I use trekking poles made by a British company called Pacerpole that have a unique hand grip which is tilted at a 45 degree angle instead of the vertical cross-country-style ski pole grip you find on other trekking poles.
Pacerpoles are very popular in the UK and Europe, particularly among long distance hikers and hill walkers, but are virtually unknown in the US because you can only buy them online from Pacerpole directly. I got exposed to them because many of my English and Scottish hiking friends use them religiously. I decided to give them a try myself and became an instant convert.
I thought I’d elaborate on the reasons why in this post because they’ve had such a monumental impact on my hiking experience. For a comprehensive technical product review of Pacerpole’s aluminum and new carbon fiber poles, I’ll direct you to Nielsen Brown’s recent Pacerpole review which is very thorough and complete. Below, I focus more my experience using these trekking poles and some of the health and postural benefits they’ve provided me.
When I started testing Pacerpoles in 2011, I had no idea that they would completely transform my day hiking and backpacking experience. I jokingly call them Posture Poles because they have completely changed the mechanics of my stride and postural alignment, making it more efficient, and eliminating a chronic ailment I’d previously resigned myself to suffer from for the rest of my life.
Before I tried Pacerpoles, I suffered from severe ITB (Illiotibial Band Syndrome), that required that I wear knee braces or ITB straps for hikes and which effectively limited my backpacking trips to 75 miles in length before it was too painful to carry on any further. People with ITB have a very tight layer of tissue called fascia on the outside of their quadriceps that can misalign the knee-joint and cause excruciating pain when the inner parts rub against one another.
Since switching to Pacerpoles, I’ve backpacked distances between 100-220 miles several times with no recurrence of ITB symptoms. None ever. I’d given up hope of this ever happening and it’s a total miracle as far as I am concerned.
When I started hiking with Pacerpoles, the slanted orientation of the handgrips forced me to stand up straight. Over the years, they’ve completely changed my hiking posture, so that my head is held high, my chest and lungs are open, my shoulders are back and relaxed, and skin between my shoulder blades is slightly crinkled. My arms hang loosely by my sides and my pole tips almost never touch the ground in front of my feet. I’ve internalized these postural changes so much, that this is my normal walking around town posture now, even when I’m not hiking with Pacerpoles.
People who use trekking poles with vertical handgrips, with or without hand straps to hold their weight, tend to hold their poles so that their pole tips always hit the ground in front of their feet. This causes you to slouch forward when you hike, it shifts the weight of your backpack forward onto the your quad muscles instead of your stronger and larger gluts/butt muscles, and requires more energy to hike because your poles act as brakes that you need to push over to move forward.
This is all caused by the fact that the hand grips on regular trekking poles are vertically aligned, requiring that you lean forward and cock your wrist to hold onto them. Pushing your bodyweight down on trekking pole handstraps is even less efficient.
Unlike regular ski-grip trekking poles, Pacerpoles don’t have straps, although there’s an optional keeper cord (a simple non-weight bearing string or bungie cord) that you can loop through the handle and wrap over your wrist to keep the poles from falling if you need to use your hands for something else. I don’t use the keeper straps because I find they catch on passing shrubs which is an annoyance.
In addition to their postural benefits, it’s possible to get a lot more power out of your arms with Pacerpoles than normal trekking poles which is why they are so popular with mountaineers and hill walkers.
The secret is in the handgrip, which has a lip around the bottom of the handle that the heel of your palm rests on. When you need to power up a slope, you extend your triceps muscles driving your arm strength through the heel of your hands and into the pole while keeping your elbows close to your ribs and inline with the rest of your torso.
This provides a very efficient lifting action which offloads stress on your legs and is most effective when the opposite leg and arm are synchronized: for example, the right hand swings forward when you take a step with your left leg, and vice versa.
Pole Tip Position
When walking with Pacerpoles, the tips of the poles are planted besides you feet rather than in front of them. When coupled with forward momentum, this results in a lifting action that propels your body forward while keeping your torso erect. It almost looks like you’re planting your pole tips behind your body with your hands slightly in front of your waist and the pole shaft angled back to the ground at a 45 degree angle. Though counterintuitive, the pole tip position and pole shaft angle are the reason why Pacerpoles generate so much lift when you walk.
The People Behind Pacerpoles
Pacerpoles were developed by Heather and Alan Rhodes in the UK. Heather is a trained physiotherapist (sort off the British equivalent of a physical therapist) who has spent the past 40 years helping people learn to walk after injury and disease, while Alan is a retired architect who oversees pole design and manufacturing.
I spent a week with Heather and Alan at their home in the UK this spring, and they are the kindest, most generous people you could ever expect to meet. I got to know them quite well on my visit and discovered that they are a much more interested in helping people discover the benefits of walking with Pacerpoles – everyone from elderly pensioners and polio survivors to backpackers and mountaineers – a bit more than they are in running a business and making a huge profit. So not to different from other US-based cottage manufacturers who run lifestyle businesses because they love what they do even though they know they’ll never get rich from it.
During my visit, Heather analyzed my Pacerpole technique and gave me quite a few tips on how to improve my hiking efficiency as I struggled to keep pace with her on the hills and mountains of England’s Lake District (she is a very fit and fast walker.) While using Pacerpoles had already cured my chronic ITB, these efficiency tips have really helped optimize my use of Pacerpoles since then.
My Miracle ITB Cure
How exactly did Pacerpoles help cure my Illiotibial Band Syndrome?
I think the answer is primarily postural. Pacerpoles make me stand up straighter and taller when I hike which keeps the fascia on the outside of my quadriceps muscles longer and more stretched out. The fact that I stand up straighter and taller all the time as a consequence of hiking A LOT with Pacerpoles is just icing on the cake.
Pacerpoles are my hiking miracle and probably added another 30 years of hiking and backpacking to my life. But, my experience with Pacerpoles is not that unique. I know many people who have benefited in other ways by using them to hike.
If you’re even remotely intrigued, I encourage you to order a pair of Pacerpoles today try them out. Pacerpoles come with a 4 week money-back guarantee, so they’re a low risk product to try out. They’ve helped me tremendously and the might do the same for you.
Disclosure: Pacerpole supplied Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with several pairs of free and loaner Pacerpole trekking poles, but Philip has not been under any obligation to write about them or review them.
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