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"PROPER" trekking pole strap loading vs PacerPoles


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Home Forums General Forums Philosophy & Technique "PROPER" trekking pole strap loading vs PacerPoles

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  • #3623673
    Jordan R
    BPL Member

    @reedjor

    Warning- Long post below:

    #3623674
    Jordan R
    BPL Member

    @reedjor

    This is about addressing biomechanics and technique when using different trekking pole handle configurations. I am hoping that we can for the moment abstain from talking about cork v foam, carbon v alloy, lock types, # of sections, compatibility with shelters, weight, etc, for the benefit of future readers who have heard all of those opinions.

    I am hoping for a more in-depth conversation in response to the lament of many a BPL forum member over the past 15 years that there is too much left unknown to make an informed decision about PacerPoles. I am in the US and am in that boat, having never tried a pair.

    I’ve noticed that a/my preferred way of using poles is bearing all weight on straps which are more around lower hand than wrist, and barely holding the pole with a couple of fingers. This is mentioned all over the net, and James Marco on the BPL podcast mentions that his poles don’t even have grips for this reason. I will avoid the argument that this is indeed superior to gripping the pole grips. Instead, I wish to compare this method to using PacerPoles as designed.

    My frustration is that this “proper” way is a nonobvious methodology so I am skeptical that when a given person compares a regular pole to a PacerPole, they are using this methodology with the former pole.

    The primary advantage of the PP seems to be that it allows your hand to be low at your sides. your wrist to be at a “handshake” angle, your elbow to bend minimally, and for you to push down somewhat parallel with your forearm when going up and down hill, like a crutch in the latter context. This is said via testimonials on BPL and from the designer to keep your posture more erect and prevent you from curving your upper back and loading your lower back. https://youtu.be/qH3byl7kQ4c .

    However, these benefits are possible to some degree with strap-loading no-grip, conventional and ergo-grip poles, and indeed I believe are the objective of the “proper” technique.

    Evidence that when a poster compares a regular pole to a PacerPole, they are not using this methodology with the former pole include folks saying:

    a. their gripping muscles were fatigued using conventional poles (shouldn’t be gripping)

    b. they had cut the straps off

    c. conventional poles force one to plant the tip ahead of one’s foot

    d. conventional poles force one to raise one’s arms higher and more forward than pacerpoles

    Conversely, I can see why many of the above, and most of the purported advantages of the “proper” method would be EASIER with PacerPoles. One observation is that it is easier to load one’s weight totally downwards by pushing through the center of the palm, compared to trying to keep the strap positioned right and pushing through the edge of your hand. Evidence that folks who have disclosed that they have not tried the PacerPoles are not understanding their philosophy of use include:

    a. their objecting that they cannot “palm” them like the tops of conventional poles when going downhill. (You are always “palming” PacerPoles)

    b, saying they would miss the straps because they use them to load weight downward (that is what the PacerPole handle is supposed to do uniquely)

    c. saying they would miss straps because they don’t want to use their grip muscles (PacerPole users claim that you only need to use two fingers to retain and aim the pole, and no grip force is needed to transfer one’s weight through the pole).

    Like with the StoveBench effort at BPL, operationalizing before comparing is essential to making such comparisons worth referencing. Thus, I hope to hear from folks who have used both poles to see what their exact method was with conventional/ergo-grip poles, and how they compared. If you have indulged me so far, I -and all the other posters through the years who are not in the UK and are curious- thank you.

    #3623681
    Jordan R
    BPL Member

    @reedjor

    Bonus: What about the grip config of the Leki Wanderfreund, which is ~85 degrees compared to PP’s ~45 degrees?

    #3623779
    Dondo .
    BPL Member

    @dondo

    Locale: Colorado Rockies

    Hi Jordan,  it sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this, so let me share one data point, my own experience.  Like most PacerPole users, I had experience with conventional  straight poles.  In fact, I still own a set that I lend out on occasion.  And yes, I learned to use the “proper” technique, with straps bearing most of the weight.  IMO, PacerPoles are a lot easier to use once your unlearn conventional technique and learn to use PacerPoles as the designer intended.

