Testing out leashes, baskets, adjustment systems and more, Martin Chester gives you the beta you need to choose the right pole for backcountry forays and hut-to-hut adventures
To the uninitiated, a ski pole is a ski pole. Surely it is just a stick with a leash and a plastic widget on the end, right? Wrong! That is like saying all bikes are the same because they have two wheels.
A ski pole is a thing of engineering beauty; the handle, with its perfect curves, is a joy to hold and a tool of great purpose; the leash is our protector of shoulder injuries; and a duff basket is a pain in the arse.
I am justifiably proud of my quiver of ski poles. They are all different, and they all suit a different purpose. I won’t say perfectly, because the hunt is still on for the perfect pole(s). For now, woe betide anyone who says I don’t need another pair!
So, assuming you have a cupboard (or a shop) full of choice, how do you choose the perfect pole for touring? Well, here are some of my favourites, in three simple categories to help you pick the right tool for the job.
You need a trusty pole that won’t let you down (literally). So a one-piece construction rules here, and collapsing extendables are out. Given that we are going to be doing a bit of uphill, the handle is everything. Sturdy is more important than lightweight.
Here are Martin’s favourite three backcountry access poles
Out in the wilderness, faced with a long track, road or poling flat (like a lake) I am likely to wind my poles up 10-15cm. This is also about the only time I ever (yes really) put leashes on. You feel like a right muppet skating off and leaving a pole behind you. And going back can be a heartbreaking waste of effort!
Here are Martin’s favourite three two-part touring poles
This is a relatively new category of pole, and should appeal to ski mountaineers, and only them if we are honest. If you need to pack your poles away in order to use your axes, or to climb, then these are the poles for you. If not, take a look at these alternatives!
Here are Martin’s favourite compacting poles