Q&A: Nordic Walking vs. Hiking

Nordic walking might sound a lot more exotic than hiking, but don’t be fooled—it’s not.

It’s actually a physical activity many outdoor explorers across the globe dabble in. Also known as ski walking, it’s the art of incorporating specially designed poles into your walking routine. Claire Walter, author of Nordic Walking: The Complete Guide to Health, Fitness and Fun, joins us to explain some of the major differences there are between Nordic walking and hiking.

Aside from the poles, how is Nordic walking different than hiking?

I actually use hiking/trekking poles in the backcountry and specially designed Nordic walking poles in town. Hiking poles are used for stability on rough, steep or unstable trails, to take some of the strain off the legs when carrying a heavy pack and to help the knees on those killer downhills.

Hikers tend to place each pole in front of their bodies and walk through the plane of each pole. Nordic walkers often walk on city recreation paths or in parks, using rubber “boots” or “paws” on the metal pole tips. At each step, the tips of Nordic walking poles are placed behind the heel or the leading foot and in front of the toe of the trailing foot and used to propel the body forward.

Claire Walter, Nordic walking expert

Is it better for you than hiking?

Not better or worse. Different.

What are some of the benefits?

The forward propulsion engages the arms, shoulders and upper body, providing a full-body workout and burning 20 percent to 46 percent more calories than walking the same distance at the same speed without poles.

How did you get into Nordic walking?

I saw it in Switzerland. In Europe, millions of people Nordic Walk regularly. I had a couple of chances to try it in Colorado, and now I Nordic walk almost every day.

What type of shoes/boots do Nordic walkers wear?

No boots. The best footwear is shoes specifically designed for Nordic Walking, but these are hard to find in the U.S. Next best are trail running shoes because they are laterally stable and transition smoothly from heel to toe. Walking shoes and regular running shoes tend not to have that lateral stability. Some people use rocker sole shoes such as MBT, Chung Shi and Sketchers.

Are there any specific brands you recommend and why?

When it comes to footwear, fit is crucial. As far as poles go, the main counsel is not to by cheap, house-brand poles made in China. You have to decide whether you want adjustable poles that are easy to share with family or friends.

One-piece poles are lighter and quieter. There aren’t all that many brands in the US anymore. LEKI (Germany), Exel (Finnish) and Swix (Norwegian) are the leaders, and Kantaneva (Estonia, I think) could be an up-and-comer. Boomyah is a reasonably priced quality pole from the US.

Nordic walking at a distance.

Where is your favorite place in the world to Nordic walk and why?

Boulder, Colo., is a very walkable town. I like to Nordic Walk right from my door to the Boulder Creek Path, Eben Fine Park, Boulder Canyon Trail and others.

[Image via Lars Plougmann]

3 Comments on “Q&A: Nordic Walking vs. Hiking

  1. A convenient variation of Nordic Walking is Magic Ski Pole Walking.

    Either way walking is certainly among the best fitness programs around . . . and it’s addictive.

    Walking is certainly among the best fitness programs around . . . and it’s addictive.

    Along with the Pedometer . . . and to add further motivation . . . may I suggest using a Magic Ski Pole.

    The Magic Ski Pole is simply an imaginable cross-country ski pole that reaps the full benefit of walking by preventing “lazy arms”.

    Normally only one Magic Ski Pole need be grasped.

    It automatically ‘clicks’ cleanly at the heart level when briskly swinging the arms.

    As a result the walker receives the full upper body strengthening and building power of the exercise.

    Magic Skiing is youthful and natural in appearance.

    Walking may not be a competitive sport but it has a huge trophy . . . health and longevity.

    I find that I’m walking smarter – not harder.

  2. Nordic Walking = Exercise
    Trekking Poles = Hiking

    How many people doing cardio in the Gym are smiling? ZERO!

    Claire Walter is right! Nordic Walking is FUN!

    Enjoy the outdoors, with your buddies! Whether Nordic Walking or Trekking, you’ll be moving & grooving AND smiling!

    Using poles (whether Nordic Walking or Hiking) enables you to use your WHOLE BODY. Optimal use of poles facilitates spinal rotation and elongation. You’ll fell TALLER!

    Happy Walking or Hiking!
    Jayah Faye Paley

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