Camping is one of the simplest ways to connect with the outdoors in a relaxing way. Unfortunately, sometimes we want to camp in places across the country and across the globe. Flying with camping gear is absolutely possible and makes for epic adventures!
In this comprehensive guide, I will share everything you need to know about flying with camping gear. This guide includes what you can pack in a carry-on and disclosing what hazardous items the agents will not be fond of in the security check line.
Follow along so you can start planning your next camping adventure!
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Everything You Need to Know About Flying with Camping Gear
This past February I took a flight from Seattle to Sedona to go camping for four days. Flying with camping gear ended up being significantly easier than I thought. Without having to buy any additional gear, I managed to fit all of my and my partner’s gear and clothes in two carry-ons and two personal items.
In this post, I will review why you should fly with your camping gear, what to pack, how to get through TSA, what to buy when you land, as well as some long weekend camping trip ideas.
Why You Should Fly and Camp
There are a number of reasons why someone might want to fly somewhere and camp. The two likely reasons for flying to camp include wanting new outdoor adventures in an area and minimizing travel costs in a budget-friendly way.
I love camping and seeing new landscapes so finding ways to cut the cost of my travels is something I am always trying to do. So here is why you should be flying with camping gear!
Greater Outdoor Adventures:
While tons of outdoor destinations have available lodging or hotels nearby, there are some remote areas that do not have lodging available. Consider Olympic National Park on the Washington Peninsula. Olympic National Park has plenty of hotel or motel options available near the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, but hotels are practically nonexistent near the Hoh Rainforest Area.
Maybe you would just rather spend your time outside rather than inside. A night under the stars with a warm campfire is unmatched on a camping trip.
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, but cannot drive, this might just be the most cost-effective option. Especially if you get a good deal on air travel and your rental car. Campsites can be free or, in some National Parks, can be closer to $25 a night. Either way, a hotel costs significantly more.
Additionally, with camping, you tend to make your food for many meals which saves lots of money. Obviously when traveling somewhere new, trying out some local cuisine is a must! Just not a must for every meal.
See More for Cheaper:
Expenses saved on lodging could mean there are more funds available for activities! If you budgeted for a specific amount, choosing to camp might mean you can splurge on a guided tour or activity like white water rafting.
It could also mean you could extend your stay in an area since you’re saving money on lodging.
What to Pack In
When it comes to packing your camping gear, there are a couple of questions that come into play:
- Is the item a carry-on or checked bag item
- Could the item be damaged if checked
- Will bulky items fit in the luggage
- What are the weight restrictions
Once you have all of your gear laid out for your camping adventure, you can then begin sorting your camping gear into two main groups:
- Carry-On Bags
- Checked Bags
Let’s talk about what camping items are best for air travel in each of the above bags.
If you’re going to be bringing sharp objects, like hiking poles or pocket knives, you will have to bring a checked bag. Even things like insect repellent and cathole diggers have been confiscated from me when going through security, so I think it is wise to put any items that might be considered “suspicious” in your checked bag. Sharp or not.
Consider using hard shell luggage instead of a large duffel bag if you’re packing things that could get damaged on the luggage carousel or by baggage handlers. It would be a bummer to get to your camping spot just to find out you had bent tent poles.
For bulky items like sleeping bags, consider using compression bags to maximize the space in your luggage.
Checking bags is also going to help mitigate the size limits most carry-on bags have, but you will have to be careful with weight restrictions. Must airlines have a maximum checked bag weight of 50 lbs.
Check the weight of your bag with this baggage scale.
Once you know what airline you’re traveling with check the size restrictions for hand luggage. My personal preference is to pack my carry-on luggage with as many personal items as I can. Due to the nature of the items that you’re bringing, accept that your bag will be pulled by tsa agents. Especially if you’re bringing a camping stove.
Airlines have a list of all of the items you can and cannot bring in carry-on baggage. I will go over some camping gear specifics that have been explicitly stated by the transportation security administration later on in the article.
If you’re traveling long distances you might prefer the leg room and just check all of your camping gear that doesn’t fit in the overhead bin.
