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 of 2021 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.

Downhill (Alpine) Ski Poles

1. Leki Detect S ($100)

Leki Detect S (red) ski polesShaft: Aluminum (16mm)
Baskets: Standard, powder
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 2021.
See the Leki Detect S


2. Volkl Phantastick ($59)

Volkl Phantastick downhill ski poleShaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Basket: Standard
What we like: All the weekend resort skiers really needs.
What we don’t: No powder basket included.

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 bright red, aqua, and blue), and the matching grips stand out among a pretty dull crowd of competitors. It helps that they’re priced right at about $60 and tough with an 18-millimeter diameter shaft, making them among the most popular ski poles on the market.

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


3. Black Diamond Boundary Carbon ($125)

Black Diamond Boundary Carbon ski polesShaft: Carbon fiber (14mm)
Basket: All-mountain
What we like: Light swing weight, quality construction.
What we don’t: Expensive for only modest weight savings.

To reduce swing weight, there isn’t a better option than carbon fiber. The Black Diamond Boundary Carbon feel very light in the hands—even lighter than their listed 16.4-ounce weight—and do a good job combatting carbon’s number-one weakness: durability. Carbon is vulnerable to cracking from hard impacts, so BD reinforced the bottom of the pole with aramid. And by using a thicker shaft, they’ve created an impressively tough pole (BD claims it’s their most durable carbon design). If weight matters to you, this is one of the lightest resort-ready models on the market at just over 1 pound per pair.

The biggest downside of the Black Diamond Boundary is cost. This pole is among the more affordable all-carbon options and still is more expensive than the Leki Detect S above and all other aluminum poles on this list. And despite the beefed-up construction, it doesn’t fundamentally change carbon’s tendency to break under stress (in this case, it would have to be a very hard impact). But we really like the Boundary pole, and its breakaway strap design and substantial, hooked grip for flipping climbing bars make it a viable 2-in-1 option for a little ski touring.
See the Black Diamond Boundary Carbon


4. K2 Freeride 18 ($80)

K2 Freeride 18 ski polesShaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Baskets: Standard, powder
What we like: Simple yet functional design that includes two baskets.
What we don’t: The Phantastick above is the better value for those that stay inbounds.

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, and similarly shaped grips. That said, the Freeride includes both hardpack and powder baskets that are fairly easy to swap depending on where you’ll be skiing, which makes it the more versatile, season-long choice. Whether or not that’s worth the extra $21 is up to you, but we personally like the option to change out baskets as conditions change.
See the K2 Freeride 18


5. Leki Carbon 14 3D ($160)

Leki Carbon 14 3D ski polesShaft: Carbon fiber (14mm)
Basket: Standard
What we like: Stiff carbon fiber that’s light and strong; new Trigger 3D system adds an extra dose of safety.
What we don’t: Thin and even more expensive than the BD above.

For 2021, Leki revamped their popular Trigger strap system with the new 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 new 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 in comparison). With only a 14-millimeter diameter, the Leki’s are thin, but the high-quality build holds up well to 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 $35 more than the Black Diamond Boundary Carbon above without offering much added performance on the slopes. And the thin construction and standard baskets limit its usefulness to bombing down groomed runs. 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.
See the Leki Carbon 14 3D


6. Scott Scrapper SRS ($90)

Scott Scrapper SRS ski polesShaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Basket: Standard
What we like: Tough, reliable build.
What we don’t: Only comes with one basket.

Scott is a stalwart in the ski industry, and their Scrapper SRS pole is a tough, no-nonsense downhill design. Where it stands out is durability: the quality S3 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 Scrapper’s sturdy construction, makes it a great option for anything from carving groomers to taking big hits in the terrain park.

The $90 price tag puts the Scott Scrapper SRS squarely in the midrange category for downhill poles, and it stacks up fairly well against the Volkl Phantastick and K2 Freeride above. All three use a strong aluminum shaft, but each has its respective strengths. The Freeride is the better sidecountry companion with a wider powder basket (both the Volkl and Scott only have standard discs), while the Volkl is best on-piste and beats both in price. The Scrapper lands in between and is the most expensive, which pushes it a little down our list, but it’s the only one to include the strap safety feature.
See the Scott Scrapper SRS


7. Black Crows Meta ($50)

Black Crows Meta ski polesShaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Basket: Powder
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 Volkl Phantastick above and 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


8. Goode G-Carbon ($100)

Goode G Carbon ski polesShaft: Carbon (10.4mm)
Basket: Standard
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 10.4mm. 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 considerable $25. Take good care of it, and you won’t be disappointed.
See the Goode G-Carbon


