Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Are poles effective and PP poles more so?
Display Avatars Sort By:
Bernard Shaw
( - F

Locale: Upstate New York
Are poles effective and PP poles more so? on 04/04/2006 20:22:11 MDT Print View

This is a site known for facts and not dogma or simply opinions. So, with an open but skeptical mind, can any of you with science backgrounds tell us if hiking poles are "energy savers" and the pacer poles more so?

IMHO, having some physics but definitely not an expert, it seems to me that poles take energy and do not give it back. They are extra weight and work= force x distance. They require use of arms which are far less effective than legs.

For balance, and less energy spent balancing in some situations, OK I can see some savings.

Show us what the whole picture is here. Is it possible that the PP thing is mostly psuedoscience?

Mark Larson
(mlarson) - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Are poles effective and PP poles more so? on 04/04/2006 20:40:20 MDT Print View

I'd love to see some good, hard science on this issue. Ergonomics of Pacer Poles aside, I can understand an increased calorie burn using any poles v. no arm movement at all. I can also understand the ergo advantage of PPs on a small scale, creating less strain and small-muscle fatigue. Whether the energy transfer is that much greater... I haven't a clue.

Using any poles, maybe the overall calorie/work ratio is better, especially at lower pole weights? Maybe poles let your legs work at a lesser % of capacity [cooler? more efficient?] over the long haul.

I know what my gut instinct says, having used poles and gone pole-less. But there's lots of scientific fog for me in this area... comments from the wiser ones?

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
energy transfer aside on 04/04/2006 21:14:59 MDT Print View

Energy transfer aside, the knee is arguably one of the worst-designed components of the human body. We bipeds are simply not using it right: it's not supposed to be straightened out all the time, and it's not supposed to be bearing our entire weight under stress and impact for 16 hours a day...for 75 years! Ask many athletes, many overweight people, many runners, and also some traditional backpackers: a lot of those who stress their entire bodies will lose their knees earlier than other things.

In the simple sense, having a pole to support some weight during impact and to stabilize you to some extent during torsion can mean less force on the knees.

In the larger sense, some would argue that the constant use of support poles will be nullified by the resulting change in hiking form: stabilizing muscles become less developed because they're less used, foot placement can become less careful, and even balance can be less honed.

I've never used poles of any kind in my life, but only because I can't afford them so it's never been a question!


Stephan Guyenet
(Guyenet) - F
Re: Are poles effective and PP poles more so? on 04/04/2006 21:21:48 MDT Print View

Hi Bernard,

From my perspective, the number of calories burned is not the main issue. The main issue is do trekking poles allow us to hike further, easier and/or with less fatigue. The thing that usually ends my hike from a fatigue standpoint is tired legs. Trekking poles take a lot of stress off your legs, especially on uphills and downhills. Thus, regardless of whether or not you've burned a (probably insignificant) few extra calories, you can go further with less effort.

Also, I like to think of poles as negative weight. Although they have some weight, they also support your arms and part of your upper body as you hike. The weight the support far exceeds their own weight. So although it does involve some extra exertion from your arms, it takes a lot off your legs.

Personally, I like to hike with one pole so my other hand is unencumbered when I need it. Poles also have numerous other benefits, for tarp setup, stream crossing, balance, etc. Highly recommended. Hope this helps.

A Lee Deavers jr
(got2go4hike) - F
Re: Are poles effective and PP poles more so? on 04/04/2006 22:50:13 MDT Print View

I have one bad knee and am desperate to backpack; I hope that the poles are going to enable me to do this. I tried backpacking (39 lbs pack) without poles this past weekend on the "Foothills Trail" in SC, I went 6.1 miles before my knee froze on me.

I am going to watch these posts before I buy.


Thomas Travis
(tbtravis) - F
Re: Re: Are poles effective and PP poles more so? on 04/05/2006 00:11:48 MDT Print View

The poles might help with your knee, a lighter pack might help as well.
It is possible to go out for several days and carry much less weight and still be comfortable, safe and eat pretty well.

Ron Stoecklein
(rs7trout) - F
Re: Re: Are poles effective and PP poles more so? on 04/05/2006 00:42:11 MDT Print View


Second what Travis said. If you are seriously interested in enjoying backpacking--think about being comfortable and carrying 12-15lbs. total gear--(yes I know you can go lighter--but from 39 to 15 is a big jump--and mu guess is once you start in that direction well we all know what kind of happens)

You can be as comfortable with that weight as you can with the 39 lbs. of gear! Well okay maybe your tent won't be quite so big.

this is the best site to learn what gear might work for you to go lighter!

