When buying a pair of trekking poles, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is which material to go with. The body of most trekking poles is made of either carbon fiber or aluminum. The best material depends on a number of factors including the type of terrain you hike on and the distances you hike. This article outlines the pros and cons of carbon fiber vs aluminum trekking poles. We’ll cover weight, durability, reliability, comfort, cost, longevity, and more. I’ll also explain the main differences between the two materials and share a few recommendations.
What are Trekking Poles?
A trekking pole is a stick with a handle and wrist strap on one end and a metal spike on the other. Most models are adjustable between around 26” and 54” (66-137 cm) to fit hikers of different heights. They are usually sold in pairs but can also be sold individually. Trekking poles are also known as hiking poles, hiking sticks, or walking sticks.
The body of modern hiking poles is made from either carbon fiber or aluminum. Various materials are used to make the grips, straps, spikes, and other components. I’ll talk more about those later on. Simple wooden trekking poles are also available.
Trekking poles offer a number of benefits to hikers. They provide stability and traction while hiking on rugged terrain. When using trekking poles, you have four contact points with the ground rather than two. You’re less likely to slip and fall.
Trekking poles also help you maintain a walking rhythm and control speed. They can help you propel yourself forward while hiking on flat ground and uphill and help you slow down on descents.
In addition, trekking poles reduce knee, hip, ankle, and foot strain during descents. They achieve this by transferring some impact energy from your legs to your upper body. Many models also provide some shock absorption to assist with descents. This can greatly help to reduce knee pain.
For more info on trekking poles and why you would use them, check out my guide to the pros and cons of hiking with trekking poles.
Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
Carbon fiber is a lightweight, strong, and stiff material that was originally developed for use in the aerospace industry. It is made from super-strong fibers that are woven together and reinforced with resin or epoxy. The material offers an incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio.
Carbon fiber is made by processing a polymer (usually polyacrylonitrile) into filaments of carbon atoms that measure 5-10 microns in diameter. Thousands of filaments are combined to form a tow or ribbon. These ribbons are weaved into sheets which are bound together with epoxy resin. The resulting material is a composite. Using heat, this material is layered and shaped into carbon fiber tubes. The material dries into the rigid tubes that are used to build trekking poles.
There is quite a bit of variation in the way that carbon fiber is made. Manufacturers can vary the type of resin used, the thickness of the layers, the grade of fibers, the density of fibers, the way the material is heat-treated, the types of fibers used, and more. All of these play a role in the durability, weight, and stiffness of the finished trekking poles. The quality of carbon fiber trekking poles varies.
As mentioned, carbon fiber is an incredibly strong and stiff material. In fact, it’s stronger and stiffer than steel of the same thickness. One difference is that carbon fiber strength varies depending on the direction of the fibers. Carbon trekking poles are designed to be incredibly strong when force is applied from the top of the pole to the bottom. They are much weaker when force is applied to the side of the pole. Carbon fiber is also a brittle material due to its rigidity.
Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles Pros
- Lighter weight- On average, carbon fiber trekking poles weigh around 4 ounces (around 113 grams) less per pair than aluminum trekking poles. Each pole weighs around 2 ounces less. Most carbon fiber trekking poles weigh 12-18 ounces (340-510 grams) per pair. To compare, aluminum trekking poles typically weigh 18-22 ounces (510-625 grams) per pair. Carbon fiber is lighter because it is less dense than aluminum. Carbon fiber has a density of around 1.55 g/cm^3 while aluminum has a density of around 2.7 g/cm^3. For most hikers, the light weight is the main benefit of choosing carbon fiber trekking poles over aluminum. On a long hike, every ounce matters. Particularly if you are an ultralight hiker. Lightweight poles are also easier to carry around while not in use.
