Many novice hikers may see inclement weather, like rain or snow, as a reason to not experience what it feels like to be one with the wilderness. Hiking in more-damp-than-usual conditions can not only enhance your hike, but also give you a more intense, and therefore physically demanding workout. Taking advantage of the weather conditions in order to create a more interesting hiking experience is as easy as educating yourself on what to expect from each climate type. For example, hiking in an area that has just gotten rain requires having a different mindset, as well as different equipment, than an area that hasn't gotten rain in weeks. A sturdy, dependable walking stick and wet weather foot wear is essential for safely maneuvering wet trails.
Wet Weather Hiking
When hiking in wet climates or damp environments, planning adequately for the trek is essential to maintaining safety through the entirety of the hike. Hiking through terrain that is slippery and damp is much different than when soil is dry, therefore, you will need different poles.
Using walking canes, or trekking poles, can be beneficial when hiking in wet and muggy, in addition to hot and dry conditions. There are a variety of walking cane styles that suit specific weather conditions better than others. For example, when hiking in an area with soil that is well saturated with rainwater, a walking cane with structure and a wide base is more helpful than a more narrow pole specific for more level and drier trails. Taking advantage of a walking cane with a skid-free grip will be better when you are hiking through puddles and mud, were stability becomes an issue.
For hiking in places where unexpected rocks and divots are possible, using an aluminum pole will be beneficial. The makeup of the aluminum pole is best suited for sticking in soggy ground and is designed to take a beating from rocks and uneven surfaces without cracking or denting. You must factor in that the ground may be uneven and that the rain may have eroded the path, splitting it with crevices and holes that serve as tripping hazards. After a long hike in wet conditions, it is also important, for the longevity of your hiking poles, that you take them apart and let all of the pieces dry.
Dry Weather Hiking
As opposed to wet climates, where the ground isn't as clearly defined, hiking in a dry and warm climate lends itself to clear visibility. When hiking in dry climates, your best bet for a walking cane would be one that is easily packable and lightweight. Carbon fiber poles best suit dry climates due to their lightweight structure, stiffness, and durability. It is advised to stick with a pole that can be either packed away easily or broken up into pieces to carry, if the slope of the trail isn't an issue. Many carbon fiber poles have a fair degree of ability to give and flex, but in climates where sinking into the ground is a problem, the poles are more fragile and caution will need to be taken so the poles aren't damaged or broken. It's advised to put shock absorbers in the bottoms of the poles when hiking in dry climates because if the slope is steep but visible, shock absorbers help grasp the hillside and take pressure off of your knees. Although the shock absorption will add a little bit to the cost of your trekking poles, it is well worth it if you plan on taking long-distance hikes that involve steep hills or wading through streams or waterways.
Cold and Ice Hiking
When hiking in cold or icy conditions, it isn't a good idea to add shock absorbers to your poles due to the durability of the poles required for that terrain. Instead, if you plan on hiking in cold temperatures, investing in stronger baskets for your poles is a good idea. Large baskets are ideal for snow or ground that is easily manipulatable, but can get stuck on shrubbery and roots if used in heavily wooded areas. Many pole manufacturers have different specifics for their baskets, so before you decide to buy a specific basket size for your poles make sure that the baskets that suit your hike will fit correctly onto your poles. Some large-volume manufacturers make their baskets the same size, so interchanging them would not be an issue, but prior to investing in expensive baskets, check to see if your poles will accommodate. Another important aspect to keep in mind before you set out on your cold weather hike is the appropriate pole handles. There are three types of handle types: cork, foam, and rubber. In the case of a trek across a frozen tundra or just a hike during the wintertime, rubber handles will be the best suited. Due to the texture of the rubber, the shock protection, and the insulation, rubber handles are ideal. Foam handles are advised against for cold hikes because the foam absorbs moisture and can become slippery if the moisture freezes.
When climbing in elevation, regardless of the climate, it is smart to buy poles with extendable grips so that you don't need to change your grip if the pole needs adjusted. In higher elevations, shock absorbers are also more beneficial than they are in any other climate or weather zone. Using shock absorbers during high altitude hikes takes pressure off of your back and your feet as well as adding 20% more efficiency to your body, as you climb. They provide increased balance and reduce the risk of injuring your ankles when climbing inclines.
Hiking through the wilderness, whether it be on a national park trail or scaling a mountain, requires that you understand what is needed to hike correctly in the climate of your choice. From hiking through the frozen tundra to trekking through muggy rainforests, each climate type has poles, handles, absorbers, and baskets that accommodate hiking on that terrain better than others. Figuring out what works for you and for the climate ahead requires studying the terrain prior to embarking on the hike. Once you figure out the specifics, it's all up from there.
Hiking Sticks for a Variety of Climates is Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Lewis