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Pacerpoles: Why aren’t all Trekking Poles this Good?

Pacer Poles in The White Mountains
Pacerpoles in The White Mountains

Pacerpole Trekking Poles AL

Weight
Grip
Locking and Adjustability
Packed Size
Durability
Versatility

Excellent

The main difference between conventional trekking poles and Pacerpoles is in the hand grip. Instead of a vertical pole grip, the Pacerpoles have a horizontal pistol style grip, where your thumb is positioned at a 45 degree angle to the ground and the ball of your hand is on the top of the pole. These two changes give you a much better mechanical advantage to use the poles for propulsion and lift, rather than just lateral stabilization like conventional hiking and trekking poles.

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British-made Pacerpoles are far superior to the trekking poles you can buy in the United States. I’ve been using them for 7 years and can’t imagine hiking without them.  They help me carry a backpack with better posture, prevent muscle soreness in my legs, and are much more resistant to bending and snapping than my current trekking poles.

The main difference between conventional poles and Pacerpoles is in the hand grip. It’s kind of hard to explain so I’ve shot this video to show you. Instead of a vertical pole grip, the Pacerpoles have a horizontal pistol style grip, where your thumb is positioned at a 45 degree angle to the ground and the ball of your hand is on the top of the pole. These two changes give you a much better mechanical advantage to use the poles for propulsion and lift, rather than just lateral stabilization like conventional hiking and trekking poles.

The special Pacerpole grip was designed by company founder Heather Rhodes, a physiotherapist by training. I’m not trained in anatomy so I won’t try to attempt a scientific explanation of how Pacerpooles differ from conventional poles, but will direct you to Heather’s Pacer Pole overview, if you are interested. Instead, I will explain how they’re different from a layman’s perspective, based on my experience using them on backpacking trips in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Better Biomechanics

The Pacerpoole grips are handed, meaning that one fits your right hand and one fits your left. This can take a little getting used to if you use regular poles today because they’re not interchangeable. In fact, getting used to Pacerpoles can take months because they are so different from regular trekking poles. It took me about 50 miles of hiking before I really got the hang of using them and managed to de-program my old trekking poles habits.

Here are a few examples:

When ascending up a slope, you need to shorten the Pacerpoles for best effect. With ordinary poles, I just choke up on the handle, since I don’t use trekking poles straps and the Black Diamond poles I like have extended length foam hand grips. With Pacerpoles, instead of extending your hand and pole way forward, you keep it much closer to the side of your body. This lets you push down on the special hand grip with the heel of your hand and use your triceps and lats more as you climb, significantly reducing leg fatigue.

I’ve climbed seven 5,000 footers in the White Mountains in the past three weeks using Pacerpoles and I’ve never reached the summits so quickly, with so much leftover energy, and so little quadriceps soreness the next day. It’s nothing short of a miracle in my book, especially since I’ve worn a fully loaded backpack on each of the three trips I took climbing these peaks.

When walking on level ground, I keep the Pacerpoles shorter than I normally would with other trekking poles, with top of the hand grip about an inch under my elbows. When I walk, my arms stay much closer to my sides and I’m not reaching forward as much. Here’s a video of Heather Rhodes walking with Pacerpoles that illustrates this positioning.

When I want to take a step forward, I simply flick my wrist to move the pole into position instead of pulling the pole up and placing it in front of me. It’s a very subtle difference, kind of like shaking a hand instead of reaching forward to grasp something. In doing so, my elbows stay closer to my sides and my forearms look like pistons, moving up and down. My posture is also much more erect, which means my backpack is better positioned over my hips for better shoulder to hip load transfer, and my lungs can fill more fully with air since my rib cage is not collapsed.

In a straightaway, you can also walk faster if you get into a zone where you alternate the forward wrist flicks that bring your poles forward so that they form a regular cadence. I’m not a fitness walker, but these poles would be marvelous for that and they come with rubber tips if you want to use them for walking on paved bike trails or side walks.

When descending down a steep slope, I lengthen the Pacerpoles and lean a little forward. This is a lot different than when I use regular hiking poles where my tendency is to lean backwards. Leaning forward helps keep the poles more perpendicular, so that they can support my load better. It also means that I can treat the hand grip more like a horizontal shelf or bannister, and enlist my triceps and lats to reduce the shock of descending, on my knees.