9. Rossignol Tactic ($40) 

Rossignol Tactic ski polesShaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Basket: Standard
What we like: Simple and affordable.
What we don’t: Too 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 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 Safety, which integrates 20 percent carbon in the shaft and retails for a reasonable $80.
See the Rossignol Tactic


10. Grass Sticks Original Bamboo ($98)

Grass Sticks Original Bamboo Downhill ski polesShaft: Bamboo
Basket: Standard
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


Backcountry (Touring) Ski Poles

1. Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro ($150)

Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro ski polesShaft: Aluminum (14mm)/carbon fiber (12mm)
Basket: Powder
What we like: Light feel and premium build.
What we don’t: 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 2.4 ounces 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. The aluminum system is 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—it’s not—but it’s a good one to trust on deep backcountry explorations.
See the Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro


2. Line Pollard's Paint Brush ($90)

Line Pollard's Paint Brush ski polesShaft: Aluminum
Basket: Standard, powder
What we like: Tough and affordable.
What we don’t: Heavy.

The Line Pollard's Paint Brush is a refreshingly affordable backcountry ski pole. Ski touring gear is expensive, so it’s nice to see a sub-$100 all-aluminum option that offers nearly as much performance as far more expensive models. The Pollard pole (named after the freeskier Eric Pollard) is also our preferred option for the backcountry skier that hits big lines and needs a durable construction. The 7075 aluminum is very strong for its weight and will hold up better than carbon in most instances.

The Pollard also is a fully capable 2-in-1 design for splitting time between the resort and skin tracks. You get both hardpack and powder baskets, and the adjustment system lets you dial in the length for uphill and downhill use. One thing of note: the included baskets aren’t quite up to the quality of the rest of the pole, so they may need a little extra care. And should you break one, thankfully they’re not too expensive to replace.
See the Line Pollard's Paint Brush


3. K2 LockJaw Carbon Adjustable ($150)

K2 Lockjaw Carbon Adjustable ski polesShaft: Carbon fiber (16mm)/aluminum (14mm)
Basket: Powder
What we like: Reasonably durable and includes useful extras like an inclinometer.
What we don’t: BD above has a little nicer construction.

Similar to the Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro above, the K2 LockJaw Carbon is a quality lightweight backcountry pole. It uses the same carbon and aluminum mixture as the Razor but flips the order with carbon on top and aluminum below. The tougher lower material gives you a little more peace of mind if your poles bounce off a rock, but you do lose a little of the effortless swing weight of the BD. For skiers that spend a decent amount of time in-bounds, the LockJaw’s compromise may be worthwhile.

That being said, we do prefer the Razor as the better touring option. Its FlickLock Pro adjustment system is superior to the K2’s, and the Razor Carbon Pro has useful features like a safety release system for the strap. On the other hand, the K2 includes extras like an inclinometer to measure the angle of the slope. And for a more reasonably priced but heavier touring option from K2, check out the $100 all-aluminum LockJaw.
See the K2 LockJaw Carbon Adjustable


4. Rossignol Freeride Pro ($70)

Rossignol Freeride Pro ski polesShaft: Aluminum (18mm)
Basket: Powder
What we like: Solid and reliable touring design.
What we don’t: Non-adjustable length and heavier than carbon poles.

The touring options above are all adjustable in length, but there’s something to be said for the simplicity of a one-piece pole. Rossignol’s Freeride Pro 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 fairly streamlined build, the Freeride Pro includes a number of helpful features like ergonomic grips (which extend farther down for a more natural hand position while touring and traversing), easily removable straps, and rotating powder baskets for navigating uneven terrain.

Given the affordable $70 price tag, there are inevitably some compromises with the Rossignol Freeride Pro’s build. Most notably, the pole is heavier in hand than the carbon and lightweight designs above, which can lead to more arm fatigue on extended tours and uphill pushes. And on particularly steep or tricky slopes, we like the ability to compress our poles and strap them to our pack to free our hands. But the tradeoff is greater reliability, and skiers that are sick of bending their adjustable poles or just looking for a dependable (and cheap) backup pair should check out the Freeride Pro.
See the Rossignol Freeride Pro


5. G3 Via Carbon ($155)

G3 Via Carbon ski polesShaft: Carbon fiber (18mm/16mm)
Baskets: Powder, trekking
What we like: A fully featured pole with 4-season versatility.
What we don’t: All-carbon build isn’t as durable as the other poles on our list.

