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Choosing trekking poles is often a hard choice for new hikers. Do you want the lightest weight? The most durable? The cheapest? In this article, we’re going to focus on carbon fiber vs aluminum trekking poles to help make your decision easier.
The main difference is their durability and weight, with carbon fiber being far more lightweight but less durable and aluminum being very durable but much heavier. The big benefit will end up being based on need. Are you looking for a budget item or to cut the most weight?
Let’s look into each and help you make a knowledgeable decision to help get you out on the trails as soon as possible!
First, we consider why these two are discussed so heavily and then dig into the benefits and drawbacks.
Why Do Trekking Poles Matter?
Trekking poles are helpful as they aid in easy movement and also help to distribute the weight of your backpack by reducing the load on your lower body.
This is especially useful when you are thru-hiking and traveling over longer distances or for those with issues with their back, hips, or knees.
They also serve as additional support should you trip or fall, which can help prevent injuries. They help to control motion when heading downhill and also can be used to test the depth of water or muddy areas.
They are an essential part of any hiker’s gear, especially for those who intend on taking consistent regular backpacking trips, especially on rough terrain.
Now we can get into the benefits and drawbacks of each, and we will start with the more expensive carbon fiber as they are the gold standard for thru-hikers.
Benefits & Drawbacks to Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
There are many benefits of trekking poles and carbon fiber offers some fantastic advantages and some limited issues versus aluminum; let’s look at each individually:
Carbon Fiber Advantages
There is certain advantages in using the incredible carbon fiber material, it lends amazing rigidity and much more!
Carbon fiber is incredibly strong for its weight and also has very little give. This makes it the perfect material for those who need a lot of support while backpacking but don’t want the extra weight.
Since they are rigid and have very little in the way of give this makes them very comfortable as they don’t shift and move around as you walk. In addition, for some this may also means they are much less likely to rub your skin raw as well.
They provide an exceptional level of support for your body, this is extremely important for those carrying a lot of weight or have issues with their hips, back, and knees.
The very light weight carbon fiber helps to take some of the pressure off of these problem areas.
When you are looking to reduce the amount of weight you are carrying ultralight poles like carbon fiber are the way to go.
They help to take a lot of weight off arms so movement is faster and this faster movement helps kick you down the trail much easier.
Carbon Fiber Disadvantages
Some issues I feel that exist with carbon fiber is very bad versus side impacts as it can break down the bonds that construct it, lets look at these terminal issues:
The process to make carbon fiber isn’t cheap, then you have to attach all the handles, tips, and baskets which also costs money. This means carbon fiber trekking poles are going to be more expensive than aluminum.
Very Fragile and Can Shatter
They can be very susceptible to side impacts and if they are bent the wrong direction they can snap and give out in the middle of use when they are the most important.
Any slight sideways motion instead of up and down can lead to broken and useless poles at the worst times.
Benefits & Drawbacks to Aluminum Trekking Poles
While carbon fiber is an amazing use of technology the tried and true aluminum is a good purchase for many but also comes with some good qualities and some bad qualities we can discuss:
At its core aluminum is a very good metal that has a lot of good qualities we can touch on:
Can Be Used When Bent
Unlike carbon fiber which shatters leaving you a splintered mess to carry out aluminum will bend and is still viable to use. Granted it isn’t going to be as useful but in a pinch, it could save your life.
Can Be Re-Straightened
Additionally, with the above, you can straighten many aluminum poles back out so they are usable again. This isn’t possible with carbon fiber as once it snaps there is no coming back from that.
Overall aluminum makes for a more durable trekking pole, especially in awkward side-to-side bending like when it goes to the side of a rock when heading downhill.
This sideways stress aluminum handles like a champ where almost all CF will break under the stress.
The process to make aluminum isn’t as expensive as carbon fiber, which means the final product will be cheaper.
This is great news for those who are looking for a bargain or those who don’t want to spend a lot of money on their pair of trekking poles.
There is some bad news about using a pair of aluminum poles, and here they are:
Not as Rigid
Aluminum isn’t nearly as rigid as carbon fiber which means it doesn’t have the same support level. This can be an issue for those with injuries or older age as the added support can be beneficial.
Aluminum Is Heavier
The weight of aluminum will be noticeably higher than carbon fiber which can make a difference when you are out on the trail all day. For thru-hikers, this can add up as you stack days to months on the trail.
Prone to Vibrations
Aluminum transfers vibrations much more than carbon fiber and this can lead to fatigue in your arms and hands over time.
This is especially true on rocky or root-filled trails which dominate much of the American forested trails.
Comparison Table: Carbon vs Aluminum Trekking Poles
|Aluminum (Best)||Carbon Fiber (Best)|
|Reliability||x||x (Top Tier Only)|
Who Are Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles For?
The lower cost “budget” carbon fiber are a good starter for someone looking to improve from the aluminum poles but the more expensive high-quality carbon fiber is really prominent for ultralight hikers and thru-hikers.
These people look to dial in their entire kit to maximize miles in a day and carbon fiber is one of the most effective ways speed up arm movement and speed as well as reducing weight.
Additionally, many pair of carbon fiber poles come in at well under 1 pound per pair which helps keep the total carried weight down as well.
Who Are Aluminum Trekking Poles For?
Aluminum trekking poles are good for those on a budget or those who don’t want to spend a lot on poles, so its a perfect option for new hikers and people trying to see if they enjoy the hobby itself before diving in hard.
In addition, aluminum is good for those who are hard on poles which can be in movement itself or if you are a taller or heavier person.
Final Thoughts on Carbon Fiber vs Aluminum Trekking Poles
Whether you are a cork grips kind of person like myself or a person who prefers EVA foam grips, your trekking poles will be friends on a longer thru-hike and are a good investment for your overall comfort.
Aluminum is an intelligent purchase for budget and new hikers to start with as they are going to be very forgiving if you accidentally drop them or bang them on a rock.
They are also great for those that might be taller or heavier as they can handle more weight and abuse.
On the flip side, when you are looking for max performance and aren’t overly cruel to your poles, a carbon fiber pole will drop significant ounces per pair of poles while also increasing comfort.
So what’s it going to be? Are you team aluminum or carbon fiber? Do you prefer fixed-length poles, collapsible poles, or foldable poles? What is your preferred type of trekking pole?
Let me know in the comments below, personally I find the Gossamer Gear LT5 carbon fiber poles to be the lightest trekking pole option with easy to order replacement sections should they break.