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 included poles designed for running laps down groomers at the resort and backcountry use. Choosing a suitable ski pole is all about finding the right combination of features and construction for your skiing style and terrain. For further guidance, see our buying advice below the picks. Otherwise, below are our favorite ski poles for the 2016-2017 season. To complete your kit, check out our articles on the best all-mountain skis and best downhill boots.
Shaft: 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 Stealth 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 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. The Trigger S is a great addition to the Stealth, but if the low-key design isn’t for you, Leki makes the same pole in a neon green (the Leki Spitfire S) that surely will get everyone’s attention.
See the Leki Stealth S See the Women's Leki Balance S
Shaft: Carbon fiber (14mm)
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 Fixed Length Carbon feel very light in the hands—even lighter than their listed 17-ounce weight—and do a good job combatting carbon’s #1 weakness: durability. Carbon is vulnerable to cracking from hard impacts, so BD reinforced the bottom of the pole with Kevlar. And by using a thicker carbon shaft, they’ve created an impressively tough pole. If weight matters to you, this is one of the lightest resort poles on the market at just over 1 pound per pair.
The biggest downside of the Black Diamond Fixed Length Carbon is cost. This pole is among the more affordable all-carbon options and still is more expensive than the Leki Stealth 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 Fixed Length Carbon pole, and its choke up extensions make it a viable 2-in-1 design for a little ski touring too.
See the Black Diamond Fixed Length Carbon
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
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 2 does an admirable job at pumping some life into a relatively simple design. Specifically, the range of colors (including bright orange, green, and blue) and the see-through grips stand out among a pretty dull crowd of competitors. It helps that they’re priced right at about $60, 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 2 is our favorite budget option.
See the Volkl Phantastick 2 See the Women's Volkl Phantastick
Shaft: Carbon fiber/aluminum hybrid
What we like: Strong but light, good strap design.
What we don’t: Too much tech for the average skier.
In sharp contrast to the workmanlike construction of the Volkl Phantastic above, the K2 Power 10 Airfoil poles are an exercise in R&D. The poles use a hybrid carbon and aluminum construction for a good mix of durability and weight, and the unique shape is designed to optimize aerodynamics. Dubbed “Airfoil,” K2 claims they offer the better wind resistance than a thin 14-millimeter pole but with the strength of an all-mountain-friendly 16-millimeter design.
Realistically, you’ll have to be absolutely bombing down the hill to appreciate the difference, and therefore we only recommend them for skiers who really value performance. Price is another obstacle here—$155 makes the K2 Power 10 the most expensive pole to make our downhill list. We don’t find them overpriced considering the obvious lengths that went into the design, but you can get an all-carbon design like the Leki Carbon 14 S below for a few bucks less.
See the K2 Power 10 Airfoil Carbon
Shaft: Carbon fiber (14mm)
What we like: Stiff carbon fiber that’s light and strong.
What we don’t: Thin and even more expensive than the BD above.
An all-carbon ski pole isn’t necessary, but the beautifully made Leki Carbon 14 S is an awesome indulgence. The feel and swing weight is fantastic, and the carbon fiber has a nice flex for effortless transitions between turns (aluminum feels stiff in comparison). With only a 14mm diameter, the Leki’s are quite thin, but the high quality carbon 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. The Carbon 14 S is $50 more than its sibling Stealth S pole and only offers a modest jump in 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 14 S is a great high-end ski pole.
See the Leki Carbon 14 S
Baskets: Standard, Powder
What we like: Good price, ergonomic grips, and includes 2 baskets.
What we don’t: Average quality aluminum.
One of the freest free spirits in the ski world, Line makes flashy but quality freeride and all-mountain ski gear. From their collection of ski poles, their midrange Grip Stick is our favorite: it’s a fun yet functional design for skiers that split time on and off piste. You get an average quality aluminum pole (the same 6061 grade as many cheaper models) but a host of upgrades to justify its $70 price.
