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Review of Trek-Tech's TREKPOD
Walking Staff, Monopod and Tripod Combination

Reviewed by Ron Risman, March 2007

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Traveling through the Southwest with the Trekpod

The best way to test a product is to use it in the environment that it was designed for. Since the Trekpod was designed for photographers that hike, sightsee, and love to photograph nature and wildlife I decided to test it on a recent trip to Utah and Nevada. The camera and lenses used during the testing of the Trekpod were the Canon EOS-10D, Canon EOS Rebel XT, Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 Lens, Canon 28-200mm F3.5 - 5.6 Lens, and Canon EFS 18-55mm F3.5 - 5.6 Lens.

The trip took me from Salt lake City, Utah down to Bryce Canyon National Park then onto Page, Arizona and finally Sedona, Arizona. The Trekpod was used in a variety of settings - from downtown Park City, UT to the roadside vistas of Bryce Canyon, inside the walls of Antelope Canyon and while hiking near the Vortexes in Sedona. I also took it up in a Hot Air Balloon in Sedona which was quite tight for space. A tripod would not have been allowed, but they saw this in Monopod mode and didn't have a problem.

Trek-Tech's Trekpod

I found the Trekpod at Hunt's Photo and Video, a local retail store in Massachusetts (www.huntsphotoandvideo.com) and was ready to purchase one on the spot in order to review it. Unfortunately, Hunt's was temporarily sold out at the time so I decided to write to Trek-Tech who kindly sent along a Trekpod and their T'Pod (table-pod version) for my review. The Trekpod is a unique product that combines an adjustable height Walking Staff, Monopod, and Ultra-light Tripod into one product. The Trekpod uses a unique MagMount ball head that allows you to quickly and easily mount and remove your camera without worrying about latches or screws.

The T'Pod is a compact table tripod with similar features.

Monopod or Tripod? How about Both!
Whenever traveling I typically take along a monopod instead of a tripod since it is smaller and lighter to carry and pack. While a tripod provides a self-standing sturdy support which allows for long exposures and increased stability, a monopod provides more freedom to move - allowing for flexible framing and speed-of-capture, especially when tracking moving subjects (sports, cars, trains, people, etc.). What intrigued me about the Trekpod is that it combines both a monopod and the self-standing convenience of a tripod in one product - while acting and looking like a high-end walking staff. The product seems like a perfect fit for photographers who like to travel, bird watch, hike, and capture.

What is the Trekpod?
The Trekpod is a combination Walking staff, Monopod, and Tripod designed to support cameras, spotting scopes, binoculars, and virtually any tripod-mountable device (lights, mic's, range finders, etc.) up to 9 pounds. The Trekpod itself weighs 30 ounces with integrated MagMount ball head and extends from 43" to 57.5" when in Tripod mode or up to 62.5" in monopod / hiking staff mode. The 2-section Trekpod disassembles in seconds to a shorter 35.5" length, making it more convenient to carry - especially on a plane. The Trekpod is made of aircraft grade aluminum alloys, high strength polymers, stainless steel, natural cork ( Grip and Palm Rest), and Nylon Webbing (Wrist Strap).

The Trekpod arrived in two sections, both tucked nicely inside the optional $39 Trekpod Padded Carrying Case. The optional case, resembling a padded rifle case, is highly recommended for traveling as it allows the Trekpod to be carried in two-sections (travel mode). each fitting nicely into their own inner compartments. This allows the length of the Trekpod to be reduced to a carrying length of approx. 35.5 inches - which will fit into an overhead bin in an airplane. The case features an over-the-shoulder strap, a padded carrying handle placed in the center for proper weight distribution, and a small zippered outer pocket for carrying extra accessories such as additional mag(netic) mounts or optional clamp.

