A trekking pole is just a trekking pole, right? After all, it’s just a fancy stick with a handle and a wrist strap. So, it doesn’t matter what it’s made of, right? But I’m here to tell you that the material that a trekking pole is made of matters. If you’ve ever searched for trekking poles online, you’ll see they are mostly made of carbon fiber and aluminum.
In this article, I’ll be comparing carbon fiber and aluminum poles. You’ll learn the pros and cons of each material to help you make an informed decision when choosing a trekking pole. So, here we go.
Why Use Trekking Poles?
There are so many benefits of using trekking poles. For one, trekking poles can make hiking on flat terrain faster as they help you achieve a consistent rhythm. On tricky surfaces like mud, loose rock, and snow, trekking poles provide the needed traction to navigate securely and safely.
Your arms and shoulders are more involved in hiking motion when you use trekking poles and the result of this is increased mobility and speed without a corresponding increase in leg and arm fatigue or soreness.
Poles make hiking downhill or uphill a lot more convenient. You can also deflect known nuisances like spiders and thorny plants or shrubs from your path.
Perhaps an underrated or lesser-known function of trekking poles is their use as a probe. You can see poles to see how deep a puddle is, check for quicksand, or see the state of melting snow around rocks.
More and more dogs are finding their way on the trails as their owners also want them to explore the outdoors. While most trails that allow dogs require owners to always have their dogs on a leash, it’s not unusual for hikers to come across unleashed dogs.
And while these dogs are mostly harmless, some can be very aggressive and many hikers have resorted to using their poles to keep these malicious canines at bay until their owners arrive.
Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
Initially designed for use in the aerospace industry, carbon fiber is a light and strong material that is made by weaving together different super-strong resins. There are variations in the way carbon fiber are manufactured and quality will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
While carbon fiber is extremely strong (carbon fiber is stronger than steel of the same length!) it’s also brittle due to its rigidity.
One of the biggest advantages of carbon fiber over aluminum is its high weight as it’s less denser than aluminum. A pair of carbon fiber poles generally weighs between 12-18 ounces. Compare this to typical aluminum poles that weigh between 18-22 ounces.
For hikers and backpackers that are extremely conscious of the weight they carry, carbon fiber poles are highly preferable as they are easy to pack. Carbon fiber poles also allow hikers to move faster making them suitable for people focused on speed.
Carbon fiber poles offer superb comfort. They don’t flex when they hit a surface providing immediate support. The poles don’t vibrate and are easy to handle.
The major drawback of carbon fiber poles for most people is their price. Carbon fibers cost about $30 to $60 more than comparable aluminum trekking poles. Sometimes, they cost a lot more than $60, especially for high-end carbon fiber poles.
Carbon fiber poles aren’t as durable as aluminum poles. An impact force that may leave an aluminum pole mostly unscathed could damage a carbon fiber pole, especially the low-end ones. While high-end carbon fiber poles are stronger than the low-end models, they still can’t hold a candle to aluminum poles.
There’s also the potential risk of getting injured by carbon fiber poles when they get damaged as the poles cracks and breaks. So, it’s important you inspect your carbon fiber trekking poles for signs of cracks or damage from time to time.
While it’s common to see hikers use trekking poles as tent poles or ski poles, carbon fiber poles can’t serve this purpose and this makes them less versatile.
When to Use Carbon Fiber Poles
If you are a speed demon or prioritize carrying as less weight as possible, carbon fiber trekking poles are the best choice for you. With these poles, you’ll be able to go farther and faster.
Aluminum Trekking Poles
Aluminum is another popular material used to make trekking poles. The material in its pure form is not strong enough to make trekking so it’s usually combined. To increase the strength and durability of aluminum, it is mixed with other metals with zinc being the most popular metal used.
The obvious attraction of aluminum poles for many people is their price. Aluminum trekking poles are very affordable with entry-level poles costing as little as $20. The high-end ones may cost anywhere between $100 to $150 but they are a lot cheaper than comparable carbon fiber poles.
Aluminum trekking poles are also more durable than carbon fiber poles. They won’t shatter suddenly like carbon poles making them safer to use. Even when aluminum poles are damaged, they can still be managed to some extent although it’s advisable to replace them.
Poles made from aluminum are suitable for cold or frigid conditions. This is because low temperatures do not affect aluminum’s physical properties. This is in contrast to carbon fiber that becomes brittle in cold weather which makes it more brittle to cracking.
Aluminum poles are more versatile as they can be used as tent and skiing poles. So, if you are someone that enjoys different outdoor activities, you can potentially get more out of your aluminum poles.
Aluminum is moderately heavier than carbon fiber and poles made of the former aren’t suitable for those looking for ultralight gear. Aluminum trekking poles also tend to vibrate when in use, especially those without shock absorbers. Overall, aluminum poles aren’t as comfortable to use as carbon fiber poles.
Hiking isn’t as fast when using aluminum poles. So, if you are a fast and furious demon that places a premium on speed, aluminum poles won’t allow you to achieve your potential top speeds.
It’s worth mentioning that most aluminum trekking poles on the market are usually lower ends. Of course, there are also high-end aluminum poles but many manufacturers don’t focus on them.
When to Use Aluminum Trekking Poles
If you tend to go hard on your trekking poles or carry a heavy load, aluminum poles are strong enough to handle the stress put on them. If you also enjoy rock-hopping on your trip, it makes more sense to go for aluminum poles.
Aluminum trekking poles are ideal for cold weather as they aren’t affected much by the lower temperatures. So, if you hike or explore in these conditions, aluminum poles are a no-brainer.
If you don’t place much value on weight saving or speed of hiking, aluminum poles may be just what you need. Of course, aluminum poles are cheaper and are more affordable for hikers on a tight budget.
Some Other Things to Consider
Grip material and shape
The grip of trekking poles are made of different materials with foam, cork, and rubber being the most popularly used materials. Foam is the softest and absorbs moisture from the hands making it great for sweaty hands and hot weather. Cork also absorbs moisture and conforms to the shape of your hands.
Rubber is ideal for cold weather as insulates the hands from cold. However, rubber can chafe or blister sweaty hands. So, it’s best to use them in cold weather.
Tip material varies among trekking poles. Some poles have tips made of carbide while others are made of tips. Both materials provide good traction even on ice. Rubber tip protectors can be bought separately to protect the tips especially when they are packed in a backpack or luggage. The protectors also increase the lifespan of the tip.
You have to decide whether to go for fixed ot adjustable pole deign. While fixed-length poles are more compact, adjustable trekking poles allow you to adjust the length of the poles according to your height and the nature of the hiking trails.
Ultimately, the type of trekking pole you choose depends on your budget, preferences, and the weather conditions you are hiking in. You’ll be able to make an informed decision after reading through this guide. Choose a trekking pole that suits your preferences and enjoy yourself on the trails.