In this article, Georgie Bull discusses walking poles and how to choose the right pole for the job you have in mind. With such a broad range of hiking poles on the market, how to select the best type and what to look for is really useful information.
Over to Georgie:
Walking poles definitely make walking easier. Any age walker should think poles are great, if only because they will save your knees.
However, like boots, there are a few things to consider if you want your poles experience to be a happy one.
You need the right pole for the job.
There are purpose built poles and general use poles, heavy poles and light poles, sprung poles and non-sprung poles. Go along to a reputable outdoor store, tell an expert salesperson what you want the pole to do, that you want a pole suitable for your body weight, and that you would like to see their entire range.
There is a considerable price gap between the cheapest, starting point poles and high end, expensive carbon poles. Cheaper poles are usually made of aluminium, so they might feel heavy at around 250g per pole. Dearer poles are usually made of light, high tech materials.
If you are light and like to walk fast, an ultra-light carbon Pacer pole might be the go. Pacers are biomechanically designed to encourage more upright walking, their unique hand grips do away with heavy shock absorbing springs, and the special end grips are designed to push you along on the flat.
Heavier or older walkers might fancy a pole that will help them safely balance and brake down slippery inclines – say something like the Leki SLS pole, which claims a holding force of 140kg.
If you walk in hilly, soggy, wet country like the Overland Track, a pole with a range of shock absorbing settings that can be easily adjusted from none to huge could be handy. On the soft, slippery mud tracks, the firm setting is great for bracing against trees and rocks, while the highly shock absorbing setting is handy on downhill rocky slopes to act as a brake and for extra balance.
Grips and tips is a fascinating topic, and one a good outdoor sales person will relish. Most poles come with either a carbide or stainless steel tip and interchangeable baskets. Find out what each is best for and make sure the pole you fancy has the tip you need. Handles, wristbands and grips come in a mystifyingly huge range of materials and shapes, from the extravagant to the simple, synthetics and natural corks. Some have extensive ergonomic claims and others offer just finger slots. Take a firm grip of every handle on offer to feel what fits best and feels comfortable, then get the salesperson to explain the features of that and all the others. If you like the handle, make sure the wrist straps are comfortable and sit at the correct angle to your wrists. Ask the salesperson to go through it all with you.
How many poles could you handle. I use one, to leave me a spare hand if I need to steady myself, but experienced walkers say get used to walking with two, as two are more than twice as good as one.
Some poles are designed to double up as camera tripods, so if you are a foto fanatic, you might like to narrow your search down to poles with this handy option.
You can spend hours and have lots of fun looking at poles. Check out some of these:
Black Diamond – a range of ladies’ and men’s poles. The Contour Elliptic Shock 4 season hiking pole is spruiked as the “latest evolution of our technical workhorse contour range”, priced at around $160. Their ergonomic cork hiking pole $130.
Exped – Explorer, a 4 section pole that packs up really small to fit in your backpack for the plane, should cost about $125
GMA Carbon Hiking Pole – made from 100% carbon, so very light, and the 3 twist lock extends the pole from 70cm to 135cm. With an adjustable padded wrist loop, carbide tip and rubber handle, they cost about $90 each.
Jacko – Dyno – not your ‘run of the mill walking stick’, made from aerospace alloys with Sur-lock quick adjust system and stainless flex tip. Sounds like a bargain at only $70 pair!
Komperdell – a big range of anti-shock poles, priced from $60 up. The Contour Titanal Antishock Trekking pole is a single unit that compacts into itself, has a tungsten carbide flex tip, weighs 245g and costs up to $100 pair.
Leki poles – German quality without compromise – but looking for a Leki might be a bit confusing, as there are 32 types of poles to choose from. Check out the Sierra Photo height-adjustable aluminium pole, weighing in at under 300gms. The handle screws off to expose a universal thread which your camera can be screwed on to – so you can snap away without an extended arm in sight!
Pacer – anatomically correct, ergonomic 4Ns for posture, movement, shaping and balance – these biomechanically designed poles are around $250 a pair.
Good luck with that! Next week we will look at how to use poles correctly, and the latest European craze, Nordic Walking, a fantastic way for you to get and keep fit.
Do you use walking poles? One or two?
Why do you use them?
If you use walking poles, what do you see as the advantages or disadvantages?
Shoot us a comment below if you have something to say!
All Images: Kathrin & Stefan via Flickr