Dimensions: The long and short of it
As an avid user of monopods I was a bit shocked when I discovered that the Trekpod only collapses to about 43" when the monopod is shortened all the way (lowering the top section into the lower section) and only down to 35 1/2" in travel mode (Two halves side-by-side). This rather large footprint ensures that you won't be attaching the Trekpod to the straps of your backpack and makes it inconvenient to take along if you do not plan on using it as a walking staff. Of course, that's the whole point of the Trekpod - to use it as a walking staff when you are out and about. The Trekpod includes a large and comfortable Portuguese cork grip and a removable cork handle that magnetically mounts to the ball head. These aesthetic features, along with the height of the Trekpod, do make it look and feel like a high-end walking staff.

Airline Travel - No Problem
Packed away in its (optional) case the entire Trekpod package approaches 40" in length. When packing for the airport I started to get concerned as to whether or not I could carry this on-board,and if not, how would it fair as checked baggage. I already had two carry-on bags so I thought it was best to check it. The only preparation I made was to cover the Trek-Tech logo on the outside case by taping over it using the backside of my business card. I put my name and address information on the card in case it got lost. Probably a little paranoid, but that's me. When I landed in Salt Lake City my other luggage arrived but there was no sign of the Trekpod. After waiting a bit I decided to check the "odd-sized" item area which is normally used for bikes and skis and sure enough there was the Trekpod. I assume that in most cities the Trekpod would come out with the other bags but because SLC, Utah is a big SKI town they probably just lumped it in with all the other Skis, poles, snow boards, etc. Just keep this in mind if flying somewhere cold and snowy.

At the end of my trip I flew back from Phoenix, AZ to Boston and this time I took the Trekpod on-board the plane with me. The Trekpod, case and all, fit perfectly in the overhead compartment (sideways) and slid down behind all the other baggage - protecting it from abuse. Actually, overhead bins in planes slope down toward the back - preventing bags from filling up the space at the lower rear of the bin. This provided a prefect 'cubby' for the Trekpod.

MagMount Ball Head
The Trekpod uses an unique MagMount system, which includes a small ball head with a round magnetic top surface. The MagMount is a two-piece system that includes both the ball-head and round quarter-size metal plates (Mag Adapters) that you attach and tighten to the tripod socket of your camera. When you place your camera fitted with a Mag Adapter on top of the ball head - a strong magnetic bond is achieved to hold your camera securely in place. Trek-Tech provides two Mag Adapters - one silver "Light Force" adapter designed for lightweight point & shoot models and a black "heavy force" adapter for use with heavier cameras and Digital SLR's. If you use the "Heavy Force" plate with your compact camera you may find it very difficult to separate the camera from the ball head, which is why the "Light Force" adapter was included. This should give you some idea of how strong the magnetic bond is with this unique MagMount system. The MagMount ball head system also includes a lightweight slide-over clip that slides over the edges of the Mag Adapter and top surface of the ball head - providing for added security and peace of mind.

When using the correct adapter for your camera, you'll find that the magnetic bond is very secure, yet still enabling you to easily remove the camera off of the ball head. When you first use this system you will most likely be a bit skeptical (as I was) as to whether or not this magnetic mounting system will prove strong enough to hold your camera securely in place - especially when the camera is vertical or when placing the camera at a high- or low-angle, or when using a longer lens. I had these same fears, but after using the Trekpod for a week out in Arizona and Utah I can assure you that this magnetic mounting system easily held a Canon EOS Rebel XT and heavier EOS 10D with Canon 28-200mm and Sigma 10-20mm lenses without a problem. I would advise against using real long and heavy lenses (i.e. Canon 70-200mm F/2.8) with the Trekpod in Tripod mode as the length and weight of the lens would make it unstable and unsafe. For additional piece of mind, the Trekpod includes a small slide-over clip that 'clamps' the magnetic camera mount to the ball head for added safety.

Trek-Tech provides a guide on their website (See FAQ Section) to help determine whether your camera, spotting scope, or other optical devices will be well suited for the MagMount based on its overall weight (with lens) and center of gravity. If you remove the ball head you'll find that the Trekpod features an industry standard 1/4"-20 threaded stud. This allows you to securely mount very large devices or a larger ball head of proper strength for your oversized gear.

As mentioned above, the Trekpod ships with two magnetic camera mounts, one silver, one black. The silver one has less magnetic strength and is designed for use with compact and other pocket sized digital cameras. Using the stronger (black) mount with lighter cameras will make it tough to disconnect the camera. The black MagMount allows for a stronger magnetic bond and is designed for use with larger zoom cameras and digital SLR's.





The MagMount ball head makes it quick and easy to adjust the camera for either portrait or landscape view. Keep in mind that when using a heavier camera or DSLR, the MagMount ball head is too small to support the camera vertically by itself (Tripod Mode). Framing and shooting vertically isn't a problem if you are helping to support the camera as you shoot, but if you let go of the camera, the camera will pivot downward due to the weight of the lens. This wasn't a problem when shooting in landscape mode - at least for the cameras and lenses I used.

Using a compact P&S camera with the ball head posed no problems in either portrait or landscape modes (as shown here).

Trekpod: Measuring Performance In the Field
Many of the best photographic opportunities are found off the beaten path - literally. Waterfalls, wildlife, mountaintop vistas, lakes and ponds are often found only by those that hike to these locations - and it is this market that is best suited for the Trekpod. My trip to Utah and Nevada proved to be the perfect setting for testing the Trekpod as I did quite a bit of walking around southern Utah and Nevada.

As a Monopod
Aside from some initial tests shot back at the office and a few in Park City, my first opportunity to really use the Trekpod was out at Bryce Canyon National Park. I arrived there late afternoon, about 90 minutes before sunset. At each viewing location I grabbed my camera and Trekpod and set out to capture the grand beauty of Bryce Canyon. Most of my shots the first day were taken using the Trekpod as a MONOPOD. Monopods provide added stability when shooting at any time of day, especially at the telephoto end of your lens and becomes increasingly important late in the day as you'll need to use slower shutter speeds if you want to keep your aperture in the f8 - f11 range. The Trekpod made framing and capturing sharp images a joy. When viewing the park from roadside viewpoints all of Bryce Canyon is below and in front of you. The ball head made it simple to pivot the camera around to get the shot I wanted, while the monopod provided that extra stability to improve overall sharpness. Slightly blurred photographs may look fine as 4x6" print, but they'll never make acceptable 11x14" or 16x20" prints.


Bryce Canyon Photographs. Click any image for larger views.

As a Tripod
As the sun went down I got the chance to use the Trekpod as a tripod. From my initial tests back at the office I knew that the Trekpod was not going to be a suitable replacement for my heavier tripod for all shooting situations, but having the option of 3-legged support built-into the monopod proved to be great while hiking and traveling, as I really didn't want to carry a bulkier tripod. The problem that the Trekpod has as a stand-alone Tripod is with the low placement of the tripod legs compared to its overall height. It isn't the fear of tipping - it actually provides decent support in that regard - it's the flexibility in the long center pole that gives it a tendancy to sway after releasing your hands from the camera.

Using the Trekpod in TRIPOD mode for daylight shots shouldn't pose a problem as shutter speeds are fast enough to eliminate any slight motion. The real challenge occurs if you are forced to use the Trekpod in TRIPOD mode at night (using long exposures). If the wind is blowing - forget it, but otherwise you can make it work by releasing your hand very slowly from the camera (Sir, back slowly away from that tripod and nobody gets hurt) and using a gentle hand to help stabilize the Trekpod at its mid-section. If you look closely you'll be able to 'eye' the stability of the tripod and will know when it's ready. Of course you'll really need to use the self-timer or a remote control to trigger the camera so you won't have to touch the camera again to take the shot.

This really isn't meant to imply that the Trekpod isn't usable as a tripod., just that it won't provide the same stability as a dedicated tripod for those times when critical stability is needed. That said, it is nice to have the option of TRIPOD mode when hiking or walking. Using the TRIPOD mode is a great way to get into more of your own pictures - try that with just a monopod. The TRIPOD mode also provides extra stability for landscape shots, and even with slower shutter speeds - if wind isn't a factor and you use the self timer or a remote to trigger the camera.

