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Are hiking poles necessary on a Grand Canyon river trip?

By Nick • October 1, 2021

Hiking poles are popular among hikers these days, especially in canyon country, but they can be a hassle to bring on the river if they go unused. It all depends which trip you are on.

3 Day Escape

You won’t need poles on the 3 Day Escape. This trip is focused on running the river and taking in the Bar 10 Ranch. The hikes we do go on are short in length with minimal elevation change.

Full Canyon Trips

If you are on one of our 6, 7, or 8 Day motor trips, or the 13 Day oar trip, you will be getting more hikes in and will have many more opportunities to use them. However, we don’t necessarily recommend them in all cases. There are plenty of hikes to be done on these trips but it’s unpredictable which ones you’ll do. Some will be flat and others will involve some up- and downhill hiking, but likely not enough to warrant poles. Also, some may involve some minor scrambling over large rocks where it’s more important to be hands-free rather than use poles. Read more about our side hikes here. Our recommendation is that if you hike with them regularly and/or have potential issues with your knees hiking downhill, bring them along. If you don’t normally use them and you’re a confident hiker, it’s probably best to leave them behind. It will be one less thing you’ll have to remember to get off the boat at the end of the trip.

Partial Canyon and Hiker’s Special Trips

If you are on one of the partial-canyon oar trips or a hiker’s special trip, we highly recommend hiking poles, especially if you are doing a hike exchange via the Bright Angel Trail. You will undoubtedly be doing more side hikes with hills and/or through rocky washes where they will come in handy for simply navigating the terrain. For those hike exchange trips up and down the Bright Angel Trail, they will be invaluable. The hike is 8 miles long and over 4,000 ft. of elevation change, exactly what poles are meant for!

Pro Tips for Poles on the River

-Your elbow should be at about a 90-degree bend when holding the pole vertically on flat ground. Adjust the height up or down to achieve this. That said, you’ll want to lengthen or shorten your poles a few centimeters based on whether you will be hiking predominantly down- or uphill, as on the Bright Angel Trail. The ground is either slightly further away or closer on every stride, respectively. Adjusting the height compensates for the difference to keep your arm at a good angle.

-The wrist strap is helpful for allowing you to loosen your grip and prevent hand fatigue. Loop your hand up through the loop and bring it back down to grip the pole handle along with the strap. You can rest your hand while still maintaining control of the pole.

-On the rafts, there is a special storage location for hiking poles, just be sure they are collapsible. Your guides will show you where this is and how to access it before each hike.

-Be sure to plan ahead if flying commercially with hiking poles. Most airlines require poles to be in checked baggage, not carry-ons. Always check for TSA restrictions. Poles can be carried-on to our charter flights without issue.

-If you are new to using poles and you’re planning on getting some, take some time at home to practice using them.

-Still need to purchase poles? REI’s How to Choose and Use Trekking Poles advice guide is an excellent resource!