It’s hard not to admire the utility of the humble ski pole. A pair of ski poles serves a number of purposes, from helping you set a rhythm for turns, to propelling you along flat sections of trail, to having a crutch to lean on in long lift lines. For this list, we’ve broken our top picks for the 2022 season into two categories: downhill poles intended for running laps at the resort and lightweight backcountry designs for touring. For further guidance, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Shaft: Aluminum (16mm)
Baskets: Standard, powder
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 1.6 oz.
What we like: Ergonomic grip and slick strap system.
What we don’t: Pricey for an aluminum pole.
For all-mountain skiing, sturdy aluminum poles make the most sense. They’re durable—usually bending from a hard impact rather than breaking like carbon fiber—and plenty lightweight for days at the resort. Our favorite aluminum downhill pole is the Leki Detect S, which hits the mark with its tough construction, ergonomic grips, and innovative strap system. It lacks the weightless feeling of a full carbon design, but it also undercuts those poles by $20 or more and should last longer.
The “S” in the name stands for Leki’s Trigger S system, which allows you to separate the strap from the pole. We’ve found it practical for getting on and off the chairlift, although the time saved is pretty minimal. There also is a safety element to the design: a built-in spring will release the strap under upward tension, disconnecting you from a potentially hazardous swinging ski pole. Added up, given its combination of performance, features, and price, we consider the Detect S the best all-around ski pole on the market for the 2022 season. For another quality resort design from Leki, see their Bold Lite S, which costs the same but features different grips and straps and boasts an ice tip for firmer conditions.
See the Leki Detect S
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Baskets: Standard, powder
What we like: All the weekend resort skier really needs and now comes with two baskets.
What we don’t: Not a performance ski pole.
Ski poles aren’t all that exciting, but Volkl’s Phantastick does an admirable job at pumping some life into a relatively simple design. Specifically, the range of colors (including yellow, green, and red) and vibrant grips stand out among a pretty dull crowd of competitors. It also helps that they’re priced right at $59 and tough with an 18-millimeter diameter shaft, making them among the most popular ski poles on the market. And with the latest version of the Phantastick, you now get both standard and powder baskets, which only adds to the all-around value (past models only came with regular baskets).
Outside of the flashy appearance, the poles are standard fare but plenty good for most downhill skiers. The alloy construction is heavier than carbon or even premium aluminum and it lacks the slick strap system of poles like the Leki above, but it is also significantly cheaper than a “performance” ski pole. And that extra money could instead be allocated to better skis or boots—gear that will have a much more significant impact on true performance. For these reasons, the Volkl Phantastick is our favorite budget option.
See the Volkl Phantastick
Shaft: Carbon composite (22mm)
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 1.6 oz.
What we like: A light-but-tough option that can hold its own in deep powder.
What we don’t: Expensive for only modest weight savings and basic grips.
In contrast to the aluminum models above, Black Crows opted for carbon composite with their premium Furtis poles. While this often translates to a drop in durability—carbon is vulnerable to breaking from hard impacts—Black Crows did a good job combatting the typical pitfalls by using a beefed-up, 22-millimeter shaft (the thickest on our list by 4mm). This doesn’t fundamentally change carbon’s tendency to crack under stress, but it would take a lot of force to snap these poles. And if weight matters to you, the Furtis checks in at just over 1 pound per pair and feels very light in the hands.
The biggest downside of the Black Crows Furtis is cost. Carbon doesn’t come cheap, and these poles are among the more affordable all-carbon options at $150. Among the downhill-focused designs here, only Leki’s Carbon 14 3D below is pricier at $160, although that pole uses a much thinner 14-millimeter shaft that won’t stand up as well to long-term, aggressive use. Another drawback is the Furtis’ round and fairly basic grip, which isn’t as comfortable for all-day use as more upgraded, ergonomic designs. Finally, casual resort-goers who don’t care too much about weight can save considerably with a simple aluminum model like the Volkl Phantastick above or K2 Freeride 18 below. But we really like the Furtis for its balance of weight and sturdiness, and the 90-millimeter powder basket and extended grips make it a viable option for the occasional tour.
See the Black Crows Furtis
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Baskets: Standard, powder
What we like: Simple yet functional design for both on- and off-piste use.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Phantastick above without enough to show for it.
