Are you ready to venture away from home to explore more camping destinations and trails but clueless on how to pack your camping gear for flying? Many people ask if they can fly with a tent, how to protect their backpack, or want to know the rules about flying with stove fuel and knives. Don’t worry – with a little planning and these tips you’ll soon be flying off into the wide blue yonder with your camping gear!
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Pack Light and Smart
Aside from knowing TSA rules and regulations (we’ll get to that) my first and most important tip is to pack as light as you can.
Checked luggage has a weight and size limit, and you can incur big fees if you exceed it. You can buy luggage scales to weigh your bag before you get to the airport if you are worried about exceeding the limit. Also check your airline’s maximum allowed sizes for your luggage.
Carefully consider exactly what you need for your camping vacation. Can you use a smaller tent and leave any gadgets at home? Do you need multiples of items if several people are going on the trip or can you share?
If you are purchasing gear for the first time, buy as light as you can afford. Heavy tents and sleeping bags often add the most weight.
Related Camping Post: The Best Tent Buying Guide
Most lightweight gear also packs down small, taking up less room. Running out of space? Use compression sacks.
Condense your wardrobe. Do you really need a different pair of pants for every day of your trip? Nope! You can also wear layers of your clothes on your flight or use those pockets on your cargo pants to stuff small items!
Related Post: What to Wear Hiking
How To Protect Your Backpack When Flying
Some people check their backpack and try to tuck the straps and hip belt in as best as they can. But you run the risks of those straps getting hung and broke on the luggage carousel and in transport. If you are going this route here are some tips:
- Tighten the straps as small as they will go and hook/tie them together so the baggage handler doesn’t grab just one strap.
- Buckle the hip belt backwards around the pack itself.
- You can tape the straps down.
There are a couple of other options to protect your backpack and camping gear. Consider your means of transportation when you arrive at your destination when choosing.
If you will be renting a car none of these options will be a problem. If you are taking a bus, taxi, Uber etc to a campground or trailhead, you will need somewhere to stash these items or carry it with you, which would not be practical for some of them.
If you do need somewhere to store one of these options during your trip, check ahead of time with the first motel, hostel, or campground you will be staying at when you arrive at your destination.
Use a large duffel. We have this affordable duffel bag, and it works great for stowing gear for up to 2 campers if you pack carefully and take some items in your carry on/personal bag. It is plenty big enough for one traveler. It meets most airlines’ maximum allowed size for checked luggage, is lightweight, and folds up for easy storage.
Use a laundry bag. Pick up an inexpensive laundry bag. They are lightweight and fold up easily when not in use.
Get a hard sided suitcase. You can sometimes find cheap suitcases at thrift stores and yard sales. This would be an item that would require a rental car or somewhere to store it during your trip.
Use a heavy duty trash bag. Large, heavy duty trash bags also work. Just tape the excess securely. Some airports/airlines have large bags that are used to hold car seats, strollers etc, that you can get but don’t count on it.
Wrap your pack in cling wrap. It sounds crazy, but you can use Saran wrap to secure your pack. You can probably find a box of cling wrap at a store before your return flight, depending on where you are traveling.
Some airports even have luggage wrapping services or kiosks, but I don’t think it is cheap. Expect to pay $9.00 to $15.00 a bag.
Pack your gear in a cardboard box. Just be sure it doesn’t exceed the allowable size and dimensions. Keep in mind you will need tape and the box or a new box for your return flight.
The Camping Gear You Can NOT Fly With
Please check the TSA site and your airline for up to date rules and regulations before your flight.
There are a few pieces of outdoor gear that you can not fly with – not even in your checked bags.
Stove Fuel: You can not pack stove fuel of any kind in checked or carry on luggage.
Bear Spray: You will have to purchase bear spray at your destination and leave it behind on your return flight. Consider giving it to another hiker/camper, leaving it at a ranger station, campground, or motel. Post on Facebook groups – you may find someone in the area that will come get the spray. That stuff is expensive, and it would be a waste to throw it away!
I’m sure you noticed these items are considered flammable/combustible, thus the reason they aren’t allowed on the plane.
The Camping Gear You Can Fly With
You can easily fly with most camping and backpacking gear. The only catch is that some of it must be in your checked luggage.
Anything that could be used as or considered a weapon will need to be checked.
I’m sure you are going to come across people that have managed to carry all their gear with them on the plane without paying for checked luggage. They are the exception.
If you are worried about your expensive items getting lost with the checked luggage, pack your favorite or most expensive items (down sleeping bag or jacket etc.) that will fit and are allowed in your carry on bag.
You can pack a tent for your flight. Because of the tent stakes, it (or at least the stakes) will need to be in your checked luggage. It would stink to have your tent stakes confiscated at the gate if you tried to carry them on the plane, especially if you had invested in more expensive, lightweight tent stakes.
You can pack a knife. It will need to be in your checked bag. I know this seems silly to all the guys that have carried a pocket knife for years, but it is just another fact of airline security.
Any sharp item should be properly sheathed or wrapped as not to injure baggage handlers.
You can pack a backpacking stove. Just be sure it is clean and has no fuel vapors or residue. They are allowed in your carry on bags.
You can take safety matches on your flight. You are limited to 1 book of safety matches and you must carry them on the plane – you can’t put them in your checked luggage.
Flashlights are allowed in your checked luggage and carry on bags.
Trekking Poles on Your Flight
Many people ask if they can take their trekking poles on their flight. You can pack them, but they must be in your checked luggage.
Some people brag about walking onto the plane with them, but I don’t recommend trying this. Most TSA agents will stop you and make you check them.
You may be able to put them in your carry on bag, but again, this is technically not allowed. It may cost more at the gate to check them, and it is harder to be sure they are packed securely.
Worried about your poles getting broke in your checked luggage? Slide them in a piece of PVC pipe that you tape at each end or use a document/poster tube for a lighter option. You can then pack this into your backpack, duffel etc.
Check out these other options….
Shipping Camping Gear to Your Destination
Some people opt to mail their camping gear rather than flying with it. This will take a little research and planning.
The first thing you need to find out is if there is actually someone you can ship your gear to. If you know someone in the area that would be willing to meet you, this will be easy.
If not, check with the campground you’ll be staying at. I doubt national and state parks will be able to do this, but you may have more luck with a individually owned campground.
Staying at a motel before you head out on your backpacking trip? They may be willing to receive and hold your gear.
Some nearby outdoor stores may be willing to receive and hold your package for you. You can pick up any food and stove fuel while you are there too. Just be sure they will be open on the day and time of your arrival!
Check the prices and shipping options with different carriers. You will also want to check for any restrictions on what you can mail like stove fuel etc.. Ship your gear with enough time to arrive before you do!
Renting Camping Gear
Do you need a large tent for your family and don’t want to worry about the weight on your flight? Or maybe you don’t want to buy camping gear for your adventure vacation. Renting camping gear is an option.
You can look for an outfitter to rent from that is located at your destination. REI gear rental is available at many local REI stores. Or try a gear rental company like Outdoors Geek that will ship the gear to your destination. You pick it up at a UPS store, motel, campground etc. much like shipping your own gear.
Final Thoughts on Flying with Camping and Backpacking Gear
It really isn’t that hard to get your camping gear ready for your flight. Yes, it is frustrating that you can’t pack everything in your carry on, and I know it would be nice to save those checked luggage fees and have your treasured gear with you. But your adventure destination will be worth the hassle and luggage fee!
Do you have any packing tips or flying experiences to share? Maybe you’re one of those brave, lucky, crazy people that have walked onto the plane with all their gear that isn’t allowed! Let us know in the comments below!
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