How To Choose the Best Ski Poles

Find balance this season with the right ski poles for any objective.

It may sound corny, but your ultimate goal is to feel at one with your ski poles—and that can only happen if you get the right ones. Ski poles that are sized correctly for you and that are made of the right materials for the terrain ahead will keep you balanced, propel you forward on the flats, and, perhaps most importantly, help you shred. Settle for less, and they could feel cumbersome, get stuck in the snow, and even impair your skiing technique. 

Regardless of your abilities, you need a solid, properly sized ski pole. Ski poles are not one-size-fits-all, so ask yourself the following five questions to determine which ones are the best for you.

What size do you need?

This depends only on your height. There are many handy charts out there, as well as size guides for specific poles, but all you really need to know here is how tall you are. Absent that, use this simple test to find the right pole:

  1. Flip the pole upside down and perpendicular to the floor (basket pointing straight up).
  2. Grab the pole right below the basket such that the basket is above your hand.
  3. Hold your arm at your side with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. The pole should extend straight down, and the end of the handle should just touch the floor. If your arms aren’t at 90 degrees, you’ve got the wrong size pole. If your bent-arm angle is less than 90 degrees the pole is too big; if it’s greater, the pole is too small.

Pro tip: When doing this test, wear shoes that give you as much extra height as your ski boots do (you can wear your boots or guesstimate to the best of your ability). 

Added note: If you’ll be specifically cross-country skiing and relying on your poles for added propulsion, you can stick to this general sizing test for a pole that’s about armpit-high (right-side up), but may want added length (sized up the top of your shoulder) if you’re skiing classic trails; or longer (between your upper lip and nose) if you’re skate skiing on groomed Nordic trails. 

Do your ski poles need to be adjustable?

If you’re only skiing in the resort, a fixed-length pole is better than an adjustable pole with regard to durability and ease of use while getting on and off chairlifts. 

Adjustability is mostly relevant to ski mountaineers and folks who ski (or plan to ski or splitboard) in the backcountry. In the backcountry, it’s important to be able to adjust the length of your pole according to the current activity and terrain. Often, skiers and splitboarders like to keep poles at an intermediate length on the uphill to help propel them forward with less effort, and then shorten them as the slope angle increases or while bootpacking on steep terrain. During steeper traverses, it can be handy to have a longer pole on your downhill side. 

Many skiers also prefer shorter poles when attempting to ski down steep slopes. The shorter length helps you maintain an aggressive stance and keeps you leaning downhill, which is crucial for balance. 

If you need adjustable poles, make sure you know your pole size (again, this is based on your height). Also be sure your pole captures your preferred length range. For example, if your fixed pole is 120 cm, make sure that length is in the middle of the adjustable pole’s range—that way you’ll be able to shorten or lengthen it appropriately. 

A woman skis down a mountain

What material should you choose? 

A pole’s shaft material affects its weight, durability, and cost. You’ll find poles made of aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium, and bamboo on the market, but aluminum and carbon poles are the most common. 

Aluminum poles are relatively light, durable, and versatile. They also tend to be less expensive. Carbon fiber, on the other hand, offers lightweight durability, though it’s possible to snap carbon poles if they collide forcibly with other objects (like your ski boot, a tree, or a rock). They also tend to be pricier. Still, if you’re planning long days in the backcountry, a light, carbon-fiber pole can reduce fatigue over the hours spent moving uphill. 

What features do you need? 

This question relates more to what type of skier you are. For beginners, a pole that’s the right size is typically good enough. The more time you spend on the slopes, the more you’ll learn about what features are important to you. Here are some to consider.


The pole basket prevents the pole itself from plunging uncontrolled into the depths of the snowpack when you plant it. There are two kinds of baskets: standard and powder. Standard baskets work perfectly well on hard-packed snow and with a few inches of new snowfall, but if you’re out on a true powder day you’ll want a powder basket. These are wider, the additional surface area helping keep them afloat when there’s six or more inches of new snow. 

The good news? No need to buy two pairs of poles: Many ski poles come with interchangeable baskets, and most companies sell individual baskets so you can switch them out as needed based on the conditions. 


The best way to find a grip you like is to hold a bunch of ski poles. Grips vary from foamy to rigid, smooth to ribbed, and straight to ergonomically curved. Your choice will be based solely on personal preference, so pay attention to what feels nice and easy to hold onto, especially with your skiing or touring gloves on. 

If you’re a backcountry skier or splitboarder, also take note of the top of the pole. Some have a rigid lip that you can use to lock your bindings or flip up your heel risers. It’s a small feature, but it can save you from having to bend over and do it manually. 


Pole straps are loops that extend from the grip and wrap around your wrist. They’re often adjustable to fit your hand size, and they help you keep the pole in your hand if you happen to momentarily lose your grip. They can also help reduce hand fatigue while touring: You can push down on the strap with your wrist to help propel you forward without having to squeeze so hard on your pole grip. 

Pro tip: Wear your ski gloves when testing out a strap to make sure it’s roomy enough. Remember, you don’t want straps to be too tight, as they need to be able to release if you fall so they don’t torque your arm. (Some straps detach automatically in case of falls, which is a great safety feature.) But in the backcountry, straps should never be worn on the downhill because in the event of an avalanche, they can actually pull you deeper under the snow. 

Are they nice to look at?

Seriously. Poles are not only important for keeping your balance. In the steeps, or when doing jump turns, your poles literally lead the way. If you’re nervous or intimidated, it does help a bit if the color or design of your poles is visually motivating (look for bright colors, fun patterns, etc.). Plus, skiing should be fun. If you have to spend a few extra bucks to get aesthetically pleasing sticks, it’s often worth it. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.