Backcountry Pole FAQs: Your Questions Answered

Photo by Peter Mathis
Photo by Peter Mathis

As many winter hikers, snowshoers, skiers and splitboarders will attest, backcountry poles help you maintain stability and safety as you cross snowfields, navigate icy switchbacks, and traverse frozen hillsides. Plus, they help you reduce joint impact and minimize fatigue, so you can save strength and better endure the elements. Adjustable winter poles are especially useful for navigating steep inclines and descents, letting you shorten or lengthen poles to match the terrain for improved efficiency. Adjustable poles also pack up and stow away easily while in technical terrain, or when splitboarders are ready to ride down.

Here are five frequently asked questions (FAQs) of our customer service department along with information to help you select and use MSR® backcountry poles that are right for you, for your environment, and for the activities you like to do.

1. Do I need two-section poles or three-section poles?

Two-section poles are great for activities that require keeping your poles in hand most of the time, which may include winter hiking or snowshoeing. Three-section poles that stow easily in a pack are ideal for taking with you on splitboarding trips, or on hikes with technical terrain requiring the free use of your hands. Three-section poles are also best for fly-to destinations, packing discreetly in your luggage.

©Earl Harper


2. Which MSR® pole series do I need?

MSR poles are unisex and designed with grips that accommodate a wide range of hand sizes. If you prefer the ease of our Trigger Release poles with one-handed adjustability, choose the Deploy™ backcountry series. If you are a minimalist who wants to save weight and move fast and light through the backcountry, you’ll prefer the streamlined Flight™ 3 or Flight™ 2 poles. All our backcountry poles are built with glove-friendly features and come with MSR Snow Baskets (maximum flotation MSR Powder Baskets are sold separately).

 ©Earl Harper

3. How does the MSR Breakaway Winter Pole Strap work?

The Breakaway Winter Strap is one of the great MSR winter pole features that our engineers are excited about. The glove-friendly adjustable strap has a breakaway safety feature that helps protect you if your pole becomes lodged in ice. When in regular use, the well-positioned, properly adjusted pole strap helps support your hand through a stride and allows you to transfer your weight to the pole. Just slide your hand up through the bottom of the MSR pole strap loop (with the soft surface inside), then grip the pole and adjust the strap so it fits snuggly against the bottom of your hand. MSR poles with Trigger Release let you release the grip and activate the trigger from this position.


4. Swing weight—what is it, and why is it important?

Swing weight refers to how heavy a pole feels to swing when in use. Poles—even lightweight ones—that are designed with more of their weight toward the basket will feel heavier and cause greater arm fatigue over time. MSR poles have their adjustment mechanisms positioned in the upper shaft of the pole rather than the lower shaft, creating a high center of gravity that allows for a smooth and effortless swing.


5. How do I adjust MSR poles with Trigger Release?

Our Deploy™ series winter backcountry poles feature our easy-to-use, patent-pending Trigger Release technology that’s ideal for those traveling through varying terrain. The spring mechanism lets you change the pole length with just one hand from the grip, allowing you to engage and secure the freeze-resistant SureLock™ button without removing your hand from the strap. Here’s how to use it:

  • Position the strap with the soft surface facing inside. Put your hand up through the loop, reaching back down to grip the pole.
  • Adjust the strap so that it’s snug on the bottom of your hand.
  • Trap the pole’s basket under your toe or ski. Then, release the grip and with two fingers grab the Trigger Release and pinch it up.
  • Finally, extend the pole up and let go of the Trigger Release, allowing the SureLock™ button to click into the next hole. Repeat until the pole is at a comfortable height.


We’ve engineered our backcountry poles down to the last detail—including the catch on our ergonomic grips that lets you raise your AT or snowshoe heel lifts—to deliver the functional, easy-to-use and reliable gear you’ve come to expect from MSR. Whatever your preferred activity—skiing, snowshoeing, splitboarding or mountaineering —MSR backcountry poles can make a big difference to your outdoor experience.