Seattle-based K2 has been a major player in the ski industry since the 1960s, and their well-sorted pole collection covers nearly all price points and riding styles. We especially like their midrange Freeride 18, which is a simple yet functional design for skiers that split time on- and off-piste. The construction is decidedly barebones, but the sturdy build—for reference, the 7075 aluminum is notably stronger than the 6061 you get with the Rossignol Tactic below—is a great match for aggressive resort use.
The Freeride shares a lot in common with our top budget pick, the Volkl Phantastick above. Both have hardwearing aluminum constructions, 18-millimeter shafts, similarly shaped grips, and come with both hardpack and powder baskets for season-long use. We rank the Volkl higher because of its very similar overall performance at a $21 savings, but the K2 is no slouch, and hard-charging resort riders really can’t go wrong with either.
See the K2 Freeride 18
Shaft: Carbon fiber (14mm)
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 0.6 oz.
What we like: Stiff carbon fiber that’s light; Trigger 3D system adds an extra dose of safety.
What we don’t: Thin and even more expensive than the Black Crows Furtis above.
Leki revamped their popular Trigger strap system last season with the Trigger 3D. The biggest change was an increase in the strap’s release angle to 220 degrees, which makes it easier to come out in the event of a crash. The Carbon 14 3D listed here incorporates the latest tech and is one of the most premium designs on our list. The feel and swing weight are fantastic, and the carbon fiber has a nice flex for effortless transitions between turns (aluminum feels stiff by comparison). With only a 14-millimeter diameter, the Lekis are thin, but the high-quality build holds up well to everyday downhill punishment—just avoid the terrain park.
As with other pure carbon ski poles, the Leki’s biggest downsides are price and durability. For reference, the Carbon 14 3D costs $10 more than the Black Crows Furtis above without offering much added performance on the slopes. They do weigh around an ounce less per pair, but that’s a negligible difference. And the thin construction and standard baskets limit its usefulness to bombing down groomed runs (for reference, the Furtis comes with wider and more versatile powder baskets). But for those that can afford it and ski enough to enjoy it, the Carbon 14 3D is a great high-end ski pole from one of the best brands in the business. For a cheaper aluminum option that shares many of the same features, see Leki’s Spitfire 3D.
See the Leki Carbon 14 3D
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Baskets: Standard, powder
What we like: Tough, reliable build with Scott’s unique strap safety feature.
What we don’t: The most expensive aluminum alpine poles on our list.
Scott is a stalwart in the ski industry, and their Team Issue SRS pole is a tough, no-nonsense downhill design. Where it stands out is durability: the quality S4 aluminum along with an 18-millimeter-diameter shaft make for a robust pole built for aggressive riding. And Scott also included their SRS—short for Strap Release System—technology, which disconnects the strap from the pole if it gets caught on a tree or chairlift. This added safety feature, along with the Team Issue's sturdy construction, makes it a great option for anything from carving groomers to taking big hits in the terrain park.
At $110, the Scott Team Issue SRS falls into a bit of an awkward spot pricewise. It’s cheaper than carbon options like the Leki Carbon 14 3D and Black Crows Furtis above but pricier than aluminum designs like the Volkl Phantastic ($59) and K2 Freeride 18 ($80), both of which are also very tough and reliable with 18-millimeter aluminum shafts. Additionally, all three models come with both standard and powder baskets for venturing off-piste. The Scott is the only one to include the strap safety feature, but whether that’s worth the additional $30-$50 is up to you.
See the Scott Team Issue SRS
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
What we like: A functional, good-looking all-mountain design at a great price.
What we don’t: Only comes with powder baskets.
Black Crows is known for their colorful and contemporary skis, and that personality trickles down nicely into their ski pole collection. The Meta is case in point: for just $50, you get a great-looking pole with poppy chevron patterning (many of their skis display similar shapes on their topsheets) and a nice selection of bright colorways. And unlike the similarly budget-friendly Rossignol Tactic below, the Meta boasts wide powder baskets that make it the more capable choice for sidecountry use and areas that get consistently good snowfall.
It’s worth noting that Black Crows opted for 5083 grade aluminum here, which is impressively strong for its weight. Hitting big drops or features at the park wreaks havoc on all ski pole designs, but the Black Crows is well-equipped to handle regular use and abuse. We do wish the poles also came with smaller-diameter hardpack baskets for high-speed use on groomers, but for only $50, the Meta is an impressively well-rounded and fun option that’s sure to stand out on the slopes.
