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Pacer Poles: Gear of the Year

Pacer Poles
Pacer Poles

Every year, I like to name a piece of backpacking gear that has had a transformational impact on my hiking and backpacking experience and recognize it by giving it the Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award. To qualify for consideration, the gear or clothing has to be something I’ve used on most of my 3 season backpacking and day hiking trips during the previous year. Last year’s award went to the Superlight Bivy Bag made by Mountain Laurel Designs.

This year’s award goes to Pacer Poles, an innovative trekking pole made in the United Kingdom and favored by many hill walkers and long distance hikers there.

If you’re not familiar with Pacer Poles (see prior review), they are collapsible trekking poles, available in aluminum or carbon fiber, that have specialized hand-grips that change your posture when you walk. Instead of cranking your wrist 45 to 60 degrees to hold the foam or cork grip at the top of a standard trekking pole, Pacer Pole grips let you hold your wrist straight in front of you like you’re shaking someones hand.

Pacer Pole Handgrips
Pacer Pole Handgrips

The change in grip means you stand up much straighter when you hike, your shoulders go down and back, and your pole plants align on the outside of your feet for better support instead of in front of you like normal ski-style poles.

The horizontal grip also gives you the ability to recruit your triceps and back muscles more when you climb elevation resulting in far less leg fatigue and faster overnight recovery. This has been significant for me because I climb a lot of mountains every year on day hikes and backpacking trips. Since I started using Pacer Poles,  I can climb 4,000 feet of elevation on a hike and not feel it at all the following day, plus my climbing and hiking pace is a good 0.5 miles per hour faster than with conventional poles.

But the biggest benefit I’ve experienced this year using Pacer Poles has been freedom from IT band syndrome. This is a condition that manifests itself as knee pain caused by tight quads and leg fascia and one that I experience when I hike more than 10 miles or if I carry a pack weighing more than about 20 pounds. Those of you who are long-time readers know it’s something I’ve struggled with for years and that I’ve had to bail part way through several long distance hikes because the pain became to severe to carry on.

Since I’ve started hiking with Pacer Poles, I have not experienced any IT band symptoms on hikes or backpacking trips. I attribute this to the postural changes I’ve experienced using these poles and the better biomechanical advantage they provide. For someone who had previously given up hope of ever being freed from the symptoms of IT band syndrome, the impact that my Pacer Poles have had on my hiking and backpacking experience has been miraculous.

Why aren’t all hiking and trekking poles this good?

For more information about Pacer Poles, visit PacerPole.com

Disclaimer: Pacer Pole provided complementary trekking poles to Section Hiker for testing and review.

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23 comments

  1. "Disclaimer: Pacer Pole provided complementary trekking poles to Section Hiker for testing and review."

    I can't believe they supplied just the one pole…

    8-)

  2. Yuk yuk. Seriously, I offered to buy the pair they loaned me to test and review earlier in the year. I was pretty skeptical when I got them but I am a believer now! Transformation indeed.

  3. You don't use a wrist lanyard for these? I put all my weight on my wrists when descending and manipulate the poles with my fingers. I can't figure out how you would descend with these things without a wrist lanyard. On an unrelated note, these look like they'd also be great grips for skiing.

  4. yes, popular poles here in UK or those who know about them.

    I used to have Alloy ones but recently bought the carbon ones which are much lighter IMHO.

    but carbons need care as can crack in situations like stream crossings etc where rocks/boulders can trap them.

    I have met the makers, they are from the English Lake District, and are members of the backpacking club here.

    ………Lilo

  5. Mazz – Pacer Poles come with string keeper cords but I don't use them. I also usually cut off the wrist lanyards on other trekking poles. For descent, I just apply pressure using the heel of my hand on the poles. The grip gives you a much better connection than a cloth strap and is a lot safer in avalanche country if that's something you worry about,

  6. One thing that always struck me about those poles is… how would they work with setting up with a tarp? I always use my tarp as an A-Frame, with poles at either end, handles into the ground. Does the angle of the poles affect the stability or pitch of a tarp?

    Mazz– Since cutting off the straps of my poles a few years ago, I've broken my poles only once, compared to about half a dozen times in the same time frame while still using the straps. I'm convinced that being able to drop my poles when I fall is a really great thing :)

  7. Pacer poles work just fine with tarps. I've been using them successfully with flat and cat tarps all summer. The only difference is that the handle touches the ground a few inches off center, but that still works just fine.

  8. I guess that makes sense. My old Leki's had slightly angled grips, although nowhere near as much as the Pacers. They are a very unique piece of hiking gear!

  9. I got convinced… or at least, I convinced myself and ordered a pair. With the dollar high against the pound, they're $107.00 shipped from England. I spent more than that on my Lekis. My reason (or is that rationalization?) for the purchase is "medical". Maybe they'll be better on my arthritic hands. Yeah! That's it! Now, I need to convince my wife of that before I require medical attention for an upcoming arthritic bump on the head…

  10. Grandpa – I will be very interested to hear how they work out for you. Please update me when you'd had a chance to try them out.

  11. Philip, these are indeed a huge improvement over ski-pole grips. Pacers would be perfect if they had Black Diamond-style flip-locks instead of those standard !@#$ twisty things. But, for me at least, they're still the best.

  12. I second what Mazzachusets said. The pole straps are immensely supportive if you use them correctly. Tell me, did you use your straps like the first or second picture at http://www.skisizecalculator.com/poles/proper-pol
    ??

