Flying with camping gear can be a confusing endeavour - not to mention very stressful if you get something wrong at the airport.
There’s a lack of up-to-date information on just what backpacking gear you can and cannot fly take on a plane, either as checked baggage or carry-on luggage. The TSA’s own blog post on this topic is 4 years old and fails to mention the rules for some of the most common camping gear.
So after growing frustrated with what should have been a straightforward Google search, we decided to research and create the most comprehensive guide on the Internet for backpackers and hikers preparing to take a flight with camping gear. Whether you're off for a spot of beach camping in southern California, or jetting off to Europe for the summer - this guide's got you covered.
Let’s get to it.
Related Post: Best Beach Camping in Southern California
Let’s start by getting some of the most common concerns out of the way.
Can you take camping fuel on a plane?
No. You can’t even bring camping fuel in a checked bag. You’ll have to plan a resupply when you land or mail it ahead of time.
Can I fly with a Jetboil?
Yes! But give it a careful cleaning before your trip. If a TSA agent finds even a drop of fuel residue on your stove, they’ll confiscate it. If you want to be safe, mail it ahead of time.
Can you take a gas canister on a plane?
Definitely not. As we mentioned, the TSA is very strict about fuel. You can mail your gas canisters ahead of time, but even this is subject to strict regulations. To make things easier, we recommend you buy your canisters at your destination.
Can you bring a sleeping bag on a plane?
Yes! But sleeping bags can be bulky. So make sure it easily fits in your carry-on (more on using your backpack as a carry-on below).
Are tent stakes allowed on a plane?
Yes, but TSA might require you to put them in a checked bag. You could poke an eye out, after all.
Are hiking poles/sticks allowed on a plane?
Yes, but only in a checked bag. Again, think of the eyes.
Can you fly with a tent? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Some airlines are cool with it, some will make you put them in a checked bag, and a few don’t allow them at all. The best thing to do is call your airline ahead of time.
But even if your airline is okay with you bringing a tent, TSA might decide to put their foot down. There’s no official TSA policy on tents but they’ve been known to say that the stakes and poles are too “weapon-like.”
You’ll have more luck with a smaller, less conspicuous tent, but always be prepared for the worst.
The first thing you need to consider when preparing your backpack for a flight is whether you’ll carry it on or check it in. It’ll be easier to keep your gear safe if you carry it on, but that’s not always easy.
To carry your backpack on, it’ll need to satisfy very specific requirements. And even if you think it satisfies those requirements, your airline or a TSA agent can force you to check it on a whim.
If you want to save yourself the suspense, check the bag from the start. If you want to be brave, here’s what you need to do.
Make sure your pack isn’t too big:
This is, unfortunately, where many of you will lose the game. Most airlines require that carry-on bags are less than 22 inches long, less than 14 inches wide, and less than 9 inches deep. In backpacker speak, that means your bag can’t be much bigger than 45L.
This requirement can vary from airline to airline (here's a handy breakdown). And remember, airlines care more about dimensions and bulkiness than total volume.
You might be able to carry on your empty 55L pack but not your packed-to-the-brim 40L pack. You never know. To be safe, try to pack as little volume as possible, and if you haven’t chosen a bag yet, choose one that’s known to be carry-on friendly.
Think of this as an opportunity to really reduce your trail load, and if you need a little extra shrinkage, consider buying a compression sack.
Don’t bring anything you can’t check on:
Pretty obvious, right? Review which items aren’t permitted on the plane, and either don’t bring them or mail them ahead of time. Oftentimes, you can rent decent gear at your destination, so leaving your best backpacking tent and trekking poles at home may not be as crazy as it sounds. Just remember to guarantee you have a quality rental beforehand.
There’s no shame in taking the easy way out and checking your bag. Here’s what you need to do to prepare a checked backpack.
Secure your valuables:
Backpacks are made for easy access. They’re full of convenient pockets and zippers so you can ensure your gear is never more than a reach away. Normally, this is one of their greatest features. But on a plane, it’s one of their most dangerous.
We’re not saying a baggage handler will steal your stuff, but we’re also not saying it’s impossible. And, beyond that, your valuables could easily fall out of an unsecured pocket.
The best thing to do is to stuff as much as possible into the main pocket and tuck in all the zippers so they aren’t pulled open.
Secure your straps:
Your backpack’s straps, like its pockets and zippers, provide comfort on the trail and potential disaster on the tarmac. Before you fly, make sure you:
1. Start by tying your shoulder straps together so baggage handlers have one easy handle to grab on to.
2. Then, buckle your waist straps backwards around your bag so they don’t get torn off.
3. Finally, tighten all your adjustment straps and make sure none are hanging off your pack.
These adjustments will go a long way toward ensuring your backpack arrives safely at your destination.
If you really want to be safe, you can put your entire backpack into a bigger duffel bag or plastic bag.
Don’t take anything that’s not allowed:
Again, this is obvious, but it’s extremely important to remember. So check your list and check it twice. A TSA agent will think nothing of seizing your expensive, non-permitted gear. We’ll give you more information about what items are allowed in checked bags below.
1. You can’t bring more than four ounces of any liquid onto a plane.
This is standard TSA protocol, but many people don’t think about it when they pack their bug spray or sunscreen. It’s better to buy things like that at your destination anyway.
2. Buy what you can at your destination.
This will not only keep you out of trouble with the TSA, it will also reduce the size of your backpack, making it easier to carry it on.
3. Plan way ahead of time.
You should always plan ahead for a backpacking trip, and that goes double if it involves a flight. You’ll probably have to ship some gear and buy or rent other gear at your destination. You need to know about these factors as early as possible so you can make sure everything works out smoothly.
4. Give yourself plenty of time in your destination city.
You know how this will go. You’ll prepare for months, organize everything into detailed checklists, and still, something will go wrong. You’ll forget your sleeping bag; you’ll send your mail to the wrong address; who knows what it will be. But when it happens, you want to have time to fix it. So make sure you have a couple of days between your flight landing and your hike starting.
5. Double check TSA regulations.
We’ve already discussed most of the major items, but be sure to read this for information about more obscure items. For example, bear spray and fire starting gel can’t even be brought in a checked bag.
6. When in doubt, call your airline.
Many rules vary from airline to airline. If you’re not sure about an item, give them a call.
So, the big day has finally arrived. Here are some things to check before you leave your house:
Now that everything is in order, there’s only one thing left to do: get on that plane and enjoy your camping trip! Just remember to carefully check your gear before you fly to avoid any unwanted headaches. What camping gear do you fly with? Leave us a quick comment with any tips you have. =ZIP=