What’s the point of ‘sissy’ sticks?

“Sissy sticks!” I’d never heard this expression used to describe walking poles until I got chatting to a couple of walkers in the Lake District a few years ago. We were just …

Why I don’t go anywhere without my walking poles 

Walking poles make life easier on a long hill walk by Vivienne Crow

Walking poles make life much easier on a long hill walk  

“Sissy sticks!” I’d never heard this expression used to describe walking poles until I got chatting to a couple of walkers in the Lake District a few years ago. We were just waxing lyrical about the weather, the views, the surrounding mountains when one of them gestured sneeringly at my poles and made his dismissive comment.

Fearing, no doubt, that I’d taken offence, his companion quickly interjected with: “I’ve heard they’re quite good.” She added, as if by way of explanation, that she and her partner had only just discovered the joys of hill-walking and then asked me: “Do you use them all the time?” I explained that my poles always accompany me on the hills. I find them invaluable on steep, uneven ground, particularly on descents when they ease the ‘burden’ on my knees and provide extra stability. In fact, it was after I started suffering with sore knees on tough descents that I bought my first pair – and hill-walking’s become considerably easier since then.

Vivienne Crow Blog - Poles are popular with hikers in the Alps

Poles are particularly popular with hikers in the Alps

A study back in the 1980s found that using poles on a descent effectively reduces the body weight carried by your legs by more than 10lbs with each step. Imagine the difference that must make to the wear and tear on your joints!

As I came down a horribly steep, stony path with my new companions, I could see them beginning to come round to my way of thinking; while they slid helplessly on the loose stones, my poles enabled me to control my descent.

I also explained to them that I love the extra power the poles give me on long climbs. Spreading the load so that my arms take some of the strain – switching into four-wheel drive, if you like – makes getting up hills less like hard work. And that makes a big difference at the end of a long day – legs that used to feel tired after 10 or 12 miles can now keep going for much longer.

Vivienne Crow Blog - Once you start using poles, you're hooked

Once you start using poles, you'll be hooked 

I tried to keep my defence reasonably scientific, focussing on their proven physical benefits. I didn’t go into detail about their other uses: gauging the depth of dark, smelly bogs, for instance, or giving me a (probably misplaced) sense of security whenever I enter a farmyard full of hissing geese. After all, I didn’t want to put them off walking when they were only just getting into it.

I also thought it wise to omit any mention of their spider web-repellent properties: I frequently wave my poles machete-style when walking through dense vegetation so that they encounter any freshly-woven webs before my face does. Nothing sissy about that, is there?

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