The best ski poles in 2024, tried and tested

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Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

Let’s take a moment to admire the unassuming hero of our powder days: the ski pole. Ski poles are the uncelebrated champion of skiing. They aren’t as critical as ski boots or bindings and nowhere near as beautiful as the colorful graphics that sit upon our skis, but at every turn, our ski poles keep on performing. They do a lot: help us find our rhythm on the slopes, give us a post to lean against in the lift lines, move us along on the cat track and pull us upward as we ascend steep mountains.

While ski poles are still quite simple, they’ve come a long way from the hickory or oak sticks of old. Now we have collapsible and fixed poles made from various materials, detachable leashes and optional basket sizes. It can be enough to make your head spin.

That’s why we set out to find this year’s best ski pole. To do this, we tested eight of the most popular ski poles this season, including fixed and adjustable options. We skied uphill and downhill at Aspen Snowmass, we gave ’em a spin on the local Nordic skiing trails just for fun and we even used them around the neighborhood to get a feel for the grip. In the end, we found two favorites. Here are the results.


Grass Sticks Original Bamboo Ski Poles
Best ski poles

Grass Sticks
Grass Sticks

The Grass Sticks took our top spot, thanks to a comfortable and tacky grip and just enough flex to outperform every other pole we tested. Bonus: They’re made from bamboo, and this plant-based design keeps them nice and light. If you purchase directly through Grass Sticks, you can also customize your poles by choosing the colors for your grip, basket and leash.


$110 at REI
$110 at Grass Sticks



Leki Guide Lite 2
Best ski poles for backcountry skiing

Leki
Leki

These poles offer a huge range of adjustability, and the ergonomic grip is one of the easiest to hold out of the bunch. The poles are light enough to carry into the backcountry, and we loved the thoughtfully designed baskets that make backcountry tasks easier.


$140 at Leki


Best ski poles: Grass Sticks Original Bamboo Ski Poles

$110 at REI and Grass Sticks

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

Most people don’t think of the environment when they purchase ski poles, but they should. An argument can be made that the Grass Sticks Original Bamboo Ski Poles are the most sustainable option on our list, but they’re also the most flexible and the only ones that are customizable. The best part? All that goodness comes at one of the most affordable price points in our testing.

While most ski poles are constructed with an aluminum or even carbon fiber shaft, the Grass Sticks are made from bamboo. Bamboo is quickly becoming one of the most popular materials used in products ranging from base layers to socks. This is because it regenerates itself by growing incredibly fast, making it an environmentally responsible choice. It’s extremely strong too. So strong, in fact, its strength-to-weight ratio is higher than even steel or concrete.

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

Bottom line: Choosing a bamboo pole over an aluminum one feels like a good choice for the planet, and these are the only bamboo poles we tested. The Mountain Flow CorkPro Ski Poles were the only other poles to lessen their environmental impact by using recycled aluminum instead of virgin — the first in the industry to do so.

Beyond sustainability, we loved the flexibility of the Grass Sticks. Ski poles need to be incredibly strong to withstand the impact of aggressive pole plants on each turn, but rigidity often leads to snapped or bent poles in a crash. Thanks to the bamboo, the Grass Sticks are incredibly strong — remember the steel and concrete? — but the plant’s inherent flexibility means they bend just a bit under pressure, making it harder to actually break them. Plus, Grass Sticks will repair them for free if anything busts in the first two years.

In testing, we noticed that the flex added to our ski experience too. They don’t collapse under your weight, but they do bend a little, which helped us cruise through our turns. In this regard, their performance felt similar to a carbon fiber pole like the Leki Sherpa FX Carbon ($260), without the price tag. They also have a noticeably smooth swing between turns, never feeling awkward or cumbersome. Basically, you don’t notice they’re there, which is exactly what you want in a ski pole.

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

Customization is rarely seen in ski poles, so we love this feature. When you place an order directly through Grass Sticks, you’re asked to select from nine color options on the grip and another 10 color options for the medium, 4-inch basket. Save for the cork grip option that does cost extra, this level of customization is included in the price of the ski poles. If you want, you can also upgrade your hand leash, although there is an $18 fee. No other ski poles in our testing allowed for any type of customization (and few offered more than one or two color options), which isn’t exactly a deal breaker, but it is a nice touch.

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

We opted for the standard hand leash and found it easy to use with mittens. While we don’t ski with our hands through the leash (this is a hot topic; more on that below), it was still easy to slip our gloves in and out when needed. There’s no strap breakaway feature like on the Leki Spitfire 3D or Black Diamond Traverse Pro, but we aren’t always a fan of those designs anyway. To us, this was a nonissue, and we found the leashes with the soft rubber grip to be one of the simplest yet most comfortable.

Ski pole purists who are reluctant to dive into the bamboo end of the ski slope often worry that bamboo poles won’t last as long as aluminum. Since they’re a relatively new idea when compared to aluminum poles, we can’t discount their logic. But our testing didn’t show a lack of durability either. And since most ski tests don’t last for years at a time, we think it’s unfair to ding a product based on hypotheticals and speculation. Anecdotally, we have some friends who have skied with Grass Sticks for five years running now, and they’re still charging as hard as ever. To test their longevity, we’ll be skiing with these Grass Sticks for the foreseeable future and will update this guide with their performance and durability over the years.

