Ski poles may not seem necessary to beginners, but they are incredibly important both on-piste and out in the backcountry. The gear adds much needed balance to your runs and provides you with extra stability regardless of where you like to ride. They can truly make you a better skier.
Poles have been around for nearly as long as skiing. The earliest known poles come from Sweden and date back to around 3623 BC. There are even cave paintings showing poles much older than that. These early poles were almost certainly used for balance, and enabled the skiers to push along flat snow.
While the basic design and use of ski poles has not changed much over the years, the technology and materials certainly have. Many skiers don’t think twice about which poles they purchase as long as they are the right size. In this article, we will take a look at some of the best ski poles available, the differences between each one, and how good ski poles can improve your skiing experience.
- Quick Summary
- Who Should Get This
- Best Ski Poles in 2020: What to Consider
- Best Ski Poles in 2020: Our Picks
- 1. Best Alpine Ski Poles: Solomon MTN Carbon S3
- 2. Black Diamond Boundary Carbon
- 3. Best Budget Ski Poles: Black Crows Meta Poles
- 4. Rossignol Stovepipe Sr.
- 5. Best Backcountry Ski Poles: K2 Lock Jaw Carbon Plus
- 6. Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro
- 7. Best Bamboo Ski Pole: Liberty Skis Retro Light Bamboo Tribal Pole
- 8. EM-EL Bogner Bamboo Ski Poles
- 9. Best Kids Ski Poles: Solomon Kaloo Junior Alpine Ski Poles
- 10. Best Racing Ski Pole: LEKI Worldcup Racing GS Pole
- Useful Tips and Resources
- Final Thoughts
- One of my personal favorite ski poles and a great option for any alpine skier is the Solomon MTN Carbon S3. These are lightweight, strong and built to withstand serious use and abuse. Another awesome choice for downhill style skiers is the Black Diamond Boundary Carbon.
- For skiers who don’t need anything fancy, you can save money with the Black Crows Meta Poles and the Rossignol Stovepipe Sr. Both are great budget options.
- Backcountry and touring skiers need poles built specifically for the needs of that style. If you’re looking for ski poles to take on backcountry pursuits, take a look at the K2 Lock Jaw Carbon Plus and the Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro.
- If you want to throw a little old school style into your skiing setup, you might want to look at wooden or bamboo poles. These are the type of poles I typically ski on these days because I love their durability. Some great non-metal ski poles are the Liberty Skis Retro Light Bamboo Tribal Ski Pole and the EM-EL Bogner Bamboo Ski Poles.
- A great kids ski pole is the Solomon Kaloo Junior Alpine Ski Poles.
- Ski racers will love the feel and performance of the LEKI Worldcup Racing GS Pole.
Who Should Get This
Nearly every skier needs a good set of ski poles. I’ll explain a few circumstances where you may not need or want poles shortly, but 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 important. If you have ever tried to skin or traverse uphill without poles, you know how difficult the task becomes. 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 on 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.
Best Ski Poles in 2020: What to Consider
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 main materials that skis are made of today are carbon fiber, aluminum, and bamboo.
Carbon fiber poles are quite common because the material is both strong and lightweight. That makes for good ski poles, and is especially useful in the backcountry. I once bent a carbon fiber pole almost entirely in half and it snapped right back into place. 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 normal small circular basket or a powder basket that is wider and 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 definitely 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 the poles 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. If you have ever seen a lone pole lost below the chairlift, you know how important straps can be. 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 that has a loop on the end for your wrist to pass through.
Strap design tends to be pretty basic. However, there are a few poles that 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 on the 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 it can often fail or break during heavy use. Always read reviews on durability before making your final purchase.
Best Ski Poles in 2020: Our Picks
1. Best Alpine Ski Poles: Solomon MTN Carbon S3
One of the best options for alpine skiers is the Solomon MTN Carbon S3. These are a lightweight, durable option that comes with a carbon shaft reinforced with Kevlar. This reinforcement comes in handy when bombing down groomers at high speeds or tackling serious conditions in the backcountry and is accented by a super-strong carbide tip.
These poles are adjustable from 110-135 cm, which enables you to tackle variable conditions based on the weather or your slope angle. The easy-lock system is sturdy, and the wrist-release system frees your hands in case of a bad fall. As a bonus, the grips are constructed out of a comfortable and durable S3 rubber and foam.
- Wrist-release system
- Reinforced Kevlar design
- Comfortable grip
- Adjustable design is not every skier’s preference
The Black Diamond Boundary Carbon is another great all-around ski pole perfect for alpine skiers. This is another lightweight-but-strong ski pole. It weighs in at 16.4 ounces and has a unique feel that similar models lack. The poles also come equipped with 3-inch easily interchangeable freeride baskets.
The Boundary poles also have a reinforced bottom half that prevents cracking and further increases strength. They also come with a SwitchRelease breakaway technology strap that allows for easy removal in certain situations. The grip fits comfortably in any hand, and the straps are easy for gloves and mittens to fit through.
- Lightweight carbon fiber construction
- Reinforced bottom half
- Comfortable grip
- SwitchRelease breakaway technology
- Nice strap
- Breakaway strap can be difficult to reattach
3. Best Budget Ski Poles: Black Crows Meta Poles
If you want a solid, affordable ski pole that can handle most conditions, check out the Black Crows Meta Poles. These poles are made with an aluminum alloy construction and have an 18mm width. The aluminum build means they are a bit heavier than more expensive options, but they still hold up to all the trials of the mountain.
