Ski poles may not seem necessary to beginners, but they are incredibly important both on-piste and out in the backcountry. They add much-needed balance to your runs and provide you with extra stability regardless of where you like to ride. They can genuinely make you a better skier.
My name is Christine, I’ve been skiing for decades and have used many different poles over the years. I know what to look for in the best options available that will help you ski to the best of your ability. Quality ski poles can make a subtle but significant difference in how you perform on the mountain.
The Volkl Phantastick Carbon is my choice for the best ski poles of the year. These are a lightweight but super-strong option that will work for just about any type of skier. They are reliable poles that will give you balance and performance.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to ski poles, but there’s a big difference between the average models and the best available. I’ll show you all of my favorites in this post to help make sure you can get your hands on the best.
Let’s put those straps on and get after it.
- Who Should Get This
- Top Picks of the Best Ski Poles
- Best Ski Poles: What to Look For
- Useful Tips & Resources
- Final Verdict
Who Should Get This
Nearly every skier needs a good set of ski poles. In general, all skiers should get comfortable with and learn how to use poles.
Ski poles not only assist with your balance and turning abilities while skiing, they can also help propel you on catwalks and flat traverses. Alpine skiers use poles to stay upright and keep engaged at high speeds.
If you are a backcountry or touring style skier, poles become even more critical. You know how difficult the task becomes if you have ever tried to skin or traverse uphill without poles.
Ski poles will allow you to push and pull yourself uphill when you’re in the backcountry or on a long ski tour. They are also crucial for backcountry skiing.
There are some styles or situations where you might not need ski poles. I’ve seen many terrain park skiers opt not to use ski poles. If your style is strictly based in the park and you don’t spend much time in other areas of the mountain, you might not need or want poles.
Poles can get in the way on big airs. If you work at a ski resort and have to carry extra gear or equipment for work purposes, you also might not want or be able to use poles.
Do ski poles matter much?
Ski poles matter quite a bit, especially for experienced skiers who want to make the most of their time on the mountain. Poles give you extra balance, which can boost performance. They also make it possible to skate along flat terrain or get a little extra speed.
Are good ski poles worth it?
You don’t have to spend a ton of money on ski poles to get a good quality option. Good ski poles are designed to be more durable and stronger than cheaper models, meaning they are a better investment in the long run.
What metal are ski poles made of?
Nearly all ski pole models that you’ll find today are made of either carbon or aluminum. Some are a combination of these two metals. Aluminum is cheaper but not quite as strong or flexible as carbon. They are both lightweight.
Are carbon ski poles better than aluminum?
This depends on who you ask. If you are looking for durability and strength, then carbon is better than aluminum. Carbon poles will flex and twist without bending, and aluminum poles can break under extreme use. However, aluminum poles are usually a lot cheaper.
Do carb ski poles break?
In all my years of skiing, I have only broken a carbon ski pole one time. I’ve probably broken a half dozen pairs of aluminum poles. So carbon poles are not invincible, but they also will last much longer under heavy use than other aluminum options.
How much should you pay for ski poles?
A good set of ski poles will typically fall anywhere in between $50 to $150. If you want a basic aluminum pair, you can go on the cheaper side. If you want carbon construction and higher-end features, you’ll end up paying more in the long run.
What size ski poles do I need backcountry?
I like to use adjustable ski poles in the backcountry. This gives you the ability to make them longer when you want extra push on long ascents. You can then shorten them back down to regular size for skiing downhill.
Which Type or Style Should I Choose?
The type, color, or style of pole you get should come down to personal preference. I recommended carbon fiber, but I personally have a pair of old-school bamboo ski poles that I like to use because they just look cool and come with a little extra weight. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on your poles. Save that for your skis, bindings, or boots.
If you’re an experienced skier, try to ski without poles just to see what it’s like. You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference poles make and how much they add to your overall skiing experience.
Should I Buy or Rent Ski Poles?
Now that you know what ski poles are used for and how to choose the right size, you next need to decide which pair you want to purchase or rent.
If you’re renting poles, you’ll more than likely get a generic set constructed out of aluminum or another light metal. If you’re purchasing your own set, I recommend getting a carbon fiber or carbon fiber blend. That adds to the general durability and ensures your poles last a long time.
Can I Ski without Poles?
It’s possible to ski without poles. However, I wouldn’t recommend it. In fact, if you’re just learning how to ski, one of the first things you should do is learn how to properly use poles.