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Are poles effective and PP poles more so? on 04/05/2006 05:39:05 MDT Print View


I know several folks with chronic knee problems who tell me that poles help them a lot. Unfortunately I don't know the details of their problems so we don't know if their experience applies to you or not.

It's also very likely that a lighter pack will help ... but b4 investing in replacement gear you probably should see how your knee reacts to consecutive days of long day hikes with little or no pack weight.

Bernard Shaw
( - F

Locale: Upstate New York
This post not intended as anti-poles on 04/05/2006 07:08:20 MDT Print View


In NO WAY is my post intended as anti-pole use. There are many reasons we use them, balance, injury prevention, injury relief, personal taste, and if PP makes this more enjoyable etc. I am all for it. As a guide of 25 years I value individual differences and am anti-dogma in all its forms, the most basic being a personal bias that everyone must do things one way, their way.

That said, my curiosity here is ONLY calories burned and just that. I look here of learning about debunking myths and ALSO learning some things have more value than we thought.

BIG CLAIMS are made about pole use in terms of energy savings. Would some people keep using them if they found that it makes inefficient bi-peds even MORE inefficient? Don't know, but I just would love to know what that scientifically do, add or subtract.

Some poles are now so light they don't add much weight at all, pretty amazing. Certainly as an ex-XC ski racer and tourer poles are an amazing necessity. But for hiking and energy expenditure I truly wonder if we are not being sold snake oil.

Still hoping for a few engineers, hey BPL staff, weigh in here OK???

Robert Miller
(procab) - F
Re: This post not intended as anti-poles on 04/05/2006 09:51:56 MDT Print View


Yes, the use of poles burns more calories but not in a significant amount for me to stop using them.

The claims of energy savings relates only to ones legs but in reality it isn't a savings so much as a transference of work from ones legs to the upper body.


How many miles can you walk without your pack before your knee gives you problems?


Poles and Fatigue on 04/05/2006 11:31:19 MDT Print View

I tried poles for my first time a week ago. It was a two day, two night trip over up and down terrain.

I found that when I was full of energy, the poles seemed like a waste of energy. When I started getting fatigued, they definitely helped. And when my legs started cramping up, because of being over-ambitious, they were a godsend.

I'm still divided about them. I used them for my shelter, which made them dual purpose... but I would have rather been in better shape and less ambitious, rather than <needing> them.

I think the more rigorous the trail, the more applicable they are?

Scott Peterson
(scottalanp) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: Poles and Fatigue on 04/05/2006 13:50:53 MDT Print View


This is just a guess, but is it even possible to theorize calorie consumption (poles vs. no poles) uniformly across all individuals and for every situation? People's strides vary as does the terrain they walk on. Since there may not be a scientist among us who is capable or willing to make a hard statement regarding your query, my assumption would be that while walking on flat, solid-footing trail, you would have to be burning more calories if you are holding poles upright and moving them with your cadance. I don't know about you, but I am not able to put weight on my poles when moving along a flat area...I would have to lean over...or slow down from my normal pace. Since they are not contributing to my forward movement, they are burning inefficient calories. When going up or down a hill, I could see there being a shared calorie consumption there (avoiding extra calorie consumption as the poles are actually mitigating some of the leg work). But the net of it all, at the end of a day of hiking varied terrain, with flat surfaces, I think you would have to be less efficient from a calorie standpoint while using poles.

While you take a scientific approach to the question in an admirable effort to avoid dogma regarding pole efficiency, I think this would be one of the last factors that would weigh in on my decision to use or not use them. It's kind of getting to the point of drafting a spreadsheet on how many calories you burn for each extra gram you haul on your back. At some point you have to decide based on qualitative observations that you either like/want to use items or not.

Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Re: Re: Poles and Fatigue on 04/05/2006 14:03:14 MDT Print View

Given that certain levels of effort (I'm not sure what they are) are more calorie-efficient than others, it would seem that poles could be used to maintain a calorie-efficient pace by allowing a larger number of muscles (upper and lower body) to be in that sweet spot, as opposed to over-exerting the leg muscles. I could be wrong - it may be that it all evens out, or, as the previous poster suggests, the additional weight of the poles results in greater calorie consumption overall.

That said, I'm not a big pole user, but it's just because I like my hands free for various reasons.


Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Poles and Fatigue on 04/05/2006 14:53:53 MDT Print View

I'll opine that except when walking on surfaces where traction is a problem, there's no energy benefit from using poles. Instead, there's some small loss due to carrying the extra weight and to the effort required to swing the poles. This last is borne out by the big difference in energy expended between heavier and lighter poles.

