Gearbox: Four poles that balance avy safety and skinning comfort

Small as they are, pole straps can be a divisive piece of gear. Anti-strap advocates know that they’re overwhelmingly dangerous as anchors in avalanches or tree wells and as shoulder-separating leashes while skiing trees. But straps can be helpful on long approaches and while tethering poles to packs on certain climbs. Thankfully, a few companies have developed quick-release systems that allow you to have your straps and remove them, too. —Louise Lintilhac

Salomon MTN Carbon S3
S3 stands for Salomon Safety Strap, the Annecy, France-based brand’s name for the strap-release system available on many of their poles, including this adjustable, full-carbon option, as well as a similar, $100 aluminum/carbon model. The straps are padded but not bulky, and the release mechanism’s tension is adjustable with an included Allen key. For sidehilling comfort, tough foam extends six inches below the grip, and the lowest 10 inches of the carbon shaft are reinforced with Kevlar for enhanced durability. The only bummer? Flipping binding heel risers is tricky with the pliable, freely rotating baskets. 100-135cm, $150,

G3 Via Carbon
Unlike the tug-and-release systems of the other poles reviewed here, the Via Carbon’s strap, attached to the grip by a plastic buckle, should be removed and stowed in avalanche terrain and clipped back on when needed. As for handling, a dual-density grip sports an ergonomic shape with a large hook that’s helpful for flipping heel risers. Stiff, plastic points on the basket are handy for this, too. A plastic knob below the grip enables solid mid-shaft hand placement while sidehilling, and the carbine tip and aluminum adjustment lever are designed to enhance durability. 95-145cm, $124,

Scott Riot 18
The Riot 18 comes equipped with Scott’s SRS technology—short for Strap Release System—that provides rapid removal for avalanche safety with a sharp, upward pull of the wrist. For those solid-pole proponents nervous about kaleidoscoping features, the fixed-length Riot 18 sports a full aluminum design with eight inches of extended foam grip. Big powder baskets are designed to keep poles from sinking at inconvenient moments. This no-frills pole is aimed toward those who value straightforward, sturdy gear on the skintrack. 110-135cm, $120,

Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon V
The Tourstick employs Leki’s Trigger S Vertical technology, a rapid-release wrist harness system intended to maximize hand positioning, comfort and safety. The harness keeps hands strapped in all day, but a quick upward tug disconnects the strap from the pole in emergencies or for on-the-fly buckle and binding adjustments. The long and rounded grip provides multiple options for palm placement, and an accessory hook, into which the strap can be tethered, can be afixed elsewhere on the pole for sidehilling stability. The compact, collapsible design is ideal for splitboarders, but, with a minimum height of 115cm, these poles are best for taller skinners. 115-135cm, $200,

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