Pushing my way past snow-laden trees on my way back to Lincoln Woods after another failed attempt on Owl’s Head a few years ago, I started thinking about all the gear I carry (perhaps prompted by the fact that a crucial piece of that gear–my stove–had failed, leaving us unable to boil enough water to hike the mountain that morning). Some of this gear is absolutely necessary but rarely touched, like the repair and first aid kits. Some of it is used frequently but basically only has one use.
So I got to thinking, What is the most versatile piece of gear I carry? I ran through my inventory. I have used a sleeping pad to sit on, but that’s not much different from sleeping on it. I did once use tent poles to repair a broken paddle on a canoe trip. My trusty aluminum pot has served as a mixing, serving and eating dish. But these usages don’t vary much from the original purpose of these items.
Then, as I raised my hiking poles up to block tree branches from snapping back in the face, it came to me: I’ve used my hiking poles in more ways than any other gear:
- In addition to using them to protect my face, I also use them to knock heavy loads of snow off branches so it won’t go down my back, a constant annoyance when you’re a tall person in a land of short trees.
- I no longer bring a tent outside of bug season, carrying a simple lightweight tarp instead. I use hiking poles to create a peak at either end.
- In winter, I use the poles as tent stakes. Once I’ve buried them and the snow has consolidated, it’s virtually impossible to move them. It usually requires some fancy kicking or ice axe work axe to free them in the morning.
- They provide extra height for raising bear bags or hooking them back down.
- They make a great rudder/brake for glissading (not as good as an ice axe so only useful on short, gentle sections of trail).
- A friend has buried a screw in the top of one of his poles and uses it as a monopod for photography.
- In rural Ecuador where dogs are quite territorial, the poles provided a way of keeping them at bay without risking a bite or having to throw rocks.
And of course, if you’re stuck in a small village in the middle of nowhere waiting for a bus, they make wonderful swords!