UK & European Holiday News
The latest travel news, interviews, traveller reviews, inspiration & advice on cycling and walking holidays in the UK and Europe..
Return to Blog Home >>
Some people are a bit squeamish about feet. Others think they’re the most beautiful parts of the human body. But whatever your view, there’s no denying that your feet are one (or more precisely two) of the most important bits of kit on a walking holiday.
Problems with your feet can really curtail your enjoyment of a walking trip, so it pays to do everything you can to prepare them in advance of your trip, and look after them once you’re hiking, trekking or walking.
Here are a few tips to ensure your carefully laid holiday plans aren’t trampled upon by problem feet.
1. WEAR THE RIGHT WALKING BOOTS
We won’t go in to too much detail here – you can read our guide to choosing walking boots that we published last year. The important thing, if you’re buying new boots for your trip, is to spend enough time researching and trying on boots, and to allow enough time to wear them in before you start your holiday. If you buy some new boots a couple of days before you’re due to start, and you wear them for the first time on your first day’s hiking, you’re asking for trouble!
There’s a huge amount of choice out there these days – gone are the days when all walking boots were made of stiff, heavy leather. Waterproof materials like Gore-Tex have meant that modern walking boots can be flexible and lightweight, and more closely resemble sturdy trainers. But it’s important that your boots still give you the support you’ll need for the type of walking you’re doing. A good outdoor shop will have staff that will spend time talking to you about your needs and will help you choose the right boots. You can even get custom-moulded footbeds to go into the bottom of your boots to give you more support and comfort – any skiers out there will certainly be able to tell you about the benefits of these!
Sherpa Expeditions travellers receive a discount at Cotswold Outdoor, one of the biggest outdoor chains in the UK, with knowledgeable staff and an excellent choice of boots.
2. WEAR THE RIGHT SOCKS
Socks and technology aren’t often two words that go together – but as with boots, there have been great strides (no pun intended) in the technology used to make socks especially designed for walkers. Obviously your choice of socks will be influenced by the weather – an October walk in the Scottish Highlands and a walk on the Amalfi Coast in August will clearly not require the same type of socks! But the main thing to bear in mind is that friction and moisture are your two worst enemies when it comes to blister prevention. Merino wool is particularly good for keeping feet warm without being too thick, and is great for drawing moisture away from the skin. It also has natural anti-bacterial properties.
Some keen walkers swear by wearing a thin pair of socks next to the skin, and a thicker pair on top for warmth, which can help to reduce friction.
As with your boots, the important thing is to find the best option for you, as there is a huge amount of choice out there. Once again, the staff at a good outdoor shop will be able to give you some good advice and talk you through the options.
Finally, if you’re on a trip where your luggage is being transferred for you, as with all Sherpa Expeditions holidays, it’s worth taking a clean pair of socks for each day’s walking. If this isn’t possible, then try to ensure that your socks get properly dried out each night.
3. USE TAPE ON PRESSURE POINTS
There are many types of blister tapes out there, but the best ones these days are made from the same material you sometimes see sports stars wearing on various parts of their body to help protect and stretch muscles. The trick is that this type of tape is moisture (i.e. sweat) resistant, so the tape won’t come away from your skin if your feet get a bit damp. Leukotape is a well-known brand, but there are plenty of others available.
You can use the tape as prevention for blisters on the areas of the feet that receive the most pressure – the ball, the heel, the bottom of the big toe. But really, as everyone’s feet are different, you can put tape on any parts of your feet that you know are susceptible to rubbing against the inside of your boots.
4. CLIP YOUR TOENAILS
This is a simple one – keep your toenails short! If they’re too long they’ll rub against the front of your boots and this will cause damage and pain to your toes. It’s amazing how quickly your toenails can grow as well – so if your trip is a week or more long, it’s worth packing some nail clippers so you can keep them trimmed throughout your walk. Experts recommend cutting straight across the top of the nail rather than a rounded shape, as this stops the corners of the nails digging into your toes, and reduces the risk of ingrowing toenails. Filing your toenails also helps to ensure you don’t have any rough or sharp edges that can do damage to your toes.
