Do I really need Nordic Walking poles, or can I get by with the less expensive trekking poles?
At first glance they may appear to be similar, but in form and function they are designed for different walking techniques.
Nordic Walking was originally developed as a summertime training for cross-country skiing, but has been promoted since the early 90’s as a stand-alone fitness activity. As a fitness activity, Nordic Walking uses specifically designed poles that allow you to engage the muscles in your upper body in a pushing motion on the poles with the poles held at an angle to the ground.
Trekking poles are used with a different walking technique from Nordic Walking, a technique that is designed to provide for balance and stability while covering terrain offering questionable footing as well as assistance while traveling uphill and downhill. This often means that the poles are held vertical to the ground and positioned to the front or sides of the body.
The two key components that make Nordic Walking poles different from Trekking poles or other walking poles are in grip/glove system and in the rubber tip or “boot”.
Nordic Walking pole grips are fairly straight and offer a slip-on “glove” verses the trekking pole strap. This allows you to properly perform the “squeeze-release” technique with your hands during the motion of the walking poles. Some manufacturer’s such as Leki also offer a quick-release glove, which is a great feature to have.
Trekking pole grips are more ergonomic, and often come in “men’s” and “women’s” designations, offering different sizes of grips for different hand sizes. Trekking pole also have a strap system instead of a glove system. Correctly used, some strap systems can accommodate the nordic walking technique. Please consult with a walking instructor for proper use.
Another type of grip is the Exerstrider strapless ergonomic grip system, which is offered for Nordic Walking, Trail Walking, and Mobility & Balance. Please see this page for additional information on this system.
Both Nordic Walking poles and Trekking poles offer a carbide tip with removable rubber feet as a standard feature. The rubber feet may be shaped differently on the Nordic Walking pole than on the Trekking poles since their function is different.
The Nordic Walking pole rubber foot is designed to be used on various types of pavement and has a curve or angle so that the foot can maintain contact with the walking surface for the full length of the user’s stride.
The trekking pole rubber foot is often a rounded tip and is used with a different walking technique where the pole is used more vertical to the walking surface. Most trekking poles come only with a plastic protective cap, not intended for walking use, rubber feet must often be purchased separately.
Some feet are interchangeable between brands of walking poles, but not all! It is best to purchase the the feet and poles from the same manufacturer.
Walking Poles come in multiple types and weight bearing capacities:
Trekking poles are a three piece pole with a twist lock or flip locking system. Pole weight bearing capacity can vary and is dependent on pole shaft size as well as the locking mechanism. Light weight trekking poles or those with anti-shock features may not be appropriate for Nordic Walking!
Nordic Walking poles can be found in single length as well as two or three piece adjustable poles. A Nordic Walking pole such as the Leki brand with the Superlock System (twist lock style) is rated with 140 kg holding capacity (300 lbs) while the Leki Speedlock2 System (flip-lock system) rates at 55 kg capacity (120 lbs). The Exerstrider walking poles are available in both a twist-lock and a push-button lock system, and is perfect for those wanting a strapless system. The push-button locking system may be more appropriate for those with limited hand strength or arthritis.
Mobility Poles such as the Exerstrider brand are discussed in more detail here