Nordic Walking is…. Walking with a pair of specially designed poles, used for forward propulsion. Poles are planted alternately with each step in a natural walking rhythm to enhance health benefits.
—Malcom Jarvis, editor,
Nordic Walking News Weekly Issue 11
There are Nordic Walking (hereafter “NW”) associations, clubs and events all over the world (especially prominent in Europe) which promote it as a form of exercise as well as for fun and recreation. NW is a great way to develop whole body fitness and have fun in the process. NW poles typically come with a removable rubber tip or “paw” to allow use on hard surfaces without slipping; they can be used on paved streets, sidewalks, grass, hiking trails and mountain paths. NW proponents use both rigid, single section poles and adjustable poles. The purpose of NW techniques is to fully engage the upper body for a full body workout. NW uses techniques similar to Nordic cross-country skiing.
Nordic Walking Techniques
In the last couple of decades, the international Nordic Walking community has taken the art and science of pole walking to high levels with several competing styles. Nordic Walking and Skiing poles usually have specially designed wrist straps to enhance their respective techniques described above.
The basic Nordic Walking technique (always with two poles) is an enhancement of normal arm swing. When the leading foot strikes the ground, the opposite pole arm swings forward to waist height. The opposite pole strikes the ground across from the heel of the opposite foot. Essentially, you mirror your stride—right leg/left pole, left leg/right pole. In the Nordic Walking technique, the planted pole and the opposite leg are pushed off simultaneously while keeping the poles pointing diagonally backwards. The rear leg on the pole side is extended backward until it is nearly straight. Many refinements and variations of this basic technique can be learned from certified Nordic Walking instructors. Check out the short article on this website titled “Poling Techniques—Maximizing Trekking Pole Effectiveness” for a comprehensive summary of these techniques.
Most importantly, hikers and backpackers have a lot to learn from the Nordic Walking community.
Nordic Walking Compared to Trekking Pole Hiking
Nordic walkers usually use poles with specially designed grips and wrist straps whereas hikers using trekking poles select one or two poles, with or without ordinary wrist straps. NW wrist straps are often designed with a half-glove (a right and a left) that enables the walker to get more push with the wrists and forearms rather than gripping the poles while hiking. These half gloves also allow the walker to get a full swing to the back releasing the pole at the end of each stroke (i.e., the pole is held only by the glove with an open hand). NW places a lot of emphasis on proper technique whereas most hikers are pretty casual in their pole use, sometimes carrying them, something a Nordic walker would seldom do.
NW poles can be used on most surfaces whereas “trekking” poles are designed more for uneven terrain and for winter snow activities. Trekking poles are commonly used when carrying heavy backpacks; NW is ordinarily focused on day walking and hiking activities with little or no pack.
In summary, there are substantial differences (overdrawn above for clarification) between NW and hiking with trekking poles, but they have much in common and are closely related.