    BPL member Geoff Caplan explained this a lot better than I could.  Just go to the the Section HIker blog post about PacerPoles and scroll down to his comments.

    #3623825
    James Marco
    BPL Member

    @jamesdmarco

    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Jordan, basically correct. You will find that there is little difference between any hiking staffs. Mostly it is in how they are used. Many do not like them, period. Many consider them essential. There isn’t any “PROPER” way, it is mostly about what you are comfortable using.

    50+ years ago, I would have said a staff picked up from the ground, used for crossings, uphills or downhills, then discarded for more’r’less level travel was enough. As I got older (and the number of people in the woods grew) it got so I carried a staff mostly because it worked as dual purpose as a tent pole. In my fifties, it started to become increasingly important as a personal stabilizer. Philip mentions some things about pacer poles that I had analyzed and sort’a discarded years before his/Geoff’s articles on staffs.

    As far as grips go, being a minimalist, I don’t use any extra grips. The staff body forms a usable grip when coupled with a good strap, mounted at the top, to act as a “hinge.” Bio-mechanically speaking, I have found that using a longer or shorter staff pretty much does the same thing that the Pacer Poles or even the Leki’s do. Why? Your arm tends to move in an arc covering all the angles they describe. So, by using a longer or shorter staff, I can match these angles. A bent grip is not that important, worse, they are limited in their usability.

    PP does something different. Their molded grips are exactly like a rounded “cane” top that you can put your palm on to support your weight. Excellent for support while standing still or taking small steps. Not so good for flexibility and covering all the angles your arm describes as it pushes you through the movement arc while walking. Invariably, there will be positions where “it does not work,” transitioning to “ideal,” and then transitioning to “it does not work,” again. PP’s do the same.

    On a level, walking with a staff doesn’t really matter, but it helps to push you foreward. For this you need to push off just before you lift to plant the staff again. The weight of your arm pretty much does the pushing through most of the arc. PP’s do not do this well as a standard staff. Pushing just before you puck up the staff is right at the area of “it does not work.” On an ascent, this motion is exaggerated and faster. You literally push yourself up and forwards as you step, almost dragging the tip to a spot about 6-8 inches (15-20cm) behind your foot and pushing again as you step forward again. This helps distribute the load going up between your arms/shoulders and your legs. Lengthening the PP’s helps but still does not eliminate the angular differences of your arm/hand. You need some sort of hinged load control to prevent the angular displacement that occurs when switching back to a level for a step or two before ascending again…trails are NOT an even uphill or an even downhill or an even level. Static angles such as on PP’s do not help surmount these problems. A top mounted strap provides this flexibility in it’s simplest form. Strapless or corded straps that do no more than hang onto a staff while hiking (or Pacer Poles) do not provide any variable load control.

    On long rugged descents, I have wished for these type of grips as I repeatedly palmed my staff hopping down one boulder after the next. As I mentioned, the narrow tops of a grip less staff can occasionally lead to sore or bruised palms. A sock or glove over my hand helps a lot. But, generally, the gripless staff works better on uphills, level sections and less rugged descents where palming the staff is not needed. Only on long rugged descents do the PP poles work better after getting them adjusted. Unfortunately, for every up, there is a down while hiking, but, most descents are not over 45degrees and palming the staff more than two or three times in a row is usually not needed. If I were to change these to the “ideal” length every time, I would waste a lot of time.

    As a minimalist, weight means a lot. Minimal weight for the conditions traveled is always one of my top priorities. Even the PP Carbon option is 20oz per pair or 10oz each. My staff’s weigh less than half that at around 4oz. Much of the weight difference is in the excellent, but irrelevant, molded grip. Some is the special carbide tips and baskets they use. Some is the joints and locks they use. Even the Diamond Z’s are a lot lighter at about 9oz/pr. I hope to be able to lighten those up if I ever break my MYOG ones. Anyway…

    PP’s have a couple inherent design constraints that mean that they will ALWAYS be heavier.
    1) Molded Grips: molded rubber, even foam, is always heavier than no grip.
    2) Support: extra strength is needed to support the same weight in a bent shaft.

