If you are looking for a pair of trekking poles, the first question you need to consider is carbon fiber or aluminum trekking poles?
This debate has been around for years. To help you decide which is best, we will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of both materials.
So, without further dawdling, let’s see what type of pole might work best for you!
What makes good trekking poles?
A good trekking pole will help by providing stability and additional balance, reducing fatigue, and preventing injury from falls. The most important thing to consider when selecting a trekking pole is what type of terrain you will be walking on.
We talk more about the why you should use trekking poles and the benefits here
What is carbon fiber?
In order to understand the differences between aluminum and carbon fiber poles, you need to understand how carbon fiber poles are made
Carbon Fiber consists of carbon atoms that are held together by chemical bonds, which means that they come in long chains.
These long chains of atoms can be combined with various other materials such as resin and heat before being spun into a thread or filament where they will then be cut into short sections resembling yarn and finally bonding those strands together using high pressure and heat while compressing them.
In simple terms, carbon fiber is a matrix of crystalline filaments of carbon laid in resin. This process results in lightweight patterns used in manufacturing products such as boats, airplanes, bicycles, trekking poles, and many other bits of outdoor gear.
Unlike carbon fiber, metals like aluminum are usually uniform– isotropic, which ensures the same properties in every direction.
The strength and rigidity of any carbon fiber components are created by positioning the sheets of carbon fiber in the rightway.
Obviously, the quality of the carbon fiber poles always depends on the manufacturer. To be strong enough for use in hiking, the carbon fiber must be formed in a vacuum and the layers of carbon fiber laid out and layered correctly, or they will fail.
What are the Advantages of Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles?
Carbon trekking poles are generally lighter weight than aluminum ones, Most of the carbon fiber trekking poles have a weight of 12 to 18 ounces per pair.
Carbon fiber trekking poles sport shafts that are both strong and light. A high-quality pair of carbon fiber trekking poles provide users with more immediate support as they don’t flex as much as aluminum. This ensures they are exceptionally comfortable to use.
In addition, besides offering unmatched comfort, they don’t vibrate as much, reducing fatigue.
What are the Disadvantages of Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles?
Generally, carbon fiber poles are more expensive than aluminum. You can find a variety of inexpensive carbon poles, but finding the one that won’t break after only a couple of uses is not easy.
Many manufacturers use cheaply made carbon fiber to make poles that are way too fragile. In addition, these cheap models typically become extremely brittle in cold weather
Unlike aluminum poles, which will just bend when abused, carbon fiber trekking poles will shatter. This means that once you break a carbon pole’s fiber strands, they tend to completely give way.
This not only means they are no longer usable for hiking, but it can also result in some nasty injuries if you have your weight on them when they give way.
A well-made pair of carbon fiber poles will easily withstand forces coming from top to bottom. However, due to the way they are made, they aren’t that strong when it comes to withstanding side-to-side forces, making them less durable.
So even good ones can become fatigued over time as the resin becomes brittle with age or if their fibers get damaged by abrasion, or knocks. So all carbon fiber poles do need regular replacement, even if they are not used that much.
What are the Advantages of Aluminum Trekking Poles?
One of the advantages of aluminum trekking poles is that they are typically cheaper than carbon poles. Carbon poles are significantly more difficult, and hence expensive, to manufacture.
This is because aluminum is a relatively inexpensive material to process. As a soft and non-magnetic variety of metal, aluminum is comparatively easy to work with compared to carbon fiber.
As mentioned above, metals like aluminum behave the same in whichever direction a force is placed. So under a large load, aluminum will just bend, and you can bend it back for a quick fix, while carbon poles will simply snap (although you will need to replace the bent trekking pole as it will be weakened)
Aluminum will also not degrade like carbon fiber, which means that it won’t have to be replaced as often as a result of exposure to moisture.
Finally, aluminum trekking poles do not have a break-in period so they can be used right out of the box. Carbon trekking poles require some breaking in before use to prevent damage from long-term use.
What are the Disadvantages of Aluminum Trekking Poles?
Because aluminum is relatively soft, it requires fairly thick shafts to be strong enough for hiking. This means aluminum trekking poles tend to be heavier.
In addition, aluminum isn’t as stiff as carbon, which makes these poles makes them prone to vibrations. The vibrations can be particularly irritating when you’re using a pair of aluminum trekking poles without shock absorbers.
While aluminum is cheaper, even if you are cash strapped, don’t go too cheap. You need to ensure that any poles you are considering are made from 7075 aluminum alloys. If you see any made of 6-series alloy (the number for the alloy will begin with a 6) it will either be weak or ludicrously heavy…or both!
So who wins the carbon vs aluminum trekking pole debate?
Carbon and aluminum are both strong and lightweight materials, which is why they are both commonly used as the shaft material of trekking poles.
They both have their pros and cons.
Carbon fiber poles offer unmatched comfort, stiffness, and lighter weight. However they are not as durable, needing to be replaced regularly. Also, when they break, they tend to completely break!
An aluminum pole offers a variety of benefits. These include being cheaper than carbon, less risk of breakage, more durability due to not degrading as quickly, and not requiring a break-in period as carbon fiber ones do.
On the flip side, aluminum poles tend to be heavier than their carbon counterparts and are prone to vibrations.
So carbon fiber trekking poles are best for people who want light and comfortable hiking poles that can withstand heavy loads. They will also need to have the budget to replace them periodically.
I work in High Performance Sport and live in New Zealand among some of the most amazing trails in the world…life is pretty good!
- 1 What makes good trekking poles?
- 2 What is carbon fiber?
- 3 What are the Advantages of Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles?
- 4 What are the Disadvantages of Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles?
- 5 What are the Advantages of Aluminum Trekking Poles?
- 6 What are the Disadvantages of Aluminum Trekking Poles?
- 7 So who wins the carbon vs aluminum trekking pole debate?