Traveling with Trekking Poles
Hikers have it pretty easy. If we want to hike somewhere, we simply load our packs and go. Aside from good footwear and some basic clothing, we generally don’t need a lot of stuff. In fact, if we want to travel somewhere for a hiking vacation, and we’re efficient, we can load everything that we need for the trip in a single bag or backpack and carry it on the plane. The one thing that can be tricky is trying to carry trekking poles on the plane.
Since 9/11, trying to carry trekking poles on the airplane has been a challenge for hikers who fly. Intuitively, trekking poles should be off limits, but, in fact, they can fall into a grey area with TSA, the Transportation Security Administration of the United States. While TSA does deem them as off limits for carry on bags, we have some tips from experience on how to travel with trekking poles.
According to TSA, ski and hiking poles are not allowed as carry-ons, but walking canes are allowed, provided “they have been inspected to ensure that prohibited items are not concealed.”
Here are two tips successful tips from our experience:
1. Talk to the TSA officials at your local airport.
We spoke with officials at three different airports and, in every case, they allowed us to carry trekking poles on the plane in their assembled forms. That said, there are two caveats. First, small, rural airports that border vacation destinations tend to allow items that larger urban airports may not. They’re used to people traveling with sporting equipment and oddly shaped gear. Second, consider your itinerary. Just because your local airport allowed you to carry on your poles, doesn’t mean that the security personnel in another, bigger city will let it by. Flying direct routes within your home country might be fine, but if you have to go through security in other cities and/or countries while changing flights, you might run into problems.
2. Dismantle your poles before placing them inside your pack.
We’ve had good luck with this option so far. Simply pull the sections apart so that your trekking poles look like small tubes rather than a long collapsible unit. As it turns out, it’s not the pointy tip of the trekking pole that security personnel have a problem with. Rather, they want to confirm that you don’t have anything stashed inside your poles. The take home point: break down your poles for easy examination! Our favorite trekking poles are those made by Black Diamond. You can find a wide variety here.
Ultimately, it’s up to TSA whether or not you can travel with your trekking poles via carry on luggage. Here’s what TSA has to say: The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint. We hope this article was helpful and that you have a great trip!
Still need to lock in a hiking adventure for your trekking poles? Find your best trip fit with our Trip Finder here. Also, browse our guided trip options here and our self-guided trip options here. Happy trekking!
Why are trekking poles helpful?
Peter Walker, Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures founder, grew up working as a guide in Zermatt and Chamonix, very long before trekking poles emerged on the scene. Here is Peter’s synopsis on why trekking poles are helpful:
Even way back when, guides would carry trekking poles – even the young ones with presumably indestructible knees. The Swiss think about these things and knew well that a carefully curated knee or two throughout life would serve the body better later into life. Basically, everyone was looking decades down the road and wanting not to have had their mobility jeopardized by youthful indiscretions – like running around the mountains without trekking poles.
This was very much the opposite of the scene in the states back then where if you saw someone out on the trail with ski poles the immediate thought was “wow, wonder what is wrong with him/her”.
Swiss studies conclude that trekking poles take approximately 30% of the load off the knees during the course of a hike.
My experience is that they also make you hike “smarter” in that your brain is receiving information from places other than your two feet, when it decides to inform you on how to stay in balance – kind of like a cat’s whiskers.
Always get trekking poles that collapse in three sections. Those that telescope in two sections will be harder to fit in your carry-on luggage. They will also project awkwardly from you backpack when not using them (especially polite to not do this on cable cars, trains, buses etc.).
Much is touted in terms of the strength and lightness of carbon. Carbon’s strength is primarily in the long axis of the pole. If you jam the pole in a crack and then torque it left/right etc. it will break and splinter. Aluminum will not do this so fast or catastrophically. Heavier yes, but you are talking a few grams, not even ounces. I would err on the side of aluminum – cheaper too.
Black Diamond, Leki and Komperdell all offer exceptional lines of well-designed and durable poles.
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OUR 2020 CATALOG
We’re having a lot of fun flipping through our 2020 digital hiking tour catalog. You can turn pages like a magazine, zoom in, print out individual pages, and download a pdf version if you like. You’ll find new trips, feature stories and more inside. Are you ready to get inspired?