One of the perks of fitness and exercising is that staying active can take shape in many forms. For example, a casual walk around your neighborhood or cul-de-sac can be excellent cardiovascular training, even though the intensity is turned down significantly from, say, a competitive marathon.
Still, though, while walking can be a great way to add some simple aerobics to your regimen, there are some variants you can employ to help boost your strolling workouts. One such example is the activity known as Nordic walking. Growing in popularity with young and old athletes alike, this walking style not only provides an excellent outlet for cardiovascular training but can also be an excellent strength workout targeting your shoulders, arms, core and legs.
Nordic walking is fairly simple to pick up, but there are some gear requirements to help you achieve the proper setup. Before we outline some of the top picks for each equipment category, let's dive further into just what this popular training routine is, as well as its benefits and the correct form.
BEST OVERALL NORDIC WALKING POLESLeki Traveller Carbon Poles Read More
BEST ONE-PIECE NORDIC WALKING POLESExel Urban Skier Carbon Nordic Walking Poles Read More
BEST ALUMINUM NORDIC WALKING POLESMontem Pro Walker Nordic Walking Poles Read More
BEST OVERALL NORDIC WALKING SHOESKeen WK400 Read More
BEST NORDIC WALKING SHOES FOR STABILITYNew Balance Fresh Foam X More v4 Read More
What Is Nordic Walking?
Nordic walking is a specialized exercise routine that uses specific walking poles to help propel you through your strides. This low-impact, full-body workout closely resembles the actions seen in cross-country skiing as you use your upper body to help push through each step. You can Nordic walk anywhere there's space to roam, and there's no prescribed intensity level. This is why Nordic walking can be a great physical routine for older athletes.
The Benefits of Nordic Walking
A Better Full-Body Experience
One of the key perks to Nordic walking over traditional strolling is the fact that it can target over 90 percent of your muscles, creating a more well-rounded workout without any amplified intensity. Sure, strength training and other gym-oriented regimens might be better suited for building that dream physique, but for those that aren't comfortable getting under a heavy bench or squat bar, Nordic walking can be an excellent way to maintain muscle composition.
More Calorie-Burning Potential
Since you're using more muscles in Nordic walking than you would in a normal walking scenario, you're setting yourself up to burn more energy, and thus, more calories. While it might not seem like you're doing a lot, this added emphasis on the upper body can help you get the most out of your jaunts.
Nordic walking poles essentially act as additional pillars to your frame, creating a more stable base for each toe-off. This can be excellent for those with balance issues, or athletes traversing uneven roads or terrain. Additionally, you're pushing off the poles to generate forward momentum, which allows you to conserve more energy in your legs. This isn't to say you can't become tired after a lengthy Nordic walking route, but the exhaustion isn't isolated to just your lower body.
Nordic Walking Form
To properly engage in Nordic walking, there are a few techniques to choose from. For beginners, the easiest to master is the "single poling" method where you sync your striding foot with your walking pole, pushing off at the same time. Single poling can be done with the same-side arm and leg together, or with the opposite arm and leg, although the opposite style may be more efficient as it mimics a more natural arm swing during strides.
There's also the "double poling" method that sees you extend both walking poles forward and then walk into your set stance little by little. This can be a great way to cover ample ground while preserving your legs a little more. Think of it as creeping a heavy box up a flight of stairs, stopping and bracing on each step to help preserve energy and form. Double poling might not be the fastest method to traverse your neighborhood, but it can come in handy, especially for those last few blocks.
While both methods can be effective, walking with poles does take some practice to nail down the required coordination. Take your time to learn the cadence that works best for you, and then set out on your newfound adventure. There are also plenty of references online to help you master each step, including the helpful beginner's guide from the American Nordic Walking Association.
How We Tested
Over the course of multiple weeks, I took to the streets and trailways around my neighborhood to get a better understanding of this new fitness activity, highlighting key features to look for in the following categories: poles, footwear, apparel and accessories. I made notes of which items worked well throughout my pacing, as well as their comfort and effectiveness in keeping me focused on the activity at hand. While there's not a lot of stress to be placed on your Nordic walking gear, I also looked at the overall durability of each product. After all, this is a routine that can easily grow into a lifelong hobby, so it helps to have gear that can stick around for a while.