My experience is that their use does stave of leg fatigue and in my case, probably extends my daily range. There's no doubt they help steady and propel me along loose, rocky trails (a Sierra specialty), on stream crossings, on snow, etc.

I'm curious whether their use might perhaps help correct posture and stride deficiencies and perhaps provide some measurable benefit. We've read that loads carried on the head take little or no extra energy compared with walking loadless; can poles provide a similar benefit?

Finally, there's no question that they help stave off long-distance-hiker stick arms :-)

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Are poles effective and PP poles more so? on 04/05/2006 14:54:51 MDT Print View

No free lunch with energy-- unless you get someone else to haul the load-- and that has hooks too :)

Just the weight of the poles throws the energy issue off. Weight moved means calories are burned. We can improve a system by removing sources of friction( adding ball bearings) and making parts of the system as light as is practical (what BPL is all about).

I have no doubt that I burn more calories when I use poles as I am using my upper body muscles as well as my legs. That takes stress off my legs and adds it to my upper body.

The question to ask is whether the extra weight and muscle use is worth it. I think so, but more in terms of safety and stability. I find poles most valuable with steep rocky, rooted trails, streams and hopping over a muddy spot.

Going down a section of trail that is basically a root ladder always left me with the feeling that I was going to do a face plant in the rocks, with the pack to follow. Having a pack that is now half or less of what I used to carry helps a lot, but I'm not gettin' any younger either (I was 52 last Sunday). Going up, I am able to use my upper body strength to help push up large steps and tangles of roots and rocks. I don't feel like I am tottering around with the load and I haven't turned an ankle since using poles.

My wife has a bad knee and really takes off when using poles. She would normally have some swelling after a decent walk and has little or no trouble now.

Getting to use them as shelter poles is a plus, but you can buy much lighter tent poles for less money than even the less expensive poles.

It is a matter of preference, not fashion, so hike your own hike :)

And now, the trekking pole pun: the best trekking Poles are made by Czechs :)

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Do pole burn 20% more calories? on 04/05/2006 16:03:04 MDT Print View

Hello all,

This is a great discussion and being the trekking pole editor, one that I've often considered.

First, this is an interesting summary of research on poles used in Nordic Walking vs fitness walking without poles. The main conclusion it makes is that you get 20% more calories burned when using the poles. Interesting stuff but it doesn't answer some key questions:

1) How much do the poles weigh? My experience is that a 10oz pole makes me significantly more tired than a sub-3oz Gossamer Gear Lightreks
2) Did the walkers speeds increase? When using poles for propulsion my speed goes WAY up which would surely increase my heartrate
3) How much training in Nordic Walking techniques did the participants have? Nordic Walking takes some practice before becoming fluid- I'd guess that inexperience would play into energy expenditure.

My point is that the 20% sounds good for Nordic Walkers but bad for backpackers trying to conserve energy. However, there are variables that don't seem to be taken into account in this research that would lead me to discount it heavily.

Doug Johnson
Trekking Systems Editor

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Are Pacer Poles more effecient on 04/05/2006 16:32:22 MDT Print View

Next question brough up here is Pacer Poles. I've been testing these in various forms for about two years now so I may have some worthwhile qualitative (experintial) data.

First, PacerPole offers some interesting claims but doesn't offer any true scienfic research and I don't think any of their claims are false. The PacerPole design is very comfortable and effecient design. I use a PacerPole that is about 8cm shorter than a standard pole and using the technique, you raise your hands less highly into the air, puttin more energy into forward propulsion. It is a very fluid movement and the most natural position I've found in a trekking pole (and I've used most all of them).

That said, there are some downsides that detract from effeciency, namely weight. An aluminum PacerPole weights in at 11.1oz and the yet to be relased aluminum/carbon fiber model weighs 10.3oz. While it's true that most of this weight is in the grip, it still weighs significantly more than many other poles on the market including the Gossamer Gear Lightrek (sub 3oz), the Bozeman Mountain Works STIX Pro (3.1 oz), Komperdell C3 (sub 6 oz), etc. While the hand position may be more effecient, my experience is that it isn't enough to offset the weight difference.

Further, in practice, the difference in hand position between a PacerPole and a standard pole is mainly one of height from the ground. Take the image on this page, for example, ( and imagine extending the arm about 10cm higher; this is essentially what you do when using "trekking poles" for propulsion. Now the wrist may be slightly more cocked, but not much.

I've often taking multiple poles out on group trips and traded around. The consensus is always that the PacerPoles are SO comfortable and definitely preferred over poles in a similar weight range. However, when putting a truly ultralight pole (less than 7 oz) in a hiker's hand, they instantly prefer the lighter pole and feel that they are much less tiring to use.

