Product Idea: Wooden Trekking Poles

Broken Trekking Poles

My house is littered with broken trekking poles. I don't really know how to dispose of them properly so they pile up in the trunk of my car and in my office. The carbon fiber ones are the worst. They snap with very little pressure when I get them caught between tree roots or rocks. No doubt, it's due to the extreme hiking conditions we have here in New England and the White Mountains.

If we assume that everyone breaks a trekking pole once in a while and multiply that by the number of trekking and hiking poles that have ever been purchased, that adds up to a lot of broken poles. How long does it take a carbon fiber trekking pole to biodegrade? What about aluminum poles? Do they all end up in a giant pile at LEKI Mountain in Buffalo, New York?

Anyway, it makes you wonder why a major hiking pole manufacturer like Black Diamond or LEKI hasn't jumped on the outdoor sustainability band wagon and developed an environmentally sustainable trekking pole made out of wood. I'd buy them in a flash and I bet other people would too. Disposing of the broken ones would be a lot easier.

I'm not an engineer, but I have to believe that someone could develop a set of bamboo hiking poles that are comparable in weight to existing commercial hiking poles, and that have a lot more lateral flexibility in them to prevent the kind of sheering breaks I experience with carbon fiber poles. Wooden poles don't have to be ultralight, like carbon fiber. People will buy them because they're a more sustainable alternative.

If you decide to make some poles like this and want an industry advocate, give me a shout. I think this product idea has "legs."

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25 Responses to Product Idea: Wooden Trekking Poles

  1. marco June 1, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    Yeah, sustainability is the key to everything.

    A good bamboo pole will still weigh more, though. Generally, thicker sidewalls, regrdless of the material, will still mean more mass…

  2. Damien Tougas June 1, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    Interesting idea, I am intrigued. I think that it could be done like one of those newer shock-cord style poles that pull apart rather than telescope. You could make the hardware out of high quality materials and make the bamboo sections replaceable if they break. Also, if it is the tips that always break, you could also make that part out of bamboo and the higher sections out of carbon… just a few ideas :-)

  3. Earlylite June 1, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    Like I said, I'm not an engineer or a master carpenter (like you).

    Is it possible to hollow out the middle of a wooden walking poles and save weight but retain the rigidity of the wood. What about creating an environmentally friendlier form of plywood using other ingredients that biodegrade quickly and are lighter weight.

  4. Earlylite June 1, 2011 at 2:49 am #

    Damien – great ideas. Yes, Yes. I like the shock cord idea – like an avalanche probe, and mixing and matching different materials for different locations of the pole. Of course, I'm not saying that the tip has to be wood. It can still be metal for better wear.

    Another idea – use shorter poles, or use a pacer pole ( http://www.pacerpole.com ) style hand grip where we rethink trekking pole design completely and make them far more biomechanically effective, ameliorating our existing weight assumptions.

  5. marco June 1, 2011 at 3:21 am #

    Yeah. A hollow pole will be stronger, pound for pound, than a solid pole. But you start running into the brittleness again. The collaps mode elongates, then compressess and shatters the sides, hence the damage to epoxy/carbon/fiberglass poles. A solid pole will simply snap. There is no compression, elongation, mode to speak of. It doesn't really matter the material. Lignin and celulose is natures way. Fiber cloth(with carbon threads) and epoxy are artificial mimics. Ideally, the threads should also be hollow. Unfortunatly, they are not. Silicon is the basic component rather than carbon. Anyway, similar weights can be acheived with carefull crafting. But each pole will need to be adjusted for the thickness of the walls and the regidity of the growth for that year. More of an art, than a true reproducable science. But, wood IS sustainable. Glass/carbon is relativly permanent. Epoxy degrades after about 20 years in UV. Wood (cedar or redwood) should last about 50-100 years. It is not so much a matter of what we build. It is a matter of philosophy. Something that uses 1/3 the materials but lasts 1/5 as long is NOT a good deal. Like the old SVEA. One time purchase for 40 years of service. This is sustainable over the 4 other brands needed to replace it. Even if it is slightly heavier at 17-1/8oz(stove&windscreen only, weighed on a digital scale.) Reused alcohol stoves are better, but not the fuel. (10% ethanol added helps, though.)

