Skiing in the backcountry is amazing, but it requires a lot of preparation. You need the proper gear to stay ready for anything, and you don’t want to be caught off guard. Ski poles are an essential aspect of this.
Hi, I’m Christine, a lifelong skier who loves all styles of the sport. I’ve been on many backcountry ski adventures over the years, and I know how to find the high-quality gear that will live up to the challenges this creates.
The Leki Helicon is my choice for the best backcountry ski poles of the season. These are specifically designed for ski touring and have a telescoping design that gives you customized performance when you need it most.
I’ll provide you with all of the top backcountry ski pole options in this post. I want to make sure you are well prepared and ready to take advantage of deep snow and fresh tracks, no matter where your backcountry adventures take you.
Let’s jump in.
Who Should Get This
Every backcountry skier needs a solid pair of poles. Not only will they keep you above any deep powder or tough terrain, but they will also ensure you can move both up and down slopes.
Adjustable models are a great way to achieve that, as are options with removable baskets that provide excellent versatility. They have backcountry-focused features and are made for those who like to brave the snow outside the resort.
Best Backcountry Ski Poles: Top Picks
Here are all of my top picks for the best backcountry ski poles of the season. If you like to venture outside of the resort, these poles will help you out along the way.
1. Leki Helicon
- Best for: Overall
- Key features: Lightweight, durable, adjustable, SpeedLock +, long flex tip
- Construction: Aluminum
- Weight: 1 pound 3.1 ounces
- Cost: $$
The Leki Helicon is my top overall pick for the best backcountry ski poles of the season. These will make for a solid option for any type of backcountry skier.
They have an excellent adjustable design that lets you change quickly from climbing mode back to downhill, giving you essential adaptability that comes in handy off-piste.
An adjustable strap helps ensure the poles stay attached to your hands at all times, and the lightweight aluminum construction makes them strong and durable for seasons of regular use.
These aren’t made of carbon, which some skiers prefer, but they don’t have many other downsides when it comes to backcountry performance.
2. Black Diamond Vapor
- Best for: Durability
- Key features: Super strong construction, flex tip with carbide point, ultralight grip
- Construction: Carbon
- Weight: 168 grams/pole
- Cost: $$$
The Black Diamond Vapor are some of the strongest backcountry ski poles around, and these can take a beating without you worrying if they will break or bend.
This is made possible thanks to a 100% carbon fiber shaft that is nearly indestructible. That construction also keeps them very lightweight.
The poles also come with an ultralight foam grip that is comfortable and durable alongside a flex tip with carbide point for increased strength and performance.
The Vapor is pretty expensive but a worthwhile investment if you want long-lasting reliability.
3. Black Crows Duos Freebird
- Best for: Lightweight Option
- Key features: Lightweight, telescoping design, durable, mountaineering strap, carbide tungsten tip
- Construction: Aluminum Alloy/Carbon
- Weight: 1 pound 1.6 ounce
- Cost: $$$
The Black Crows Duos Freebird is a solid lightweight backcountry ski pole if you are counting ounces.
These have a dual-metal construction using aluminum alloy and carbon, keeping the strength high and the weight down.
They also have a telescoping design that lets you easily adjust the length of the poles on the fly. Mountaineer straps provide excellent hold to stay in place if you take a tumble.
The Duos Freebird is pretty expensive, but this is typical for lightweight products.
4. Black Diamond Compactor
- Best for: Travel
- Key features: Foldable, lightweight, adjustable, lightweight grip, touring series strap
- Construction: Aluminum
- Weight: 1 pound 2 ounces
- Cost: $$$
The Black Diamond Compactor is a great ski pole for travel or mountaineering, thanks to its foldable design that lets you fold the poles into smaller lengths.
They also come with an aluminum design that is strong, durable, and lightweight. The poles are also adjustable to give you customized sizes.
Other features include a touring series grip and strap built to be lightweight and highly functional alongside small powder baskets that help keep the weight down.
These only have 20cm of adjustability, which is less than most adjustable models. That’s a trade-off you see with the collapsible design.
