Nordic Walking poles have rubber ‘paws’ which cover the carbide tips for use on hard surfaces like pavements. In principle it’s recommended that you remove these when walking on softer ground as you get more traction from the tips whilst it’s always advisable to pop them back on when on tarmac etc. The paws are angled backwards in order to provide grip on harder surfaces but technique does play an important part in mastering how to avoid them slipping, especially if the surface is greasy from wet leaves. If you find it hard to get your paws to grip you may need to chat to your Instructor as there could be a number of reasons for this.
1. Practice! – If you normally use your poles without the paws and are used to feeling the tip ‘bite’ into the ground, it can take practice to get used to using paws – often for the reasons below.
2. Pole angle – If your pole is not hitting the ground at the correct angle, the rubber paw will not make full contact with the ground and will struggle to grip – this is easy to spot as the paw will wear on one edge. There are two main reasons for this
a. Wrong pole height
b. Incorrect arm swing
3. Planting of pole –Without getting too technical this means the actual commitment at the point the pole hits the ground. This needs to be firm enough to gain traction and propulsion forward but often people simply ‘tap’ the pole onto the ground. ( see power of the pole article on the blog)
4. Paw angle – Sounds silly but you do need to check the paws are on the right way round!
When NWUK did a poll of Instructors it was a fairly evenly split between paw lovers and haters! Some Nordic walkers rarely put them on whilst others prefer to keep the ‘paws’ on when even on soft surfaces. This obviously relates to the type of terrain that people regularly walk in and also the fact that removing muddy paws is not a popular passtime. The noise of tips clicking on the ground is another great reason to use the paws, it’s OK for a short stretch but can be really grating if much of a walk is on harder ground.
To counteract the muddy paw issue, some Instructors swear by the pad butlers which mean you can take the paws off without having to put them into your pockets. This handy device sits on the pole and the offending mucky paw can simply clip on to it until the terrain requires it to be used again.
Finally, for those who want to avoid the ‘on/off’ hassle completely there is always the Silent Spike paw which is a combination of sure footed rubber paw but with added metal studs (like mini football boots) These are literally all terrain paws and can be used on soft or hard surfaces.
Whatever your preference, enjoy your Nordic Walking paws on or off!