Are you thinking of picking up a tent soon but don’t want to get one with poles that breaks too soon? One of the most common problems of tent durability are the choice of tent pole materials.
Weight, price, strength, maintenance – what do these have to do with the aluminum vs fiberglass tent pole debate?
Read on to find out!
Are you facing analysis paralysis in choosing your tent and just want a fun few days of camping? Check our our guide to the best small 2 person tents.
Are fiberglass tent poles cheaper than aluminum poles?
Fiberglass poles are cheaper to produce than aluminum poles or alternative tent pole materials. This is due to aluminum requiring extraction from the natural deposits, rather than fiberglass which is synthetic. As a result, most popular casual camping tents which focus on low cost materials use fiberglass tent poles.
The low cost of a fiberglass tent pole doesn’t necessarily make them bad for your situation, but it is worth considering why many larger and heavier tents use poles made of metal – such as aluminum poles or alternative materials. You are also unlikely to find fiberglass tent poles in backpacking tents. A backpacking tent needs a strong structure that can stand up to intense winds and heavy snow loads.
Winner: Fiberglass Tent Poles are good poles for a camper on a budget
Which tent poles are lower weight?
Low weight tent poles doesn’t matter much if you’re car camping but if you’re having to carry around the tent then less weight and easier portability are both great pros. Many backpackers are obsessed with saving as much carry weight as possible, leading to the booming popularity of ‘ultralight’ gear.
Aluminum poles are lighter than fiberglass poles and is much more likely to be used in backpacking tents. Aluminum poles are more expensive, but the added cost of aluminum tent poles is one of the many reasons why hiking and backpacking tents are so much more expensive than car camping tents that use fiberglass.
Many backpacking tents also opt for the expensive DAC aluminum poles for their tent. DAC are the leading tent pole manufacturer and have progressively cut the weight of tent poles while maintaining their strength. They predominantly focus on aluminum poles but the lightest tent poles they offer – the DAC Featherlite NSL aluminum poles – are an aluminum alloy.
Winner: Aluminum poles provide excellent performance at a very light weight.
Fiberglass poles or aluminum tent poles for strength or durability
While aluminum poles are lighter than fiberglass poles, they are also stronger. This, along with the ultralight credentials of aluminum poles, is another reason why they are used in backpacking tents and some large car camping tents. Conversely, fiberglass poles provide very little strength for their weight – a major disavantage.
Strength is an important characteristic for tent poles. The tent poles provide the structure to your tent and poles ensure there is proper tension across the walls (a vital part of waterproofing). Strong winds or heavy snow can add a large amount of stress on tent poles. The last thing you want when you’re spending a night outside is a broken tent pole and the whole tent coming down on you.
Fiberglass is not a particularly strong compared to aluminum and this is why you’ll typically only see fiberglass poles in 2 season tents (i.e. summer and fair weather) or some 3 season tents (fair weather or standard rain and wind). But you won’t be seeing fiberglass used in 4 season tents, where the fiberglass poles wouldn’t be able to handle the strong winds, rain or some snow. 5 season tents (mountaineering – think climbing Mount Everest), are certainly beyond the pale for any campers heading out with fiberglass poles.
Larger tents or canvas tents also typically use aluminum tent poles for their strength. At larger capacities the amount of material required for the tent can start adding up and can be heavy, particularly if it’s canvas. The weight of these materials can place a large amount of stress on the poles.
Winner: Poles made of aluminum materials or alloys are far stronger than fiberglass.
Do aluminum tent poles corrode?
Aluminum is a metal and corrosion and rust can be an issue over time. Corrosion can become more of a risk if the tent poles aren’t dried fully after a rainy night or if you’re camping by the beach. Some aluminum poles do come with a protective coating which can help reduce problems with corrosion and rust. Corrosion can weaken the poles over time, although typically we don’t see corrosion become a major issue for most poles provided some care in put into their maintenance.
Fiberglass, comparatively, doesn’t corrode and the poles won’t rust.
Winner: Fiberglass poles beat aluminum as rust free alternative. Corrosion can be one of the cons of aluminum, but it isn’t typically a terrible disadvantage.
Do aluminium tent poles bend?
If there is too much force applied to aluminum poles then the poles will bend. Fiberglass instead will splinter or crack. Splinters from fiberglass poles can definitely feel a bit dangerous. It’s certainly easier to repair a bent pole than a cracked one.
Aluminum vs fiberglass – Which is the best tent pole material
The difference between aluminum and fiberglass tent poles is that aluminum poles are lighter, stronger, longer lasting and a better choice for backpacking tents or large tents. Fiberglass poles are cheaper to produce however, so you’ll often see fiberglass tent poles used in budget casual camping tents.
Aluminum tent poles are better than fiberglass poles in almost every way, apart from saving some money.
Camping casually in summer? Your camping trip is still likely to go without a hitch if you choose poles made of fiberglass, provided you’re not expecting heavy rain, wind or a lifetime of use.
Winner: Aluminum poles are better poles than fiberglass. But if you’re just looking for a casual, summer camping tent, poles made of fiberglass will be fine.
Aluminum tent poles pros
- Very light
- Robust in strong winds and cold weather
- An ideal choice for backpackers or heavy tents
- Bends rather than shatters – easier to repair
Fiberglass tent poles pros for camping tents
- No corrosion
- Doesn’t conduct electricity (think, lightning)
- No issues with rusting / low maintenance
Next up: Why are pup tents the go to tent for the military and what is a pup tent?
Back one: Fancy heading on a backpacking trip? Check out our 7-day backpacking checklist and packing list.