  6. Earlylite June 1, 2011 at 3:51 am #

    A lot in there…

    How about we rephrase the requirements a bit:

    Reduced breakability would be nice, but sustainability is the dimension we want to improve.

    Sustainability does not necessarily equate with bio-degrade-ability. For example, I reuse the unbroken components of aluminum poles all the time to reconstruct a working pole. I guess I'm saying that reducing consumption is also ok.

    Longevity is a nice to have as long as it's at least comparable to existing aluminum options.

    Added weight is ok, up to a point, to achieve sustainability goals.

    Functional simplification is ok. For example, fixed length is ok, instead of collapsible. It's ok not to have keeper straps, or to use pieces of string instead.

    The product does not have to serve the entire hiking population. For example, it's ok to produce a product for shorter people or children if it addresses the sustainability issue.

    The entire product does not have to be made out of wood, but can be made out of paper, cardboard, or a combination of other materials (steel tip, foam handle), just as long as it is more sustainable than glass/epoxy/carbon fiber variants.

    Mechanizable production is desirable, but if a solution has to be handmade, that's fine, if only to push the limits of the idea.

    Remember that people pick up sticks along the trail and use them on hikes.

    I have to warn you, I have a history of changing the requirements as we experiment. The trick is to fail quickly, think out of the box, and keep experimenting.

  7. PaulO June 1, 2011 at 4:45 am #

    Depending on how the poles broke, you could use them for kids. My kids love to "borrow" my trekking poles. My daughter has no fear of slippery trails and drop offs if she has two poles (she is 4 right now to give you an idea of height). She generally uses the poles almost completely collapsed.

    I've seen recommended the bamboo poles available at the garden center for holding up plants like tomatoes. I don't have any experience, but they're really light and cheap. You could afford to carry a spare! I'm going to try them out this summer.

  8. nathan howard June 1, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    it's called a hiking stick, and it's been done for eons… costs nothing… just go out in the woods and look for fallen branches, chop it down to size, and presto! hiking stick.

  9. Laidlaw June 1, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    REI makes sustainable trekking poles (I see you have at pair of them in that bunch). When you break one, no matter if you bought it 6 days, weeks, or years ago, just bring it back to them, and they hand you a new one, no questions asked.

    –Mark

  10. Earlylite June 1, 2011 at 5:23 am #

    Paul – I'd been thinking about trying those tomatoe stakes. I was planning to wrap the top with a piece of foam or "recycle" the cork grips from a broken set. Great minds think alike!

    Laidlaw – not exactly what I was arguing for. Still means a growing Mt LEKI.

  11. PaulO June 1, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    Earlylite, I was considering using duct tape handles as people like to bring it for use in an emergency.

  12. Earlylite June 1, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    You're going to end up with a lot of duct tape. Stuff is heavy. What about foam bicycle handle bar wraps?

    I'm really liking this tomatoe pole idea. If you can find thicker ones it might just work. Depending on your style of walking, they really don't have to be that weight bearing. I mainly use mine for balance and to keep my walking cadence steady.

  13. Patrick June 1, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    Nathan is right, and besides how can REI or the likes compete with Mother Nature? Really though.. do you really _need_ hiking poles/sticks? If you've got a tent without poles that rely on hiking poles/sticks then it seems to me you're locked in, but me.. heck no! They are awkward to carry and use, my tent does not need them ;o) and they add weight at a penalty of cost.. I am biased though.

  14. Earlylite June 1, 2011 at 6:31 am #

    Excellent point. If you don't need them, you can just go without. Personally, I find that they significantly reduce the leg pain that I experience without them. But by all means, if you don't need them, don't use them.

  15. marco June 1, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    Yeah, bamboo is a grass. It is fairly easy to sustain. It is already hollow, and has good rigidity. It does NOT need a handle. A leather strap or tong will work. The tip may require a bit of glue/rubber and carbide to achieve good durability. But, kept dry, it should last till you break it. Sticks in the woods are great. I usually use these, unless I carry one. But, sustainability is all about using less than we consume. If we can achieve this with most hiking gear, or a good proportion of it, then we are golden. Staffs are a good start. Durability is also a component. Buy something once for your lifetime, not once every 5 years.

    A typical staff only needs to support 30-50lb, plenty for balance and to push off with. They are not meant to support climbers.