While many skiing aspects, including general gear technology, have changed over time, poles have essentially stayed the same. That is because they serve many critical roles on the slopes, including the ability to balance when trying to turn on steep terrain.
Without poles, it becomes quite hard to make an accurate jump turn on sheer runs. However, with them, you get extra stability and the ability to handle tough environments.
Poles also let you focus on keeping the proper form. If you’ve ever taken a ski lesson, you know that instructors always tell you to keep your hands out in front of you. That helps with balance, coordination, and allows your body to move in the correct way. Using poles ensures that you almost always keep your hands out in front of you.
Top Picks of the Best Ski Poles
Here are all of my top picks for the best ski poles of the season. Each model listed here will provide you with durable construction that will last for seasons of use.
1. Volkl Phantastick Carbon
- Best for: Overall
- Key features: Durable, lightweight, reliable, versatile, extra baskets included
- Construction: Carbon
- Weight: 1.65 pounds
- Cost: $$$
The Volkl Phantastick Carbon is my top pick for the best overall ski poles of the year. This is a high-quality option that nearly every type of skier can use to their advantage.
The poles have a very lightweight and reliable carbon fiber composite construction that makes them very strong and durable. You can dig in with these without worrying about if they will break or bend.
They also have a Soft Touch grip that is easy to get used to and provides an excellent hold for your gloved hands. I also like that they come with an extra set of baskets so you can adjust to the conditions you are skiing in.
These are somewhat expensive but have no downsides to mention other than that.
2. Leki Helicon
- Best for: Backcountry
- Key features: Lightweight, strong, SpeedLock +, adjustable, long flex tip, adjustable strap
- Construction: Aluminum
- Weight: 1 pound 3.1 ounces
- Cost: $$
If you are an active backcountry skier, you need to get your hands on high-quality equipment. The Leki Helicon is a great ski pole for touring skiers or anyone who spends a lot of time in the wilderness.
These poles have an adjustable design that lets you quickly adapt to changing conditions or switch from touring to skiing mode. This design also features a Speedlock + system that holds the telescoping poles securely in place.
They also have a strong and lightweight aluminum construction. This leads to reliable backcountry performance and also helps keep the price down a bit.
These don’t come with a carbon construction, so they aren’t quite as durable as other options. But I still think they are the best option for the backcountry.
Related: Best Backcountry Ski Poles
3. Black Crows Duos Freebird
- Best for: Adjustable Option
- Key features: Great telescoping system, strong dual metal construction, lightweight, mountaineering strap, carbide tungsten tip
- Construction: Aluminum Alloy/Carbon
- Weight: 1 pound 1.6 ounce
- Cost: $$$
The Black Crows Duos Freebird is an excellent adjustable ski pole that will let you easily adjust to any changing conditions or terrain in a hurry.
These poles have a reliable and effective construction that makes them worthy companions at the resort or in the backcountry. They are adjustable from 110 to 140 cm to give you a wide range to work with.
You also get a strong and lightweight dual-metal construction that uses aluminum alloy and carbon fiber. A carbon tungsten tip helps make everything super durable, and a mountaineering strap will ensure they stay attached to your hands at all times.
These poles are expensive, but they are packed with useful features to take advantage of.
4. Rossignol Tactic
- Best for: Budget Option
- Key features: Affordable, durable, comfortable grip, carbide tip, easy to change baskets
- Construction: Aluminum/Carbon
- Weight: 245 grams/pole
- Cost: $$
The Rossignol Tactic is an affordable option perfect for any skier on a budget who still wants to get their hands on high-quality ski poles.
These have a simple but classic design that will work for skiers of many different styles and ability levels. That also makes them versatile in many different conditions and terrains.
A carbon and aluminum construction gives you lightweight and durable performance that makes them reliable and effective all over the mountain. I also like the safety bi-mat grip because it is soft and secure on and around your hands.
These aren’t as durable as some more expensive models, and you also don’t get any adjustable features.
5. Leki Detect S
- Best for: Grip
- Key features: Ergonomic grip, unique strap design, durable, reliable, relatively lightweight
- Construction: Aluminum
- Weight: 1 pound 1.6 ounce
- Cost: $$
The Leki Detect S has one of the best grips of any ski poles I have used in recent years. If you are a stickler for how your sticks feel, this one comes highly recommended.