Now, let's lace up, pole up and head out to discover the top Nordic walking essentials you'll need for those low-key training days.
Nordic Walking Poles
If you haven't gotten the hint by now, Nordic walking poles are one of the most important pieces to your Nordic walking setup. These devices differ from your normal ski or trekking poles due to their handle structure and traction tips. The handles are typically more ergonomic for a comfortable in-hand experience, while the tips aren't as pointed and often showcase a rubber, rocker-style base. This helps your poles glide smoothly through each step while also creating a stable base across roadways and varying terrain.
Leki Traveller Carbon Poles
For lightweight, premium walks, I really enjoy the Leki Traveller Carbon poles. The durable PRC 1000 carbon segments make each pickup a breeze, and the Shark Frame Strap Mesh ensures you’re always connected to the handle in a breathable, comfortable fit. I wouldn’t recommend leaning heavily on these poles, however, as the Speed Lock 2 plus can give out under extreme pressure if not set correctly. For walking purposes, though, these are top-notch essentials for any respected Nordic walking setup.
Exel Urban Skier Carbon Nordic Walking Poles
If you do worry about locking systems coming undone during your treks, consider one-piece Nordic walking poles, and there’s no better option than the Urban Skiers from Exel. The quality carbon construction is plenty tough for a multitude of terrains, and the asphalt paws help ensure traction is never compromised. If you do tend to travel with your walking poles, however, the one-piece silhouette might not be the best option, as these poles do not break down for enhanced storage capabilities.
Montem Pro Walker Nordic Walking Poles
Sure, carbon is a go-to for lightweight, durable profiles, but aluminum can be another great option that packs in the sturdiness without the added cost. Montem’s Pro Walker poles can give each walk improved balance and stability, as well as a sense of comfort through their plush EVA foam handles. Nylon gloves also ensure your poles stay strapped to your silhouette, so there’s never a fear of losing your staffs when traversing trickier terrain.
Nordic Walking Footwear
Nordic walking doesn't require a specialized shoe silhouette like marathon or trail running, per se, but when pacing through your poled jaunts, it helps to have some comfort underfoot. For these reasons, it's helpful to look for running shoes that have a solid base of cushioning, as well as a rocker-style midfoot. There are even walking-specific silhouettes that allow you to fully accentuate your normal walking gait to its max potential. Finally, make sure to take into account your normal terrain. While road running shoes can be great for concrete, they might leave you slipping and sliding on packed trails.
In terms of “walking-specific” footwear, these brand-new kicks from Keen are at the top of the food chain. Thanks to a constant curvature in the midsole construction, the WK400s make the pendulum-like action of your walking stride more efficient and accommodating. I really enjoyed pacing with these dedicated walkers, as the forward rolling motion allowed me to get the most out of my training without hesitation. A wide outsole also helped alleviate any traction or grip issues, which was definitely top of mind as I learned to work with the “Keen.Curve” technology rather than against it.
New Balance Fresh Foam X More v4
With a sky-high stack height, it’s easy to recognize the Fresh Foam X More v4s as a well-cushioned running shoe. Despite all the plush, though, one of the main reasons I like this shoe for Nordic walking is the data-driven outsole that gives your step some added stability. I don’t feel any inward or outward rolling in these kicks, which helps promote a more natural walking plane. Like all New Balance silhouettes, though, these sneakers can feel a little large and roomy, so it might be beneficial to size down, especially if you’re a more narrow-footed athlete.
Danner Trail 2650
As stated before, Nordic walking doesn’t have to be performed across pavement alone. There’s plenty of fun to be had on the trails, and in these scenarios, I often lace up in the Danner Trail 2650s. While heavier than a typical running shoe, I didn’t really notice the added mass as I easily transitioned between toe-offs and pickups. Plus, the grippy outsole gives you that confidence and security when Nordic walking through less-than-level trails. While these aren’t the most technical hiking shoes available, there’s still plenty to like about the silhouette, and I don’t foresee a need for more advanced footwear when it comes to Nordic walking through the woods.
