If you've traveled with Adventures in Good Company, you know we love and value trekking poles for their countless benefits including balance, stability, supporting knees and energy conservation. We've written about them in the past- check out our blog post on Choosing Trekking Poles.
But what's the deal with the rubber tips? Why are they there, and should you use them? While there is a certain element of personal preference in there, we can shed some light on the when, where, and why of using rubber tips on your trekking poles.
Trekking poles are built with hard metal end points that can provide traction on trails, especially those that are wet, snowy, icy, or muddy. The poles can sustain damage, though, when used on hard terrain like pavement, which is where rubber tips or "tip protectors" come into play.
We recommend using your rubber tips when you're hiking on hard terrain like pavement, concrete walkways, or rock because the uncovered tips can't grip the trail.
Rubber trips reduce the impact of poles on the trail. In regards to Leave No Trace, this means you're less likely to damage sensitive trail areas or permanently mark rocks and historic sites. In fact in some parks, rubber tips are recommended or even required so as to protect sensitive trails, ecosystems, and historic areas. Additionally, rubber tips dampen the rhythmic clicking that is caused by trekking poles pounding hard ground which helps keep the natural environment quiet.
Adding tip protectors is also a factor of safety and pole longevity. We always recommend keeping a poles-length between you and the hiker in front of you in case either of you trips and falls into a pole- while you won't turn into a human shish kebab, you might get unpleasantly poked if the pole tips are uncovered. And you can extend the life of your poles by covering them with rubber tips, especially if you use your poles on hard surfaces.
In the same way that you have different shoes for different activities, putting on or taking off tip protectors should be based on the particular type of activity you're doing.
Believe it or not there are different styles of poles tips. One style is ‘boot’ shaped and is often used for fitness walking. These are said give you increase momentum while you walk. There is also a larger 'bell' that can increase stability especially in mobility-challenge walkers and tips with a more aggressive tread pattern. For general hiking we recommend the standard pole tips- they are ideal for both walking and hiking.
Generally, one might take rubber tips off when hiking on trails that are "unimproved." The pole tip can easily gain traction in mud, dirt, snow or ice without leaving any permanent damage to the trail or making much noise. That's not to say you can't leave your pole tips on, but you might lose a tip to the suction of mud.
If you DO lose a pole tip, it's easy to order new tips- just make sure you're buying ones that match your particular set of trekking poles either by ordering from the same company who makes your poles or buying a universal fit.
Whether you're new to trekking poles or a lifelong fan, we encourage you to test out pole tips vs. no pole tips in different settings to find what works best for you.
We'd love to hear your comments about any lessons you've learned about tip protectors over the years- just share them in the comments box below.