It’s a really good idea to keep your feet moisturised to stop skin drying out ,which in turn causes friction and makes blisters more likely. You can use a standard skin moisturiser or specialist foot cream – rub it all over your feet, and especially in between your toes before you go to bed each night, and again before putting your socks and boots on in the morning. Some people like to use petroleum-based products such as Vaseline if their skin is particularly dry, but many experts say that this traps in moisturiser and makes you more prone to developing athlete’s foot.
There are also some really good foot balms on the market that you can use after a day’s walking, that use natural ingredients to soothe your feet and can even help to strengthen the skin, which protects against blisters.
6. TREAT BLISTERS BEFORE THEY GET TOO BAD
This cannot be stressed to much. People often start to feel pain when out walking, but decide to carry on until the end of the day – sometimes because they don’t want to feel like they’re holding up their fellow walkers. But blisters can develop very quickly, and a few minutes treating the early signs of a blister, or ‘hot-spot’ can save a hug amount of time, and pain, in the long run.
If you feel a hot-spot start to develop, take off your boots and socks and try and dry your feet as much as you can. Apply some foot cream and blister tape to the affected area. If you’re carrying a spare pair of clean, dry socks in your bag, now is the time to use them – if not, try and dry your socks out as much as possible in the time you have available before you put them back on. We can’t guarantee that this will stop a full-blown blister developing, but it’ll give you the best chance of getting through to the point when you can give your feet a proper clean and rest.
7. REST YOUR FEET WHEN YOU CAN
We’re guessing that most walkers won’t need too much persuasion with this one after a long day’s walking! But it’s worth mentioning because of its importance. If you’re walking somewhere dry and warm, take your boots and socks off when you stop for lunch or a break – even just a few minutes in the fresh air will be enough to dry away any moisture. Try to wash, dry and moisturise your feet as soon as you can after you’ve finished your day’s walking. If you’re heading back out, hopefully to a nice pub for some dinner and a well-earned drink, put clean socks on and some fresh shoes if you’ve packed them (and if you’re using Sherpa Expeditions’ luggage transfer, why wouldn’t you?!). But as soon as you’re back in your hotel room or tent, let those feet breathe and repair themselves ready for the next day.
Follow these tips and you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance of keeping your feet happy. And happy feet make happy walkers!
Different countries in Europe are famed for their own style of the camping knife or pocket tool and in this month’s Gear Matters blog article, John takes you on a tour to learn about the various types of blades, potential usage of pocket knives on a cycling or walking trip, EU law, and maintenance.
Some people don't use them, others can't live without them on a walking or trekking holiday. They may be left alone in their pouches for the whole trip or maybe used several times in a single day. A camping knife or pocket tool is available in all sorts of shapes and sizes. With Christmas fast approaching, a new knife or multi-tool could make for a beautiful compact gift. Often you can even have them inscribed for the Ray Mears, Bear Grylls or Mykel Hawke in your life.
Most of us get attached to our knives over time, but the stories of people leaving their forgotten prized piece of cutlery in their hand luggage when taking a flight and losing it going through security are legion. For me especially on camping trips, a good knife or multitool combo is more or less essential.
Knives with a Tang
A good quality knife should have a sharpened edge on one side and be made of high carbon or stainless steel. I think it is best to avoid ceramics, they can shatter and break easily. The finest forged knives (e.g. from Norway or Sweden) have a cutting edge of differing hardened steel which is sandwiched in a layer of softer steel. A good outdoor or bush knife will have a 'tang' (the handle end) that extends into the end of the handle and that can be heavy duty plastic, wood or even horn. This will then be attached via brass rivets which will resist oxidation. Knives like these are superb for cutting and wood carving; the handles offer good grip to be used quite safely for controlled cutting. The Swedish Fällkniven forest knife can even be used for splitting small pieces of wood in lieu of an axe and some have claimed that these are the best bush knives in the world. Similarly, Norwegian Helle knives are great for carving. These can be bought in Flam on Sherpa's Fjordland trip. The camping knives of this brand are great for bush-craft and they make an excellent range including a beautiful model with curly birch, leather and antler handles. Their blades come in different lengths, materials and thicknesses and are handmade.
