It may seem like a straightforward question to ask, but when you start looking for the answer, you soon find that it is a complicated subject. The simple answer is you can take hiking poles on a plane packed in a bag in the hold, but you probably can’t take them in carry-on luggage.
Why Can't You Take Hiking Poles in Carry-on Luggage?
There are a number of different reasons why hiking poles or trekking sticks may not be allowed in the cabin as part of your carry-on allowance.
- They can be used as a weapon. While you use your hiking poles to enjoy a walk, you have never considered that they could be used to hurt someone. However, as they usually consist of a metal pole with a sharp tip, you can see that they could be repurposed as a weapon in extreme circumstances.
- Substances can be concealed in them. The majority of trekking sticks are hollow to make them lighter. Apparently, this hollow interior has been used by criminals to smuggle illegal substances. For this reason, many airlines are reluctant to allow hiking poles onboard, especially in the cabin as carry-on luggage.
- They are too long to fit in the overhead lockers. The average hiking pole is between 41 inches/104 cm and 58 inches/148 cm. The size of the overhead lockers on planes varies with the aircraft size. Domestic flights will have smaller lockers than international flights. Often the lockers are too small to accommodate a trekking stick that is usually over a metre long.
So Can You Bring Trekking Poles on a Plane as Carry-on Luggage Sometimes?
You may have noticed we said you probably couldn’t take your walking poles on as carry-on luggage as it isn’t possible to be definitive. It is very easy to find accounts of a group on a walking holiday, and half of them were allowed to take their trekking sticks, and half had them confiscated. It seems that it can depend on how the security officer interprets the regulations. In addition, each airline may have its own restrictions. Of course, different parts of the world will have different rules.
America – What Does the TSA Say About Hiking Poles?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created in the aftermath of 9/11 to oversee security in all modes of transportation, including aviation. According to their website they do not allow hiking poles in carry-on bags in the cabin, but they are allowed in checked-in bags in the hold. They also state: “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.” If the officer decides that your hiking poles are not allowed onboard, they will confiscate them and throw them away. There is no option to have them stored and collected later. The TSA may also impose civil penalties of up to $14,950 per violation per person if it chooses. Despite some marketing claims, there are no officially TSA-approved hiking sticks or TSA-approved walking canes.
As well as checking the TSA’s rules, you also need to check the regulations of the airline you are flying with, as they may be stricter. You cannot presume that all airlines have precisely the same policy. For example, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines all have slightly different rules. The safest thing to do is to contact the relevant airline directly.
The UK – What Are the UK Government’s Regulations Concerning Walking Poles?
Walking/hiking poles are included on the UK’s government list of items that are not allowed in hand luggage. They are only permitted in the hold, so if you are travelling through the UK, you must pack your trekking sticks in your hold luggage.
Europe – What Are the EU’s Guidelines Regarding Hiking Sticks?
The EU does not explicitly mention hiking poles in its guidelines. They do prohibit articles that could cause serious injuries, such as baseball bats and “objects with a sharp point or sharp edge capable of being used to cause serious injury”, from being taken into the cabin. They advise that: “When packing, you should bear in mind that certain articles, that may appear harmless, are not allowed in your hand luggage for security reasons. Such articles would include: (…) sharp objects such as knives or razor blades; (…) baseball bats or clubs. Such items will either have to be surrendered at the security checkpoint or will have to be packed into your hold luggage.” This means that it is up to the officers on security and airlines if they interpret this as including hiking poles.
Australia – Does the ABF Have Laws About Trekking Poles?
As with many other countries, the advice for Australia does not list hiking poles as an item that cannot be taken in carry-on luggage, but it does say that sporting equipment should be with your checked baggage in the hold.
Wherever you pack your hiking sticks, you must declare them at Customs. They will check they are clean, and if necessary, they will disinfect them. It is usually a quick process but do not skip this step, as you will face heavy penalties if caught.
New Zealand – What Are the CAA of New Zealand’s Rules About Hiking Poles?
New Zealand allows hiking poles in carry-on luggage with a few restrictions: “Light-weight hiking poles are allowed in carry-on if they are constructed of aluminium or carbon fibre and can fit in the overhead locker.” Practically speaking, this generally means that collapsible trekking sticks will be fine, but heavier solid poles will have to go in the hold.
