Are Two Poles Better than One? Tips for Using and Choosing Your Pole

Poles or no poles? One pole or two? These questions can pose quite a conundrum for snowshoers. Poles can provide balance and stability while snowshoeing, but whether or not to use them is another matter. The truth is there is no correct answer, but it comes down to a matter of personal preference.

When I snowshoe, I use a single staff. But, 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 every so often, I usually do not want an upper cardio workout with poles.

Here, we discuss the difference between using one pole or two, tips for choosing the best poles for you, and a few brands of poles to keep an eye out. You’ll see the answer to selecting poles truly lies in the intended purpose and functions of the poles and the user’s preference.

man snowshoeing with one hiking staff

Snowshoeing with a single hiking staff can provide balance without the extra workout. Photo: Jim Joque

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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 a narrow path. The older I get, the more I find the balance function to be 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.

The single staff I prefer using is my Austrian-made Komperdell hiker staff. It is an earlier model similar to Komperdell’s Camera Walking Staff. 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.

Jokingly I tell people I also use my Komperdell staff for poking the person in front of me who is moving too slow and for fighting bears….although bears hibernate in winter. But I 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.

I use an REI Summit Trekking staff as a backup, also made by Komperdell. This staff (an older model) 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. It’s similar to REI’s Trailbreak Trekking Poles.

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. Using one pole or an ice ax in mountainous terrain or deep snow will provide you with power assist only. Using double poles, however, will give you fully available balance and power, making snowshoeing much easier.” Thus, dual hiking poles have many advantages.

However, dual trekking poles have a slightly different function than a 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 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.

I also own a pair of twist-adjust, 3-section aluminum Sherpa trekking poles from the snowshoe company Yukon Charlie’s. 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 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 those rare occasions when I add an aerobic twist to my hike.

Read More: Snowshoeing for Improved Fitness With Nordic Walking Poles

woman snowshoeing with two poles

Dual hiking poles will give you total balance and power in mountainous terrain or bottomless snow, making snowshoeing easier. Photo: Jim Joque

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 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.

When it comes to adjustable two-piece poles or three-piece poles, two-piece poles are usually more rigid and, thus, helpful for fairly level hikes. Three-piece poles tend to be more compact (therefore easier to store in your pack) and practical when regularly ascending or descending hills. Like using one pole or two, it’s also a matter of preference with two or three-piece poles.

Here are some tips to consider in making your selection.

  • Decide if you prefer dual trekking poles or 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 22 inches collapsed to 55 inches extended). Adjustable poles come in two or three parts.
  • If you want an adjustable pole, decide what type of locking mechanism you prefer – twist, flick, lever, push-button; check them to ensure 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 they come with a rubber cap to go over the end during the non-snow season.
  • Look for poles with shafts made of high-quality aluminum alloy or carbon fiber.
  • Be sure to select a pole/staff with a comfortable grip and wrist-strap; decide what type of 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 snowshoes, 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.

Finally, decide how much you want to spend. The more technology features and the higher quality of the pole, the higher the price. Top-quality poles can cost from about $100 to $200 a pair. Some good-quality single and dual poles 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 in that case. And since you will be relying on poles for safety and comfort when snowshoeing, I recommend upping the ante when purchasing them.

Below are a few brands to consider when shopping for poles.

poles and staffs lined up in the snow

Choose the pole right for you: A traditional wood staff, dual poles, and two single staffs; one with a detachable cork-top, exposing a camera mount. Photo: Jim Joque

Many Brands on the Market

The pole set and staff that I use are a few of the many brands sold on the market. In addition, various brands offer different and unique features to their poles.

Black Diamond, for example, makes some poles, such as their Trail Trekking Poles with a unique locking system called “FlickLock.” This system allows the hiker to alter the lengths of the pole quickly and easily with gloves while snowshoeing.

Komperdell’s Explorer series (like the Explorer Compact Powerlock Trekking Poles) and Ridgehiker series (like the Ridgehiker Cork Powerlock Compact Poles) has an easy flip-lock system called “Power Lock 3.0”, a strong lock made of forged aluminum for securing their adjustable poles. The Explorer Compact poles are also incredibly durable, made of aluminum Titanal® and with carbide tips.

Although Leki has a wide price range for their many pole selections, their Super Lock is available on a wide variety of their poles (like on the Super Micro Walking Pole) and has proven to withstand over 300 lbs of force!

MSR offers their unique DynaLock system (like on MSR’s DynaLock Explore Backcountry Poles) with tool-free tensioning for quick adjustments. It also comes with an EVA foam grip for comfort and interchangeable summer and winter baskets for all-year use.

Gossamer Gear has ultra-light carbon-fiber compact poles, the LT5 Three-Piece, weighing 4.9 oz per pole. This model is the updated version of their popular LT3 and LT4.

Mountainsmith has an aluminum three-section trekking pole, the Carbonlite Pro, with extended-length handles and a spring-loaded anti-shock system.

A few snowshoe-specific companies also make poles as an accessory. For example, Tubbs makes a two-part and a three-part adjustable 6000 series aluminum pole. In addition, Redfeather has a three-section pole with a screw-on basket, and Crescent Moon has a three-section aluminum telescoping pole with a durable polyurethane grip, which we tested and reviewed.

Overall, there are many more brands and styles of poles and staff on the market. The examples above are just the tip of the iceberg of the many options available, but hopefully, it provides a starting point.

Read More: Sunrise Hiking in Colorado with MSR’s DynaLock Explore Backcountry Poles

Try Poles on Your Next Snowshoeing Adventure

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 incredible photos too.

Do you use poles while snowshoeing? One pole or two? Please share your favorites with us in the comments below.

This article was first published on February 11, 2013. Susan Wowk most recently updated it on January 26, 2022. 

Read Next: What To Bring When Snowshoeing: Top Accessories for the Day Hiker

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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