See the Black Crows Meta
Shaft: Carbon (10.4mm)
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 2.7 oz.
What we like: Super light, low drag, and affordable for a full carbon build.
What we don’t: Not very durable.
Goode is credited with starting the carbon fiber trend for ski poles about 30 years ago. And our current favorite in their lineup, the G-Carbon, holds true to the brand’s history of high-quality designs. What immediately jumps out is the very thin diameter of the pole: while most lightweight models are about 14 millimeters around, the G-Carbon is a spindly 10.4 millimeters. This “pencil” design keeps weight and drag to an absolute minimum, and the non-tapered shape gives the Goode pole a smooth flex for transitioning between turns.
The G-Carbon is impressively strong given the thin construction, but it’s not one we’d recommend for off-trail use or if you’re hard on your gear. Instead, it's a great match for flying down a groomer where its effortless swing weight and aerodynamics shine. And we’d be remiss not to mention price here: at $100, the G-Carbon is an excellent value and the cheapest fully carbon option on our list by a wide margin. Take good care of it, and you won’t be disappointed. For another affordably priced carbon option from Goode, check out their $60 SuperMax, which lacks the feathery swing weight of the G-Carbon but is another well-executed design from the Utah-based brand.
See the Goode G-Carbon
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
What we like: The most affordable pole on our list.
What we don’t: Very basic and a little heavy.
For beginner skiers, a ski pole functions as a way to set a rhythm for your turns and boost yourself up after a fall. The materials, weight, and ergonomics matter very little—just make sure to get the proper length. For these basic needs, the Rossignol Tactic is a great value option. It uses a heavier and cheaper aluminum than our top picks, but that means very little for cruising the green runs.
Compared with the $10-pricier Black Crows Meta above, the Tactic is the preferred option for hardpack. It includes a smaller-diameter basket (60mm vs. the Meta’s 90mm) that won’t get in the way, and its shaft has the same 18-millimeter diameter as the Black Crows for decent durability (although the Meta uses higher-strength aluminum). Plus, the Tactic’s modest color scheme may appeal to folks that aren’t ready to draw too much attention to their developing skillset. For a similar design at a lighter weight, check out Rossignol’s Tactic Carbon, which integrates 20 percent carbon in the shaft and retails for a reasonable $80.
See the Rossignol Tactic
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 2 oz.
What we like: Sustainability focus and made in the U.S.
What we don’t: Unproven long-term durability.
Unlike the options above, Grass Sticks uses an all-bamboo construction in their poles, and we think the material choice makes a lot of sense: bamboo is reasonably strong but still flexible enough to bend rather than snap under pressure, and it doesn’t require the same amount of resources to manufacture and produce as aluminum or carbon. Further, these poles are made in the U.S. (in the ski town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to be exact) and stand out among the fairly dull and muted competition with their light-colored shafts and vibrant straps and grips.
Why do we have the Original Bamboo poles ranked here? Despite the sustainability focus and trendy looks, these poles don’t have the time-tested track record of the models above. Grass Sticks does provide a lifetime warranty on their poles, which adds a nice dose of assurance, but long-term durability still is unproven compared to seasoned brands like Leki and Black Diamond. And the Grass Sticks are decidedly on the basic end of the spectrum, with simple rubber grips and only one included basket (you can purchase more separately). These concerns are enough to push the bamboo poles down our list, but they’re undeniably a fun option at a decent price.
See the Grass Sticks Original Bamboo
Shaft: Aluminum (14mm)/carbon fiber (12mm)
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 2 oz.
What we like: Light feel and premium build.
What we don’t: Expensive and you'll need to be careful with the carbon lower.
With backcountry ski gear, you’re constantly trying to balance weight with performance and durability, and nobody pulls that off better than Black Diamond. Their Razor Carbon Pro Pole is our top choice for ski touring and finds that happy medium. The two-piece design has a durable aluminum upper that is as thick as many downhill poles at 14 millimeters, but it keeps the weight in check at 1 pound 2 ounces (for the 100-125cm version) by using a thin 12-millimeter carbon fiber lower. So long as you avoid smacking the carbon section on a rock, the poles should hold up for the long term.
