Nordic walking poles purchasing advice: how to choose the right product

  • What You Need to Know
  • Nordic Walking is a trend sport from Scandinavia that is modelled on the movements of cross-country skiing.
  • The poles support an effective training of the entire body; both the extremities and the abdominal and back muscles are trained.
  • The length of the poles is the most important criterion. To determine the optimum value, you need to multiply your height by 0.66.
  • Nordic walking poles are made of carbon, aluminium or composite and are therefore particularly light.
  • In Nordic walking, you perform a cross movement with your arms and legs and push yourself off with the poles; these only lie loosely in your hands.

Modern Walking

Nordic Walking is a trendy and endurance sport that outdoor enthusiasts have been embracing for about two decades. The sport is a good way for people of all ages to be physically active in their free time. As the movements are particularly easy on the joints and the entire body is trained, Nordic walking is also ideal for older or overweight people. The Nordic exercise sport is suitable as a good balance for advanced endurance athletes who are looking for a change of pace, or for workaholics who seek physical recreation in the great outdoors in their free time. Nordic walking is not as strenuous as jogging, but more demanding than simple walking. To actively promote your health, all you need are two poles.

Nordic walking poles are neither walking poles nor crutch poles. This means that you do not rest on the poles, but actively train with them; they serve as a sports instrument. In this way, you use up to 90 percent of the muscles in your body, especially the arms and legs. The two poles ensure an even load on the extremities and a balanced distribution of forces.

nordic walking poles on mountain in nature

Nordic by Nature

The origins of Nordic Walking are buried in winter sports, more precisely in the Northern European ski sports, above all cross-country skiing. The Finnish trainer Mauri Repo first wrote about the method of Nordic Walking in 1979, without naming the sport specifically. In his remarks, he defined the training concept that skiers follow during the summer. The movement sequences correspond to those of cross-country skiing, only without snow. Instead, the athlete walks. The poles, however, have remained for stabilisation and propulsion, so just like in cross-country skiing.

In 1997, the Exel company launched the first Nordic Walking poles, which were specifically designed for annual use without skis. The term “Nordic Walking” was first used in 1999 when the sport gained popularity. By means of targeted advertising, the term became established all over the world.

Building a Nordic Walking Stick

Nordic walking poles consist of four parts: a shaft, a handle, a wrist strap and a steel tip.

nordic walking poles structure
The diagram shows the structure of an exemplary Nordic walking stick.

Shaft: It forms the centre of a stick and determines its length. In addition, the shaft serves as an attachment point for the other parts.

Handle: This is located at the upper end of the shaft. In the best case, it is non-slip and moisture-absorbing. The wrist strap is attached to the handle.

Hand strap: It is used for power transmission and prevents the pole from falling out of the hands. The thumb finds support in its own tab.

Steel tip: The tip is located at the bottom of the shaft and serves as a holder for various optional attachments, which vary depending on the surface.

Difference to other sticks

Nordic walking poles are designed for the movement sequence of the sport or cross-country skiing. They therefore differ from conventional walking, support or hiking poles. Unlike other sports and leisure poles, Nordic walking poles have a tip for various attachments and a handle that is specially designed for the sport.

While the handle of other poles is often wide and angled or only in the form of a knob, the handles of Nordic walking poles are very slim. Furthermore, the wrist strap is not a simple band that is placed around the hand and prevents the pole from falling to the ground in case of doubt. Instead, the loop wraps around the back of the hand like a glove; the thumb is also attached in its own tab. In this way, the sticks can be thrown backwards according to the course of the movement and pulled forward again with the hand open.

Like a fish in the north

Aqua Nordic Walking has also become a household name in recent years. The sport is performed in a pool depth of around 1.4 metres with heavier poles and larger attachments. This water variant is particularly suitable for older, overweight or physically impaired people, as the movements are gentler on the joints and there is no rolling of the feet. The calorie consumption is higher and the muscle building is greater. Water shoes are recommended.

What should be considered when buying Nordic walking poles?

When buying a suitable pair of Nordic walking poles, you do not have to consider much. The most important criterion is the length of the poles. This depends on your body size. The price and durability depend on the material. Higher quality materials cost more, but will also serve you well for a long time. The size and material also determine the weight, but this is only a secondary criterion, as it varies little and is hardly decisive for intensive Nordic walking training. The handles should fit your palms well and be made of a suitable material. To be able to walk optimally on any surface, there are different attachments for the tip.

