Atomic RS:10 $250
Nordic skiing has a dirty secret: Half the money still gets you more performance than most mortals can use. The 1,240-gram RS:10's cost half as much as the Fischers and weigh just a few grams more.
GRIPES: I must admit, the additional weight was noticeable on steep climbs or at the end of long sessions.
PROPS: With my eyes closed on the flats (reckless skier on a closed circuit; don't try this at home), I quickly forgot that I wasn't on the higher-priced Fischers. atomicski.com
Fischer CS Skating $195
Although it's not as light as Salomon's Carbon Pro, the CS Skating delivered a stiff, easily managed ride with plenty of ankle support.
GRIPES:Despite a lot of futzing and a sock change, I couldn't entirely eliminate heel wiggle.
PROPS: Thanks to three adjustable Velcro straps, you can find a decent fit. fischerskis.com
Salomon Profil Equipe Skate $75The Equipe Skate gives up one binding link—and, therefore, a small measure of stability—to its pricier big brother, the Salomon SNS Pilot Equipe Skate. The performance difference, at least for anything short of charging up and down a hilly course, is negligible.
GRIPES: If your local course is rough, with lots of quick turns, you'll want a Pilot.
PROPS: Almost all the power of its high-tech brother, with a more reasonable price tag. salomonnordic.com
Swix Comp CT5 $80Constructed of a 20/80 carbon-fiberglass mix, Swix's Comp CT5 poles aren't as light or stiff as all-carbon poles, but they're still stout enough for anything short of chasing Norwegians.
GRIPES: If you think you'll do some weekend racing (or just want to beat down your 10K time), a stiffer pole will make a difference.
PROPS: Swix has been making poles since 1950, and it shows. Their ultra-supportive and easily adjustable strap system is as user-friendly as it gets. swixsport.com