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Backpackers struggle with the idea of flying to reach those epic destinations. There are so many logistical concerns when trying to plan these kinds of trips! All that gear can easily exceed allowed weight and size restrictions. There are also concerns about the gear being damaged in transit. But don’t worry, you can make it work! I’m here to show you how to prepare for flying with backpacking gear with minimal worries.

So you’ve got your plans sorted, you’ve prepared everything you need to pack, and are excited about some epic adventures; yet you’re still not sure what can be packed where and what should be left at home. Fear not, traveler! In this blog post, we are going to cover all of the ins and outs of flying with backpacking gear.

From airline baggage policies, ways to reduce the weight of your pack, what items to bring with you and even strategies for packing that will save space – we have got you covered!

How Will You Get Where You’re Going (Your Gear, Too!)

When it comes to getting your gear where you’re going, you’ll first need to actually decide your mode of travel. For some, this is by car. Others might opt for a bus or train. For adventures that are states or even countries away, the best option may be to fly to your destination.

But how do you fly with all of that expensive, sharp, and fragile backpacking and camping gear? We can’t wait to share ideas and methods that have worked for us!

First, before you start packing things in a few different bags, make sure that all of your gear fits into your backpack. If this is not your first backpacking trip, then you’ll know what gear you typically pack. If this is your first backpacking experience, do a dry run! Practice packing your pack strategically. This will help you later out on the trail, too!

It’s important to keep certain items with you at all times during travel. Headlamps, water filters, GPS devices, personal location devices, cameras, and really anything pricey or irreplaceable should all be kept in your carry-on!

What Can Be Placed in Your Carry-On

When packing for a trip like this, it is important to know what items can be taken in a carry-on.

While we are not TSA agents or airline employees, we do have experience in this type of travel. You should always err on the side of caution and check specific country and airline regulations prior to your trip.

This is meant to be a general guide and to give you ideas for the best way to fly with backpacking and camping gear.

Tents (without stakes or poles), backpacking camp stoves (without fuel canisters), and cooking/eating utensils are allowed as long as they fit and cannot be considered a weapon. Electronic lighters and arc lighters are also allowed if they run on batteries but must be in a protective case or have their batteries removed.

A single book of safety matches is allowed in a carry-on, but strike-anywhere matches are prohibited.

Everyday use batteries such as AAs, AAAs, Cs, and Ds can be packed in any bag. Lithium-ion batteries less than 100 watt-hours can and should also be packed in carry-on luggage.

In addition to these items, headlamps, water filters (that are empty!), GPS devices, personal location devices, cameras, medications, and anything pricey should all be kept in carry-on luggage. These items are expensive and more difficult to replace.

You don’t want to have to spend a fortune replacing gear or lose all the photos you took on your epic trip. Just pack that stuff in your carry-on!

Checking Your Pack

When it comes to packing for this type of trip, you might want to consider checking your pack and the larger gear such as your tent, sleep system, and cook set. There are certainly some considerations when doing this, though.

Airlines are not responsible for any damage to baggage, and this includes all of the zippers, straps, and plastic buckles on your pack.

All of those freely swinging straps can easily get caught or stuck and be damaged. For these reasons, we do not recommend checking your pack without covering it in some way. Here are a few options:

Have your Pack Wrapped

Wrapping your hiking backpack is a great way to protect it from damage during transport. Most airlines and airports provide this service, which involves wrapping the backpack or bag in plastic.

Before wrapping, it is important to pack gear evenly and cover trekking poles and other sharp ends with cardboard covers. The hip belt should be secured around the pack and tightened for extra protection. Once everything is secure, the pack can be bundled in plastic wrap.

Having your pack wrapped can give you peace of mind when traveling with your backpack. It helps to ensure all of your gear stays safe and secure while being transported, so you don’t have to worry about any of your items getting damaged during transit.

Wrapping also helps keep dirt and dust off of your backpack, so it will look as good as you left it when you arrive at your destination. With a little bit of preparation, having your pack wrapped can make traveling with a hiking backpack much easier and more enjoyable.

One thing to consider when using this method is if TSA will have to search your bag. If your plastic-wrapped bag is searched, the plastic wrap is not replaced by TSA.

