Picking Out a Pair of Poles (for ski touring)

 

There are tons of different ski poles, old and new, but what is the right kind for ski touring? There really is no correct answer as every option offers different benefits and shortcomings.  While poles are not technically essential to skiing, they play a large part in body mechanics when skinning and skiing. When skinning up the mountain, poles help you obtain more leverage and help with balance. When skiing down, poles help a skier maintain balance throughout turns and also help guide your form. Lots of the time, going up and going down can be optimized by different pole lengths. Using long poles on the way up helps use upper body muscles efficiently and helps engages to engage your core muscles. However, when skiing downhill shorter poles help some skiers get forward in an athletic stance and prevent poles from getting in the way. There are many different pitch slopes that will be on your route, so figuring out what lengths and type work best for you will optimize your trip. So what are all the kinds of poles people you touring? Here is a list of all the options we find people using in the backcountry.


Standard resort poles (one-piece aluminum shaft):

Everyone has a set in their basement. Your standard resort pole with a generic ergonomic handle, adjustable hand strap, small baskets, and a worn-out tip will certainly allow you to push your way up the mountain. As for skiing downhill, the resort poles will act like they normally do at the resort. Resort poles do not offer any large weight savings but at the same are not heavy. The single piece of aluminum is a reliable platform that will be a worry-free of any kind of failure. Sounds great, but what is the downside? A short grip and no ability to shorten or rise. Many resort poles come with hard plastic grips that are shaped in semi ergonomic designs. These can be uncomfortable when skinning up and also the short grip does not allow for grip when grasping lower. Sometimes when side-hilling on steep aspects, it can be really nice to drop your hand down on the pole shaft. This essentially allows you to adjusts your pole length down by ten centimeters for just a few minutes. With some modifications, an extended grip can be created. If these are not free, a nice set of aluminum poles shouldn’t cost much more than sixty dollars.

Our choice:

Something in your basement.

 

One-piece touring poles:

Made with either carbon fiber or lightweight aluminum shafts and plugged with lightweight grips and baskets made for the backcountry, they are a popular and reliable option. With weight-saving in mind, these poles will use less energy allowing you to tour for longer periods of time. Weight is not the only advantage these poles offer, for we have found straight shaft poles to be much more efficient when applying pressure. Many ski mountaineer racers (randonee) love these poles for the weight and efficiency they offer. These poles are constructed with grips and baskets designed to optimize your time in the backcountry. With soft, ergonomic, lightweight, and long grips the poles will be light and comfortable all day. As we discussed earlier, longer grips allow for super quick height changes when the terrain gets technical. These poles have larger baskets designed for deeper and softer snow. Some of the ‘race’ oriented models have directional powder baskets to keep you moving forward. Having a basket that can float in the snow is super helpful for staying balanced when touring. These one-piece poles do not offer on the trail adjustment. Some skiers do not want the adjustable options as they do not trust the latching mechanism. Sometimes latching mechanism on telescoping poles fail. Whether from ice or just getting loose, some skiers find this to be a large nuisance. Overall, these poles are simple and very effective. A great option who like simple tools. These tend to cost around X for the carbon shafted models. 

Our choice:

FISCHER ALP ATTACK CARBON RACE POLE


Aluminum Adjustable touring poles 

Adjustable aluminum touring poles are a strong, reliable, and affordable option for skiers of any ability. Skiers like Andrew Drummond, who have to spend countless hours ski touring in some of the worst weather conditions and variable terrain trust the basic aluminum adjustable touring pole over all the fancy options. These poles are not made out of carbon fiber which will give any skier peace of mind. While carbon fiber technology is getting better and better every day, crashing on your carbon fiber pole could snap it in half, whereas aluminum would merely bend. In this situation, if you had the carbon poles your day would be over but if you had the aluminum poles you could unbend your poles and continue on. The adjustable aluminum poles are not super lightweight but are made for touring, so you can be sure they are not going to be too heavy. Many of these poles will be made with adjustment latches that are much more robust than latches found on super light weight adjustable carbon poles. Latches that don’t work well can be very difficult to deal with as the pole might suddenly get shorter when landing a jump or leaning on when on a sketchy part of the track. For the price (~$100) it is really hard to go wrong with adjustable aluminum touring poles.

Our Choice:

FISCHER RANGER VARIO BACKCOUNTRY SKI POLE

 

Collapsible touring poles:

Collapsible touring poles are a great choice for split boarders and ice climbers. These poles can fold up really small to easily fit into most ski packs. For split boarders, mountaineers and ice climbers, getting the poles completely out of the way is key for performance. These poles are generally really strong and come with all the awesome backcountry specific grips and baskets. Truly a great option for anyone who wants to completely stow away their poles. Unfortunately, these poles tend to weigh a lot more than standard aluminum adjustable poles or even straight poles. Even models with carbon fiber skeletons seem to be quite heavy. These might be the strongest option out of any touring pole as they are made in three pieces and are reinforced in multiple ways. The poles usually come with a touring specific grip made mostly from foam and powder baskets to keep you upright. Because of how intricate these poles are, they can actually be quite expensive. Plan on spending about 179.9 on a nice set.

Our choice:

KOMPERDELL FXP.4 EXPEDITION VARIO COMPACT BACKCOUNTRY POLE


High-end carbon telescoping poles 

Telescoping high-end carbon poles might be a flex, but when spending long days in the backcountry they are really nice. With not a huge price increase from aluminum poles, carbon poles (generally) do save a lot of weight. In the world of skiing, forty dollars is really not that much and can be a really nice improvement that pretty any skier can immediately realize. When touring, every step you take comes with a pole plant. When going for a long tour, tons of pole planting does load up your arms which results in more energy consumption. This means you are burning even more calories and working your body more than you should be. When backcountry skiing you should be using as little energy as possible to ensure your body never gets near ketosis. While that point might be outlandish, there is truth to the benefits of light weight poles. For those who ski cautiously and do not find themselves laying on the snow very often, we would suggest using Telescoping carbon poles. These generally cost around $160.

Our choice:

KOMPERDELL CARBON C2 ULTRALIGHT BACKCOUNTRY POLE


Ultimately, poles can make or break your day. It is important to find what option works best for your goals and wallet. If you are going out with a focus on the up, think about weight and efficiency, but if the downhill aspect is why you are out there make that your priority. Make sure to look for key features like long foam grips and powder baskets on the poles you purchase as we have found those features to make a difference in the backcountry. 

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