If you’re flying with your camping gear for the first time, I’m sure you’re wondering what items are allowed on a flight.
The good news is I’ve been a frequent flight traveler, so I’m quite knowledgeable and will save you from getting into trouble.
Generally, you can fly with most camping gear. The trick is having some of your goods in checked bags. Any gear that is considered a weapon or can double as a weapon must be checked.
But that’s not all!
In the guide below, I’ll explain the details of flying with camping gear on your next camping trip.
Before going into details of how to pack and save on your camping gear space, it makes sense that we understand what we can bring on board.
All of that falls under TSA (transportation security administration).
TSA determines what can be brought on a flight, so you should always double-check their website.
Understand that the rules will change, so you must check before you fly.
The rule of thumb is TSA won’t allow you to fly with flammable substances. Substances such as propane canisters, camp stove fuel, or aerosol are prohibited.
Other items that are on TSA radar are those that can double up as weapons.
Items such as knives, bear spray/ bangers, bug spray, spear guns, pepper spray, snow cleats, hatches, and axes aren’t prohibited but should be stashed inside the checked bags.
Or rather, these items cannot be taken on an airplane as carry-on bags.
Most liquids, including water, baby formula, sunscreen, and repellents, are usually allowed, but they should be in containers no more than 3.4oz/100 ml.
So, before packing for your next camping flight, you must be sure of what items to carry, specifically what is packed in the carry-on bag and on the checked luggage.
Even then, it’s important to remember that the TSA officials have the discretion to deny an item they deem a safety threat.
For example, I’ve been asked severally to open my camping bag for inspection simply on suspicion grounds.
Secondly, the enforcement of the TSA varies wildly, with some agents having no clue of the rules. So, one item might get permitted and denied the next.
So, if you’re unsure whether an item will pass TSA screening, it makes sense not to pack it. In short, don’t pack camping gear items you’re not willing to lose!
The risk of confiscation is why I always go with budget items when flying since it’s easier to replace the expensive items.
With that out, let’s look at the permissibility of the common camping gear items.
Can I Fly with a Camping Stove?
Yes, you can fly with your camping stoves, as a carry-on bag or in checked luggage, but only if you take time to clean and empty them, so no vapor or stove fuel residues remain.
The trick is to clean your stove thoroughly and leave it to air.
I usually dismantle my entire stove, give it a solid scrubbing with soapy hot water, and leave it for a couple of days outside before flying with it.
The hardest part to clean is the stove fuel bottle, but flushing it with hot water and shampoo does the trick.
I’ve flown with my MSR Dragonfly several times in checked bags and had no problem.
However, I ensured I washed out the stove fuel bottle and let the body air overnight.
But still, it’s important to check with the airline and their standards. Some airlines are stricter than the TSA.
For example, I’ve had to ditch my used Whisperlite when flying with some Hawaiian airlines prohibiting any used stove.
My best bet would be flying with a new and budget-friendly backpacking stove.
Can I Fly with Stove Fuel?
No, fuel is prohibited on flights, whether as carry-on luggage or in a checked bag. The same rule applies to other flammable substances such as propane and cooking spray.
The only option is to buy stove fuel at your destination.
Can I Fly with a Lighter?
I fly a lot for work and can say TSA will allow you to take a lighter on a plane. I usually bring my BIC lighter and have done it numerous times without being questioned.
The disposable and zippo are allowed as both carry-on bag and checked bag, provided you empty the fuel.
Lithium-powered lighters are similarly accepted, but only as a carry-on.
Something to note is torch lighters, and gas torches aren’t permitted.
Can I Fly with a Camping/Backpacking Tent?
While TSA allows camping tents, their permissibility on the plane depends on the airline’s regulations.
But generally, you should be fine with most airlines. I’ve taken my tent in a duffel, strapped it to my hiking pack, and never had an issue.
The only thing I’d recommend paying attention to when bringing the camping tent stakes is to separate them so you can ditch them if the airline insists.
But on normal occasions, the tent stakes and poles are considered “weapons,” so they must go in checked luggage.
Can I fly with cookware?
You can fly with most of your cookware as carry-on or checked baggage.
However, the cast iron cooking pot and cutting boards are an exception and should only be carried as checked luggage.
Other cookware items double up as weapons, such as knives and forks, are not allowed as carry-on but in checked luggage.
In short, you can fly with all cookware as carry-on luggage.
Remember, all your cookware must be wrapped, so it doesn’t reveal sharp edges.
Can I Fly with a Cooler?
Yes, you can bring a cooler with you on your flight, either as a carry-on or checked bag.
Ensure the cooler is properly closed during handling and should be empty.
