The sticks may or may not like it, but the certain fact is that four points of support are better than two.
Without a shadow of a doubt the poles allow for greater balance and safety during walking and thanks to them it reduces the risk of falls, sprains, fractures.
Even before the sticks
It is not a recurrent image, but walking in the mountains it is still possible to see flocks grazing with the shepherd who watches leaning on his long stick. He, the very hard wooden stick with a large iron punch, was part of the mountaineers’ essential equipment in the course of their ascents in the 20th century.
The stick can also be a symbol of pilgrimage, of those who have decided to tackle a long journey, a path, a path; in Christian iconography, the “bordone”, a curved stick that is the symbol of pilgrimage, is a classic image for saints denoted as “pilgrims” (an example of which is Saint James, which opens the Christian message along the Way of Santiago de Compostela).
Therefore, the stick does not only serve to ensure the best support – as for the nineteenth century shepherd or mountaineer – but also to accompany a long journey, of those in search of an inner goal.
The evolution of the stick …
The length of the stick must be proportionate to the width of the walker’s step (Ph Enrico Bottino)
In the mountains the stick has always been used, we are aware of it, but in the twenty-first century we went from a carved wooden stick to aluminum and carbon fiber sticks.
In my excursions it often happens, too often, to meet hikers who only use a stick: nothing more wrong! We need to use the couple to have better stability and favor a correct, fluid and harmonious walk.
To maintain a good weight balance and correct posture of the back it is necessary to coordinate “right leg and left stick”, “left leg and right stick”, the stick must support the movement on the opposite side to the supporting leg.
Only in the case of strong steepness the alternation of legs and arms is suspended, in fact along steep slopes it is advisable to carry forward both the poles and let you rest the full weight of the body. Only then can the sticks bring benefits to our health.
When we walk the spine takes advantage of the use of the sticks because the weight of the backpack is “lightened” rather than burdening our poor back. Furthermore, about 26% of the effort is discharged from the lower limbs to the upper limbs with a reduction in the stress of the hip, knee and ankle joints.
In summary, the sticks:
- improve stability and balance;
- allow the maintenance of an upright posture;
- allow a greater upward progression thrust;
- they also work the muscles of the upper limbs;
- part of your weight and backpack is also unloaded on your arms (especially downhill);
- improve respiratory efficiency;
- regularize the pace of the walk.
Trekking poles and Nordic Walking poles
When and where I will use the sticks! It should be our first question at the time of purchase.
When you see different types of poles exposed in a specialized store, you should know that they are not all the same and there are characteristics that must be analyzed in relation to the type of activity you want to do: the trekking models are different from those for Nordic Walking .
ADJUSTMENT – Trekking poles must be adjustable in height according to our height and the inclination of the ground. This operation is not necessary for Nordic Walking because it is practiced on flat surfaces or with a slight slope. Uphill the sticks must be shortened, downhill they must be lengthened.
On very steep but short terrains, in order not to interrupt the dynamism of our walk, there is a simpler and faster solution: just keep the sticks lower than the real handle.
You may have noticed, there are models that under the grip have about twenty centimeters in high density EVA foam: this is the “accessory” grip when you have to face short stretches of steep uphill path.
The cork handle is comfortable and easily adapts to hand pressure; furthermore, the knob below allows a quick change of the handle for short uphill sections (Ph Enrico Bottino)
MATERIAL – Nordic walking prefers flat, uniform and coherent surfaces, rather than rough and uncertain ones typical of hiking trails. For this reason the choice of the trekker must fall on aluminum sticks that guarantee solidity and resistance, in addition to the desired lightness (for example, material in aeronautical grade aluminum alloy ).
Instead the carbon fiber poles are lighter, more dynamic and absorb vibrations better, but they are also more fragile and expensive…
Another important difference is that the aluminum bends but does not break, so if the stick breaks, the loss of balance does not lead to a ruinous and unexpected fall along the path.