Best ski poles for backcountry skiing: Leki Guide Lite 2

$140 at Leki

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

The Leki Guide Lite 2 poles offer the coveted trifecta of any backcountry ski pole: weight, ergonomics and function. They’re a bit of a chameleon, and that’s the secret to their success. While they don’t dramatically stand out in any single category, they offer a lot of value as a backcountry ski pole that does everything pretty darn well.

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

First, their adjustability is top-notch. Backcountry skiers often need to adjust the length of their poles: shorter when climbing or longer on the descent. The Guide Lite poles have a generous range, so skiers can adjust them anywhere from 110 to 145 centimeters. While the Black Diamond Traverse Pro poles offer a slightly wider range (95 to 145 centimeters), we still felt that the Leki have enough adjustability to accommodate most skiers and conditions.

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

A real highlight of the Guide Lite poles is the grip. Leki calls it its Aergon Air grip due to the hollow core that keeps it lightweight. We can’t say that we noticed this shaved weight specifically, but what really make these grips our favorite is their slight downward tilt toward your body. We found this angle to be more comfortable than other grips we tried, and for someone like me who has carpal tunnel and often gets numb fingers while ski touring, this angle seemed to offset those effects more than any other poles. We also enjoyed the large handle of the Leki, which is bigger than any of the other poles we tested. It’s equipped with various ridges, bumps and angles that make holding the poles comfortable in all sorts of positions. We often grip the top of the ski pole while climbing rather than hold it around the side to get more downward force, and this particular design made it the easiest pole to hang on to.

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored
Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

The Guide Lite 2 poles aren’t the lightest in our testing — that goes to the Black Crows Duos Freebird at 8.6 ounces per pole — but they are light enough for most backcountry skiers at 9.3 ounces each. And the baskets are cleverly designed to help with backcountry tasks. Instead of a traditional basket, one edge is straighter and harder than the rest, so you can use it as a tool. During my many ski tours around Aspen, Colorado, I’d use this side of the basket to flip down the risers on my bindings or scrape slush and ice off my skins. With the other poles in the test, I had to flip them upside down and use the handle to tinker with my risers, so it was a luxury to remove one step from the process.

The Leki Guide Lite 2 poles have great adjustability, feel comfortable in your hands and have useful baskets so you don’t have to bend down to mess with your skis. If you’re looking for poles that can perform no matter the backcountry conditions, these are definitely the pick for you.

Everything you need to know about ski poles

Ski poles might not be your top priority when upgrading your ski gear, but a good pair will make a day on the slopes that much better. When you’re first starting out, it’s often easier to grab rental poles or the cheapest ones available. And that’s fine as you’re ramping up — we’d definitely recommend investing in quality boots and bindings first. But once you’re ready to turn your attention to poles, there’s a handful of factors to consider to make your investment worth it. Silver lining: Once you’ve bought them, you’ll have them for years to come.

First, take a look at the shaft material. For most poles, this will be aluminum since it’s lightweight, durable and affordable. Carbon fiber is often used in more expensive, higher-end poles due to its inherent lightweight nature, but it does cost a lot more. However, as technology advances and outdoor brands begin to emphasize less harm to the planet, products are changing. Mountain Flow has the first-ever recycled aluminum poles, lessening their impact by avoiding virgin aluminum, and brands like Grass Sticks are shying away from mass-produced materials in favor of slower production with more sustainable materials like bamboo.

You’ll also want to look at the ski pole weight, regardless of whether you’re skiing at a resort or in the backcountry. While weight matters a touch less for resort skiers catching a chairlift, it’s still important since you’ll be swinging that pole with every single turn — it adds up over time. For backcountry skiers, weight is even more of a concern since you’re literally carrying everything up a mountain. Poles with a thinner diameter are often lighter but potentially less durable, and materials like carbon fiber are lighter than aluminum but more costly. There’s no single right answer; you just need to decide what matters most to you.

Depending on how you plan to use your poles, you may want to consider an adjustable option. Typically, resort skiers use fixed poles since they’re stronger and can handle more downhill force. Backcountry skiers want adjustable poles to account for the ever-changing topography. If you ski both environments and don’t want to invest in two types of poles, we’d recommend an adjustable option. This will be far more comfortable in the backcountry and will be more than fine while shredding powder at the resort.

The hand grip and leashes are important since they’re your point of contact with the ski pole. These days, there’s a wide variety of materials used on the grip: rubber, cork and plastic are all common. It largely comes down to personal preference and what feels best in your hand. Rubber and plastic are the most typical options since they don’t absorb moisture, but rubber is usually more comfortable.

Leashes tie into the grip to help keep your poles attached to your wrists. However, if you ask any ski patroller at any ski resort, we’re betting they don’t wear their leashes while skiing. That’s because it’s often difficult for a glove-covered hand to slide out of the leash in a crash, often leading to a dislocated shoulder or worse. However, others advocate to always wear your leashes on-piste so you don’t accidentally lose them. Our take: Beginner and intermediate skiers should wear leashes, while advanced skiers should consider ditching them. If you do want to use them, however, it’s important to be able to easily fit your hand in and out so they aren’t cumbersome. Some leashes, such as those on the Leki Spitfire 3D poles or Black Diamond Traverse Pro, are detachable and designed to rip off in an accident, which is definitely helpful if you wear them, but they can add to the cost.

