Sensai Says — Be One With Panda Ski Poles

Post by blogger | November 3, 2017      

Aaron Mattix

Panda poles: 46" of "Toasty" bamboo, 11" Katana grips, and 3.5" powder baskets. Also doubles as patio accessories

Panda poles: 46″ of “Toasty” bamboo, 11″ Katana grips, and 3.5″ powder baskets. Also doubles as patio accessories.

Ski poles occupy a similar niche to stems on bicycles; being a necessary, but performance-neutral piece of gear. Switching to a different set of poles isn’t in most cases going to improve your turns, or uphill times, or make you able to stomp big cliffs. Preference largely comes down to personal feel, aesthetic appeal, and budget.

Just as in stems, there is an enormous range in price of ski poles, from free to several hundred dollars. We all know the dude who rips on a pair of mismatched poles from the rental dumpster, but if your sense of symmetry and aesthetics directs you to purchase a new set, there is an array of choice for every taste, and budget.

Bamboo has enjoyed a resurgence as the hip au naturel option for ski poles. Being a beard-growing, granola-munching, part-time free-heeler, there was little I could do to resist the allure of cellulose sticks for ski touring. Panda Poles appealed to me for the light-hearted vibe, and commitment to sustainability. Sure, a few dudes making ski poles out of plant material isn’t going to solve global issues, but it’s a step in the right direction, and the cumulative effect of raising consciousness about our decisions as consumers may well be more important than the carbon offset.

Bamboo poles offer a stellar strength-to-weight ratio that makes them impressive contenders against aluminum, and carbon options. Claims of the strength of bamboo relative to other materials vary, but the Samurai sword fight, and doing pull-ups, and slacklining on a bamboo pole offer very convincing visual testaments to the strength of bamboo.

One of the most unique aspects of Panda Poles is the array of customization they offer. Options include bamboo selections between “Ra” (“Burly and Raw) and “Toasty” (Light Weight and Refined), and a variety of grip, strap, and basket options. If you are bored with black as the default color for ski poles, you will be stoked on the variety of color combinations possible on the Panda Poles website.

The cone shape of the Zero Drag basket promises minimal hang-ups, and increased support in powder.

The cone shape of the Zero Drag basket promises minimal hang-ups, and increased support in powder.

The Zero Drag cone-style baskets were particularly appealing to me, given my propensity for bushwhacking. The open snowflake pattern of the baskets on the poles I was using previously were highly prone to snagging on brush, and sinking while skinning uphill in deep conditions. The cone shaped Zero drag baskets promise to be relatively snag-free, and more stable.

Adjustable length poles seemed like a brilliant idea when I first started ski touring. I had been an early adopter of dropper posts on my mountain bike, and adjustable poles seemed like a logical extension of the same concept.

By my second season I noticed two things: 1.) I was rarely adjusting the length of my ski poles, and 2.) They were separating nearly every time I went through trees. The basket would catch, the pole would separate, and I would be side-stepping up hill, muttering words of displeasure as I re-assembled the pole before I could get back to skiing; now in a much more flustered and distrusting mindset. The convenience and enhanced fun factor of dropper posts did not translate so well into the world of adjustable ski poles.

I found myself keeping my ski poles at a fixed length, and moving my hand position up or down the grip to compensate for side slopes as necessary. The relatively short pistol-style grip of this first pair did not lend themselves so readily to this strategy, so i wrapped a layer of duct tape below the grip as an alternate hand position. With this experience in mind, I chose the longest grip option Panda Poles offers, the 11” Katana. The one drawback to the natural look of bamboo is that it doesn’t go so well with the industrial look of duct tape. I may have to find a new spot for my emergency stash.

Who needs adjustable poles when you have 11" of grip?

Who needs adjustable poles when you have 11″ of grip?

Using the handy (and slightly hilarious) sizing reference chart, I settled on “Hidden Panda,” as the most neutral stance. Upon receiving the poles, and giving them the carpet test, I think I may have preferred sizing up to “Dancing Crane” for a more elevated uphilling grip.

Though it’s not directly related to on-snow peformance, I feel obligated to point out that the shipping and tracking information supplied by Panda Poles was the most comprehensive I have ever experienced with online ordering. Every step was well-documented, leaving no doubt as to the status of my order, from creation to transit.

