Keep on Trekking
What has four legs, smells badly, and carries everything it needs to survive on its back? Answer: today's modern hiker, of course. The extra legs come by virtue of trekking poles, those load-bearing, knee-saving, shock-absorbing devices fast becoming appendages for many day hikers and backpackers.
As basic as they are in design, trekking poles do have moving parts, which means that occasionally they'll break or seize up. Simple maintenance will prevent most problems with your "sticks," and a little ingenuity will handle most field emergencies.
Telescopic ski poles and hiking poles are great as long as the adjustment system locks and unlocks properly when you want it to. Not much is worse than leaning on a hiking pole during a creek crossing and having it collapse!
Here's how to keep things moving:
* Dry poles thoroughly at home after wet weather or creek crossing use to prevent internal corrosion. Extend poles far enough to expose the threads of the expansion plugs, or maybe even separate the sections. After drying with one end of the tube down, turn it the other way up to get rid of any other trapped water.
* Corrosion inside is less likely with better-quality poles that are anodized internally.
* If you detect corrosion on the metal threads that go into the plastic expansion plug, then it's time to dismantle and clean. Do not use a wire brush for this task, since it will remove whatever corrosion-protecting finish remains on the threads. Instead, wipe the threads with a soft cloth lightly moistened with WD-40 or alcohol. Warning: Do not get lubricants like WD-40 or oil onto the plastic expansion plug itself, or on the inside of the tubes. Put a trace of oil or, better, silicone grease on the threads to prevent additional corrosion.
Field Fix for Failed Locks
If the pole fails to lock properly in the field, the culprit is usually corroded or dirty threads. This results in more friction between the plug and its threads than between the plug and the tube. Then when you turn the tube to lock or unlock, the plug doesn't turn on its threads and fails to expand or contract. Solve the problem this way:
* Increase the friction between plug and tube by extending the pole almost to its limit and hold it horizontally with one hand at the joint. This puts sideways pressure on the plug and it won't turn in its tube now.
* Rotate the smaller tube until the plug expands enough and tightens up sufficiently to still allow sliding but not turning.
* Adjust to length and tighten to lock. Clean the threads at the earliest opportunity!
Article and photo © Keith Morton, 2000.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication