How to Buy Perfect Cross Country Ski Poles

credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

How to buy cross country ski poles. What materials are best? How long should your poles be for skate and classic skiing? How much should you spend?

Learn everything you need to know about buying cross country ski poles, including how to calculate pole length for skate and classic skiing.

How to calculate pole length

Pole length will influence your ski technique. If you buy cross country ski poles that are overly long they will force you to stand in a more upright posture.

Standing more upright makes it harder to balance and to get into the basic posture for cross country skiing.

The basic posture for skate sand classic skiing is to be slightly flexed at the hips, knees and ankles with the whole body leaning forward.

Measuring Cross Country Ski Poles

Classic cross country ski poles are shorter than skate skis poles.

The World Ski Federation limits classic ski pole length used in FIS races to 83% of the skiers height as calculated in the ski boots.

Below are the standard lengths we recommend for pole length, as measured to manufacturer’s pole length.

The manufacturer's length is measured to the top of the pole handle for most brands, but on a few brands is measured to where the strap inserts into the handle.

“Your height” means your actual height, not standing in shoes.

These pole lengths will allow you to ski in a flexed and forward posture that will greatly improve the efficiency of your technique.

A good rule of thumb is that you want to get your weight forward in cross-country skiing, not high. If your poles are too long, you'll likely stand too tall and be less able to get your weight forward.

Formula for Classic Ski Pole Length
  • Your height (cm) - 30 = Classic pole length
Formula for Skate Ski Pole Length
  • Your height (cm) - 20 = Skate pole length
Example Calculation

(Skate Ski Pole Length)

  1. Your height: 178 cm
  2. New ski pole length: 160 cm to top of handles
  3. Your ideal skate pole length: 158 cm
  4. Recommendation: cut poles down by 2 cm.

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

Materials and Features

Shaft Material

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. Carbon fibre cross country ski poles are also more fragile and prone to snapping.

Beware especially when poling in deeper, ungroomed snow. If the pole tip sinks deeply and you are poling forcefully you run a higher risk of breaking the pole.

You propel yourself forward with your skis AND poles, so poles are extremely important in Nordic skiing.

There are many mid-range composite ski poles that offer excellent value for money. Ask at your local ski shop.

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 disengages the strap from the pole, even while the harness is still wrapped around your hand.

That’s a nice feature because it allows you to use your hands without going to the trouble of taking your hands out of the harness.

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.

Do not 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.

Buying Advice

Most new skiers should buy a low to mid-range composite pole, not an aluminum pole.

If you can't get a pole in the length you need, make sure the store will cut it down for you. Not all poles have handles that can be removed for cutting the pole, so check that.

If you have the budget and you're sure cross country skiing is going to be your new passion, go ahead and buy top of the line poles. Just remember, they are a little fragile and it's quite heartbreaking to snap an expensive pole.

Did you know we have ski technique videos?

For skiers just getting started:

For Skate Skiers: The One Skate Dance Drill

For Classic Skiers: Learn Diagonal Stride - this will benefit you even if you've been skiing for years as this teaches competition technique.

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