Ask an Urban Poling Expert: Puzzled About Poles

October 26, 2013 | By Nadia

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One of our UP Experts, Barb Gormley, is ready to address a common (and important!) question…

Can’t I just use my hiking poles?!


The quick answer is no. Read on as Barb explains why…


Nordic walking poles and hiking poles may look similar, but there are big differences in their design and purpose. Think about ski poles – cross country ski poles and downhill ski poles look similar, but are actually very different and not interchangeable. This is the case with hiking poles and Nordic walking poles. Here’s a breakdown:


Hiking Poles

Purpose: Used while hiking on trails and/or rough terrain; to assist with overall endurance; provide power and support for climbing and descending hills; allow off-loading of weight from hips and knees to upper body



  • very lightweight
  • poles telescope (designed in 2 or 3 sections) for carrying in a backpack when not in use
  • come with baskets to prevent them poles from sinking into soft ground or snow
  • have carbide tips that are ideal for soft surfaces
  • have wrist straps for propulsion and so poles can dangle from wrists while checking GPS or map, using hands to scramble up a rock face, etc.



  • no training required
  • arms move rhythmically with the legs adapting a style that feels best for them
  • tips usually stay behind the body but may come in front for balance purposes on unstable terrain


Nordic Walking Poles

Purpose: Used for walking on trails or sidewalks and other urban surfaces. To intensify the benefits of regular walking; improve upper body and core strengthening and posture; off-load weight from hips and knees to upper body; to help with balance and stability.


  • lightweight (but often heavier than hiking poles); Urban Poling poles are 3/4 lb. each to intensify the core and upper body workout
  • poles telescope (designed in 2 or 3 sections) for easy storage, or come in fixed-length
  • may come with basket accessory for snow shoeing
  • removable rubber boot tips (overtop carbide tips) provide cushioning and traction
  • have wrist straps or ergonomic strapless handles for propulsion



  • tips are always behind the body
  • posture is tall with the abs engaged
  • arms swing like long pendulums
  • arms swing rhythmically with the legs up to a handshake position then down to the thigh
  • beginners require live or online training


So remember: Different poles, different purpose! 
If you’ve been using your hiking poles for Nordic walking, consider a set of our Urban Poles, which you can purchase from our website!


For more from Barb, visit her website

Keep in touch with us on our Facebook page – we welcome your questions!



UPDATE: We wanted to add that, while you can’t use your hiking poles for Nordic walking, you can use your Nordic walking poles for hiking!

Barb mentions that the wrist straps are convenient for this purpose, and the poles are light and can easily be collapsed to fit into a backpack.

Another UP Expert, Mandy Shintani, notes that many polers like to take their Adventure poles (you can find them here) on BC’s famous West Coast Trail, which is usually a 7-day hike for elite hikers. Hikers like our Adventure poles for the comfortable ergonomic handles, which also allow you to free up your hands for a drink of water, bite of food, snapping a photo, grabbing a Kleenex… Plus, falls are common on this steep trail scattered with roots (which also becomes slippery in the rain) but with our Adventure poles, hikers were happy to report no wrist injuries due to straps. Hiking with has about the same risk injury rate as using poles with many other sports, including cross-country. Plus, they keep your hands free – you can hook the Adventure poles on the outside of your pack!

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Going downhill

For moderately steep slopes, simply decrease the pressure on the base of the handles or drag your poles behind you. For steep slopes, keep your poles upright and in front and out to the side slightly, so if you do fall you won’t land on your poles. Bend your knees and elbows, and slow down any momentum. For long descents, it may be helpful to lengthen the poles.
Barb Gormley, Director of Education

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