The poles have an ergonomically shaped grip that will easily fit inside your hands for effective performance and plenty of comfort.
They also have a unique strap that works well to hold your poles in place when you are skiing tough, or you happen to take a nasty fall. They also have a trigger system that allows you to remove the strap from the pole if needed.
The Detect S is an expensive option for an aluminum pole but has some great additional features that make them worth their cost.
6. Leki Carbon 14 3D
- Best for: Lightweight
- Key features: Lightweight, strong, trigger release strap system, good grip, durable basket
- Construction: Carbon Fiber
- Weight: 1 pound 0.6 ounce
- Cost: $$$$
If you are looking to shed ounces to keep your skiing setup very lightweight, the Leki Carbon 14 3D comes highly recommended.
The lightweight construction is made possible thanks to a carbon fiber design. And even though they feel like a feather in your hands, these are rugged and durable to stand up to heavy use.
They also come with an effective trigger release strap system that is a nice added touch with safety in mind. The grip is comfortable, and many skiers will appreciate that as well.
The downside is that these are some of the most expensive poles on the list – you’ll pay a pretty penny to save on weight.
7. Salomon Kaloo Junior
- Best for: Kids
- Key features: Affordable, multiple color options, comfortable grips and straps
- Construction: Aluminum
- Weight: 130 grams/pole
- Cost: $
If you want to get a pair of poles that can grow along with your little skiers, take a look at the Solomon Kaloo Junior Alpine Ski Poles.
These are one of the best kid’s ski poles around and are designed specifically with the needs of children in mind. These are affordable and extremely easy to use.
Despite being for kids, these poles and both durable and lightweight. They also accommodate smaller hand sizes as well.
They have a standard look but are available in several fun colors that make them visually appealing and fun to use.
8. Leki Worldcup Racing GS
- Best for: Racing
- Key features: Ergonomic design, strong, durable, good grip and straps, trigger release
- Construction: Aluminum
- Weight: 1 pound 3 ounce
- Cost: $$$$
Ski racers have entirely different needs and demands than regular skiers. If you’re a ski racer who wants specific poles built for your discipline, the Leki Worldcup Racing GS Pole is the way to go.
These poles are made from a fairly rugged aluminum construction and have an ergonomic design that features a slight bend that makes them perfect for GS racing.
The shape and design of these poles are designed to help you shave precious seconds from your race time. They feature a quick-release trigger system that will protect your wrists in the event of a bad crash, and they come with a highly comfortable grip.
The straps feature a secure and fully-formed velcro attachment that will give you a solid push out of the gate.
You won’t want to use these in many other situations other than racing, so their versatility is limited.
9. Black Diamond Alpine Core Carbon
- Best for: Multi-Sport
- Key features: Multi-sport use, durable, adjustable, comfortable grips
- Construction: Carbon fiber/steel
- Weight: 1 pound 1.1 ounce
- Cost: $$$$
The Black Diamond Alpine Core Carbon poles will give you multi-sport capabilities and can be used as both ski and trekking poles.
These have an adjustable design that lets you easily pack them for travel or set up a specific height anywhere between 100-130 cm.
They also have a rugged construction that is built to last and can handle just about anything you throw their way on the mountain.
A cork grip isn’t the most durable option in heavy winter conditions, and these are also extremely expensive.
10. K2 Alu
- Best for: Women
- Key features: Women’s pole, affordable, performance rubber grip, nesting baskets
- Construction: Aluminum
- Weight: 1 pound
- Cost: $$
Ski poles don’t usually come in gender-specific options, but the K2 Alu is a women’s specific ski pole you can use if you’re looking for that.
They are very affordable, thanks to an aluminum construction that is also strong and durable.
A performance rubber grip gives you a reliable hold to keep the poles in place when skiing hard in various situations.
These aren’t the highest quality option around, but they are one of the best options made specifically for women that you will find.
Best Ski Poles: What to Look For
When looking for the best ski poles of the season, keep the following factors in mind to help you find an option that matches your needs and preferences as a skier.
While all ski poles look the same, they all have different materials. There are other factors to consider when purchasing poles, and depending on your preferences or style, you want to get the best pair for your needs.
The three primary materials that skis are made of today are carbon fiber, aluminum, and bamboo.
Carbon fiber poles are pretty standard because the material is both strong and lightweight. That makes for good ski poles and is especially useful in the backcountry. These types of poles are usually the most expensive.