The length

For sports such as cross-country skiing or skating, trekking, trail running and also Nordic walking, the right length of poles is crucial. Otherwise, the movements are distorted and incorrect postures are encouraged, which means that the positive training effect falls by the wayside. In order to involve the entire upper body, Nordic walking poles are much longer overall than walking or hiking poles, which are primarily used for support. The right length of a Nordic walking pole depends on your body size. There are three ways to determine the value of the optimal size. Some are more accurate than others:

Option 1: Place the stick next to you. If it is the appropriate size for you, the top end should reach at least to your belly button, at most two to three centimetres above.

Option 2: Hold the stick firmly in one hand and bring the crook of your arm to a 90 degree angle. The stick falling vertically downwards should touch the ground with the tip if it is the appropriate size for you.

Option 3: Multiply your height by 0.66. This way you will find the optimal size, as the result should be about two thirds of your height.

Based on this formula, the following guideline values result:

Body height in centimetresStick length in centimetres
140 to 14493 to 95
145 to 14996 to 98
150 to 15499 to 102
155 to 159103 to 105
160 till 164106 to 108
165 to 169109 to 111
170 to 174112 to 115
175 to 179116 to 118
180 to 184119 to 121
185 to 189122 to 124
190 to 194125 to 128
195 to 199129 to 131
Over 200132 or more
The table shows which pole length is suitable for which body size.

If you are unsure which size is optimal for you, or you want to vary the pole length depending on falling and rising terrain, it is worth reaching for Nordic walking poles with a telescopic function. Thanks to this mechanism, you can lengthen or shorten the pole as needed and optimise it for your body size. It is important here that the length remains adjusted, even if you use the poles intensively. The poles should never be adjusted during training. With poles that do not have a telescopic function, you do not run the risk of the training equipment adjusting during use.

The material

To ensure that Nordic walking poles are not a burden during training, they are made of particularly light materials: These are usually carbon, aluminium or composite. Often, especially the longer poles are made of high-quality carbon, as they are usually used by taller and heavier people and thus have to withstand greater loads.

Carbon: This material is of particularly high quality, which is why it is usually somewhat more expensive. It is light, very flexible and absorbs shocks well.

Aluminium: This quite inexpensive material is also very light. However, it is not as ductile as carbon and is more susceptible to vibrations.

Composite: This is usually a composite material made of carbon and glass fibre. Composite is cheaper, but also less stable than pure carbon.

The weight

Both carbon and aluminium are very light materials, which is why the total weight of the poles is very low. Depending on the length of a pole, the weight varies by a few grams. Mostly it ranges between 150 and 350 grams. The lightweight poles thus serve the optimal course of movement and provide the necessary stability.

The handles

The handles of Nordic walking poles should fit well in your palms. This is especially true for ergonomically shaped grips that are designed to fit the contours of your palm. The material should be non-slip and breathable. Plastic is the cheap version, but also offers little in the way of training support. Rubber is very non-slip, but not breathable. These two versions are especially suitable for beginners. With them, you can try the sport without spending too much money.

nordic walking poles

If you intend to do the sport for a long time and regularly, handles made of cork or foam are recommended. Both materials are very breathable and prevent the handles from being covered in sweat within a very short time.

The essays

The hard metal tip at the bottom of a Nordic walking pole is designed so that you can put different attachments, also called pads, on it. You can also use the metal tip without an attachment; for example, when Nordic walking on a wet or damp surface. This allows it to dig into the ground and provide you with grip. For hard, asphalted or stony ground, rubber pads are recommended. This way there is enough friction so that the poles do not slip away. In addition, the pads dampen the impact, reduce the volume and protect the metal tips, which otherwise quickly dull on the hard surface.

Most attachments have a diameter of around ten millimetres. In many cases, the different pads are compatible with various poles, but this is not always the case. The attachments are not standardised, which is why you should make sure in advance that the attachments are suitable for your Nordic walking poles.

Always keep the pads clean. Dirt can cause the attachments to no longer attach properly to the tip. In the worst case, the attachment will fall off during exercise. As this is a wear and tear product, you will have to replace the pads after some time. With intensive, regular training, this is the case after a few months. High-quality attachments will be able to accompany you for several hundred kilometres.

different nordic walking pole pads
The graphic shows a selection of the different pads.

