Trekking poles instead of canes?
August 27, 2021 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Are trekking poles designed to withstand the downward pressure of full bodyweight like canes are? Would they be a good solution for someone with a hip joint that sometimes gives out unexpectedly? My mother currently uses two sturdy wooden canes, one in each hand, and I wonder whether trekking poles might be a good, lighter-weight replacement? (Or maybe I should be looking at adjustable canes? Tell me what I don't know!)

First of all, are trekking poles designed for the full downward pressure of body weight during regular use, rather than just occasionally while hiking downhill? I think I'd like to buy a pair for my elderly mother, who's still incredibly active despite needing a lot of physical support for stability thanks to joint problems with one hip that causes it to give out unexpectedly. (Yes, she should get a hip replacement, but she's not going to.)

If so, please recommend ones you or an elderly person you know have used! They'd be mostly used around the house and out in the garden. (She spends about 5hrs a day in the garden when the weather's good; her walker has large wheels and does really well on uneven terrain. Indoors, she'll often lean on the walker with her forearms, placing her entire upper body weight on it, to give an example of one use that might parallel how she'll use the trekking poles.)

I've read reviews of some (specifically the REI-branded ones) that have snapped or wavered under weight, which makes me nervous; her wooden canes kinda work just fine, but they're pretty heavy and hard to travel with. Although I'd rather spend less, assume my budget is around $150 or so. Ideally the poles I get her will be collapsible and adjustable-height, but feel free to suggest ones that aren't!

Or maybe I should be asking about less-bulky, collapsible/adjustable canes made for this type of use? She's pretty frugal, which means that she's probably not particularly aware of the range of canes available besides what you can find at Walmart or the drugstore. (For instance this one looks good, and packs down almost as small as trekking poles would. Should I nix the trekking poles and get her a pair of canes like these? Why/why not?)
posted by knucklebones to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Good trekking poles should support your full body weight. That is, each pole individually should be capable of this. There will be times, in my experience most commonly on descents over rocky terrain, when you'll need to trust your weight to the left or right pole.

Trekking poles, however, are for hiking. They aren't for getting around town, particularly if the pole has a pointed foot. If she's using a walker now, that's a big red flag that trekking poles, which rely on hand, wrist and arm strength, shouldn't be considered. Go back to your original question: could your Mom support her own full body weight with one hand? If not, then it doesn't matter how strong the pole is, if Mom is endangering herself when she uses it.

The cane I use these days, if you're interested, is a Hugo Claw Cane. The foot may appear awkward at first, but it allows the cane to stand by itself and the "toes" of the claw do a much better job of handling inclines than a simple "one-toed" cane would.
posted by SPrintF at 4:31 PM on August 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For outdoor mobility, I've used two canes (both solid and collapsible), solid LEKI brand fiberglass walking sticks, various rolling walkers, and most happily, Exerstrider Stability+ poles. I adore these poles for walking as exercise: they improve my balance and confidence while engaging my arms, shoulders, and core in the process. When I move with the Exerstriders I get a lovely lower-back looseness.

BUT! They're frustrating when I combine walking with getting up and down -- like gardening for your mom, or gravestone photography for me. Depending on their design, a good walker offers a ladder-like tool to facilitate getting up and down.

If it's at all possible, please consult with a physical or occupational therapist. Getting the right tool for the job while not aggravating other body parts is their speciality.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure where you are located, but my local outdoor shop rents trekking poles. I think I paid $10 or so for a three-day rental. Could you try some out?
posted by bluedaisy at 4:38 PM on August 27, 2021

One should be able to find all manner of stylish canes secondhand, perhaps at an estate sale. My mom had a delightful wooden cane with a brass horse head for a handle. I thought (and still think) it looked great, plus it had the added bonus that it would make a great self defense weapon in a pinch.
posted by wierdo at 6:30 PM on August 27, 2021

Not sure if this is quite answering your question, but I have a pair of LL Bean Hikelites that take my 100kgs pretty well. Earlier this year I was hiking with them, rolled my ankle really badly, cleanly snapping my distal fibula, put my full weight on the left pole and didn't fall. Then I used them to limp a mile back to the car.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:44 PM on August 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Trekking canes are a thing.
posted by Jawn at 6:56 PM on August 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’d be way more worried about the handle style for supporting one’s full weight regularly. For going downhill and taking impact off my knees I often put my palms on the top of the grips and it’s definitely not ideal.