Folding & Multitools
Then we have the category of folding knives and multitools. These are generally a sandwich of aluminium and steel plates. The main blades are always a bit of a compromise, as they will never be as strong as a full tanged knife. Swiss army knives are rightly very popular; being very compact and having some wonderful useful features. They are ubiquitously available on all of our walking holidays in Switzerland an in every town in various guises. They have been used in the Swiss military since 1897. I have personally possessed three Victorinox Swiss Champ knives in the past 35 years. Two, you've guessed it, lost going through the customs x-ray in hand baggage by accident. I have used every blade for all manner of things including clearing ice from cross country ski binding cleats, to removing ticks, making holes in leather belts, opening cans and bottles, and even filing down bike spoke ends. There is a tiny driver that tightens all those minute screws that people always lose from their glasses and take it or leave it, the standard toothpick! The main blades are 'Inox' steel and very good quality, the scissors are the best of any multitool that I have seen and the can opener works really well. The downside is that with most Swiss army knives (and there are some exceptions) the blades do not lock, so you have to be very careful during any cutting activity that the knife doesn't fold onto the fingers. Also the classic acrylic side panels of the handle engraved with the Swiss flag, can scratch easily, although they are surprisingly durable.
Then there are the multitools based upon pliers, the most famous ones being from manufacturers such as Leatherman and Gerber. These normally have a main plier with the auxiliary blades and tools folding neatly into the handles of the body. The better ones have mostly or all locking blades. These are great, but I have sometimes been a little disappointed with the quality of some models: flimsy knives, scissors with poor action and hard to use tin and bottle openers. The hinges can loosen over time and you may need to remember to take a specialised tool to tighten them.
Simple Folding Knives
Some people are very happy with a simple folding knife on their travels, such as the Victorinox 'Hunter' or even the more basic and popular French made 'Opinel.' These are great for cutting cheese and salami on picnics. The latter one has a nice wooden handle with a simple twist lock that kind of half locks the blade, so some care is needed. Recently, Opinel have jazzed up the camping knife with coloured handles including a built-in whistle and a main blade with an unusual spanner aperture for tightening sail shackle pins of all things!
Some walkers may like to carry a beautiful French handmade knife and on our Way of St James walking holiday in France, you will go very near to where the Laguiole knives are being manufactured. Several village shops in the region will sell this charming model and it makes a great memento of your trip.
Camping Knife Maintenance
All knives and multitools require periodical maintenance: wash and dry them thoroughly and use a light machine oil on hinges and smeared on blades, especially if you will store your knife for some time. Vaseline is also quite useful in this regard. Wooden handles, leather pouches or sleeves should also be waxed occasionally. Follow the manufacturer’s sharpening instructions; knives should be sharp and without burrs.
Knives & EU Law
Most countries in the EU have their own laws on knives. The UK, quite rightly, has enforced laws over carrying knives, although it is pretty vague. The basic rule is that 'you cannot carry a knife in public without good reason, unless it has a folding blade with a cutting edge 3 inches long or less.' If you have a long fixed bladed knife or a multitool with a locking mechanism on the blades (which just about covers all multitools sold from outdoor or tool shop), they 'are not classed as folding knives and are illegal to carry in public without good reason.'
