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Published Sep 26, 2023 9:00 AM
I’m not a hiker, and you won’t find me going up the trail just for the fun of it. But I will make an exception if the hike leads to a body of water with fish in it. If that’s the case, then I’m grabbing my pack, a backpacking rod, and a pair of boots. Remote lakes, streams, and ponds that require anglers to access by foot can offer excellent fishing for a variety of species. When I first started taking backpacking fishing adventures—whether for the day or overnight—I was guilty of bringing too much gear. My pack was heavy, I was tired, and I would quickly question the whole trip. After cutting weight in my pack, I switched my focus to finding the perfect rod to carry with me on the trail. Specialized backpacking rods can make your hike easier and more enjoyable so you can get to the water comfortably. I look for rods that are lightweight, ultra-compact, and durable enough to withstand tough trails. Here are the best backpacking fishing poles you can buy.
How We Picked the Best Backpacking Fishing Poles
As a former fisheries biologist and fly shop manager, I am obsessed with catching hard-to-find species. That often means hiking to remote locations with minimal intel, hoping the fish are there. Over the years, I’ve condensed my loadout, sticking only to the essentials. One of which is a good backpacking rod. I’ve tried a fair share of sticks, and the ones that make the cut are all lightweight, easy to pack, and durable. Here are the criteria I used to evaluate my recommendations:
- Weight: How light is the rod, and can it easily be carried?
- Action: What is the action, and how does it compare to standard rods?
- Portability: How compact is the rod when broken down?
- Durability: Can the rod stand up to repeated casts and big fish?
- Warranty: Is there a warranty in case it gets damaged on a trip?
- Accuracy: Can the rod make repeatable and accurate casts to fish?
Best Backpacking Fishing Poles: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Tenkara Rod Co. Beartooth
- Rod Type: Tenkara
- Length: 10 feet
- Action: 6:4 flex (similar to a medium action)
- Super compact
- Requires minimal gear
- Casting distance is limited to leader length
Tenkara rods take a lot of heat from fly fishermen. That said, they have their place for minimalist anglers, and backpacking trips are the perfect fit. The Beartooth is designed specifically for backpacking. It extends to ten feet, collapses to fourteen inches, and weighs just 2.3 ounces. I opted for the full kit with a furled leader, flies, 6x tippet, and a wooden line holder. As minimalist as it sounds, this is truly everything you need. The rod fits easily into a pack and adds almost no weight. When it’s time to fish, the rod is fully telescopic and easy to set up in a hurry. The Beartooth is designed with a 6:4 flex. This equates to a medium action for respectable casts and ample fighting power. I’m still skeptical if this will handle true trophy fish, but for your average alpine lake fish, it does the job and more. My only gripe is the price point when there are plenty of tenkara rods out there for less, but factor in the lifetime warranty, and it’s much more appealing.
Best Fly Rod: Clearwater 6-Piece Fly Rod
- Rod Type: Fly rod
- Length: 9 feet
- Action: Medium fast
- Great casting stroke
- Full-sized fly rod
- 25-year warranty
- Make sure all sections are tight to avoid breaking a piece
The Orvis Clearwater family of rods has punched way above its weight in every configuration I’ve tested, and the travel version did not disappoint. To achieve travel size, this rod is a six-piece rather than the traditional four-piece. End to end, it measures just over 22 inches and easily stows in a backpack. Unlike other travel rods, it is a full-sized fly rod available in four-, five-, six-, and eight-weight models. I opted for the nine-foot, five-weight for its range of versatility. It can tackle anything from mountain trout to river smallmouth and more. The full-size design gives this six-piece a comparable casting stroke to its four-piece counterparts. It offers a medium-fast action with plenty of backbone to handle larger fish and a soft tip for tippet protection. Make sure each section is snug before fishing to avoid cracking a section. If you do forget, Orvis backs this with its 25-year warranty to get you back on the water hassle-free.
Best Budget: Wetfly Komodo Creek Tenkara Kit
- Rod Type: Tenkara
- Length: 8 feet
- Action: Medium
- Comes as a bundle with a leader, tippet, and flies
- Surprisingly light
- Eight feet is the longest option
If you are considering Tenkara and are looking for an easy rod to throw in a pack, the Wetfly Komodo Creek checks all the boxes. Don’t let the price fool you. This is one of the best Tenkara rods for the money. It is incredibly light and can be set up in less than a minute with a leader, tippet, and fly ready to go. It offers a smooth medium action with a respectable backbone considering its size. At only eight feet, it is shorter than other Tenkara rods I’ve fished but makes for the perfect small creek stick. You can throw nymph rigs or dries with precision and pick apart pocket water with ease. When overhanging brush is an issue, a bow and arrow cast delivers accurate presentations in tight quarters. If this rod were a ten-foot model, it’d be my go-to, but the shorter length translates best for small streams and pond bluegills.
