How to Fly with Camping Gear Like A Pro

camping gear and an airplane in a field

Sometimes good hiking locations are super far away, and it would cost more to drive than to fly. However, flying means consolidating your gear and paying for extra luggage by the weight of it.

And maybe you’ve never flown with your gear before and want to make sure that it goes smoothly. Here are some tips on how to fly with camping gear like a pro!

a passenger at an airport

Flying with camping gear can be challenging if you don’t know how to do it

Tip 1: Pack Light

You can get a big fee because checked luggage has size and weight restrictions. One thing you can do to make sure that this doesn’t happen is to buy a luggage scale. They’re about $10 on Amazon, so it won’t break the bank. Another thing you should do is check your airlines’ maximum size for luggage on their website. 

When packing, think about the real essentials, like the camping gear you can’t do without. Do you need your big tent, or could you use your smaller tent? Do you need to pack lots of food, or can you find a grocery store once you land? Do you need several jackets, or can you use the same one the whole trip? Another way to not pack as many clothes in your luggage is to wear layers on the flight or use the pockets of cargo pants to store smaller clothing items. 

Try to get some tent stakes that are very collapsible, and trekking poles that are collapsible as well. REI has lots of different options for both of these. If at all possible, pack a sleeping pad and a lightweight blanket instead of a heavy sleeping bag. Try using a duffel bag instead of a thick suitcase. 

Tip 2: Protect Your Gear

When some people check their backpacking gear, they try their hardest to tuck the straps and hip belt in. However, the straps can get hung and broken in the luggage carousel. To avoid this, here are some tips to protect your gear:

  • Buckle the hip belt backward around the pack itself
  • Tighten the straps down as small as they can go and tie/hook them together so the baggage handler grabs all the straps instead of just one
  • You can tape the straps down

When considering your options of protecting your gear, think about your means of transportation at your destination. If you’re getting a rental car, these problems probably won’t apply to you. If you’re taking a taxi, bus, Uber, etc. to your camping destination or trailhead, you’ll need to stash these items or carry them with you. 

Use a large duffel bag. Many large duffels have enough room for two campers’ items, so it has plenty of room for one camper. Find one that is lightweight, meets most airlines’ maximum allowed size, and folds up easily for storage. Also, get an inexpensive laundry bag. They’re ultralight and fold up easily when you’re not using them. 

Another thing you should consider getting is a hard-sided suitcase. The best places to get one of these cheap is at a thrift store or yard sale. You would definitely need a rental car or a place to store this during a trip, like a motel or a hostel you’ll be sleeping at. Also, this might sound a little crazy, but you can use Saran wrap to secure your pack. 

a suitcase at the airport

Some items can’t go on the plane with your carry-on, so make sure you check the correct items.

Tip 3: Camping Gear That You Can’t Fly With

First things first, check your airlines’ regulations. Also, check the TSA website for their regulations. Here are some common things hikers and campers take with them that are restricted on air travel, even in your checked bags. Bear spray and bangers are restricted.

You’ll probably purchase some when you arrive at your camping destination, but you can’t fly back home with it. It’s very expensive, so you shouldn’t just throw it away. Leave it at the ranger station, give it to a hiker who doesn’t have any, or post it on a Facebook group for someone to come pick up.

You also can’t fly with stove fuel of any kind, and both of these items are extremely flammable and combustible, which is why they’re prohibited on planes. Even if the TSA website and airline website say that it’s okay, it’s up to the TSA officer at the airport to make the decision. 

Tip 4: Camping Gear That You Can Fly With

It’s very easy to fly with lots of camping and backpacking gear; however, most of it has to be in your checked luggage. Anything that can be considered a weapon has to be checked, like pocket knives. Tent poles will also need to be checked, along with your hiking poles. Flashlights are allowed in carry-on bags and checked baggage. 

If you’re worried about your expensive items getting lost in checked bags, definitely put them in your carry-ons. You can pack a camping stove in your carry-on bag. Although, make sure that there are no fuel vapors or residue left on the stove. You can also take safety matches. You have to bring them in your carry-on, and each person is limited to one book of matches. 

Where Can You Find The Best Information About What You Can And Can’t Fly With?

While reading several articles like this one will give you a general idea of what you can and can’t bring, you should get the TSA website to get the best information possible. The TSA website has a What Can I Bring? page that you can access here: Transportation Security Administration What Can I Bring Page

Some other common things that you might want to take camping can be found on this website. Aerosol insecticides are allowed in checked bags as long as they aren’t marked as a hazardous material. They aren’t allowed in carry-on luggage. Air mattresses with built-in pumps are allowed in checked bags and carry-on bags as long as the carry-on doesn’t exceed the size and weight restrictions from your airline. 

Sometimes axes and hatches are valuable when hiking, and they are allowed in checked baggage. Bicycles are a question mark, so check with your airline. Binoculars are allowed, as well as water bottles less than 3.4 ounces. Canned foods are allowed in checked bags, but they have special restrictions in carry-on bags. Kayak and canoe paddles are allowed to be checked. 