    I frequently see hikers doing it the wrong way, and they are amazed by the difference after I show them the right way.

  13. Philip,

    I have had my pacer poles for only one week but until I can use them on the trail I am using them on my nightly 2 – 4 mile walk with my dog. As you said in your review, they take a little while to get used to. My pace has not quickened but I notice that I am less tired at the end than normal. I suspect it is due to better posture, resulting in less wasted energy and better breathing.

    One interesting thing I am noticing that no one else seems to have commented on is that I have hot spots on my feet that I normally do not have. My everyday walking shoes is Brooks I am assuming it is because my corrected posture has changed my gait a little bit. Have you experienced this or have your heard anyone else describe this side effect?

  14. I just hiked about twenty miles of the Buffalo River Trail area with my new Pacer Poles. I can't say I hiked faster or was less tired or the birds sang especially for me. I know the Pacer Poles didn't make the sun come out and shine because it rained thirty six hours straight while we were on the trail and the Texas Rangers also blew the World Series while we hiked, so there was no cosmic benefit there for Nolan Ryan either. However, I can say I really, really liked them.

    The grip is extremely comfortable and natural feeling since my hands just rest on the grips. With the arthritis in my hands and wrists, I didn't notice any wrist pain while using them but I also don't recall if I've experienced that with my Lekis in the past (likely not–otherwise, I'd have remembered). Usually, after a few miles on the trail, I have enough pains in other parts of my body that my chronic ones aren't as noticeable. I found the twist locks very tight and hard to adjust, which was difficult for me without some sort of grippy aid. I don't know if they'll get easier to operate with time. When I was a child and saw TV commercials advertising arthritis products and showing a woman having a hard time unscrewing the lid from a jar, I couldn't relate… well, I can now! Hmmmm… I wonder if I could take the top of those things and put them on some Black Diamond flip lock poles?

    My Leki poles have anti shock and I've always preferred that over my brother in law's Black Diamond poles without, although I covet his flip locks. The Pacer Poles do not have anti shock and I didn't miss it. There must be something about the way the grips make you position your arms that eliminates the "need" for anti shock. I put "need" in quotes because many people don't like anti shock but to me, it feels more stable on hard surfaces and the spring action helps keep the tips planted on rock. However, the Pacer Poles stayed put quite well. The Pacer Poles also seem to be a bit stouter than my Leki Super Makalus.

    I haven't really tried to set up my Tarptents with these but I'm sure I'll be able to find a solution for the holder on the tent rigging that the handle slides into.

  15. Gerry asked about hot spots on his feet after using Pacer Poles. Considering I had to give up after spending four hours looking for my beloved Roclite 288 GTX trail runners (my grandson later found them cowering under a box chanting: "H-ll no, we won't go!") and use an old pair of retired boots for the hike, I'm not in a good position to comment on that. There was a reason those old boots got retired.

  16. I’ve since used the Pacer Poles on a couple more backpacking expeditions. Over Thanksgiving, I took two grandsons to the Caney Creek Wilderness in Arkansas and over the winter break, I took one grandson and a friend for an excursion in Big Bend. I love the way my wrist lays into the hand grip on the Pacers. The friend who came to Big Bend had never backpacked and I loaned him gear, including my Lekis. At one point, I tried the Lekis again and couldn’t wait to give them back. I’m completely sold on the Pacer Poles.

    I still haven’t tried setting up my Tarptents with these but I don’t anticipate any problems. On the Thanksgiving trip, we used my Megamid tarp shelter since three of us could sleep under it out of the rain. We pitched it with hiking poles but I used the Lekis for doing so. On the December trip, we “Cowboy camped” because there was no precip in the forecast.

    On both of those hikes, I was back to using the Roclite 288 GTX trail runners and didn’t have any hot spots on my feet.

    • I keep meeting people who have switched and love them. Just the other day, I hiked with a doctor who started using them because relieve all signs of carpal tunnel after hikes with normal poles. These things are bloody miracles. Glad they’re working for you too!

  17. I ordered a pair of these last week, in the 2-section version. They should be here in time for some familiarization before my Mount Whitney climb at month’s end.

    I’ve previously used an ironwood hiking staff. This will be my first outing with poles. I do like the dual-use character (hiking and martial arts implement) of the staff, though…

  18. I’m back from Mt. Whitney, and have nothing but praise for the Pacerpoles. They work exactly as advertised, and are a delight to carry and use. I’m ordering a second pair.

    • Congratulations! How’d you hear about Pacer Poles?

      • I found the Pacerpoles while I was researching packs. I stumbled onto the Aarn Packs website, which has some photos and illustrations that include Pacerpoles. I’ll be danged if I can find now where the poles are mentioned on the site.

        Anyway, I started researching Pacerpoles and landed on your reviews, as well as on the Pacerpoles site itself. Everything I read made a lot of sense to me (and you get a 4-week trial) so I sent in my order.

        I didn’t make the summit of Mt. Whitney–my hiking partner wasn’t mentally prepared for the task–but I did give the Pacerpoles a thorough trial on some conditioning hikes prior to our summit attempt, as well as a day hike up the main Mt. Whitney Trail to Lone Pine Lake (elev. 9,420′) the day before we left. The poles are so well-balanced that adjustments to accommodate trail conditions were very nearly instinctive. Hat’s off to Heather Rhodes!

      • EDIT: I didn’t scroll down far enough. The Pacerpoles are mentioned, by name, at the bottom of Aarn’s homepage.

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