In Praise of Pacerpoles

Readers solely interested in reading about our little journey may wish to skip this entry as it is a copy of the email I just sent to Pacerpole.com to express my appreciation of their product.

Should you be interested in reading detailed information regarding what in my opinion is the best walking pole available today, by all means please continue.

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Thank you for your prompt delivery of the 7075 Alloy Three Piece Pacerpoles, that I ordered from Australia, to the St Jean Pied de Port post office in France as requested for the beginning of the Camino Santiago Frances route.

My apologies for the long delay in the requested email to confirm delivery. I thought I would wait until I had put the Pacerpoles to thorough use so that I could give an accurate appraisal of their effectiveness.

Happily after completing the Camino and having walked more than one thousand Pacerpole assisted kilometers I can report that, second only to my boots, the Pacerpoles are now the most essential part of my entire hiking kit.

I absolutely refuse to take a step carrying my backpack without them and, to the chagrin of my wife, mostly insist on walking with them even without my pack on.

I am a large man, 190cm tall. Prior to my departure from Australia I was recently diagnosed with reasonably severe osteoarthritis that was causing me constant pain in my right knee with the likely prognosis of left knee pain to follow.

The thought of walking long distances over the rough steep terrain of the Camino Santiago had me considering purchasing walking poles prior to leaving Australia. Of course I left my decision to the last moment which fortuitously led me to an busy afternoon of internet research where I found the Pacerpole website and several independent reviews of Pacerpoles from previous happy users.

I could not find any Pacerpole stockists in Australia to test your product however I thought it prudent to measure the effectiveness of your competition by trying out several other pole manufacturers and pole types in a few camping stores.

Prior to this shopping expedition I had thoroughly watched the Pacerpole usage video guides so that I had at least a rudimentary knowledge of what to look for in a walking pole. Of the stores I went to only one staff member had any real practical knowledge of walking pole usage. I was advised to use poles that were obviously too long, had springs and suspension systems to absorb shock, and to either put poles down way in front of my foot placement or to drag them along behind me.

I have completed several subjects in Anatomy, Physiology and Human Movement, some of which involved a little gait analysis, in a long past period of study and the superiority of the ergonomic design of the Pacerpole handle along with the fully adjustable shaft length of the 7075 Alloy Three Piece Pacerpoles seemed self evident.

With two days left before my departure I decided to risk untried purchase and ordered the Pacerpoles to be delivered to the Camino Santiago Frances departure point of St Jean Pied de Port.

Happily the Pacerpoles were waiting at the post office in St Jean on my arrival.

Kudos to the Pacerpole staff and organisation for your prompt attention to my purchase order.

Having reviewed the assembly instructions online I was able to rapidly assemble the Pacerpoles without any issue. Both the assembly and adjustment of the Pacerpoles is very simple.

My wife and I immediately set off on a walking tour (without backpacks) of the beautiful town of St Jean Pied de Port which includes steep climbs and descents that also have several long staircases.

Walking along flat areas I immediately found an easy rhythm and focused on proper placement of the Pacerpole tip with each footfall to find the optimum shaft length to match my own personal gait.

By the top of the first hill I had adjusted the Pacerpoles to the length that seemed to best suit my anatomy (I have a long body and relatively short legs) and stride length.

Stairs presented a bit of a problem initially however after a few up and down climbs I was getting the hang of it.

I (stupidly) charged down a very steep long staircase that would have had me mincing down the entire length one step at a time without the Pacerpoles and waited for my wife to more sensibly take her time to join me.

On our return to our accommodation we climbed up the same staircase with ease.

Within the first hour of use I was already liking Pacerpoles and feeling very confident that I could use them effectively.

Seven months of almost daily use and at least one thousand kilometers later (likely more than 1500km), I am loving Pacerpoles and feel reluctant to walk any significant distance without them.

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Day one of the Camino Santiago was a steep climb to Orisson with a 600m ascent to 800m above sea level that only had three very short downhill sections.

Carrying a very heavy backpack (it got lighter as we became more experienced) immediately the Pacerpoles were showing their worth. With each step I was lifted upwards and thrust forwards, exactly as described in the online video instruction.

I was able to lift my joined bodyweight and backpack on the two poles as if they were crutches which gave me great confidence that they would not collapse in times of need.

Day two of the Camino Santiago included a further climb to about 1400m above sea level followed by a very steep descent down to Roncesvalles which lies about 800m above sea level.

On the descent the Pacerpoles really came into their own.

As per the very thorough information on the Pacerpole website the natural resting position of the arm and hand when standing has the arm relaxed, the elbow is close to the trunk, the wrist is completely relaxed and uncocked, the palms and fingers form a relaxed concave shape, the thumb and first finger tip hang close to each other.