Pacer Poles on Mt Lincoln, Franconia Ridge
Pacerpoles on Mt Lincoln, Franconia Ridge

Collapsible Design and Features

Other than their unique hand grips, Pacerpoles are similar to other collapsible and telescoping trekking poles. They have a three segment design with an expanding bolt style locking system. To lengthen or shorten a pole, you need to grip the shaft itself and twist to unlock them and re-tighten them at a different length. I didn’t experience any problems with this system during my two months of extensive testing, but I can’t comment on its longer term durability.

Each pole has a carbide tip for traction and a standard Leki style tip with basket threads. Baskets are not provided in the base model, but a separate bundle is available for purchase that includes smaller trekking baskets, snow baskets, and rubber tips for indoor or quieter walking.

Both poles also come with lightweight keeper strings so that you don’t lose your poles if you drop them. Straps would defeat the unique hand grip designs and are not included.

A separate camera attachment is also available for turning a pacerpole into a monopod.

Weight and Thickness

One area in which Pacerpoles differ from regular poles is in weight and thickness. As a point of comparison, a single aluminum Black Diamond Compact Trail pole (without a hand strap) weighs 8.3 ounces and has a circumferences of 5.5 cm, while an aluminum Pacerpoles weighs 11.5 ounces and has a circumference of 6.5 cm.

As a user, one does not feel this weight difference, probably because it is offset by better recruitment of the arm and torso muscles. But the extra thickness of the Pacerpoles is readily apparent and for the better, since I have a nasty habit of bending and snapping Black Diamond poles. On one of my walks, I climbed up a long scree field on Mt Adams which was full of boulders. Near the summit I fell and lodged a Pacerpoles between two rocks where it arched menacingly as if to snap. To my amazement, it didn’t. I suspect a Black Diamond pole would have at least bent in similar circumstances and I attribute the Pacerpole’s resilience to its thicker shaft.

Pacer Poles and Gossamer Gear Murmur Pack
Pacerpoles and Gossamer Gear Murmur Pack

Re-Programming

Hiking and backpacking with Pacer Poles is very different than using trekking poles with a more traditional hand grip. So different, that you really need to de-program all of your old trekking pole habits and learn how to use the Pacer Poles from scratch. This takes multiple outings and is not something that will come to you overnight. Personally, I had to take several long walks in the woods per week for two weeks before I could begin to feel the postural and bio-mechanical differences that the hand grips provide.

If you decide to take the plunge, Pacerpoles has an unlimited 30 day return policy which may or may not give you enough time to decide whether you like the differences or not. Either way, you really need to commit to these poles to get any benefit out of them.

Fast forward to 2018 (7 years later). Pacerpole has a carbon fiber dual lock pole that closes with a lever grip and pin, unlike the aluminum twist locks discussed in this review. They have the same unique handgrips. If you’re thinking about trying Pacerpoles, I’d get the Dual Locks. The segments never slip or wear out like a twist lock. Read my 2017 gear review of the Pacerpole Dual Locks or check them out at the Pacerpole online store.

Replacement Parts

When I reviewed the Pacerpoles, one of the first questions I had was whether one needed to purchase a completely new set of poles if you snap one. Not a problem. Pacerpole sells replacements for every section of the poles, baskets, or tip, except the hand grip or the top section of pole that the hand grip is fastened too.

Specifications

Pacerpole sells aluminum alloy and carbon fiber models of Pacerpoles.

The aluminum poles weigh 23 ounces per pair and have a maximum length of 137 cm, a collapsed length of 67 cm, and a dismantled length of 56 cm.  MSRP including baskets is 73 British pounds or $117 USD.

The carbon fiber poles weigh 18 ounces and have a maximum length of 132 cm, a collapsed length of 65 cm, and a dismantled length of 54 cm. MSRP including baskets is 93 British pounds or $ 149 USD.

For more information about pricing and shipping, visit the Pacerpole online store.

Conclusion

I am very impressed with the aluminum pair of Pacer Poles that I tested in this review and I’m glad I finally tried them. Honestly, I will probably buy a pair of my own rather than continue using Black Diamond trekking poles for three season hiking. The Pacerpole hand grip makes such a difference in my posture, walking speed, and stability that I can’t imagine settling for anything less. If you climb a lot of mountains, you should give Pacerpoles a try. I would recommend sticking with the aluminum ones, only because they will be more resistant to breaking and they are likely to still be usable if you bend them. I’ve snapped way more carbon fiber poles than I ever want to and don’t trust them in very rocky terrain.

Disclosure: Pacerpole provided sectionhiker.com with a loaner pair of Aluminum Pacerpoles, expressly for this review.

Written 2011. Updated 2018. 

