The popularity of Nordic skiing has taken off. Take a look on most used gear sites, or even at most outdoor stores, and you’ll find a huge shortage of cross-country skis, poles, and boots. In a way, it’s incredible. The industry is finally catching up with production, and we’re being left with a massive amount of gear that is optimal for the sports that we want to explore in the wintertime.
Whether you’re just getting into cross-country skiing, or it’s a sport that you’ve loved since childhood, knowing the right poles to buy will truly shift your experience on the trails. At first glance, they seem like a simple, almost unimportant piece of gear in the grand scheme of things. In reality, they can greatly influence your efficiency, power, and stability while skiing. From skate skiing to classic Nordic, you’ll find that having the right poles makes all the difference.
The Build of a Cross Country Ski Pole
To begin, we need to look at what makes up a complete cross country ski pole. There aren’t a lot of parts, so each part plays a huge role in the pole’s performance.
The strap of a cross country ski pole is going to help you to keep ahold of the pole no matter what happens. It can be difficult to hold a pole between your legs, or even get it to stick upright in the ground at times. If you need to adjust a glove, or simply need your hands for something, straps are incredibly useful to give you that option.
There are two different styles of straps that you can choose between when looking for the right pole. The first is the Ergonomic strap. It’s in the name with this one. This strap is designed for comfort because you don’t need to regularly remove the pole. If you’re just beginning, this is a good choice for a strap. It’s simple.
The other style of strap is the Biathlon. Even the name points towards its intensity. It’s designed for those who need to remove their straps often, like someone who is competing or doing any backcountry skiing.
The grip provides you with the most comfort out of all the different parts of the pole. You’ll be in touch with the grip the entire time you are skiing, so a personal preference is almost always what this comes down to. No grip is the “perfect” one, but each style of grip has its own pros and cons.
Natural cork grips are made for those who are set out to compete and need to shed every ounce possible. They will cut down on weight, but you lose a lot of durability and lifetime by choosing cork.
Rubber grips are made to be durable and resistant to a beating. These are great for skiers that are just starting out, or anyone that wants to buy a pair of poles that will last a lifetime. They can be slightly heavier, but it’s nothing that you can’t get used to over time if you aren’t competing.
The shaft of the pole is the long straight piece that connects your grip to the basket, and then to the ground. It is what transfers all of your power from your arm into the ground, so it’s arguably the most important part of the entire pole.
There are two main materials that shafts are being made from nowadays, aluminum or composite.
Aluminum is much more durable than its composite competitor. Aluminum poles also tend to be much more economically friendly on your wallet. They’re mainly made to be used with skiers going touring, but can be used widely if you aren’t worried about weight.
The composite shafts are any poles made from materials that feature carbon. These are extremely lightweight and are often paired with a cork grip to get the most lightweight pole possible. Just like with the grips, these are made for those that are looking to move quickly and don’t mind having to buy another set of poles in their lifetime.
The final piece of the pole is the basket. While you’re using the pole, the basket will be helping distribute the force of the pole onto the snow in order to move your forward, rather than sinking to the bottom of the snowpack.
Small semicircle baskets are typically found on poles that are going to be used for racing, cross-country touring, or skate skiing. They work well on groomed (packed down) snow. This is probably where you will ski the most, as groomed trails can be the best for learning on and for getting out just for a quick go after work.
Full circle, wider baskets are made for those that are looking to get into the backcountry and explore deeper powder. The large baskets help grab onto more snow and this is necessary if you want to move at all in powder.
Finding Your Cross-Country Ski Poles
Now we know every part of the cross country cross-country ski pole, we need to figure out how to decide what’s right for who. If you’re an experienced skier, you may already know exactly what you want, but this information can be overwhelming for beginners out there.
The first thing you need to do is decide on what kind of cross-country skiing technique you want to focus on. This is going to have the largest impact on what pole you end up choosing. There are poles made specifically for skate skiing and poles made for backcountry touring. If you’re just starting skiing, consider focusing on styles that happen mainly on groomed trails like classic touring and skate skiing.
Classic cross-country skiing is what most imagine when thinking about the sport. It’s the classic image of someone gliding down a trail with skis moving forward and in line with each other.
Classic cross-country ski touring happens mainly on groomed trails where you want a pole that has a smaller basket. Depending on how competitive you want to get, you can choose between an aluminum shaft with a rubber grip or a composite shaft with a cork grip.
Skate skiing is a variety of cross-country skiing where you use your legs to push yourself forward with a side-to-side motion. It’s similar to rollerblading and is one heck of a workout.
What’s important to know about skate skiing poles is that they typically need to be a bit longer than classic poles. A good rule is to add 10 centimeters to your classic poles and you’ll be at the right size for skate skiing.
For skate skiing, you also want poles with a half-moon basket, or at least a smaller basket. You’ll only be on groomed trails and don’t need the full extent of a basket that can grab onto a lot of powder. Skate skiing is about trimming down a bit and having fewer things that will get in the way while moving down the trail.
Touring can take you into the backcountry where you will find a powder that normal baskets won’t provide enough lift on. This is where you want the wide, full-circle baskets that can distribute the force of the pole. It will help you drastically to get the most out of your pole.
Sizing your classic cross-country ski pole is a simple process. You can either use Google to find a size chart, or simply multiply your height (in centimeters) by 0.83, and that should be perfect. Remember that you want to add ten centimeters to this measurement to get the right size pole for skate skiing.
Recommended Cross-Country Ski Poles
Swix dominates the world of cross-country ski poles. Rossignol and Salomon also make quality poles, but we found that Swix brings the best for each different use.
1. Swix Quantum 4 Cross Country Ski Poles - 2022 One Color, 1550
Category: Cross Country
Weight: 6.77 oz.
Length: 135 – 175cm
This set of poles is a fantastic choice for anyone that wants to cut down on weight and up their winter performance. They utilize a composite shaft and cork grip with a design that brings balanced performance. These are for serious skiers that want to dominate groomed trails.
2. Swix Nordic Standard Aluminum Cross-Country Ski Poles
Category: Cross Country
Size: 120-160 cm
Available sizes: 120 CM, 125 CM, 130 CM, 135 CM, 140 CM, 145 CM, 150 CM, 155 CM, 160 CM
The Nordic Standard Poles are an optimal choice for beginners. They’re affordable, and give you a desirable level of performance on groomed trails. If you aren’t wanting to drop a ton of money at first, try skiing out with these poles, and maybe move on to more high-tech poles later on.
3. Swix Elite Off Track Cross-Country Ski Poles
Category: Cross Country
Weight: 1.64 oz.
Available size: 125 CM, 130 CM, 135 CM, 140 CM, 145 CM, 150 CM, 155 CM, 160 CM
If you’re heading off-piste you should be ready for anything. These poles feature a wide basket that adds to the flotation of your pole and help you transfer your power into the snow rather than driving your pole all the way down to the ground. They have a cork grip and an aluminum shaft for a combination of comfortable, lightweight, and durable use.