A four-piece fly rod seems plenty packable until you give it a try in real life.
On one memorable fish trip, I first flew to Madrid for a week, continuing on to my final destination after spending time in the capital. To keep costs down, I was traveling with cabin baggage only, and space was at a real premium.
The flight from the US posed no obstacle, but inside the EU, an issue emerged with my 30-inch rod case.
The airlines were being exceptionally strict about the overall dimension of personal items, and my standard fly rod case was well over the mark. I had to haggle with security in Spain for quite a while. Eventually, we came to an expensive compromise, but the problem would have been avoided entirely if I had been carrying a true travel rod.
Rather than the usual four pieces, travel fly rods break down into six or more sections, fitting into short tubes that are easy to stow and carry. And whether you’re bringing your fly rod along on a trip “just in case” or are making the trip of a lifetime to fish somewhere far away, a travel rod makes a lot of sense.
Below, you’ll find reviews of some of our favorite travel rods, as well as a complete buying guide to cover all your bases.
Quick glance at the best travel fly rods:
- Orvis Clearwater Travel Fly Rod
- Echo Trip - Best 5, 6, or 8 wt Travel Fly Rod
- Redington Classic Trout
- Redington Trailblazer - Best 3 wt Travel Fly Rod
- Cabela's Stowaway
- Douglas Upstream - Best Small-Water Travel Fly Rod
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Best Travel Fly Rods Reviewed
- 2 Buying Guide: What You Need to Know About Travel Fly Rods
- 3 Our Picks: Redington Trailblazer, Echo Trip, and Douglas Upstream
Best Travel Fly Rods Reviewed
Length: 8’ 6” and 9’
Weight: 5 wt, 6 wt, and 8 wt
Orvis’s Clearwater Travel Rod packs down small, fitting into a tube that measures just 22 ½ inches. That makes it easy to carry, simple to fly with, and a cinch to keep in your car or truck.
The Clearwater Travel is available in a 5 wt 8’ 6”, and 5wt, 6wt, and 8 wt rods of 9’. Each is broken down into 6 sections.
In many respects, the Orvis Clearwater Travel sets the standard for what a travel fly rod should be. The blank flexes and casts so well you’ll forget that it’s not a 4 piece, and from the chrome snake guides to the well-shaped cork handle, it’s made with typical Orvis quality.
These rods load and flex beautifully, providing plenty of feel to time your casts perfectly, and both distance and accuracy are exactly what they should be at this price point. And that’s really saying something: these Clearwater’s cast and fish almost like their 4-piece alternatives, and it’s hard to imagine a better travel rod for the price - if you avoid the 8 wt options.
Unfortunately, the 8 wt rods have a reputation for fragility, and quite a few guides and anglers have found that they’ll break even when fitted together properly and fished within their limits.
As far as I can tell, this isn’t a one-off defect or a case of unreported abuse, and that makes us leery about relying on a Clearwater 8 wt rod on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
That’s a serious issue, and we’re torn about recommending these rods for that reason.
- Packs down really small
- Great blanks that cast and fish like 4-piece alternatives
- The 8wt rods have a reputation for breaking more or less immediately
Echo Trip - Best 5, 6, or 8 wt Travel Fly Rod
Weight: 5wt, 6 wt, and 8 wt
The Echo Trip is an outstanding travel rod, illustrating that increasing the pieces doesn’t necessitate decreasing performance.
Echo offers the Trip in three versions: a 5 and 6 wt measuring 9 feet, and a saltwater-capable 8 wt also at 9 feet. All three sport anodized aluminum reel seats and stainless guides, and the fit and finish on these rods is exactly what you’re looking for.
On the water, the Trip feels slower than medium-fast, and it flexes to very near the handle when casting. That’s not a bad thing at all in my book, and beginners will find this among the easiest travel rods to fish. More experienced anglers are well-served, too, by what feels like a medium action, as timing your casts and getting subtle lays just feels easier with the Trip.
And despite that relatively soft action, you’ll find plenty of backbone farther down the blank, reaching a point where the rod delivers surprising strength.
The Trip is extremely versatile, too, casting dry flies, nymphs, and streamers far better than you’d expect, and I’d be very tempted to take the Trip along as a general-purpose fly rod even when I don’t need a true travel option.
- Packs down really small
- Excellent blanks with a medium action perfect for experienced as well as novice fy anglers
- Excellent casting with nymphs, dry flies, and streamers
- Plenty of fight-winning backbone
Weight: 5 wt
Redington’s Classic Trout is better known for its 4-piece variants, but if you know where to look, you’ll also find a 6-piece, 5 wt rod that’s ideal for travel.
