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Are hiking poles a necessity?

My sister and I will be in the BO region for 7 days in early October and plan on doing some easy/moderate hiking. Are hiking poles definitely something we should use or should I skip buying them? Thanks!

Posted by
18755 posts

I imagine this will depend on two things: what sort of terrain you'll be hiking across and how good your balance is (at 69, mine is not good once I get off smooth surfaces). I did some walking in the Dolomites on an easy path that could almost have taken a child's stroller. No problem at all. Then I decided it would be fun to walk downhill. It was rocky and a major disaster even though I had one hiking pole with me. I don't think even two would have been enough. Decades ago (pre-balance issues) I spent several hours walking in the Loetschental without poles. I remember that it was an enjoyable day, but I needed to be careful even then when walking over rocks.

If you have an idea of what specific hikes you will do, that information could be helpful to the experienced Switzerland hands who try to respond.

Posted by
226 posts

I would not hike in the BO without them. Many hikes you go from high to low and they are a lifesaver on downhills. Keep in mind though you can’t carry them on the plane, they have to be in checked luggage.

Posted by
885 posts

The hike from the top of the Mannlichen down to Kleine Scheidegg on down to Wengen does not merit buying poles. Nor does the hike from above Lauterbrunnen over to Murren and then down to Gimmelwald. Nor does the hike up from Kandersteg to Oeschinensee. As you can see I specialize in easy to moderate hikes. Buy them after you get there if you decide to tackle a challenging hike.

Posted by
114 posts

Thanks for the replies! I'm pretty sure most of our hiking will be in the Lauterbrunnen area. I am a "young" 52 and my sister is a few years older than me. I have been looking at some on Amazon that are collapsible and packable. I may order a set before we leave and if I don't use them, I will send them back.

Posted by
1292 posts

You don't need poles for the easy/moderate trails in the B.O. unless you have bad knees. However, if you want to use them there are sporting goods shops in Murren and Lauterbrunnen which have them for rent. I'd go that route instead of buying them only for the trip.

Posted by
630 posts

Trekking poles are great tools. Do you need them? Only you can know. Buy an inexpensive pair at an outdoor shop and go for a few hikes, from easy to strenuous. Go up. Come down. Hike on both trails and loose scree. Then decide if you like them or not. Then figure out where you can buy a pair when you arrive at your destination. Trekking poles are a bit different from hiking poles or staffs and usually offer shock absorbing tips and excellent grips with straps. Hiking poles can be as simple as wooden sticks.

We have seen reports here from people who take folding and telescoping trekking poles in their checked baggage; obviously you're not getting them in your carry-on. You will most likely leave them behind so locate a charity shop or make arrangements with your guide.

Personally, I started using an old ski pole when backpacking for additional balance and security on tricky terrain. The pole actually turned out to have many other uses around camp. I found the upgrade to sophisticated trekking poles to be a great improvement.

Posted by
3865 posts

Do you use hiking poles at home? We've seen people hiking who do not seem to need them and end up struggling with having to hang on to them when trying to take a photo or taking a drink of water.

Posted by
12144 posts

I had the same question as Jules. Do you hike with poles now? If not, that suggests you don't need them for hiking in Switzerland. They do take some practice to use properly---otherwise they can be a nuisance more than a help.

If you want to buy them in advance and practice, be aware that most telescoping poles are at least 24" when fully collapsed ( and some are 26") so will not fit in 22" carry-on luggage. The Z-pole style is shorter when collapsed, but these, like the Black Diamond Z-poles, are more expensive than telescoping poles.

As noted above, you can always buy them there if you want to give them a try. Maybe start with a single pole.

Posted by
728 posts

I always take the collapsible LEKI hiking pole/stick I've had for 30 years (bought it in Berchtesgaden). If I don't need it OK, it can sleep tied to the small rucksack, along with the packed sun hat/sun screen, rain gear, vest, water etc. If I need it, it is there. Has been a life saver particularly downhill when steep and slippery (mud and snow). Helps push me up the hill sometimes too. Could be a trip souvenir and fellow traveler for years.

Posted by
8207 posts

I'm with Jules and Lola.

I'll add there is a skill associated with using them comfortably. If you think you are going to need them, get decent ones now and practice with them at home so you've got the rhythm. If you are not used to them and start out on a trail where you actually need them you may be frustrated.

Posted by
12144 posts

You may be frustrated, or you may trip over one of them like a friend of ours does. He now sticks to one pole because he can’t seem to keep track of two.

Mchpp, I started with a Lexi single pole that I bought in Kandersteg 20 years ago. Like one of these:

https://leki.mwrc.net/en/category.php?product_category_id=10984

It didn’t last 30 years though; I broke it trying to use it (improperly) as an ice ax substitute while descending a super-slippery mud slope. So as a souvenir of Switzerland it had a short life.

Posted by
3334 posts

I use hiking poles at home to help take pressure off of my knees. There is a correct way to walk with them and I often see people walking with "unusual techniques" that decrease the value of the poles. I also pack my collapsable, telescoping poles in a checked bag if I know I am going to be doing hiking.