However, you can still carry on ice gel packs.
I’ve done it several times, but it was wrapped in plastic. If not, ensure it’s secured with duct tape or ropes.
But in my opinion, I’ve found it more convenient to rent a cooler than fly one. It takes a lot of space when flying, and the price is much higher than renting one.
Can I fly with a Knife?
Yes, you can fly with a hunting knife, but it must be in your checked luggage. The pocket knives aren’t an exception.
Can I Fly with Safety Matches?
Lighters and matches are allowed on the flight, but you can only carry one book of safety matches as a carry-on bag.
Can I Fly with Trekking Poles & tent Stakes?
Yes, you can take your trek poles on a flight, but only as checked baggage.
I know some folks who have had luck with the collapsible hiking poles but taking them as carry-on luggage carries some risk and isn’t allowed.
I understand because it costs more to check them at the gate and won’t necessarily guarantee their safety.
I’ve no problem checking the trek poles at the gate because I usually have other camping gear anyway.
The trick to ensuring their safety is sliding them into a PVC pipe and taping each end.
Airline Regulations for Flying with Camping Gear
Now that I’ve briefed you on what the TSA wants let’s move t the next step and look at what your airline want.
Most airline baggage details usually revolve around your luggage’s size and weight restrictions.
Each airline carrier has specific policies regarding the size and weight of luggage. The policy also accounts for the tiny bits sticking out, such as the handles, wheels, and pockets.
Generally, the bigger and bulkier your luggage is, the higher the luggage fees.
Hand luggage dimensions also vary between different carriers. Now, while most have a near-similar sizing, a difference in inches, which may not seem major at first glance, can result in the rejection of your luggage.
Generally, your carry-on hand luggage should be compact enough to fit in the overhead racks or the seat in front of your passenger seat.
If your luggage can’t pass security as carry-ons, you could invest in a hold luggage bag. The checked bag should similarly be within the airline’s dimensions.
Understand that the number of bags or the luggage you can carry will also depend on many other factors, including your business class and time f travel (off-season/on-season).
My rule of thumb when I pack camping gear for a flight is to reach out to the airline and inquire about their luggage guidelines.
Usually, the information is on their company’s website.
I particularly pay attention to the weight limitations because it carries a high penalty for most airlines. I’ve a regular weighing scale at home, which I use to weigh my bag.
Nothing is more inconveniencing than having to unpack, repack and forfeit some items because they’re overweight.
Packing Camping Gear for a Flight
There’re three main elements to consider when packing your camping gear for flight, and they include:
- Pack light
- Saving space
- Gear protection
I usually embrace minimalism and stick to the bare minimum when packing my camping gear for flight.
The principles of minimalism will come in handy at the airport and when traveling to your destination, especially if you plan to backpack.
Consider only packing the essentials lightweight gear; depending on your camping situation, they may include tents, sleeping bags, personal items, first aid kit, cookware, camp stove, and flashlight.
Other items such as food, spray, or matches can be rented or bought at your camping destination.
- Consider the Campsite Amenities
While still on packing light, it’s important to consider the amenities your campground provides.
For example, if they’ve a shower or picnic table, you don’t have to bring yours.
Also, you shouldn’t stock on food or other items if there’re nearby stores where you can access anything at any time.
- Sharing is Caring
If you’re in a group, you might consider sharing to ease the burden of carrying loads of camping gear.
If, for example, you’re with your family, you can consider sharing the toiletries, cookware, camping stove, and so on.
- Downsize your Gear
It feels great to stand out with a big and fancy tent or gear.
But it comes at the expense of inconvenience when packing.
So, stop the grandiose, and choose lightweight versions of your camping gear. The size-down camping gear will save you a lot of weight, space, and time when packing and flying.
Safety of your Camping Gear
Safety of your camping gear is necessary, especially when flying.
Now, there’re a couple of tricks that I use to keep my camping gear safe.
- Strapping my Backpack
I always ensure there’re no hanging shoulder straps on my backpack if I’ve to check it. The hanging straps can easily get caught and ripped on the luggage carousel.
I’ve heard of campers hiking bags getting stuck in the conveyor belt for loading the plane and getting destroyed.
A handy solution is tightening the straps or stashing the backpack in a large duffel bag or heavy-duty trash bag.
Before checking my backpack, I usually tighten all the straps and wrap them around themselves, so they don’t get loose.
Using zip ties is also helpful. But always ensure the zippers are shut to prevent theft. It also keeps the bags from opening if your bag is subjected to trauma, such as being thrown down a conveyor belt.
- Wrap your Backpack
If you’ve been to Miami airport, I’m sure you’ve seen many travelers wrapping their bags.