Since I couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Argentina, buying these poles was a much more affordable way to build my late summer stoke. I’m really looking forward to getting these out for some on-the-snow testing in a few months to see if the Zero Drag Basket, and extra-long grips are as handy as I think they will be.

More WildSnow bamboo content. It’s used in everything from skis to ski racks…

Shop for Panda Poles here.

Guest blogger Aaron Mattix grew up in Kansas and wrote a report on snowboarding in seventh grade. His first time to attempt snowboarding was in 2012, and soon switched over to skis for backcountry exploration near his home in Rifle, CO. His skill level is “occasionally makes complete runs without falling.” In the summer, he owns and operates Gumption Trail Works, building mountain bike singletrack and the occasional sweet jump.


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26 Responses to “Sensai Says — Be One With Panda Ski Poles”

  1. justin November 3rd, 2017 11:28 am

    Definitely wish more companies offered longer grips. A 12″ grip should be standard on all back country poles.

  2. Andy Carey November 3rd, 2017 11:37 am

    My favorite ski poles are my Dynafit 7-Summits with their adjustable length and extended grip. On steeper firmer tours in the spring I’ll use my BD whippets.

  3. rod georgiu November 3rd, 2017 11:49 am

    Obviously the author does not mountain bike.

    Stems make a huge difference in downhill.

    Shorter the better.

  4. NT November 3rd, 2017 1:20 pm

    The reason I like and regularly use adjustable poles: an extended pole is great for skating back to the car on flats.

    Otherwise, yes a long grip is sweet for the rest of the tour so you can choke up on side hills, different slopes, and for booting. But I wouldn’t want to size my poles for skating but then use them choked up most of the time.

    What’s the diameter on those baskets?

  5. Jim Milstein November 3rd, 2017 6:16 pm

    I agree on long pole-grip options. I modify my poles by cementing a generous fist-width of closed-cell foam pipe insulation a finger-width below the regular grips. The foam is fairly delicate; so I cover it with black duct tape. Lasts for years that way. As NT says, skiing the flats is far better with poles telescoped out. For going down, I like short poles for ease of swing and because they don’t force me into the back seat.

    Another plus for telescoping poles is ease of stowage. Current favorites are the BCA Sceptic poles. They have scrapers on the handles –– which actually work! Never known them to come apart skiing through brush. The locking cams are adjustable.

  6. Mouse November 3rd, 2017 7:46 pm

    Are these poles organic??? I don’t read Wildsnow for this sort of post.

  7. See November 3rd, 2017 9:19 pm

    I prefer organic (carbon) poles for maneuvering in tight places and being a little easier on hands/wrists/arms. Bamboo is nice, but I wonder about the weight. My daily drivers are 540 g for the pair.

  8. SteveR November 4th, 2017 2:47 am

    Hmm, ski poles made from bamboo imported from India. I can’t help but wonder if a pole made from recycled aluminium in the US would be more sustainable. If you want to make an environmental statement print the percentage of recycled material in the pole in big letters down the side.

  9. Aaron Mattix November 4th, 2017 6:26 am

    Rod – for what it’s worth; I’ve been mountain biking for about 20 years, and run a 35 mm stem.

    SteveR – I don’t know enough about the various factors involved to be sure which is more sustainable; imported bamboo, or domestically recycled aluminum. According a video on their website, Panda Poles are working with a grower in GA to grow their own bamboo here stateside. I think it is an admirable step in the right direction.

    See – I haven’t weighed my poles yet, but by feel they are noticeably lighter than the aluminum telescoping poles they replaced. Bamboo seems to be remarkably competitive with carbon in the weight department.

    NT – I ordered the 3.5″ baskets. Panda Poles offers 4 different basket sizes as part of their customization process.

  10. TanSnowMan November 4th, 2017 7:07 am

    First off, thank you Aaron! Having this article ‘land on my desk’ this morning was one of the better surprises I’ve had in a while. Such a thorough, well thought out piece. Beautiful!

    Secondly, I will say that as the creator of Panda Poles, I am not trying to save the world. I am simply trying to help make it a better place. At Panda, We strive for goodness in every way we can, and do our best to avoid being hipocrytical and green-washy.

    With that being said, our bamboo (even after being shipped) is a carbon negative product. The 3000 poles we used last year sequestered almost 7 tons of CO2, whereas shipping only produced 5 tons. Now, there is fumigation which poses another issue, and is one of the main reasons we decided to start groqing our own boo in GA a few years back. Hopefully we will be able to produce a few hundred sets a year from that boo in the coming year or two.