- You can hike faster with carbon fiber trekking poles- The lighter weight of carbon fiber trekking poles allows you to move your arms faster and more easily. This helps you to maintain a faster hiking pace. You can maintain a better walking rhythm as well. In addition, carbon fiber is less flexible than aluminum. When you plant the pole in the ground, it immediately feels more solid. This inspires confidence, allowing you to move faster over rugged or slippery terrain.
- Carbon fiber trekking poles are more efficient- You won’t tire out as quickly when using carbon fiber trekking poles because you’re moving less weight around. Every step you take, you’re lifting a couple of ounces less. Over tens of thousands of steps, this adds up. You burn a bit less energy when hiking with lightweight carbon fiber poles. You can hike longer and further without your arms tiring out. On a long hike or thru-hike, every ounce matters. On shorter hikes, the weight difference isn’t really noticeable.
- More comfortable- Many hikers find carbon fiber poles to be more comfortable than aluminum. The reason is that carbon fiber does a better job of damping vibrations. The material has natural vibration damping qualities. This may be because of the lower density. At the same time, carbon fiber remains stiff and supportive. The vibration damping quality allows you to use your trekking poles longer without feeling hand and arm fatigue. Of course, the pole material only plays a small role in the overall comfort of the trekking pole. You’ll also want to consider the grip shape and material as well as the strap material. Some models also feature a suspension system to smooth out shocks during descents. I’ll talk more about these features later on.
- Carbon fiber flexes less- Carbon fiber is an incredibly rigid material. In fact, it’s about 2-5x more rigid than aluminum of the same thickness. When you lean on your carbon fiber trekking poles, they don’t flex. This gives the poles a more supportive feel when the pole hits a surface. You’ll feel more balanced. This is important when you’re relying on your pole to hold you up. For example, when fording a fast-moving river or walking on a slippery patch of ice, you need your poles to feel stable when you lean on them with most of your body weight.
- Carbon fiber trekking poles are great for occasional use- Some hikers leave their trekking poles stashed in their pack and only pull them out when descending or crossing rugged terrain. Carbon fiber poles are ideal for this kind of use due to the light weight. If you carry your poles in your pack much of the time, you want them to be as light as possible.
- More premium- Carbon fiber trekking poles tend to be a bit higher-end than aluminum. They often have a bit better fit and finish. The grip and strap may be more comfortable. They may adjust and fold a bit more smoothly. This isn’t the case all the time. Premium aluminum poles are also available.
Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles Cons
- Carbon fiber trekking poles are more expensive- On average, carbon fiber trekking poles cost $30-$60 more than comparable aluminum trekking poles. Low-end carbon fiber trekking poles cost around $50-$60 per pair. High-end models cost around $160-$200. To compare, entry-level aluminum trekking poles cost around $20-$30 per pair. Higher-end models start at around $60. If you’re on a tight budget, you’re better off avoiding carbon fiber trekking poles.
- Carbon fiber trekking poles are not as durable as aluminum- Carbon fiber is a more fragile material than aluminum. If you accidentally hit the side of your pole against a rock or bang your poles together too hard, you can crack the carbon fiber. This weakens the pole and can cause it to fail. An impact force that wouldn’t damage an aluminum pole may destroy a carbon fiber pole. Carbon fiber poles can also crack if they are bent too far from side to side. Carbon fiber is really only strong in one direction (top to bottom). When you bend it sideways, it can crack fairly easily. It’s easy to accidentally bend a pole when it gets caught between rocks or when you lean on it too hard. The resin that holds the carbon filaments together can also fatigue and degrade over time. This is common on low-end poles. Abrasions from debris rubbing against the poles as you hike can also scratch and weaken them. Low-end carbon fiber trekking poles are much less durable than high-end models. The reason is that they are made from lower grades of carbon fiber and less durable resin. These materials may be thinner, more brittle, and more fragile. Modern high-end carbon fiber trekking poles are incredibly durable. That said, they are still more prone to cracks and failure than aluminum poles.
