Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Gear Review: REI Carbon Power Lock Women's Trekking Poles

Why not jump on the Summit?
As you can see from Dan's last post about our first summit of the year, I now have trekking poles, which has caused me to jump for joy! Since Dan and I now are preparing to summit Mt. Whitney together in September - yes, we got our permit! - I decided that trekking poles were something that would be a good investment. So, I now officially have legit hiking boots (see the review of my awesome Salomon hiking boots) and trekking poles.

Dan, of course, helped me choose my trekking poles. There were a couple of things we looked at to make the choice. The first thing that Dan recommended for a good pair of trekking poles was ones that use power locks instead of twist locks. Both types of locks allow you to make your trekking poles shorter for storage and longer for use. This also allows you to adjust the poles to the right height for your height as well as adjust them based on whether or not you're going uphill (where it's better to have them shorter) or downhill (where it's better to have them longer). According to Dan, the twist locks are much less reliable and much more likely to break, so that quickly removed a couple of choices from our pool.

Lock open for adjustment
Snap it closed to lock in place.

Another thing that differentiates trekking poles is the weight. Personally, if I'm hauling myself up the side of a mountain, I don't really want to carry a lot of extra weight. This also removed a couple of options from our pool as I quickly found myself favoring the lighter carbon fiber poles. Carbon fiber is both strong and light, which is great because I also didn't want something that might snap while out on a hike.

The final things we looked at were the type and size of the grip. Women's trekking poles have smaller grips, which is nice since we tend to have smaller hands. However, my hands aren't all that tiny, so I skipped some of the smaller grips as they were a bit too small for me. I also preferred the foam style grip over the plastic and cork options. I found the foam grips to be more comfortable for my hands.

Women's poles have narrower grips for smaller hands.
In the end, I decided to go with the REI Carbon Powerlock poles that were light and comfortable. On the plus side, the ones I chose also had a nice blue and black color combo, which I did also take into account in my choice, though less so. I do love color, but of course it's more important to get the right thing, so color is really more of a plus in the end.

Blue and black color scheme
Once I bought my new poles, I couldn't wait to get out and try them, so the other weekend Dan and I drove out to Half Moon Bay and decided to hike up one of the taller peaks here on the peninsula, which also just happened to have a spectacular view of both the ocean and the bay! When we first started, the hike was very flat, which isn't really the type of terrain you need trekking poles for, so I was having trouble getting a good rhythm down. However, once we started uphill, I found my rhythm easily and really started to enjoy using the poles.

One thing I started to notice after a while was the fact that my arms were definitely getting a workout. I guess they were taking some of the work away from my legs while going both up and down the peak. They were really helpful to help pull myself up the mountain as we went up and balance myself on the way down.
Matching outfit? Of course!

Yesterday, Dan and I took them out for the second time on a hike near Mt. Diablo, one of the tallest peaks in the Bay Area. We actually summited Eagle Peak, which was around 2,300 feet and is basically right next to Mt. Diablo (we were looking up at it). This was actually a much better trail to test out my new trekking poles because it was a much rockier trail and, especially on the way down, I felt the poles were more useful.

The ascent definitely had some steep parts and I really felt the poles working for me there. I could feel my arms working to help pull myself up with the poles and take some of the pressure off my legs. It was also helpful having them for stability as there were a lot of loose rocks on the trail. In addition to loose rocks, we encountered an area where the trail narrowed quite a bit and was surrounded by trees and bushes. Here the poles were actually nice to have because I could push branches out of my way.

However, going down from the peak is really where my poles began to shine. If I thought the way up had a lot of loose rocks, the way down had even more. Both Dan and I were doing a lot of sliding, but thanks to our poles, we did minimal falling - in fact I fell only once and Dan didn't fall at all. Unfortunately, when you're going over small loose rocks like that it doesn't matter how much grip your shoes have because those rocks have none. This is where I found my poles really coming in handy. Dan showed me a way to hold them out in front of you and to the side to help balance on the way down and catch myself when I started to slip.

So far I am really loving my trekking poles. I think they are a great addition to my hiking gear and have improved my hiking experience. If you're planning to graduate from being a beginner hiker, better shoes and trekking poles will help get you all set.

New summit tradition..."Summit Splits!"


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