One of the changes I made for my Camino Sola in September 2015 was taking poles, something I have never done before. But not just any old poles.
Heather at Pacerpole very kindly let me test drive a pair of carbon Pacerpoles for which I am very grateful. I thought it was time to really consider poles, as last time I walked down to Acebo I twisted my ankle. According to the literature ergonomically shaped Pacerpoles would encrease my speed, stamina, posture and breathing. I had tried them at home for 20 km walks, but using them all day, every day really made me appreciate them.
My speed increased – I think I broke the Camino land speed record one morning – but without making me feel more tired. Quite the contrary, I could walk up hills with much more energy and force than before, and remember I have walked the exact same hills before so I really noticed the difference. My slightly asthmatic breathing still reacted to damp morning air, but at the end of the day I did fell less worn out. Once I got past the initial adjustment and found my perfect pole length (using my shadow and Heather’s advice) they felt like a perfectly natural extension of my arms. The proof of how well they worked is that I never carried them or put them down unless I was sitting down myself.
Another benefit of walking with the poles every step of the way was that my hands didn’t swell and become stiff and useless while I walked. This always happens when I walk and it is very uncomfortable and a little bit worrying when I rely on my hands for a living. Admittedly the handles can become a bit sweaty in the heat, especially if you are walking uphill and grab the handles more, but then again they are moulded from plastic and can be rinsed, washed or wiped very easily. Neoprene or cork handles, on the other hand … Also the plastic handles are not too shiny and don’t grate or rub or slide in the hand no matter what.
Would I take them again?
Definitely! I’m not sure I can imagine going for longer walks without them now, they really do make a huge difference to the efficiency of movement. You might think that sounds very technical and not at all what the Camino is about, but consider the lower impact on your ankles, knees, hips, the improved posture allowing for better breathing, and the arms taking their part of the effort … this is not about turning into some sort of walking machine, but about walking better. You wouldn’t choose ill fitting boots over comfortable shoes once you had tried them, just as you wouldn’t choose a heavy backpack over a light one. Why choose no poles (or poles that don’t work for you) if you can choose ones that improve your experience? I still slowed down in places, and I still stopped to marvel at my surroundings. And I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of strength and ability as I walked up those hills as if they were nothing.
Another great aspect of them is that they can be used as handbrakes on the downhill sections, and this means you use your entire arm to help you stay upright and give you better balance. I could feel my arms when I came down to Molinaseca!
Would I recommend Pacerpoles for walks like the Camino?
Absolutely! I could have sold them many times over to people who tried them and I hope they did order them when they came back home. Pacerpole offer a 4 week trial and if you don’t feel that they are improving your walking and performance levels, you can return them for a refund. I don’t suppose they have to issue many refunds, but it’s good to know if you are worried about spending money on something you think you might not need. Now you have no reason not to try.
I would like to point out that these are my own experiences and that I bought my own Pacerpoles a long time before this walk. Heather let me try the carbons (mine are alloys) because she thought they would work better on a walk like the Camino. She was right, I did like the lighter weight and slightly different point of gravity making them even easier to place with precision at speed – but I would still say that the alloys would do the job more than well enough. If it seems like using Pacerpoles involves too much reading and fine tuning, have a look at the many pilgrims who use normal poles and get no useful benefits from them because they don’t use them correctly. Walking with poles is about adjustment, but so worth it!