Compared to our top budget pick, the Volkl Phantastick 2, the Grip Stick has a superior grip and better feature set. The Line offers a very natural hand placement—comparable to premium options like the top-rated Leki—and includes both powder and hardpack baskets. Affectionately known as “Screwoff” baskets, they’re really easy to swap out depending on where you’ll be skiing. It’s a tough call between the Grip Stick and the Phantastick, but the replaceable baskets might make the decision easier for folks that ski in a variety of conditions.
See the Line Skis Grip Stick
Shaft: Carbon fiber/fiberglass hybrid (16mm)
What we like: Light and flexes nicely.
What we don’t: Not very durable.
With the exception of K2 Airfoil above, most ski poles follow a pretty simple formula: aluminum or carbon fiber for the shaft construction and a rubber grip. The Salomon SC 1 breaks both trends with a hybrid carbon fiber and fiberglass shaft and a foam and cork handle. The focus is on comfort and shock absorption—the carbon and fiberglass flex nicely, while the cork and foam muffle a hard pole plant. Salomon also manages to undercut most other carbon or carbon hybrid designs in price at a reasonable $110.
The primary downside, even more so than a full carbon pole, is durability. While they do flex nicely under light pressure, both carbon and fiberglass will break at the limit, which is why we usually prefer hybrids that use a tougher aluminum. And the admittedly comfortable cork and foam grip will absorb moisture, unlike rubber. Despite the negatives, the SC1 is an attractively priced lightweight option.
See the Salomon SC 1
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
What we like: No-nonsense reliability.
What we don’t: Doesn’t excel in any specific way.
Scott is one of the stalwarts of the ski industry and their 720 ski poles are a testament to years of experience. Where they stand out on our list is durability—the quality S3 aluminum along with an 18-millimeter diameter shaft makes for a robust pole built for aggressive skiers. And the reasonable price point and tough build also makes it suitable for handling some abuse in the terrain park.
The price of the Scott 720 puts it squarely in the midrange for downhill poles and it stacks up fairly well against the Volkl Phantastick and Line Grip Stick above. All three use an 18-millimeter aluminum shaft and each has their respective strengths. The Line is the better backcountry companion and comes 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. This leaves the 720 as the odd one out, but it’s still very close (only $6 separates the Volkl and Scott). And considering the strong S3 aluminum and Scott’s history of quality ski poles, it’s easy to make a solid case for the 720.
See the Scott 720 Ski Poles
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
What we like: Functional from the park to powder.
What we don’t: Not everyone will like the basic grip.
Hitting big drops or features at the park wreaks havoc on all ski pole designs, which makes a cheap aluminum pole all the more desirable. The Atomic Park is about as basic as they come, with an aluminum construction, minimalist grip, and thin webbing strap. It has a thick diameter at 18 millimeters, which helps compensate for the lower, but still decent quality, aluminum.
The Atomic Park is marketed for use in the terrain park, but will do just fine as a budget all-mountain ski pole. And their wide powder baskets also make them viable for side and backcountry use (although they are a little heavy and lack the stiffness of a typical performance pole). Price is the real selling point: at $40, you don’t have to stress too much should you bend them beyond repair.
See the Atomic Park
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)
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 Stove Pipe Sr. 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 Atomic Park above, the Stove Pipe is the preferred option for hardpack. It includes a smaller diameter basket that won’t get in the way and has the same 18mm diameter as the Atomic for decent durability. And its modest color scheme may appeal to folks that aren’t ready to draw too much attention to their developing skillset.
See the Rossignol Stove Pipe Sr.
Shaft: Aluminum (14mm)/carbon fiber (11mm)
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 2-piece design has a durable aluminum upper that is as thick as many downhill poles (14mm, but keeps the weight in check at 1 pound 5 ounces by using a thin 11-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 system is glove-friendly, simple in use, and trustworthy. The Razor Carbon Pro wins out not because it’s the lightest—it’s not—but it’s the one to trust on deep backcountry explorations.
See the Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro
Basket: Standard, powder
What we like: Tough and affordable.
What we don’t: Durability issues with the baskets.
The Line Pollard 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 Paint Brush
Shaft: Carbon fiber/aluminum
What we like: Aluminum lower makes it more durable than the BD.
What we don’t: More basic feature set.