These poles have a cool and somewhat flashy look to them, and they are available in several color options. The classic design won’t turn any heads, but they will get you through most situations. They are somewhat heavy, weighing in at 230 grams per pole, but most in-bounds skiers won’t mind the extra heft. The Meta Poles are a solid option for any skier who wants to save some money.
- Sturdy aluminum build
- Classic look
- Nice grips and straps
- Several colors available
- On the heavier side
- Short grip
- Small baskets
- Aluminum can bend under high stress
Another great budget option for ski poles is the Rossignol Stovepipe Sr. These poles are constructed with a full Dural aluminum construction that makes them sturdy and reliable. They are 18 mm wide and have a classic look with a tapered bottom half. These are basic poles that will work well for beginner skiers. They are also quite affordable, making them perfect for those looking to get their own gear for the first time.
These poles come equipped with a bi-mat basket and have a durable carbide tip. They are on the heavier side for an aluminum pole, but if weight is not a major concern, these are great for all skiing styles. They also have a nicely molded race-style grip with comfortable nylon straps.
- Sturdy aluminum construction
- Solid race grip
- Carbide tip
- Grip is short for large hands
- Small basket
5. Best Backcountry Ski Poles: K2 Lock Jaw Carbon Plus
If you’re serious about backcountry skiing, you want to get the best gear to take out there with you. The K2 Lock Jaw Carbon Plus poles are some of the best backcountry ski poles you can find. These poles are built with a light-but-sturdy carbon fiber and aluminum construction. They are the latest version of a style K2 has been working on for a while now and they deliver everything a backcountry enthusiast would want.
These poles are fully adjustable, and the brands LockJaw system is one of the best locking mechanisms around. The poles are also equipped with an inclinometer on the top of the grip, which allows you to quickly see your slope angle. You can also screw the two lower portions of each pole together for a quick and easy snowpack probe.
- Great backcountry ski pole
- Fully adjustable
- Excellent Lock Jaw mechanism
- Comes with inclinometer
- Comfortable grip
- Two-part poles can come apart if not securely locked in place
- Straps can run small
The Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro is another great backcountry option. These poles are built with all of the needs of backcountry skiers in mind, starting with their hybrid carbon fiber and aluminum construction. These are incredibly durable and reinforced in a way that enables them to handle any and all terrain.
The poles come with a FlintLock Pro adjustment system that keeps the length fully locked and ready for action. The grip is specifically designed for touring and feels comfortable when generating extra momentum when pushing uphill or along flat snow. These poles also have a SwitchRelease technology built into the writs straps for easy release in the case of a snag or fall.
- Excellent backcountry pole
- Well-designed FlintLock adjustment system
- SwitchRelease straps
- Grip designed for touring
- Carbon fiber can be a bit flimsy
7. Best Bamboo Ski Pole: Liberty Skis Retro Light Bamboo Tribal Pole
Bamboo ski poles are my personal favorite option for their throwback look and phenomenal durability. If you want to try some great bamboo poles the Liberty Skis Retro Light Bamboo Tribal Pole is a solid option. This model is not entirely bamboo, as it is constructed out of a carbon core with a bamboo wood wrap, but that design allows for a lighter weight and is more durable than most carbons styles.
These poles also come with great-looking leather grips that can hold up for a long, long time. They also come equipped with nice powder baskets and have a strong tungsten and carbide tip. These are built to truly last.
- Durable and strong
- Great look
- Bamboo wrapped
- Comfortable grips and straps
- Not 100 percent bamboo
- Leather grips can wear out due to weather and sun
Another great bamboo pole is the EM-EL Bogner. These poles have a unique, futuristic look that’s quite different from similar models. They also come with a 16mm inner tube that’s constructed from a carbon blend material and wrapped in bamboo before being coated with a clear sealant. This design offers the strength and durability of bamboo with the lightweight of carbon.
These poles are expensive. However, they are great options for those that want to stand out on the mountain. The grip is made of a cork-like material that adds to the visual appeal of these poles. These are easy to hold and they come with a well-designed carbide tip.
- Great design
- Unique look
- Strong and durable
- Baskets are small
9. Best Kids Ski Poles: Solomon Kaloo Junior Alpine Ski Poles
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 kids 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.
- Great pole for kids
- Multiple color options
- Comfortable grips and straps
- Not extremely durable
- Small basket
10. Best Racing Ski Pole: LEKI Worldcup Racing GS Pole
Ski racers have entirely different needs and demands that regular skiers. If you’re a ski racer who wants specific poles built for your discipline, 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 an extremely comfortable grip. The straps feature a secure and fully-formed velcro attachment that will give you a solid push out of the gate.
- Great ski race pole
- Curved ergonomic design
- Quick-release trigger system
- Straps designed for racing
- Only intended for racing purposes
- Aluminum construction is fairly heavy
Useful Tips and Resources
While every skier should use poles, beginners may not know how to best utilize them on the slopes. I’d always recommend for new skiers to take a lesson so they can 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 video for some great tips and tricks on how to perfect the move.
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 if you don’t know how. 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.
Ski poles do not always get a lot of attention. While just about any pole can work on the mountain, if you want the best option for your ability, it’s good to know what’s out there and the difference between your choices. Always go with the one that’s the most comfortable and best suits your needs.
Have you ever had a favorite ski pole? What made it so great? Let us know in the comments below!