Just remember it is ultimately up to each tsa officer checking your bag to determine what is allowed through security.
My best tips for flying with camping gear is to pack light and use stuff sacks to keep your gear organized.
Cost of Flying to Camp
This is a breakdown of what you will likely need to pay for when you fly with your camping gear.
The two large expenses you will have when flying to camp, include the cost of your flight ticket and your rental car.
This can be made cheaper by having flexible dates, traveling during off-season, and opting out of a checked bag unless it is free. Another large expense will be renting a car. I chose to rent a car through my travel credit card and managed to book a mid-sized crossover for $36 a day.
A little research goes a long when when finding flight and rental car deals.
Some of the things that you will be purchasing on your camping trip include the cost of your campsite. If you’re dispersed camping this does not apply. Other purchases include food items, firewood, and a lighter.
If you need bear spray, you will have to purchase that at your final destination.
Packing List for Flying with Camping Gear
One of the joys of camping is that you can choose to be as extravagant or minimalistic as possible. Here is a list of the basic camping gear you can fly with!
Consider what YOUR camping necessities are, the time of year, and your available space when creating your own list. Flying with camping gear is easier when you have backpacking gear.
I brought my backpacking tent because it is so compact. The Big Agnes Copperspur UL3 fit in my carry-on perfectly with room to spare. There are some large tents that will likely be challenging to fly with because of their size. If you do not have a backpacking tent to bring, you can always check the local REI for gear rental opportunities.
I had no problem getting my tent stakes through security, but in the future, I might consider checking my tent. Flying with camping gear has inherent risks and I would hate to lose my tent stakes to an airport trash can because they are considered “sharp items”.
I brought my Exped Sleeping Pad because it is all season with a 5R rating making it perfect for the winter camping I was doing in Sedona. It packs down pretty small as well! There are so many sleeping pads to choose from ranging in price and season rating. Another great sleeping pad option is the Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat.
In the spirit of packing light, consider bringing a sleeping bag instead of blankets. Sleeping bags tend to come with compression bags to help pack them down. My Sea to Summit Ascent packs down to the size of a water bottle.
This could be considered a specialty item, but not for me! There are plenty of camp pillows to choose from. The core foam pillow from Sea to Summit is my favorite because of its packability while still being just as comfortable as my pillow at home.
There are plenty of camping pillows that can be packed down to the size of a spice bottle like the Aeros Down Pillow.
I had space for a freezer bag which was nice to have for all the grocery items that I purchased. I did not bring a cooler, which is my usual camping gear. For a short camping trip, it was easy enough to add ice to a freezer bag.
This is the best way to keep your food cool on your trip without packing a large cooler. You’ll have to go to the grocery store anyways, so might as well buy a bag of ice!
For making hot food, I brought my Eureka SPRK+ camp stove. It is smaller than the Ignite; only having one burner. It comes in a small carrying case which I packed in my hardshell carry-on. The single-burner camp stove worked great.
NOTE: If you bring a camp stove, you should clean it the best you can before and after use. The camping fuel will leave a residue on the camp stove that will trigger the tsa agents. Bringing a camp stove does make flying with camping gear a little more difficult, but it is worth it!
For another space-saving item, these collapsible cups are wonderful! I opted out of bringing the enamel coffee cups that come with the set because they take up a large amount of space.
However, if you’re bringing a water bottle with you, that works just as well!
In the next section we will look at some packing tips for flying with camping gear.
Packing Tips for Flying with Camping Gear
If you’re a fan of the game Tetris, this will be your favorite part! After pulling all of your gear out, checking it twice, and organizing the clothes you’re bringing, it is time to pack. Here are some helpful tips for packing your gear for easy travel.
Make Sure It is clean
I would be lying if I said that all of my gear was clean when I put it away in my gear closet. But When I flew with my gear I made sure there was no food residue and dirt since I was packing it with other items I did not want getting dirty.
Additionally, I wiped off my stove in an attempt to clean off any gas residue. Gas residue can trigger TSA when going through security. While it ends up not being a problem, it will hold you up in line while they test it.
