How to Pack Camping + Hiking Gear for Your Next Flight

Camping as a family is a brilliant way to keep accommodation costs low when we take vacations together, all while build beautiful memories along the way. If you’re an avid outdoor family who enjoys traveling to destinations with beautiful locales and trails to explore, here’s a few ideas and tips to prepare you for flying with your camping and hiking gear. I also wrote a blog post containing a full list of TSA-compliant camping and hiking gear, available here

Here’s what works for my son and I when we fly with our camping and hiking gear. As always, pack in a way that works best for you and your family, while sticking to the guidelines and rules. The magical formula is unique for every family: do what makes the most sense and works the best for you, your family, and your budget.

Personal Item: included at no charge for all U.S. airlines

I pack a backpack with our day-of travel necessities to keep us organized: enough food for the day, one backup outfit for each of us, charging cords, iPad, Nintendo Switch, and my essential camera gear.

Carry-On: included at no charge on most major airlines. Double check “Basic Economy” fare restrictions and low-fare airline carriers’s carry-on rules before departure so you aren’t surprised by extra or hidden fees.

  • solar lanters (we use LuminAID brand; these are excellent for night flights as they have three brightness options and are way less intrusive than the overhead light; I travel with the PackLite Titan 2-in-1 phone charger and my son travels with the Spectra.)
  • extra batteries for gear
  • JetBoil, without fuel. I don’t want this getting damaged in my checked bag. If overhead bin space is full at the time of boarding, I will put it in my personal item.
  • lighter or one book of matches. These items must never be in the cargo hold, so if bin space is full when you board, make sure to remove these and place them in your personal item.
  • medical kit (ensure your liquids don’t exceed 3.4 ounces; otherwise, pack this in your checked bag)
  • backup clothing, so I’m prepared if our checked bag is delayed in transit

Checked Baggage: extra fee on most U.S. airlines (unless you have “elite” status with your airline, a loyalty credit card with your preferred airline, or you’re traveling on Southwest Airlines)

I usually have to check three items for family camping trips: one large duffel of camping gear, my son’s carseat in a padded backpack carrier, and his framed hiking carrier. Inside our large duffel, an expandable 60-80L High Sierra roller, are:

  • full-size bug spray (in its own ziplock bag, double bagged in case of leaking)
  • full-size sunscreen (in its own ziplock bag, double bagged in case of leaking)
  • headlamps
  • knife/miscellaneous camp tools
  • tent and poles
  • hiking/trekking poles
  • clothing (use stuff sacks, we love Sea to Summit brand)
  • sleeping bags (again, use stuff sacks to save space)
  • sleeping mats 
  • paracord and tarp
  • empty water bladders
  • non-perishable food

The carseat is waived as an exemption item and checks for free on all U.S. airlines; the kid’s hiking carrier (we use the Osprey Poco AG Plus) can be hit-or-miss, but so far we’ve had it waived as an exemption item every time we’ve flown, since it’s a mobility device for children. If your hiking carrier or duffle have lots of loose straps, buckles, or other parts that can easily be snagged on airline ground equipment or bag loaders, pack these items inside a large trash bag for protection.

Items we buy or rent at our final destination; make sure to research in advance where you can buy or rent these items so you aren’t wasting precious vacation time!

  • bear spray (especially for destinations within Alaska and Montana!)
  • campstove fuel
  • firewood
  • water

Space-saving tips

  • Wear your heavy hiking boots for your travel day to keep your bags lighter and free up space
  • Do a little research before your trip and look into renting gear when you land; this typically requires an advanced reservation, but it’s useful in saving on bag fees, potential damage to your expensive gear, and the potential for your essential items to get lost or delayed in transit.
  • Layer up! Airports and airplanes tend to run cold, so use that to your advantage and layer your travel-day outfit with hiking clothing that is easy to take off/put on.
  • Use stuff sacks! I cannot stress this one enough. Paying $25 – $55 per sack seems a little wild, but they are so useful for saving space. I sometimes even use stuff sacks for non-camping trips because you can fit so much inside!
  • A cheaper alternative to stuff sacks is buying vacuum-sealing travel bags with an included travel hand pump. I know a few people who travel with varying brands of these, but I tend to prefer using stuff sacks I already own.
  • In lieu of camping, checkout for booking national forest cabins and yurts that have simple amenities included.

Have you ever flown with camping and/or hiking gear? How was your experience? If you have additional questions or need clarification on anything I’ve posted here, be sure to leave a comment below or reach out to me!

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