Two of the most popular tent pole materials are aluminum and carbon fiber. Wood, carbon fiber and plastic all have issues that prevent their widespread use. Because tent poles make up the support frame of your tent, what they are made of is important. Aluminum and carbon fiber both have strengths and weaknesses. This look at both materials will help you choose when it's time to buy your next tent.
Aluminum poles are fairly lightweight. However, given their weight they are very strong. Most, but not all, aluminum poles perform as well in frigid winter weather as they do in the summer. Overburdened, these poles probably will only bend--and if they do break will snap cleanly in two. Since a bent tent pole can be repaired, this is a big plus. The only real drawback to aluminum poles is that they are subject to corrosion. Most come with a protective coating, but you can count on it eventually wearing off.
The great virtue of carbon fiber tent poles is that they are more expensive than aluminum poles. Another benefit is that carbon fiber does not rot or corrode. The only source of wear and tear is rough handling during use. On the upside, carbon fiber is stronger than aluminum. That means a carbon fiber pole has to be thiner to support the same amount of weight, making it lighter as well. This is no problem in freezing weather, when carbon fiber is more stronger.
Carbon fiber poles have replaced aluminum poles as the standard for tent frames--with good reason. Virtually the only reason to buy a tent that has aluminum poles is to save money. If you are a casual tailgate camper or need to buy a lot of tents on a budget (for a scout troop or youth group, for example), you may want to go with aluminum poles. However, if you plan to use your tent for awhile or use it often it's better to buy a tent with carbon fiber poles.