Friday, May 8, 2009

Best Piece of Equipment – Hiking Sticks

Carrying less than 7 kilos in my pack, I had to be selective in my equipment. Right away, walking without a guidebook freed up a good amount of weight, ditto eliminating a tent, sleeping bag, bedroll, and cooking equipment. I’m off communing with culture, not nature, so I’m not interested in roughing it.

Metric is convenient while traveling in Europe. The 7 kilos is roughly 16 pounds, pack and all, but it’s easier to think grams and kilograms. The food I carry as part of this is actually significant portion of the weight – a standard 200-gram chocolate bar with nuts, a 100-gram package of raisins, sometimes a 200-gram package of almonds or cashews, and at most a half-liter of water, which weighs 500 grams full. That all adds up to a kilo

I carry watercolor paper and small kit, and then the finished paintings afterward, weighing in at nearly a kilo in total. On the next trip, I intend to revisit the watercolor stuff and figure I can lighten the load by about a half kilo.

An extra pair of shoes – specifically goofy-looking but practical Teva sandals – is something I won’t part with, but at a half kilo, it’s also significant. Assorted papers, three small change purses of the various currencies (sterling, euros, dollars), and minor electronics (US/UK/German mobile phones, rechargers) add up, too. Toiletries, including contact lens solutions, and first aid items vary in weight with consumption, but all in all make up another kilo.

The flashlight, compass, and time piece, as small attachments on my pack, I count as part of the base weight. The raincover-cape I fabricated to avoid the need for a second jacket weighs next to nothing – literally less than 100 grams, and is integrated into the pack, too. In all the empty pack weighs a scant kilo.

All my clothes – basically two sets of outerwear and 3 sets of innerwear with a few extras for ultra-cold weather – make up the balance at less than 2 kilos. There’s just no need for much else, and not only do I not want to carry the weight, I don’t want it to take up more space.

Every piece of equipment is thoughtfully considered with the voice of experience echoing in my little pack. I never feel like I’m sacrificing too much for the sake of weight or space. I’m comfortable with my gear and my selected clothing, though I did weary a bit at the sight of the same pea-green zip-neck high-wicking shirt that I wore every day and washed every night.

I’m not a fanatic about the weight – I don’t snip off my toothbrush, for example, or other tricks that ultra-light purists might consider. The 7 kilos fit my frame well enough that when it varies higher or lower by even a kilo, I’m content with it. While one might considered paring down even more, I’m done futzing with it.

And the winner is… the hiking sticks – at a half kilo. I picked up a pair of REI Peak Ultralight Poles because I liked the weight, the size, the ‘feel’, the length when collapsed, and they were on sale when I was out shopping. I can bring them on the plane as carry-on, and they’re not much taller than my pack when I lash them on the exterior walking through cities, for example, when it’s not cool to be swinging them on a crowded sidewalk.

Using walking sticks is more commonly done in the Alps than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s often referred to in English as ‘Nordic Walking’. I was skeptical at first – I don’t have a physical ailment demanding them, so why bother? Once I used them, borrowed from a fellow pilgrim for a kilometer or so when I went on my first mini-pilgrimage, I enjoyed their benefit immediately.

Who doesn’t like to look around while walking? Who hasn’t stumbled while doing that? The poles do a lot. They help one walk faster and more steadily on flat and straight sections because they set a rhythm. They help with balance on uneven terrain. I use them often to leap across small brooks and large puddles. Extended, I feel much more comfortable crossing a stream on a log or slippery stones. They’re great through the snow and ice. And a wonderful bonus – using them regularly, swinging them effortlessly, boy, nothing can beat them for taking care of those flabby bits on the undersides of upper arms.

I have already minimized superfluous equipment, and already keep things simple and uncomplicated with regard to the equipment I do carry. Take away my Tevas, my map, my compass, even, my tiny silk sleep sack, if it must be so, take away even my entire backpack, but the walking sticks will be the last piece of equipment I part with on my long walks across Europe.


Compostelle 2008 said...


Another benefit to the hiking sticks is that your hands don't hang by your side and swell. Having the sticks keeps your hands at waist height. Agree with you, they are essential!

Michèle from Ottawa (Canada)

Anonymous said...

Cool post you got here. It would be great to read something more concerning that topic. The only thing it would also be great to see here is a few pics of some devices.
John Flouee
Cell phone jammers