- Can be more dangerous to use- Carbon fiber trekking poles can fail catastrophically and without warning. This is possible due to the way that carbon fiber fails. It doesn’t bend. It cracks and breaks. This could cause serious injury if your pole were to break unexpectedly while you were using it for balance. For example, if your pole broke at the wrong time, you could fall and injure yourself. Imagine your trekking pole snapping in half while you’re hiking a narrow ridge or during a difficult river crossing. Carbon fiber trekking poles can fail for a number of reasons. The pole can simply fatigue and fail from heavy use. Trekking poles don’t last forever. It could also crack from an impact then fail when you put weight on it. To be safe, you should inspect your trekking poles periodically. Run your hand along the tube to feel for loose carbon fibers. Running a cloth along the poles can make it easier to detect broken fibers. Also, visually inspect for cracks or damage. If you spot some damage on your carbon fiber trekking poles, you should stop using them to be safe. You never know when they’ll give out on you.
- You can’t use damaged carbon fiber trekking poles- If your carbon poles happen to get damaged during your hike, they’re pretty much useless. The reason is that broken carbon fiber is unreliable. You never know when it will fail. You also can’t repair it. You’ll just have to stash your broken pole in your pack and do without. With aluminum poles, you can usually use them if the damage isn’t too severe.
- Less reliable- Because carbon fiber trekking poles are more likely to crack and fail than aluminum, they are less reliable. This is particularly true of low-end models. It’s easy to accidentally crack them by knocking them against something or bending them. If you’re taking a long thru-hike, hiking with a particularly heavy load, or hiking in a remote area, you may not want to rely on carbon fiber trekking poles. That said, high-end models are very reliable.
- Carbon fiber trekking poles are not ideal for use as tent poles- Many hikers use trekking poles to support their non-freestanding tents. Reliability can also be a problem if you use your trekking poles as tent poles. If one of your poles were to break, you may have trouble pitching your tent. Of course, in this case, you could always use a stick instead. Using your trekking pole as a tent pole could also bend the pole sideways if you tension your guy lines too tight or position the pole at the wrong angle. A pole could also bend during a strong gust of wind. This could damage the pole if you’re not careful. Aluminum trekking poles deal with these types of forces much better.
- Less long-lasting- Because carbon fiber trekking poles are easier to break than aluminum, they usually don’t last as long. They end up knocking against something and cracking or getting broken somehow. This is particularly common with low-end carbon fiber trekking poles. You may only get a season of use out of them if you’re not extremely careful with them. For this reason, carbon fiber poles aren’t ideal for those who hike frequently. You’ll need to replace them sooner.
- Carbon fiber trekking poles are not ideal for cold weather use- The epoxy used to bond the carbon fiber sheets together can be sensitive to cold temperatures. It may become brittle if it gets too cold. This makes the poles easier to crack. This doesn’t’ mean you can’t use carbon fiber trekking poles during the winter. You just have to be a bit more careful and choose the right ones. If you’re hiking during the winter, you may want to choose less engineered models. In other words, choose models that don’t fold or telescope. Fixed-length poles handle the cold better. Higher-end models with modern epoxies also perform better in cold conditions.
- Less versatile- Because they are less durable, it’s best not to use carbon fiber trekking poles as ski poles. They may not be able to withstand the additional forces. As mentioned above, some carbon fiber trekking poles should not be used for cold weather hiking or snowshoeing because they can become brittle. These are some situations where carbon fiber poles shouldn’t be used. Comparable aluminum poles could be used in these situations.
Aluminum Trekking Poles
Pure aluminum is not strong enough to make trekking poles. To increase strength and durability, aluminum is alloyed with other elements. The primary element that aluminum is alloyed with is zinc. When buying aluminum trekking poles, you might want to check to see which type of aluminum alloy they are made of.
The best and most common aluminum used to make trekking poles is 7075. This aluminum alloy offers strength, durability, and fatigue resistance. It’s also very light. Other 7000-series aluminum alloys such as 7075-T6 are also commonly used.
