How to Buy Perfect Poles

Credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

Recommended Lengths for Classic and Skate Poles

These are the standard lengths we recommend for pole length.  As measured to manufacturer’s pole length, which is the top of the pole handle for most brands (check).

  • Your height (cm) - 30 = Classic pole length
  • Your height (cm) - 20 = Skate pole length
Example Calculation (Skate Ski Pole Length)
  • Your height: 178 cm
  • New ski pole length: 160 cm to top of handles
  • Your ideal skate pole length: 158 cm
  • Recommendation: cut poles down by 2 cm.

Here’s a video demo of how to cut down a nordic ski pole using a heat gun to loosen the glue. Be careful with this method so you don’t burn the handle. You can also use a pot of hot water to soften the glue. The water method is safer, but slower and you’ll have to wait for the handle to dry before use.

A Nordic Ski Shop will often cut new poles for free at the time of purchase, or for a small fee.

Ski Pole Materials and Features

Pole Shaft

Poles are made of aluminium, carbon or a composite material. The best poles are:

  • Lightweight - to reduce the energy needed to carry them.
  • Stiff - to improve the transmission of forces through the poles and into the ground. The stiffness of a pole can decrease with age.
  • Ideally Weighted/Engineered - to improve how the pole feels in the hand as it swings like a pendulum.

Carbon poles are most expensive and have the best performance with regards to the above qualities. 

You propel yourself forward with your skis AND poles, so poles are extremely important in Nordic skiing and investing in mid-range or better quality poles is well worth the extra expense.

Pole Handles
  • Buy a harness strap, not a loop strap. The harness will hold the pole close to your hand effortlessly and distribute the pressure more evenly across your hand. Test different harnesses to find what’s most comfortable for you.
  • Pole harnesses come in different sizes and are expensive to replace. Make sure you buy a harness that fits over your glove or mitten. Get help adjusting the fit when you buy them.
  • Cork handles are warmer to the touch than manmade materials, but cork wears out over time.
  • Some handles have quick release mechanisms that disengage the strap from the pole, even while the strap is still attached to your hand. That’s a nice feature because it allows you to use your hands without going to the trouble of unharnessing and re-harnessing your hands. Biathletes need this feature so they can shoot. The drawback of quick-release poles is that’s another thing that can break or wear out. You may find the strap disengages, even when you don’t want it to.
Pole Tips
  • Pole tips come with different sized baskets. Large baskets are good for deep and/or soft snow. Small baskets are ideal for well groomed and hard snow.
  • Pole tips need periodic sharpening.
  • Roller skiing requires special tips made of a much harder material (carbide). Buy these tips separately. Make sure the tip matches the shaft diameter of your pole so it will fit properly. Never roller ski with regular pole tips because the pavement will destroy the on-snow tips very quickly.
  • Some poles have screw in tips which allow you to easily swap out tips for various conditions and uses.

Why Choosing the Right Pole Length is Tricky

Poles and pole length directly influence ski technique in a number of ways.

Body Position

Body position and posture have an enormous impact on ski technique. In both skate and classic skiing, you want to maintain some flexion at the ankles, knees and hips at all times and learn to ski with your weight slightly forward on your feet.

When poles are too long, it forces skiers into a more upright position and makes it hard for them to get into an athletic stance.

The pole length recommendations above provide enough “space” so skiers can work through more flexion in the hips, knees and ankles. The better you can move through your hips, knees and ankles, the more you’ll be able to use your legs to help power the poles.

Upper and Lower Body Connection

Applying pressure into the ground via the poles helps activate the muscles of the core. The sensation should feel similar to the feeling of bracing in a plank or side plank exercise.

Thanks to this core activation, it means that the poles aren’t only powered by the upper body and the skis aren’t simply powered by the legs. 

Rather the work of skiing is integrated across the entire body as much as possible. Using the poles helps skiers make this core connection and is what makes cross-country skiing a “full body” workout.

Longer Classic Poles for Double Poling Races

There are instances where it makes sense to use longer classic poles than recommended above. If the skier is using primarily or exclusively double pole technique, then it makes sense to use longer poles.

In FIS-sanctioned events (i.e. World Cups races), classic pole lengths are restricted to 83% of skier height, as measured on a flat surface, in ski boots to the top of the head (uncovered head).

Contact race organizers if you are participating in a ski race to see if they have any regulations in place.

References (tested in male skiers only):

Onasch F, Killick A, Herzog W. Is there an optimal length for double poling in cross country skiing? J Appl Biomech. 2016

Carlsen C. H., Rud B, Myklebust H, Losnegard T. Pole lengths influence O2-cost during double poling in highly trained cross-country skiers. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2018 (Open Access)

5 thoughts on “How to Buy Perfect Poles”

  1. Thanks for the pole length explanation and example. Question for you: How should the person height be measured? ie. height standing on skis or height in bare feet? Thanks!

    Reply
  2. On some poles the strap connects to the pole lower than on others. Especially some quick-release types the difference can be 4-5cm.
    Wouldn’t it be better to use the strap connecting point rather than the total length of the pole?

    Reply
    • You are correct that the point at which the strap enters the grip varies from pole to pole. That’s why we recommend making your calculation with respect to the manufacturer’s pole length.

      Reply

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