    Regardless, thanks to everybody for chiming in! See you on the slopes soon!

  11. Lou Dawson 2 November 4th, 2017 7:22 am

    Not to be too greenwashy myself, but let’s all note that making products out of aluminum is incredibly energy intensive.

  12. Jim Milstein November 4th, 2017 11:01 am

    Hey! Why not have it both ways? A telescoping ‘boo pole grown on continent. Cork grips, naturally. Do cork trees grow in N America?

    My first sets of poles were bamboo w/ cork grips, if memory fools me not.

  13. SteveR November 4th, 2017 11:27 am

    @TSM Thanks for the very credible reply, pleased to see that my challenge gave you an opportunity to demonstrate your company’s well thought out approach to sustainability.

    @Lou Did you just suggest that burning fossil fuels is a bad thing? 😉

  14. Jim Milstein November 4th, 2017 11:31 am

    SteveR, I think he did! But, don’t push him on it. Don’t want to frighten him.

  15. Geewilligers November 4th, 2017 11:50 am


    Using recycled cork for the grips might even be better – plus added benefit of greenwashing a vino habit!

  16. Lou Dawson 2 November 4th, 2017 2:34 pm

    Steve, no, I was referring to the hydroelectric projects they build to supply electricity for aluminum works. I don’t like the way they messed up the trout fishing (smile). Lou

  17. Jim Milstein November 4th, 2017 3:26 pm

    Rats! Lou slipped the hook again!

  18. See November 4th, 2017 7:44 pm

    As my joints get creakier, I’m getting more interested in shock absorption. Bamboo is supposed to be really good for that. I hope you can give us an update on the feel of those poles as well as the weight once the season gets going.

  19. Matt November 4th, 2017 11:11 pm

    I have a pair of Panda Poles with the green Katana grip (and hemp strap) and they rock. I switched from adjustable carbon Black Diamond poles and it did take me 2-3 days to get used to the feel of the Panda Poles. I haven’t weighed either my Black Diamond poles or Panda Poles (not very Wild Snow of me), but the Panda Poles do have a heavier swing weight, and a slight heavier feel with the very unofficial hold a pair in each hand then switch hands test. But the irony is, I don’t care they weight a few grams more.

    The bamboo does absorb shocks better then the carbon, I haven’t adjusted my carbon poles in 3 years, and I like they way the bamboo feels. That’s the biggest thing, the Panda Poles feel great when skiing.

    I also like the baskets on the Panda Poles. The flair snow cone shape does dig in when skinning or skating. I have the second largest basket, and if I get another pair I’ll probably get the largest basket.

    The grips are also great, being able to adjust where I’m holding them, no matter where or what I’m doing, is awesome.

    Needless to say TanSnowMan has a customer for life in me.

  20. Jim Milstein November 5th, 2017 6:58 am

    I don’t get shock absorption. Isn’t everyone out on soft snow? I mean, why ski?

  21. XXX_er November 5th, 2017 6:09 pm

    hey if you want to put cork grip lower down on yer poles try road bike bar tape, in fact you can use the tape you take off yer bars because old bar tape is only worn on the half that was showing on the bar and the covered stuff looks new. You wrap it from bottom to top so you are pulling down across the overlaps & secure with electricians tape

  22. Jim Milstein November 5th, 2017 6:41 pm

    OK, why not do both? Glue on foam pipe insulation and cover it with cork road bike bar wrap. Warm and cushy, plus it will look much better than duct tape.

  23. XXX_er November 5th, 2017 6:49 pm

    not sure how that ^^would work out Jim but I can say I put used cork bar tape on the aluminum uppers of my BD flicklocks, it looked fine and worked very well

  24. Jim Milstein November 5th, 2017 6:58 pm

    Must try, XXX. Every mod shall be modified.

  25. wtofd November 6th, 2017 11:38 am

    XXX, what’s the mod to keep the flicklocks closed?

  26. XXX_er November 6th, 2017 2:24 pm

    maybe you need to tighten the screw on the flicklock lever ? Personaly I never had a problem with the flick lock not staying locked, they don’t seem to break & have probably been the #1 pole i see in the BC for a while now

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