The 'without good reason' part explains it all; it's about perceived intended use. For example, you can buy a 20-inch carving knife from a hardware shop (a public place) and walk with it back home through a high street or mall (another public place). It is unlikely that you will ever be inquisitioned. Although police can be arbitrary at times; it is a question of being sensible if you are on a walking, backpacking or cycling holiday. To make things simpler your camping knife should be sheathed and in your backpack not about your person.
For more advice on the gear to bring on a cycling or walking holiday, contact our team of travel experts.
For more in John’s series of Gear Matters blog posts and tips and advice for cycling and walking gear, see the full overview of outdoor gear articles from the past months.
There is a whole range of reasons why we acquire new outdoor gear for our cycling and walking holidays. More often than not, the items we have, can still be used…. Don't discard them, instead take them to a clothes recycling point or why not Gift Your Gear.
Gift Your Gear, an initiative that accepts gear donations and then provides them to community organisations, youth groups and charities that work with young people in the outdoors. This outdoor gear exchange initiative was founded in 2012 by Sarah Howcroft, who was co-founder of the outdoor clothing company Rohan. Sarah has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 40 years and this has taken her all over the world. We asked her some questions about the clothes recycling initiative Gift Your Gear.
“It has been great to follow the development of some of the outdoor travel areas over 40 years.” – Sarah Howcroft
What is the story behind Gift Your Gear?
Gift Your Gear came about out of a realisation of two realities. Because I have been in the outdoor industry for over 40 years I have seen a lot of outdoor gear. I have made the gear, sold the gear and used the gear. In general, outdoor gear is made to last. It is made well and because product failure is not an option by default, the gear last.
However, over the last few years I have become increasingly aware that most gear does not get used until it wears out. The outdoor industry is innovation-lead and active travellers in general want the latest gear. That means there is a lot of outdoor gear that is unused and unwanted. I spent some time looking at what happens to this gear. The answer is anything from nothing to ending up in charity shops.
About the same time, I became more aware that funding for the groups responsible for getting young people out on to the hills was being reduced and cut. This resulted in, amongst other things, a serious lack of outdoor equipment available to groups.
So the solution was simple: redirect the gear that was no longer wanted to where it is needed and that is what Gift Your Gear today is.
"The solution was simple: redirect the gear that was no longer wanted to where it is needed."
What happens with the gear after you receive a donation?
Gear that is sent to our depot in Manchester is sorted, checked and donated to Gift Your Gear beneficiary groups. We also have a network of local groups that are involved in getting young people outdoors and who will collect gear donations around the UK.
Gift Your Gear provides a reuse solution. There is very little that cannot be reused. Maybe not for the original purpose or we recycle the clothes for other means. For example, a waterproof that is no longer waterproof can still make a great windproof.
Can travellers from outside the UK donate their gear too?
We collect outdoor gear by various methods inside the UK. We also receive parcels from people all over the world at our depot in Manchester and if Sherpa travellers are looking for a good place to recycle their clothes, they can send the goods or bring them to Europe with them. When people are in the UK, they can drop off gear either at our depot or through a national network of outdoor shops and supporters that collect for Gift Your Gear.
Do you have other tips for travellers to recycle their outdoor clothes & gear?
Well, my number 1 tip is be careful what outdoor clothes you buy. Make sure you can use it to the end of its life. Longevity of use is by far the best option. Better even than to reuse and finally recycling the gear. There is no global network for the reuse of outdoor gear, but one solution is to put a free ad on the UK-based platform RecycleOutdoorGear.com. Here you can state if you wish to donate your gear to a particular profile or group it is also a place where travellers can browse and purchase second hand outdoor gear.
What are do’s & don’ts for travellers who want to donate their gear?
Do your research before you go out to actually bring a donation. There may be similar initiatives like Gift Your Gear locally to you. Please also send us an email at Gift Your Gear and we will look at ways at how we can help.
Can you tell us some examples of what has happened with donated gear?