The quality of the construction also plays a big role in their number-one ranking. Black Diamond uses our favorite adjustment system here, the FlickLock Pro, which has given us secure, slip-free support for both backpacking and skiing (note: the system has recently been updated with a forged aluminum build that’s lighter but still highly durable). All told, it’s glove-friendly, simple in use, and trustworthy. Further, you get nice touches like a touring ring for choking up in short, steep sections or traverses and breakaway grips in case the poles get stuck in place or you crash. In the end, the Razor Carbon Pro wins out not because it’s the lightest or most affordable—it’s not—but it’s a good one to trust on deep backcountry explorations.
See the Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm/16mm)
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 6 oz.
What we like: A robust and fully featured backcountry pole.
What we don’t: All-aluminum construction adds weight; standard baskets sold separately.
G3 is a backcountry-focused company, so it comes as no surprise that their Via ski poles are a real standout for touring. Offered in both carbon and aluminum options, we’ve included the latter here for its excellent combination of durability and all-around performance. The two-section design collapses down reasonably small for strapping to the outside of a pack (collapsed length is 37.4 in. for a size small and 45.3 for the long version), and the hooked tip on the foam grip is very functional for adjusting your bindings’ heel risers on steep slopes (there are also attachment points for securing tent guylines). Finally, we appreciate the extended grips and removable straps, both of which can help when navigating tricky terrain.
It’s worth noting that we previously had the aforementioned Via Carbon on our list, which shares many of the same features including the hooked tip, good collapsibility, extended grips, and removable straps. As expected, the carbon variation wins out in weight at 1 pound 2.2 ounces per pair (around 4 oz. less than the Via Aluminum), but the tradeoffs are a jump in price ($154) and more susceptibility to cracking from hard impacts. In this case, the value of the aluminum model is too hard for us to pass up.
See the G3 Via Aluminum
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 2.8 oz.
What we like: Excellent price for an adjustable and durable backcountry pole.
What we don’t: A little heavier than carbon and doesn’t collapse down very small.
Backcountry ski poles are an expensive bunch, but Leki offers a surprisingly affordable and capable design in their Helicon. For just $80—a considerable $90 cheaper than our top-ranked Razor Carbon Pro—the Helicon boasts a full aluminum construction that’s hardwearing and confidence-inspiring for regular backcountry use. Like many of Leki’s more premium models, the Helicon retains comfortable ergonomic grips with extensions for traversing uneven slopes, as well as reliable adjustability for customizing length depending on terrain or to stow in or on a pack. Rounding out the build are versatile touring baskets that feature a small edge, great for adjusting heel risers or scraping snow off your skins.
As we’ve covered above, aluminum is heavier than carbon, although the Leki Helicon checks in at a reasonable 1 pound 2.8 ounces per pair. Their collapsed length isn’t particularly impressive at 37 inches—for reference, the BD Razor Carbon Pro above is 36 inches when collapsed, while Leki’s upgraded TourStick Vario Carbon V below measures just 16.5 inches and is much easier to stow in a pack when you need to go hands-free. But for the price, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better mix of durability, weight, and overall performance, earning the Helicon a spot high on our list for 2022.
See the Leki Helicon
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Weight per pair: 15.2 oz.
What we like: Great mix of sturdiness, reliability, and weight for aggressive riding.
What we don’t: Pricey for a non-adjustable aluminum build.
The touring options above are all adjustable in length, but there’s something to be said for the simplicity of a one-piece pole. Black Crows’ Onux is just that: you don’t get the ability to change length, but its burly, all-aluminum construction easily outperforms the competition in toughness. And importantly, despite the streamlined build, the Onux includes a number of helpful features like extended grips for a more natural hand position while touring and traversing, easily adjustable straps, and rotating powder baskets for navigating uneven terrain. Finally, like Black Crows’ alpine-focused Furtis and Meta above, the Onux is good-looking and stylish with bright, fun patterning that stands out on the slopes.
Despite its thick 18-millimeter aluminum shaft, the Black Crows Onux manages to check in at a scant 15.2 ounces per pair. This makes them the lightest option on our list and translates to an impressively low swing weight and feathery feel for extended tours and uphill pushes. That said, the rest of the design is fairly basic: the grips are made of foam and not ergonomic, and the baskets don’t have a notch for adjusting bindings. Further, on particularly steep or tricky slopes, we like the ability to compress our poles and strap them to our pack to free our hands. For $30 less, the Helicon above offers adjustability for only a few ounces more per pair and comes with more comfortable grips and better-executed baskets. But the tradeoff is greater reliability, and the Onux is a confidence-inspiring option for aggressive riders that seek out big lines or are prone to bending their adjustable poles.
