How to Choose Walking Poles
Firstly before we get into the nitty-gritty of what to look for in a walking pole, let's answer the age old question:
|Why do you need walking poles if you've got legs? |
When it comes to tricky questions like that I always delegate to someone much cleverer than me. The boffins at The Journal of Sports Medicine did some clever experiments on the compressive force on the knees while walking and discovered that walking poles reduce force on the knees by 25%. This 25% over the course of a reasonable walk adds up to a lot of pressure on the knees.
|In fact I'm going to pluck some more statistics from the ether - on a six hour walk this apparently equates to a load on the knees equivalent to the weight of a very fat blue whale. I don't know whether that is a reasonable comparison but the general point is that walking poles reduce the strain on your knees by a lot, because the last time I carried a blue whale I remember it hurt.|
|An aside (only for the over 40s)|
If you're in your 40s or over, hiked a lot, cycled, played football and squash in the past, and in need of an anterior cruciate ligament which sounds pretty painful and I really don't want to have it, then believe me walking poles are a must on a long hike - let's carry on
|Some more reasons|
Apart from the knees, here's a few more reasons to use walking poles:
1. They provide better balance and footing.
2. They help distribute some energy to your arms which reduces fatigue in the legs.
3. On downhill sections especially, they decrease the amount of stress on your legs and joints.
4. On uphill sections, your shoulders and arms get to do a bit of the work.
5. They give better stability on slippery surfaces and streams.
|Types of Trekking Poles|
There are a few different types of walking poles to consider:
These have internal springs that absorb shock when you walk. Unfortunately not powerful enough to boing up the mountain, although that does sound fun., but they have enough force to take some jarring out of your arms. With most poles, the boing can be turned off when it's not needed such as when you're walking uphill.
Advantages: Mostly when walking downhill, reducing the impact of the pole.
Disadvantages: Adds a little weight and adds cost
These do not have the antishock feature but are lighter and less expensive. If you hike on soft ground it is debatable whether you need the antishock.
Advantages: Lighter and less expensive
Disadvantages: Don't absorb as much impact as antishock poles when going downhill.
|Compact or women's poles: |
Compact or women's poles:
These are shorter and have smaller grips to cater for hikers with, guess what, shorter bodies and smaller hands.
Advantages: They weigh less because they are shorter and are also simpler to pack.
Disadvantages: Extremely tall-ist poles which I'm not happy about - if you're tall you can't use them.
|Nordic walking poles: |
Nordic walking poles:
These walking poles are only for people from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and their associated territories. Sorry, just trying to be funny. Nordic walking was a bit of a European thing to begin with, but now it is gradually becoming popular in the U.K. It's a social activity that offers a total body workout. We don't sell Nordic walking poles yet, but just thought I'd mention them, so you know what you're looking at when you see them in a rival shop (which obviously wouldn't happen, would it?)
|Weight and Price|
If it's heavy it's cheap - but enough about Kerry Katona (I've got to stop reading NOW magazine it's turning me into a right bitchy cow). However, it's a universal law of physics, when prices go up the weight comes down.
Lightweight poles are more expensive but have the advantage of less swing weight, which makes them easier and quicker to move. On a long hike this means less fatigue. So let your bank balance do the work..
|Walking Pole Shaft Materials|
There are usually only two types of pole shaft material.
|High-grade 7075 aluminum : |
High-grade 7075 aluminum :
Aluminium poles are strong and relatively cheap. They usually weigh between 500g and 650g per pair. The gauge of the pole can ranges from 12 to 18mm.. It usually says 16/14/12 mm aluminium which are the diameters of aluminium used in each section of the pole. Under high stress, aluminum can bend but it is unlikely to break. Leki poles are made from 7075 aircraft grade aluminium with a tensile strength of 40000psi and yield strength of 21,000 psi.
| These figures sound good but you'll have to check that out for yourself.|
My physics teacher liked to smoke in his office rather than suffer us out there in the classroom, so I have no idea about tensile strength or yield strength or any of that.. It's always a good idea to have someone else to blame for your own lack of knowledge, I think.
|Carbon fibre: |
The lighter and more expensive option is carbon fibre, these poles average between 370g and 500g per pair. They are good at reducing vibration and are also quite strong. If they are yanked in the wrong direction, however, carbon-fibre poles are more vulnerable to breakage or splintering than aluminum poles.
Trekking poles usually come in 2 or 3 interlocking sections. This adjustability (which typically ranges between 115 to 135 cms) lets you adapt the poles to your height and the terrain. Most poles use a twist-and-lock system. Set it up to the desired length and then twist the pole to the right to hold.
Some Popular Varieties
Super Lock System: Leki's system uses an expander and screw setup that is consistently strong and dependable
DuoLock: Komperdell poles apply a wide area of pressure against the pole walls to achieve secure length settings.
|Some popular varieties:|
FlickLock: This Black Diamond brand system is also strong. It's a lever-based, clamp-like feature that is quick and easy to adjust, even when wearing gloves.
|Walking Pole Grips|
Cork - This resists moisture from sweaty hands, decreases vibration and best conforms to the shape of your hands.
Rubber - This material insulates hands from cold, shock and vibration, so it's a popular choice for cold-weather activities.
Extended Grip - Some poles come with an extended grip that allows a lower grip position. This feature is particularly useful on steep traverses so you don't have to shorten the length of your up-slope pole.
|Wrist straps: |
Most poles allow you to adjust the length of each strap to get a comfy fit around your wrist. Your wrists will be in contact with the straps, so you may want to consider models with padded or lined straps to prevent chafing.
Trekking poles are usually supplied with a small, removable trekking basket to stop your pole sinking in. Larger baskets can be substituted for use in the snow or on soft, muddy ground.
Carbide or steel tips are commonly used to provide traction on most surfaces, even ice. Most poles also come with rubber tip protectors that extend the life of the tips and protect your gear when poles are stowed in your pack.