Nordic Walking Apparel
You don't need the most technical workout apparel to get started in Nordic walking. I found a number of outfits, from running tights and shorts to lightweight hiking pants, that suited my needs as I strolled through my workouts. But since you're not moving as fast or intense as you would in a running scenario, it helps to have a bit of wind resistance and warmth when it comes to your apparel of choice. It's also important for your tops to allow for mobility in the shoulders and arms, so it might be best to forgo that skin-tight long sleeve. Lastly, consider investing in comfortable, moisture-wicking socks that can help keep your digits free of blisters while still giving an added sense of coziness within your shoe.
Black Diamond First Light Hybrid Hoody
For early morning and late evening Nordic walks, I often found myself grabbing this impressive hoodie from Black Diamond. The blended merino wool in the torso and underarms provided just the right amount of warmth and breathability to combat the brisk temperatures, and I never felt I was overheating when out on my routes. I wouldn’t recommend this as a great jacket for rainy Nordic walks, though. After getting caught in a few heavy drizzles, I could definitely feel the moisture beginning to seep through the shell.
Patagonia Wind Shield Pants
While I stated there’s no wrong answer when it comes to Nordic walking apparel, I did find that the slower pace did cater more so to pants, and in testing, I couldn’t find a better pair than the Wind Shield Pants from Patagonia. I really enjoyed the lightweight, soft-shell protection that helped cut through any headwinds with ease. Additionally, the strategically-placed breathable panels kept me from sweating through my bottoms. I will note, though, that these pants feature a tapered fit, which might not be suitable for some athletes’ preferences or frames.
TrueEnergy Performance Crew Socks
Walking in these socks from TrueEnergy was a welcome experience thanks to the seamless toe and select cushion areas, but the big feature of note is the included Infrared Technology. TrueEnergy grinds and infused infrared ceramic crystals into the polymer yarn, which works with your natural body heat to help improve circulation and tissue regeneration. The result, fewer aches and pains from long walking sessions and improved turnaround time between workouts. While the thicker composition has yet to be tested in warmer spring and summer months, for now, these are the ticket for comfy Nordic walking.
Nordic Walking Accessories
While poles, footwear and apparel are key categories to consider before taking up Nordic walking, there are also plenty of accessories that can help boost your workout experience. I often enjoyed carrying a handy backpack or running vest that allowed me to keep a water bottle or snack with me when out on my routes. Additionally, having a hat and sunglasses at the ready can be nice to keep the sun and elements out of your face — as well as give your wardrobe plenty of added style points. No matter the accessories you choose, make sure you're not overloading your frame, as this can cause discomfort over extended miles and leave you more tired and unmotivated to continue with the regimen.
Patagonia Altvia 22L Pack
Not sure what the weather might hold during your Nordic walk? Need to carry your poles to and from the car? The Altvia 22L Pack from Patagonia has more than enough space for all your essentials, and the construction helps ensure you’ll be comfortable when lugging around your gear. I found the mesh back panel and Regulator air mesh shoulder straps to be plenty breathable, even when my mileage began to stack up. I will admit, however, that the hip belt might be overkill for some, especially those not used to the added structure.
Fractel M-Series Cap
Whether wanting to give my face a little shade — or just trying to keep my hair contained during windy Nordic walks — I routinely paced along my treks with this premium running cap from Fractel. The M-series features UPF +50 sun protection on the brim, front panel and back panel, ideal for those bright and clear-skied routes. Plus, the breathable construction keeps your dome comfortable and sweat-free. If you’re walking at darker hours, however, you may want to swap this cap for a more reflective piece, as there are no reflective components to help keep you visible to oncoming traffic.
Kaenon Avalon Polarized Sunglasses
Sunglasses can also be a great accessory to have when Nordic walking, particularly during those noontime or early morning excursions when the sun is shining bright. You don’t need your sunnies to give off that ultra-performance vibe, though, which is why I really enjoy the Avalon Polarized frames from Kaenon for this discipline. The subtle styling easily transitions from training to daily activities, and the polarized lenses offer ample sun protection. Just be careful not to handle these shades too much, as there’s no smudge protection which can leave your vision all muddled up.