11 Best Backpacking Fishing Rods (2020 Update)

Backpacking and fishing go together like campfires and marshmallows. There’s nothing quite like backpacking into a remote wilderness and finding that the local stream is loaded with wild brookies who haven’t seen a lure in months (if ever).

On the flip side, there’s nothing worse than finding a stream loaded with gullible mountain fish and having nothing in your pack to catch them with! If you’re like me, any time there’s water nearby you’re itching to throw a lure and your next backpacking trip is prime time to be prepared.

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Anglers are notorious for being gear junkies, however. It can be a bit difficult to balance the right fishing gear with fitting it all in your pack. That’s why we’re going to break it all down for you and set you on the fast track to getting the best backpacking fishing gear for you.

If you’re also looking for more general information on tackle and how to build a complete fishing kit, check out our article An Epic Guide to Backpacking Fishing Gear as well.

Comparison Chart

Name

Price

Weight

Rating

Notes

$$$

NA

Includes rod and reel

$$$

5.1 oz

Does not come with a reel

$$$

5.2 oz

Reel not included

$$$

1.6 lbs

Carbon Fiber Telescopic Fishing Pole and Reel Combo with Line Lures Tackle Hooks Reel Carrier Bag for Adults Travel Saltwater Freshwater

$$$

1.55 lbs

Travel kit with 6'0" rod and 20 size reel

$$$

1.2 lbs

Casting/Spinning Rod with Case 6ft-10ft

$$$

12.8 oz

Portable Light Weight High Carbon 4 Pc Blanks for Travel Freshwater Fishing-Spinning & Casting

$$$

no info

Super Convenience 24 Ton Carbon Fiber Rod for Salt Fresh Water Comfortable EVA Handle 6 Pieces

$$$

1.3 lbs

Tenkara fly fishing is all about simplicity. With no reel, you can rig up quickly and hit the water.

$$$

1.85 lbs

Wild Water is a US based company started in 2006.

$$$

3.1 oz

Lightweight design allows for accurate, smooth casting

Best Telescopic Fishing Rods for Backpackers

Telescoping rods, to my knowledge, are currently made only for spinning reels. While spinning reels conventionally are used with light tackle and “finesse” presentations, in a limited gear environment such as backpacking they can be fine for any tackle.

When choosing and fishing a spinning rod be sure to pay attention to rod power and action. Cheap rods can sometimes be accidentally slow action which makes them handle like a wet noodle. Conversely, sometimes poorly made rods can be overly stiff with no action at all.

Most backpacking situations will be relatively cramped casting conditions with brush or trees nearby or overhead. That’s why I generally recommend a shorter rod in the 6′ range unless you know you’ll be casting from open positions.

With several different package options, make sure you shop wisely here! In the end, whatever you choose, you’ll be getting a reliable telescopic fishing companion for your next trip.

  • 5.9 – 10.8 feet lengths
  • Rod and reel combo
  • Moderate gear ratio

This telescoping rod makes, perhaps, the best choice for backpackers. It’s well-loved, available in a variety of power, action, and lengths to suit, and quite affordable.

From the models available, the 5.9′ and 6.9′ models will be most suitable to common backpacking scenarios. If you happen to be backpacking and fishing near-shore or in-shore areas you could try one of the longer rods but you better take a serious saltwater reel and be ready to hang on for a ride.

These models weigh 5.5 and 5.6 ounces respectively which isn’t too bad for a full-size spinning rod.

While advertised as an “HA 3000 series fishing reel”, it’s worth noting that at a glance the reel appears to be comparable to a conventional 1000 series spinning reel. These reels can typically handle small to moderate fish but in extremely fast water or with heavy fighting fish you may have trouble keeping up with drag tension.

Overall, however, I think this rod makes a top pick for a telescoping backpacking fishing rod. Convenient, lightweight, and portable. It might just be the perfect choice if you slap on an upgraded reel like the 5.7-ounce Piscifun Carbon X 1000.