Some aluminum trekking poles are made from 6000-series aluminum such as 6061. These are typically a bit weaker and more likely to break. They are also a few ounces heavier. They’re usually cheaper as well.
Aluminum Trekking Poles Pros
- Cheaper- Entry-level aluminum trekking poles start at around $20 for a pair. High-end models go for around $100-$150. That’s about $30-$60 cheaper than comparable carbon fiber trekking poles. If you’re on a tight budget, you’re better off going with aluminum trekking poles.
- Safer to use- Aluminum fails in a different way than carbon fiber. An aluminum trekking pole will slowly start to bend before it breaks. It won’t suddenly crack in half like a carbon fiber pole can. Aluminum trekking poles give you a bit of warning before they fail. This property of aluminum keeps you a bit safer. You’re less likely to fall when a pole reaches the end of its life. To further improve safety, you should inspect your aluminum trekking poles before every hike. Make sure they’re straight. Look for dents or cracks in the tubing. Also, inspect the joints if your poles are collapsible. The plastic or metal clamps can crack or break.
- More durable- Aluminum trekking poles can handle harder impact forces without sustaining damage. If you hit your aluminum trekking poles on a rock or knock them together, chances are they’ll be just fine. They can also handle heavier weight and stronger flexing forces as you hike. This is great for hikers who are on the heavy side. Aluminum poles also aren’t affected by abrasions. If you scratch your aluminum poles, they’ll be fine. Scratches are just cosmetic. You also don’t have to treat aluminum trekking poles as gently as carbon fiber models. They can take a beating without cracking or failing. Even low-end models are extremely durable. If you’re the kind of hiker who is hard on their trekking poles, aluminum is the best option. For example, if you find yourself regularly leaning on your poles with your full weight or rock hopping, you’ll be better off going with aluminum.
- You can use aluminum trekking poles when they’re damaged- If you hit your aluminum poles hard enough, they will dent. If you get your poles caught between some rocks and put too much lateral pressure on them, they can bend. Dents and bends do weaken the structural integrity of the poles but they will still remain usable. You can carefully straighten the bent pole out the best you can and continue on with your hike. You could also just hike with a bent pole if the bend is minimal. Of course, if a trekking pole is damaged, you want to use it carefully. You shouldn’t rely on a damaged pole to hold you up. You should also replace the damaged pole when your return home, just to be safe. If the pole is severely damaged, you shouldn’t use it. It could bend in half.
- More reliable- The superior durability of aluminum trekking poles makes them more reliable. Even cheap, low-end models offer good reliability. The benefit of more reliable poles is that you don’t have to worry as much about them failing mid-hike. This is nice if you use your trekking poles to support your non-freestanding tent. You don’t have to worry about the pole failing and leaving you without a tent support. Heavier hikers, long-distance hikers, and those who hike on particularly rugged terrain will also appreciate the reliability.
- Longevity- Because aluminum trekking poles are more durable, they tend to last longer. You’re much less likely to accidentally damage them by knocking them against something. A good pair of aluminum trekking poles should last you many years. Even cheap aluminum poles last a long time. This saves you money as well because you won’t have to replace your poles as frequently.
- Aluminum trekking poles can be better for cold weather use- The physical properties of aluminum do not change in cold weather. The material stays just as strong and durable on a 0-degree day as a 90-degree day. Carbon fiber, on the other hand, can become brittle and more prone to cracking in cold weather. For this reason, those who hike in the extreme cold are better off with aluminum trekking poles. This is particularly true if you prefer collapsible or adjustable poles.
- Aluminum trekking poles make better tent poles– If you want to use your trekking poles to support your non-freestanding tent, you’re often better off using aluminum poles. The reason is that they can better handle the tensile forces from the tent and guy lines. If a gust of wind blows your tent, putting pressure on the pole and bending it sideways, the aluminum pole won’t’ get damaged. Under the same extreme circumstances, a carbon pole could crack. Aluminum trekking poles are also a bit more reliable. You’ll always have a pole to pitch your tent with.