Wrapping adds a layer of protection and will let you know whether anyone has gained forceful entry without your knowledge.
It won’t stop anyone from accessing your bag’s contents, but it might deter the prying hands.
Plus, the wrap applies some sort of “anti-squish” thing of the right wrapping, which kinda makes your luggage harder, sturdier, and less likely to crumble.
- Wrap Sharp Objects
When packing sharp objects such as trekking poles and tent poles, it’s necessary to wrap them.
It prevents the poles from damaging other stuff or the suitcase itself. More importantly, it’ll allow passing the security checkpoint.
For extra safety of the poles, I usually cut two pop bottles in half and attach them to the ends of the tent poles. Next, I secure the poles with a tape and plastic bag.
- Pack Gear in a Hard-sided Suitcase
If you’re concerned with the physical safety of your backpacking, get a hard-sided suitcase. It’s the best protection against the rough handling of your hiking luggage during transport.
Usually, the hard shell bags are usually ideal for those concerned more about durability and ensuring things don’t break inside.
I prefer the hard suitcases for checking luggage because we tend to bring alcohol back from our trips, so we need something to ensure their safety.
Plus, when we’re not using them for checking in luggage, the hard suitcases can double up as a makeshift desk, a sit-on chair, or even a footrest.
It also makes me more organized and prevents me from overpacking or overshopping when traveling.
If you choose to fly with your camping gear, you’ll have limited space compared to when you’re RVing or driving your rental car.
So, here’re some of the space-saving tips to practice when flying:
- Wear the bulkier garments, and pack the lighter options. Of course, only do this if the weather permits.
- Make use of compression sacks. I use them for my sleeping bag, tent, and down layers, making packing more manageable. I’d suggest you get those with air vents to reduce the volume of the contents and make your packing and unpacking life much easier.
- Use some microfiber camping towels. They’re lighter, softer, pack down to nothing, and are quick to dry than the regular towels. The regular towels are bulkier and won’t dry quickly, creating room for bacterial growth.
- Carry empty and collapsible water bottles. They’ll save you on some space, and you can always fill them up past the security checkpoint.
Other Packing Tips
- Always place the bigger items at the bottom of the suitcase and the smaller items at the top or to fill the gaps.
- Use storage containers to store the smaller items that are likely to get lost when packing with the other items.
- Always have a map or download your GPS travel routes before arriving at your destination so you won’t worry about getting lost.
- When traveling with someone else, always pack half of each other’s stuff so that you won’t miss the fun in case one suitcase goes missing.
Alternative of Flying with Outdoor Gear
The two popular alternatives to flying with camping gear are renting and shipping.
Renting Camping Gear
I think renting makes sense for the bigger and bulkier items that would save on space.
Bulky items such as sleeping bags, bulky clothes, and camping chairs save you on space and checked luggage fees.
However, you must calculate the rental chargers against the cost of buying or transporting one.
REI usually rents gear, but you need to return where you picked it up.
Another awesome alternative is the Outdoor Geek.
We usually rent camping gear, including sleeping pads and crampons from snow hiking from Outdoor Geeks.
It’s a bit pricey, but they mail everything to you and mail it back once you get home. Super easy and convenient.
- Zero risk of your camping gear getting lost, delayed, or confiscated at the airport.
- You get more “luxuries” compared to what you would have packed when flying
- It’s all about convenience. You don’t have to worry about lugging around heavy items.
- Saves you money, especially if you don’t own some of the high-ticket items
- Expensive than checking in with your hammock camping gear.
- Limited choice/selection. Or rather, you won’t get items with the same level of personalization your camping gear provide.
Shipping Camping Gear
The second alternative is shipping camping gear.
It’s a great way to get your backpacking gear to your destination, free from the hassles and inconvenience of handling them.
Shipping is a bit pricey, but the shipping charges will ultimately depend on the gear you pack, season, courier, distance, and how fast you want the gear to arrive.
The final fee may be less than the actual flight or even more than $100.
- Fewer restrictions
- You won’t have to deal with TSA
- Peace of mind
- Can be expensive
- Needs some organization, including hiring someone to pick your all the camping gear
- Luggage takes a few days to arrive
That’s all you need to know about what backpacking gear you can fly with.
To recap, you need to get familiar with the TSA regulations and understand what you’re allowed to bring.
Next, check with your airline to understand their weight and sizing guidelines.
And finally, consider what is important to you in your backpacking trip. I’d suggest that you remain minimalistic and carry light camping equipment.
If that’s not possible, consider shipping or renting out your camping gear essentials to ease your camping trip.