  16. Pat June 1, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    How about just using a wooden walking stick. Just keep your eyes open when you're hiking. If you see one you like pick it up and use it. If you don't like it you can just put it back in the woods. No need to adjust the height, just move your hand on the stick to where you need it. No more spending time adjusting the length.

    It will also be stronger and if you really like the walking stick you found you can carve designs in it at home or to pass the time at camp. Plus the price is right.

  17. Earlylite June 1, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    I hear you, but there are some advantages to bringing sticks with you. I just got back from Home Depot where I bought some plumbing insulation for handles, 48" wooden dowels and some bamboo tomato stakes to experiment with. The dowels weight 1.6 oz each. I have some spare rubber tips somewhere. Stay tuned.

  18. jarra June 1, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    When I started cross country skiing long ago, we all had bamboo poles. Once in awhile, someone would fall on their pole and break it- it would split along the length and lose all rigidity.

    My suggestion for an experiment is to get some wood spar stock from Aircraft Spruce. Drill an appropriate size hole in each end so you can epoxy in tip and handle stubs salvaged from your boneyard. JB Weld is an excellent epoxy for this application. If you don't want to bother getting the spruce, get someone with a table saw to rip a Douglas Fir 2×4 down to size. Douglas Fir has excellent mechanical properties.

  19. Ken H. June 1, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    I modified a set of old bamboo cross country poles. The poles were way to long to use as is so I removed the plastic tip/basket and cut the pole at the bottom so I could keep the handle in tact.The diameter of the original end was close to the same diameter where I made the cut.I filed a slight taper on the end then re epoxied it to the plastic tip/basket. The basket diameter was also to large,so i just cut the spokes of the basket about 3/4 of an inch from the center.These have become my favorite poles even though they are one piece.Very light and very strong.haven't broken them yet.

  20. Jaxnmarko June 2, 2011 at 12:14 am #

    Many canes are made of good wood and are of lasting quality. It might not be too hard to turn one into a hiking pole with the top portion modified. Of course, breaking a wooden pole may result in dangerous splinters, large or small, so don't fall on one!

  21. OutHikingAgain June 3, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    I've only used carbon-fiber in the last few years so I cannot add much…but my hiking partner uses a staff made from willow and ties an arrowhead-shaped rock to it as a tip (with thin leather strapping). First one lasted 20+ years!

  22. Chai Guy June 5, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    I actually came up with this idea a few years ago on my PCT hike: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/46/156986425_124ed

  23. Grant June 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Interesting idea, this would bring trekking poles full circle back to the walking sticks they evolved from. Are those all of your broken poles in that photo? That is a lot of broken poles! Somehow I have managed to use the same pair of Lekis for over 10 years on all of my NH 4000 footers.

  24. Papa October 7, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    A few years ago I hiked Mt Madison in New Hampshire. I couldn't find my carbon fiber pole so I brought along an old wood hiking stick I made out of a maple tree branch. My buddy laughed when he saw the pole.

    Well going up Madison was no problem. The stick helped me over the boulder strewn peak. It was on the way down that the trusty old wooden stick saved my butt. I blew out my knees and had to lean on the stick bracing it againist my chest, leaning my full 210 lbs on it and schuffle forward. It took 12 hours to make my way back to our cars. If it hadn't been for that old piece of maple I probably wouldn't have made in down without calling on mountain rescue.

    A few stats. The maple hiking stick is about 1" dia at the top and maybe 5/8" on the bottom and is 56" high weighs maybe 1 lb +/-. I have never treated it with any sealer or oil and it doesn't have a bottom cap, rubber, metal just the bare wood. I dare say my carbon stick would not have lasted on that 12 hour hike down the mountain.

    Since then I have never used a carbon stick and for the last 10 years only use my old faithful maple stick. The only modification I have made is to add a wrist strap and do some carving.

    The bottom line is the wood hiking stick costed zero it's carbon footprint is zero, it's renewable, asthetically pleasing and if worst comes to worst I can throw in the fire and keep my self warm.

    In fact I love wood walking sticks so much I now make them for family and friends.

  25. Mary February 27, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Im so happy I’ve read this forum! Im making a project about it!, is so heartwarming reading people care about this, thanks

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