Hiking Backpack Airport Travel Covers

Hiking backpack airport covers are another option for any traveler who wants to protect their pack when traveling. Features to look out for include durability, adjustability, and packability when you’re out on the trail.

Deuter and Osprey both make specific covers designed for packs and airline travel. You could also consider something like a cover made for strollers or car seats. Just make sure to limit loose fabric and secure any loose ends!

I probably wouldn’t carry one of those stroller bags loaded with all my gear like a backpack, as all that gear can be heavier than a stroller. This is just a cost-effective cover option to consider.

You may want to combine one of these travel covers with plastic wrapping, but that is certainly going above and beyond to secure your gear.

Check out these airport travel covers:
Osprey Airporter Backpack Travel Cover
Deuter Flight Cover 90
Stroller Bag

Place your Pack and Gear in a Large Rolling Suitcase or Duffle

One of the best ways to transport your backpacking gear when flying to a destination is by placing it in a large rolling suitcase or duffle bag. This is our preferred method! There are several advantages over backpacks, plastic wraps, and covers, such as easier carrying and less risk of injury from carrying excessive weight.

Another great benefit of using a rolling suitcase or duffle bag is that they make your baggage easier to find, both on the plane and off. It will be much easier for you to pick out your belongings among everyone else’s at the airport baggage claim when you’re looking for such a familiar bag.

You can also place other items, like clothing, toiletries, etc, that you may need before or after your backpacking adventure, in a large suitcase. This gives you a place to store extras while you’re out in the backcountry.

If you have bulky equipment like camping tents or sleeping bags with you, this method works especially well since the extra size allows you to include even more items without fear of them being damaged or lost during transit.

Rolling suitcases are also usually very durable and carry heavier items than traditional backpacks which makes them an ideal choice for travelers who need a reliable storage option for their backpacking gear. Plus, those wheels will come in handy, especially on the way home!

Leave Behind What You Can’t Carry On

When it comes to backpacking, it is important to be aware of the items you can and cannot take on a trip. Many items that are considered essential for a backpacking trip may not be allowed in carry-on or checked luggage, such as knives, multi-tools, trekking poles, stove fuel, bear spray, empty fuel bottles, tent stakes, fishing poles/hooks, metal sporks, cathole diggers, and ice axes.

Additionally, liquids or gels in excess of 3.4 oz or 100 milliliters should not be packed in carry-on luggage. It is also important to note that some items may be considered “grey area” items and should be left behind to avoid potential issues with security.

In the US, matches and lighters are not allowed in checked baggage. One book of matches and one non-refillable Bic-type lighter is allowed in carry-on baggage. To be on the safe side, though, matches or a lighter can easily be purchased at your destination.

Knives, trekking poles, tent stakes, and cathole diggers are examples of items that can successfully be transported in a checked bag.

When flying with backpacking gear, it is important to plan ahead and leave behind anything that cannot be carried on the plane. This will help ensure a smooth and stress-free travel experience.

How to Get By Without “Essentials”

Backpacking without certain items can be a challenge, but it is possible to get by without trekking poles, a knife, and other items. Borrowing or buying can be options for certain items and certain locations.

For example, a minimal knife or a weightless razor blade can be used for most needs while backpacking. If you feel that trekking poles are necessary for support and stability, consider renting or borrowing them rather than packing them if you run out of room.

Additionally, if you need fuel for your camping stove while backpacking in remote areas, look into buying fuel locally on arrival. Stick stoves can be used as an alternative in some areas, but check local regulations prior to relying on a stick stove. Cold soak cooking methods or eating cold meals is also an option to consider; however, experience helps in order to make it a successful choice.

Overall, there are many ways to get by without certain items while backpacking. It may take some creativity and research to find the best solution for each situation. With some planning and preparation, you can still have an enjoyable backpacking experience.

Ship Gear Ahead of Time

Shipping gear ahead of a domestic trip can be a great way to save time and hassle. It eliminates the need to lug around heavy bags and equipment, and it allows you to focus your energy on enjoying your vacation.

Sending packages through FedEx, UPS, or USPS may be a less cost-effective option when compared to checking luggage, but one that can ease your travel through airports. You can send packages directly to a B&B or hotel ahead of time using DHL, FedEx, or UPS. This is especially useful if you’re traveling with bulky or heavy items that would otherwise take up too much space in your luggage.

