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Buyer's guide for ski poles and telescopic poles

Regular and telescopic ski poles: the key to staying balanced

Naturally, skiing wouldn’t be the same without the right pair of ski poles. Ski poles improve both your balance and the way you move when you ski. They let you make more precise turns and give you that extra little bit of swing weight for your spins. They’re also the perfect thing to have when hiking both on pistes and in the backcountry, letting you spread your weight and turn up the pace, especially if you have a pair of telescopic poles.

  1. The ski pole: what you need to know before buying
  2. Materials: keep things light and robust
    1. Aluminium ski poles: robust and easy to repair
    2. Carbon poles: light and durable
  3. Length: the optimal length for your poles
  4. Grips and straps: keeping your poles in your hand
  5. Weight: lighter poles, quicker movements
  6. Baskets: the right baskets for every environment
  7. Tips: the hard tip for grip on the ice

1. The ski pole: what you need to know before buying

Ski poles give you a huge advantage over snowboarders on flat land like lift lines and cat tracks. While snowboarders have to take off their bindings and clumsily skate about we can simply push ourselves along with our ski poles.

As with all equipment ski poles also differ in terms of quality and shape. Depending on a pole’s construction it may be better suited to certain disciplines than others. The two most important criteria when it comes to ski poles are length and durability. The following should give you a detailed overview of the features of a ski pole. With quality manufacturers like Scott, Leki and Komperdell, you’re bound to find the right ski pole for you.

Telescopic ski poles from K2
K2 telescopic ski poles

2. Materials: keep things light and robust

Whether you use them to push you along or just to plant turn after turn ski poles put up with a lot of stress. That’s exactly why they need to be stable, robust and light. That may sound like a contradiction in terms but high quality materials make anything possible these days.

Aluminium and carbon ski poles are the ideal combination of light weight, durability and rigidity.

2.1 Aluminium ski poles: robust and easy to repair

Aluminium ski poles are a little heavier than their carbon colleagues but you can’t fault them when it comes to toughness. That’s why they’re ideal for freestyle riding as ski edges and obstacles aren’t going to damage them. The fact that aluminium is so robust makes it ideal for use in freestyle riding, where you’re more prone to falls and, what’s more, when it comes to transferring power from your arms to the snow, aluminium poles outperform carbon ones.

Tip: aluminium ski poles

"If your aluminium ski pole gets bent you can just bend it back to its original shape and not have to worry."

2.2 Carbon poles: light and durable

Carbon ski poles are famous for their light weight. These sorts of ski poles will bend a tiny little bit under a certain amount of stress and spring straight back to their original form but their main advantage is that they weigh so little, making them the ideal hiking poles for challenging tours. Ski poles made of carbon are great for the kind of skiing that won’t put them under too much stress and their slight flexibility is a huge advantage in the backcountry and for freeriding. In addition, the dampening characteristics of carbon are more elaborated which prevents you more easily from tendonitis with heavy use.

3. Length: the optimal length for your poles

Alongside durability the length of your ski poles is one of the most important factors. There are two systems available to choose from: fixed length ski poles and adjustable length ski poles. If you’re still growing, we definitely recommend a pair of adjustable length ski poles.

Those telescopic ski poles can be shortened or extended to make hiking more comfortable, which makes them super practical for ski touring, freeriding and general backcountry use. Leki and K2 poles feature easy to use outer clamps which can be operated without even taking off your gloves, meaning you can adjust your ski pole length without getting cold fingers.

Generally, you use longer ski poles for freeriding than you would for freestyle. The extra length helps you keep your balance when riding steep, powder covered faces as they can reach through the deep, fluffy powder to the solid surface below.

On the other hand, shorter ski poles are better for freestyle riding as they don’t get in the way as much in the air. They also help you spin easier and let you be a bit more dynamic.

Tip: fixed length poles

"If you can test your poles before you buy them. Hold them upside down, gripping them just below the basket (what would normally be above the basket). Then put the grip on the ground. If your forearm is parallel to the ground you’ve found the right length pole."

If you don’t have the chance to test your ski poles in person here’s a little formula to help you estimate the right length:

Tip: ski pole length

"Height x 0.7 = ski pole length. Once you’ve figured out your optimal size always choose the longer pole. They’re much easier to shorten than to make longer."

4. Grips and wrist straps: keeping your poles in your hand

It’s worth paying particular attention to your grips and wrist straps – the things that keep your ski poles attached to your hands. Grips are made of all kinds of materials and come in a variety of shapes which can have a large impact on the price of your poles.

The most popular grip materials are plastic, rubber, foam and cork. Some manufacturers combine materials – known as dual density construction – to improve comfort. Plastic grips are amongst the least grippy but are much easier to manufacture and are, therefore, a lot cheaper. Rubber and foam, as well as various mixtures of materials, offer much better grip and are less likely to slip about in your hands. Dual density (mixed materials) and cork grips are super grippy and also insulate against the cold of the pole which is, of course, inside the handle. That means you can even use poles like this without gloves on warm, sunny days.

Ideally, your grip should be ergonomically shaped. Moulded fingers with a support for the ball of your thumb make for a tighter, more natural grip without cramping up your hand. In general, you should try out a variety of grips to figure out which suits your hand the best.

Tip: pole grips

"Grips are simply slotted onto the poles so if you buy them too long you can always take off the grip and shorten the pole shaft."

Leki use a special wrist strap system for many of their poles. The “Trigger S Vario Strap” is an adjustable strap system which you attach to your gloves. One small, stable protruding strap attaches to your pole, keeping your hand tightly attached to the grip so your pole stays attached and you don’t have to deal with a pole mounted loop. This connection can easily be released by pressing on the top of the grip. They also feature a safety release system which releases the pole should it have to endure a certain amount of stress, such as in the event of a fall. This means your poles part from you if you stack it hard, reducing your likelihood of getting injured.

Regular straps are permanently attached to the grip and are usually adjustable. Safety straps are also available which will release in the event of a crash. This is, however, a different system to Leki’s Trigger S Vario strap as the straps aren’t attached to your glove but fixed to the grip.

Grips and straps of ski poles by Leki, Komperdell and Atomic
Various grips and straps of ski poles and telescopic poles

5. Weight: lighter poles, quicker movements

The weight of your poles shouldn’t be ignored. Heavy poles will make your arms move slower and tire you out quicker. Try to buy the lightest poles possible. The lighter they are the more agile you can be with your movements.

6. Baskets: the right baskets for every environment

The wider your baskets the easier it is to push off in softer snow. Narrow baskets won’t have as much surface, making it much harder to push-off in fresh and powder snow. Smaller baskets are best used for freestyle riding or harder pistes.

Baskets are designed to be interchangeable without the use of tools so you don’t have to buy a new pair of poles for every part of the mountain. Just choose the right size baskets for the riding you intend to do.

7. Tips: the hard tip for grip on the ice

The tip is, as you would expect, at the end of your pole and is the part that makes contact with the ground. To guarantee good grip in even icy conditions this end piece is made of a hard metal so your tip digs in and doesn’t slip.