Panda Ski Poles — Putting the Fun in Functionality

Post by blogger | June 13, 2018      

Aaron Mattix

One of the ribs came up missing after a few sessions of gear loading & unloading into vehicles. Presumably a ski edge is to blame, though I had no further incidents of missing ribs. I like to think of the missing one as a finger locating divot.

One of the ribs came up missing after a few sessions of gear loading & unloading into vehicles. Presumably a ski edge is to blame, though I had no further incidents of missing ribs. I like to think of the missing one as a finger locating divot.

I bought Panda Poles because they looked fun, and fun is the reason why I ski. My expectations for them were relatively low; I just wanted a pair of poles that wouldn’t separate when navigating the dense brush that plagues low-elevation skiing just about anywhere but Iceland. While this now past Colorado 2017/2018 ski season was sub-par, my signature set of bamboo Panda Poles put an extra bit of smile on my face every time I went out. My expectations were fairly neutral (as long as they didn’t auto-separate, I would have been happy), yet I found myself very impressed with the functionality of these sticks I bought solely on fun factor.

Everyone notices the green, BMX-inspiried 11 inch Katana grips. The first words out of my snowboarding buddy’s mouth were, “If had to have ski poles, those would be the ski poles I would have.” The somewhat comical-looking combo of the extra-long grips, and bulky Fatty Kush straps provide an assortment of hand position options on deep and / or sidehilling skin tracks that negates the need for adjustable length poles.

The heavy loop of fabric on the Fatty Kush Strap makes for a convenient mid-grip thumb rest on the 11" Katana grip

The heavy loop of fabric on the Fatty Kush Strap makes for a convenient mid-grip thumb rest on the 11″ Katana grip

On my first over-zealous outing of the year, punching through a minimal snow layer to the ground below, punting myself over fallen logs not yet covered with snow, I was concerned I had purchased a length too short for effective ski touring. Once the snow cover accumulated to the “barely adequate” level that was to define our truncated winter season, I found the sizing guide I had followed on the Panda Poles website was spot-on for my needs. “Hidden Panda,” a balance between “mobility,” and “agility,” for a “square, balanced stance,” gave me an adequate length for propelling myself uphill, and while remaining nimble on the turns down.

The serrated, conical baskets offered a surprising advantage in stability and grip on the ascent compared to the flat, snowflake shaped basket of my previous poles. The flat baskets want to push the pole to an angle perpendicular to the snowpack, while the jagged edges of the Zero Drag Powder Basket bite in with the authority of a sharp hole saw into soft pine. On slopes steep enough to warrant switching to the tallest position on my heel risers, the poles would stand on their own if given a firm jab into the snow.

*Steeper than it looks* The serrated edges of the conical basket offer impressive bite on packed snow

*Steeper than it looks* The serrated edges of the conical basket offer impressive bite on packed snow.

Bushwhackability was the main advantage I was hoping to gain with the Zero Drag baskets, and the Panda Poles design performed flawlessly in this regard. This past winter, I got in several days of exploring an abandoned ski resort. The mellow pillow lines over basalt rock flows were sublime, a backcountry skier’s dream of open, untracked runs. The second-growth aspen was much more discouraging. In the clarity of hindsight, I wish development hadn’t got as far as it did. Ski runs bulldozed out of aspen groves that would have made for great tree skiing were now nearly impenetrable thickets of second-growth shoots. Eventually, my wanderings brought me to a point where I had to “ski” through several hundred meters of this mess. It’s the sort of skiing that requires one to channel their inner bull elk spirit, point for the least dense section, lower your helmet as a battering ram and charge through to the next opening where you pick your line, and do it all over again. If ever there is a time that ski baskets are likely to hang up, it is during this sort of “skiing.” The cone shape of the Zero Drag basket glided through the thickest of thickets without the slightest snag or awkward tug.

Bushwhack testing area for the Zero Drag baskets

Bushwhack testing area for the Zero Drag baskets.

The drawback to the conical shape is the propensity to pack up with snow at near-freezing conditions in the same manner as a snow-cone, minus the syrupy flavoring. Perhaps consider taking along a small vial of one’s favorite liqueur for a mid-tour refreshment?

