Snowshoeing Education 305: Are Two Poles Better than One?

Moses stretched out his hand and the Red Sea parted. I assume he held his wooden staff in the other hand. Note, that he did not have dual hiking poles…just a single staff.

When I snowshoe, I do not part snow. But like Moses, I too use a single staff. My reason for doing so is personal preference. Some snowshoeing enthusiasts prefer hiking with dual poles for upper-body aerobic exercise purposes. But since I most often hike or snowshoe at a moderate pace while stopping to take in views on occasion, I am usually not wanting an upper cardio workout with poles.

So, are two poles better than one? Or is one pole better than two? I believe the answer lies in the intended purpose and functions of the poles and preference of the user.

Single Hiking Staff

I prefer using my single Austrian made Komperdell “Hiker” staff. It is an earlier model. I use it year-round when hiking and snowshoeing. In winter I remove the rubber cap that covers a metal carbide tip, and I attach a small round plastic basket just above the tip that helps keep the pole from sinking into the snow. This twist-lock, 3-section telescoping aluminum staff has a vibration absorber, a foam handle, wrist strap and a cork top that unscrews and serves as a camera mount. Many photos in articles with me in the foreground are taken with a camera placed atop my Komperdell staff…. and using a timer function.

As a backup, I use a REI Summit Trekking staff, also made by Komperdell. This staff is a three-section aluminum pole with a slightly larger basket (called a snow or powder basket), carbide tip, curved plastic grip and fabric wrist strap.

Snowshoeing with a single hiking staff

Snowshoeing with a single hiking staff

There are multiple functions for my single hiking staff. It helps me maintain balance, such as crossing over a log and hiking on a boardwalk or on a narrow path. The older I get, I find the balance function to be more relevant. The staff also helps with momentum or propulsion when ascending a steep hill or grade. And I find it reduces stress on my knees when putting weight on the staff as I descend a hill. Since my staff is adjustable, I can make the pole shorter when going up, and longer when going down.

Jokingly I tell people I also use my Komperdell staff for poking the person in front of me who is moving to slow, and for fighting bears….although bears really hibernate in winter. But I do prefer the single pole because it frees my other hand when needed, such as taking something out of my daypack or pocket, grabbing small trees to pull me up a steep hill or moving branches that may be in my way along a trail.

Dual Trekking Poles

In “Snowshoeing: from Novice to Master,” the late Gene Prater (Edited by Dave Felkley) wrote, “There is no reason to be in two-wheel drive while in four-wheel –drive country. In mountainous terrain or deep snow, using one pole or an ice axe will provide you a power assist only. Using double poles, however, will give you fully available balance and power, making snowshoeing much easier.” Dual hiking poles have many advantages.

I also own a pair of twist-adjust, 3-section aluminum “Sherpa” trekking poles from the snowshoe company Yukon Charlie’s. The poles are a product of Synergy Sportz. These poles have an anti-shock mechanism inside the pole to help reduce strain on the wrist. The system can be turned on or off providing either a flexible or rigid pole. The carbide tip, snow basket and comfortable shaped grip and wrist strap are all features of these poles. However, I rarely use them. But when I do, I do so when snowshoeing on a snow-packed trail and on those rare occasions when I add an aerobic twist to my hike.

Snowshoeing with dual trekking poles

Snowshoeing with dual trekking poles













Dual trekking poles have a slightly different function than the single pole. “I like poles to maintain a rhythm while hiking uphill, for added stability on downhills or sidehills.” writes Claire Walter in “The Snowshoe Experience.” I believe she sums it up with dual poles providing a rhythm, be it on hills or on a straight packed trail. They do help to keep a cadence. One could almost hum the tune to John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” when in motion with snowshoes and poles…….right pole, left shoe; left pole, right shoe; repeat.

In addition to adding momentum and balance to uphills and stability on downhills, the dual poles, as I previously mentioned, help provide an upper-body aerobic workout when snowshoeing at a relatively peppy pace. Your arms are in constant motion.

Many Brands on the Market

The pole set and staffs that I use are but a few of the many brands sold on the market. Various brands offer different and unique features to their poles. Black Diamond for example makes some poles with a unique locking system called “FlickLocks.” This system allows the hiker to alter lengths of the pole while in motion snowshoeing. Komperdell’s Explorer and Ridgehiker series has an easy flip-lock system called “Power-Lock II” for tightening their adjustable poles, while their other series have the twist-lock system.

Although Leki has a wide price range to their many pole selections, their top-priced unit is the lightweight (14 ¼ ounces a pair) carbon pole called “Carbonlite XL,” with a “Super Lock” system that has a super holding force. MSR has an ultra-light (14.4 ounces a pair) aluminum “SureLock UL-3” with a push-button locking adjustment system. And, Gossamer Gear has an ultra-light carbon-fiber fixed-length pole; the “Lightrek-LT3C” weighing in at only 5.4 to 5.8 ounces a pair (depending on the length of pole). Their adjustable TL4 weighs just a little bit more.

Easton has the “ATR-80” aluminum poles with “Vi-Brake,” an innovative vibration-dampening grip, and has an adjustable “RockLock” system to lock the telescoping pole using a snaps-close lever. And Mountainsmith has an aluminum three-section winter trekking pole with extended length grips.

Other snowshoe companies besides Yukon Charlie’s make trekking poles too. Tubbs for example makes a two-part and a three-part adjustable 6000 series aluminum pole, and Atlas has a pole called “Lock Jaw” with a special telescoping locking system. Redfeather has a three-section pole with a screw-on basket, and Crescent Moon has a three-section aluminum telescoping pole with a sweat-resistant polyurethane grip. Easton Mountain Products also has an amazing line of snowshoeing poles.

There are many more brands and styles of poles and staffs on the market. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the many options available.

Selecting a Set of Poles or a Staff?

Some snowshoers use a simple wooden staff or a pair of cross-country ski poles. These work well for snowshoeing on flat terrain and rolling hills. But for high climbs and traversing steep hills, the adjustable poles are more versatile. So, if you are in the market for buying poles or a staff for snowshoeing, I recommend you first decide for what purpose you intend to use them; such as for leisure hiking, power-walking, backpacking, nature photography, etc. Then be a careful shopper. Here are some tips to consider in making your selection.

  • A Moses-like wood staff, dual poles, and two single staffs; one with a detachable cork-top, exposing a camera mount.

    A Moses-like wood staff, dual poles, and two single staffs; one with a detachable cork-top, exposing a camera mount.

    Decide if you prefer dual trekking poles or a single hiking staff. Perhaps you may want both.

  • Decide if you want adjustable telescoping or fixed shaft poles. Adjustable poles break down to a packable and transportable size (sizes can range from about 22 inches collapsed to 55 inches extended). Adjustable poles come in two or three parts.
  • If you want an adjustable pole, decide what type locking mechanism you prefer…twist, flick, lever, push-button; check them to make sure they do not slip when applying pressure.
  • Be sure the pole comes with an adequate size attachable basket.
  • Look for poles with a flex carbide tip; and that they come with a rubber cap to go over the tip during the non-snow season.
  • Look for poles with shafts made of high quality aluminum-allow or carbon-fiber.
  • Be sure to select a pole/staff with a comfortable grip and wrist-strap; decide what type grip you want…plastic, foam, rubber, cork; and consider a more ergonomically designed grip (some grips have a slight 10 to 15 degree bent angle to them).
  • Decide if you want a pole with an added camera mount feature.
  • Decide if you want standard poles or poles that have shock absorbing capability. Note that poles with anti-shock mechanisms weigh more than poles without.
  • Like shoes, try them out for size. Make sure the adjustable staff extends to the length you need….so that when holding the poles, your elbows are bent at slightly above a right angle; so that your hand is just a tad bit higher than your elbow.

Also, decide how much you want to spend. The more technology features and the higher quality the pole, the higher the price. Top quality poles can cost from about $100 to $200 a pair. There are some good quality single and dual poles that range from $30 to $100. I would caution against buying an inferior brand staff or set of poles for say, $10 to $20. You get what you pay for. And since you will be relying on poles for safety and comfort when snowshoeing, I recommend upping the ante when purchasing them.

If never having used a staff or trekking poles, give them a try. You may discover the many benefits. And again; are two poles better than one? It all depends on what you like the most after giving them a try.

If only Moses had a pair of three-section telescoping, 6,000 aluminum alloy trekking poles, with locking mechanisms and anti-shock cushioning system and a tungsten carbide flex tip with a supersize powder basket….add in a camera mount, he probably could have parted the Red Sea in awesome style. And, he could have taken some awesome photos too.

About the author

Jim Joque

Jim Joque is a Midwest writer on snowshoeing, backpacking and canoeing. He retired from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as director of disability services and adjunct adventure education instructor, having taught snowshoeing, camping, backpacking, adventure leadership and Leave No Trace.

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