Urban Poling

When a long-time, online geocaching acquaintance invited me to to try urban poling, my initial reaction was mixed. The thoughts that ran through my head went something like this…

  • Awesome, another way to #playoutside!
  • What a good way to actually meet IRL someone I only “know” online.
  • Hmmm, I like to keep my hands free so I can take photographs when I’m out walking. If I use poles, I’ll have to put them down to use my camera and I might forget them.
  • I have plenty of first-hand experience using trekking poles on the uphill / downhill sections of hiking trails. Why would I need to use poles when I’m just out walking?
  • A lot of my walking is active transportation. What would I do with a set of walking poles when I have to go inside a store or when I’m riding the C-train?
  • I’ve read that Nordic walking is a pretty good full-body workout, so maybe this would be a good thing to add to something I already do, to get more fitness benefit from the same amount of time.

I was sure that Active by Nature would be able to answer all my questions, so I accepted her invitation and we met up one Saturday morning in Canmore so I could try Urban Poling.

As we fit a pair of loaner poles to my height, I noticed three things:

  1. The handles – While wrist straps come standard with trekking poles, urban poles don’t have wrist straps (I learned that this is because it reduces the risk of wrist injury in case of you fall). Instead, urban pole handles incorporate molded flanges, to create forward propulsion from arm movement.
  2. The boots – Trekking poles have pointed tips and come with snow baskets for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Urban poles come with little black boots for use on paved pathways. They provide better traction and are quieter than metal tips.
  3. Easy adjustability – The usual “lefty loosey, righty tighty” applies when adjusting the pole length. Thanks to the height markings, it’s very easy to get the correct length every time. The markings are in official metric units, as well as those illogical Imperial units that many of us grew up with and haven’t yet fully abandoned!

We started off dragging our poles behind, first with arms relaxed and then in a bent position. This was so that I could get a sense for my natural range of arm motion and didn’t go overboard and act like I was on military parade as I started to use the poles for their intended purpose.

It felt pretty natural to me to start using the poles to help with my forward momentum. Active by Nature shared that most people find it pretty easy to add urban poling to their walking. The most common issue is exaggerated arm movements, which is why we did the pole dragging thing to start.

The little boots have good traction on bare, paved pathways, but as we progressed onto a gravel travel, we removed the boots and tucked them into a pocket. The pointed tips offer better traction on unpaved pathways and when there’s snow and ice on the trail. Why not use just the metal tips all the time? They can be kind of noisy on a paved path, a deterrent to one of the most appealing aspects of urban poling – as a social activity!

We poled and talked for about 90 minutes. Geocaching, hiking, biking, travel and photography were all topics of lively discussion.


Along the way, I learned the answers to my initial questions and others I thought of as we walked and talked:

  • Since Active by Nature is also a photographer, she said that when you’re getting started with urban poling, the trick is to concentrate on developing the habit of looking around for your poles after every stop. I already do this when I’m hiking; it’s part of the Leave No Trace principles we follow when we’re in the mountain parks.
  • For someone like me, the main reason to use urban poles when walking is to engage more muscles. Active by Nature explained that walking alone uses about 40% of your muscles. With urban poling you also engage your core, shoulder and arm muscles, bring that number all the way up to somewhere around 90%. And believe me, within 5 minutes I was experiencing a developing awareness of some of those muscles! In addition to toning your arms and stomach, urban poling burns a lot more calories than just walking. Check out this post for a more detailed description of all the health benefits associated with urban poling.
  • As for what to do with a set of poles when shopping or riding transit, Active by Nature just carries her poles into the store. Apparently they are quite manageable when shortened as much as possible. While carrying a set of poles on the LRT during rush hour is probably a no-go, keeping your poles at work and getting out for a half hour of urban poling over lunch break is a great way to squeeze regular exercise into a busy schedule.
  • While viewed as a bit geeky by some, urban poling is increasingly being recommended by health care professionals. One model of urban poles has been designed with key features for rehab following hip/knee surgery, for Parkinson’s and MS patients, for individuals with arthritis, and for anyone with balance issues – which helps explain why urban poling is particularly appealing to older adults. Urban poling can also play an important role in the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes.

By the end of our walk, we’d each met our 10,000 step goal for the day and had absorbed a full dose of Vitamin N(ature). We had lots to talk about. HUGE THANKS to Active by Nature for reaching out to share one of your passions with me. I look forward to hanging out IRL again soon.

Final thoughts:

By the end of our walk, I was very aware that my triceps, shoulders and upper back had been called on to do much more than usual – to the point I was sure I’d have stiff muscles the next day. To my surprise (or maybe thanks to a soak in the hot tub), I did not!

Having taken a bit of time to reflect on my first urban poling experience, I’m open to the idea of shifting my attitude about walking – away from the idea of every walk being a photo walk more towards at least some walks being primarily about exercise. But before I invest in a set of poles, I’ll think I’ll try to borrow a set of poles from the Canmore library. A three-week trial period should be ample time to confirm whether I’m ready to shift one of my favourite outdoor activities UP to a higher gear.

NOTE: Urban poles are also available on loan from the Okotoks and Chestermere libraries. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Calgary Public Library will also add urban poles to its lending library soon.

Are you a Nordic walker? Have you tried Nordic walking? Use the comment box to weigh in on my decision.

18 thoughts on “Urban Poling

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  6. Cecilia

    Received my “pink” poles as a “get well/recovery” gift from Active by Nature” after breast cancer surgery to aid in my recovery. After a quick tutorial from Active by Nature when she was visiting Ontario and after watching the accompanying video I was ready to give it a try. I love them and using them really didn’t take much getting used to after a couple tries. I see more and more people using them along the waterfront trail here Mandy, and it always makes me think of you. Thanks so much for my pink poles.

    1. Hi Cecilia and thanks for sharing your story. Active by Nature is a great ambassador for Urban Poling and an absolutely wonderful person. I hope your recovery from breast cancer surgery is going well and I wish you well.

  7. Joan

    I Purchased my poles in August after a lesson with Carol from Carols fitness in T-town, she asked me why I wanted to learn and I said I’d heard that it gave you better workout then just walking.. I had been walking but wasn’t seeing any result.. After urban poling for 3 months I have dropped 17lbs. Yeah me! I love my poles, it’s a great workout!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with our poles. It’s these types of testimonials that motivate us to do what we do. We sincerely hope that you continue to enjoy your experience with them.
    Walk Your Way To Better Health!

  9. Age sighty -six and now feeling more like forty-six with my new Urban poles! Up and down winding trails with confidence that I am staying steady. Balancing each side as well as my well worn knees. Its also fun and I look forward to daily walking as an exercise health regime.
    Thanks Mandy for introducing me to these amazing poles,

    Joan Birkett

    1. So great to read about Urban poles have made such a positive difference to your walking experiences. And I like the way your phrase it – “walking as an exercise health regime.” It’s all about mindset, isn’t it?

  10. Colin Johnson

    I am glad you enjoyed using them. I too love to hike using Urban poles, they make going up and down these mountains around us much easier.

  11. So happy to hear you felt the effects of using the poles! It’s amazing how the triceps, shoulders and upper back are used during a walk. What an added benefit! The Urban Poles add variety and challenge to your average walk. I love them for myself and the patients/clients I work with. Go grab a pair again and enjoy!

  12. Mandy

    Thanks, GeoKs, for trying something new, keeping an open mind, and your insightful, honest review! It was great to meet you IRL and let’s do it again soon…… #KindredSpirits!

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