Poles are critical companions in the mountains. Whether inbounds skiing or trekking into Aconcagua base camp, backcountry skiing or towing a sled into camp high on Denali, poles give the body very necessary support and aid. Not only do they absorb shock in the knees or add power to a big uphill step, but they also help us to keep our balance and move with good posture.
Which poles are best for which activity? Here we breakdown why specific poles have specific purposes, and how to choose the right poles for your trip.
Fixed Poles (One-Piece)
If you’re skiing inbounds at a resort, enjoying the good, bad, and slapstick found whenever chairlifts are involved, a one-size single-section fixed ski pole is appropriate. For this activity you’re only moving downhill, and so you can pick a pole of the right size for your height. Very simple constructions make fixed poles the cheapest variety. However…single-section poles are only appropriate for downhill skiing. Don’t plan to use this kind of pole for backcountry skiing or climbing.
Backcountry Ski Poles (Two-Piece)
For ski-only pursuits – inbounds and backcountry – 2-section poles are common. Typically, 2-section poles hold up better to the stresses placed on them while skiing. For backcountry uses, 2-section poles can be adjusted for uphill/downhill travel. Depending on the angle of travel, a longer or shorter pole is most efficient – so this adjustability is critical and worth the minor sacrifice in overall pole strength as compared to a fixed pole.
When traveling to ski, we most often have a long ski bag in tow that will easily accommodate our ski poles, whether fixed or two-piece.
Trekking Poles (Three-Piece)
Finally, for any non-skiing pursuit, 3-section poles are best. 3-section poles offer the greatest adjustment range, first of all. In the alpine environment, it’s common to traverse steeper slopes. In these situations it’s very beneficial to be able to shorten your uphill pole dramatically. 2-section poles don’t offer enough range for this. As well, it’s common to use a single pole on a climb along with your ice axe. This means you’ll want to stash your spare pole on your backpack, so it’s key to have a pole that can shorten sufficiently so as not to stick out like an antenna.
The other major advantage to 3-section poles is that they’ll fit into most luggage! On your climbing trip, you’re likely to use a duffel bag for transit rather than a long ski bag. Duffel bags – even the biggest duffel bags – aren’t long enough to fit a collapsed 2-section trekking pole.