See the Black Crows Onux
Shaft: Aluminum (16mm/14mm)
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 1.8 oz.
What we like: Tough for its weight; choke-up grip is very functional.
What we don’t: Just as pricey as some carbon designs.
We covered Scott’s Team Issue SRS above, which is great for resort use with a thick aluminum build and non-adjustable length. For venturing into the backcountry, however, their Proguide SRS adds a few key performance benefits. Namely, the telescoping design allows you to shorten the poles on the uphill or compress them down for stowing in a pack, and the thinner shaft (16mm at the top and 14mm at the bottom) keeps weight in check without compromising too much on durability. In fact, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how tough-feeling and confidence-inspiring these poles are considering their weight and diameter.
Similar to the Team Issue SRS above, the only major gripe we have with Scott’s Proguide SRS is price: at $130, these poles are undeniably expensive for an all-aluminum design and cost more than even some carbon options. You do get Scott’s SRS strap-release tech mentioned above, which adds some peace of mind for riding in tight spaces. And we like the choke-up grip too, which boasts cork at the top and a generous rubber sleeve below for navigating steep or off-camber slopes. Again, you can save significantly with a more basic aluminum option like the G3 Via Aluminum above, but the Scott’s thoughtful build and full feature set make it an appealing alternative for committed backcountry-goers.
See the Scott Proguide SRS Adjustable
Shaft: Carbon fiber (18mm)/aluminum (16mm, 14mm)
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 3.1 oz.
What we like: Compact and light.
What we don’t: Very expensive.
Drawing on innovations from both their downhill and trekking pole designs, the TourStick Vario Carbon is a feature-rich touring option. The pole looks like a standard two-piece adjustable design with its single lever lock, but it has a fun party trick: pulling the sections below the lever folds an additional two sections of the pole. This creates a very small packed size of 42 centimeters (16.5 in.)—most are around 100. For traveling or storing in a pack, it’s hard to beat the compact size of the TourStick.
The multi-section pole does have an impact on rigidity, and the mixture of carbon and aluminum doesn’t feel as stable as a standard two-piece backcountry pole. Otherwise, the Leki looks a lot like their downhill poles that made our list. The TourStick includes the Trigger S system, which separates the comfy strap from the ski pole for loading and unloading on the chairlift. And you get quality powder baskets for deep-snow adventuring.
See the Leki TourStick Vario Carbon V
Baskets: Standard, powder
Weight per pair: 1 lb. 2 oz.
What we like: A proven folding design that crosses over well for hiking.
What we don’t: More complex than standard telescoping poles.
For a cheaper, lighter, and even more compact option than the TourStick above, Black Diamond’s Alpine FLZ is a proven choice. The three-piece folding design collapses down to a diminutive 14.6 inches (for the 105-125cm version) and checks in at just 1 pound 2 ounces per pair, which is impressive given the all-aluminum construction. And like the brand’s Razor Carbon Pro above, the Alpine FLZ uses BD’s FlickLock Pro adjustment system for dialing in fit, which we’ve found to be very user-friendly and reliable. But perhaps the biggest draw is 4-season versatility: when the snow melts, simply swap the powder baskets to the included trekking baskets. For year-round adventures in the backcountry, the Alpine FLZ is a very appealing option.
All that said, as we saw with the TourStick above, the BD’s multi-section design translates to less sturdiness and rigidity. The aluminum build should stand up decently well to regular backcountry use, but the extra moving parts and components mean more potential failure points over time (some users have reported premature issues with the locking mechanisms and inner cables, in particular). But if you get out year-round and take good care of your gear, the Alpine FLZ is a versatile and well-executed design from a brand that specializes in remote mountain travel. For a ski-specific carbon alternative with the same Z-Pole folding technology, check out BD’s Carbon Compactor.
See the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ
Shaft: Aluminum (14mm)/carbon fiber (12mm)
Weight (single pole): 15.6 oz.
What we like: The ultimate ski mountaineering tool.
What we don’t: Expensive (sold as a single pole).
Ski mountaineering in steep, icy terrain comes with its own unique gear requirements, and the best ski mountaineering pole on the market is the distinctive Black Diamond Carbon Whippet. Sold as a single pole, the Whippet has a strong following in the backcountry community for its stainless steel pick at the front of the grip for self-arresting should you fall in a precarious spot. And Black Diamond updated the design fairly recently by adding a quick-release screw on the top of the grip, which allows you to easily remove the metal pick and store it while descending.