    While it is certainly possible to eliminate the molded grip, the angular piece still requires as much reinforcement as a normal joint would, thereby increasing the weight for the same strength. But, as I mentioned above, all this would do would be to decrease the shaft length since it suits a more angular positioning of your hand.

    As I said before, you always want the staff to support your weight in the direction of travel. Indeed, this sort’a makes a case for the PP’s being upside down. In my experience, the best is when the staffs are behind your feet at about 15 degrees pushing you up & forward as the weight of your arm rests on the staff, pivoting down, not pushing me straight up. PP’s are designed to push you straight up. The ~15 degree angle derives the maximum benefit from any staff through leverage applied by the weight of your arm. The very light weight insures that simply swinging your arm forward will kind of drag the staff back into position for the next stride. This is a LOT like a ratchet, free to move in one direction, locking against any force in the other. PP’s are not light weight.

    As far as supporting your weight, PP grips are excellent in a single narrow range. It is fortunate for people that hands naturally conform to 15 to 25 degrees already, so making this adjustment at the grip is unnecessary (besides, the angle between the staff and your forearm changing continuously.)

    While all staffs have the proponents and opponents, I guess I fall into the opponent category for Pacer Poles. The grips don’t make any sense to me from a weight and functional standpoint. The ergonomics are excellent, if I was standing still or taking small steps all the time.

    #3623887
    Jordan R
    BPL Member

    @reedjor

    James, I am lucky to have you chime in and these granular considerations from someone who has put a lot of thought into it were what I was hoping for.

    The point about adjusting length and top-loading only when needed with conventional poles is a nearly conclusive distinction by itself.

    Though I am curious about one major biomechanical factor, the wrist:

    1. One must use muscles to lock the wrist unless palming the top to transfer one’s bodyweight through a conventional pole, no?

    2. Many only use a pole in ascents and descents, so a pole being specialized to this is not a negative for some, right?

    3. Conventional poles require adjusting wrist angle to work, and PPs permit the same adjustments; neither grip angle exclusively prevents or requires this I would think. Maybe I am misunderstanding.

    For these reasons I find Dondo/Geoff’s thoughts compelling. But honestly I see how neither design is perfectly ideal. What about something in between?

    There are those with an angled grip that isn’t so ergonomic as to force one grip, but have no weight-bearing strap, like Leki Wanderfruend: https://www.leki.com/us/trekking/poles/2659/wanderfreund-black-carbon/

    Or one that does seem to have a weight bearing strap, like the Montbell T Grip: https://www.montbell.us/products/disp.php?cat_id=14050&p_id=1140146

    Or the Montbell 2 Way: https://www.montbell.us/products/disp.php?cat_id=14050&p_id=1140158

    Or in the other direction is a practically bare stick with a much more load-bearing harness for the wrist and a quick disconnect for it: https://www.leki.com/us/backcountry/poles/3146/mezza-race/?c=723

    What about bare staffs with a little light knob on the top for palming? That sounds like it could fit your doctrine, James, with a little more comfort for palming and a small weight penalty. These are not otherwise bare, but I found knob-tops like the discontinued Leki Sierra or: https://www.rei.com/product/847813/rei-co-op-hiker-power-lock-staff-single or: https://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/120819?page=komperdell-hiking-camera-staff-aluminum-power-lock-3

    These are heavy but if one used a carbon fishing pole shaft and added a small knob it might be a jack of all and a master of none. Or cut the grips off of a light knob-top. Is such a thing nonexistent because it is a useless/dumb idea or because as many UL/SUL designs it would be too niche?