The carbon fiber instead can be broken off sharply, so the support suddenly fails: let’s remember though that Nordic Walking is practiced on flat surfaces, not on objectively more challenging and dangerous paths (see photo below), where a sudden loss of balance can lead to deadly consequences.
Also for this reason the choice will fall on aluminum for hiking poles and on carbon fiber for Nordic Walking.
Baiarda, Liguria (Ph Enrico Bottino) On particularly rough terrain or in the case of short passages on rocks where it is necessary to have hands free, you have to fold the sticks and place them in the backpack, without popping out!
CONSTRUCTION – Aluminum and carbon fiber form the backbone of the poles, but the difference between those for Nordic walking and those indicated for trekking is also dictated by the structure and the constituent elements.
Those for Nordic Walking are similar to cross-country skiing poles, that is, they are formed from a single piece (see photo below), because they must fulfill an important task: cushion and limit the impact of vibrations on joints and arms (Nordic Walking is practiced on generally harder funds).
The hiking poles, on the other hand, are composed of two or three pieces, so that they can be adjusted according to their height and the type of terrain to be tackled (uphill they must be shortened, downhill lengthened); this requirement is less felt for Nordic Walking since in general we proceed on surfaces that are not particularly inclined (in general, not more than 8%).
In Nordic walking, the one-piece stick that prevents vibrations during walking is protected, protecting the joints (Ph Enrico Bottino)
Moreover, if along the route there are sections where it is necessary to have hands free (for example passages on rock or exposed sections), the telescopic sticks can be shortened and locked to the backpack using the slots designed to hook the tools such as snowshoes, ice axes or, indeed, closed sticks.
Therefore, for the smallest footprint it is better that the sticks have the body divided into three sections rather than two (the latter are more suitable for hiking in the snow or for Nordic Walking). There are even foldable models with an elastic core (like curtain poles), which can be quickly folded and stored inside the backpack rather than hung (useful opportunity in the event of thunderstorms …).
Last observation: the stick that has several sections has more joints and tapers towards the base (the various sections must slide inside each other), therefore it will be less resistant than a compact stick, not telescopic.
Piani di Praglia, Alta Via dei Monti Liguri (Ph Enrico Bottino) – For summer hiking, but also for winter hiking, choose a pair of telescopic poles split into three parts, to allow you to adjust the height according to your height and the inclination of the land.
LOCKING SYSTEM – In this case the opinion is also conditioned by my little experience as a photographer who loves complicated and laborious tripod: the quick-closing rods (click, to external lever) are much faster and more practical than closing in lives, which are however the most widespread and cheap (one tube turns inside the other and then by pressure it stops).
Furthermore, from experience I can say that the screw joint has a short life (it wears easily because it is friction) and at low temperatures the rotation of the elements becomes an arduous task, to the limits of the impossible!
The side locking lever to get the desired height is simple and fast, even when wearing gloves, so buy this type of sticks if you love snowshoeing and winter activities. In truth there is a third type of locking, not very “malleable”, like tent poles, that is through a button that locks in the eyelets placed at centimeters of distance along the tube.
THE HANDLE – The ergonomic cork handles are pleasant to the touch, they don’t make your hands sweat, they compensate for the vibrations transmitted by the stick, they offer a maximum non-slip grip and are heat-insulating, so even in winter they perform well.
Even natural or synthetic rubber has the same value, that is to say it insulates from the cold, but in summer it irritates the skin because it causes sweating and rubbing. The synthetic sponge is certainly softer to the touch, in fact compared to rubber it reduces irritation in contact with the skin; however, it is not recommended for winter because it absorbs water.
As you can read, the different types of grips have strengths and weaknesses, the choice must be dictated above all by the use you make of the sticks, if and how many times you use them also in the winter period with the snowshoes.