- Aluminum trekking poles are better for constant use- Some hikers like to use their trekking poles during their entire hike. Even while hiking flat terrain. Aluminum poles can be a better choice for constant use due to their superior durability. Also, the extra weight doesn’t matter as much if you’re always using your poles and never carrying them in your pack.
- Aluminum trekking poles are more versatile- Because aluminum trekking poles are more durable, you can get away with using them as ski poles. Skiing puts more stress on poles than hiking so you may not want to risk using carbon fiber trekking poles for skiing. You can also use aluminum poles for snowshoeing because they do not become brittle in cold temperatures. As outlined earlier, you can use them as tent poles as well. You can get multiple uses out of a good pair of aluminum trekking poles.
Aluminum Trekking Poles Cons
- More vibration- Aluminum trekking poles are less comfortable to use. The reason is that they can’t absorb vibrations as well due to the higher density. The vibration makes your hands and arms fatigue faster. After a long day of hiking, you may have a buzzing feeling in your hands, like you’ve been operating power tools all day. You may not want to use your aluminum trekking poles as long or as often for this reason. There are a few ways to improve comfort. You can wear gloves. You can also choose trekking poles with a comfortable grip material and shape. Many hikers like cork grips with an ergonomic shape. Some trekking poles also have a built-in shock absorption system. This is basically a spring built into the tip of the pole. This can also help reduce vibrations.
- Heavier- Aluminum trekking poles weigh around 4 ounces (113 grams) more per pair than carbon fiber trekking poles. For example, an ultralight pair of aluminum trekking poles weigh around 18 ounces. To compare, the lightest carbon fiber trekking poles weigh just under 12 ounces. Each aluminum pole weighs around 2 ounces more on average. For most hikers, a few extra ounces isn’t a big deal. If you’re an ultralight hiker, carrying around the extra 4 ounces may be significant. The extra weight can also be a factor for long-distance hikers.
- Aluminum trekking poles are less efficient- When hiking with aluminum trekking poles, you’ll tire out a bit quicker because you’re carrying more weight around. After all, with every step you take, you have to lift an extra 2 ounces with each arm. During a full day of hiking, you could take 20,000-30,000 steps. During each step, you lift your trekking poles. You’ll burn a bit more energy lifting the extra weight as a result. You won’t be able to hike quite as far without your arms tiring out. On short day hikes, you probably won’t notice the extra couple of ounces. On long multi-day hikes and thru-hikes, every ounce counts.
- You can’t hike as fast with aluminum trekking poles- Trekking poles help you maintain your pace while hiking. The heavier aluminum poles make it slightly harder to move your arms quickly. As a result, you’ll likely hike at a slightly slower pace with aluminum poles. This means you may not be able to cover quite as much ground as you could with carbon poles.
- More flex- Aluminum trekking poles aren’t quite as stiff as carbon fiber models. They can flex a bit under your body weight. Particularly if you’re on the heavier side or if you hike with a heavy pack. When you plant the pole in the ground, it may not feel quite as solid as a carbon fiber pole. You’ll have to spend a bit more time carefully placing your poles when hiking technical terrain. This causes you to move slower. You may also feel a bit less confident when relying on your trekking pole for balance. A small amount of flex can make you feel unstable. That said, in most cases, the flex is not even noticeable.
- Aluminum trekking poles are usually lower-end- Oftentimes, aluminum trekking poles feel a bit less premium than carbon fiber models. The build quality might be a bit lower. The materials may be a bit cheaper. This can make the poles a bit less pleasant to use. Of course, high-end aluminum trekking poles are also available as well.