When shipping gear ahead of an international trip, it’s important to give yourself enough time for the package to arrive before you travel.

Many countries have postal services that will hold packages at the post office for pick up with a picture ID. This can be a convenient way to receive your package without having to worry about delays in delivery or finding a UPS/FedEx/etc. outlet at the destination. However, overseas shipping can be even more costly than domestic shipping, so be sure to factor in the cost when planning your trip.

Shipping gear ahead of time can also be a valuable way to resupply with essentials and your favorite products on a multileg trip or longer distance journey.

Advantages of Shipping Gear Ahead of Time

Shipping gear ahead is a great way to make backpacking trips easier and more efficient. It eliminates the need to lug a backpack around and worry about checked baggage making flights, while also providing confirmation of receipt when the box arrives.

This makes public transport at the destination much simpler, as well as allowing for items that cannot be flown with to be shipped ahead. Shipping gear ahead also offers the advantage of not having to worry about repacking or theft of individual items, and insurance can be added for extra protection.

A secure place is needed to ship your gear to, as well as to provide storage for your items until your trip. If storing at a post office or similar location, make sure that the facility will be open when you need to pick up your gear!

While this method can be much more expensive, it is an option worth considering, depending on your scenario.

Disadvantages of Shipping Gear Ahead of Time

Shipping gear ahead of a hiking trip can be a great way to ensure that all the necessary items are available when needed. However, there are some potential disadvantages to consider before deciding if this is the right option for you.

Firstly, shipping gear ahead requires planning and may not be suitable for all hikers due to the additional costs involved. Depending on the service used and whether insurance is purchased, costs can be significantly higher than checking a bag on a flight.

Additionally, a box must be acquired to ship the gear which may require buying two boxes if shipping both ways.

Furthermore, having to discard the cardboard box on arrival can be inconvenient and wasteful.

Another disadvantage of shipping gear ahead is that it may lead to being pulled aside for special airport screening due to flying with little luggage. This could potentially cause delays in reaching your destination or even missing your flight altogether.

Additionally, you’ll need to open the box, but your knife and multi-tool are likely packed inside! Opening the package can be quite a challenge.

Despite these drawbacks, shipping gear ahead can be a great way to make travel to and from a backpacking trip easier and more efficient. It eliminates the need to lug heavy and awkward luggage around and worry about checked baggage making flights or getting damaged beyond repair, and you can confirm when the box arrives for added peace of mind.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if shipping gear ahead of time is the right option for your trip. Consider all the advantages and disadvantages before making your final decision.

Hybrid Method: Carry on Some, Check Big Essentials, & Ship a Small Package

The hybrid approach of taking most items as carry-on and a checked bag, while shipping a small package for the items not allowed on board, is a great way to ensure that all your specific gear makes it to its destination.

By packing most of your items, you can avoid the hassle of shipping them. However, it is important to be aware of TSA regulations when packing food and other questionable items.

Items can often be purchased once you reach your intended destination, but if you have specific gear needs, shipping the rest can alleviate any concerns you may have. Especially if you’re going to a very remote destination, you can ensure that you have everything you’ll need.

Pack Lighter: Rent Gear at your Destination

Packing lighter and renting gear at your destination can be a great way to save space and money on trips with multiple activities.

Renting also allows you to try different brands and types of backpacking gear, but the selection is typically limited, so you may not be able to find the exact brand or item you want.

Consider alternatives to camping such as public-use cabins and yurts, or permanent cabin wall tents. Amenities can vary by location, but you may be able to avoid bringing a tent or other gear. Always bring your own bedding and food regardless of the type of accommodation!

You’ll want to be sure to do extensive research if choosing this method. If there is an REI near your destination, you can reserve gear online ahead of time to pick up when you arrive. You could also check in with local outfitters in your destination who may offer gear rental services.

Renting gear at your destination can help lighten your load, but it is important to be aware of the limitations and availability of gear.

Take an Organized Group Trip (Gear Included!)

Organized trips and tours can be a great way to explore new places without having to worry about the details.

Many of these trips include the gear you need, so you don’t have to worry about packing it all yourself.

