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 handgrip. 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.
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 the 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 to 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 handgrip 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 handgrip 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 a 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 sidewalks.
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 backward. Leaning forward helps keep the poles more perpendicular so that they can support my load better. It also means that I can treat the handgrip more like a horizontal shelf or banister, and enlist my triceps and lats to reduce the shock of descending, on my knees.
Collapsible Design and Features
Other than their unique handgrips, 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 handgrip 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 circumference 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.
Hiking and backpacking with Pacerpoles 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 biomechanical 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.
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 handgrip or the top section of pole that the handgrip is fastened too.
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.
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.
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