If you’re looking at camping tents, one of the decisions you’ll have to make is what kind of tent poles you want. The two most common tent pole materials available are fiberglass and aluminum, but the choice between the two can be tough.
In this article, our expert team gives an overview of both tent pole types, their benefits, and their drawbacks, to help you make the best decision for your next camping trip.
Aluminum tent poles are the better choice in most situations due to their superior strength, flexibility, and low weight compared to fiberglass tent poles.
If you don’t camp very often or are on a budget, then you should buy fiberglass poles instead.
Aluminum Tent Poles – Things to Know
Aluminum poles are the gold standard for camping tents in our opinion. Lightweight, strong, and flexible, these poles are incredibly popular for car camping and backpacking tents alike. Any high-end tent model you see likely has aluminum poles.
While certainly not without drawbacks, they are the best all-around solution that exists in camping. Continue reading below for a detailed look at the pros and cons.
Benefits of Aluminum Poles
Lightweight: Aluminum tent poles are as lightweight as they get, which makes them the most common choice for backpacking and ultralight tents. They’re able to achieve this since the material is also very strong, which lets manufacturers make aluminum poles thinner.
Strong: Despite being lightweight, aluminum poles are also some of the strongest you can get for a camping tent. If you expect heavy snow, wind, or rain when you’re camping, aluminum tent poles will hold up well and keep you safe.
Flexible: When aluminum poles get overloaded, they bend rather than break completely, which is in contrast to fiberglass and other poles. This makes them easier to repair, and you’ll have less tent poles to fix in general.
Drawbacks of Aluminum Poles
Expensive: Unfortunately, all of these amazing features do come with a cost. Aluminum poles are a good bit more expensive than fiberglass poles or other options. It’s nothing crazy, usually $50 or less, but if you’re looking for a budget tent then aluminum poles can quickly push you out of your desired price range.
Prone to Corrosion: Like all metals, aluminum is prone to rusting and corrosion if exposed to water for long enough periods. As long as you properly dry your poles after rainy nights and don’t camp anywhere with constant water exposure, you should be fine. Additionally, some manufacturers have added a protective coating to their poles which reduces this problem.
Fiberglass Tent Poles – Things to Know
Fiberglass poles are newer to the scene and have grown in popularity thanks to their easy manufacturing process and low price. This has helped enable the mass production of cheap tents that have brought many new people into camping.
Despite these benefits though, fiberglass tent poles suffer from multiple quality drawbacks compared to aluminum. You can learn more about the specifics in the section below.
Benefits of Fiberglass Poles
Very Cheap: Fiberglass poles are the cheapest product available on the tent pole market. They’re a mainstay in budget tents costing under $100, and you can buy replacements for under $20 if they break.
Easy to Care For: Fiberglass doesn’t run into the same issues that aluminum does when exposed to water, which makes them easier to care for. While we do suggest keeping them clean and dry, they won’t weaken as easily if you forget to clean them.
Don’t Conduct Electricity: While a very remote risk, aluminum poles leave your tent at a higher risk of being struck by lightning since they’re made of metal. Fiberglass tent poles don’t have this problem, making them mildly safer for thunderstorms (if you’re concerned about that).
Drawbacks of Fiberglass Poles
Easily Broken: Due to the material they’re made from, fiberglass poles tend to break much more easily under stress than aluminum. This means they’re not ideal for camping in harsh weather conditions. In addition, when they do break they shatter rather than bend, which means they cannot be fixed. Better bring some replacements along with you!
Heavier Than Aluminum: Since fiberglass poles are much weaker than aluminum, they must be made thicker to compensate for this. As a result, they’re much heavier, making them not ideal for situations where weight matters such as backpacking.
They Splinter With Use: Fiberglass tent poles will develop splinters through regular usage. It’s an unfortunate reality and nothing you can avoid even with care. When splinters get bad enough, they’ll catch on the tent pole sleeves, which makes them annoying to use. If you use a tent with fiberglass poles for long enough, you’ll likely have to replace them for this reason even if the poles don’t completely break.
Other Types of Tent Poles
While aluminum and fiberglass poles will be what you see in the vast majority of camping tents, there are a few other types worth mentioning.
Carbon Fiber Tent Poles
Carbon fiber poles are typically used in ultralight backpacking tents designed for intense camping trips, often for several weeks at a time. They’re extremely strong and lighter in weight than even aluminum poles.
This also means that they’re the most expensive type of tent pole you can buy. If you need carbon poles for your camping trip, you’ll likely know before reading this article, so we’d stick to aluminum or fiberglass.
Another thing to note is that carbon fiber tent poles require the proper care of an experienced camper. If not taken care of, their material is prone to splinters and snapping just like fiberglass poles.
Steel Tent Poles
Steel tent poles are built primarily for strength only, which means they’re also the heaviest kind you’ll see on a camping tent. For this reason, they’re typically only used on cabin tents for large groups of 8 people and up.
If you’re going on a longer trip with a larger group and are staying in the same place, steel poles might be the right choice for you. Another benefit is that they’re also somewhat cheap despite their larger size.
Which Type is Best For Me?
In nearly all situations, we’d suggest that you choose aluminum tent poles. They are of superior quality in almost every way, and the price benefits of fiberglass arguably go away if you’re a frequent camper.
Due to their lower quality, you’ll likely have to pay more in fiberglass pole repairs and replacements in the long run versus buying a tent with aluminum poles the first time.
However, there are times when buying fiberglass poles might make sense. If it’s your first time camping, we usually suggest going for a cheaper tent until you decide to make it a regular hobby.
If you only camp a couple of times per year in nice weather, you could also get away with fiberglass tent poles. Just know that you’ll be buying a budget tent that might compromise on other design aspects as well.
While the benefits of choosing aluminum tent poles are clear, there are, without a doubt, times when fiberglass makes sense as well. The good news is that after reading this article, you should have no trouble deciding what type of tent pole material fits your camping needs the best.
What type of tent poles do you prefer? If you have an opinion, we’d love to hear it in the comments. Happy camping!
Carl is a content writer for The Camping Buddy, specializing in informational camping articles and product reviews. Carl has been a freelance writer for outdoor news sites while spending his time backpacking across the world. His favorite camping spot is Malaekahana Beach in Hawaii.