Fibreglass/ Aluminium poles
Flexible tent poles give structure to dome tents, tunnel tents and variations on these tent styles. To set up a tent, you bend flexible tent poles into an arc shape, generally making a full half-circle. These tent poles are made of a material that must be flexible, strong and lightweight. Aluminium alloys and fibreglass are the most common tent pole materials. Each of these materials offers different benefits.
Fibreglass tubes slip into larger diameter, external ferrules at the joints. Aluminium alloy pole tubes typically have an internal ferrule at one end that slips into the end of the next tube, making the pole exterior smooth and seamless.
Tent pole "tensile strength", or its ability to withstand stress without breaking, is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). The material, tube diameter and tube wall thickness determine tent pole strength. While both fibreglass and aluminium alloys feature high tensile strength, aluminium alloys are stronger. Aluminium alloys can provide the same tensile strength as fibreglass, in a tube with a smaller diameter and thinner wall.
In cold weather, fiberglass poles become stiff and may shatter easily. They 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. Frequent use, however, can cause fibreglass poles to start fraying and splintering.
Aluminium poles retain their flexibility in cold temperatures. Aluminium corrodes, but aluminium tent poles typically have an anodized surface to protect from corrosion.
When fibreglass poles break, they shatter and are very hard to do an emergency repair on, but you may fix them temporarily with duc tape.
Aluminium poles tend to bend, rather than break. Some kinds of aluminium are stronger than others, and of course, larger diameter poles of any given material are stronger than smaller diameter poles (trading weight for strength).
When aluminium poles bend, you can often still use them, and with care, you can manage to somewhat straighten them.
For high wind conditions, aluminium is the material of choice.
Weight and Cost
Aluminium poles are lighter than comparable fibreglass poles. Fibreglass is a lighter material than aluminium, but fiberglass poles need to use larger-diameter tubes with thicker walls to achieve the same tensile strength as aluminium. Fibreglass is less expensive, making it the popular choice for family and camping tent poles.
The strength, durability, streamlined construction and lower weight of aluminium poles make them popular for backpacking tents, where consumers tend to prefer performance over financial saving.
Nylon / Polyurethane / Polyester
What is the best tent material? This know-how chapter will help you understand the characteristics of tent fabrics and help decide upon the best tent material for your camping or tenting situation. The best tent fabric will be light and durable, water resistant and breathable.
Regardless of fabric, tent seams should be double-stitched and reinforced at key stress points.
Nylon is an excellent tent fabric because it is strong and durable. At the same time, it is lightweight and easily waterproofed.
Uncoated nylon is water-resistant, but not waterproof, because water can pass through gaps between the woven fibres. To prevent that, nylon material is coated in large spools with polyurethane. The polyurethane coating seals out most water, making nylon tents weatherproof. It effectively seals the material, but it also greatly reduces the breathability of the fabric.
Many smaller tents also have floors made of treated, thus water-resistant nylon. However, a waterproof barrier of some type (i.e. polyethylene or vinyl tarps) should be placed under nylon floor tents.
Rip-stop nylon has the same characteristics as regular nylon. The one main addition is a heavier fibre woven into the fabric every dozen or so stitches. The idea is that if a tear starts, the resistance that the heavier fibre provides will stop the rip sooner. Rip-stop nylon is recognizable by its obvious grid pattern on the fabric.
Nylon is the most popular and widely used tent fabric. It is durable and lightweight, resists tearing and naturally sheds water.
Choose a nylon tent if you are a summer, winter or three-season camper who is hiking or biking and needs a lightweight tent that can be pitched and taken down on a daily basis.
The qualities of polyester are nearly identical to nylon, but resists UV exposure better than nylon. However, it can tend to be heavy.
Choose a polyester tent fabric if you’re setting up in a campground where you are planning to stay for a longer period.