The Classic Trout’s 5 wt incarnation measures 9 feet, offering a soft, moderate action that provides incredible feel. In hand, that action translates into an ideal casting rhythm, and as an all-around travel rod, the 6-piece Classic Trout is truly a thing of beauty.
Though slow enough to really feel the blank load, the Classic Trout is great for lofting nymphs, dry flies, and wooly buggers, and it offers a delicate presentation that won’t scare spooked trout.
I like the Redington Classic Trout a lot, but the nylon tube it’s supplied with is designed around 4-piece rods, and thus is much longer than necessary. If you’re going to be flying with this rod, or space is at a premium, that tube isn’t going to do you any favors.
That’s about the only issue you’ll have with this fantastic rod.
- Excellent blanks with a soft, moderate action perfect for experienced as well as novice fly anglers
- Excellent casting with nymphs, dry flies, and buggers
- The supplied tube is a bit long for travel
Redington Trailblazer - Best 3 wt Travel Fly Rod
Length: 8’ and 9’
Weight: 3 wt and 5 wt
Redington’s Trailblazer is a step up in performance from their 6-piece Classic Trout. Designed from the ground-up as a travel rod, I think it flexes and feels a bit better than that Redington alternative, albeit at a higher price point.
The Trailblazer is available in a 3wt, 8-foot model, as well as a 5 wt, 9-foot version. For general use, the 5 wt is the better option, as it will cast heavy nymph rigs more ably and fight big brookies or brown trout with real authority. But for small flies and small fish, nothing beats the 3 wt.
With either rod in hand, the action is slow enough to get a good sense of proper timing, while still supplying plenty of power for longer casts. True, the Trailblazer isn’t going to deliver many 80 foot casts, but at realistic distances, it’s a real winner, providing plenty of versatility in your fly selection and delicate presentations.
With a fish on the line, you’ll discover plenty of power in the 5wt’s blank, and its ferrule integrity is just what you’d want it to be. That’s also true of the slender 3 wt, and among its many competitors, this rod really stands out as a great choice for offering delicate presentations to spooked and wary trout.
The Trailblazer packs down small, and whether you’re preparing for a grueling hike to your stream or a long flight to your destination, it’s an awesome choice.
- Packs down small
- Excellent blanks with a medium-fast action
- Plenty of power
- Excellent casting with heavy nymph rigs as well as dry flies
Length: 7’ 6”, 8’ 6”, and 9’
Weight: 3 wt, 4 wt, 5 wt, 6 wt, and 8 wt
Cabela’s Stowaway probably isn’t the best rod you’ll ever fish, but it’s good enough that plenty of anglers who aren’t traveling bring it along as a backup. And when you consider that this is a 6-piece rather than a 4-piece rod, that’s a real vote of confidence.
Cabela’s makes the Stowaway available in many lengths and weights. You’ll find an 8’ 6” 3wt, 7’ 6” and 8’ 6” 4wts, 8’ 6” and 9’ 5 wts, a 9’ 6wt, and finally a 9’ 8wt. Each features a medium-fast action that feels a bit softer than that, and in hand, I’d say the blanks perform more like true mediums.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the Stowaway lineup rewards proper technique with reasonably long and very accurate casts. Less powerful than a true medium-fast, you just can’t expect legendary casting distances.
And if you’re a new angler looking for a first travel rod, you can do a whole lot worse than the Stowaway since its relatively soft action is forgiving, allowing you to develop the technique that lofts dry flies 30 or 40 feet.
The backbone of these blanks really shows its strength in the final rod section, and these rods fight well when compared head-to-head with their alternatives.
Overall, I prefer the Echo Trip and Redington Trailblazer’s performance, but I wouldn’t turn up my nose at the Stowaway.
- Packs down small
- Excellent blanks with a true medium action
- Plenty of power
- Rewards good casting technique
- The Echo Trip and Redington Trailblazer are probably better rods overall
Douglas Upstream - Best Small-Water Travel Fly Rod
Length: 7’, 7 6”, and 8’
Weight: 3 wt.
Douglas’s Upstream is an easy pick for our shortlist, and though many of its variations are 4-piece affairs, three lengths of the 3 wt are available as 6-piece rods. Simply put, there may be no better fly rod for short-distance casting, and from pinpoint accuracy to the most delicate of presentations, if you’re looking for a travel rod for small water, your search is over.
The Upstream’s blank is made from graphite that’s painted to resemble bamboo. And while that may seem like a gimmick, it’s anything but. Douglas has managed to produce a graphite blank that feels, in hand, like the bamboo of old, flexing along its length and offering a true slow action.
As you can imagine, timing your casts with this rod is relatively easy, and if you’re an experienced fly angler, you'll be amazed at how it can lay a fly within 20 feet. Long casts are next to impossible with this rod, and even if you do manage a 40-foot loft, accuracy will suffer.
