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Nordic vs Trekking Poles
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Mark Mark
(mark424x) - F
Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/08/2006 16:57:08 MST Print View

I've searched high and low but have not found a way to make a firm decision between the two styles.

As I plan to use them for day hiking, it would seem reasonable to go with the trekking poles since presumably they are designed for that purpose, however in discussions on using trekking poles, people talk about using the strap to carry the load rather than your grip. And also that you can use a modified nordic motion to give you not only load carrying and stability but some propulsion as well if you desire. If you are using the strap to transmit the load from the pole to your body, the nordic pole type glove seems a little better, no?

As I'm 6'5", I need a longer pole, so am looking at the Leki All-Season nordic ( and the Super Makalu COR-TEC PA AS (

I borrowed a friend's Black Diamond Contours and the flick lock slipped a couple times on steep descents and that bottom click release button is a real pain.

Thanks for all input.


Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/08/2006 21:39:04 MST Print View

Not that it will help you make the decision, but I haven't found a whole lot of difference. I've used nordic ski poles and trekking poles, and while the nordic glove does fit tighter it also grips my hand rather harshly; it's more comfortable with a light glove. My trekking pole straps have more padding on them and they don't grip tightly, so they're fairly comfortable with bare hands. (I am not moving fast enough when backpacking for the whole 'throw the hands back' motion to be worthwhile.)

The biggest drawback to the poles you mention is that they're heavy! I'm not sure what the weight of the first is, but it is made of aluminum so I'm guessing it's over a pound per pair; the second is 21.7 oz/pair. Compare that to trekking poles that weigh 6-8 oz/pair (GG Lightrek, BMW Stix, Adapt Bison). Those poles don't include straps because they don't need them. I put 120 miles on my Bison poles in the few weeks between receiving them and the onset of winter, and I didn't miss the straps at all. The poles have such a light swing weight that they need very little grip (just a few fingers) and the grips are grippy enough to transfer all of the weight that I wanted to put on them. I use them in the nordic walking style and found they work just fine. (Nordic walking style adds at least 1/4 mph to my hiking speed.)

My suggestion is to borrow those BD poles again and figure out your optimal pole length. The standard nordic walking pole length is 68% of your height, so 133cm. Rounding to the nearest 5cm (typical pole length increment) you would have a choice between 130cm and 135cm. I tested pole length extensively (paying no attention to the 68% standard) and ended up choosing a length that was 1.5cm longer than the 68% standard; YMMV. Once you know your optimal pole length you could then consider using fixed-length poles, which are generally lighter (and possibly more reliable) than adjustable poles.

Try using the BD poles without straps. I found it odd for the first hour or two, but after 50 miles I realized I didn't miss the straps (and this was with my 20oz aluminum poles). That convinced me that I could switch to strapless ultralight poles. Now that I have them I'm not going back...

Edited by Otter on 12/08/2006 22:02:14 MST.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/08/2006 22:14:38 MST Print View

Hi Mark,

These are some good questions- I have an article that will come out in the late summer on this issue. For now, though, I hope this helps in your decision:

Nordic Walking is a specific sport that uses a specific type of pole. The pole is used differently- much more like a cross country ski pole is used with a full release. The strap system also attaches the pole to your hand much more solidly.

For normal hiking, nordic walking poles aren't as good as trekking poles. The grips are thinner and the poles are designed around the release at the end of your extension. In situations where the trail is more technical, this isn't usually possible. Further, being locked into the pole could be unsafe (when you fall, the pole is with you 100%).

That said, some of the Nordic Walking technique can easily be used with trekking poles. By having slightly longer poles, making placements behind your feet, and using the poles for forward propulsion, you are using a style similar to Nordic Walking. If you use trekking poles, though, they are better for providing balance and stability in technical situations- trekking pole style.

So now that we're talking about trekking poles, I'd like to invite you to look beyond the trekking poles you've mentioned. They do extend to 140 cm but they are almost 11 oz each. Much lighter poles are available that extend beyond 140cm and would be perfect for a person of your height. You might want to check out the Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles Review Summary that I recently published: There are some great models there that you would really enjoy. There is nothing like having a light, stiff pair of poles in your hands; you lift them all day and an couple of ounces makes a big difference.

You may also want to consider a fixed-length pole. After using your friend's poles for a while, you'll find a length that works for you and many pole users find that they don't adjust the poles often on the trail anyway. I only use adjustable poles for travel and mountaineering these days. Fixed-length poles can be much lighter and more reliable.

Some people do love straps but I've found that I don't miss them in my hiking poles- even for use when snowshoeing. This is a preference piece.