5. MSR Dyna-Lock
- Best for: Budget Option
- Key features: Affordable, two-piece design, adjustable, durable, ergonomic grip
- Construction: Aluminum
- Weight: 1 pound 4 ounces
- Cost: $$
Backcountry gear can get expensive in a hurry, but the MSR Dyna-Lock is a more budget-friendly ski pole that can help you save money for other equipment.
These have a solid design that features adjustability, giving you a wide range of sizes you can set the pole length at.
They also have a durable aluminum construction and an ergonomic grip that is easy to hang on to when skiing hard.
These aren’t very lightweight, but that’s what you would expect with complete aluminum construction.
How to Choose Ski Poles for Backcountry
You need to pay close attention to your equipment when you venture into the backcountry. Keep the following factors in mind to help you choose the best ski poles for the job.
You never know what you’ll encounter while trekking out through the backcountry. As such, you need poles that can handle anything. While models made for resorts can have one use or function, backcountry ski poles should give you the ability to perform multiple actions.
Favor models that match your needs, acting as a hiking stick for the walk-up and a ski pole for the trip back down. Adjustable poles are a nice feature to have because you can change the length of poles to accommodate the situation you are skiing in.
Baskets – the plastic disk near the bottom of the pole, are important to keep in mind as well. Though resort skiers can get away with small baskets for groomed runs, backcountry poles need wider baskets.
That will enable you to handle deep powder and trudge through harsh conditions without losing your pole to the snow. Some models even give you the option to switch out your basket if you want extra flexibility.
I always like to bring an extra set of baskets with me when I’m backcountry skiing, just in case you break or lose one. They are lightweight and don’t take up much space.
It’s crucial to have reliable pole straps for any style of skiing, but this is even more vital in the backcountry. If you lose a pole out in the wilderness, you most likely won’t ever see it again.
Straps should sit easily over your gloves and not be too tight or loose. You want to make sure you have a good grip on your poles but that they will stay with you if you take a nasty fall. Adjustable straps are a good option to look for.
While resort ski poles function well enough on their own, backcountry models typically come with extra attributes to help you when the going gets tough.
When making your final decision, favor options that go the extra mile to help you brave the backcountry. That includes handy enhancements like an ice ax or inclinometer and safety features like a built-in screwdriver.
What Size Ski Poles do I Need?
It’s not that hard to size your ski poles. However, as the process commonly occurs at a rental shop or the place where you purchased your skis, you might not know how to do it. Once you learn the basic steps to size your poles, you can quickly and easily do it the next time you or anyone you know gets a new pair.
Begin by standing on a flat surface with either your shoes or ski boots on. Pick out the poles you want to size and make sure there are a few different sizes to choose from so you can get the perfect pair. Then, grab a pair of poles and flip them upside down so that the basket and point side faces up. Place your hands directly underneath the basket (the round plastic piece that sits a few inches up from the end).
With your hands under the basket, touch the end of the poles (the handled part since they are now upside-down) on the ground. Now, look at your elbows to determine if your poles are the correct size. You want to make sure that your arms are bent at a nearly 90-degree angle when the poles are on the ground, as that is the marker for good height.
If your arms are bent closer to your torso and sit at less than a 90-degree angle, that means the poles are too long. If your arms extend further out than a 90-degree angle, that means the poles are too short. The 90-degree mark is the sweet spot. It doesn’t have to be exactly 90-degrees, but you want to get as close as possible.
Useful Tips & Resources
Backcountry skiing is exciting, but it can also be quite dangerous. There are many risks to watch out for when pushing through uncharted snow, and perhaps none are more worrisome than avalanches. This article covers basic information to help keep you safe.
Beyond safety, navigating the backcountry can be difficult as well. You never know what you’re going to run into off-piste, nor can you be sure what type of terrain you’ll encounter. Don’t ski in the backcountry alone, and always tell people your intended route and plan.
If you are new to ski touring or backcountry skiing, there are some significant differences between this style and resort skiing. The gear is a little different, and so is the skiing in general. Take a look at the video below for a better explanation of these.
The Leki Helicon is my pick for the best backcountry ski poles of the year. These are a solid pair that will cover you in any type of backcountry situation. They have a fully functional telescoping design and are lightweight but strong.
All of the ski poles you see in this article are designed with backcountry skiing in mind. Backcountry experiences are super rewarding, but only if you are prepared for everything.