Since 2012, Gift Your Gear has supplied over 1000 groups in the UK with quantities of unwanted outdoor clothing and equipment. They range from DofE Groups, scout and guide groups, cadet groups, school groups, forest schools and more. Let me give you two examples that embody the spirit of Gift Your Gear.
Au Revoir Olfio
An Olfio is a classic Rohan over-the-head piece of clothing; a padded top with lots of pockets. We have two nationwide Olfio collections each year through Rohan Shops in the UK. The ideas is that during one collection, we receive a substantial number of donated Olfios, some appeared to be even over 30 years old and all are in great condition. We decided to send them back in to the great outdoors.
This is a programme that was created especially for young adults with a range of challenging life issues. The youngsters are from both mainstream and special needs schools. The programme was created, coordinated and delivered by the Equine Assisted Learning section at the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, and is called ‘Ponies Inspiring People’.
Is there anything else you like to share with our travellers?
Because dedicated travellers rely so heavily on their gear, they often become very attached to their gear. We know of travellers that have experienced the disappointment of going out with gear that really does not perform to expectations. So, for anyone that has a special attachment to their gear, we like you to know that we will make sure your gear goes on to a new life in the outdoors after you donate it to Gift Your Gear. It’s a nice feeling and this way of clothes recycling really makes a difference.
Learn more about Gift Your Gear or contact one of our team for any specific questions you may have.
In the remote places you visit on a walking holiday, there may be little shops available. In order to be prepared for unexpected situations, guide John this month brings you 10 outdoor essentials to pack on your cycling or walking holiday.
No one ever wants anything to go wrong on a walking holiday, but in remote areas there is always the possibility of losing a trail and getting disorientated. Perhaps because it is getting dark or misty, maybe the weather is on the turn, or you had to slow down for other reasons. Especially in Western Europe this is likely to be a temporary affair. But fear and worry are enemies as much as the environment and a clear head is what is needed to adapt to the situation. This is always helped by carrying some outdoor gear essentials, so let me give you 10 tips for items to bring on an active holiday to the outdoors.
1. Firstly, always have a compass, and if you have a local map from the tour it is highly unlikely that you have walked off the page! You may be able to interpret features that you can see and estimate where you are. Back track along the trail until you find the next sign, waymark, or habitation and your compass will prove to be a very helpful outdoor gear to have on you.
2. GPS devices are also useful, and a lot of phones now have GPS and mapping apps. With this in mind, you should invest in a Lithium battery recharger such as a 'Powermonkey' and charge it up at every opportunity. Depending on the capacity of this outdoor item, they can charge a phone, GPS or camera 3 or 4 times to keep you going longer in the wild. It is worth knowing that mobile phones will usually pick up the emergency services such as 112 or 999, even if there is no network reception.
3. Other important items to take are water purification tablets, you can use a buff or kerchief to filter the worst elements of water before applying tablets.
4. As well as a normal litre water bottle, you can get silica type water bottles that pack and compress to nothing, they are used by ultra-runners and can act as an emergency extra reserve if you have to wander far from a water source on your outdoor adventure.
5. Take a pocket knife, preferably one which includes at least a serrated blade for easier cutting of small branches, sticks etc. 'Victorinox' do some good ones and in my opinion should definitely on your outdoor gear essentials packing list.
6. Being able to light a fire is a useful thing for signalling or keeping warm, you can shave sticks with a knife for kindling (called fire sticks) and it is worth carrying a flint sparkler or a lighter.
7. Lightweight head torches are almost an essential thing to pack, if only to find your way back from the pub from some village. Makes like 'Petzl', 'Black Diamond' and 'Silva' have a good beam and long running times. They are useful for signalling and some have red LEDs for maintaining your night vision.
8. The next outdoor essential to have is an emergency bivvy bag, these don’t have to be heavy plastic sheets, there are new types developed for runners with much better insulation such as 'Blizzard Bags.' These are feather light and vacuum packed, so once you get them out, they can't be recompressed to their original dimensions!