Best Telescopic: Bass Pro Shops Power Plus Graphite Telescopic Spinning Rod
- Rod Type: Spinning
- Length: 6’ 6”
- Action: Medium
- Easy setup and breakdown
- Sized right to fit in any pack
The Bass Pro Shops Power Plus telescoping rod is a great solution for those on a budget who want a backpacking rod. It’s a fully telescopic pole that extends to 6’ 6” with a medium action. While it may not perform like its one-piece counterparts, it certainly gets the job done. I paired mine with a 2500-size spinning reel and a 10-pound mono as an all-around combo. The 10-pound line can land larger fish without sacrificing presentation. It is accurate and decently powerful for long casts. The EVA foam grips and aluminum oxide guides are a nice touch and further trim down on weight.
Best Rod and Reel Combo: Daiwa Travel Rod Spinning Combo
- Rod Type: Spinning
- Length: 7’ 2”
- Action: Medium
- Easy and fast setup
- Full-sized spinning rod
- Quality reel
- Costs more than other travel combos
For the diehard, spinning tackle angler, finding a backpacking rod is a tough task. A majority of rods are sold as one piece for maximum sensitivity, and travel rods usually aren’t worth your time or money. Luckily the Daiwa Travel Rod Spinning Combo, sought to solve the common issues with travel spinning rods. After living in the back of my truck for a month, I can say Daiwa did just that. The rod extends to a full 7’ 2” and fishes like a true bass rod. This is due to V-joint technology in every section. When fully extended, the rod has a full parabolic bend with no dead zones. The result is a sensitive and sturdy rod blank capable of hard hooksets. The telescopic design is a nice touch compared to multi-piece rods. Rather than rerigging every time, you can collapse the blank and reel in the slack while keeping a lure tied on. It collapses down to thirteen and a quarter inches for easy packing. Add to that a solid reel with a smooth drag, and it’s safe to say this combo will be coming on all my trips.
Things to Consider Before Buying Backpacking Fishing Poles
Backpacking rods include some of the most gimmicks and poorly made gear. There are plenty of great rods available, but the market is oversaturated with cheaply made poles. And the difference between a good backpacking rod and a bad one is significant. It’s crucial to do your diligence and sift through the gimmicks to find a rod that will perform when you need it. Here are some things to consider before you invest in a backpacking rod.
The size of your rod ultimately depends on what you’re fishing for and the style of fishing you plan on doing. For fly anglers, stick to the 8’6” to 9’ range. This includes most full-size fly rods, so the transition to a backpacking rod will be seamless. Your casting stroke and overall feel will mimic what you are familiar with. For conventional anglers, this gets trickier. I’ve seen “backpacking rods” range from four feet all the way up to eight feet. In my experience, rods between 6’6” and 7’ are the best bet. These have the best fighting power and offer decent casting distance. The other crucial aspect of sizing is weight and collapsed size. Make sure the rod you choose is light enough that it’s not a burden and will easily fit in your pack.
Action and Power
Find a rod with a comparable casting action to the full-size rods you typically fish. This makes the transition to backpacking rods easy. The casting stroke will feel the same for repeatable and accurate casts. As an added bonus, your reel setup will pair with your backpacking rod, saving you money from buying a new reel.
Like any rod, there is a wide range of price points. For me, a backpacking rod is not something I’m fishing with consistently, so I’m not too inclined to buy the most expensive one out there. That said, I still want something that fishes well. I’ve found that most collapsible rods in the middle price points are worth the investment. These rods are durable, lightweight, and designed with the angler’s needs in mind. You can certainly go all out, but there are plenty of budget rods that fish well too.
Q: What is a normal-sized fishing rod?
Fishing rods vary in size depending on the species and style of fishing. That said, the most popular spinning rod length ranges from 6’6” to 7’. These rod lengths offer great all-around applications for anglers targeting medium-sized fish like bass and trout. They can make long and accurate casts with respectable fighting power to control bigger fish. For fly rods, 9’ is the industry standard. This length offers the most in terms of castability and control.
Q: Is a thick or thin fishing line better?
In terms of fishing line, go with the lightest line you can safely get away with. This means choosing a line strength that can effectively land the fish without a prolonged fight. In most cases, lines ranging between 10-pound and 20-pound ratings are the common choice. These line sizes offer plenty of break strength without spooking fish. Any larger and you can risk spooking wary fish, especially in clear water.
Q: What type of fishing pole is easiest to use?
The easiest rod to use is a traditional spinning rod. There are a few simple steps to learn how to cast, there is less of a chance for backlashes, and are available at a wide range of price points. They also offer versatility and are available in a range of sizes and strengths for just about any species.
Best Backpacking Fishing Poles: Final Thoughts
Investing in a good backpacking rod is crucial to success in remote locations. The last thing you want is a broken rod when you reach your destination in the middle of nowhere. There are models available for any type of fishing, but the Tenkara Beartooth works for everything. Regardless of your angling method, the best rods are lightweight, durable, and easy to fit in a pack. Any rod that meets these criteria is worth bringing on a pack trip.
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For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.
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