Note: My choice would be the 2.1m rod only with Carbon X reel bought separately for most backpacking situations at a final weight of 10.8 ounces. Load it up with 10lb hi-vis braid and a 6′ long 6lbs fluorocarbon leader.

If you’re still not convinced, check out this honest review of the new Plusinno telescoping rod:

This composite/fiberglass hybrid spinning rod comes in 7 different models and should have an option for just about any of you.

  • Medium – Medium/Heavy Power
  • 5’10” – 11’10” lengths
  • Available with or without a reel

Let’s get one thing straight – the vast majority of backpacking fishing will be done on rods under 7′ long (except fly gear). That leaves us with 3 clear choices among those offered by Troutboy: the 5′ 10″ (5.5oz) adjustable handle, 5′ 10″ fixed handle (5.1oz), and the 6′ 10″ (5.9oz) fixed handle.

Of those choices, I think the two fixed-length handle options are probably the best purely based on weight savings for backpacking.

One major advantage of this rod over the Plusinno is that you can order it without the reel. If you already have one or want to buy a better one then there’s no wasted materials or money.

Personally I would take the 6′ 10″ fixed handle Troutboy rod with the Piscifun Carbon X spinning reel in 1000 series.

This spinning rod gets points for aesthetics and ergonomics both! While it’s not perfect, it does make another really sensible backpacking fishing rod choice.

  • 5.9 – 11.8 feet lengths
  • Ceramic line guides
  • No reel included

Frankly, this rod would actually take the top spot because it’s technically a bit lighter than the Plusinno version. However, users complain about durability and quality control issues a bit too often for this rod to earn a top spot on our list.

That said, however, it’s extremely affordable and does offer some good specs if you can handle rolling the dice on quality control.

Probably the best option for backpackers is the 5.9′ long version weighing in at 5.2 ounces.

While the manufacturer does cite carbon rod blanks it appears they may be a carbon/glass hybrid but that’s not the end of the world, really. EVA foam handles and ceramic line guides seem to round out the offering.

At the end of the day, despite the decent weight, good specs, and tons of options Sougayilang just needs to up their game when it comes to quality and longevity of product lifespan.

Note: There is no included reel so, again, I recommend something light and affordable like the Piscifun Carbon X spinning reel in 1000 series.

Various lengths, combo packs, or rod only options make this telescoping rod a contender. Let’s see which options make the most sense and whether or not they belong in your pack.

  • 3 lengths available
  • Rod-only option available
  • 100% satisfaction support

Whether you’ve got a reel or not, this rod has you covered. If your favorite reel will be going with you, order just the standalone rod and equip your own reel. Otherwise, you can order the set.

Sets come with a case, rod, reel, line, and a few basic lures. Beware, however, I strongly suggest getting lures tailored to whatever location, time of year, and target species you’re after if you want any kind of success.

I think the best rod length you can go with is the 7′ rod. It has 4 sections and, thus, 4 line guides for a little better casting control than the 3-piece shorter rod. While there is an 8′ rod it’s just too long for most uses on the trail.

If you do settle on the 7′ rod it will shrink down to a reasonable 17″ in the pack which should fit in most moderate to large internal frame packs. Store it up against the back frame for the best protection.

Best Collapsible Fishing Rods

Collapsible fishing rods, for this article, include packable multi-piece rods that are made to travel. This is different than the telescoping rods which collapse inside of themselves. Most collapsible fishing rods come with a travel case but the breed is a bit of a dying one, quickly being replaced by advancing telescoping rod tech.

This 2000 series spinning reel and 6′ rod make a great traveling kit for spinning reel anglers. In fact, I might just have to pick one up to keep in the trunk of my car!

  • Comes with foam carrying case
  • 6′ spinning rod
  • Included tackle box

If you want a small kit to keep a rod, some lures, and a reel with a convenient carrying case this is probably your best bet. When collapsed, you have a 17x9x3 case that’s easy to store anywhere or travel with.Inside is a small 3-bin tackle box that you can keep a couple of simple lures that will work anywhere you go fishing.