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33 comments

  1. Been looking at these as well. Left a $2 pair of hiking poles stuck in the ground at the base of a knob in Grayson Highlands last year. Long story. I'm using a pair of fixed ski poles right now which I have to palm, Warren Doyle style, when descending.

  2. All things considered, they really aren't that expensive. I didn't actually try to break them (and couldn't), although I have a bit of a reputation for destroying test equipment from certain manufacturers. Like I said, I'm going to buy myself a pair. There are a lot of famous hillwalkers I know in the UK who swear by them including Chris Townsend and John Manning.

  3. Thanks for this, Philip. I'm going to pick up a pair because of this post! Look forward to trying them out.

  4. Philip – Nice review and they sound great. I use my BD poles with my double rainbow tarptent. How would these poles do in the up-side position? I now use my poles to prop up the vestibule, extra structural support for high winds and/or to set up when I don't stake the tent. Bio-mechanically they make a lot of sense

  5. I've been using the poles to pitch tarps and they work just fine. That was a concern for me too, but it's a non-issue. The base handle is a little off center (2") from where the handle touches the ground but they're rock solid. You can see a tarp pitched using one here, It's a little dark, but you get the idea. Bottom picture in this post – http://sectionhiker.com/mt-jefferson-and-the-cast

  6. Tom – you're very familiar with the testing grounds! It takes a little while to get used to them if you've used other poles, but I think you'll like them.

  7. OK thanks – will give them a try!

  8. Great review highlighting the advantages of these poles.

    I have been using pacer poles for more than a year now. Couldnt go back to using any other model. Sure, they're slightly heavier than my old BD's, but much much tougher.

    Using them to pitch tarps is, as Philip says, a non issue.

  9. I too wonder how they would work with my Lightheart Solo tent with the offset handles because the poles are set at a 45 deg angle in the tent. I suspect they'd work fine but I don't know….

    • Hi Gerry,

      Did you end up getting a chance to test them in the Lightheart Solo? I will be purchasing one soon and I am looking at Pacer Poles as well. If they work in the Solo I think they’re a winner!

  10. Do you live in near Boston? I haven't sent the poles back yet….I'd love to see a Lightheart up close by the way.

  11. Earlylite, do you speak of the Lightheart tents made by Judy?

  12. The same – do you live near me?

  13. That I can't answer! Where do you live? I'm in a little town called Williamston near Greenville and Anderson SC but met Judy while in Franklin, NC for the Hiker Fool's Bash. She should be showing up in a future podcast (www.allwhowander.us). I was so impressed with her tents that I shot a little video to show some of our friends who are tent-shopping. I can try to send it to you if you're interested or I may try to post it on fb.

  14. I've been using Pacer Poles for two years. Did a month on the AT happily. Took a few times to get right from left sorted out. They feel like part of my body. It's like having the advantage of four legs for going ascending or descending. Never felt so secure. Yes, rock solid for pitching my Six Moons tent.

    Izzy

  15. Hi, as you know the pacerpoles is quite heavier than its peers, say… GG LT4 (about 3x heavier?). Did the weight bother you on the trail? What is more important for you, ultimate comfort or ultimate weight?

  16. Another thought – I used my BD poles for snow shoeing…put on a bigger basket and they work great in snow…I see on Pacer Pole website that they do have snow baskets – anyone use these in the snow? results??

  17. On average, I break LT4's and BPL Stix within 30 hours. I've broken four LT4's. One in snow and three on tree roots. I've also broken three BPL Stix. They just don't work for some people and I'm one of them.

  18. Much ado about nothing.

    I use poles for skiing as much as hiking. They've GOT to have serious straps (which you must NOT wear in talus fields).

    My issue with most poles is their joints. Leki joints (similar or identical to Pacer?) tend to become frozen with snow and ice. They also slip and are devilishly complicated.

    Black Diamond long ago solved this serious problem entirely with its "Flick-Lock" design.

  19. I just do not understand how you guys break your LT4s… I have 500+ miles on mine (this year alone) and never even come close to breaking them, or thinking I would. I have hiked in snow, mud, bogs, up rivers, across rivers, on the beach, over boulders, and an pavement. I just do not get how folks break these things.

  20. Me and Grant Sible at GG were talking about this earlier in the week. He reckons it's about terrain. Some people never break em. Some people break'em all the time.

