If you’re wandering about in the wilderness – in those places where you are miles from civilization or even a well-traveled road – these are rarely places to carry a bulky tripod. Monopods are often the choice of such travelers for their convenience and lighter weight. But where many monopods fall short is the amount of weight they can support. Surely, any good monopod can support your camera and attached gear. But can it help stabilize you if you stumble or trip? Not likely. Many hikers (and bird watchers) carry hiking staff when out on the trail. But what if your hiking staff could double as a monopod for your camera or spotting scope? That’s very question that Trek-Tech asked…and answered.
Trek-Tech’s solution is the TrekPod, a family of monopods that work well to stabilize your camera, but doubles as a hiking staff. They didn’t stop there – all of their monopods are actually hybrid monopod/tripods. Each has collapsible legs on the bottom segment that serves as a small tripod in a pinch. There are three monopods in Trek-Tech’s current offerings: The TrekPod II, TrekPod Go! PRO and the TrekPod XL. It was the TrekPod Go! PRO, specifically, that Trek-Tech was kind enough to provide for our review. Recently, at PDN’s Photo Plus Expo in New York, I had the pleasure of seeing the entire line in person. All are capable of holding your camera gear, all are able to support about 200 pounds (90 kilograms) and all come with a very unique feature: A MagMount for quick and easy attachment of your camera and collapsible legs.
MagMount: Quick Mounting Made Easy
The MagMount is, for me, one aspect of the system that I grew to appreciate the most. The MagMount is a ball-head with a quick-release lever to let you quickly and easily adjust the position of your camera. In the tip of the ball-head is a rare earth magnet – a very powerful magnet – that quickly snaps to a plate that gets fastened to the bottom of the camera. This is the initial contact. Then there is a swing clip that locks it into place for a more sturdy connection. I’ll admit, I was skeptical of the MagMount at first. My primary concern was that it wouldn’t be strong enough to hold my gear. I was wrong. Once that clip locks into place, the camera is held in place quite well and you will be hard pressed to get it off. Over time, I grew to trust it very well. My other concern was that the magnet might harm my media. Though Trek-Tech addresses this in the FAQ on their site, I had to try for myself. I left one of my (older) SD cards – filled with a bunch of photos – on top of the MagMount magnet overnight. I did not lose a single image, and a test on the SD card reports no damages. So worry not, the magnet will not harm your media.
One of the nice things about the MagMount is that the plate that screws onto the bottom of your camera is the smallest and most unobtrusive quick-plate I’ve ever seen for any tripod or monopod. It’s about the size of a quarter, and screws into place with an allen wrench (included in the set). Mine has remained on the bottom of my camera for the better part of my time with the TrekPod. There are actually two plates that come with the TrekPod Go! PRO, a STAR (Square Tooth Anti-Rotation) plate which is designed for your larger cameras and a light-force plate which is smooth and is intended for your smaller point-and-shoot cameras. The light-force plate only requires a coin to tighten. When you’re using the STAR plate, you’ll need to be very careful. Its attraction to the ball head is very strong, and you can pinch your fingers. But worry not, y0u’ll only do it once and then you’ll be careful never to do it again.
Sturdy, Portable Design
The TrekPod – and I’m speaking about all of them right now – really is a sturdy piece of gear. It really will help you maneuver and stabilize yourself when moving about the uneven ground. It feels sturdy and strong, the rotation locks hold everything together quite well and I am confident of it’s strength when using it in the field. The TrekPod Go! PRO breaks down into four pieces and packs nicely into a case (included) that measures 23″ x 4″ x 2.5″ (58.4cm x 10.2cm x 6.3cm). The monopod assembles fairly quickly with twist-couplings. Two of the shafts have adjustable heights, the third section (from the bottom) adjusts so that your hand position is in a comfortable place. This section is marked with heights so that you can remember your preferred setting and set the height the same every time. The top section adjusts so you can get some extra height on your camera. Note that the TrekPod XL is similarly assembled, the TrekPod II is only two sections.
In Tripod Mode, the TrekPod Go! PRO and the TrekPod XL has a height range of 39″ to 57.5″ (99 to 146 cm) while the TrekPod II provides a range of 43″ to 57.5″ (109 cm to 146 cm). In Monopod / Hiking mode, the TrekPod Go! PRO and TrekPod XL supports a height range of 42.5″ to 62.5″ (106.7 cm to 158.8 cm) while the TrekPod II provides a range of 47″ to 62.5″ (119 cm to 158.8cm).