I can’t speak to the quality of the reel but users seem to love it, so that’s encouraging! The rod itself is a cork handled blank which I personally prefer over EVA foam. Add some 8-pound fluorocarbon line onto this reel and get ready to enjoy some impromptu fishing wherever you may roam.

Keep in mind that this is a light-action rod (which is really a bit of a misnomer) and is likely light to medium power as well. That means it will handle very lightweight tackle probably best in the 3/8 ounce and under range.

Like many combo kits, however, some users complain about the reel quality. By now you probably know that I’d suggest replacing it with the Piscifun Carbon X spinning reel in 1000 series (or 2000) for a solid upgrade.

Right upfront, I want to bring attention to the fact that this rod comes in both casting and spinning models of various lengths and styles. It’s a rare opportunity to find a backpacking fishing rod that fits your exact styles!

  • 4.8 – 7.3 ounces
  • Spinning and casting rods available
  • Compact 4-piece breakdown

One of the few casting rods available for backpacking is the Goture 4-piece rod in medium to medium-heavy power. These are split-grip EVA foam rods with reasonable weights from 4.7 – 5.2 ounces in the casting series.

If you like using your baitcasting rods but want to take them on the trail with you, this is a perfect choice. I’d personally probably take the 7′ medium power rod. This rod has plenty of power for fishing on the trail while still retaining enough action to load up and cast lighter 1/4 ounce lures.

It’s definitely worth noting that Goture says they stand behind this rod with a lifetime guarantee. Contact the company and they will “send free replacement parts”.

It’s hard not to love what’s going on here. These four-piece rods are great for portability and stay lightweight in the pack. Plus. they’re available in many lengths and powers to fit your style.

Whether you like spinning rods or casting rods, you’re covered by the Sougayilang Speed series. These Winn-style split grip rods have a modern style and break down to fit in the pack.

  • Spinning and casting rods available
  • Compact 4-piece breakdown
  • Rod+reel combo or rod only

Both the casting and spinning rods come in two versions. Spinning and casting versions include a 6.8′ rod and a 7.8′ rod. Most users will want to go with the 6.8′ ft rod as the nearly 8′ long rod is just way too long for most applications.

Regardless if you go with the spinning or casting rod, you can also choose rod only, rod and reel, or rod+reel+kit. It’s hard to argue with the affordable price of the rod only option. If you already have a reel you love to use, just order the rod only version and you’ll be ready to go!

While the kit does come with a case, I might skip it. You’ll be further ahead to choose your own lures and tackle based on where you’re fishing and what species you’re targeting. Pack your rod in a safe place inside the pack carefully surrounded by soft things (like your clothes) to offer protection instead.

Taking a break away from the pack, CAPCAI brings an innovative idea to the table. Their rods take things a step further by breaking down into 6 pieces instead of just four.

  • Super small 6-piece breakdown
  • Spinning and casting rods available
  • 4.4 – 4.7 ounces

When it comes to backpacking, bulk and weight are the enemies. Even four-piece rods are still a bit long to fit well inside a pack. If you want the smallest breakdown rod you can get, the buck stops here.

Both spinning and casting rods come in just shy of 7′ (the longer ones are probably too long to be useful). These keep things light at 4.4 and 4.5 ounces respectively and have a total collapsed length of just 16 inches.

There’s no doubt in my mind that if you want to keep your rod packed inside the backpack you’ll want to strongly consider this option. Many of the four-piece rods will need to be strapped on the outside of smaller and medium-size packs.

One drawback is that with more piece (6 instead of the normal 4) there’s more that can break or come loose during casting/landing.

Maybe the only other downside is that both the spinning and casting rods are medium-light power. The fast action, however, is a great feature that I personally love in the majority of my rods. Small to medium fish will be fun on these lightweight rigs.