Aluminum poles are also common, especially in rented options. The metal is lightweight, strong, and cheap. That is why it is used for beginner poles. However, they can bend or snap, making them the least durable material out there. They are quite affordable.
Bamboo, once not widely used, is on the comeback. Bamboo and pine poles are what ancient skiers first used. They did so because the sticks are extremely strong and can stand up in many conditions.
These are slightly heavier than metal poles, but they are extremely difficult to break or bend. Bamboo ski poles are my personal favorite in terms of look and strength.
Poles can also be constructed out of a combination of the three above materials. A bamboo and carbon fiber construction is a good blend that gives you extra strength, but there are many similar mixes as well.
Baskets are the circular ring at the end of your ski pole. They are critical to your pole’s functionality because they keep it from slipping directly into the snow. If you want to have a working ski pole and not a ski spear, you need baskets on your poles.
Baskets provide a larger surface area for you to plant your pole, creating both extra balance and propulsion. These come in many different sizes and materials.
If you like to ski at the resort and don’t often find yourself in big powder conditions with deep snow, you can use a small basket on your poles. If you’re a backcountry skier who spends lots of time traversing uphill, you want larger baskets.
Ski racers who ski in hard-packed conditions will almost exclusively be able to get away with a very small basket.
Baskets are often interchangeable, which is nice because you can change their size depending on outside conditions. Many poles come with a few different baskets when you purchase them.
Manufacturers will give you the option of a typical small circular basket or a wider powder basket that looks more like a snowflake. Changing one out for another is a simple task you can do on your own.
Grips are the top part of the pole where you place your hand. These are usually made of a softer material than the pole itself, so you can easily grip the poles all day long with no extra discomfort.
Grips come in all sorts of shapes and styles. The one you pick comes down to personal preference. They can be a simple shape that adds a little width and extra grip to hold onto or they might have a special shape design to fit your hand.
Grips are usually made of materials that will not absorb moisture, such as plastic or rubber. This is important to consider because your poles will see their fair share of moisture and weather while on the slopes.
Some backcountry-specific ski poles might have additional material on the grip to help you strap in and carry them when not in use.
Pole straps are extremely important and should be used at all times while skiing. They ensure your poles stay attached to your hands when you fall or let go. You know how essential straps can be if you have ever seen a lone pole lost below the chairlift.
They are affixed to the top portion of a ski pole, usually on top of the grip, and are typically a simple nylon fabric strap with a loop on the end for your wrist to pass through.
Strap design tends to be pretty basic. However, a few poles come with an innovative quick-release design in the case of a fall or accident.
Some ski poles are built with a telescoping design that allows them to be adjustable to different lengths. This is the desired option for many skiers for a few reasons.
Adjustable ski poles mean you can change the length of the poles for different situations. Backcountry skiers like this type of pole because they can be extended for uphill touring then shortened going downhill.
Adjustable poles are also a good option for kids because the poles can be adjusted as they grow. If you are the proud parent of a little ripper, you know how expensive it can be to keep up with new ski gear every year. Adjustable poles can work for many different heights.
If you do choose adjustable ski poles, make sure that they come with a high-quality locking mechanism to keep them securely in place at the desired height. All adjustable poles come with this option, but they can often fail or break during heavy use.
Read More: How to Choose Ski Poles
Useful Tips & Resources
While every skier should use poles, beginners may not know how to utilize them on the slopes best. I’d always recommend that new skiers take a lesson to learn the basics of how to use their gear.
The pole plant is a basic technique that will help you turn better. Check out this post for some great tips on how to use ski poles at a basic level.
Another good thing to know about your ski poles is how to change out your baskets. As I touched on earlier, baskets can be changed out on the fly to adapt to different conditions. On powder days, you want powder baskets, while smaller ones are good for better weather.
Luckily, it’s really easy to change out baskets. Here is a quick video that explains the process.
If you want to learn even more about ski poles, check out this in-depth look. Not everyone will want to know the ins and outs of ski pole science, but if you are a real ski nerd, that post is well worth checking out.
The Volkl Phantastick Carbon is my top pick for the best overall ski poles of the season. These are a great option all-around and will deliver excellent balance and durability for skiers of all ability levels.
Ski poles may seem like a simple aspect of your setup, but they are also very important. Every model that you see on this list will provide you with a reliable construction that translates into effective on-snow performance.