Do I Need Poles for Snowshoeing?

Do you even need poles to snowshoe? Many beginners really do not need to buy separate poles to begin setting off on a snowshoe trip. However, poles can be a wise choice for snowshoeing depending on the trail you plan to tackle, especially for more advanced and rugged terrain.

This article will explain possible the benefits and proper usage of poles for snowshoeing as well as features, recommendations, and alternatives to consider when looking for poles.

Benefits of Snowshoe Poles

Balance and Coordination

Unlike winter sports such as cross-country skiing, poles are not generally used to propel your momentum forward when snowshoeing. Instead, they are mainly used for support while traversing winter terrain, and the primary function of snowshoe poles is to improve balance and coordination. Poles will provide stability especially when climbing up or down steep and uneven terrain.

Remove stress from your knees and back

Proper use of poles will remove the force and impact on your knees and back while snowshoeing. Not only will this reduce the chances of long-term injury to your body, but you’ll be able to feel a noticeable improvement on a longer snowshoe outing. This is especially if you carrying a heavy pack or load on your back.

Build upper body strength

Using poles while snowshoeing will engage your arms and core muscles to create a true full-body workout. Don’t expect to gain huge arm muscles, but the the continuous use of poles will be similar exercise to moderate resistance training.

check snow depth

Snowshoers can also use poles to test unknown snow conditions and depth. For example, poles might be used to uncover ice or water underneath a section of the trail that is covered in snow, such as a river crossing.

Tips for Using Snowshoe Poles

setting pole length – 90 degree rule

The rule of thumb for setting the height of poles is that your elbows should make a 90-degree right angle when held directly in front of you so as the tip of each snowshoe pole reaches the ground. Your shoulders should be relaxed as your arms fall into a natural position.

Setting the length of a pole is very simple on most modern hiking or trekking poles. Most use a lever mechanism that lets you lock the different sections of the pole into place. These guidelines can approximate how long to set your poles based on your height.

Height RangePole Length
5’2” – 5’5”43”
5’5” – 5’8”45”
5’9” – 5’10”47”
5’11″ – 6’1”49”
6’2” – 6”5”51”
Adjusting Pole Length for Snowshoeing

Uphill vs. downhill

When traversing uphill on snowshoes, you will want to shorten your poles since there is less distance between your body and the ground. Conversely, when you have a long downhill stretch, you’ll want to lengthen your snowshoe poles to reach the ground.

The ability to adjust the length of snowshoes is an important feature, and feel free to experiment with a pole length that you feel most comfortable with.

Snow baskets

Snow baskets, or what are sometimes referred to as powder baskets, attach to the ends of your poles. These circular or snowflake-shaped attachments prevent the pole from sinking too deep into the snow which can cause you to lose balance or take up more energy on a long hike.

These items are a key part of the best snowshoe pole, and can usually be purchases as accessories if you already own trekking poles or need to replace a broken or missing basket.

Straps

When using snowshoe poles, your hands should go through the straps and then around the grip. While many find the straps of the poles can be uncomfortable or useless, they help ensure that you won’t accidentally lose your pole. Consider poles that have padded straps for improved comfort.

Can I use Skiing or Hiking Poles for Snowshoeing?

Beginners can use ski poles or hiking poles for snowshoeing. In fact, there aren’t many products marketed as true “snowshoe poles”. Instead, what most would consider “snowshoe poles” actually fall under the category of trekking poles, which we recommend.

Features of trekking poles

Trekking poles are used for all types of hiking and similar activities such as snowshoeing. Trekking poles generally contain straps and a grip attached to the shaft, or main section of the pole. Towards the bottom of the shaft is a locking or adjusting mechanism that allows you to adjust the length of the pole. Baskets attach beneath the locking mechanism, right above the tips of the poles, which tend to have a rubber tip cover.

If you own trekking poles or are considering purchasing a pair, they might be completely set up to use for snowshoeing trips. In fact, you might just need to swap out or buy snow baskets to attach to your poles.

Features of ski poles

Ski poles fall under two categories which are used for either Alpine/Downhill skiing or Nordic/Cross-country skiing. Cross-country ski poles are typically longer and also feature small snow baskets since they are generally intended for groomed ski trails.

We’d recommend trekking poles or hiking poles these over either type of ski poles. Another reason to avoid ski poles is that they are usually fixed length and cannot be adjusted to different heights. However, ski poles can be a good alternative to provide some stability benefits for a beginner, especially if you already own a pair.

Which Snowshoe Poles to Buy?

if you have not bought your own snowshoes, some snowshoe packages even come with their own set of poles included. These add-on items can vary in quality, but may be suitable for your needs.

For those looking to buy or upgrade snowshoe poles, some important factors to consider are their construction material, grip, weight, and price.

Material 

The most common materials used to construct snowshoe poles are aluminum and carbon. Both materials are lightweight and sturdy, but aluminum poles can be dented or bent, while carbon tends to be lighter and stronger. However, it is possible to break or completely snap a carbon pole. Some models even use a hybrid composition of both aluminum and carbon.

Grip

The grip of your poles should be ergonomically designed for the shape of your hands to wrap around. Trekking pole grips are typically made from a soft material, such as cork, rubber, or EVA foam. This is one feature that is best to test out in person, if possible.

Weight

Trekking poles are typically very light and will not affect your trip too much, as they usually weigh around a pound or two at most for a set.  However, serious winter hikers and trekkers might want to consider ultralight poles to minimize their total weight load.

Ideal snowshoeing poles should also be collapsible and able to be easily stow in or attached on to your backpack.

Price

Winter gear and snowshoes are expensive enough as it is, so you might not want to spend $100 or more on a new set of trekking poles. There are several relatively inexpensive poles that will suit the needs of recreational snowshoers. However, higher-end trekking poles can be a smart investment if you are looking for the most comfortable and durable product that can last thousands of miles.

Trekking Pole Recommendations

Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles

Black diamond produces some of the highest quality trekking poles on the market, and their Trail Trekking Poles are a great aluminum-constructed pair of poles that will suit the needs of hikers and snowshoers in all four seasons.

Buy on Amazon | Buy on Black Diamond

Cascade Mountain Trekking Poles

Cascade Mountain offers both aluminum and carbon poles with different types of grips, but their basic Trekking Poles are a great value for beginner snowshoers.

Buy on Amazon | Buy on Cascade Mountain

REI Traverse Trekking Poles

REI is a good place to rent out snowshoes for the first time, and they also typically include trekking poles with a rental. Use this as an opportunity to test the poles.

Buy on REI

Pacer Pole

One of the most innovative trekking poles on the market is the UK-based Pacer Pole. These poles feature a unique twisted-grip shape that is better designed to fit the contours of the hand.

Buy on Pacer Pole