Best of luck in finding the best poles for you Mark. I love using trekking poles and I feel they've transformed my hiking. I'm much more effecient now and they have saved me from many bad falls. I hope you find similar results.

Doug Johnson
Trekking Pole Editor

Edited by djohnson on 12/08/2006 22:16:20 MST.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/08/2006 22:22:02 MST Print View

Douglas has some good ideas here- obvously we were writing our posts simultaneously!

Definitely check out his ideas- our experiences are parallel.

One last point- for hiking primarily with Nordic Walking style, I use poles that are 3-5 cm longer due to the extreme angle of placement. You may want to play with that when getting used to the BD poles. I pick my longer poles when trying to lay down heavy mileage in mainly non-technical terrain (ie the PCT) and my shorter poles for everything else.

Have a good one!

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/08/2006 22:35:10 MST Print View

If you want *real* lightweight poles, look at mid-range nordic racing poles...

98g/pair for a 155cm pole. In practice you'd cut it down quite a ways to make a walking pole. Such a pole is cheaper and (a bit) lighter than offerings from BMW or GG.

If you went for the real high end you could probably knock 20 or 30 grams more off that weight. But you'd probably spend two or three times the ducats for those poles.

Edited by david_bonn on 12/08/2006 22:46:45 MST.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 07:28:25 MST Print View

I wouldn't agree with this recommendation. Sure- these are light at 3.5 ounces but you have a Nordic Walking grip that will be limiting in technical hiking situations. Further, I'm not sure how it would turn out to cut the fiberglass/carbon down and still be able to reinstall the tip. The tip is also not a breakaway "flextip" and won't accept other baskets for use in snow, etc. Pretty limiting.

You can go even lighter with a pair of fixed length poles from Gossamer Gear (2.9 oz), Titanium Goat (3.1 oz), or Bozeman Mountain Works (3.1 oz). These poles all give you a flextip, a grip better suited to rough, technical terrain, and a very low weight. The bonus- you don't have to cut them down.

Edited by djohnson on 12/09/2006 07:28:55 MST.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 09:04:49 MST Print View

I'm sorry Doug, but that is 3.5 ounces per pair. For a 155cm pole. You can spend a bit more money and get that to less than 3 oz / pair.

On this web site BMW stix poles claim 5.4 oz/pr for a 120cm pole.

GG claims 2.6 oz for each pole, not per pair.

I like pole straps. And the wider strap with velcro that is used with nordic racing poles is way more comfy than the lame-o pole strap most trekking poles come with. I also really, really don't buy that trekking pole manufacturers have well-designed grips for technical terrain. Plus, you can replace the pole straps on a pair of nordic racing poles -- a technology that has eluded most manufacturers (I think all) of conventional trekking poles.

You are right that you are limited to the tiny basket.

As for cutting down the pole, that is pretty routinely done. The most common breaking point for these poles is near the tip (like poking you pole through too-soft snow and hooking a root or low-lying tree branch). A lot of people will "recover" a longish set of skating poles by cutting off the broken end (and its matching pair) to make a pair suitable for classic skiing. Or for a length that their little sister can use.

To each his own. One of the things that gets me is that even the hard-core UL gear makers seem to be unable to look outside their niche. Ski pole manufacturers have been making poles for nordic ski racers for more than a dozen years that are lighter and cheaper than what GG and BMW and TG are selling today. You can't even argue about market size -- I'm sure there are more UL backpackers than there are elite ski racers.

Doug, I think you owe me a bit of an apology. The information in your post directly contradicts information (trekking pole weights) that I could look up (on BPL's own web site) in a few seconds. I imagine it was late when you made your post.

Edited by david_bonn on 12/09/2006 09:24:01 MST.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 09:16:33 MST Print View

David- sorry about that- you are absolutely right! Wow- that's wicked light!

I just weighed a Leki trekking pole tip and it's .5 oz or 1.0 oz per pair- that's certainly part of the deal. The larger EVA foam trekking pole grips must be the other additional weight piece.

Those are some good points too about using ski poles. Thanks for your thoughts and input.

I've used Nordic Walking poles quite a bit on the trail. My understanding is that they're designed to be primarily controlled by the strap as opposed to the grip- the grip is very thin. The grip of a trekking pole is wider and typically contoured which makes them easier to grap, place, and control in technical terrain. I find that a NW grip is great through moderate terrain but when things get more rough (rocky, roots, and without consistent pole placements) the trekking pole grips are more functional. Would you agree with this David?


David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 09:35:38 MST Print View

Doug, thanks for clearing that up.