As a Walking Staff
I haven't used a walking staff much in the past - but having the Trekpod out in Utah and Nevada sold me on the idea of it. I really don't have the expertise to judge whether this is a good walking staff as I have virtually no other experiences to compare it too, however the Trekpod has a good feel, seemingly perfect weight, adjustable height, and a comfortable grip - all things I assume would make a quality walking staff. The cork palm rest on top isn't sturdy enough to be a true palm rest but it looks great and protects the ball head when not in use. The cork palm rest has a metal insert allowing it to magnetically attach to the ball head for a secure hold but detaches with a quick pivot. The Trekpod has rubber nibs on the base of each tripod leg giving it good traction and stability on almost all surfaces. The tripod legs close flush and are held tight by a velcro strap. The Trekpod can also be used in water, helping to provide support when walking across streams or any wet, damp, or slippery surface.

With all of the pictures I took while in Utah and Sedona, I neglected to get a photo of myself using the Trekpod as a Walking Staff. The photo on the right is courtesy of Trek-Tech.




Optional Accessories / Other Uses

VersaMount
Trek-Tech has released an attachment called the VersaMount / MagMount Bundle. This attachment is ideal when you need to place your camera, camcorder, or other optical device low to the ground - making it perfect for macro photography. This VersaMount ($19.99) can be purchase separately or with its own MagMount ball head ($39.99 total) making it simple to attach or remove your camera.

Use VersaMount for Macro Shots
Setup the Trekpod in TRIPOD mode and use the VersaMount low on the Trekpod pole to shoot flowers or other low-to-the-ground objects. You might even use it to lower your camera for the sake of keeping an eye on the action while seated. You can also use the VersaMount as a second ball head for another piece of gear.

Use VersaMount for 2nd Device
When I was out at PMA 2007 a sales rep mentioned that hunters like the VersaMount to videotape their hunting expeditions. They use the ShotRest (see optional gear below) on top for their rifle and place a camcorder on the VersaMount - allowing them to record their hunt.



ShotRest™
The ShotRest ($19.99) is designed for hunters and features a soft closed-foam pad topped with synthetic suede for a smooth, durable shooting surface - all mounted to a firm base designed to attach to the MagMount system or VersaMount / MagMount bundle on the TrekPod.



New T'Pod Table-Top Tripod
The T'POD ($79.99) is a travel size (pocketable) version of the Trekpod and makes a versatile table-top tripod that can slip into a coat pocket. The T'Pod uses the same MagMount ball head system as the Trekpod and accepts the same accessories (Shotrest, VersaMount). The T'POD slides apart into two-sections, just like its big brother, and arrives in its own carrying case. The T'POD is great to keep in the car. Is it on the hood or roof of your car when trying to catch a beautiful sunset or full moon - using the ball head to level your camera. The T'Pod is small, fitting into a 3.5" x 1.5" x 8.5" carrying case (included), and extends to 13.5" in height. The T'Pod is unique in that you can remove the upper body from the legs then use the ball head on the leg center to achieve a very low position (3.75"). The legs have a 10.5" diameter when open providing a stable base with a low center of gravity.



New Trekpod II
For those who would prefer to save a little bit of money, Trek-Tech has now released the Trekpod II, a lower-cost version of the Trekpod. The new Trekpod II offers the same functionality as the Trekpod with a rubber grip instead of the Cork grip and Cork Palm rest. The Trekpod II retails for $109.99 (vs. $139.99 for the Trekpod).


Conclusion
When I first saw the Trekpod in the retail showroom I instantly knew that this product was long overdue. I realize that not too many people understand the benefits of a monopod - but most understand the benefits of a walking staff and tripod. Personally I love monopods because they provide extra stability at long zoom ranges while giving me the freedom to move around and follow the action. Whenever I go to a RedSox game you'll find me there with camera and monopod. While a regular tripod still provides much better stability for low-light photography, the size and weight of most of them make them a pain to carry - especially when hiking or when doing a lot of walking as I did on my trip to Utah and Sedona.

