Step Count when Hiking with Poles

A while back I saw a post on Reddit commenting on the accuracy of Garmin’s step tracking when using hiking poles. This made me think. I use poles now and then for longer / steeper hikes – was I missing out on some tracked calories which could later be exchanged for beer? Time to find out!

A pair of Saucony Ride ISO shoes with Garmin Foot Pod, Fenix 5+, and Leki Voyager hiking poles
Unusual Hiking Boots

The experiment would be a simple one: pick a route featuring a variety of surfaces and gradients, hike it three times over the space of a week.

  1. Fenix 5+ on its own, no sticks
  2. Fenix 5+ and a pair of hiking poles
  3. Fenix 5+, Foot Pod, poles

I tried to keep my pace and stride length constant, using the exact same path each time, even when scrambling down a ravine at the back of Sharragh Bedn, an old Tholtan in the middle of Tholt-e-will Plantation. Here’s how that route looks:

My Fenix 5+ doesn’t track steps per-activity so I resorted to doing it the old-fashioned way, with before / after photos of the daily progress screen. Here’s how it worked out:

Fenix 5+Fenix 5+
Hiking Poles
Fenix 5+
Hiking Poles
Foot Pod
Distance4.65 km4.66 km4.67 km
Avg. Pace14:36 min/km16:24 min/km14:44 min/km
Avg. HR96 bpm106 bpm101 bpm
Avg. Cadence89 spm82 spm93 spm
Calories360 C410 C364 C
Training Effect0.30.40.7

What to make of all this? There appears to be no significant impact to steps counted when using hiking poles, at least the way that I use them. The two activities where I used poles did gather slightly fewer steps than my first outing sans sticks and in the interest of variance I’d have liked one of those to be over, but the amount isn’t large enough to put hiking poles in the same league as other step detractors, like pushing a lawnmower / baby stroller / wheelbarrow.

Finally, for sake of completeness, here’s a short video of my poling action. It’s a bit stuttery because I’m going downhill, but better than the uphill version since I’m holding a GoPro in my mouth and nobody likes a heavy breather.