Whilst you may not consider tent poles as a key factor when choosing a tent, the materials used and the way they work can affect such things as weight, height of the tent and strength, so it’s worth being aware of the key points.
In general, poles are supplied in sections that are usually linked by elasticated cord, although poles made in heavier materials may be connected by steel wire or springs. Heavier materials may lock together using a spring-loaded button or have a matching male/female profile.
Joints and poles may sometimes be profiled to make pitching easier and to increase the pitch of the tent walls to increase useable internal space.
The two most common ways the ends of the poles connect with the tent are:
Ring and pin – a pin located on a ring sewn onto the bottom of the tape is inserted into the bottom of the pole.
Pin and grommet – each end of the pole has a pin that is inserted into a grommet located on a tape at the bottom of the tent.
Manufacturers will normally colour code poles and sleeves to make pitching easier.
There are four main tent pole materials available, and these will have an impact on both a tent’s performance and its price tag.
Pros: Flex; cost; spares
The relatively low cost of glass fibre makes it the popular choice for less expensive tents. Its flexibility means a tent bends with the wind to shed gusts rather than stand firm against them. This can be a tad disconcerting when experienced for the first time. However, flexibility rather than strength does mean the overall weight of a tent can be kept down compared with those using steel poles.
Unfortunately, this very characteristic can make pitching a larger tent awkward when the weight of the fabric deforms the poles as you try and raise them to the upright position – especially in windy conditions.
Breaks can occur and glass fibre then shows its teeth for it tends to splinter into needle like shards. More expensive glass fibre, like Durawrap, is laid to reduce this hazard or may sometimes feature a plastic sheaf.
Poles tend to be in standard diameters and spare poles are easily sourced although they may have to be sawn to length.
Pros: Strength; rigidity; cost
Cons: Corrosion; weight
Steel poles create a rigid skeleton that stands up to high winds rather than deform to shed gusts. This strength comes with a weight penalty and larger tents may be heavy to lift into position and move between house, car and pitch.
Steel poles are plated to resist corrosion but do need to be maintained (see top tip). Pole sections often link together using a matching male/female profile – do not try and force them together or you might risk damaging the profile which will make pitching harder.
Sometimes sections will bind together. They are easily separated by a hard tap to the joint with a mallet or another pole section.
Pros: High strength to weight ratio; rigidity; quality appearance
The high strength to weight ratio makes aluminium alloy the
There are various grades of alloy and this is reflected in price – although branded poles will also significantly increase the price tag in technical models. Maintenance is the same as steel.ideal tent pole material but the cost restricts use to lightweight technical tents and top-end family models where the quality appearance also adds to a chic design.
Pros: Ease of pitching
Cons: Air reacts to external temperatures so pressure needs to be monitored; weight
Many campers are attracted by the reliable fuss-free camping experience that an inflatable tent promises and can rest assured that the technology has been tried and tested for more than 50 years – although the materials used in the tubes are now far superior.
Tubes are relatively maintenance free and extremely tough, often being wrapped by two sleeves for additional protection. Damage is extremely rare and normally easily rectified.
Campers should be aware of operational pressures that need to be maintained and the fact that the air pressure can fluctuate with the outside temperature. This means that the tube pressure of a tent pitched early or late in the day can drastically increase as the day becomes hotter. Likewise, a tent pitched at noon can sag badly during the night as the internal pressure drops with the cold.
Given an inflatable tent comes as a single entity they tend to be quite heavy compared with other tents where poles can be transported separately.
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