That’s just not what the Upstream was made for, and it shows.
As you’d imagine, the fittings and aesthetics of this rod harken to the early days of fly fishing, and from the fit and finish to the components, everything is top-flight and beautiful.
If you’re traveling or hiking to a small stream ripe with brook or brown trout, this is probably the best rod you could bring, hands down.
- Packs down small
- Amazing blanks with a true slow action that simulates bamboo
- Plenty of power
- Awesome accuracy and presentation over short distances
- This is most definitely a small-water rod
Buying Guide: What You Need to Know About Travel Fly Rods
The primary difference between a travel rod and a standard fly rod are the number of pieces into which it breaks down. While standard rods are typically 4-piece affairs, travel rods comprised 6 or 8 pieces.
That allows manufacturers to decrease their dimensions considerably, and travel rods pack down to lengths that make them pack and carry-on friendly.
Standard fly rods may simply be too long for carry-on limitations, and checking the only rod you’re flying with to Alagnak River, Alaska isn’t a great idea!
But that presents a problem, too.
Adding more sections necessitates more ferrules, and ferrules create at least three problems.
First, they’re potential points of failure.
Second, they add weight to the blank.
And third, they don’t bend like the sections themselves do.
Overall, this creates predictable consequences for travel rods when compared head-to-head with standard fly tackle. You can expect that travel rods are slightly heavier in hand, more prone to breakage, and not quite as flexible as a 4-piece rod.
Improvements in rod technology are closing that gap, but I’d still expect a slight drop in performance when switching to a travel rod.
While you can find plenty of fiberglass blanks in the fly fishing world, graphite dominates travel rods. Lighter by far than fiberglass, rod manufacturers use this material to offset the increased number of ferrules and keep overall weight as low as possible.
All other things being equal, longer fly rods allow for longer casts; and all other things being equal, shorter rods deliver better accuracy up close.
If you’re fishing small-water streams in Colorado or Alaska, where overhanging vegetation is desperate to snag your rod tip, a shorter rod is ideal. But where the water is free of such hazards, and the trout are wary, a long rod capable of exceptional distance is the better choice.
A blank’s action is a measure of where an applied force will create flex.
Fast action rods bend near the tip, growing stiffer in just a few inches. By contrast, a slow action rod will bend easily along nearly its entire length, creating a true parabolic arc.
Faster actions create more power on the cast, allowing for long distance and wind bucking lofts. But they struggle up close in both accuracy and subtlety.
By contrast, slower actions struggle to generate enough force for long casts, but offer greater accuracy up close and a more delicate presentation.
Fly rods are categorized by a system of “weights,” abbreviated as “wt.”
Lower numbers mean lighter power - a description of how much force it takes to bend a rod (not where the rod bends).
Thus a 3 wt. rod bends more easily than an 8 wt. rod.
That matters a lot when you get a fish on your line, as a 3 wt. just can’t handle a big fish, nor can the line, leader, and tippet it’s designed to cast.
That leads to some rough-and-ready recommendations.
If you’re targeting trout, a 3, 4, or 5 wt will be perfect, and a rod of this weight will work just as well with panfish like crappie, bluegill, and perch. It can also be used to fight smallmouth and largemouth bass, but a bruiser will demand skill to land.
5 and 6 wt rods are great all-arounders that can work beautifully on small fish while still offering you the chance to fight a big fish successfully.
But for hefty largemouth bass, pike, rainbow, steelhead, redfish, and other large species, an 8 wt is the right pick.
Our Picks: Redington Trailblazer, Echo Trip, and Douglas Upstream
Travel rods need to be light and packable, but they also need to perform once you’ve reached your destination.
After carefully weighing the pros, cons, and performance of the rods on our shortlist, we feel that we can strongly recommend the following three travel rods.
If you’re looking for a 3 wt to fight wary trout, Redington’s Trailblazer is an awesome choice. Offered in a length of 8 feet, it’s short enough to fish where branches and foliage threaten your casts, while still providing a medium-fast action that will cast far enough to avoid spooking the fish.
For a 5, 6, or 8 wt travel rod, I think none is finer than the Echo Trip. At 9 feet, these rods are probably best used in open water, and they cast and fight extremely well for 6-piece rods. They also pack away in a very compact tube, making them very easy to lie with on a trip.
Finally, for small-water fishing, it’s hard to imagine a better travel rod than the 6-piece models of the Douglas Upstream. Offering a true, slow action, these rods allow you to cast a fly or nymph exactly where you want it, and the presentation of your flies will be as subtle as the real thing.
As always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have, so please leave a comment below.