Best Tenkara Fishing Rods

Tenkara rods are simply fixed-length fly rods. These telescoping rods are usually absurdly lightweight and highly portable.

I currently carry a 12′ Wild Water Tenkara rod though I find it a bit too long for fishing some tight streams with dense vegetation. If you know you’ll be fishing tight areas I might urge you to look for a slightly shorter option.

Tenkara rods are a whole different animal as far as technique and approach. This lightweight rod is affordable, light, and ready to go out of the box.

  • Complete starter package
  • 2.9 ounces
  • 20.5 inches long when packed

It doesn’t get much more backpacker friendly than a lightweight, simple Tenkara rod setup. At just 2.9 ounces this rod, along with the fishing line, rod case, and flies will barely be noticed in your backpack.

You can buy just the rod, or the rod and starter package (flies, line, tippet, spool, rod, and case). With a price difference of just $15 (at the time of this writing) I feel the value and ease of setup make it worth your while to order the full kit, personally.

As a company, Dragontail seems to be pretty focused on providing affordable tools to help the average Joe get started with the simple art form of Tenkara fishing.

This rod is 12′ long when deployed and, like fly fishing, needs a lot of space to cast a fly.

Best for fishing small remote streams targeting small to medium fish.

Another Tenkara rod with a Western influence in the form and function. Slightly heavier, but no more inferior to any rod out there for those seeking a budget-oriented backpacking Tenkara rod.

  • Comes with everything you need
  • 20.5″ packed
  • 3.4-ounce rod weight

I want to start by saying that, for backpacking, it’s hard to find a better design of Tenkara rod. When traveling, all the pieces of the rod break down and can be stored inside the handle segment of the rod. It’s ingenious!

You get tippet, Tenkara line, a foam spool, clippers, and line winders. There’s really everything you could need to get started with a very simple Tenkara approach in this package.

Of all the Tenkara rods on our list for backpacking, I think this one has the most focused features. Because everything packs inside the rod handle it’s simple, sleek, and protected in the pack. Plus the foam line winder is lightweight and effective, yet simple.

Best for the ideal starting kit if you want to get going with a Tenkara rod for backpacking that is no-nonsense.

Note: Since originally writing this, I’ve purchased this combo pack and have enjoyed it. Countless panfish, small local bass, and dozens of wild Wyoming brookies have been defeated by this rod.

There are several options to choose from here so I want to make sure you get the right one. We’re talking about the versatile Triple Zoom MaximumCatch Nexus rod.

  • 3 rod lengths in one!
  • Approx. 5 ounces
  • 10’8″ – 12’9″ lengths

The main reason I chose this rod for our list is that you can fish it at 3 different lengths. According to the manufacturer, you can target fish from 10″ to 20″ depending on which rod length you use with this setup.

I know that when backpacking it can be hard to predict what kind of fish or fishing locations you’ll find. With an adjustable rod, you can adapt to the situation a bit easier than a fixed length rod, right?

When packed, the rod fits into a carbon tube that can be protected by a cotton sleeve. Seems like overkill on the number of “containers” but at least the rod will be safe!

To deploy the rod, you just slide the telescoping segments outward until the seat in place by friction. Simple as can be.

Best for versatile options when you need some flexibility for fishing conditions targeting medium to small fish.

Note: The zoom feature makes this rod a top choice when you expect to encounter varied casting conditions.

How to Choose the Best Backpacking Fishing Rods

Rod Power

Power, when it comes to fishing rods, refers to the rod’s resistance to bending. Primarily power is used to understand the size and weight of lure that should be used with a rod.

  • Ultralight – used with the smallest lures, usually compact rods
  • Light – used with lightweight lures
  • Medium – universal rod power useful for a broad range of fishing
  • Heavy – for lures near 1 ounce

Rod power, when paired with the correct rod action, can dramatically affect the way your rod works. Once you’ve fished for a while you’ll develop a preference based on what type of lure you’re using, what fish you’re targeting, and what method of fishing you’re using.

