Tent poles make up the framework of any tent and are essentially the skeleton of the tent. Tent poles must be able to hold up to the forces of wind, rain and snow by holding the tent fabric in place. Tent poles are generally made of three materials and built to be lightweight, strong and durable. Most are made for what's known as three- or four-season camping.
History of tent poles
Some of the earliest known tents were supported by materials scavenged from around the encampment. Stories of the Romans draping fabric across simple frames were early signs of these primitive structures and their underpinnings.
In the 1700s tent poles were sometimes made from the rib bones of animals to provide shelter from the elements. Thankfully, modern technology and the advent of metal sourcing and production gives us a far more appealing option today.
Today, modern tent poles are made with extraordinary precision of lightweight materials like aluminium, fibreglass and steel.
Fibreglass tent poles offer three-season use and are considered the most economical framework for holding a curve or arc. Commonly used in dome tents, fibreglass tent poles are strong, offering stability and easy assembly in the field.
Seamless aluminium poles offer three- to four-season use with weight characteristics determined by diameter of the pole. They offer great stability, strength and easy field assembly. No seams means no splitting where the poles come together to form a longer single pole during assembly.
6000 and 7000 Series aluminium poles are the luxury sports car of tent poles. They are designed for four-season use and for performance use like expeditions in extreme conditions. They are made of premium quality aluminium, are rigid or pre-bent to work with tents of various shapes. Offering superb strength, stability and the most compact design, these are considered top of the line.
Tent poles vary by intended seasonal use and by type of camping. When backpacking for example, you will want to keep your load light and would require a lightweight aluminium pole. On expeditions, you need a pole that is both strong and flexible as high winds or snowdrifts have a tendency to test the limits of a pole's stability and strength.
Aluminium gives you the highest strength-to-weight ratio. When stressed under extreme conditions, aluminium can bend.
Fibreglass gives you good strength and stability and is generally more than enough pole for the casual camper. Under extreme conditions fibreglass will flex instead of break.
Weight for many is the prime factor for choosing a tent pole. It is not uncommon for the seasoned camper to upgrade tent poles beyond the capabilities of the poles that come with the tent.
Fibreglass tent poles are the heaviest and likely the best for car camping since you will not have to load them into a backpack.
Aluminium is the lightest and easiest to carry for backpacking. If carrying a load, this is your best bet.