Many people, who are just exploring the possibility of starting Nordic walking ask: “I have a pair of good hiking poles. Could I use them for Nordic walking?” The answer is: “Yes, if you must”.
Although both types of poles might look similar, there are important differences, as each is designed and made for a different purpose.
Hiking poles are meant to bear the weight of a hiker often burdened by a heavy pack, to ease the pressure on the legs, particularly on the knee joints, when descending steep slopes. They are also an aid in maintaining balance. They are almost invariably of the adjustable variety, mostly (but not exclusively) made of aluminum, or other metal alloys.
Nordic walking poles in turn, are designed and built mainly as a fitness device – are usually lighter, better balanced and have specially designed straps, enabling minimal contact with the actual grips. They are usually made of lightweight metal alloys, or more often of super-light and very strong carbon fibers, both in fixed-lenght and adjustable models.
Most hiking poles have simple straps, similar to those found in ski poles. The hands grip the handle, whose design is usually quite different from those found in Nordic walking poles. It is often form-fiting, comfortable (as we will be holding onto that grip all day long) and quite beefy. All in all, a good, sound design for the purpose it was intended for.
I do own a pair of hiking poles and can attest that for supporting oneself, maintaining balance and for all the other uses that hiking poles are made for, they work very well indeed.
For Nordic walking in turn – because of hiking poles’ often very strong and massive construction – they tend to be a bit heavy, do not really swing that well and do not have the right kind of straps and grips.
Specifically designed, quality Nordic walking poles can be either adjustable, or of a fixed length – requiring specific sizing for each user. Compared to most hiking poles, they are quite light, have smaller, streamlined grips and their weight – particularly in the case of carbon fiber models – can be measured in grams.
In short, if you just want to explore the possibility of starting Nordic walking, want to get fit and if you already own a pair of hiking poles, go ahead and use them, but the experience will not be the same.
I would strongly recommend getting a pair of true Nordic walking poles, taking a lesson with a competent instructor, so you will start to do it correctly from the beginning and gain the most benefit from the activity.