Similar to the Black Diamond Razor Carbon Pro above, the K2 LockJaw is a quality all-around backcountry pole. It uses the same carbon and aluminum mixture as the Razor but flips the order with the carbon on top and aluminum below. This gives you a little more piece of mind that there isn’t a vulnerable piece of carbon at the bottom, 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 compromise may be worthwhile.
Overall, we prefer the BD Razor as the better backcountry option. Its FlickLock Pro system is superior and the Razor Carbon Pro has extra features like choke-up handles and a release system for the strap should it get caught in-between rocks or a tree as you blow by. It’s enough to get the edge in our ranking, although it is $30 more expensive than the K2. For an even more affordable option, check out the $90 aluminum K2 FlipJaw Adjustable poles.
See the K2 LockJaw Comp 145
Shaft: Carbon fiber (18mm)/aluminum (16mm, 14mm)
What we like: Compact and light.
What we don’t: Very expensive.
Drawing on innovations from both their downhill and trekking pole designs, the new Alpinestick S Vario is a feature-rich backcountry option. The pole looks like a standard 2-piece adjustable design with its single lever lock, but it has a fun party trick: pulling the sections below the lever folds an additional 2 sections of the pole. This creates a very small packed size of 38 centimeters—even the 3-piece BD below is nearly twice as long at 68 centimeters and most are around 100. For traveling or storing in a pack, it’s hard to beat the compact size of the Alpinestick.
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 2-piece backcountry pole. Otherwise, the Leki looks a lot like their downhill poles that made our list. The “S” in the name means it has the Trigger S system, which separates the comfy strap from the ski pole for loading and unloading on the chairlift. And you get the full compliment of hardpack and powder baskets.
See the Leki Alpinestick S Vario
Shaft: Aluminum (18mm)/carbon fiber (16mm)
What we like: Amazing 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. Unless you’re willing to carry a full ice axe on your hike up, it’s the best option out there.
As with the other BD poles to make our list, the rest of the design is really nicely thought out. Its 3-piece construction helps it pack down to 68 centimeters without a significant weight penalty. And it’s quite durable for a backcountry piece with a thicker 18-millimeter aluminum upper and 16-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 Shaft Materials
- Adjustability (Telescoping)
- Parts of a Ski Pole
- Intended Use
- Choosing the Proper Ski Pole Length
The vast majority ski poles on the market have at least some aluminum in their construction. Cost is a big reason, and lower grade alloys can be extremely cheap to manufacturer. 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 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, so a cheaper model like the Volkl Phantastick—although heavier and not as tough—is a fine choice. And should you break it, the replacement costs are pretty negligible.
High-end performance ski poles often tout a lightweight construction, which more often than not is because there’s carbon fiber weaved into 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 folks are better suited for a quality aluminum pole.
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 or aluminum pole). The appeal of the 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 a material that’s best when blended to increase its structural support. Hybrid aluminum/fiberglass designs reduce weight without compromising as much on durability.
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. The thickness of the ski pole’s shaft also plays a role. If you are comparing an aluminum and carbon pole 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. Balancing weight and durability is a key consideration in your ski pole purchase.
An adjustable ski pole is best used out-of-bounds, particularly when ski touring. You’ll typically want a shorter length for the uphill and longer for flat sections and downhill. Using a fixed length pole is absolutely an option, but it may require some modifications to allow you to hold the ski poles at various lengths. The disadvantage of a telescoping pole is the possibility for the clamp to not hold and collapse when you plant. Choosing a pole from a reputable brand with great locking mechanisms like Black Diamond, Leki, and K2 always is a good idea, and make sure to test to make sure the clamps are properly tightened before heading out.
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 with a place to choke up on the ski poles if you are trudging up 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.
One unique strap technology is the Trigger S system that you'll find on the Leki Stealth S. Sick of the constant and sometimes cumbersome process of taking 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 ski poles lets you release the straps from the poles, and in a crash, the poles will disconnect from your wrists under upwards pressure. Removal and reinstallation are both pretty simple once you get a hang of the mechanism. 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 S 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 90-100mm (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 backcountry, a ski pole with replaceable baskets may be worth it. The Line Grip Stick is an example of a pole that has this option: you simply swap out the baskets to match the snow conditions.
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
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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