Crampons are allowed in checked baggage, but TSA officers are allowed to deny them in carry-ons if they feel they would be a security threat. Disposable lighters are allowed in carry-on bags, but they must be empty to be in checked bags. Dry batteries are allowed in both options. 

Fire extinguishers, firearms, and fireworks are prohibited on airplanes. Fishing poles are allowed in checked luggage and as a carry-on. Any kind of fuel is prohibited. Hand warmers are allowed in carry-on bags and checked bags. Ice axes are allowed in checked bags, but they must be sheathed properly to prevent injury to the baggage handlers and inspectors. 

Night vision goggles are allowed in checked baggage and carry-on bags. Pepper spray can be put in checked bags but no in carry-on bags. Radios are allowed in both as well. Recreational oxygen is not allowed at all if you don’t have medical reasons for having it. Ropes are allowed in both. 

Snow spikes are allowed in checked baggage. Strike-anywhere matches aren’t allowed at all, and sunscreen is allowed in check luggage. Torch lighters are strictly prohibited because the flame they produce is around 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much hotter than common lighters.  

Tip 5: Shipping Your Camping Gear To Your Destination

While this takes a little more research and planning, some people do opt to mail their camping gear instead of flying with it. The first thing you need to find out if planning to do this is to find out if there’s anywhere you can actually ship your stuff to. If you know someone in the area, definitely check with them first because that’s the easiest way to get your gear. 

If you don’t know anyone in the area you’re flying to, check the campground you’ll be staying at. National parks and state parks probably don’t do this, but individually owned campgrounds might. If you’re staying at a motel before your backpacking trip, see if they will receive and hold your stuff until you get there. 

a passenger standing outside an airplane

Pack some of the essential gear in your carry-on if you can because you don’t want certain things that you need to get lost with your checked bags.

Tip 6: Rent Your Gear

If you’re going camping with your family and want a big tent, it’s probably smart to rent a family-sized tent when you reach your camping destination. Or maybe you just don’t want to buy gear for a one-time camping vacation. You can always look for an outfitter to rent from, like REI. There are also several online gear rental companies that will ship the gear to your location. 

Camping Gear Essentials

Despite wherever you go camping, there are some essentials everyone needs when they go camping. For example, you’ll definitely need a tent of some sort. You can’t risk forgetting the most important things you’ll need because you never thought of them as essentials. 

A sleeping bag is one of the most important things you’ll need while camping. Whether you prefer a bivy sack, several blankets, or a regular sleeping bag, you’ll need something to keep you warm during the cold nights. Another thing you’ll need to ensure that you stay warm is matches or lighters. Fire is one of the easiest ways to stay warm before you go to sleep. 

Don’t forget a tent of any kind and stakes. Whether you have a conventional tent or a tarp tent, you’ll need either to protect you from the weather. Also, you can’t forget a flashlight or lantern. When remembering a flashlight, also remember some backup batteries in case you need them. 

No matter where you go camping, you’ll probably need sunscreen. Even if you don’t burn easily, you might not have spent so much time in the sun, so it’s smart to bring sunscreen just in case. A pocket knife is always smart to have in case you need it. 

You need some good pairs of socks and a great pair of boots. Cargo pants or shorts are always a good idea, and you should also get some pants or shorts that are water-resistant. Same thing for t-shirts. Water-resistant everything is never a bad idea. 

If you’re going somewhere cold, fleece everything is the best. An insulated jacket is great too. Wool socks are a good idea. Gloves and a warm hat will be your best friend if you’re camping somewhere cold. You’ll also need hand warmers and foot warmers. 

When thinking about hygiene and health, you’ll definitely need a first-aid kit. A quick-dry towel is a good thing to invest in. A toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, and some hand sanitizer are very important. Also, remember to take prescription medications and menstrual products if you need them. 

Some bug spray will also prove itself to be useful when camping. A hairbrush, sunglasses, and a hat are never a bad idea either. You’ll also need your drivers’ license or ID, some cash and a credit card, and your cell phone. If you don’t want to take your cell phone but you’re going camping with a group, maybe invest in some walkie-talkies in case anyone gets separated from the group. 

an airport information display

Wherever you decide to go camping, there are lots of items that are essential to add to your camping gear.

Final Verdict: 

You should be sure to pack ultralight, wrap your bag, and rent the gear that won’t fly well. While doing all of these things separately would work, doing them all together will give you the best outcome and the easiest flying experience. You don’t want to have a hard time on vacation, so making it as easy as possible will never hurt. 

Remember that it’s okay if you see other hikers breezing right through all the TSA checkpoints and you’re not getting through that easily. Those hikers are the exception. It’s not easy to board planes when you have lots of camping gear, so don’t beat yourself up over other people having it easier. 

The main thing to remember when packing to fly to your campsite is to put the correct items in the correct places. If something needs to be placed in your checked baggage, have it in there before you get to the airport so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of switching it. 

If you remember all these tips, you’ll have no trouble flying to your camping location. Even if you don’t ever plan on flying anywhere to camp, it’s good to keep these tips in mind in case you do need to fly somewhere during an emergency. Just make sure that you keep everything in the correct baggage, and you’ll be good to go!

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    Riley Draper

    Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.