    Thanks

    #3623911
    James Marco
    BPL Member

    @jamesdmarco

    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Jordan, Yeah, there are a lot of specialty staffs out there, ie staffs that can only be used sometimes. Pacer Poles falls into this category for me. Anyway, to your questions…

    1. One must use muscles to lock the wrist unless palming the top to transfer one’s bodyweight through a conventional pole, no?

    No. I always use a fairly heavy duty wrist strap. This frees up my hand for (mostly) pointing the staff where I want it planted. The wrist strap actually binds the lower part of my hand, and the bone structure in your wrists preclude any real muscular effort to lock your wrist when in the normal staff position. Yes, you get some movement there, but it isn’t a lot. The angle will be dependent on the user, of course. Generally, your hand will be in line with your forearm, then butt the bones/cartilage together, automatically locking this area. You might have to try a couple lengths of strap to get this to work for you. Once you have it, it will likely be the easiest way to use a staff long term, ie, several days in a row.

    The strap, once set, adjusts on the fly. I just give it one, two or three twists if I want a longer staff. The twists have the effect of shortening the strap length on the pole making the pole feel about 4″ longer than normal. If I want a very short pole, I simply slide my hand out and in through the strap, rather than up and through the strap. This makes the pole feel about 6″ shorter than normal. So, there is plenty of adjustment, all done with no real thought to doing it, once you have the initial length of the strap set. It takes less than 5 seconds to change from a short grip/long pole to a long grip/short pole, I don’t usually stop hiking to make these changes and it usually doesn’t require more than simply letting go of the staff, spinning it once or twice as it dangles from my wrist, then grabbing the staff again. Sometimes with gloves it gets caught and I use two hands to make this adjustment. It is still a hell of a lot quicker than dealing with locks.

    2. Many only use a pole in ascents and descents, so a pole being specialized to this is not a negative for some, right?

    Yeah, I agree. There are all sorts of methods for using staffs. I prefer the “ratchet” method for levels and for non-scrambling ascents. Descents are about the same, I guess, either braking or palming. I prefer to always use a staff on the theory that in the worst case (level ground,) it will at least support my arm and the weight of my arm/angle of the staff will transfer the downward weight to some forwards vector. I never carry my staff in my pack. If I want to work at it or I am in a hurry, I can apply more forward pressure… Besides, if I make a misstep, it is there to catch me.

    3. Conventional poles require adjusting wrist angle to work, and PPs permit the same adjustments; neither grip angle exclusively prevents or requires this I would think.

    Yeah, but I never use any type of grip. I never change my wrist angle except as a natural course of the arc it describes along with my arm. This does NOT coincide with the angle the staff describes as I walk. Therefore, I use a hinge at the top of the staff, that is the mounting point for the strap. As long as there is a firm mount between the staff and my wrist, the strap is allowed to change angle as needed as I hike. Not my wrist. I don’t ever need a death grip on my staff. The strap does all the heavy lifting. And, it is flexible enough to change angles at the hinge as needed with no loosening of pressure through the entire stride.

     

    I haven’t used the staffs you mention. Soo, I think I will refrain from comment. Ha, hey, as far as a bare stick and a strap, yup, that is what I use, mostly. As far as a knob on top, I suppose it could be done. I have a camera monopod, cum hiking staff that weighs in at about 12oz. It has a 2″ knob on top that unscrews to allow a camera to be mounted.The wrist strap mounts just below the knob. It isn’t a good hiking staff since it requires a LOT of fingertip pressure to point it. And, it has three sections and opens up to about 5′ or so. It is just HEAVY. But, it makes rugged descents easier. Again, I do mostly minimal hiking with minimal gear. The minimal staff I use fits the bill almost perfectly. Anything I would do will only add weight and destroy the balance, I am afraid. I have frequently thought of lathing out a mushroom to add to the top, then just decided it wasn’t worth it. Not too bad for a $15 staff. (Just don’t tell Pacer Poles…)

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