As with the other Black Diamond poles that made our list, the rest of the Whippet’s features are nicely thought out. Its two-piece construction is easy to adjust with the quality FlickLock Pro system, and it’s reasonably durable for a backcountry piece with a 14-millimeter aluminum upper and 12-millimeter carbon fiber lower. Clearly, this is a specific tool for a certain type of skier—don’t even think about taking it to the resort—but the Carbon Whippet offers an unmatched level of security should you find yourself bootpacking up a sketchy ridgeline. Note: stock has been limited this year, but you can put together a similar package by purchasing BD’s Traverse WR 2 poles ($125) and adding on the whippet accessory ($60) and pick protector ($2.75) separately.
See the Black Diamond Carbon Whippet
|Leki Detect S||$100||Downhill||Aluminum (16mm)||Standard, powder|
|Volkl Phantastick||$59||Downhill||Aluminum (18mm)||Standard, powder|
|Black Crows Furtis||$150||Downhill||Carbon composite (22mm)||Powder|
|K2 Freeride 18||$80||Downhill||Aluminum (18mm)||Standard, powder|
|Leki Carbon 14 3D||$160||Downhill||Carbon fiber (14mm)||Standard|
|Scott Team Issue SRS||$110||Downhill||Aluminum (18mm)||Standard, powder|
|Black Crows Meta||$50||Downhill||Aluminum (18mm)||Powder|
|Goode G-Carbon||$100||Downhill||Carbon (10.4mm)||Standard|
|Rossignol Tactic||$40||Downhill||Aluminum (18mm)||Standard|
|Grass Sticks Original Bamboo||$98||Downhill||Bamboo||Standard|
|Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro||$170||Backcountry||Aluminum (14mm)/carbon (12mm)||Powder|
|G3 Via Aluminum||$105||Backcountry||Aluminum (18mm/16mm)||Powder|
|Black Crows Onux||$110||Backcountry||Aluminum (18mm)||Powder|
|Scott Proguide SRS Adjustable||$130||Backcountry||Aluminum (16/14mm)||Powder|
|Leki TourStick Vario Carbon||$200||Backcountry||Carbon (18mm)/aluminum (16, 14mm)||Powder|
|Black Diamond Alpine FLZ||$170||Backcountry||Aluminum||Standard, powder|
|Black Diamond Carbon Whippet||$160||Backcountry||Aluminum (14mm)/carbon (12mm)||Powder|
- Intended Use
- Ski Pole Shaft Materials
- Shaft Diameter
- Ski Pole Weight
- Adjustable (Telescoping) vs. Fixed-Length Ski Poles
- Parts of a Ski Pole
- Other Ski Pole Features
- Choosing the Proper Ski Pole Length
For the majority of skiers, purchasing a set of poles is an afterthought or by necessity after breaking or losing an old pair. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to nail down which style is best for you. Below are common skier profiles and our recommended corresponding ski pole type:
Casual Groomed Runs: Fixed-length basic aluminum pole w/standard baskets
Hard-Charging Groomers: Fixed-length durable aluminum or carbon w/standard baskets
Backcountry Touring: Adjustable lightweight carbon fiber w/powder baskets
Mixed Snow Use: Fixed aluminum or carbon fiber (or combination of both) w/replaceable baskets
Terrain Park: Shorter-length, high-strength aluminum w/standard baskets
The vast majority of ski poles on the market have at least some aluminum in their construction, and most budget-focused resort models use all-aluminum shafts. Cost is a big reason, as lower-grade alloys can be extremely cheap to manufacture. Aluminum is also more prone to bending rather than snapping like carbon and fiberglass, but should you bend it, the poles can often be manipulated back into a reasonable shape.
There are varying thicknesses and qualities of aluminum. Opting for a more expensive and higher-grade aluminum (like you get with our top-rated Leki Detect S) will bring greater strength for the weight, which makes them feel lighter in your hands and should help prolong their lifespan. Casual resort skiing does not put a lot of stress on ski poles (for the most part), so a cheaper model like the Volkl Phantastick ($59)—although heavier and not as tough—is a fine choice. And should you break it, replacement costs are fairly minimal.
