Flying with Camping Gear: What You Can Take on a Plane

Camping enthusiasts can provide a long list of reasons camping is a favorite pastime.  Some will claim time spent in nature, enjoying the sunshine, fresh air, and the beauty of their surroundings, as their favorite thing about camping, while others tout distraction-free time spent away from technology as the real draw for them.

Whatever the appeal of camping for each individual, and however diverse the group of people that call themselves campers, one universal commonality is the need for gear to make the camping experience as enjoyable as possible.

You can camp simply with very little equipment and accessories, or you can go all out and stock yourself up with all the paraphernalia camping life has to offer.  But the bottom line is, no matter how simply or extravagantly you choose to outfit yourself for camping, having access to your gear is a must.

Backpacker at the airport

So how does that work when your destination is too far for a road trip?  What if you plan to use air travel to get you close to your camping destination?  Do you want to know how best to fly with your camping gear?

Don’t let the distance discourage you from planning a camping trip far from home.  There are plenty of ways to travel safely with your camping gear when traveling by plane.  The first step in preparing your camping gear for your trip is knowing what you can and cannot travel with on an airplane.

Can you take camping gear on a plane?

You’ll be relieved to learn that most of your essential camping gear can be packed in either a checked bag or a carry-on, making it pretty straightforward to travel with by air.  However, keep in mind that even once you have confirmed on the airline’s website which items may be checked or carried on, the TSA agent at the security checkpoint you use has the final say.

Do your homework, look up the specifics, and be careful not to pack anything that might have to be left at the gate or create a delay in getting through security.  Specifically, things like your sleeping bag, air mattress, flashlight, and even your tent, should make it through security and be allowed in either your carry-on or checked bag.

Most camping stoves are allowed in a checked bag and sometimes as a carry-on but size and style can disqualify some stoves.  You’ll need to confirm the stove is clean and has no residue or fuel vapors.  Certain camping items are allowed in your checked bags only and not permitted in carry-on luggage. Examples would be your camping knife, tent stakes, tent poles, and hiking poles.

A few camping basics are not allowed on airplanes, like strike-anywhere matches, stove fuel, bear spray, or other liquids that could be considered combustible or flammable.  You’ll have to purchase them close to your destination and leave them behind when preparing to fly home.

How to fly with camping gear and keep it protected?

Try to pack light and tight.  Avoid excess and pack things in a way that takes up as little space as possible.

You’ll need to check the TSA guidelines and the individual airline you’ll be traveling with to confirm which items are allowed, which are forbidden altogether, and that they permit only in checked bags or only as carry-ons.  Airlines have both size and weight restrictions that you’ll also need to consider.

Tent overlooking a lake

Wrap carefully anything that could be damaged by the rough handling of your bags.  If you pack your backpack or rucksack with camping gear, be sure to tighten the straps and tuck them in so they won’t get hung up on the baggage claim carousel.

Double-check that any liquids you’ve packed in your checked luggage are spill-proof, so you don’t arrive to find all your camping gear soaked through with mouthwash that leaked.

Can you fly with tent stakes and tent poles?

While you’ll most likely be able to carry-on your tent if you choose, the tent stakes and tent poles are only permissible in your checked bags, so it might make the most sense to keep everything associated with your tent together in your checked luggage.

Hiking poles, tent poles, tent stakes, and camping or cooking knives could all be used as weapons, and as such, will never be allowed in carry-on bags on any aircraft.

Can you ship your camping gear instead?

If packing your gear for flying seems too complicated, or if the airline charges for luggage seem too expensive, you might look into shipping options.  Some campers prefer to ship their camping gear to a receiving destination near the camp and then, after the trip is over, pack it up and ship it back home.

Like preparing your gear for flying, preparing it for shipping will require research to determine what can and cannot be shipped.  You’ll have to factor in shipping time so your gear doesn’t arrive too late, and you’ll need to decide if the costs make shipping a better deal or not.  It is an option, but only you can resolve whether or not it’s the best option for you.

What about renting camping gear?

Another approach to camping far from home is to rent camping gear near your destination rather than traveling with your own.  Just as there are costs associated with paying to ship the equipment and with luggage fees if you travel with it on an airplane, you’ll want to look into the expenses involved with renting it on site.

You might find the comfort and ease of using your own gear well worth the time, trouble, and expense to take it with you, or you might be content to rent something upon your arrival.  Plan in advance and make sure you’ll feel comfortable using equipment and supplies that might not be like those you are accustomed to.

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The bottom line

Flying with camping gear is definitely something that campers do all the time.  Keep in mind that size and weight restrictions will dictate what you can take with you, and guidelines by the FSA and each airline will further define which items can be carried on or checked for air travel, do your research and plan ahead.

You’ll have to wait and pick up strike-anywhere matches, lighters, camping fuel, and other flammable liquids once you arrive, but nearly all the rest of your supplies and equipment can travel with you. Knowing you can fly with your camping gear should encourage you that those dream destinations can become your next great camping adventures no matter how far they are from home.