Other Considerations When Choosing Trekking Poles
The pole material isn’t the only decision you have to make when choosing a pair of trekking poles. You’ll also want to consider the grip and strap material and shape as well as the pole design and overall build quality. In this section, I’ll outline a few things to look for when choosing a pair of trekking poles.
Trekking Pole Grip Material
The grip material plays a major role in the overall comfort of the trekking poles. Remember, you’re going to be holding onto these things for hours at a time. Possibly for days on end. They need to feel comfortable in your hands. The three most common trekking pole grip materials include:
- Cork grips- This is the most comfortable grip material for most hikers. Cork is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water and sweat. This helps keep your hands dryer, reducing the likelihood of developing blisters. Cork also dampens vibrations. It’s a durable material as well. Over time, cork can mold to the shape of your hands to further increase comfort. The drawback is that cork grips are expensive. They are common on higher-end trekking poles.
- Foam grips- These grips are the most affordable. Foam is soft and comfortable to grip. It absorbs water and sweat from your hands. This helps to prevent blisters. The drawback is that foam degrades quickly and can easily get torn. It’s the least durable option. Foam grips can be found on both low-end and high-end trekking poles. High-end models often come with modern high-density foam.
- Rubber grips- These grips are durable and affordable. Rubber also provides insulation from the cold and helps to dampen vibrations. The problem is that rubber can be hard on your hands because it doesn’t absorb water or dry quickly when wet. Wet hands rubbing against wet rubber causes blisters. You’ll probably want to wear gloves when you use rubber grips. Rubber grips are common on lower-end trekking poles.
Both carbon fiber and aluminum trekking poles are available with cork, foam, and rubber grips.
Most trekking poles feature an ergonomic grip shape. These are designed to hold your wrists in a comfortable and neutral position while hiking. This is achieved with extra material that forms a corrective angle of around 15° in relation to your forearm. This correction rotates the pole away from your body. This way, you don’t have to bend your wrists as you hike. This design reduces wrist fatigue and pain so you can hike longer. Ergonomic grips also match the shape of your hands and fingers. They fit comfortably in your hands.
If you plan to hike long-distance with your trekking poles, you’ll want ergonomically shaped grips. Both carbon fiber and aluminum trekking poles are available with ergonomic grips.
Some trekking poles have straight grips or L-shaped grips, similar to what you would find on a walking cane. These are less common and are typically less comfortable. They work well for casual walking or occasional use while hiking.
Wrist Strap Material
Most trekking poles feature built-in wrist straps. These help you keep a tight grip on the pole by moving some pressure from your hands to your wrists. This way, you don’t have to grip as hard. Your hands don’t tire out as quickly. Straps also prevent you from losing the pole if you drop it. In addition, they allow you to use your hands without having to set the pole down. To properly use the strap, you place your hand through the bottom of the strap then grip the pole.
Some wrist strap materials are more comfortable than others. Look for straps that are made from a material that will be soft and comfortable against your skin. Nylon or foam padded straps can help to prevent the strap from digging into your hands and wrists. A soft chamois or fleece lining can reduce friction and prevent abrasion on your skin. Leather grips are also comfortable. Try to avoid nylon straps. These can cause chafing which can rub your hands raw over time.
Ideally, the straps should also be adjustable. This way, you can tighten them or loosen the straps to fit your hands. You’ll also want to make sure you use the proper pole in each hand. Most straps and grips are left and right-hand specific.
Trekking poles come with carbide or steel tips. These help to provide traction by digging into the ground. Carbide tips are preferable because they last a bit longer-lasting. This is because carbide is harder than steel.
Many trekking poles also come with rubber tip protectors. These can help protect the environment when you’re hiking on sensitive surfaces. For example, maybe you’re hiking on a beautiful rock surface that you don’t want to scratch. They can also help protect your pack when your poles are stored inside.
Trekking Pole Design
The design determines how packable your trekking poles are. It also plays a major role in the durability and adjustability of your trekking poles. There are three main trekking pole designs available.
