on uneven or steep ground. I’m also told that poles can mean you walk quicker, which means you can do more miles in a day (or get to your designated camp earlier); you can maintain pace because you are not worrying about what’s going on under your feet as much.
As you’ll know from my post about what I took on the hike, I did a lot of research on every bit of kit I bought for the West Highland Way. I actually spend a load of time reading articles and watching videos before I buy anything – I don’t have the money to waste on “hopefully it’ll be okay”, and so always have to make sure I’m getting the right ratio of specification versus value.
Muddy boots, wet trousers, and walking poles on the Harvest Hobble.
I don’t think I would have considered the OEX walking poles if it wasn’t for the helpful chap in Go Outdoors in Lincoln. There was so much choice online, and all the articles I read pointed towards the well known Black Diamond or Leki brands. We were in store getting a few ancillary items for a camping trip and I wandered over to see what the range was like. The biggest problem with the big brands was that a pair of poles would have cost me more than my tent, which seemed a little ridiculous when I thought about it.
As part of our conversation, the store assistant opened up a pack of the OEX X-Lite Trigger Carbon Trekking Poles for me to try out, saying something like, “I know these are technically own-brand so you’ll think I have to say this, but I would genuinely buy these over any of the others you’re looking at as they have all the spec for half the price.” I felt a bit of wally wandering around the store trying the poles out, and as I’ve never walked with them I didn’t really know if what I was holding was good or not, so I made it look like I knew what I was doing for a bit, thanked the guy for his time and advice, and left the store with only the things we’d gone in for.
Happy with my walking poles!
I mulled it over over a couple of weeks (and watched a few more YouTube videos), and did end up going back to buy them. With all things considered they seemed like the obvious choice – on paper the man was right, they had the spec I wanted for an awful lot less than I’d seen other pairs at. I paid £49.99 for the pair (£50 flat when I checked in March 2021), and while that isn’t an insignificant amount of money, it did present very good value when I compared the spec of these to other poles available.
And I have to say, I am very happy with my purchase. The key thing for me were that the poles should be lightweight so they weren’t cumbersome to carry when I was using them (or when I wasn’t), and that they should be strong and therefore reliable. The carbon fibre and aluminium composite means that these definitely tick both of those boxes; at 205g per pole they probably aren’t the lightest around but equally are much less heavy than a lot of similarly priced poles.
Another thing I was keen for was a good catch-based locking system rather than a twist lock, which I know is more reliable – these have a “quick lock” system, which when combined with the markings on the poles means I can get the right height every time without fail, and don’t need to worry about the poles “shrinking” as I use them. They also stow away very quickly and easily. The only thing they don’t have that was on my wish list is cork hand grips, which I’m told are more comfortable to hold for long periods, but actually the shape and material used on these is perfectly suitable, I have had no issues with comfort or grip so far.
West Highland Way kit.
I would say that having walking poles definitely made the West Highland Way a much more doable hike than it might have been otherwise, and I am very pleased that I invested. The experts know their stuff… They were most useful on the descents down from Conic Hill and into Kinlochleven when I relied on them to keep me from bending forward too much, and on the longest day over Rannock Moor when they helped me keep up the pace for mile after mile.
They certainly helped me keep my balance without thinking about it on any rocky and rooty sections with that big pack on my back, and were so helpful on (the many) water crossings. I might even go as far as saying they were a vital piece of kit, and I have certainly been telling anyone who’s asked about what kit they need for a long-distance hike that poles are super important.
Walking poles have become part of my regular day hiking hit.
I don’t think I’m a total walking poles convert just yet, as I don’t use them every hike that I go on, but I do carry them on longer day hikes (they fit nicely on the outside of my pack).
If you’re in the market for some yourself, the OEX X-Lite Trigger Carbon walking poles I chose come highly recommended from me (and the chap in Go Outdoors!). They are great value, lightweight, collapse easily, marked to make the right height easy to find, were plenty strong enough to keep me and my pack well balanced, and absolutely did the job I required of them. These walking poles have proved their worth already, money very well spent, and I can’t wait to take them on another long distance hike sometime soon!
Note added March 2021: My OEX walking poles are still going strong now, and are most definitely a key part of both my day hike and long distance hiking gear, especially in the hills. I’ve had no issues with the catch coming loose or the poles wearing out.
In the interests of transparency, this post is not sponsored, I researched and purchased these poles myself, but you may find affiliate links on this page. If you click on the link and then purchase the product, I receive a small % of commission. It doesn’t cost you any more but is a little thank you to me, for inspiring a purchase 🙂 – if you do that, thank you very much!