I'm a hard-core cross-country skier (and I'm writing this between while I'm letting my just-waxes skis cool off before scraping and brushing them) and I use walking poles like I use nordic ski poles. I hang from the straps and grip the pole only lightly and usually not at all. Most of the time I can control the landing spot of the pole with just my thumb and forefinger, kind of like holding a giant pencil. Since a ski pole is so light it is easy to control the placement, even on rough terrain.

From a biomechanical standpoint, the muscles you use to grip a ski pole are a lot smaller (and thus typically tire more easily) than the larger muscles in your arms and legs. Easier to support your weight on your bones. That's what they are there for. I agree that the straps and grips of most trekking pole products make that a less than comfortable process.

I agree too that the baskets on nordic poles are much, much lighter. But that is actually a feature, not a bug -- you want minimum weight at the end of the pole, which is swung around quite a bit over the course of the day.

'nuff said, I'm off for a ski.



Edited by david_bonn on 12/09/2006 09:38:02 MST.

Pete Edwards
(xcpete) - F
Re: Nordic Walking vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 10:24:21 MST Print View

My athletes have been ski walking and hill bounding with poles for over 20 years - during the warmer months when deprived of snow. We have only used one-piece poles.

Durable one-piece Nordic Walking or Ski Walking Poles are far superior to any type of adjustable poles. The twist lock systems wear out, make annoying clunking sounds, lock up and/or cause the poles to collapse unexpectedly.

SWIX and Excel have taken a stand promoting one-piece Nordic Walking poles - because they are safer, lighter and more durable than adjustable/telescoping/collapsible poles. Just ask the hundreds of backpackers that have tumbled when their twist lock systems failed.

Regarding Nordic Walking Straps - these fingerless glove type straps make a huge difference. Most quality poles utilize a Salomon Ski Company patented strap - i.e. SWIX and Excel. When adjusted correctly they are super comfortable and blister free.

Nordic Walking poles also come with removable rubber tips for use on pavement and other hard surfaces - making them more versatile than trekking poles.

Over 6 million Europeans are Nordic Walking everyday. Walking and hiking with poles burns more calories and radically reduces the stress to the shins, knees, hips and back. One piece Nordic Walking poles are safer for backpackers as well as seniors, plus folks with balance issues, MS or Parkinson's.

My favorite walking poles are the SWIX Nordic Walking VIP's (lightweight aluminum alloy) and the SWIX Nordic Walking CT4's (Carbon Fiber).

Edited by xcpete on 12/09/2006 10:33:58 MST.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 11:49:21 MST Print View

Lots of really good info here. I'm addicted to trekking pole use - two of them simultaneously to be more precise (i know some individuals prefer to use just one similar to a hiking staff).

I've used UL fixed length poles, various types of adjustable length trekking poles, and also NW poles.

I can't add much more to what's already been said by the experts who have aleady replied.

My sole purpose in weighing in here is to present one aspect of trekking pole use that has not been mentioned, but has been covered in great detail in older Threads by several others and myself (search the Forums - hopefully some of these old Threads/Posts will come up - a lot of good info and experiences related in them).

What i'd like to bring out is "Wrist straps - do we really need them?"

Before switching to UL single piece CF trekking poles, i used the wrist straps of more conventional/heavier poles as a load bearing device to prevent grip/forearm fatigue. I was really skeptical of UL poles since they lack wrist straps (though non-load bearing "keeper" cords are easily added so that the poles aren't lost if they are dropped).

The UL poles (typically around 3oz each, give or take - mine are well under 3oz each since they are so short) are so light that my grip naturally relaxes on the forward swing and only grips tighter on the push-off. No forearm/grip fatigue is experienced even after many hours of use. This has been the experience of several others who replied to some of my Posts in the last couple years stating that, they too, had similar experiences. Apparently, the grip relaxes sufficiently to insure adequate blood flow while relaxed.

Now, some people may have a medical condition (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.) that may not allow them to repeatedly grip-and-release for hours at a time, so using t-poles w/o wrist straps doesn't apply to them, nor should they attempt it w/o speaking w/their physician first.

Again, my experience is by no means unique as several older Posts to these Forums made quite clear.

Just something to consider if anyone is free of limiting physical/medical conditions that might otherwise affect their use.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Re: Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 12:01:21 MST Print View

Regarding straps or no straps... I MUCH prefer no straps... by far. I just really really hate the feeling of having my hands strapped into a pole. I just feel so much "freer" without the straps. And I don't like the way they transfer force into the wrist / side of the hand.