Trekking poles have a very different intended stance (elbows bent at 90°) relative to a cane. Definitely talk to a specialist.
posted by supercres at 7:16 PM on August 27, 2021

My main concern is trek poles usually have a completely different "hold" than a cane.

Most canes are waist high and have a horizontal handle. So you push down with your shoulder, keeping arms straight.

Trek poles however are all vertical and have a more of a... sword grip? So you lock your elbow at 90 degree and use your arm strength to push down.

I don't think you can exchange one for the other without some... retraining.
posted by kschang at 8:26 PM on August 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Old skin thins and the cane handles need padding to keep skin and bones inta t. If folks have to carry a lot of weight the bones spread and their hands hurt. Trekking canes might be good but physical and occupational therapists probably have good suggestions.
posted by Oyéah at 8:36 PM on August 27, 2021

I'm pretty familiar with trekking poles but not mobility or canes, so take this with a grain of salt, but this feels iffy to me.

If you are going to give it a try, get walking feet for them (they literally look like little curved feet) -- don't just use the metal tips. Also, get aluminum ones rather than composite/carbon fiber -- the latter is more likely to snap under pressure. And for sure remove the wrist strap -- most of the elderly women I've hiked with have stories about how they or someone they know have broken arms or wrists because they were using the wrist strap and took a tumble, got tangled up with the strap/pole, and broke a brittle bone.

As others have mentioned, the handle of a trekking pole is 90 degrees from the handle of a typical cane or walker. They're really meant to provide stability in front of you, not vertically. If she doesn't have good hand/wrist strength, a trekking pole isn't really going to help with, say, getting up out of a chair like a walker would.
posted by natabat at 8:57 PM on August 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Other people have made great comments here, but just wanted to add: I use collapsible trekking poles for both hiking and downhill skiing and I've had them occasionally collapse on me when they end up bearing my full weight - I'd be concerned about this in an older relative who might be vulnerable to being more damaged in a fall. Just another data point to consider!
posted by carlypennylane at 9:23 PM on August 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have muscle spasticity that affects both of my legs, as well as my arms.

When I first used walking aids, my PT had me use two canes - he didn't want me to have the "stigma" of using something more in depth. I found the two canes unsteady and unwieldy, and I didn't like them at all. I tried the trekking pole thing, and I found them to be even less stable.

What another Physical Therapist recommended? Forearm Crutches. I got my first pair 12 years ago, and I haven't looked back. Because of my arm weakness, I opt for Full Cuffs.

Now, I am really rough on my equipment, and that includes my crutches! However, I always felt that my legs were really stable while using forearm crutches. Now, she'll probably want to go through a PT learn how to use them, but IMHO it'd be worth it. If a leg giving out is a risk due to an unstable joint? They're going to feel a lot more stable using forearm crutches rather than trekking poles.

These are my favorite crutches; they're $139.95 a pair, if paying full price for them. If a PT prescribes them, they may be even less. Mine are bright red.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:18 AM on August 28, 2021 [7 favorites]

Seniors in my family have used trekking poles (usually just one) but only for problems with balance and leaning on one while standing to keep upright. They were better than nothing - all of those people were adamantly against anything that looked like a mobility aid - but only worked for what sounds like more moderate mobility impairment than in your mother's case.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:26 AM on August 28, 2021

My 83 year old mom loves her trekking poles for balance issues. But I think if your mom can’t support her own weight when her hip gives out, any PT would say a walker is necessary, as both canes and poles can’t provide their own stable support.
posted by spitbull at 5:54 AM on August 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I do know old people who use trekking poles for walking. The real advantage of trekking poles is that they're collapsible for travel/ packing and easily adjusted for height. I'm not sure trekking poles are a needed expense. If the wood canes are heavy, aluminum canes are an alternative. A walker is nice because you can get one that has a seat to use to rest, and a basket for garden tools, etc. Lots of old people hate using one because it feels like the next step in being officially a geezer. It would help to have some stools or benches in the garden where she can rest as needed. It's great that she's committed to being active.
posted by theora55 at 10:12 AM on August 28, 2021

Mod note: One deleted. Please go ahead and post your question to the front page rather than doing a "piggy-back" here; it's totally okay if it's similar to this one!
posted by taz (staff) at 2:04 AM on August 29, 2021

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