When holding a properly lengthened Pacerpole, with the tip placed at the line of the opposite heel strike while striding, the ergonomic hand piece enables the hand to adopt this natural relaxed position while fully controlling the Pacerpole shaft which follows a diagonal trajectory between the extended hand and opposite heel placement line.

Most other walking pole designs essentially involve clenching an upright pole at a right angle to the shaft and rely on inefficient force delivery vectors such as hand strength or tight constrictive straps to transmit work produced by the body through the pole and against the ground.

The far more efficient Pacerpole design enables delivery of force between hand and pole via direct contact between the firm, supporting curvatures of the ergonomic hand piece and the large muscle pads of the palm surface which are well suited to load bearing.

The overall effect of this process is that the hands are never clenched (or even tight) while using Pacer-poles. The natural arm swing and resting hand position remain unimpeded in both the power thrust and forward recovery movement strokes of the Pacerpole whilst in motion.

The Pacerpole feels almost weightless as a consequence.

Balanced and effortless.

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The human body is a web of pliant muscle and connective tissue (fascia) attached to hard bony levers. Ultimately the web like nature of the connective fascia means that there is no such thing as isolated tension.

A clenched hand requires work and tension in the wrist and forearm, stabilization (tension) at the elbow and shoulder which radiates into further tension in the neck, back and chest.

A relaxed hand means that the wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder and torso also remain relaxed and more able to effectively deliver greater impellent force with each pole stroke for much longer periods of time than would be possible were the hand either regularly or continually clenched.

On flat ground, and even uphill, propulsion via the Pacerpole happens almost as a process of progressive relaxation rather than contraction.

Once the pole tip contacts the ground the relaxed hand and forearm can be allowed to fall like a heavy lever, the relaxed elbow comes back close to the body, the entire arm weight falls as a lever downwards and backwards, the relaxed shoulder lowers and transmits some weight from the upper torso into forward thrust.

Rather than relying on muscular work and pushing to propel, the weight of relaxed anatomical structure (which occurs naturally while walking) provides most of the thrust required.

Gravity becomes your friend.

And when you are carrying a backpack as heavy as mine was at the start of the Camino you need all the friends you can get.

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Pacerpoles ergonomic hand piece design and adherence to optimal bio-mechanical principles enables the force of each pole placement to be stored in elastic connective fascia across the complex levers and joints of the upper limbs.

The so called ‘shock’ of placing the tip to the ground is therefore able to be stored in the elastic connective fascia and then released into the impellent power stroke of the pole.

This negates the need for heavy, complex, easily breakable and inefficient suspension systems such as springs or spongy hand grips.

Only minimal muscular effort, which is mostly provided by the largest muscle group of the back (Latissimus Dorsi) rather than the small muscles of the hand, forearm and arm, is required to vector this combined stored elastic and muscular effort back into the ground via the length of the Pacerpole.

The overall outcome on flats and uphill is dramatically reduced stress on lower limb joints such as the ankle, knee and hip. Dramatically reduced muscular input from the lower limbs especially on ascents and descents.

Reduced spinal compression and a more erect stance allows more effective respiratory, ventilatory processes and improved cardiovascular endurance.

The head remains more upright and the neck and shoulders remain relaxed which enables better balance and surveillance of the environment.

Of course you walk faster as well and the effort of climbing is dramatically reduced.

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By the end of the first long steep decline of the Camino I had come to realise that descents are much more taxing on the lower limbs than ascents.

Once again Pacerpoles demonstrated their superiority to descending unaided (as well as every other pole design I have witnessed).

With a simple effortless flick forwards the Pacerpole can be used to make contact with the ground in front of and just prior to the the timing of each foot contact. This enables shock absorption and load transfer to be performed by both the lower and upper limb simultaneously.

For poles relying on using a clenched hand around a vertical pole this motion could only be performed if the wrist was placed in a completely cocked position which would mean that the entire shock and load weight would be transferred to the arm and body via the small bones of the wrist with no further flexion being possible on contact.

A small slip could mean a ‘broken wrist’, stretched ligaments, joint capsule rupture or other debilitating injuries.

Because the Pacerpole hand and arm position while grasping the pole is almost identical to the relaxed hand and arm when standing erect, the small flick to place the pole in front of the descending stride still allows plenty of further movement in the wrist to occur even while the shock and load are being absorbed.

The likelihood of severe injury is very significantly reduced.

The flick forward is comfortably done with the hand still close to the hip and the arm in a close to the torso, flexed position of maximal strength to meet the incoming load and easily transfer the ‘shock’ of pole placement to the Latissimus Dorsi.

