So Christmas is around the corner and your loved ones have offered to buy you a pair of Nordic walking poles as a present. What great news… or so it seems until you start looking online to give them a steer and find an utterly bewildering number of choices.
Don’t worry! Help is at hand. Here are the key points:
Fixed length, travel poles or adjustable?
Fixed length poles are solid and dependable. Very little goes wrong with them. If you’re not wanting to travel with your poles or share them with anyone else, this is the best pole for you. I always use a fixed pole when I can simply because they are so reliable.
If you have decided on a fixed length pole the next question is: what length? A word of caution here. Often, when you start Nordic walking, a shorter length pole will feel more comfortable. This is principally because you are still developing your technique and it is generally easier to learn on a shorter pole. As you become more proficient a longer pole may be more appropriate (you can get more rotation for a start). The textbook correct pole length is that, when you grasp the handle with your elbow tucked into your side, your forearm should be horizontal or slightly lower than horizontal (see main picture to elucidate!). You, of course, may be the exception to the rule so my best advice is:
- Don’t rush in to buying a fixed length pole – wait until you’ve become comfortable with the technique;
- Try different lengths out and go for the one that feels the most comfortable – even if it isn’t your ‘text book’ height.
Travel poles are the best option if you are planning on regularly travelling around and about – and especially abroad – with your poles (obvs, as my daughter would say). They fit comfortably into a suitcase or down the side of a medium sized day pack.
Most travel poles are made up of three sections and collapse down, telescope style, to approximately 62cm long. Potentially, because of the number of sections, more can go wrong with them. It is exasperating if your poles won’t ‘bite’ at your required height – so buy good quality ones (Exel or Leki) and this shouldn’t happen. You can use your travel poles for every day Nordic walking but in my view they don’t feel quite as sturdy and dependable.
There is now a folding (tent pole style) travel pole on the market. I haven’t tried it myself but I have heard from others that it isn’t that robust and bounces as the elastic inside stretches.
Adjustable poles are a sort of hybrid cross between fixed length and travel poles. They come in two sections – so again they might not tighten properly – and they do not collapse down enough to fit into a bag or suitcase. They are perfect, though, in certain circumstances, namely:
- If you are sharing your poles with someone else who is a different height.
- If your posture is very poor and you anticipate that it will improve with Nordic walking and that you will want to lengthen your poles incrementally as you progress.
- You plan to do lots of hill walking and want to adjust your poles to maximize your technique going up and down hill.
- You want to buy poles now but can’t decide what length pole suits you best so you need to keep your options open!
Carbon, composite or aluminium?
Once you have decided on fixed length, travel or adjustable poles, the other issue is what material the pole itself is made from. Your options are carbon, carbon composite or aluminium.
The top of the range poles are 100% carbon, which makes them strong and light and means you don’t get any vibration up the pole shaft when you plant. These are best if you:
- are planning on doing a lot of Nordic walking;
- are likely to be walking on hard surfaces, especially tarmac;
- have a medical/ physiological reason why you don’t want vibration running up the pole to your hand/arm/shoulder area.
If none of the above applies to you then look at poles with a lower carbon content or aluminium poles. An 80% carbon pole is a great option if you don’t want to splash out on a 100% carbon pole.
Finally, if you want to know what pole I would recommend I have to say that I honestly can’t commit. I have fixed, travel and adjustable poles and they are all good in different situations. The only thing that I do go for nowadays is a 100% carbon pole. I Nordic walk nearly 40 miles a week so I’d be foolish not to.