So here's my take:
If you're considering PacerPoles or similar weight Leki Makalu poles, I'd take the PacerPoles every time. But if I had the choice of an ultralight pole, I'd take that over the PacerPoles- you lift a pole far so many times over the period of the day that less weight must have the effeciency advantage.

The ultimate would be a 5-6oz PacerPole, but I don't think this is possible when the grips weigh 4.6 oz on their own.

Doug Johnson, Trekking Systems Editor

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Do pole burn 20% more calories? on 04/05/2006 16:46:31 MDT Print View

I've seen this 20% figure used when speaking of so-called "Power Walking". In those cases, typically, 1-2lb weights are held in each hand and swung (somewhat balistically = not proper form) upwards, often up to shoulder height with extended or partially extended arms parallel to the ground. This had the benefit of lifting the hands and at least a small portion of the arms (if not the entire fully extended arm) above the level of the heart, resulting also in an slight elevation in heart rate and intensity of contraction to pump some extra blood up above the level of the heart. I believe that this is a key to the 20% figure regarding calories burned.

The swing of trekking poles does not lift the hands anywhere near shoulder height. I'm wondering if that figure of 20% mentioned in a prev. post is really the result of research specific to trekking poles or just "parroting" the 20% power-walking figure, thinking that it exactly applies with trekking poles also.

Any thoughts anyone? Anyone have hard and fast research on this 20% figure and trekking poles? Or, is it just a statistical carry over from another form of exercise?

EDIT: Ok. Looked at the link. Cooper Institute-good place. Have a friend who works there as an Exercise Physiologist. However, take a look at both of the pics. The fellow is obviously using overly long poles, IMHO. I don't personally know of anyone who uses poles so long that the arms have to be fully extended or the hands at shoulder height to be used. So, now, I agree with the 20% since these longer poles are probably close to 16oz each (maybe??? just guessing, but my BD Flicklocks are 11oz each) and they are being lifted (and some of the arm) at or above heart level, thus increasing heart rate due to increased oxygen requirements for producing more energy due to increased energy requirements of this style. Please, someone shoot me, if I ever use poles this long requiring such exaggerated arm movements. Now, if you just want to increase the intensity of your workout using poles like this, then go for it. But it's not the most efficient way to employ trekking poles. My two cents. Let me know if you feel I've erred in my assessment.

Edited by pj on 04/05/2006 17:05:35 MDT.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Trekking pole effeciency on 04/05/2006 16:51:54 MDT Print View

This is the last of my 3 posts on the topic and I hope to get to the point of Bernard's post here- Are Trekking Poles more effecient.

First of all, I have no hard science here- only 3 years of quanitative research and field experience with 20+ different trekking poles.

I started out being a non-pole hiker. I first stole my wife's in Canyonlands National Park for a speed walk up a wash and have never hiked without them again.

Poles can be used in two ways which I will call "trekking pole style" and "Nordic Walking style". The first is why poles were first used in non-snow conditions: climbers with heavy packs found they helped balance the load and took some weight off the knees. Many of the posts in this thread point to this style- the poles take some weight off, help with balance, and absorb some shock on steep descents. In this arena, I see poles as using slightly more energy but adding to wellness (read decreased injuries), help the legs feel less exhausted, and increase safety and enjoyment. But these would surely come at an increase in caloric expenditure.

Second is the Nordic Walking technique. In this arena, the poles are not perpindicular to the ground but are angled sharply back, more like Nordic Ski poles are used. Here, the poles are used primarily for propulsion- forward movement. In this area the poles become tools to utilize the upper body for extra traction, drive, and speed.

This is why I use poles today. Using my wife's poles in that sandy wash, I was able to maintain forward momentum with less loss of traction. It was a major breakthrough in my hiking.

Today, I lay down serious mileage- often 40+ mile days over significant elevation changes. I'll often average close to 4mph walking-only. I can tell you that for me, I don't think this would be possible without poles. They keep me moving all day and help me to power both the flats and the hills. Even when out for a mild stroll I use them- I feel like a slug without poles in my hands.

Now, is this a more effecient use of my calories? Do I have to eat more food when using my poles? Maybe. But I'm capable of things I wouldn't be without poles.

Buy a light set of poles and I highly doubt that you'll ever look back, whether you want safety and enjoyment, speed, or both.

Thanks for the great discussion everyone!

Doug Johnson
Trekking Systems Editor

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
20% more calories on 04/05/2006 16:56:01 MDT Print View

Paul- that article I referred to is about Nordic Walking-not hand weights. Take a look at the link:

Great to see you in a forum chat again Paul- you're EVERYWHERE in these discussions! Great to see you so actively involved.

Have a good one!