For beginners or general fishing use, a medium rod is a good choice. Most fishing methods used when backpacking, particularly when fishing from shore or the bank of a river, will be best suited to medium or medium light rods.

Think of rod power more as “what size bait do you want to throw?” Rod power mostly is a factor of the weight of bait it’s reasonable to use with said rod. For backpacking, if you want one rod to fit any situation, a medium power rod with a medium-fast action would probably be my go-to choice.

Rod Action

Action in fishing refers to what part of the rod bends when under pressure. Fast action rods bend only near the tip. Slow action rods bend most of the way back to the grip.

  • Fast Action – movements from the rod to the lure happen faster, easier to feel bites
  • Medium Action
  • Slow Action – movements from the rod to the lure are delayed, harder to feel bites

There are many variations of rod action between fast and slow. I simply highlighted the difference between the two extremes.

To find the proper rod action for your application, you need to know what kind of fishing method you’ll be using and what type of lure that requires. There are many reasons to use any type of rod action and a full discussion of this topic would be several articles by itself so we won’t go too deep here.

I personally like a fast action rod for most applications. Having a stiffer tip means that I can feel the structure, bumps, and bites easier and faster. I personally like the more direct tactile connection though other rod action types do have their place.

For casting particularly lightweight baits of 1/4 ounce or less you’ll need a rod with medium or slower action. Fast action rods just won’t load up well enough to throw the lighter baits and you’ll find your casting to be underwhelming.

Rod Length

From grip to tip, the rod length you choose is important to match with the factors at play in your fishing.

Longer Rods

  • Can reach over obstacles
  • Faster, longer casts
  • More leverage
  • Heavier
  • Bigger in the pack

Shorter Rods

  • Less reach
  • Lighter weight
  • Easier to cast in dense vegetation
  • Easier to carry around in the woods
  • Smaller in a backpack

For backpack fishing rods the length of your chosen rod is important for more than just fishing performance. You need to think about where you’ll be fishing, how dense the trees or vegetation may be, and how easy it will be to pack the rod in your bag.

Tenkara rods can range from 9′ to 13′ or even more. On average 11-12′ rods are the norm. For dense vegetation a shorter rod in the 10′ range is much easier to manage and cast.

Fishing Rod/Reel Types

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels sit “upside down” with the reel under the rod. These reels are easy to use but can cause line kink over time.

I personally find that they’re the best combination of ease of use to performance. Thanks to their design they’re very low friction and allow great casts.

If you plan to fish from very tight confines, such as dense brush along a river bank, I find that spinning reels are easier to cast in these situations than baitcasters.

Spinning reels are usually a little bulkier than baitcasting reels which could be considered a negative for backpacking.

Baitcasting Reels

These reels have the best distance cast and control in the game. They work by controlling the spool with your thumb as you cast.

If you’ve never used a baitcaster, taking one on a backpacking trip is not a good idea. They’re hard to use and messing up means making a huge mess out of your line.

Baitcasting reels are a great choice for long distances or when you need tons of control on your casts such as up around cover or overhanging brush.

Fishing Line

There are a lot of different fishing lines out there on the market. It’s too much to tackle everything in this article but we’ll go over some of the relevant line types.

One thing I will say as a “universal” tip – always replace the line that comes with your reel. If your reel comes pre-loaded it’s invariably loaded with a crappy cheap line that will break, kink, or birds nest on you immediately. Just replace it with something worthwhile.

Instead of talking about all the types of fishing lines out there, I’ll cover them by rod/reel type so you can cut to the chase.

For spinning rods, I like to use a high visibility braided line such as the PowerPro Spectra Hi-Vis Yellow Braided Line in 10 or 15-pound test. Braid is stronger and smaller in diameter than monofilament or fluorocarbon lines so you can pack more onto a small 1000 or 2000 series spinning reel.

