I never got the hype. I never understood the point. I remember watching people hiking up Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park with hiking poles and thinking they were more of a hindrance than anything. If we're cutting weight, why bring something so unnecessary? Then, I was hiking down Lassen Peak one summer trying to ignore my angry knees. I was envious of every person I passed with hiking poles. I wasn't yet a believer, but I was curious.

I moved to South Dakota's Black Hills right in time for winter to kick in. I looked at my thermostat and saw numbers like "2" or "0" or "-12," and the struggle to get outside became increasingly real. I watched out the window as flocks of turkeys and herds of deer meandered through the snow and couldn't fathom their reality in that chill. But, what I've quickly learned about South Dakotans is that they don't let a little frost stop them from embracing the outdoors.

With the right layers and some wonderfully insulated boots, I headed out one afternoon to hike in Custer State Park. It was about 0 degrees when I set out and it was supposed to get down to -6. The trails were packed with snow and ice, hiding the twists and turns of rocks and roots below. The last thing I wanted was to fall and break an ankle in that kind of weather, so I skeptically pulled out my new hiking poles.

Hiker standing with hiking poles in the Black Hills looking out at overlook

I decided on Gossamer Gear's LT5 3-Piece Carbon Hiking Poles because they're compact and lightweight. However, when they arrived in the mail, I'll admit that I was even more skeptical of hiking poles than before. They looked great, but they were so absurdly light that it seemed a given they would snap in half instantly upon use. I questioned the durability, especially when up against a South Dakota winter. But, I was determined to put my curmudgeonly opinions about hiking poles aside and try to keep an open mind–try to remember how happy the knees looked of the hiking pole users at Lassen.

I got the LT5's adjusted to my height on the trail. They easily twisted into a locked position–but would they keep that position as I got moving? I started to hike again and spent about 10 minutes telling my partner how dumb hiking poles are. I wasn't getting it. I just felt silly. What was this adding to my experience? Within 11 minutes, I was exclaiming that, well, I'm just a hiking poles kind of gal. Within 20, I couldn't imagine my hike without them.

Hiking poles in the snow on top of a mountain

Gossamer Gear's LT5 hiking poles are glorious enough to make any skeptic a believer. They're incredibly lightweight, but as it turns out, also incredibly rugged. I put them to work climbing up steep, rocky, icy passages in the Black Hills, and they never snapped as I anticipated they would. They carried me up some of the most difficult parts of the trail, taking on my weight as I worked to keep my balance. The twist lock stayed securely in place throughout the trip. I was 1,000 times less tired doing this hike than I had been doing a similar hike without them a week prior. I was a full-on hiking poles believer thanks to them.

Scenic view of South Dakotas Black Hills

Since my first trip with the hiking poles, I've continued to explore this great state's trails with them along. Throughout each adventure, they continue to hold up and impress. The views I've gotten to take in as a result of having a little help with my hike have been unreal. While I'm sure I'll continue to use the hiking poles as we move into spring and summer, they'll always hold a special place in my heart for helping me discover the magic of winter in South Dakota.