The distribution of the pressure to the hand in descent is slightly more via the thumb pad of the palm than in flat walking or climbing. The transfer of force follows a vector that requires slightly more input from the triceps than in climbing or walking on the flat however ultimately, once again the bulk of the required work ends up being transferred via connective fascia to the much larger Latissimus Dorsi.

The shoulders and neck are able to remain relaxed, the head and torso upright.

With the weight of my early days backpack and the state of my osteoarthritic knees I can honestly say that were it not for my Pacerpoles, four months after setting out, I would still be mincing my way down that first hill rather than having walked well over a thousand kilometers and being in the process (with my wife) of planning a thousand more to come.

As stated earlier I had tested the Pacerpole’s shaft load bearing capabilities by taking a few test steps using the Pacerpoles in a manner similar to crutches where the entire combined mass of my body and backpack were born by the Pacerpoles alone.

On many steep descents I have placed heavy loads (I would estimate sometimes in excess of 30kg) on single poles without experiencing a solitary slip in pole length.

I now have a lot of faith in the Pacerpole adjustment mechanism and feel confident using them in very rough terrain. Even after extended use the Pacerpole adjustment mechanism remains relatively easy to release and collapse for mechanised travel requirements.

Because I like to be sure of no slipping I sometimes require a cloth like a towel or T-shirt to grasp the pole sections tightly enough to release the adjustment mechanism after a long period having passed without collapsing the shaft length.

Once re-extended and slowly retightened, using hand pressure only, the Pacerpole’s adjustment mechanism has remained completely reliable.

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During the fifty days we spent walking the Camino Santiago I had the chance to witness many other people using various walking poles to assist their progress.

By the end of the first day complaints about walking poles were beginning to surface. Sore wrists, tired hands and arms, tired stiff shoulders and necks. By day two many of the people who had started walking with poles were now carrying them in their hands or had them strapped to their packs.

This is what is referred to on the Pacerpole website as effective weight.

Pacerpoles are not the lightest walking poles on the market. However when you end up always carrying your poles flat in your hands or strapped on your pack only having them filled with Helium in an effort to make them lighter than air would give them an effective weight.

By the end of day two on the Camino there were sets of walking poles occasionally being left in the Albuergues because their previous owners considered them a liability and would prefer to give them away rather than have to carry their additional weight.

Due to their extremely efficient design, in my opinion, Pacerpoles have an extraordinary effective weight advantage over any other pole design I have witnessed.

The relaxed hand position and use of the weight transfer of relaxed yet supported upper limb levers as a means of propulsion means the upper limbs (especially shoulder and neck area) are less tired at the end of a long walk than if you were walking without poles. The light grasp on the ergonomic handle also prevents the very common ‘swollen hand syndrome’ many people experience on long walks with empty hands.

The Pacerpole lifts you upwards and pushes you forwards as you rest your arm weight downwards.

You don’t lift the Pacerpole, the Pacerpole lifts you. That is effective weight.

Add in the massive energy savings in required muscular input by the lower limbs and the greatly reduced stresses on lower limb joints and connective tissue along with the significantly improved posture, balance and respiratory function and the superiority of Pacerpoles becomes too self evident to ignore.

During our walk through Spain on the Camino Santiago I met two other people, both of them women, one from Germany and the other a fellow Australian, who were also using Pacerpoles. The bright orange safety ropes made them easily identifiable.

I am very happy to report that both of these people were extremely satisfied with their Pacerpoles. The German lady who was also a first time pole user said she intended to email Pacerpoles expressing her favourable opinion. The Australian lady had been using her poles for several years and intended to ‘upgrade’ to Carbon Fibre in the unlikely event her 7075 Alloy poles ever wore out.

More recently whilst walking along the banks of Loch Lomond, near Balloch, Scotland my wife and I came across a couple walking. The male obviously had some sort of neuro-muscular issue as his movements were extremely jerky. As we approached them I recognized the tell tale handgrips of Pacerpoles however his safety strings were black.

‘I see you have the Carbon Fibre Pacerpoles’ I said to him as an icebreaker. ‘Yes’ he replied I keep my alloy spare set in the caravan’.

Our little Pacerpole admiration session concluded with me heartily agreeing with his synopsis ‘Pacerpoles are the best hand held mobility device in the world’.

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I would be remiss not to comment on the effective grip provided on all surfaces by the hard wearing Tungsten Carbide tips. These secured me on surfaces and slopes I would otherwise have felt very uncomfortable standing on with a heavy pack. The included rubber tips are easy to remove and reapply and provide quiet Pacerpole assisted locomotion through sleepy villages in the very early mornings.

