Even though I love road trips, there are so many hiking and camping destinations that are just too far to drive. Personally I wouldn’t mind driving three days to see a spectacular destination, however I do not get that much time off of work. So in those events I have to fly. But flying with camping gear can get tricky.
Know what items are allowed on your flight
There are several camping gear items that you cannot fly with even if you check a bag. One item is your fuel canister. It’s an explosion hazard, and I don’t recommend risking blowing up the plane. Also I recommend avoiding TSA thinking you might have a bomb at all cost. It doesn’t sound fun it they do.
Bear spray is another item that is on the no fly list. Check out the list on TSA’s website here.
I know it’s more expensive, but I believe it is easier to check a bag than to try to take it all in a carry-on. There are just too many items that are questionable whether they are OK to take in a carry on when flying with camping gear.
Tent stakes are a definite “no-no” in carry-on luggage. In fact I barely made it through security with a wine bottle stopper. But those ultralite MSR tent stakes are just too nice to donate to TSA, so I advise checking a bag.
Know your weight limit
This is a mistake that could have cost me $150. Fortunately the woman working the counter was extremely nice and felt sorry for me. I knew I had a 50-pound weight limit for checked bags but simply forgot when I was packing.
I was so proud of myself for being able to leave behind the “not necessary items” and fit everything into a suitcase that I didn’t think about the weight.
So when I checked the bag, the woman at first didn’t notice the reading on the scales. It was when she attempted to pick up the bag that she said, “Wow, that’s heavy.” She then looked at the scales and said, “You’re seven pounds overweight. That’s a $150 fine.” Yikes, big mistake. However like I said she let it slide but gave me a warning to weigh my bags next time.
Packing a suitcase versus just your backpacking pack
If you have to rent a car and drive to your destination, you have the luxury of bringing more stuff. You can just leave it in the car. However if you are taking an Uber or taxi to the trailhead, watching your weight, or simply don’t want to bring too much stuff, you can pack your backpack and check it.
Again here you will want to check with your airline and see what the specific rules are.
But if you just take a backpack when fly, there are some things to consider. One is to make sure all of your straps are tucked away and that you have nothing attached to the outside of the pack.
Think about what luggage goes through from the time you drop it off until the time you pick it back up at the baggage claim. Straps can get caught and ripped in the conveyor belt.
I am actually a stickler for my stuff because it’s expensive and I don’t have a lot of money. You can encase it in a duffle bag that folds down extremely small and fits inside your pack when you are hiking. If backpacking it will add a little extra weight to your hike, but I’d rather have that extra weight than a ripped pack.
But when flying with camping gear for car camping, I pack it into a suitcase for the extra protection.
Pick up disposable items at your destination
In order to save on weight when flying with camping gear, I buy my food after I land. And I already have to stop to buy fuel and bear spray.
However this did not work in my favor once. I stopped for freeze-dried meals in Aberdeen, Wash., which is not a large town. My friend and I literally cleaned out Walmart of its supply of Mountain House. The problem is Walmart only had three flavors – chili mac, beef stew, and lasagna. By the end of the week I was so tired of those flavors, I didn’t care if I ever had them again.
I suggest finding a local outdoor store and stalking up there.
Freeze-dried meals are a good choice. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to try to figure out how to fly your Yeti cooler.
Flying with camping gear
Whether you are flying to backpack or flying to car camp, don’t let the distance stop you from traveling to that national park that is on your bucket list. You will have to do without certain camping luxuries, like your folding chair and cooler, but it is more than worth it. Also flying with camping gear will help you figure out what is important and what you can live without.
For a list of things I take backpacking check out my “What’s in my pack” post.
For the road trips I took after flying with camping gear, I was amazed at how little I packed. I was amazed at how much I left behind.