Whether you’re a frequent flier or you’re new to air travel, packing some of the basic camping and backpacking necessities in your carry on and checked bags can be a problem. Certain items, such as fuel canisters are a no-go in both carry on and checked luggage, but for other vital pieces of camping gear, the rules may seem a little fuzzy.
One of the most common concerns people have when flying with their camping gear concerns their hiking poles. Although hiking poles aren’t inherently dangerous items, they are a tricky object to pack for air travel because of their shape and pointy tip.
So, the question remains: Does TSA allow hiking poles? The TSA does not allow you to bring hiking poles in your carry on luggage. The TSA in the United States explicitly states this in their posted rules and regulations for carry on luggage. Although, they are allowed in checked luggage.
While this may be disappointing news to some of you, we’re still here to help. Coming up, we’ll walk you through the basics of traveling with your hiking poles on your next flight so you never have to be without them on the trail.
You can read TSA’s specific reference to hiking poles here.
How can I bring my hiking poles in a carry on?
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that you are simply not allowed to bring your trekking poles on a flight in your carry on baggage. TSA offers an easy-to-use website where you can check out what things you can bring on your journey and you can search for different items at this link. As you’ll see, however, trekking poles are a no-go.
Of course, if you need your trekking poles for general mobility on a daily basis, they are allowed, though they need to be collapsible and able to fit into an overhead bin. Recreational-use trekking poles are just not allowed in carry-on baggage.
As you can imagine, some people have tried to trick TSA into thinking that they need their hiking poles for mobility issues when they’re really just for recreation. Often times, however, people with mobility issues must request wheelchair service to get through security with a mobility aid, such as a cane or walking stick.
So, not only is lying about a mobility issue ethically dubious, it’s a bit more involved than just telling the TSA officer that you need your trekking poles for getting around the airport.
Carry On Baggage Rules Outside of the United States
If you did a survey of 1,000 hikers that have traveled by air with their trekking poles, we’re sure you’d find some that have gotten through the security checkpoint with their hiking poles still in their carry-on bag. Ultimately, the decision to allow or deny a particular item at a TSA checkpoint lies solely with the TSA officers on duty at the time.
While some TSA officers might allow hiking poles to pass (and we’re sure you can find some hikers that are willing to bore you with anecdotes about all the times they’ve brought their hiking poles along in their carry on), we wouldn’t bet on it. Sure, you might get lucky, but if not, you might have to go check your bag, or, worse, have your poles confiscated.
When it comes to traveling in different countries, we can’t speak to the particulars of every airport in the world. Generally speaking, international airports around the world follow fairly similar security standards, especially if they have flights into the US, Canada, and the European Union as there are particular laws they need to enforce.
However, some domestic airports in countries outside North America and Europe may have more relaxed rules, so you might get lucky. Our advice? Do a quick google search and see what you can find about security requirements in your destination.
You just might get lucky and be allowed to take your trekking poles in your carry on bag, but do keep in mind that if your travel originates in the US, you will need to check your hiking poles anyway.
Does it matter if my hiking poles are collapsible or telescopic?
Unfortunately, it really doesn’t matter if your trekking poles are collapsible or telescopic as they’re just not allowed through the TSA checkpoint in your carry on bag. If you need your trekking poles for general mobility, however, you might find that it’s easier to pack them in the overhead bin if you have collapsible poles, which tend to pack down into a smaller size and might be more convenient.
Does TSA pre-check allow hiking poles?
It’s a common misconception that people with TSA pre-check can bring items in their carry on that other folks aren’t allowed to. Not only would this set a very odd double standard for security, it’s just not the case.
In reality, the only thing that TSA pre-check does is allow known and trusted travelers to have a more efficient security check process. If you have TSA pre-check, you can keep your shoes on at the security checkpoint and you don’t need to take off your jacket, or unpack your liquids and electronics from your bag. That’s basically it.
So, no, unfortunately, getting TSA pre-check doesn’t mean you’ll be allowed to put your hiking poles in your carry on bag. It just means you’ll likely experience less of a wait and less hassle at the security checkpoint.
How to pack trekking poles for a flight
Okay, at this point, you might be wondering how you should pack your trekking poles into your checked bag for your flight. Although hiking poles are designed to bear the weight of an adult human while on a trail, they are surprisingly easy to bend and can easily get damaged if not packed properly.
Generally speaking, the best way to packing trekking poles for a flight is to…
- Line them along the long edge of your duffle bag with both points facing one way. This way, the trekking poles provide your duffle with a bit of rigidity and are less likely to break in transit.
- If you’re afraid that the points of your trekking poles might damage your other belongings or your duffle bag, you can always wrap them up in a thick wool sock or make a small tip protector out of an old piece of foam sleeping pad.
- Once you line up the trekking poles properly, you’ll want to pad them with some of your soft goods, like puffy jackets, to prevent them from bending as your duffle is thrown around at the airport.
Other than this, there’s not much you need to do to protect your trekking poles in flight.
Alternatives to packing hiking poles
If you’re really not keen to check a bag for your next backpacking trip, there are other ways to make sure you have trekking poles with you when you’re in the backcountry. Perhaps the best alternative to packing trekking poles is to rent a pair from a local gear shop.
Since you’ll likely have to go to some sort of outdoor store to get fuel for your stove, you’ll likely be able to find a pair of trekking poles for rent. This way, you don’t have to check a bag, but you still get to have hiking poles on your adventures.
Of course, we’d do some research and call ahead to (a) ensure that the shop has poles available for rent and (b) that the cost of rental won’t exceed the cost of checking a bag. If it does, you might as well just check the bag and save yourself the hassle.
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.
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