Common essays include the following:

Stone: These are large pads that have the shape of small rubber shoes. Their deep profile ensures that you do not slip on firm ground.

Ground: The Ground pads look similar to the Stone models, but are slightly smaller. They are mainly suitable for asphalt, as they are less universally applicable.

Spike: These models are similar to ground pads and have small, metal spikes on the bottom. They are the first choice for sandy or snowy forest and field paths.

Round: The pads are round shaped and provide an even surface to place the pole on the ground. They are suitable for mountainous and particularly stony trails.

The price

Nordic walking poles are available for 20 to 150 euros. The price depends on the material used as well as the workmanship and any extras included, such as additional attachments or a replaceable wrist strap. High-quality carbon poles can also be found for around 30 euros.

Walk like a Nordic

Even if the purchase of Nordic walking poles does not require much thought, the training can prove to be quite lengthy. Above all, the sequence of movements requires some practice. Otherwise, mistakes can be made quickly, which in turn can lead to pain or even injury in the worst case. If you approach the training correctly, you can effectively promote your health and burn calories.

Nordic dressed

In general, no special clothing is needed for Nordic Walking. Breathable clothing, like you would wear for jogging or other outdoor sports, is also perfectly adequate for Nordic walking. If you train during the cold seasons, gloves are recommended. Some manufacturers offer special Nordic walking gloves. But such models are not a must; you can use any pair of winter gloves you like. The only requirement is that your hands and gloves fit through the loops of the poles. In summer, cycling gloves are particularly practical for extra grip. It is advisable to adapt your footwear to the environment. In any case, shoes should be non-slip.

How do I use Nordic Walking poles correctly?

First of all, insert your hands into the loops from below and grasp the handle. The loops should sit on the wrist and thumb in such a way that the poles do not slip away or sag downwards even when the hand is open. Now begin the movement: Manoeuvre a stick forward in a sweeping motion and in rhythm with your steps: the left leg is followed by the right arm and the right leg by the left arm. This cross movement causes a minimal rotation of the upper body and ensures that the lateral abdominal muscles, the lower back and the shoulder girdle are also included in the training. Keep the poles close to the body at all times and do not clench the hands. Keep your hands loose when returning the poles. Because of the hand loops, the poles do not fall to the ground but automatically move back into your open hand as soon as you move the poles forward again.

These are the most important points you should pay attention to when Nordic Walking:

  • Heel and stick touch the ground at the same time.
  • The poles are parallel to the body axis.
  • The upper body is slightly bent forward.
  • The feet are rolled, i.e. from the heel over the sole to the ball of the foot.
  • The gaze is directed forward.
  • The poles are guided at a shallow angle.

Fast Nordic Walking

An adult who is already practised in the sport will reach a speed of 6 to 7 kilometres per hour. Older people are more likely to train at 4 kilometres per hour; this corresponds to the pace of a walker. Nordic walking professionals can manage up to 10 kilometres per hour, not much less than a jogger who runs around 15 kilometres per hour. In Nordic walking, however, it is not the speed that is decisive, but the correct sequence of movements.

The most common mistakes

As with any other sport, mistakes can easily creep into Nordic Walking training. For example, taking too large steps can be detrimental to the back, hips and knees. Extending the knees too far also leads to knee pain because the joints are under too much strain. A hollow back, arms that are not stretched out and permanently closed hands will cause your body to tense up and the training effect to fail. In addition, it is advisable not to look at the floor, as this makes your neck and shoulders tense. Always maintain a loose and comfortable posture that goes hand in hand with the correct technique.

Take special care that your Nordic walking poles are the optimal length. A pole that is too long can cause the rotational movement to be too strong and affect the elbow as well as the shoulder joint. Do not lift the poles off the ground too soon, do not lean on them and do not drag them behind you. All this would cause the training effect to fail./ima

nordic walking movement
The graphic shows the correct movement sequence for Nordic walking.

What is the training effect of Nordic Walking?

Nordic Walking is a sport that affects the entire body. The upper body and extremities are challenged with every movement. You can increase the effect on the arms and legs by using inclines and declines. For example, walking uphill requires a more powerful use of the arms; in addition, the thigh muscles are used more. In addition to physical fitness training, you improve your general health. By walking with poles, you strengthen your cardiovascular system, stimulate your metabolism and the formation of bone cells, improve blood circulation to the organs and relieve tension. In addition, you burn calories: Within one hour you can burn 300 to 500 calories.