High-end performance and backcountry ski poles often tout a lightweight construction, which more often than not is because there’s carbon fiber in the build. And not only is carbon fiber lighter than aluminum, it also has a natural flex under light pressure in contrast to the stiffer alloy. However, unlike aluminum, which bends under heavy stress, carbon may splinter and break. As such, it’s not the best material for folks that are hard on their gear or if you hit big features in the terrain park or do the occasional cliff drop. Those skiers would be better served by a quality aluminum pole.
It's worth noting that none of our backcountry picks are made exclusively of carbon fiber (those with carbon mix in aluminum either at the top or bottom of the shaft for increased durability). While skiing off-piste, it’s common to encounter obstacles like rocks and trees, which means your poles have to be able to withstand significant impacts. Resort-focused models, on the other hand, can get away with using all-carbon constructions because inbounds use typically is a bit easier on your gear (there are of course exceptions). Again, carbon is undoubtedly the lightest option, but make sure to weigh the durability part of the equation too, and especially if most of your riding is done off-piste.
We’ve included a single bamboo model on our list above: the Grass Sticks Original Bamboo. Like aluminum, bamboo flexes under pressure rather than snapping, which translates to good all-around durability. But for many, the biggest draw is environmental: compared to aluminum or carbon models, bamboo poles need to undergo far less processing and require less energy output to be manufactured and produced. So far, reviews are positive, but bamboo still is less proven from a long-term durability standpoint. If you’re looking for a tried-and-true option for resort use, aluminum remains the most reliable material (and especially for particularly aggressive riders and park use).
The least common material used in ski pole construction is fiberglass. This is mostly due to its primary constraint: low levels of durability (even lower than a comparable carbon, aluminum, or bamboo pole). The appeal of fiberglass is that it shares similar traits as carbon but at a lower cost: both materials are lightweight and have a tendency to flex. As such, it’s best when blended to increase its structural support. Hybrid aluminum/fiberglass designs reduce weight without compromising as much on durability.
In addition to material, shaft diameter is also important to consider and closely corresponds with durability. The models on our list above range from 10.4 millimeters for the Goode G-Carbon all the way up to 22 millimeters for the Black Crows Furtis, which is a considerable spread. In practice, a thinner design like the G-Carbon or Leki Carbon 14 3D (14mm) is great for keeping weight low, but those poles aren’t all that robust for venturing off-trail where you’re likely to encounter rocks, trees, and other hazards. At the opposite end of the spectrum, stepping up to the 18-millimeter K2 Freeride or Scott Team Issue SRS makes a lot of sense for aggressive riders or those who regularly hit the terrain park. And poles in the 14- to 16-millimeter range strike a nice middle ground between weight and toughness.
The weight of a ski pole is most important for backcountry or sidecountry skiers, but resort-goers can still appreciate the lighter feel. The weight of a ski pole most often correlates with material type, but that doesn’t mean you should assume a carbon pole will always be the lightest option. As we touched on above, the thickness of the ski pole’s shaft also plays a role. If you are comparing an aluminum and carbon pole (with similar features) and the carbon is heavier, you can reasonably assume the carbon pole has a wider diameter.
Narrower construction of any material type will be less durable and have a lower stress tolerance, and as a result, we rarely recommend finding the absolute lightest ski pole available. Our backcountry ski pole recommendations—even the relatively thin Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro—are still tough enough to handle most ski conditions. Opting for an ultralight, all-carbon pole is a viable choice for those embarking on multi-day ski touring missions or skimo races, but expect durability and longevity to drop significantly. In the end, finding the right balance between weight and durability for your particular style of riding should be a key consideration in your ski pole purchase.
An adjustable ski pole is best for out-of-bounds use, and particularly when touring. The reasoning is fairly simple: you’ll typically want a shorter length for the uphill and longer for flat sections and downhill. Further, if you need to use your hands for scrambling or navigating up an icy slope with an ice axe, it’s nice to be able to compress your poles to stow them in or on your pack (a big reason we like the compact Leki TourStick Vario, which measures just over 16 in. when collapsed). The main disadvantage of a telescoping pole is the possibility for the clamp to not hold and collapse unexpectedly when you plant. In addition, the separate sections create inherent weak points in the design for potential failure. Choosing a pole from a reputable brand with great locking mechanisms and top-quality materials like Black Diamond, G3, Leki, and K2 always is a good idea, and make sure to test to make sure the clamps are properly tightened before heading out.