The Trekpod's combination of walking staff, monopod, and tripod provide a convenient combination for those who love to explore. If you love nature, sports, wildlife, and landscape photography then purchasing a Trekpod should be seriously considered. Not as a tripod replacement, but rather as a product that you'll take with you more often when you head into the woods, up the hiking trail, or anywhere off-the-beaten path. If you rarely shoot with long-exposures you might even find the Trekpod's TRIPOD mode is all you ever need when it comes to tripod functionality.

The Trekpod ships in two halves and quickly assembles by sliding the upper half into the lower section and tightening the friction lock wherever you prefer the height to be. Unlike other monopods, the Trekpod's smallest size is quite large even when its disassembled into two halves. For comparison, my Adorama Podmatic that I have owned for a few years is a 5-section monopod that reduces to a tiny 14" length. I am actually able to carry it inside one of my coat pockets. The Trekpod, in comparison, disassembles down to only 35.5" - over twice the length of the Podmatic. For certain events (RedSox games come to mind) the large minimum size will mean that the Trekpod stays home, but for its intended use (outdoor photography) the Trekpod will be with me every step of the way (pun intended). I found that I never disassemble the Trekpod, preferring to leave it standing in tripod mode (try that Podmatic) in the corner of my office - ready for my next trip. The beautiful cork top and grip make it a comfortable walking staff and a conversation piece - and its ready to go whenever I am. Even though the Trekpod does not have a compact footprint, it weights just 1.9 lbs (30 ounces) including the MagMount ball head.

The MagMount ball head works well and will hold all point & shoot cameras and most out-of-box Digital SLR setups without any problems. I do have to recommend one thing. When you connect the metal (black or silver) quick release tripod connector to the base of your camera - please use a coin in the slotted groove to tighten it securely to the camera. I neglected to do this and instead used normal thumb/finger pressure to tighten it. As I moved the camera horizontally back and forth the adapter loosened enough and disappeared on me at some point during my travels. When the mount is tightly secured this won't happen. Trek-Tech also sent along a T'Pod to review so I luckily had an extra connector. A lesson learned. If you're using a camera that has a plastic tripod connector (mostly found on select compact models) you shouldn't over-tighten the connector - using just thumb/finger pressure instead.

Trek-Tech designed the Trekpod with the future in mind. If you go out and purchase a heavy telephoto lens a little later down the road, you can take comfort knowing that the MagMount ball head can be removed and replaced with any other ball head that fits the standard 1/4"-20 thread. Hopefully Trek-Tech will offer an upgraded ball head down the road with a wider base and bubble level.

In conclusion (finally!), the Trekpod is one great photography tool, especially for sports, landscape, wildlife, and nature photographers. The Trekpod's versatility and well thought-out design is undeniable and the Trekpod is backed by a lifetime limited warranty.
While you can purchase a ski-pole style walking stick with 1/4" thread on top, or a Bogen 682B monopod with screw-on tripod feet, none of these products come close to achieving an almost perfect trifecta that Trekpod has with its high-quality ball head with quick-release MagMount, Cork grip and handle, and convenient tripod legs integrated into an adjustable height Walking Staff / Monopod. Once Trek-Tech finds a way to firm up the tripod mode and create a smaller closed footprint - the word "almost" will be removed from the phrase "almost perfect."

Wish list for the future

  • Reduce the minimize overall size of the Monopod when disassembled
  • Better yet - allow it to collapse into itself rather than needing disassembly
  • Larger ball head option with bubble-level for all axis
  • Make it more rigid in tripod mode by adding longer legs, carbon fiber construction, or both
  • Get rid of the velcro strap to hold the tripod legs shut. It works, but is an unnecessary hassle when trying to close and secure the legs. Maybe a sliding and turning friction grip or something similar could be developed instead of velcro
  • Create a longer VersaMount-Style bracket with integrated ShotRest that could be used to support the front of heavier and longer lenses.

Photographs shot while testing the Trekpod:


Bryce Canyon Photographs. Click any image for larger views.


Bryce Canyon and Sedona, AZ Photographs. Click any image for larger views.


Antelope Canyon Photographs. Click any image for larger views.

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