I use Komperdell C3 poles with the straps removed and LuxuryLite TrailStiks which have no grip and only a strap... and I really don't like the straps on either. I'd love to find a grip that I could slip on / off of my LL trailstiks for those times when I take my LuxuryLite UL 3/4 length cot.

Edited by davidlewis on 12/09/2006 12:02:00 MST.

Roman Dial
(romandial) - F - M

Locale: packrafting NZ
Re: Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 16:38:28 MST Print View

David and Dougs:

Like PJ said you guys and others have some great experience, study, and advice.

I would only like to offer my view of trekking poles vs XC poles from the off-trail standpoint, as that forms the basis of my (limited) experience.

First, super-stiff high quality racing nordic poles are good for long distance skate tours (100-300 miles) in Alaska. The tips and the baskets and especially the stiffeness are essential to efficient skating, However, skate poles are too long when we got off the glaciers or river ice that we had been skiing, and started walking on moraines or bushwacking through alders. Consequently, we didn't walk with them much -- and instead carried them -- or made packrafting paddle shafts out of them when needing to raft.

Second, adjustable and collapsible trekking poles were great in our expedition length adventure racing gear boxes for whomever went lame with bad feet near the end of the race and could still crutch to the finish. But they were heavy and floppy and the grips/straps were terrible when compared to what good skate-ski poles are like.

Taken together, my limited experience suggested that poles in off-trail backcountry in Alaska (again, my experience is limited to that), were not worth their weight.

That is, until Ryan Jordan introcuced me to the 6 oz/pair of super stiff poles without straps. I only used one for 550 miles and two for 70 miles, but preferred the single to the double. I also liked no strap, unlike David Bonn who's clearly nordic to the core (and good on him for that!).

My impression from reading between the lines on this thread is that people are using them to propel themselves along trails (hence two poles with straps good) rather than as balance and feelers off trail (where one pole sans straps works well for this old dog).

In both cases, light and stiff are the key, no?

Edited by romandial on 12/09/2006 16:42:50 MST.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 16:57:04 MST Print View

I think a lot of it (straps vs no straps) is about what you are used to.

In the right (or very wrong) snow conditions, a nordic skier might be 100 percent propelled by their poles. 20km and 30km World Cup Races have been won by people double poling the entire distance. Ouch.

Probably more typical for a nordic skier on groomed trails is twenty to thirty percent of their propulsion coming through the poles. Skating in the backcountry on solid morning snow is probably comparable. If you are breaking trail with a heavy pack and shuffling along you probably are only getting ten or fifteen percent of your forward momentum from your poles. And you won't be doing much double poling with a pack on.

Skis are supposed to slide. Walking shoes aren't supposed to. I'd guess those simple facts put an extremely low upper limit on how much power you could get through poles. Probably five percent under optimum karma.

I don't think anyone has worked out the mechanics of using trekking poles for walking as well as how nordic ski racers use poles for, well, racing. All we really have to go on is anecdotal evidence and our own personal experiences.

I love straps. I can scramble over a short section while letting my poles dangle and not get too tangled up. I can also stop and eat a clif bar while walking (or skating) without too much awkwardness and not worry about forgetting the pole when I move on. I don't think I use my poles very much for propulsion, but a lot for balance, especially up or down steep hills.

What gets me about this whole exercise is that you can buy a pole for less than eighty bucks at REI that is cheaper and lighter than non-adjustable hiking poles from several manufacturers. And I don't see any technical reasons that should be so. Even more interesting, such poles are quite common. A lot of outdoor stores that rent skating skis would have poles just like those. You could probably buy a used pair for fifteen bucks. You could probably find two broken poles that you could salvage as walking poles for free.

It seems to me that you could swipe the basket part from a busted old pair of adjustable poles, cut the ski poles down to an appropriate length (for me, from 150+cm to 120cm) and have a super-light frankenpole. The major out-of-pocket cost would probably be for the epoxy, or maybe a hacksaw blade too.

Doug, yes, the basket assembly on a trekking pole, at 1.0 oz per pair, is most definitely heavier than on a nordic pole. But the weight on REI's web site was for a 155cm pole! I typically adjust my trekking poles around 120cm. I'd bet that 35cm of that example pole and the lightweight basket weighs *more* than the basket assembly on a lightweight trekking pole. So you'd still end up lighter.

Hopefully someone who makes ultralight trekking poles is reading this and getting some ideas...

Oh, and I love excel poles. Too bad that they are almost impossible to get in the states anymore. I heard they went out of business.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Re: Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 22:57:05 MST Print View

>My impression from reading between the lines on this thread is that people are using them to propel themselves along trails (hence two poles with straps good) rather than as balance and feelers off trail.