If you exclusively ride inbounds, however, a fixed-length model will save you some money and have fewer moving parts that can break or fail over time. All of our resort picks above are of the non-adjustable variety, since you won’t be needing to shorten your poles to travel uphill for significant stretches. And for those who split their time in and out of bounds but only want to purchase one pole, consider your priorities: would you rather have a simple and reliable design, or do you prioritize the ability to adjust the length of your poles while touring?
With a pretty wide variety of materials and shapes, choosing a ski pole grip will most often come down to personal preference and how well the grip fits in your gloved hands. The most common grip materials are plastic and rubber, in part because neither absorbs moisture (Black Diamond’s 4-season-ready Alpine FLZ are an exception with cork grips, which are more commonly found on trekking poles). Rubber is the more comfortable of the two, and some poles have dual-density foam inside for increased hand comfort. Note that women’s-specific ski poles have smaller-diameter grips, which means not all women should automatically assume a women’s model is best.
Some high-end models have grip extensions or metal rings that function as a place to choke up on the ski poles if you are trudging up or traversing across a particularly steep section. This feature is usually found on backcountry poles and can be helpful for those that ski tour in varied terrain or bootpack up to a summit.
Tasked with the simple job of keeping the poles wrapped around your hands, the straps on a ski pole are most often made with a pretty basic nylon webbing. As long as the strap is wide enough for your ski gloves—we recommend looking for one that is easily adjustable—any old webbing style strap is all you need. Some high-end models have padding, which may be relevant for downhill racers or those that wear thin gloves.
While on the topic, it’s worth pointing out that some brands incorporate additional safety tech into the straps on their more premium models. For example, Scott’s Team Issue and Proguide above use their SRS (short for “Strap Release System”), which is designed to disconnect the strap from the pole in the event of a snag or fall. Leki’s Trigger tech has similar intentions, including the Trigger S on the Detect S and newer Trigger 3D on the Carbon 14 3D. Instead of having to take the straps on and off in the lift line, Leki’s straps remain around your wrists and can be connected to the ski poles via a small fabric loop. A push of a button along the top of the grip lets you release the straps from the poles, and, in a crash, the poles will disconnect from your wrists under upwards pressure. Some will surely enjoy the simplicity of the design—as well as the extra safety measure—but whether these features are worth the bump in cost (usually $20-$30 extra) will come down to your priorities as a skier.
Powder and Standard Baskets
All ski poles have a plastic circular basket connected near the bottom to keep a planted pole from sinking too deeply into the snow. These plastic (or sometimes aluminum) baskets come in varying circumferences, but can be broken down into two general categories: powder and standard (hardpack).
Powder baskets have a greater surface area to keep the poles from sinking as far into the snow when you plant. The circumference of these poles ranges between models and brands, but is approximately 90-100 millimeters (about 3.5 to 4 inches). Standard baskets, also referred to as hardpack or groomer baskets, are what come with most downhill-focused poles and are smaller in diameter. If your ski area gets a mix of snow types or you find yourself spending some days on groomers and others in the side or backcountry, a ski pole with replaceable baskets may be worth it. The K2 Freeride 18 is an example of a pole that has this option: you simply swap out the baskets to match the snow conditions.
In addition to variations in grips, straps, and baskets, some ski poles include additional features that set them apart from the competition. From our list above, notable additions include the stainless steel pick on the front of Black Diamond’s Carbon Whippet for self-arresting, the hooked tip on G3’s Via Aluminum for adjusting binding risers or boot buckles, and the small edge on the Leki Helicon’s baskets that function similarly for tweaking heel risers or scraping snow off skins. We did our best to call out any unique and noteworthy features in the write-ups above, as they can be a big help for the right user and activity.
It’s very important to take the time to choose a ski pole that is the proper length for your height and skiing style. A ski pole that is either too long or too short will impact your ability to smoothly transition between turns and can even knock you off balance. Most online charts use a conversion for total height, and this is a good starting point, but we encourage you to go a step further. For traditional downhill, the measurement should place the grips in your hands with your arms bent at a 90-degree angle. You can get this measurement using a simple measuring tape—and don’t forget to throw on shoes (or your ski boots) to get a more exact number. Backcountry and terrain park use requires a shorter pole, and for more details on getting sized for these skiing types, we recommend watching this video put together by ski retailer Evo.
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