9. Take a basic first aid kit, both 'lifesystems' and 'Ortileb' do compact kits in waterproof casing which are a great addition to your gear list.
10. Finally, take high energy bars and rehydration powders and carry them in a waterproof bag.
All these outdoor gear essentials you may never need to use, but may make all the difference when you do need to. It is always reassuring to have the right ensemble of kit and, as the old scouting motto exclaimed, 'Be Prepared!'
Like John's Gear Matters blog articles? There are more! If you're interested in navigating, cycling gear, walking poles, or walking boots & sandals, check out all outdoor gear blog posts here.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month he looks at hiking boots: the development of walking shoes, different types of hiking boots and some tips on how to clean your walking boots.
There was a time when it was reckoned a good pair of hiking boots cost a month’s income. These days, modern developments have put a stop to that, but it goes to show how valuable mountain footwear should be regarded. It’s important to cover our feet from the worst of the elements and from environmental impediments that would otherwise prevent us from going on a nice hike.
Once, Hiking Boots Were All Leather..
Once, hiking boots were all leather, stiff, and had little tricorns of metal banged into them. Since the 1950s the Vibram sole has revolutionised the production of hiking shoes and the company still probably make the best sole units. The real revolution has been the variety of materials now used for walking boots and the different shapes, colours, levels of stiffness and cushioning. Horses for courses...
Choose Your Walking Gear Wisely
So what boots you wear depends upon what kind of hike you do:
· Boots with stiff soles, perhaps with insulation, for winter Alpine climbing,
· Boots with hardly any sole flex if you need to take a crampon,
· Semi-stiff leather or fabric boots for comfortable walking on rough surfaces,
· Cushioned mid-soles for long distance walking,
· Hiking boots with Gore-Tex linings for improved waterproofing, and
· Meshed boots for hot environments or when drainage is important.
The list is endless!
Generally there has been a move away from leather boots to modern fabrics and a fashion for minimalism, both on cost grounds and for lightness. The trick with a lot of fabric hiking boots is that they can get smelly after a time and they are generally not as durable. Gore-Tex linings in wet conditions are great. If you are generally walking in the dry though, your feet may become sweaty and you can end up with damp boot material that takes a long time to dry.
If you can find a brand that fits you well, a full grain leather boot is probably the best for general mountain hiking wear. High enough to protect ankles, stiff enough so you don't feel rocks through the sole, perhaps even with a cushioned sole. It’s good to note that when hiking softer sole materials tend to get chewed up by stones pretty quickly. Well-made leather boots, from manufacturers such as Scarpa and Meindel, breathe naturally.
How to Clean Your Hiking Boots
All hiking boots need occasional cleaning and reproofing and especially with leather, if you neglect this it may lead to it drying and cracking. If your walking boots are muddy, soft brush them when dry, or damp-sponge clean them immediately and then apply sprays or waxes. Never force drying your boots (avoid hairdryers and fires at all time!). Do stuff your shoes with newspaper immediately when you come back from your day’s hike and maybe keep them in a warm place like your hotel room.
Personal Favourite Boots
So what do I use myself on my walks and hikes in Europe? Well, there are the leather Scarpa Mantas used for cramponing up volcano glaciers (and in the Ruwenzoris in Uganda). Then there is a synthetic Gore-Tex lined Asolo boot I use for general trekking holidays, such as the Coast to Coast in the UK, Dolomites in Italy, Tour du Mont Blanc etc. For just about everything else I use trail and fell running shoes. Salomon make ones with very bright colours, and for me brands like Inov, Keen, Adidas and North Face are good as well.
Well ahead of your walking holiday, decide what you want to use a type of footwear for and then visit a good retailer like Cotswold for a hiking boot fitting and selection. They can help you get booted ready for the great outdoors. For advice on the terrain you’ll be walking on, do get in touch with our team of experts in the London office.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month we have a look at global positioning systems (GPS) which are becoming increasingly popular with walkers and cyclists for following existing routes or creating new tracks. They can normally locate your global position to 100 metres or less and are a system in use by many walkers and cyclists.