If you are arriving in New Zealand from an international flight, you must declare your hiking poles on your Passenger Arrival Card and have them inspected. The official guidelines are; “This type of equipment can transfer soil and plant material from other countries into New Zealand that may carry pests, diseases, and seeds – all of which can pose a threat to our environment and wildlife. Some contaminants, such as viruses, bacteria and fungi, are not visible and may be present on used equipment that appears clean to the naked eye. Equipment might be inspected on arrival so it should be easy to reach in your luggage.”
Canada – What Does the CBSA Say About Hiking Sticks?
You cannot take your hiking sticks as carry-on luggage in Canada. The only exception could be if the hiking pole is used as a mobility aid instead of a cane. A Screening Officer will inspect the stick as part of the screening process.
Canada also has strict protocols to protect their ecosystems, so it would be advisable to have your hiking poles checked by a border official to be on the safe side.
The Rest of the World
As you can see, there are a lot of variances when it comes to regulations about taking hiking poles on airplanes. There are no consistent guidelines around the world about transporting trekking sticks. The only way to be sure is to contact the airline you are flying with. If in doubt, it would be sensible to err on the side of caution and pack your walking poles in the hold and don’t try to include them in your carry-on luggage.
What's the Best Advice for Travelling on a Plane With Hiking Sticks?
Like many other items, such an umbrella, the safest thing to do if you are planning on travelling with trekking poles is to pack them in your checked luggage in the hold. Clean them very well before you pack them, and keep them easily accessible so you can comply with any customs checks.
If you choose to try and take your hiking poles as carry-on luggage, then there is always a chance that a security officer will confiscate them. Most countries do not have any provision for returning prohibited items, and they will be thrown away. If you decide to risk taking your trekking poles through security, it would be sensible to have a backup plan. If you are leaving your car at the airport, allow enough time to take your hiking poles to your vehicle. Or you may have a friend willing to wait at the airport and take your trekking sticks if there is a problem.
When you are organising your trip, you may want to take only carry-on luggage. In that case, the best plan would be to buy hiking poles when you get to your destination instead of running the risk of losing your equipment at security and possibly being fined.
Always check the requirements of the airline you are flying with, as they may have stricter guidelines than the national rules. You may find yourself in a situation where you have successfully taken your hiking sticks through security only to discover when boarding that they are still not allowed in the cabin.
Can You Carry On Walking Sticks if You Need Them for Mobility?
It won’t come as a surprise to find that there is no definite answer to this question. Some airlines will allow walking sticks, canes and walkers in the cabin if a passenger needs them for mobility. In some cases, hiking poles are permitted to be used as mobility aids. Other airlines may require a doctor’s note confirming assistance is necessary. However, some countries will not let any kind of walking aid on a plane and will instead transfer passengers with mobility issues to a wheelchair before going through security.
The best advice is to contact the airline you are flying with, tell them precisely what kind of mobility aid you use, and ask them for their guidelines. Getting to the airport early would be advisable to allow plenty of time to get through security and deal with any problems. Most airlines provide staff to assist passengers with mobility issues, but they may need to be notified beforehand. If you have a connection with a limited time frame, ensure you have communicated with the airline in advance.
Are Collapsable Walking Sticks Allowed on a Plane for Travel?
A popular option is a walking cane or hiking pole that is collapsable. The stick will either completely come apart into several pieces or be foldable. This makes the walking stick much more compact. One of the issues with taking a hiking stick or a cane as carry-on luggage on a plane is that they are too long to fit in the overhead lockers. So collapsible walking sticks for travel seem like a good idea.
However, just because a trekking stick is collapsible, it is still classified as a hiking pole, so the above mentioned regulations will still apply. If your walking stick is folded and packed in your hand luggage, a security officer may be less likely to object to its presence, but nothing is certain. Since your bag will go through a scanner, they will be aware that the walking pole is in your bag, and they may choose to confiscate it.
Can You Take a Metal Cane or a Wooden Stick on an Airplane as Carry-On?
The regulations and guidelines on whether you can take hiking poles or walking sticks on an airplane do not generally specify what kind of material they should be made from. However, some countries and airlines, for example New Zealand, only allow light-weight trekking sticks made from aluminium or carbon fibre in the cabin as carry-on luggage. You also need to consider the length of your walking stick or cane and if it will fit in the overhead lockers. If in doubt, it is advisable to contact your airline to check before you fly.
How Do You Carry Hiking Poles When Not in Use?
