The 6 Most Recommended Ski PolesPublished on 07/01/2023 · 8 min readNavigate the slopes with the right pair of ski poles! Check out these top 6 Expert-picked options, selected for their durability, comfort, and design!
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tl;dr Ski poles are an essential component of every skier's quiver. Since there's an absurd number of options, each with different baskets, grips, straps, construction, and weights, it's easy to get overwhelmed with all the choices. For this ski pole guide, I've detailed popular differences and features, followed by my top picks for every situation.
Ski poles. Great for turn initiation and stabilization on steep slopes. Excellent for pulling yourself (and the occasional snowboarder) across the flats. Nice for leaning against when the line at the chair lift is long. Handy if you don't want to bend over to step out of your bindings. Surprisingly effective at waving down lost and confused friends. An expert skier might even be able to pop open a beer with these sticks. Let’s go over everything you need to know to choose the best option for your style.
Popular Features and Common Questions
Aluminum vs. Carbon: What's the Difference and Why Should I Care?
Aluminum poles are cheaper and more durable. However, carbon poles are lighter weight and have shock-absorbing/vibration-dampening properties. I always recommend that children and beginners ride with either no poles or aluminum poles. Only expert and advanced skiers would notice and appreciate what carbon fiber poles have to offer.
Further, bamboo poles are making a comeback in the ski industry. They are a more sustainable and eco-friendly option, but are usually heavier.
Regular Baskets vs. Powder Baskets: Which Do I Need?
Snow baskets fit on the bottom of your ski poles and are designed to prevent your poles from diving too deep into the snow, allowing you to pivot and balance with greater ease. These can be purchased separately, but at least one pair (if not two) are included when purchasing your new pair of ski poles. Regular baskets are smaller and best for groomed trails and hard packed terrain. Powder baskets have more surface area and make pole planting much easier in softer snow and powder.
Expert Tip: If you are having a hard time installing your baskets, warm the plastic basket in hot water. This makes the plastic softer and easier to pop over the edge of the pole tip.
Adjustable, Foldable vs. Fixed Heights: Which is Best?
Some poles come with adjustable or fixed heights. Others can be compacted for easier packing and storage. If you find yourself mostly skiing at resorts - a fixed height pole is the best option. Fixed height ski poles are the most durable and, for this reason, the most popular. Adjustable and foldable poles are best for those who are planning a backcountry or ski mountaineering adventure. They can be adjusted for both uphill and downhill travel and be safely stored away during more technical ascents or descents. This flexibility and these features equate to more moving parts and less durability. Foldable poles can be stored in a backpack, which is ideal for a splitboarder, whereas adjustable poles cannot.
Men’s vs. Women’s Poles: Is There Really a Difference?
Yes - there is a difference, although it is better to call these options unisex or women’s poles. Poles that are listed as “women’s” generally come in smaller lengths, different colors, and sometimes have grips that are designed with smaller hands in mind.
How Do I Find the Right Ski Pole Length?
One way to find the right length is to use a ski pole size chart, but these are based on the average arm length for each respective height. The best way to make sure you have the right size is to hold your pole upside down, hand under the basket with ski boots on. If your elbow makes a 90 degree angle, the poles are the correct size.
Why do children often ski without poles?
You’ll often see little rippers racing down the mountain - most of the time without poles. Poles aid in balance and turn initiation, and teaching newer skiers how to ski without the aid of poles develops ideal ski form and strength that becomes muscle memory. When used improperly, ski poles can encourage us to use our back and arm muscles to help make turns, as opposed to our core muscles. In an ideal world, you would wait as long as possible before exposing your children to ski poles. Kids also grow quickly - and grow out of poles faster than you might expect.
Expert Recommended Ski Poles
1. The Best for Alpine and Resort Days: Black Crow Oxus Ski Poles
While technically a backcountry pole, the Black Crow Oxus Ski Poles make a strong contender for a top-tier alpine pole. Although they are on the more expensive end for an aluminum pole, you get a great mix of durability and lightweight construction. This particular combination can stand aggressive and hard skiing. Even though these don’t have an ergonomic handle, I still find the extended foam handles, paired with the lightweight construction, to be quite comfortable. This particular design also makes it a lot easier for mitten or three-fingered glove-wearing skiers to grab them.
- Extended foam grips for easy holding and flexible basket that adjusts to uneven or unpredictable terrain
- Black Crows are cool—they come in a variety of colors and styles to help you stand out on the hill or match your current skis. They also come in neutral colors
- No ergonomic handle
2. The Best Women’s Specific Option: Leki Carbon 14 3D Ski Poles
Leki focuses on constructing the best poles for every sport - ranging from skiing to trail running to mountaineering. It’s their niche product and they do a fantastic job of designing durable and reliable poles. More specifically - their design of the Carbon 14 3D Ski Poles is perfect for the intermediate, advanced, and expert skier. The 100% carbon shaft makes for lightweight pole plants, but also provides the strength to handle ripping hard down the mountain.
- Race-inspired grip designed with a release mechanism to improve safety in the event of a crash or accident
- Unique strap fits over both gloves and mittens and “clicks” into the pole
- Contoured grip made for smaller hands
- Can take time to get used to the strap system
3. The Best Budget Option: Salomon Arctic S3 Ski Poles
Coming in at about half the price at the Oxus Poles, the Salomon Arctic S3 Ski Poles are my favorite budget-friendly ski pole to recommend. I’ve had the same pair of Salomon poles for almost 10 years, and other than a slight bend and a couple scratches from crashing into a tree when I was 17, they are in top-notch condition.
- Ergonomic grip for comfort and Salomon’s safety strap technology (auto-release)
- Tough, durable and reliable. These poles can literally handle anything you throw at them
- Heavy compared to other options
- Comes only with regular baskets
4. The Extreme Budget Option: Atomic Cloud or Atomic AMT Ski Poles
For those looking to spend around $35 dollars on a pair of ski poles, I would go with the Atomic Cloud Ski Poles or the Atomic AMT Ski Poles. They’re a bare bones option with no notable features, but they’ll save you a little bit of cash. These are a great option for kids and teens that are still growing.
- Super budget option
- Exceptionally durable for the price point
- You get the quality you pay for
5. The Best for Backcountry Skiing: DPS Extendable Ski Poles
For backcountry skiers, the DPS Extendable Ski Poles are the best blend of weight and durability. They feature an aluminum and carbon fiber shaft that improves the stability and strength of the pole. I’ve tried these out in the backcountry and on the resort and I was quite impressed with how stable they were.
- Extended, ergonomic rubber grip and high quality level lock for stable hold
- Light enough for the backcountry, but strong enough to handle the occasional resort day
- There are lighter options available
6. The Best for Backcountry Splitboarding: Black Diamond Carbon Compactor Ski Poles
For splitboarders, the Black Diamond Carbon Compactor Ski Poles are the clear winner. They’re foldable, adjustable and lightweight, making them easy to pack in or strap to a bag on any descent.
- Perfect for ascent only use and pack down small for descents
- Complete carbon construction for weight saving properties. This translates to less durability on descents (not an issue for splitboarders)
- Less sturdy and rigid than non-foldable options
Finding the Right Ski Poles for You
My final piece of advice for backcountry skiers: backcountry-specific poles are expensive and it’s worth spending a little more for a lightweight and durable pole. I used regular resort poles for my first two seasons in the backcountry without a problem before splurging on a nicer pair of adjustable carbon poles.
A quality pair of ski poles to keep you having a good time on the mountain for years to come is an essential. If you need help picking out the best ski poles and refining your ski gear, you can reach out to me or one of my fellow Ski Experts here on Curated for free, personalized recommendations.