Backcountry multiday trips usually include all the camping gear and supplies you need. It’s important to do some research before your trip and make sure you have everything you need. Be sure to look at the company’s list of included gear, and you can add in a few other personal gear choices if you wish. Just be conscious of your pack weight! Multiple small items can add up quickly.

In addition, bring extra items such as electrical adapters/converters, earplugs, quick-dry towels, disposable hygiene wipes, flip flops/shower shoes, and a change of clothes.

Consider renting or purchasing items like bug and bear spray, hand sanitizer, and trail-appropriate food at your destination; plan ahead for sunscreen if you’re picky about brands.

Some organized trips include things like food and a communal first aid kit. You may be expected to share in carrying some of the food or supplies. Just be aware of what is included in your trip both when booking and preparing for the trip.

Popular destinations, like the Smoky Mountains, Glacier, the Grand Canyon, and many others offer organized group backpacking excursions.
Check to see if your destination offers organized backpacking trips!

Consider Alternative Modes of Travel

Alternative modes of travel can be a great way to get around with your backpacking gear. Do you have a little extra time? You could consider reaching your destination in a different way.

Sometimes flights can be expensive and it might make more sense to look for alternative modes of travel. For example, if you’re traveling to a country within the same region, express train services can offer a cheaper and quicker option. Amtrak provides service to many national parks in the US.

You may even find that ferry boats or buses are better suited depending on your destination.

Regardless of which mode of transportation you decide to take, be sure to research your options thoroughly. Consider all the various price points, efficiency levels, available amenities, luggage restrictions, and so on. That way when you finally book your ticket, you’ll feel confident that it was the best option for your budget and journey expectations.

Another factor worth considering when making your decision is how much time it will actually save compared to flying with backpacking gear.

Sometimes, scenic rail journeys through variations in terrain can just add to the adventure, offering additional experiences and something that most plane rides simply cannot provide!

What Backpacking Gear is Allowed in Checked Luggage?

When it comes to backpacking gear, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a list of items that are allowed on flights. There is also a searchable list of TSA restrictions, which you can use to double-check specific items.

Most of this gear must be packed in checked luggage, but there are exceptions for certain items that can be carried on. Backpacks are allowed as checked luggage, so long as they don’t exceed the maximum linear dimensions (L + W + H) of your airline. Some airlines may require backpacks to be labeled as “fragile” luggage.

It is important to check with your airline before packing your backpacking gear in order to make sure you have all the necessary information about what is and isn’t allowed. It is also important to remember that some airlines may have different regulations than others when it comes to what types of camping gear can be brought on board or checked in.

By following these guidelines and checking with your airline beforehand, you can ensure a smooth and hassle-free flight.

Tents

Tents are a great way to enjoy the outdoors, but they can also be a hassle when it comes to air travel. Most airlines allow the tent body to be placed in carry-on luggage. The tent poles and stakes, however, must be placed in checked luggage.

This is important for safety reasons, as the stakes must be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors. It’s also important to check with your airline before you travel to make sure that your tent will fit in the overhead bin or underneath the seat. Additionally, the size and weight of the tent may be taken into consideration by the airline.

We’d recommend just packing your entire tent system in your checked bag. This way, everything stays together and you don’t have to bother lugging this around through the airport in a carry-on.

A tent isn’t very useful without its poles and stakes, anyway!

Stoves

Camp stoves come in quite handy for a hot meal after a long day of hiking or on a cool morning to prepare a hot cup of coffee. When bringing a stove on an airplane, it is important to know the regulations and restrictions.

Camp stoves are allowed in checked baggage. They must be completely empty and clean before being brought on board. It is generally better to keep the stove in checked baggage to avoid delays at security.

Filled fuel canisters, however, are not permitted in any type of luggage!

Fuel for Stoves

Filled fuel canisters are not permitted in any type of luggage on an airplane.

Fuel for stoves is an important consideration when traveling, especially if you plan to cook your own meals. Compressed gas canisters are a popular option and can be found at many destinations, but make sure they are compatible with your stove.

Alcohol is also a good option for traveling as it is easy to find. Multi-fuel stoves can use gasoline, but empty fuel canisters must be labeled and all parts disconnected in order to bring them in luggage.

