Monday, April 30, 2018

Going From One To Two

I started hiking at an early age, camping and the outdoors being a big part of our family life. Family hikes and Boy Scout backpacking trips (and then military forced marches!) set the stage and I’ve spend a lot of time, and miles, hiking ever since, mostly on my own.

Through all this I never once gave thought to using a hiking stick. What the hell, I was too young to be using a cane! Then around the time I hit my early 30’s I nearly fell off a cliff while hiking in Alaska. That taught me two things. All that scrabbling and kicking of rocks loose is a good way to call a hungry eagle in real close when he comes to check out what sort of dinner just fell off the cliff, and that just maybe using a hiking stick isn’t such a bad idea after all. In fact I cut myself a stick right then and there and haven’t been without one since.

Well after three decades of being a one-sticker, last April to be exact, I scared the bejesus out of myself up on the Eyebrow, a section of the Dog Canyon Recreation Trail (Though I’m not at all convinced there’s much recreation about that trail!) that creeps along a ledge a couple hundred feet in the air. I followed that up in October, still as a one-sticker, by going ass-over-teakettle while trying to climb down a slippery chute into Illinois’ Little Grand Canyon.

I may be a few stamps short of full postage, but even I could see it was time to think about graduating to two sticks.

Original Brunton on the left and my new-ish pair of Foxelli’s on the right

You’d think something like that would be easy, but somehow I managed to make it difficult. First off I tried finding a twin to the stick I’ve been using for years, but it turns out that Brunton no longer offers hiking sticks at all.

OK, not an insurmountable issue, I mean Cabellas, Bass Pro, Academy, hell even Walmart, all sell hiking sticks, so I’ll just check around and find a pair I like. Except that apparently everybody in the world wants neon day-glow gear nowadays, and I’m just not a neon day-glow kind of guy. I don’t feel the need to announce to the world where I am, in fact I’d rather the world not know where I am.

Eventually I resorted to on-line shopping and found this pair of Foxelli sticks that weren’t too objectionable, though they would be even better without all the graphics. . .

What I couldn’t find was a halfway decent stick using the twist-lock mechanism of the Brunton, so I somewhat skeptically settled for lever-lock mechanisms even though I was concerned about their bulkiness and how prone they might be to getting pried open accidently.

Neither concern was valid. I have since done enough bushwhacking through thick crap with the Foxelli’s to know that the lever-locks are not any more prone to hanging up than the Brunton’s twist-lock was and I have yet to have one of the lever-locks get inadvertently pried open.

The tension of each lever-lock can be adjusted with a small knurled nob. With a little experimenting it was easy to find the sweet-spot where they were tight enough to resist slipping under a great deal of weight while at the same time not requiring a sacrifice of finger-tip blood to pry them open again.

And to facilitate getting the three-part sticks back to you own personal hiking length with a minimum of fuss, the shafts have length-markings on them.

The Foxelli’s come with a carry-bag, which I personally haven’t found a use for, as well as an assortment of tips. From left to right you get rock/asphalt tips, mud/sand baskets, and snow baskets. 

If I’m ever doing any prolonged hiking in mud or sand (possible) or deep snow (Unlikely!) the baskets thread securely onto the sticks. As for the rock/asphalt tips, they are friction fit and look a bit cumbersome to me. If I ever do use them I’m going to have the hassle of making sure the ‘rocker’ of the tips line up with the hand-grips. (And, having never used them, I’m still not sure which is front and back on these tips.)

The actual tip of the sticks themselves is this toothed tungsten rod.

If they remind you of those trash picker-upper-sticks you see last-night’s drunks using to clean up the park in the morning before they’re released to go home – or back to the bar – you’re right. They do have a tendency to collect leaves.

I’ll admit that these tips grip well and are really difficult to get to slip, but they are too noisy on anything other than soft ground for my taste.

The Brunton, on the left, came with a hard rubber screw-on tip but it wasn’t long before it unscrewed on me somewhere. The threaded aluminum rod-end was never designed to be banged repeatedly into the ground, pavement, and rocks, so I found a replacement crutch-tip at a pharmacy and epoxied it into place.

I have no idea how many miles have been put on this tip, other than a whole lot-a-lot-a, but it has held up to the abuse pretty well.

The Foxelli’s, on the right, come with what are called transportation tips, I suppose to protect duffle-bags and fellow travelers from those tungsten prods. As I don’t like the tick tick tick of the tungsten tips I’ve been using the transportation tips for hiking. I have a feeling they are not going to hold up as well as my crutch-tips, and then I guess I’ll give the rock/asphalt tips a shot. But if those don’t work out for me I can always head back to the pharmacy and pick up a couple more replacement crutch-tips.

The Brunton has a foam grip that has held up remarkably well, still unscarred and looking almost new even after all the miles it has on it.