The drawback to the conical shape is the propensity to pack up with snow at near-freezing conditions in the same manner as a snow-cone, minus the syrupy flavoring. Perhaps consider taking along a small vial of one’s favorite liqueur for a mid-tour refreshment?

Purchased on a mid-summer whim, my customized Panda Poles helped keep a smile on my face through a low tide winter with their balance of fun and functionality. The grips and straps provided a variety of hand placement options, while the cone-shaped baskets provided stability on on steep slopes, and impeccable bushwhacking. The degree of customization offered by the Panda Poles website is all but irresistible to those such as myself who enjoy sporting the most unique gear on the mountain, with the pragmatism of being able to order a very specific set of, literally, sticks.

The lack of technical features, and propensity for snow-packing will probably not appeal to the mountaineering/expedition crowd, but for the skier more focused on grins rather than grams, Panda Poles are a most excellent choice.


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21 Responses to “Panda Ski Poles — Putting the Fun in Functionality”

  1. XXX_er June 13th, 2018 9:14 am

    Talk about turning up the fun factor the local brewery/ ski store has panda pole grips on each of their beer taps !

  2. VtVolk June 13th, 2018 1:50 pm

    Regarding your “bushwacking testing” photo, we call that “wide open glades” in Vermont!

  3. TanSnowMan June 13th, 2018 2:17 pm

    Dude! Yes! This is awesome. What I call a wholesome, honest review. Thanks so much. We had no idea you were putting this together. Tribe UP!

  4. Lou Dawson 2 June 14th, 2018 11:01 am

    Indeed, we’re delighted to have Aaron doing some writing for us! We intend to keep it coming! Lou

  5. Jeremy Moore June 14th, 2018 8:05 pm

    I can’t imagine being so bored with skiing that your poles make you happy. Maybe when you’re the only person on the mountain with them. The 3 resorts I regularly ski at in Utah are chock full of these things.

  6. Aaron Mattix June 14th, 2018 8:05 pm

    Proud to be writing for Wild Snow!

    I’ve been very happy with my Panda Poles overall – the snow packing is minor compared to how much I’ve enjoyed taking these Poles out with me.

  7. Aaron Mattix June 15th, 2018 8:30 am

    Jeremy – an alternate take is that a person enjoys skiing enough that ski poles make them happy..

  8. Rudi June 15th, 2018 11:06 am

    I think the grip that a pole basket provides into the snow when booting is actually quite important. I have had several deflections before and it does put you off balance at risk for a fall. Id like to see some innovation in this area as pulling out the axe definitely puts one in a slower less comfortable position so I find myself resisting it as much as possible.

  9. Nick December 24th, 2018 11:57 am

    I am looking at getting some new poles. Now, I know poles do not make that much difference as long as long as you have them and they don’t break. But my 25 yr old tank like BD adjustables and my freebie fixed poles are not cutting it anymore. Considering going with carbon fixed length, I like the idea of light weight and low fiddle. Probably standard 90° elbow length? Would you go 5cm longer? I know I can just use the adjustables to figure it out, but I have not been paying that much attention to my pole length and all of the markings are worn off. I do move them sometimes. Opinions?

  10. Lou Dawson 2 December 24th, 2018 3:13 pm

    Nick, unless you adjust adustables they’re a bit silly. Your call. Me, I prefer fixed length carbons, run slightly longer than what I’d use at the resort. Cutting them shorter is easy if you go too long. I just look for one on sale, have had many pair. Do buy strong ones, they’re dangerous if broken, knife-like dagger. But so is an aluminum pole, for that matter.

    All that said, the new BD adjustables with the Whippet head are super cool, there will be lots of attachments within a few years. So that’s a consideration…


  11. Jim Milstein December 24th, 2018 4:14 pm

    As with Lou, I prefer poles about 10 cm longer for the BC than for resort skiing (which I abjured years ago).

    I install homemade choke grips below the stock grips. For comfy, warm, lightweight choke grips, glue a couple of 4″ long pieces of foam pipe insulation below the factory grips. Leave a finger width between each for better grip. Then cover them with a layer of your favored color of duct tape to protect the tender foam. Mine last for years with little degradation. Swing weight is unaffected, and total weight is scarcely affected.

    That BCA Scepter poles have built-in scrapers on the top of the grips make me happy. Now scrapers are always on hand, literally.

