If there is one constant in backpacking it is this: Fewer things are better than more things. There are of course exceptions. More Sour Patch Kids are always better than fewer Sour Patch Kids after a 15-mile day on the trail. That might be the only exception now that I think about it. So, yeah, generally, you’re going to want to avoid doubling up on things you really only need one of.
Along these lines, a recent discovery of mine is paring down trekking poles to just one pole when on a backcountry trip. This is clearly a concept as old as walking itself but it is also one that many backpackers have apparently forgotten or ignored. At least young-ish, gear-obsessed backpackers. I’m not talking about carting along a knotted wizard staff like Gandalf on the trail (though that’s very cool if it’s your thing) or even buying a fancy carbon hiking staff. You already have what you need.
The concept is quite simple. As you’re packing for a backpacking trip, pull out your trekking poles and then—here’s the crucial part—put one of them back. Just bring the other one. Easy, right?
I realized this made far more sense than bringing two on a backpacking trip last summer when I broke one of the nuts that tightens the telescoping action on one of the poles midway through the first day’s hike. (I’m a really big fan of these inexpensive and typically sturdy Cascade Mountain Tech poles—the breakage was my fault for tightening the nut with my multitool). At first, I was extremely bummed that my pole was broken and for a time I tried to use a branch as a replacement so that I’d still have the stability of a four-legged animal that two poles provide. But that quickly got old, and I pitched the branch.
Turns out though, one pole is plenty. Unless you’re balancing 70 pounds on your back while walking over loose scree, I’m not really sure why you’d ever actually need two poles. One provides plenty of support and stability.
River crossings are nearly as easy with just one. In fact, fly anglers carry only one to to keep themselves upright in thigh-deep, fast-flowing rivers and they’re just fine. When climbing or descending steep rocky sections of a trail, you can use both hands as leverage on the one pole and it works nearly as well as having both. Plus you have one hand free to grab your phone for a photo, to pull out a map or GPS, to bandana sweat off your brow, or to stuff your face with a Sour Patch Kid. It’s also easier to pretend you’re a foil-wielding fencer with just the one.
Are you using a tent that requires two trekking poles to set up? You can just bring a small tent pole, like this lightweight carbon fiber pole from Easton, folded up in your bag. Or transition to a tent that requires just a single pole. Or, if you’re hiking with two, either use your partner’s poles if they’re stubbornly insisting on using two or convert them to the Church of the One Pole and combine your poles to erect the tent.
As great as trekking poles can be, it’s pretty great to have one hand free on the trail. Whether you just stick it in your pocket or gesticulate wildly at the beauty of nature, you’ll be stoked at the freedom and unburdened of one additional piece of fancy camp gear.