If finding somewhere to purchase fuel canisters seems too difficult at your destination, consider possible alternatives. Using a stick stove may be an option on wooded trips where you can easily find dry kindling material to gather.

Planning cold meals or cold soaking can be other preparation options to avoid dealing with stove fuel canisters.

Hiking Poles

Hiking or trekking poles are essential pieces of equipment for many hikers and backpackers, as they provide balance and support on uneven terrain while helping to distribute the extra pack weight.

But what do you do when flying with hiking poles in your backpack as checked luggage? Fortunately, it’s still possible to fly with them without having to sacrifice your precious gear.

First off, make sure that all sharp edges are properly covered or taped up so they won’t accidentally injure anyone or damage any other luggage while being transported in the plane’s cargo hold. The same goes for anything else metal or pointy in your bag that could potentially cause problems.

Also, if you’re worried about them getting lost or broken in transit, consider wrapping the poles in a piece of clothing, such as a coat, that can act as both padding and camouflage.

Cathole Trowels

A cathole trowel is an essential tool for backpacking and practicing Leave No Trace principles. However, when it comes to flying with backpacking gear, most airlines don’t allow any sharp objects that could be used as a weapon in your carry-on. That’s why a cathole trowel should be kept in your checked luggage, and it should be padded to limit damage to other gear.

The best way to ensure that your cathole trowel makes the flight safely is by wrapping it securely in a towel or piece of clothing within your bag. This will protect both the trowel and the rest of your items from any accidental damage during transport.

Other Gear

When traveling with outdoor gear, it is important to consider the type of items you are bringing and how they should be packed. When planning a winter adventure, crampons with serious spikes must be packed in checked baggage and stored in a box or case to avoid any potential damage.

Hand warmers, on the other hand, are allowed in both carry-on and checked baggage.

It is always best to double-check what items can go into your carry-on versus your checked baggage before heading out on your trip!

It’s also important to keep an eye out for any new rules from particular airlines before you travel if you plan on bringing specific items along with you!

Gear That Should Go in your Carry-On

When it comes to packing for a trip, there are certain items that should always be kept in carry-on luggage. These include headlamps, GPS devices, personal location devices, cameras, and high-value items.

Keeping these items in carry-on ensures they will not be lost, stolen, or damaged during travel and can also be difficult to replace at a destination.

A single book of safety matches is allowed in a carry-on but strike-anywhere matches are prohibited.

Backpacking Gear to Rent or Purchase at your Destination

  • Lighter
  • Stove Fuel
  • Bear Spray

FAQs: Flying with Backpacking Gear

These are some common questions we have gotten. Do you have a question you don’t see the answer to here? Send us a message, and we’ll try to help you out!

Will Backpacking Water Filters Freeze in Checked Luggage?

Backpacking water filters are essential in the backcountry to ensure safe drinking water. However, when it comes to checking them in luggage, there used to be a risk of them freezing due to the cold temperatures in airplane cargo holds.

Fortunately, modern airplanes have temperature-controlled cargo holds, so this should not be an issue. It is still recommended to keep the water filter in carry-on luggage as it may be difficult to find a replacement at the destination if needed.

How Can I Fly with a Sleeping Bag?

Flying with a sleeping bag can be tricky, as most airlines have restrictions on the size and weight of items that can be brought in carry-on luggage. If your sleeping bag is too large or heavy to fit in your carry-on, it should be packed in a compression sack and checked in your luggage.

You’ll probably want to pack it in your checked bag, anyway, just so you don’t have to carry it all through the airport with you. Compression stuff sacks can be extremely helpful when packing this type of equipment!

What is the Biggest Backpack you can Carry On a Plane?

Carry-on size is determined by each individual airline. It is not a standard measure across the board!

You’ll need to check particular dimensions with your airline after booking travel. 

You don’t want to reach the gate and have to check your pack because it was deemed too large for an overhead bin.

Flying with backpacking gear to your next epic destination may seem daunting at first, but modern airline policies allow for it as long as you plan ahead and stick to the rules.

Knowing what to expect, how to pack your bag properly, and what size and weight restrictions are in place can help make your travels go a lot more smoothly. Protect your gear by packing appropriately and using another cover or bag too.

Put in a little extra effort now so you can enjoy stress-free air travel later!