Do trekking poles hurt the environment?

One of the common concerns about trekking poles is whether they have an environmental impact. There are very differing opinions about how much using trekking poles impacts the environment and whether or not this impact is substantial enough to warrant their disuse. There is no scientific agreement with either of the two sides, and those that are passionate about the outdoors have very different opinions. Here are some of the current thoughts of the trekking community.

Why Trekking Poles May Be Bad for the Environment

·        Trekking poles expand the amount of your body that hits the ground and makes an impact in the grass and dirt. Without poles it is only your feet, but with poles it is your feet and the tips of said poles. Any additional damage to the environment is still additional damage, however minor that may be.

·        Trekking poles can make noise when they connect with rocks, and this noise reduces the feel of the wilderness, as well as cuts into natural rocks and greenery.

·        Poles can create holes in the ground and may hit vegetation, doing additional damage. All of this will result in changes in the environment that may produce permanent, long term damage.

Why Trekking Poles May Not Be Bad for the Environment

·        By taking most of the weight off your feet and dispersing it to the poles, it is possible that less damage is inflicted on the environment, because the greenery is not experiencing the full impact of your weight, and less likely to maintain permanent damage.

·        Much of the concern about damaging nearby plants can be mitigated by simply removing the baskets unless they are necessary for the environmental conditions.

·        It is argued that since trekking poles provide greater support for the trek, environmental damage is also reduced due to fewer hikers requiring a place to rest (trees, ground, etc.) that would normally be subject to greater weight of a greater diameter.

·        When trekking poles are used, fewer people need to find shortcuts to their path, as the poles allow people to cross over already used (but possibly uncomfortable/wet) terrain.

What is the Verdict?

Available evidence suggests that while there is a little bit of increased risk of damaging the environment when hiking poles are used recklessly (e.g. poking directly into a nearby plant or greenery when a perfectly acceptable place to stick the pole was nearby), there is also reduced risk of permanently damaging plants due to reduced weight on each step. In that respect, it is arguable that trekking poles may even have a positive environmental impact, though this too is up for debate.

As of yet, there is no evidence to strongly suggest that trekking poles cause any environmental damage. As long as you use the trekking poles responsibly and avoid any situations where you could cause serious environmental damage, using your trekking poles is a more than acceptable choice that is unlikely to cause any serious environmental problems.