I heard about Nordic Walking last year (on BPL) and when the snow melted I began using that technique with my trekking poles. I find, when hiking on flat and uphill trails, that placing the poles just beside my feet and pushing increases my hiking speed between 1/4 to 1/3 mile per hour with no increase in exertion. I not only push back but also down, so I still get some of the weight transfer benefit as well as propulsion. (I compared speeds by hiking the same 20-mile trail several times in the same week using no poles, trekking poles the usual way, and trekking poles the Nordic Walking way adapted for hiking on trails, with and without straps.) True Nordic Walking is meant to be good cardio exercise, but I use just enough of the technique to improve my speed without noticeably increasing my cardio. If the trail is downhill or a bit sketchy I just use my poles the 'normal' way to take some weight off and improve balance.

For off-trail I prefer a single pole (often a 6-foot bamboo staff; 12 oz) and probably use it the same way you use yours. Bamboo staves were easy to get in Hawaii, and I didn't find a pair of trekking poles as useful or as easy to handle as a single pole on those rough 'trails.' (Some hikers carry a 'dirt axe' for nasty sections, so you can guess how primitive some trails are.) A bamboo staff once saved my life, at the cost of its own; they're not terribly strong when bent.

>In both cases, light and stiff are the key, no?

Agreed. The difference between 20oz/pair poles and 8oz/pair poles was much more significant than I thought. After all, my trekking poles didn't feel that heavy. But it was amazingly easy to swing one lightweight pole above head height in front of me at every other step to clear spiderwebs, and I felt that my hands and wrists were less tired at the end of the day, even without straps. My heavy poles have anti-shock springs in them, but my lightweight poles have enough bend in them to not cause any shock-related injury, while still being able to hold my body weight between them.

I'm going to try the ultralight poles that David mentioned. My nordic ski poles weigh 16oz/pair; I didn't realize that Nordic Walking poles were _that_ light! I'm curious whether they will hold up to the strain of off-trail, or even on-trail, hiking.

Edited by Otter on 12/09/2006 23:51:23 MST.

Roman Dial
(romandial) - F - M

Locale: packrafting NZ
Re: Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 23:05:53 MST Print View

David: My Excel poles (too short for skating), pink grips with the little ledge at the heal of the hand, simple strap system (not glove-like) I got used in the mid 80's and have used on two dozen backcountry ski tours > 50 miles. They are great! didn't know they were not made anymore......gone the way of so many things decent.

I also looked at the REI Poles you listed. Personally, that style of grip doesn't work for me, oarticularly when trying to eat while wearing them. Also, cheap poles like that are not very you feel any nastiness -i.e. bending like they're going to break -- when pushing on them for propulsion or emergency balance?

Doug: how long was your babmboo staff? Was it long or short enough to push off with the end in the palm of your hand?

Edited by romandial on 12/09/2006 23:10:20 MST.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Re: Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/09/2006 23:48:52 MST Print View

>Doug: how long was your babmboo staff? Was it long or short enough to push off with the end in the palm of your hand?

They are mostly my height (6'2") plus or minus a few inches, and about 1 inch in diameter, although my 'big' staff is 7.5 feet long and 1.5" in diameter (good for pole-vaulting in streambeds). I didn't usually put my palm on the end (except when down-hopping), instead wielding it one- or two-handed as necessary.

Here's a picture showing the proper technique :-)

boy with staff 2

Edited by Otter on 12/10/2006 00:06:15 MST.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/10/2006 12:43:16 MST Print View

As usual, BPL users with excellent scientific introspection into their particular tastes.

I'll keep this one simple myself however. My $1.00 125cm Excel ski poles (yay for thrift stores) with a couple wraps of duct tape for tarp guys suit me wonderfully. I generally hike with my hands out of the loops. The plastic grips designed for use with gloves while skiing is not as comfortable in summer so a home modification there is probably in order.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Re: Nordic vs Trekking Poles on 12/10/2006 13:39:45 MST Print View

the other david wrote "I think a lot of it (straps vs no straps) is about what you are used to."

That may be true... but in my case at least... I was not "used to" anything as I've never skiied or nordic walked or hiked or backpacked before I started UL backpacking a couple of years ago. I just don't like the feeling of having my hands strapped to a pole. I think it's a personal thing that has... at least in my case... nothing to do with what I'm used to... or how I'm using the poles... or what kind of terrain I'm on... or anything else for that matter. I simply just don't like straps :) But that's just me. Take that for what it's worth... which is to say... not very much. Just one man's completely unscientific preference.