Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Travel Gear: Trekking Pole

I often hike with one trekking pole. Some hikers prefer two poles: I don't have enough hands to carry two while operating my GPS, or grabbing tree limbs.

It's largely about balance, but I suspect my knees are grateful when I lean on the pole while climbing.

Unfortunately, a trekking pole makes air travel more complicated.

Air Travel Logistics

The TSA (United States Transportation Security Agency) prohibits trekking poles in carry-on.

This is a challenge for people like me who generally travel with just carry-on.
Unlike so many of the rolling bags brought onto planes, my 35-liter backpack fits under the seat in front of me, with room to spare for my feet. The backpack complies with most carriers' carry-on rules both in dimensions and packed weight and can easily contain a collapsed trekking pole.
Sometimes, we check the disassembled poles in a cardboard box, along with strapping tape (to re-close the box), a strong Cordura bag for the return trip, and additional clothes to wear at the end of the trip.

At the destination airport we remove the poles, then mail the box ahead so we can reunite with it towards the end of our trip.
There are little pain points in this process:
  • The airline might refuse the box. It's always worth reviewing the airline's box policy for the route and time of year. For example, for certain South American destinations, Delta only accepts factory-sealed boxes.
  • Extra waiting. On some trips this adds up to hours of shuffling at check-in, baggage claim, and a post office (at the destination). The overall waiting is doubled when we go through customs at a connecting airport. 
  • The box may not show up on the carousel at baggage claim. Baggage handlers sometimes deposit boxes in a far corner of the baggage claim hall. 
  • Customs agents can be suspicious of cardboard boxes. The assumption seems to be the box contains undeclared goods. We've had our box opened by an agent who then insisted on carefully taping it back up for us.
  • There might be no convenient post office. Our next trip takes us through Ireland's Shannon Airport which does not have a post office. Box in hand, we will hop on and off buses until we reach our destination for the day, the city of Cork. We've made careful note of the arrival day: post offices are usually closed on Sundays and public holidays. 
Simplicity is a huge value for me when traveling. No wonder I sometimes choose to do without a trekking pole.

All this would be moot if the TSA would allow trekking poles in carry-on. Recently the TSA proposed allowing just that, but it got the kibosh from flight attendants.

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