G3 is a backcountry-focused company, so it comes as no surprise that their Via Carbon ski poles are a real standout for touring. 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 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). And when the snow melts, simply swap the powder baskets to the included trekking baskets. For year-round adventures in the backcountry, the Via Carbon is a very appealing option.

That said, you might notice that all of the other touring options on our list mix aluminum into their constructions. As we’ve covered previously, that’s because it’s much more durable and malleable than carbon. G3 did outfit the Via with a thicker upper (18mm at the top vs. 16mm at the bottom), but we still recommend taking care around obstacles like rocks and trees in the backcountry. In the end, the lower weight and technical feature set have appeal for longer objectives and ski mountaineering missions, but most casual backcountry-goers will be better off with one of the more robust options above.
See the G3 Via Carbon


6. Leki TourStick Vario Carbon V ($200)

Leki Tour Stick Vario Carbon ski polesShaft: Carbon fiber (18mm)/aluminum (16mm, 14mm)
Basket: Powder
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


7. Black Diamond Carbon Whippet ($160)

Black Diamond Carbon Whippet backcountry ski poleShaft: Aluminum (14mm)/carbon fiber (12mm)
Basket: Powder
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 last year 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.
See the Black Diamond Carbon Whippet


Ski Pole Comparison Table

Ski Pole Price Type Shaft Baskets
Leki Detect S $100 Downhill Aluminum (16mm) Standard, powder
Volkl Phantastick $59 Downhill Aluminum (18mm) Standard
Black Diamond Boundary Carbon $125 Downhill Carbon fiber (14mm) All-mountain
K2 Freeride 18 $80 Downhill Aluminum (18mm) Standard, powder
Leki Carbon 14 3D $160 Downhill Carbon fiber (14mm) Standard
Scott Scrapper SRS $90 Downhill Aluminum (18mm) Standard
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 $150 Backcountry Aluminum (14mm)/carbon (12mm) Powder
Line Pollard's Paint Brush $90 Backcountry Aluminum Standard, powder
K2 LockJaw Carbon Adjustable $150 Backcountry Carbon (16mm)/aluminum (14mm) Powder
Rossignol Freeride Pro $70 Backcountry Aluminum (18mm) Powder
G3 Via Carbon $155 Backcountry Carbon (18mm/16mm) Powder, trekking
Leki TourStick Vario Carbon $200 Backcountry Carbon (18mm)/aluminum (16mm, 14mm) Powder
Black Diamond Carbon Whippet $160 Backcountry Aluminum (14mm)/carbon (12mm) Powder


Ski Pole Buying Advice

Ski Pole Shaft Materials

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.

Ski poles (on chairlift)
Aluminum poles are much tougher than carbon or fiberglass

Carbon Fiber
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 most backcountry options on our list (with the exception of the G3 Via 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.

Ski poles (powder baskets)
Backcountry skiing can be tough on your gear

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.

Shaft Diameter

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 18 millimeters, 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 Scrapper 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.

Ski pole (adjusting a telescoping pole)
Shaft diameter closely correlates with durability

Ski Pole Weight

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.

Ski poles (backcountry touring)
Those headed into the backcountry should consider the weight of their poles

Adjustable (Telescoping) vs. Fixed-Length Ski Poles

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.

Ski poles (adjustable pole for backcountry skiing)
Adjustable designs are great for backcountry use

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?

Ski poles (fixed versus telescoping)
Fixed (top) versus adjustable ski poles

Parts of a Ski Pole

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. 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.

Ski poles (gearing up)
Ski pole grip material and shape are a matter of personal preference

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.

Ski pole (holding pole with Leki gloves)
Make sure your pole straps fit over your ski gloves

One unique strap technology is the Trigger S system that you’ll find on the Leki Detect S and newer Trigger 3D found 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 (this safety feature is popping up across the market in premium designs). It’s a handy system, although we question whether it’s all that necessary as we’ve never minded the on and off process too much. Some will surely enjoy the simplicity of the design—as well as the extra safety measure—and Leki continues to offer the Trigger system in most of their on-piste ski pole models.

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.

Ski pole (standard and powder baskets)
Powder baskets are larger for navigating deep snow

Intended Use

There are relatively few upgrades involved in a ski pole purchase, and most of the decision should come down to matching intended use with a suitable pole. 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

Ski poles (skiing at Mission Ridge resort)
Fixed-length aluminum poles are a great match for groomers

Choosing the Proper Ski Pole Length

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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