  21. I can't think of a better place to break trekking poles than some of the trails in the Whites. Lots of opportunities to wedge the poles between two rocks while moving quickly forward. I do have to add that after really targeting leg strength and endurance during my training sessions, on my recent trip to the Whites, I found myself carrying my poles much of the time. I still like them for steep downhills, and of course to hold my StickPic…

  22. My girlfriend and I used carbon fibre Pacer Poles on a full 3000km through-hike of Te Araroa in New Zealand.

    In our opinion, they render traditional straight-handled poles completely obsolete.

    I did snap the lower section of one of my poles but was able to continue by gluing it in place. We certainly would have destroyed lighter poles.

    Pacer Poles are slightly heavier than some ultralight, straight-handled poles, but it’s a false economy to shave those grams because the Pacer Poles are so, so much more efficient and you don’t feel the weight when you carry them, as your arms swing low.

    • This about carbon poles almost sounds like a paid announcement….. I’m sure they’re fine but overkill for most…

      Modern hiking poles (aluminum) have been around long enough (decades) that patents have come off the joint locking mechanisms and you now can buy half-way decent ones at discount department stores in the US…..

      Poles are great for steep ground– especially when carrying loads….Not very useful for non-mountains.

      .. I started with some old Leki poles… the screw mechanism was prone to getting iced up in winter — and just being a pain at other times…. switched to old-style BDs with the little lever locking mechanism…. Barring ski accidents & the like, any aluminum pole set basically can last forever…..they can be bent back into shape….

  23. I am wondering if you have upgraded to the Dual locks carbon ones? I am considering buying them, but like you a bit tired of carbon breaking easily. I do like the dual lock system though. What are your thoughts? I am from New Zealand and hike in very rough, steep terrain.
    Thanks!
    Kind regards Ida

  24. I was trained to use poles by Jayah Paley, adventurebuddies.net. She advises that gripping pole handles can cause arthritis and to use straps so the weight is born by the backs of the hands. It appears that pacer poles require using a death grip. I am interested in innovation and, if convinced that they do now harm the hands, I will try them.

  25. I have severe arthritis in my hands, bad enough that I required surgery to remove a bone in my thumb and have a tendon pulled down from my elbow, rolled up and stitched into place to replace the bone. The resulting scar tissue formed a new thumb joint and cut down the pain. I’ll always be on strong anti inflammatory meds. Until I had that surgery, about the only time my hands didn’t hurt was when they were wrapped around Pacerpole grips.

    I’ve used a number of different types of hiking poles for more than a dozen years. I have three pair of Leki poles and at least that many of lesser names in addition to a pair of Pacerpoles. The Pacerpoles are far and away the most comfortable on these arthritic hands.

    When your hand is relaxed at your side, your fingers aren’t straight, they’re curled with the thumb near the first finger. The space in between is the shape of the Pacerpole hand grip. Almost no gripping action is required by you at all. The natural at rest curve of your hand is enough to hold the pole to keep from dropping it. Rather than a death grip, a relaxed grip is what’s used. I’ve often mused while hiking that I’m not even holding the poles–they just seem to rest in my hands as I lift them between strides.

    I hope this helps clear up any misconceptions. You won’t regret trying them.

  26. Another Pacer fan here – I’ve used them exclusively for years and like Philip I can’t imagine ever regressing to a conventional pole.

    David Georgi’s idea that they require a “death grip” is a serious misconception. The whole point is that most of the weight is channelled naturally through the root of the hand, without any need to grip. The fingers are simply used to balance the pole in the hand – you can quite literally do this with your pinky fingers alone.

    It’s the straps on conventional poles that put unnatural strains on the wrist. The straps are simply a workaround to compensate for the poorly designed handle. It’s hard to understand why such a crude design should have become the industry standard.

    I’ve recommended Pacers to countless people, and the only surprise is how many are resistant to even trying them. I think that Philip is right when he says that you need to spend some time re-jigging your technique, and it seems that many people simply aren’t open minded enough to try anything different. This is a pity, because it’s an investment that will be amply repaid. The Pacer is simply an objectively better design. Coupled with minimal footwear that encourages a natural stride, and an Aarn-style body-pack that encourages upright posture, and you open the way to freedom from pain, even on long, tough trails.

  27. Can the pacerpoles be used the same way as conventional poles as tent poles?

  28. I have used Pacers for a few years now and will never be going back to straight-handled poles. They do not require that you firmly grip them — it’s more that the handle forms a bed for your palm to rest in. They swing almost effortlessly, and unlike straight-handled poles, when used properly, do not require you to lean forward. Mine came with detailed instructions, and there are a few You Tube clips on optimal use also.

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