I have never used walking sticks or poles on my caminos, for some reason I just thought that was for people with joint or balance problems or in the case of the rough wooden single pole – a camino chic fashion statement. Also there were tales of people in constant panic about losing them, having them stolen, not being able to take them on the plane, having to pay to check them on the flight (defeating the object of the carry-on luggage size pilgrim pack) etc.
Then when I walked the best part of the St. Olav’s Way Tønsberg to Oslo stretch, my walking companion and I shared a cheap pair and I found that it was great for checking the depth of puddles, leaning on while shaking stones out of boots or just swapping from hand to hand to stop them swelling too much.
This year I heard about Pacer Poles and started doing a bit of research on them and reading reviews and forum posts (of course!). I do sit a lot for work, and these promised to help me walk more upright, strengthening my core muscles and general posture and by that preventing future damage. (Please read the info on their pages for their concise explanation, but this is what I took home from it.) So I ordered a pair of alloy poles and decided to give them a good run for their four week return-if-not-happy guarantee.
The first thing you notice about the Pacer Poles is that the handles are odd. I mean, really odd. As soon as you grab the right one with the right hand though (or the left with the left for that matter), it’s like an instant epiphany. The grip is just so natural and obvious, it makes you wonder how normal pole handles work again?
Adjusting the length is supposed to be easy, make sure the tip is about 2 cms higher than your elbow when the elbow is hanging straight down at your side. In reality I found this a bit fiddly to do on my own as I had to twist my body to keep the pole next to the opposite elbow. Getting the Scouse Spouse to do it while I just stood straight, helped. If you have no one to help you, just tighten the lower joint at the mark, leave the top joint loose and press down on the top of the handle with your elbow, just not all the way down. (Again, use the website as a reference on this.) I just made a note of my setting and now I just tighten it at 5.5 when I go to use them.
For the first five minutes walking with the poles was odd, then I got the hang of it and found myself speeding up! I am walking faster, more upright, it feels like I am breathing better. Yup, all good. For a while. I also found that I tightened my grip on the handles a bit too much, meaning my slightly bent little finger got crampy and I probably would have got my arms and shoulders in a knot if I had walked very much further. I am totally aware that this was due to user error and/or beginners’ problems.
I tried adjusting the length, with no luck. I tried resting my hands for five mins every half hour to not get all tense, it got no better. But then I had a second Pacer Pole epiphany and removed the orange wrist straps that are not wrist straps in the usual sense, they are more there so you don’t drop the pole. The gentle grip on the handle is enough to lift and move the pole, only with me the grip wasn’t gentle or relaxed enough. I replaced the orange cord (yay! no more orange!) with some black elastic bungee type cord and made it just tight enough that it doesn’t leave a mark on me, but when I lift my hand, the pole comes with me even when the grip is so relaxed it is practically asleep.
This worked! I have now stopped clinging to my pole handles like a loon, and can walk without the straps on at all. Learning curve and all that. I suppose my eyes just didn’t believe such a large black lump of plastic would move without falling down, not without some extra effort. It took some time but I seem to have cracked it now.
I had bought Leki rubber tips for them too, as I hate clickety-poling!! Turns out the tips that came with the poles are just as good, I am very happy with them. They are sort of rounded, not flat, and just seem to grip and wear very well. The Lekis are now delegated to spares … plus I have a no-brand rubbish one in my pack to give away to annoying clickers.
The odd handles makes for odd – but not impossible – stowage in the Stow-on-the-Go bungee on my Osprey pack, but that’s no big deal. Most packs don’t have that SotG system anyway and then you have to figure out some other way to stow them, like my previous trick of opening the waist and chest straps on the backpack and just securing the poles close to my body.
Also the weight is a potential problem – the alloy poles are 650 g/pair and the carbon version 500g/pair – but the poles are made to be used, not carried, and when you use them they are just as effective for the weight as any lightweight conventional pole. If you aren’t using them, you will feel the weight on or in the pack though. And with airline restrictions on taking poles into the cabin, they have to be checked or shipped. I am planning on shipping mine to my first accommodation in Astorga and picking them up there for the start of my Camino. It is a minor hassle but not a Pacer pole specific one.
Oh, and of course on a hot day your hands will sweat and the handle will get sweaty. I personally much prefer this to my hands swelling like mad which they normally do in the heat (or on long days when I don’t use poles). The obvious thing to do is to rinse or clean the handles as well as your hands every so often, so you don’t get any build-up of dust, salt etc. At least the Pacer pole handles are hard plastic, easier to keep clean than cork or neoprene handles.
All in all I am very pleased with my Pacer Poles. I like power walking with them, they are like a little rocket engine that propel me forward like …. well, a rocket! Last weekend I went for a comparative walk with normal but ultralight poles and felt that using them the same way, setting one pole down for every step, was draining my energy and over time hurting one of my wrists. This could mean not being able to work and I couldn’t take that chance. Half way I changed to my Pacers (thanks to the Scouse Spouse who brought me them) and powered back home with no problem! I have no neck, shoulder, back or arm pain or discomfort after use, and this is very important to me because I type for a living.
My only complaint about them now is that they make it impossible to hold hands while walking, so I tend to take them only when I walk on my own. Not really a complaint worth mentioning, but I think as complaints go, it is an adorable one.
With free world wide postage and a four week no hassle return if you are not happy with them, they are well worth a try. Yes, you can get cheaper ones, but nothing even remotely like them. I am definitely keeping mine. I might even be upgrading to the carbon ones … watch this space!