The last thing to consider on your ski poles is the basket. In general, bigger baskets can handle more snow, while smaller baskets are lighter but sink in powdery drifts. If you ski in areas with constantly changing snow, it may be worth opting for a pole that has interchangeable baskets. (Pro tip: Don’t ski without baskets. Your poles will sink into the snow and throw your balance out of whack.)

How we tested

To find the best ski poles, we looked at everything from ergonomics in the hand grip to overall weight and leash comfort. We also took price into consideration, as well as the materials used. To do so, we divided our testing into five categories: weight and materials, grip, basket, adjustability and features. From there, we directly compared each ski pole through field testing, comparative measurements and standardized tests. Here’s the entire breakdown of how we evaluated the ski poles.

Weight and materials

  • Materials: What type of materials are used? Do any of them have better qualities than the others?

  • Diameter: What is the diameter of the pole? Does it affect the weight and comfort?

  • Weight: What is the manufacturer’s listed weight? How does it feel in your hands?

Grip

  • Ergonomics: How does the grip feel? Is it comfortable? We walked around the neighborhood while using the poles to gauge comfort in a controlled environment.

  • Leash: Are the leashes easy to use or adjustable? Do they fit around your hand? While wearing gloves, we slid our hand in and out five times to gauge if the leashes were cumbersome.

  • Safety measures: Does the leash have any quick-release feature that allows it to decouple from the poles? If so, how does it work?

Basket

  • Quantity: How many baskets come with the poles? Are they a usable size?

  • Features: Do the baskets have any additional features like ice scrapers?

  • Attachment: When applicable, are the baskets easy to attach and detach? We removed and reattached the baskets three times to gauge the ease and efficiency of the design.

Adjustability

  • Adjustable or collapsible: Do the poles fully collapse, or are they only adjustable?

  • Range: How much adjustability do the poles have?

Features

  • Additional features: Are there any additional features that make the poles stand out? How useful are those features?

Other ski poles we tested

Mountain Flow CorkPro

$120 at Mountain Flow and REI

The CorkPro ski poles came very close to taking the top spot in our fixed-pole category since they’re made from recycled aluminum (instead of virgin) but are still very lightweight and strong. However, they cost a little bit more and don’t have the customization options that the Grass Sticks have. Still, if you’re not ready to commit to the bamboo lifestyle, we’d recommend the CorkPro.

Head Kore Free Tour Free Ride Pole

$189 at Head

There is a lot to like about these Head adjustable ski poles, and we enjoyed testing them. They have a nice swing and weigh very little, and the grip feels good in your hands; however, we ultimately decided the price point was a bit too high, especially without any standout features.

Leki Spitfire 3D

$140 at Leki

The Spitfire 3D poles are sassy, colorful and a whole lot of fun on the slopes. They come with two interchangeable baskets and are a manageable weight, but we struggled with the detachable leashes. Skiers cinch the leash on their hand for the day, but it can separate from the pole in a crash. But the leash is designed to work with Leki gloves, and we were testing with Hestras. As a result, the leash was too tight on our hands and we found the whole thing cumbersome.

Black Crows Duos Freebird

From $140 at Powder 7 or $180 at Black Crows

These two-piece telescoping poles were the lightest poles we tested and had a smooth swing in the field. We also loved the adjustable leashes, but the jury is out on the long-grip design. Instead of a traditional grip, the Black Crows have a smooth foam grip that extends 14 inches from the top of the pole. The idea is that backcountry skiers can choke up on the pole in steep terrain without having to adjust the length — and we loved that part. But when you’re using it to ski at a resort or for a mellow backcountry lap, we had a tough time actually getting a good grip. Our take: It’s a great option if you already know you like it, but it’s not for everyone.

Leki Sherpa FX Carbon

$260 at Leki

There’s a lot to love about these poles: the five-segment design that easily breaks down to fit inside a backpack, the same (beloved) hand grip as found on the Leki Guide Lite 2 and the lightweight carbon-and-aluminum design. These are all features that would make these poles a great pick for a dedicated ski mountaineer, but for the rest of us … ouch, that price tag.

Black Diamond Traverse Pro

$135 From $101 at Evo or $135 $108 at Black Diamond

The Traverse Pro poles have a solid value argument. At 9.8 ounces per pole, they’re light enough for most skiers, and Black Diamond uses a breakaway leash that detaches in a fall but doesn’t impede your use the rest of the time. However, the poles lost us with the baskets — like, we literally lost them. The baskets are notoriously difficult to get fully screwed on, and maybe it was user error, but we just couldn’t manage it. During our inaugural voyage, one basket kept falling off in the snow, and I couldn’t get it to fully attach no matter how hard I cranked down on it. Ultimately, one fell off mid-traverse and I never saw it again.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed price at the time of publication.

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