- Telescoping adjustable trekking poles- These are the most common. Telescoping poles collapse into themselves for storage. Usually, there are three sections. The smaller diameter lower section fits inside of the larger diameter mid section, which fits inside the even larger diameter upper section. To collapse the poles you either twist them to loosen the joint or open a clamp at the joint. The benefit of this telescoping design is that the poles are highly adjustable for a range of hiker heights and hiking conditions. Most adjust between 24” to 55” in length. You can customize the pole length for your exact height. You can make the poles shorter when climbing and taller when descending to accommodate for the slope of the hill. The adjustable height is also helpful if you use your trekking pole as a tent support. The drawback is that telescoping trekking poles are typically heavier due to the added locking mechanism. They may also be a bit weaker due to the joints. Most entry-level to mid-range trekking poles are telescoping.
- Foldable trekking poles- These work kind of like tent poles. Most models are divided into three sections that detach from one another. They are held together with an internal cord. There is usually a push-button mechanism that locks and unlocks the sections. Some models offer a small amount of adjustment but most aren’t adjustable. Foldable poles are lightweight and the most compact, making them ideal for travel. Some models fold down to just 12” for storage. Ultralight hikers and trail runners often choose this design as well for their lightweight and packability.
- Fixed trekking poles- These do not break apart, collapse, or adjust. They are fixed in their length. The benefit of this design is that they are lightweight because there are no locking or adjustment mechanisms. They are also strong and reliable because there are no joints to create weak spots. The drawback is that there is no length adjustment you can make. This can make it difficult to hike on terrain with lots of elevation change. Fixed poles are also harder to transport because they are longer. Most models measure 44”-52” in length. If you fly to your hiking destination, you’ll probably want to avoid fixed-length poles. You also have to buy the correct size for your height.
Both carbon fiber and aluminum trekking poles are available in telescoping, foldable, and fixed designs.
Who Should Use Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles?
Carbon fiber trekking poles are ideal for ultralight hikers who want to carry as little weight as possible. Hikers who like to cover as many miles as possible will also appreciate the light weight of carbon fiber trekking poles. Thru-hikers, in particular, benefit from the weight savings. Over the course of hundreds or thousands of miles, the couple of ounces of weight savings is worth it. In addition, those who only use their trekking poles for part of their hike will also appreciate the lighter weight of carbon fiber poles. They are less dead weight to carry around while stored.
Hikers with a higher budget will probably prefer carbon fiber as well. The material is a bit more premium. Higher-end hiking poles may fold a bit faster and have a more comfortable grip and strap design as well.
Who Should Use Aluminum Trekking Poles?
Aluminum trekking poles are ideal for hikers who tend to be hard on their poles. If you find yourself knocking your poles against trees, rocks, each other or you enjoy boulder hopping, you’re better off with aluminum trekking poles. They can take a beating and keep on going.
Taller and heavier hikers and those who often lean hard against their poles are also better off with aluminum. The aluminum tubes can handle much harder flexing forces without bending.
Aluminum poles are also ideal for use as tent poles because they’re less likely to fail. Those who hike in below-freezing weather may also be better off with aluminum poles because they aren’t sensitive to the cold like carbon fiber.
In addition, aluminum trekking poles are ideal for hikers who are on a budget. For less money, you’ll get a much more durable and long-lasting product. In fact, you should avoid buying low-end carbon fiber trekking poles. They just aren’t durable enough.
These days, I use aluminum trekking poles. The main reason is durability and reliability. It brings me peace of mind. I don’t have to worry about knocking my poles against something or bending them and causing damage. I think aluminum poles also offer better value. For less than $50, I can buy a decent pair of trekking poles that will last many years.
That said, If I were going on a thru-hike, I probably would buy some high-end carbon fiber poles. The weight savings and premium design would be worth the cost. If money was no object, I would use carbon poles as well.
