How to Choose Ski Poles (Buyer’s Guide)

Ski Poles are an integral part of a skier’s equipment. They help you control your balance, time your turns correctly, and push you along if you find yourself on flat terrain. Shopping for new poles can be confusing, but choosing the right ski poles is essential to get the most out of your skiing.

To choose the right pair of ski poles you must consider the terrain you will be skiing on, accurately measure your height and select the appropriate pole materials for your skill level. It is imperative you know the type of skier you are, as pole sizing can vary between different types of skiing.

However, different skiers require different ski poles. Plus, ski poles can get highly technical, and you might want a pair of specialized ski poles depending on where you like to ski. There are many factors to consider when shopping for ski poles, and we’ll go into more detail about them below.

Skill Level And Terrain

There is an old saying that goes if you are a beginner, a good ski pole is any pole that fits. Ski pole quality won’t make much of a difference when you are cruising down the low-graded groomers. Ski poles start to matter a lot more once your skills progress.

Once you become an intermediate or advanced skier, you want your ski poles to be strong enough to plant them down on any terrain and light enough that you could spend a whole day carrying them around without your arms tiring. Advanced ski poles often come with different sized baskets for different snow conditions.

Basket Size

Larger baskets are best for loose powder, and smaller baskets are great for hardpack and ice. If you are the type of skier that finds themselves in the hard-to-reach crags of the highest mountains, it might be worth your time to pursue telescopic poles for mountaineering.

These poles retract for the hike up and then expand to a standard length for the descent. These are also great when a slow crawl requires you to use your hands to navigate a scramble to the very top of the mountain. Just keep in mind that telescopic ski poles tend to be pretty pricey and are only economical if you spend significant time hiking and mountaineering for your turns.

If you are the type of skier that spends most of their time in the park, you will want a slightly shorter ski pole that you won’t get tangled up when perfecting landings. A ski pole that is a couple of inches shorter can make a huge difference when landing spins and flips, but if you are just beginning to ski it’s important to measure accurately.

Finding Your Ski Pole Length

To accurately measure yourself for a new pair of ski poles, the first thing you want to do is put your ski boots or even just a pair of shoes on. Next, you will want to take one of the poles and flip it upside-down, so the grip is on the floor, and the basket is up near your hand. Grab the pole under the basket so that the top of your thumb touches the basket.

Once in this position, your elbows should form a 90-degree angle. If the angle is less than 90 degrees, try a size shorter. If the angle is greater than 90 degrees, try a taller height. Poles measure in two-inch increments, so if it is not a perfect 90-degree angle, choose the size that gets you closest.

Ski Pole Materials

The Pole Itself

Ski poles are generally made out of three different materials: aluminum, carbon fiber, or bamboo. In my experience and out of certain moral obligations, I believe that bamboo is the best material out there.

Carbon fiber is extraordinarily lightweight, but it can easily be compromised if you hit a rock or another obstacle the wrong way. Aluminum ruled the ski pole industry for many years, but it can only withstand so much impact before it begins to kink and bend as well.

Bamboo Is Best

Bamboo, however, has the best of both worlds. It is lightweight while maintaining a strength greater than both carbon fiber and aluminum. Bamboo has the tensile strength of steel and a compressive strength greater than concrete. It will bend very far before it breaks as it is an incredibly flexible material, yet it is durable and won’t snap under pressure like aluminum and carbon fiber.

The thing that truly sets bamboo apart is its sustainability. Both carbon fiber and aluminum take a lot of energy to harvest from the earth while being industrially manufactured and mass produced. Bamboo, on the other hand, is plentiful. One acre of bamboo produces three times as much lumber as that of an acre of trees.

Bamboo also absorbs three times as much CO­2 as a tree and produces more oxygen than any plant on earth. Personally, my bamboo poles have outlasted all my carbon fiber and aluminum poles, and I don’t have to feel guilty about the environmental impact. I finally bought a new pair, not because they ceased performing, but because I wanted a different color!

The Grips

There are three main types of ski pole grips: rubber, foam, and cork. Rubber is great if you wear gloves as they are durable, and there tends to be grooves for each finger. However, if you are like me and sometimes like to go gloveless on warm spring days, these poles will most likely rub and give you blisters.

Foam is an excellent option because it eliminates the blister problem and is lighter than its rubber counterpart. These are great if you are an intermediate skier as they are economical and lightweight enough to ski with all day.

If you are an advanced skier who spends a ton of time in the backcountry, the highly specialized and more expensive grip to get is cork. These will be your lightest option and are perfect for athletes that ski long days. They are slip-resistant and also provide comfortable cushioning. Cork is the way to go if you have the money to spend.

The Straps

Wrist straps are another essential component of the ski pole. If you lose your grip from planting your pole, it helps to keep the pole in place. If you “yardsale”, it prevents you from losing your poles in the snow.

As far as the straps go, you want a flexible nylon strap. I once used a pair of ski poles with an unforgiving strap and almost ended up with a broken wrist. If the straps don’t allow a little bit of give, wiping out can become dangerous. If you are a bigger person with large wrists, it might be helpful to get straps that adjust with a buckle or Velcro.

When trying on straps, don’t forget to grab your favorite pair of ski gloves. You’ll want to make sure that they comfortably fit through your straps. Put your hands up through the bottom of the straps and grab your grip. The straps should rest comfortably in your palms.

Final Thoughts

Feeling comfortable with your ski poles is of the utmost importance. Accurately measuring your poles against your height will give you ski poles that make your turns more balanced and more precise. Knowing the type of skiing you will be doing and the kind of terrain you will be on can also help you choose the right ski pole.

If you are a champion skier, the best materials are bamboo for the poles, cork for the grips, and nylon for the straps. If you are a beginner and just starting to ski, you can be more economical as your chances of breaking a ski pole on the bunny slope are not very high.