Both fiberglass and aluminum as materials for tent poles have their good and less good sides. The most important of them are presented here in the text. So keep reading.
Aluminum poles are better because of these features:
- Strength and durability.
- Field repairable.
- Recycling aluminum is easier.
Fiberglass poles are better because of the following:
These and some other aspects are discussed below.
I must say that I have never seen an ultralight backpacking or hiking tent with fiberglass poles. Most of the time this is about aluminum, or rarely carbon fiber composite material.
This tells you enough about the weight for this two types of poles. So aluminum is a clear winner here.
But if this is about camping tents then you are not supposed to carry long distances. If so, the weight is probably not a big deal, and this feature alone should not be the main reason for choosing aluminum poles.
Strength and durability
Aluminum poles do not show any fatigue limit. This is not so with fiberglass poles that develop gradual wear and tear and this can result in splinters.
The good side of aluminum poles is that they may bend but not necessarily break. This is different with fiberglass poles that can shatter when overloaded.
So fiberglass poles are far inferior to aluminum poles regarding strength and durability.
If a fiberglass pole splinters or snaps somewhere in the camp, it is almost impossible to repair it.
With aluminum poles this is different, you normally always get a spare piece of aluminum pole in the package. So with a bit of duct tape you might be able to repair the pole easily.
Recycling fiberglass is complicated and costly. The process includes grinding, incineration, and pyrolysis. The grinding means that recycled fiberglass cannot be used the same way as new fiberglass. So it is used as a filler in cement, artificial wood, or asphalt.
Burning fiberglass results in lots of ash and this is a part of problem in the mentioned incineration. Pyrolysis is a sort of recycling, it is costly but the results of the process can be reused in the industry. You can read more in this excellent article.
With aluminum this is simpler, and it means shredding, removing any colors, and melting. The result is aluminum that is the same as the newly produced one. On the other hand, recycling aluminum is also much cheaper than producing new one, i.e., extracting it.
So there is no doubt at all that from this perspective aluminum is a by far better material.
Fiberglass is used in many budget tents, and this tells you how it compares with aluminum. So I am sure this is the only reason why I would go for fiberglass poles.
There are far more fiberglass family camping tents on the market, or they are combined with steel poles. This combination is quite frequent in the so-called cabin type tents.
Tents with aluminum poles are a bit rare and usually very expensive. Some of them you can see in my text in the family camping tents site.
I have seen some statements about problems with aluminum corrosion. But is aluminum really a corrosive and rust metal?
It is correct to say that it will react with oxygen, but this will result in a protective layer that stops further corrosion. This is a self-protective property which is wrongly interpreted as corrosion.
This natural oxide coating is very resistant and it can even renew itself if damaged. But some extra factors, like increased pH value or salty water may cause this coating to become unstable.
Yet another effect that increases corrosion of aluminum is galvanization. This happens if aluminum is in contact with some other metal so that they form an electrical circuit. But this is not something to worry about in the case of tent poles.
Aluminum does not rust, it is non-toxic, and it is highly resistant to weathering and to many acids.
No doubt you have seen in specifications of tents that poles are some sort of aluminum alloy. Well, you should know that such alloys are usually not an improvement regarding aluminum corrosion. But an aluminum alloy is much stronger than a pure aluminum.
All in all, I do not think that corrosion of tent poles should be mentioned as a big issue. This may happen, but the process is slow.
On the other hand, fiberglass poles are definitely corrosion-resistant and they will never rust.
Other possible issues
Aluminum is a far better thermal conductor, and this may have some negative effects. I have seen statements that in an extremely cold environment, there may be freezing of poles in the sleeves because of condensation that turns into ice.
There are also statements that because of its extremely good electric conductivity, aluminum poles are not a great option in an environment with electrical storms.
I have seen a report from many years ago about an accident that apparently happened because of metal poles. But I do not have any reliable statistical data about such cases.
People are indeed killed by lightning when camping, and there are reports about such accidents, however, it is far from easy to identify the actual reasons why this happens. Claiming that this is because of metal poles is just a guessing.
There are even statements around that such metal poles are worse because they heat the tent. Clearly, this is a completely ridiculous claim.
In this video you can see several types of poles and some potential issues with them, please have a look:
In conclusion, the choice between fiberglass and aluminum tent poles depends on various factors. While aluminum poles excel in weight, strength, durability, field repairability, and recyclability, fiberglass poles stand out for their affordability.
For campers prioritizing lightweight and durable options, aluminum emerges as the superior choice due to its impressive qualities, including resistance to corrosion.
Additionally, the ease of recycling aluminum further solidifies its environmental advantages. Fiberglass may appeal to budget-conscious campers. But the potential drawbacks, such as difficulty in repair and complex recycling processes, make aluminum tent poles a more practical and sustainable choice for a fulfilling camping experience.
So after reading this text, what do you think, what is better for camping tent poles? Is it fiberglass or aluminum? Perhaps I have missed some important issue, let me know if this is so.
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