I’m not so sure the cork grips of the Foxelli’s are going to hold up as well. I’ve only done a modest amount of hiking with them and already I am seeing signs of wear.

Because the Brunton grip is round there is no need for the wrist-strap to be adjustable, wherever your hand falls on the grip works just fine. But the Foxelli’s elaborately shaped grips mean there’s only one ‘right’ spot for your hand so the wrist-strap is adjustable. That way you can get your hand there into the right spot.

If you go back to the first photo of this post it’s pretty clear that the Brunton, properly adjusted for my height, is taller than Foxelli’s, but if you look closer you will see that all three wrist-straps are hanging at the same height, meaning my arm is at the same angle when using either type of stick.

Initially I was worried that the extra bit of strap needed to allow for this adjustment on the Foxelli's but dangling there under my hand was going to be bulky and always in the way, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Unless it twists and folds over, which is very rarely, I don't notice it at all.

Still, I’d rather have the round grip than the shaped grip, which I think is completely unnecessary. The shaped grip is supposed to help keep the stick from slipping through your hand when pushing on it, but instead of transferring the ‘push’ from arm to stick by gripping tightly with the small muscles of your fingers, (forearms) the proper way to hike is to loosely hold to stick with your hand using just enough pressure to keep it under control, which doesn't take much more than the relaxed hand you see in the photo, and let the weight of the ‘push’ transfer from arm to stick via the wrist-strap so you are primarily using the larger muscles of your shoulder and upper-arm.

So far I’m putting up with the shaped grips, but if I get tired of that I’ll shave them down to round and wrap them with a little grip-tape. Which is also what I’ll do if and when the cork wears out.

Foxelli’s marketing blub claims that those stepped foam grips below the cork are there to give you another place to hang onto when climbing in rocks or other wildly uneven terrain. That might work out for others, but I can’t see how you would ever get your hand down there if you’re wearing the wrist-strap properly and if you take your hand out of the strap then you risk dropping the stick, perhaps irretrievably.

The pair of carbon-fiber Foxelli sticks are only slightly heavier than the single aluminum-shafted Brunton, but I’ve still been giving some thought to lightening the Foxelli’s even more by cutting away most of that extra bit of useless grip.

The Brunton stowed, collapsed and upside down, inside the side door of The Van, tucked in between the back of the cabinet and the door-frame, but that wasn’t going to work for the Foxelli’s so I added a couple hooks and a small bungee so I can stow the sticks, without having to collapse them, inside the right-rear door along with my Eazy-Up, camp chair, and kayak. (The backpack is inside the left-rear door.)

Another concern I had with going to two sticks was that they would be in the way when I strapped two rather than just one to the top-tube of the Quad-B, but that hasn’t been an issue. Though they look pretty wide sitting there on either side of the top-tube, they haven’t proven to be in the way. I guess, like Wonder Woman, my thighs don’t meet at the top. . .

I also figured that there would be a steep learning curve when making the transition from single-sticker to a two sticker. I am decidedly left handed and always used the single-stick in my dominant hand. I expected that having a stick in my right hand would be clumsy and awkward for a while. I figured wrong.  In less than a mile of tramping the trails around the property I was no longer having to think about the stick in my right hand.

I’ve found that when it comes to hiking with two sticks there are a couple of natural rhythms depending on the conditions.

When ‘stolling’ on easy, levelish terrain, each stick gets casually moved and re-planted every 1.5 to two strides.

On steeper or rockier terrain there’s a firm stick-plant for each stride; left stick to right foot, right stick to left foot.

For really steep up-hills, especially with a bum leg like I had for a while, both sticks get planted together for that extra push, somewhat like a skier pushing across the flats.

There are a few extra two-stick moves I quickly mastered too. Such as balancing both light-weight sticks horizontally, almost effortlessly, in my relaxed left hand when walking on a road or paved section of trail where sticks are superfluous, or kicking the bottom of the left stick back with my foot so I can reach down and pull the trail-map out of my left-hand cargo pocket without having to free myself from the wrist-strap, or letting the right stick dangle from my wrist while I’m handling the camera.

I noticed the other day, when wobbling on a precarious perch, and again when I was wadding across a flowing river on slick rocks, that I was reaching out and planting the sticks automatically, without having to think it through. They are already a natural extension of me and I should have gone to two sticks long ago. I’m glad that practicality finally overcame ego.


  1. When I was a younger man and long distance backpacker, I bought into the idea that two hiking sticks are just extra weight. Now I prefer two sticks to one, and one to none. Tools for balance and speed. I still use leftover cross country ski poles because I haven't overcome frugality.

    1. I gave all my cross-gear away when I left Michigan for Texas in 81, besides, I'm pretty sure full length poles would be a bear strap on the bike!