Most backpacks have loops on the side to which trekking sticks can be attached. The poles are slid through the loop, and then there are additional straps you can tighten to keep them secure. While this works well on a trek, it is not ideal when transporting your walking poles on a plane. The useful straps and loops on a backpack can be a hazard when it is being packed in the hold with suitcases and other luggage.
When flying with a backpack, it is advisable to provide extra protection for your bag. A cheap duffle bag that the backpack can be placed inside of is a good choice. Another popular option is to put the backpack inside several heavy-duty bin bags or trash can liners and secure it with duct tape. Alternatively, many airports offer a wrapping service that will completely encase your bag in clingfilm. All of these options will also protect your hiking poles.
If your hiking sticks are collapsible or telescopic, then they can go inside your luggage. They may have sharp edges, so it would be better to stow them in a hard case and wrap them in paper or plastic to ensure they cause no damage.
An excellent way to safely transport your trekking poles is to buy a carrying case. These are usually lightweight tubes or bags in which you can store two walking poles. Most hiking stick bags are made of nylon and are waterproof, and have a shoulder strap. They are usually designed to be attached to a backpack if needed. They also provide a convenient way to store your trekking poles at home.
If you have expensive hiking poles and are concerned about them being damaged or lost on an airplane, then consider leaving them at home and instead either hiring or buying some cheap walking sticks at your destination.
Why Do People Use Trekking Poles?
Using hiking sticks on a walk became a popular trend at the end of the 21st Century. While not essential, they can make a hike much more enjoyable and reduce the stress on your body. They are easy to use and inexpensive accessories that can be useful for any age.
Here are just some of the ways hiking poles can help a walker:
- Provide extra stability. Whether you are using one or two poles, they give you an additional point of contact with the ground to make you more stable when moving over rough or slippery ground.
- Reduce the strain on your joints. Using hiking sticks absorbs some of the stress created when your feet hit the ground, especially on steep slopes when going up or down hills.
- Improve endurance and create less muscular fatigue. Walking with trekking poles helps you get in a regular rhythm and keeps you balanced. Along with the extra stability, you will find that you walk easily at a faster pace.
- Can be used to test the terrain. Trails vary and can be covered in ice, snow, water, loose stones, and other hazards. A walking pole can be used to check how stable the path is before you step on an uncertain surface.
What to Look for When Buying a Hiking Stick
When you start looking for a trekking pole, you will find that there are a lot of options with many variables to choose from. The main things to consider are what are the main benefits you are looking to gain from using a hiking stick and how you are going to store and transport your poles. Points to consider are:
- Adjustability. If your walking pole is the correct length, your elbows will be at a 90-degree angle when the tip of the stick is by your feet. The easiest way to achieve this is to have a trekking stick that is adjustable to your exact height. Also, you usually adjust the length when going up or down hill.
- Foldability. As we have seen, the best way to travel with hiking poles is to put them in your checked luggage. Having collapsible walking sticks makes them easier to transport and store.
- Shock absorption. One of the main benefits of using trekking sticks is that it reduces the stress on your joints and bones. You can get hiking poles that have internal springs that absorb shock.
- Weight. You don’t want to carry something too heavy, but at the same time, you want something strong enough to do the job.
- Grips. It’s important that your walking poles are comfortable to use, and there are lots of choices when it comes to grips, both in size, shape and material. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have straps that loop comfortably and easily over your hands.
Choosing the right hiking pole is an individual decision with many factors to consider. Just like buying hiking boots, it is advisable to try out a few different models and to practice using your walking poles before heading out on a trip. Be sure to check out our guide to the best trekking poles for more information.
As we have seen, travelling with hiking poles can be difficult. The safest thing to do is to pack them in your checked luggage and store them in the hold. Clean them thoroughly before packing and check with Customs or Immigration on arrival. If in doubt, check both the airline and the country’s rules about the transportation of hiking poles. If you are concerned about your trekking sticks being lost or damaged, consider buying or hiring equipment at your destination.
See other articles in this series:
- Can you Bring Nail Clippers on a Plane?
- Can You Bring Tweezers on a Plane?
- Can You Bring a Lighter on a Plane?
- Can You Bring Shampoo on a Plane?
- Can You Bring Razors on a Plane?
- Can You Bring Curling Irons on a Plane?
- Can You Bring Deodorants on a Plane?
- Can You Bring Candles on a Plane?
- Can You Bring Scissors on a Plane?