The purpose of this guide is to advise in the selection of Hiking Poles so that you have an informed choice and be able to sort through the wonderful sales information.
We start with the concept of Poles their uses and benefits. The use of Hiking Poles is not new as we have been using and selling them for the last 15 years. They have not been introduced for the the elderly despite the obvious benefits for them. End users range from casual day walkers to altitude mountaineers. The main benefits of Hiking Poles is reduced body stress and the arms can be used to transfer loads to the poles wether that be on the uphill, downhill or on the flat. When using rucksacks you gain a higher center of gravity and also less stability. This problem get worse as the terrain steepens or gets rougher. As well as reducing the physical body stress the use of Hiking Poles will also help us regain this stability and control. When all said Hiking Poles have many other uses being the construction of wind breaks and shelters for meal breaks, crossing streams with slippy rocks are only a few practical examples. Poles are best used in pairs.
Nordic walking walking poles tend to be lighter single or two section. The walker does not need to grip the pole at all, it travels via the strap/glove. A true nordic walking pole does not have the usual hiking grip that flares at the bottom of the hand, as that hampers releasing the grip at the back of each arm swing. Flared bottom grips are used in trekking poles where the hiker may bear down on them. Nordic walking grips are usually streamlined and very narrow.
The following relates to materials used in your choice of Pole and its merits.
A lot of choice of the types of handles is available Starting with:
Foam- This type is very comfortable to hold and is great on the cold and wet days as it feels warmer. This is not to say it cannot be used during warmer periods but hands will be a little bit more sweaty. There is a difference between the types of foam being used. Softer foam is lower grade and not as durable, i would sooner recomend harder high grade foams on the main branded poles.
Cork- A nice compromise will still feel a bit warmer than rubber but not quite as warm as foam. Its lightness is another of its advantages.
Rubber- The most common of the materials used in hiking poles and durable also of lower cost.
T Grip- Good for over hand use and good on downhills and are comfortable. Many prefer the ski pole handle for its versatility in uphill downhill and on the flat.
Handle Compasses- To be quite frank they serve little purpose. Their size gives little accuracy and most tend to be so inaccurate to start with. All of the poles i have seen use steel screws rather than non-ferrous screws holding the straps to the handle.These screws are directly under the compass. This creates a magnetic field giving compass deviation.
An array of materials are used in the manufacture with a series of figures often being used to describe them but what do they mean? Most poles are made of various grades of Aluminium alloys mainly for their lightness and the some alloys have better corrosion resistance. This is important as the sections are less likely to stick Poorly maintained poles will stick no matter what materials are used but more of this later. The following are some of the materials we are more familiar with in our Poles
6061 Alloy is often used as it is light weight and used in marine environments and aircraft manufacture, a good choice.
7075 Alloy is weight for weight stronger so its thickness can be reduced to give a lighter pole with similar strengths to 6061. You can expect to pay more for this weight saving.
Duraluminum is another Aluminium material often associated with bike frames and aviation, has copper and magnesium added, very strong and light and again very corrosion resistant.
Very important, often overlooked and is what makes the pole function. Each section of the pole slides inside another section. To lock it at the desired height we turn each section clockwise to operate a plastic expander which presses against next internal section which should provide a secure grip. Turn anti-clockwise and the expander loosens allowing height adjustment.
The plastic expanders used are the making of the pole and i have seen some terrible materials used. All expanders are made from plastic. There are as many types of plastic as there are composite of metals. All i can say on this matter is that the use of White Nylon 6 and black nylon has been of good success for us. Other plastics we have used have been too hard and have not bedded in as well to grip the internal of the pole.
This is the important bit that screws onto the pole tips and should be replaceable. There are the larger Snow Baskets that are similar to the ski types and unless they are used in snow are not of added benefit. The smaller mud baskets come with all poles and prevent the pole sinking into soft ground.
Steel- Good enough but if you use the pole often it will wear more quickly.
Tungsten- A better choice for regular users and is an extremely tough material that will not corrode.
Carbide- Personally i have not noticed much of the benefits of this material but it is used for tool manufacture and is a harder material.
I have used a few types but it is best to look for the ones with metal washers inside. Their benefit is to prevent the tip from prematurely poking through. Be aware the boots are a consumable item and will wear.
The proper pole length is approx. 70% of your body height. Multiply your height in inches or in centimeters by 0.7 to get your pole length in the same units. The pole can then be adjusted to length.
Minimal care is required for poles and is basically if wet pull each section out and dry also rinse any debris off. It would be best not to reassemble until throughly dry to prevent the sections sticking. Should the pole be stored wet electrolytic corrosion will happen between the metals creating oxidization. This is where a quality anodised coating is also best.
It would be best not allow oils or grease onto the sections as the sections will not lock, if this has been done on your current poles its not a problem as washing in soapy hot water will cure it.
The above guide is by no means complete, new manufacturing processes and materials will change. Your choice of pole can only be made by you when you decide your requirements.
When using poles on the first outing give yourself time, some find them a little awkward until that flow comes, which will not take long. I suggest placing the pole tips a little bit to each side until you get used to them to avoid tripping over them. On downhills its best not to use the wrist straps, should you fall you may not be able to use your hands properly to break your fall.