To this, you’ll want to tie on a fluorocarbon leader for any sinking lures. Fluoro sinks great and is nearly invisible. Particularly in low-test variations, it’s about the best line you can find for fooling fish in clear water.

Try a 50 yard spool of 8 lbs fluoro and use the Alberto Knot shown below (I like 10-15 wraps on this knot) to add a 6′ leader to your braid. If you’re targeting bigger fish or fast currents, pump that up to a 10 lbs fluoro leader.

This setup is great for any kind of fishing from cranking swimbaits to dead drifting finesse worms for finicky fish.

For Tenkara rods, you’ll need to follow the instructions with your rod. Never use heavier line than your rod can handle. Using line that is too heavy for your Tenkara rod can lead to breaking the rod because these rods have no mechanical drag to release tension. Every Tenkara rod will have a listed recommended tippet material such as 4x or 5x – just stick with that line type to avoid problems.

There are also level lines and furled lines for Tenkara rods. Until you really get some experience under your belt I would say a furled line is a great starting point.

For baitcasting rods, I usually just load up with fluorocarbon lines directly on the spool. The only exception to this is if you’re fishing topwater then I like to use mono because it floats better or braided line with a monofilament leader.

Rod Types

Baitcasting reels use a “casting rod” which has the reel seat and line guides along the top of the rod. These rods and reels are common in the bass fishing world though they may not make the best trail companions. You need a bit of room to cast them and they work best with larger baits.

Spinning reels use a “spinning rod” which has the reel seat and line guides along the bottom of the rod. Spinning gear is probably the best all-around choice for backpacking. These rods make gentle casts and flips with lightweight baits very easy. The spinning rod also tends to be very forgiving to beginners.

Both types of rods come in all sorts of power and action combinations to suit your application.

Tenkara rods and fly rods are completely different animals and both use specialized rods.

Reel Gear Ratio

When you buy a rod and reel combo you may have very little choice in the details of the reel that comes with your kit. If you do, however, you may be able to choose the gear ratio of your backpacking fishing reel.

Gear ratio directly affects how quickly the line is pulled back in while using the reel. It also affects how easy it is to crank in a heavy fighting fish.

For most backpacking fishing rods I would probably pair them with a moderate to high ratio reel that is relatively quick. It’s unlikely you’ll be fishing for enormous fish while out backpacking!

High retrieve speeds also mean that you can pull that lure back quickly through fast currents or slow it down to let it sink into the deeper pools. With low gear ratios, you may end up furiously cranking away trying to get your lure moving quickly enough.

While everyone has different preferences I roughly break down my own reels into the following tiers:

  • 5.0:1 = slower retrieve for bigger fish and bigger baits
  • 6.0:1 = balanced retrieve for all-around use
  • 7.0:1 = faster retrieve for quick-moving baits and keeping baits up shallow

Tenkara Rods

Tenkara Rod

I’m far from a Tenkara expert but the advantages of a Tenkara rod for backpackers is undeniable and it’s an item that’s long been on my wish-list. So what are they?

Tenkara rods are similar to fly rods in that they’re very long and lightweight. Instead of a reel with lots of lines, however, Tenkara rods have a short fixed length of the line fixed to the end of the rod.

They’re fishing with much the same action as a fly rod and you can use similar fly-style lures though there is a lot to know about exactly what type of fly to fish with each type of rod and rod length.

For our list, I tried my best to include the simplest and lightest weight Tenkara rods for backpackers that I could find.

Note: Casey now owns and uses an affordable Wild Water Tenkara combo. It’s been a great companion for fun summer adventures and has even landed dozens of wild Wyoming brook trout.

Looking for something to carry your rod and tackle in? Check out our list of the best fishing backpacks.


About the author

Casey Fiedler

Professional ski instructor and backpacking guide, Casey Fiedler went to school with CWC and NOLS for Outdoor Education and Leadership. Want to read more about what it takes to lead great adventure trips? Casey writes about outdoor education at caseyfiedler.wordpress.com

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