While house sitting in Wales over the winter I ordered another set of Tungsten Carbide tips along with a couple of new sets of rubber tips (I have worn out one pair) for our next expedition along the Lycian Trail in Turkey.

Thanks again for the prompt delivery, the parts arrived within a couple of days.

The ergonomic handgrips have a very comfortable, hard wearing, lightly, roughened, black, non-marking plastic surface that provides excellent non-slip grip in all weather conditions.

My wife has also tried the Pacerpoles (she prefers walking with empty hands but likes to rest on them when she is tired and we have a standing rest for photo taking and so forth) and despite the large difference in our hand sizes we both find the ergonomic hand grips are very comfortable to grasp.

While the bright orange safety ropes certainly never have to be used as straps to facilitate power transfer I have occasionally put them over my wrists when walking in areas where an inadvertently dropped pole would mean a lost pole, such as high bridges.

Never imagining I would encounter snow while using my Pacerpoles one of my first backpack lightening options was to ditch the included snow-baskets.

Recently my wife and I had the privilege of walking around the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia and I realised I may not thought that action all the way through.

I can however state the Tungsten Carbide tips are very effective on ice and the Pacerpoles kept me upright in very unfamiliar (for me) circumstances.

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In summary, in my opinion, Pacerpoles fall into an extremely rare product category. One where the product either meets or exceeds all the claims of the designer and manufacturer.

One where the reality beats the hype. At a very competitive price.

I can categorically state that without the assistance of what I now refer to as ‘my trusty Pacerpoles’ that I would not have been able to complete the Camino Santiago pilgrimage. Early on during the Camino I injured my left knee while rising from a seated position on a low concrete girder while carrying my full pack without using the Pacerpoles to assist (my own stupid fault) and would not have been able to continue without the Pacerpoles.

More than three months later my left knee is still slowly healing from this injury yet I have been able to complete the Camino Santiago and plan further long distance hikes while remaining mobile and effective thanks to Pacerpole assistance.

My wife and I have been writing a blog of our travels http://www.andtheywalked.com and I have mentioned Pacerpoles frequently in a very favourable manner. There have been many hits on the Pacerpole tags we have included with the blogs.

I intend to post the contents of this email on our blog under the title ‘In Praise of Pacerpoles’.

Recently I had the idea of photographing my freestanding Pacerpoles against various scenic backdrops as we travel so I will be documenting ‘Pacerpoles around the World’.

Should anyone happen to read this dialogue I would like to state for the record that I am in no way affiliated with Heather Rhodes or Pacerpoles and that the message above is entirely my unsolicited honest opinion.

To everyone at Pacerpoles I would once again like to express my complete satisfaction with your service levels, delivery times, web site information and dedication to providing a superior walking experience.

It is obvious how delighted I am with the poles themselves.

I remain your grateful, certified quadruped.

Mick

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P.S. We are two days into the Lycian Way. As usual my Pacerpoles are proving invaluable. So far paths encountered have been steep up and down and far rougher than even the roughest terrain we encountered on the Camino. At tip to people walking with Pacerpoles (or any walking pole) on narrow paths surrounded by bushes.

Just like a Wing Chun fighter, protect your centerline. Move the pole up the centre and splay out to the edges from there.

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7 thoughts on “In Praise of Pacerpoles

  1. Very informative Mick, invaluable advice for anyone contemplating a purchase or a walking trip, you even make me wonder whether with the use of pacer poles I could consider some walks that I have previously put out of my mind as being beyond me, and my ambitions would be a lot lower than attempting the Camino trail. Have forwarded blog to my mum. I was very impressed with your comments on the hand positions causing less strain, and effects on reducing neck and shoulder strain, they are the very comments my mother makes As she tries to make her way around these days. I had no idea there was so many things to consider, getting the stride right and all those things. Thank goodness there are some analytical brains out there. Cheers have fun, enjoy the Lycian way, love to both you and Pam.

    • Thanks for taking the time comment on our blog. Lovely to hear from another Pacerpole devotee. I do my best to choose my words with care, thanks for liking every single one. Cheers Mick.

      • You’re welcome. Just about to set out on our own adventure next week with Pacerpoles. Feel free to take a squiz….charitywalking.wordpress.com

  2. I agree with you completely. Pacerpoles are a true masterpiece. Can you, please, do this little experiment? Try to slide the little finger out of the handle. I find myself holding this way the handle most of the time. Especially downhill. How do you feel this way? What do you think? I believe it is easier the flick forward movement of the pole. Thanks for sharing.

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