The best laces for Nordic Walking are those that wrap the hand well, even separating the thumb from the other fingers. The hand is loaded with the thrust of the arm (Ph Enrico Bottino)
THE TIP – Another detail that the trekking and Nordic Walking poles have in common is the presence of a metal tip, usually tungsten, which improves grip on bumpy surfaces, useful above all in descent.
In Nordic walking the rubber feet that absorb the impact when the sticks are used on hard surfaces, such as paved or cemented roads, are important .
In any case, all the sticks are provided with rubber caps that serve to cover the tips once they are put “at rest”. The caps are also useful during the excursion if you need to hang the sticks on your backpack (so as not to damage your hiker friends, put the tips in the outer pockets, then face down, and block the sticks on the end high using a loop It is important not to hang them from your backpack!
Together with the tip, when necessary there are the washers to be applied to the base of the stick: they are used above all on the snow because they allow the stick to float and, on the contrary, according to the consistency of the mantle they can be of different diameter (the softer is the snow, the washer is bigger to prevent the stick from sinking).
Small washers can be useful when walking along trails along stony ground: they are used to prevent the tip from sinking into the scree.
- The Nordic Walking pole must be made of light and dynamic material, preferably in carbon fiber or composite material. The trekking pole must be made of light but resistant material.
- The Nordic Walking stick is made of a single piece, the trekking pole is telescopic.
- The Nordic Walking pole at the lower end has rubber feet, the trekking pole has a metal tip.
You have noticed: the difference between the Nordic Walking stick and the trekking stick is influenced above all if not only by the type of surface where we are going to walk.
Let’s take the measurements
The forearm must be parallel to the surface of the ground, this parameter is essential to properly adjust the length of the sticks.
Deciding how many centimeters lengthen or retract them therefore depends on the inclination of the ground, only in this way can we maintain a correct posture and guarantee the right balance during walking, looking for a regular level rhythm, uphill support and downhill safety.
This operation is facilitated by the three-section telescopic poles: the adjustment of the length of the poles will be correct when the arm and forearm form an angle of about 90 degrees.
The point of union changes instead if the progression is on inclined ground: in descent arm and forearm form a more open angle, or rather obtuse, it will be acute instead if we must advance on the path that gains altitude.
During walking, the stick must be brought slightly forward with respect to the supporting leg so that we can make the most of their thrust.
- Flat ground: angle between forearm and 90 degree arm
- Soil uphill: acute angle, less than 90 degrees
- Downhill terrain: obtuse angle, over 90 degrees
- In a slope with a slope, the stick near the sloping wall must be shorter than the one facing the valley.
We are talking about trekking poles, therefore telescopic and adjustable according to the type of terrain. It is different for Nordic Walking poles: in this case it is assumed a flat walk, so they can, indeed, have to be formed by a single piece (therefore not telescopic) because this way they better prevent vibrations due to walking, thus protecting the joints.
Many advantages, few defects
Although he is a strong supporter of the use of sticks, for completeness of information it is right to point out some contraindications to their use (few indeed).
The first rule to follow in order not to find ourselves in difficulty is to go in the company of more experienced people, or to read up well acquiring all the information necessary to avoid being surprised by the darkness or to stop for unexpected technical difficulties.
Always make sure, for example, of the characteristics of the path: if almost all of it develops on impervious terrain, steep and sometimes exposed, with passages on rock, the sticks may be in the way if not even dangerous.
Here, in this case we can safely give up. In fact, the sticks can be treacherous in case of loss of balance.
Also for this reason it is important not to let the hand pass through the strap(a practice that is essential in Nordic Walking), but to leave it free to let go of the handle in case of slipping or falling. In fact the laces become an impediment in the event of a fall, if you lose your balance it is better not to have your hands tied, instinct leads us to “repair” the fall, to look for a grip or a support, instead of the sticks not only they would hinder our natural reflex, they could even become a propulsive lever towards the void, towards the side where we lost our balance or, in any case, by causing limb traumas.