A Few Trekking Pole Recommendations
There are a wide range of trekking pole options on the market. In this section, I’ll share a few of the more popular options that offer a good value.
TrailBuddy Lightweight Trekking Poles
These affordable aluminum trekking poles weigh just 19.4 oz per pair or 9.7 oz per pole. They are made from durable 7075 aluminum. The poles feature comfortable cork grips and a padded strap. They adjust with easy-to-use lever locks. The poles telescope from 25.5 to 54 inches, making them suitable for hikers between 4’ and 6’4” tall. The poles also disassemble so you can pack them down to 21 inches, making them great for travel.
The TrailBuddy poles also include all of the accessories you’ll need including two different sets of baskets, rubber tips, and a carrying bag. They are available in 8 colors. These poles offer incredible value. They are ideal for hikers who are on a budget.
LEKI Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles
These lightweight carbon fiber trekking poles weigh just 240 grams per pole or 480 grams for the pair. They feature comfortable Aergon Thermo foam grips with a quick-drying strap. Foam grips are typically less comfortable than cork but these grips are an exception. They feature a soft grippy surface and offer excellent insulation in cold weather.
The poles also feature LEKI’s incredibly strong and sturdy Speedlock 2 quick adjustment system. They are adjustable from 44-55”. These poles are also very packable. They measure just 15” in length when folded down. The shafts are made from strong high modulus carbon. The main drawback is that these poles are fairly expensive. These are premium trekking poles.
Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles
These lightweight carbon fiber trekking poles weigh just 7.8 oz each or less than 1 lb for the pair. They are made from durable 3K carbon fiber. They feature a quick-lock mechanism that allows you to adjust the poles between 26 and 54 inches. The grips are made from comfortable vibration damping and sweat-wicking cork.
The poles include a carrying bag as well as snow baskets, rubber tips, and rubber foot-style tips. These are lower-end carbon fiber trekking poles but they do offer good durability for the price.
Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles
These lightweight aluminum trekking poles come in 7 sizes. They weigh between 12.1 and 14.2 oz per pair depending on the size and fold down to 13-17 inches depending on the length. The poles are made from durable and lightweight 7075 aluminum. They feature comfortable EVA foam grips with a breathable and moisture-wicking strap. The tips are interchangeable. Carbide and rubber tips are included.
These trekking poles are not adjustable. You’ll need to choose the correct size for your height when you buy. These poles are fairly expensive. They are premium aluminum trekking poles.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles
These are the carbon fiber version of the Black Diamond poles outlined above. They come in 4 sizes with maximum lengths of 100cm, 110cm, 120cm, and 130cm. These poles weigh just 9.3-10.4 ounces per pair depending on the length, making them some of the lightest trekking poles on the market. They are an excellent choice for ultralight hikers who want to hike efficiently.
The poles fold down in 3 sections with a packed length of 13-17 inches. They feature a rapid locking design, making them easy to fold and unfold on the ego. These poles also feature comfortable EVA foam grips and interchangeable tips and baskets.
Final Thoughts About Carbon Fiber Vs Aluminum Trekking Poles
At the end of the day, the choice between carbon fiber and aluminum trekking poles comes down to weight, durability, and cost. You’re going to have to make a compromise. If you value durability and cost more, you’re better off with aluminum poles. Keep in mind that there will be a weight penalty of around 4 ounces.
If you value weight above all, you’re better off with carbon trekking poles. Remember that they won’t be quite as durable. Even high-end carbon poles can crack. They’ll also cost you around $30-$60 more. Whichever type of trekking poles you decide to go with, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.
Do you prefer carbon fiber or aluminum trekking poles? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Tuesday 23rd of August 2022
Hi there! I see a lot of claims about carbon that my intuition does not quite agree with it. Could you provide some sources for that information (specially the "not as durable as aluminum part")?
Wednesday 24th of August 2022
Sure, my source is personal experience. In my experience, aluminum trekking poles are more durable than carbon fiber.