A Guide To Buying Your Own Poles

Mary Tweed
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It is the Nordic Walking pole that transforms the simple act of walking into a whole body workout. Using the correct 10 step technique ensures that 90% of the skeletal muscles are working, as well as leading the walker to burn 46% more calories than "normal" walking and a raft of other benefits. Whilst at Nordic Walking East Anglia, we provide all our customers with poles for our walks, many clients choose to buy their own poles so that they can take Nordic Walking even further and incorporate it into their everyday life, not just when attending a fitness class. Katharine and I are often asked about what to look for when buying a set of poles and we believe it is worth investing in a decent set, in order to reap the full benefits of Nordic Walking. Therefore, I thought it would be useful to put together a guide of factors to consider.

Pole Length

  • At NWEA we fit poles by asking clients to stand on flat ground and hold a pole by the handle whilst clamping their upper arm to their body and tucking their elbow in to their waist. If the forearm is roughly 90 degrees to the upper arm or slightly larger, then in most cases the pole will fit.
  • For the mathematically minded, there is an equation that can be used to give you an approximate idea of what length of pole you will need, which is 0.68 x height in cm, then rounded down to the nearest pole size. (Poles vary in height by 5cm increments.)
  • However, other factors can affect the length which feels most comfortable for an individual. I have proportionally long arms for my height and so I opt for a slightly shorter pole, whereas Katharine prefers to use a size up from the one that the formula or the sight test would determine, as she has a long stride length.
  • For these reasons, we advise clients not to rush out and buy poles immediately, but to play around with different lengths over the course of a few weeks, using our poles during lessons, in order to find the exact size with which they are happy.

The Type of Grip

  • Nordic Walking grips come in three sizes (S, M, L) and have a left and a right, which fit the hand like a glove using velcro straps. This enables the Nordic Walker to push hard through the strap before letting go of the pole fully to actively release the hand behind the body, whilst extending the arm. This contrasts with trekking poles, which have a simple loop that the hand slips through, rather like a traditional ski pole.
  • Good quality poles also have a quick release strap system, which consists of a button on the top of the pole, which, when pressed releases the strap from the shaft of the pole, enabling the walker to open a gate / blow their nose / remove a hat etc. without having to undo all the straps. I have a cheap pair of retractable poles that does not have a quick release button and it is only when I am using them that I realise what a valuable and useful feature this is.

The Type of Shaft

  • Another key difference between a Nordic Walking pole and a trekking pole is the weight. Nordic Walking poles are extremely light and are measured by swing weight.
  • All decent poles contain a certain amount of carbon, ranging from 20% at the economic end of the market up to 100%. The lighter the shaft, the higher the carbon content. Carbon acts as a natural dampener and absorbs vibrations sent through the pole with each pole plant. Therefore, for clients who intend to walk long distances or at high intensity; or for clients who have an existing shoulder or neck injury or suffer from tennis elbow or arthritis, we recommend a high carbon content shaft, as the lighter weight and minimal vibration will enable them to walk further / faster/ more comfortably.
  • If you plan to use your poles when travelling abroad, it may be worth considering a retractable pair that can collapse down to fit inside a suitcase. The joins in the shaft mean that they are not as strong as a shaft made from one single shaft, but they are convenient for packing.

Paw and Tip

  • The paw of a Nordic Walking Pole is used on hard surfaces, such as pavements and tarmac. Not only does it soften the noise, but it is angled at 45 degrees, which helps the walker keep their poles at that all important angle whilst ensuring as much contact as possible with the surface on which they are walking.
  • Paws can either be removed manually, or be flipped upwards and clicked into place, revealing a tungsten spike beneath.
  • The tungsten spike itself should be angled at 45 degrees and provides excellent grip on grass, mud and other off road terrain. Lower priced models often have a rounded tip, which does not give the walker as much purchase as a spike, making it harder to push down through the pole.
  • Personally, I prefer the All Terrain (flip) paw, particularly in the summer, when I don’t necessarily have pockets in which to place the removable paws.

At NWEA, we recommend poles made by Exel, who are the world’s leading Nordic Walking Pole brand and have been at the cutting edge of developing the pole to suit the sport. They have a good range of poles across various price brackets. If you have any questions about purchasing a pair of poles, then please do get in touch with either Katharine or myself and we will happily advise you.

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