  12. Aaron Mattix December 25th, 2018 8:29 am

    Nick, if light weight. low fiddle factor, and multiple hand placement options are your primary factors, the Panda Poles should be near the top of your list. The customization of pole and grip length, as well as straps and baskets enable the user to create a ski custom-tailored to their needs. I followed the sizing recommendation chart on their website (skiing style cross-referenced with height), and found the suggested length to be spot-on for me. The extra-long Katana grip, and thick Fatty Kush strap provide for plenty of hand positioning options without the fiddliness of adjustable length poles. I’m starting my second season with my Panda Poles, and couldn’t be happier; they’ve actually been a much more pragmatic purchase than I thought they might be.

  13. TanSnowMan December 25th, 2018 9:05 am

    Aaron has (yet again) put into words better than I can, the benefits of Panda Poles. While our product may not be for everyone, we try our very hardest to make a delighted customer out of every order. And if for some reason a customer wants to return their Pandas, we are happy to accept returns within 30 days of delivery. We’ll even cover the shipping. Din’t hesitate to let us know if you ever have any other questions or requests. We appreciate your interest in our product.

    Thanks again to Aaron and WildSnow! Tribe UP!

  14. Jha wa December 25th, 2018 5:48 pm

    I like these poles, they are burly and work well for breaking shit out of your way or checking limbs of all types. I have the RA poles, they are heavier than my carbon poles but of course they are. I used these on a spring ascent of the south Teton and affixed my lightweight mtn axe to one. It provided a really secure option in a rock choke with no fall exposure. This would be possible with an extendable poles but the fixed length was reassuring and allowed for some alpine trickery that brought out the fickle green headed no use for a name alien monster. I thought I would use they for skiing on the pass and they have been super durable and a very positive support in the instance of being off balance for a second. That pole does its job well. Most poles feel like the stress allowed before breaking ramps up quickly and even if they won’t break under a heavy load they deflect enough that plan b comes to mind quickly. Not so with the ? poles they are super strong.
    I’d love to try the toasty which is another option from ? but money.

  15. Swiss Hoser December 26th, 2018 12:11 am

    I also like to choke up on my poles in certain situations. Forget foam and duct tape. Use bicycle handlebar tape below the grips because that’s what it’s designed for. Measure down from the grip equally on both poles and be sure to start from the bottom and wind the handlebar tape upwards towards the grip.
    If you get cork or gel tape, you’ll find that it insulates very well. Lasts forever.

  16. Jim Milstein December 26th, 2018 9:01 am

    Swiss, handlebar tape looks much better than handgrip-diameter 4″ cylinders, but I bet you’d find the covered foam cylinders more comfortable. Finger-wide gaps between grips mean you do not need to grasp them tightly, yet you can still can use the poles effectively. Tightly gripping makes for colder hands. What is more, thicker insulation is warmer than thinner. I rest my case.

  17. Swiss Hoser December 26th, 2018 9:43 am

    You need your finger gaps because duct tape is slippery. Handlebar tape is far more suitable. Keep on resting that case…

  18. XXX_er December 26th, 2018 9:51 am

    Handle bar tape only wears on the part you can see so you can reuse tape you took off your road bike by covering up the worn part when you do the wrap and you want to wrap bottom to top cuz you will be pulling down ward on the overlapped tape

  19. Jim Milstein December 26th, 2018 10:05 am

    Actually, no, Swiss. The duct tape is not slippery. Your mod wins on looks, mine on comfort and warmth. If handlebar tape were optimum that’s what poles would have instead of standard grips. Also, the gaps I recommend are analogous to the bumps on the standard grips.

    All for now ––must go ski!

  20. Swiss Hoser December 26th, 2018 2:04 pm

    Nice idea, XXX_er. I hadn’t thought of that.
    Your solution will result in fabulous looking poles with comfortable, well-insulated, no-slip grip extensions!

  21. Other Aaron December 26th, 2018 2:51 pm

    I actually just did this with my poles, It works really well. I used the 3.2 mm Lizarskins bar tape (its very grippy) and was able to double wrap for a really cushy grip. Just remember to start the wrap at the bottom and work your way up to the grip. That way, you can slide your had down the pole without catching the edge of the tape.

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