The pole should match the position of your opposite leg. For example, when the right foot is extended forward, so is the left trekking pole. When you step forward with your left leg, the right pole goes forward. You will quickly get into a rhthym with practice.

Posted by
6 posts

I was able to carry my collapsible trekking poles, 15 inches when folded, in my carry on when I travelled to Greece and Scotland pre-covid without any problems. They fit in my carry on. I never checked it in. I don’t think rules have changed post covid. I wish I had them when I hiked the moderate North face trail in Switzerland in 2017. Now I carry them everywhere even just hiking In Utah last October. I never had a problem with it in my carry on. For easy hikes, I don’t use it. But being afraid of heights and cliff edges, it is a lifesaver. And my knees love it.

Posted by
3523 posts

As with so many rules, there can be exceptions. I once saw a very short elderly man using one pole as a cane on the air side of Sea-Tac airport.

I've taken my poles in 2 different carry-on roller bags on multiple flights on different airlines. I use them for balance in many situations where there are no hand rails, including stairs, slanted pavement and rough dirt terrain, especially going downhill.

They are much more ergonomically designed and stable than any of the canes I've tried and are a necessity for my knees. I've been in situations where most of the tour group could walk up or down anything. I used one pole, but I could have moved faster if I'd used both. Mine have rubber tips, so they don't damage monuments. I take extra tips.

I carry a note from my orthopedist in their bag and in my paperwork. I took them to the Tucson airport and showed them to a TSA official along with my doctor's note. She said that there would be no problem having them in my carry-on bag. Needless to say I got her name and made note of the date and time she said that. I suppose that for some of us, they can be a medical device.

Don't assume that all folding poles are too long to fit in your bag. The ones I've used in the past fold down to about 17 inches and store in an 18 inch bag.

I just got some new ones from Eddie Bauer that are much faster and simpler to assemble and fold down to a bit less than 14 inches. Every little bit counts. They didn’t come with a bag, but fit just fine in one of my cane bags.

I'm not a hiker, but the variety of surfaces, weather and environments on my European trips are much more travel friendly for me when I use my poles.

Posted by
5652 posts

My treckking poles are essential equipment for serious hiking/treckking. The steeper the ascents/decents and the more rugged the terain the more essential treckking pole become.

I use adjustible poles with easy to to cinch secure the poles adjustable length. I like to be able to apply weight to the poles without the pole adjustment slipping. I shorten the poles for steeper ascents and lengthen the poles for steeper descents. Poles on ascents share the work between lower body/legs and upper body muscles. Poles on descents share the load between your knees and arms.

And they do help as balance sticks on rough ground.

Posted by
12144 posts

Yes, folding poles (which I called Zpoles in my earlier post) do end up smaller than the telescoping ones, and they will fit in a carry-on. Most are not adjustable in length, but apparently some can be.

As to whether they will be allowed by TSA, my sister carried hers through security on trips to and from Europe 5 times. The sixth time, she had them taken away at the Madrid airport.

Having a doctor's note can help, as it did for Lo, but able-bodied hikers will not be able to go that route.

Posted by
400 posts

Also, if you are bringing a camera, consider a monopod as an option as well. Mine works well as a hiking stick along with steadying shots with a long lens. Also makes an ersatz selfie stick, if that is your thing.

Posted by
12144 posts

Liz, that is correct: hiking or trekking poles are on the TSA "not allowed" list for carry-on.

It some people have reported they were able to carry them on, either with a doctor's note or, as my sister did, by packing them in such a way that they were not recognized. So technically she was not "allowed" to carry them on, she just circumvented the rule. And then one time she did not get away with it and lost her poles.

Please note that if am not advocating for giving that a try. I have the same poles as my sister and put them in my checked bag. I don't want to lose them.

Posted by
3523 posts

The TSA link also said, "The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint."

I don't try to hide the poles. I do pack them at the deepest level in my international 2-wheeled carry-on bag. That's because, at least so far, the stability and support of the long handle of my bag is adequate for getting through an airport. If a TSA officer decides to ignore my orthopedist's letter about my use of the poles as medical devices, so be it. The hassle will be replacing them at my first destination.

If there was a non-stop option from Tucson to "anyhub" in Europe, I might consider checking my international carry-on size bag with them in it. But of course that would mean that I wouldn't have access to one of them if I did need it to get through the airport. Catch 22 indeed.

Here's what REI says about fitting poles. You can see how long they should be to be ergonomically correct for different heights.

Some quotes, "They enhance your stability and provide support on all types of terrain." That would be me on every European trip I've ever taken.

And, they "... might seem like a logical walking aid for urban use, [but] you should never get them in lieu of a cane from a medical supply store." This sounds like it was written by someone whose assumption is that urban means flat and smoothly paved with the ADA requirements of the USA. Definitely not typical of any place I've been in Europe.

Because you can openly carry on a cane, I tried 2 different folding ones based on this advice for fitting and using them. Canes are designed for a totally different purpose. Neither provided the stability I was seeking, was tall enough or ergonomically designed for my height, and the angle of their handles absolutely killed my hands and wrists.

Posted by
226 posts

I think for any hiking this year in Switzerland it would be helpful to have poles. Note the significant amount of rain the country has been experiencing, landslides, high lake and River levels.