Fill In Empty Space
When you’re packing your bag, use all of the space available. Use your clothes to fill in all of the space between the cracks in your bag to optimize the available space. You can put your socks in your shoes, shirts in between different containers, ect.
Use Compression Bags
Compression Bags can help get all of the air out of some of your fluffier and bulky items. Put your sleeping bag or quilts inside a compression bag to save extra space. If you’re packing bulkier clothes you can add those to a compression bag as well.
I really like to keep things organized when I am packing for a trip, but when flying with camping gear, it is easier to optimize space and organize later.
To accomplish this, stuff all of your clothes in the bottom of your hiking backpack(or wherever it fits) along with a packing cube. When at your campsite, you can organize your clothes into packing cubes to free up space in your backpack!
Getting Your Camping Gear Through TSA
There are a couple of things to know when going through TSA with your camping gear. The following is a short list of some of the most asked-about camping gear for getting through TSA.
There are extensive lists of what can and cannot be brought on planes that can be found on the TSA website.
Allowed in checked bags, not carry-ons.
Not allowed in checked or carry-on bags. You will need to purchase bear spray wherever your final destination is. There are also places that rent bear spray.
Allowed in checked bags and on carry-ons WITHOUT the stove fuel. Stove fuel is always prohibited.
Cast Iron Cookware
Allowed in checked bags, not carry-ons.
Allowed in checked bags, sometimes allowed on carry-ons but can be deemed a threat at the TSA employees’ discretion
Allowed in checked bags, not carry-ons
Power Banks/Lithium Batteries
Allowed in carry-ons, not in checked bags.
Any electronic lighter, plasma lighter, arc lighter, etc. can be brought on as a carry-on but cannot be packed in a checked bag.
Allowed in checked bags, not carry-ons.
If you are unsure about an item, it is always best to check with the TSA website. Since TSA has the right to prohibit you from bringing any item, having a backup plan or leaving behind an item that you think could be removed would be best. Worst-case scenarios is that it gets confiscated by tsa.
Long Weekend Flying to Camp Ideas
There are so many wonderful places to fly with your camping gear. Here is a short list of ideas for a long weekend trip. Some of them have more resources and activities available, while others are more limited but just as spectacular. Let’s look at some of my favorite places for flying with camping gear.
Recommended Number of Days: 4-5 Days
Fly into Phoenix or Sedona. Phoenix is about two hours away from Sedona but offers some amazing hikes and experiences if you’re looking to spend time in a new area. Phoenix also has an REI which is where I picked up my butane canister for my camp stove. Sedona has plenty of hiking, ORV Tours, Shopping, and experiences!
There are lots of places to camp for a wonderful experience with nature!
Denver/Rocky Mountain National Park
Recommended Number of Days: 4 Days
Only 66 miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, you can choose to have a fun weekend in this amazing national park or close to the big city. There are plenty of spectacular hikes to do around Denver not to mention seeing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Olympic National Park
Recommended Number of Days: 4 Days
Fly into Everett or Seattle. There is an REI in Lynnwood which is close to Everett and the ferry for getting to the Olympic Peninsula and there is the REI Flagship in Seattle.
The Olympics is one of the best National Parks in the country because it has so many diverse experiences. The National Park has beautiful mountains, an extensive coastline, and magnificent rainforests to explore. This park needs to be on everyone’s bucket list.
Asheville/Pisgah National Forest
Recommended Number of Days: 3 Days
Visit this mountain town for forest views, wildflowers, and craft beer. In a lesser-known area than the Smoky Mountain National Park, Pisgah National Forest is just as beautiful. You can fly into Asheville or if you don’t mind a little further of a drive, Atlanta is a little over two hours outside of the National Forest.
Pack It Up
Flying with your camping gear is an exciting way to broaden the scope of your travel. It allows flexibility in your itinerary and decreases the cost of your trip. While flying to camp might require a little extra planning, it is absolutely worth it!
There are so many great camping destinations that are just a short flight away. So book your southwest airlines ticket and head to the great outdoors.
The first time flying with camping gear will be the toughest, but know you have all of the information you need!