Gear matters: GPS in Your System
GPS originated as a military system controlled by the US, although other countries such as China have their own military versions, it has now been in the consumer domain since the early 1990s. The units have decreased in price and become much more efficient over that time. The devices track satellites and normally four of those are needed to provide a global location. It usually takes a unit less than 5 minutes to locate itself assuming there are only minor obstructions to the sky.
As well as the traditional GPS handhelds such as Magellan, Garmin and Satnav, which are walker and cyclist friendly, you can also get software for your Android, Windows or iPhones. These do pretty much the same job. Both are different to the car navigation versions though, they don't shout at you in a voice of your choosing from a list including Darth Vader!
The walking or cycling GPS models change every couple of years, and the best way to get a feel of the differences is to read online reviews on the devices or in walking or cycling magazines, such as Walk. We would recommend GPS devices with larger screens in terms of using them with maps. The budget models may only give you a Grid Reference and show you a route line or gradient graph without showing you where you are. In those cases you may want to transcribe this information to a map. Do make sure that you have your GPS device set up for the relevant map, e.g. 'OS British Grid' or 'IGN France'.
More expensive units generally have water resistant casings, SD card slots for expanded route memory and pre manipulated maps on memory cards available detailing popular routes such as the Coast to Coast or Tour du Mont Blanc. With these you can walk more or less exactly along the route. The map systems are also very detailed, at least in countries where the mapping is already good, in others you may be presented with a very generalised representation.
You can also download GPS coordinates from different sites such as the LDWA Long Distance Walkers Association website in the UK or from the various long distance path sites. You can also laboriously preload a route by working out the grid references manually by using a map and typing them in to your GPS handheld. Once you have walked your route, recording it on the GPS, you can download the results on programmes such as 'Memory Map' to generate statistics and route graphs. It's amazing to see your trip represented like this!
Interested in more? Read our 5 points to Keep in Mind When Using GPS article, or for more information on using GPS devices on your walking on cylcing holiday with Sherpa Expeditions, please contact our team of experts in our London office.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. In this first post, he looks at walking poles and how to use this equipment - or not!
Gear Matters: Poles apart
There was a time when the Brits would joke about German groups of walkers “Look here come the 6 Germans with the 12 Poles!” we would chuckle. That was the 1980's and early 1990's, now most people seem to use poles. The advent of the collapsible walking pole in all its manifest forms has been a great coup for gear manufacturers. Research has shown that they help with propulsion, save knees from shock and can help the upper body to get stronger if used in a certain way. Other research has shown that you may loose some of your sense of natural balance if you rely on them too much.
For group walking there are some pointers that need to be addressed, especially for beginners. So many people come on a guided walk and use poles for the first time, quite often resulting in tripping themselves up, or doing the classic pole plant into someone else’s boot. It can be worse of course; some people do the classic ‘follow through’ where the pole is propelled too enthusiastically behind them resulting in someone being impaled. Then there is the case of dangerous dangling poles when people are scrambling over rocky sections. Walking with groups I try to get them to attach their poles to their bags when it is rocky and try to point out that they are not in a fencing competition when they do the follow through swing. This usually makes them think. For first timers: it's a good idea to practice using your poles before your group trip, and while on your walking holiday, remember to be aware of other people’s space compared to walking on your own.
There is an antidote to the ubiquitous Leki Pole: Check out the wonderful British-built Pacerpole. Their form and function are based on applying anatomical and biomechanical research analysis to the transmission of effective upper body power to improve overall walking performance - which is why I believe the left and right contoured handle shape puts these walking poles into a category of their own.
If you like to know more about the walking gear we recommend for your holiday please get in touch with our enthusiastic team in London, or read on if you are interested in our walking holidays.