While the TrekPod does break down into a nice little package and is easy to transport in it’s carrying case, the sad truth is that it is not designed to collapse into a tiny package while assembled. The bottom section (the leg section) of the TrekPod Go! PRO and the TrekPod XL does not collapse into the the other tubes, and the other tubes only collapse so far. So a fully-collapsed TrekPod is still about 39″ (43″ for the TrekPod II). So you won’t be strapping this to your camera bag any time soon. But this is a trade-off for strength reasons. Again, this is designed as a hiking staff that just also happens to be a monopod/tripod. So this is catered towards those who expect to be trekking across the wilderness and needs some extra stability when the camera is not attached. If you are such a person, then the assumption (a fair one at that) is that you will not be packing this up during your trek. Considering that fact, I will not hold this against Trek-Tech as strength is more important in this case than convenience.
(Editor’s Note: We note the large collapsed size within our summary chart below, but only for the sake of those looking for a generic monopod. As this is catered towards hikers, this shouldn’t be considered a flaw, and we noted this accordingly in our chart.)
As a tripod, the TrekPod will not replace your primary tripod. The legs extend only to a 22″ (56cm) diameter. Additionally, the legs themselves are comprised only of the bottom section which places your camera atop a long moment arm. This offers some stability in a pinch, but will not come close to rivaling the stability of a standard tripod. What’s more, the legs are not independently adjustable, and so the tripod function of the TrekPod is only useful on relatively level ground. You won’t be setting this up on any hills. But again, we need to point out that this is designed as a monopod/hiking staff first and foremost. The fact that it has a tripod built-in is simply a bonus. We refer to this type of scenario as a “tripod in a pinch” and consider this an advantage for the few occasions you’ll maybe want to get in the shot or just want a tiny bit more stability than a monopod. When in monopod mode, the legs are held together with a velcro wrap that is permanently affixed to one of the legs. The strap seems durable, but it tends to be a dirt collector and it can be a nuisance. I would have liked to have seen a better solution – a slide ring or a twist lock, perhaps.
When the camera is not in place, there is a rounded palm rest that snaps into the MagMount. This is a fairly nice feature as it keeps the mag mount covered and clean, and it also provides a comfortable and safe top (the bottom STAR plate can do damage if you catch it in the chin). Unfortunately, the palm rest is not fastened to the monopod in any way. It would nice to be attached somehow to the monopod so that those more apt to losing small parts (like myself) are less likely to lose the plam rest. Note – I have not yet lost mine.
The TrekPod line fills an important gap in a niche, but highly popular, market. The series has a lot to offer the adventure-loving photographer. It is a great companion to your primary tripod if you find yourself off-road frequently. I don’t do much in the way of long-range hikes anymore, but on my shorter landscape photo sessions, the TrekPod served me quite well. It is perhaps one of the most sturdy monopods on the market. But the TrekPod will not serve as my primary tripod or monopod. It does not have the stability of a tripod nor is it as adjustable – which is fine, because it is not designed as such. As a monopod, the collapsed size (with the pieces together) is too large for daily use. I have absolutely no question about it’s build strength or its durability – the TrekPod is built solid and will take a lot of abuse.
The real unsung here here is the MagMount, which is a fantastic concept for a quick-mount option. The ball-head is compact, strong and easy to adjust. The MagMount can be mounted to a 1/4″-20 or 3/8″-16 stud, which means that it can be mounted to just about any tripod or monopod that accepts after-market heads. Now of course TrekPod must realize how great the MagMount really is as they are smart to sell it as a stand-alone product. You can get the MagMount separately at Amazon.com or B&H Photo for less than $50.
The TrekPod Go! PRO and the TrekPod XL are nearly identical except that the XL is a carbon-fiber shaft and is significantly lighter. At PDN Photo Plus, I was able to try out the carbon-fiber TrekPod and compare the difference between the two. The difference in weight is significant. The XL, weighting only 17 ounces, is nearly half the weight of the Go! PRO, which weighs 30 ounces. Though the XL is about $100 more ($299 USD at Amazon.com), the weight reduction may be worth it for many of you.
Things We Liked
- The MagMount system is the smallest quick-release system we’ve ever seen, and it’s easy to use and second to none within the industry.
- The Ball Head is compact and easy to use with a quick-release lever. It’s easy to adjust and feels sturdy.
- Can support up to 200 pounds.
- Tripod-in-a-pinch – it won’t replace your standard tripod, but it is good in a pinch if you need it.
- The Grip section and the Camera section are independently adjusted. The Grip has markings so you can find your most comfortable hand position at all times.
Things We Didn’t Like
- Collapsed size when assembled is still quite large. Note, however, that this is a tradeoff of strength vs. package size. Hikers should not consider this a flaw.
- Palm Rest is not attached (corded) to the monopod, and could potentially be lost.
- A velcro strap is all that holds the legs closed.