Traveling by air to your backpacking or hiking destination doesn’t have to be confusing or scary. Included here are 9 tried-and-true tips to help guarantee your gear doesn’t get lost, stolen, destroyed by baggage handlers, or confiscated by airport security.
Don’t Check Baggage
I’ve traveled to several hiking destinations and did not check any bags. Not checking bags is possible if you pack only essential gear and carry your backpack on the plane with you.
Your gear is much more likely to arrive at your destination if it never leaves your possession.
Don’t pack all of your hiking clothes in the backpack. Wear them on the plane, in multiple layers if possible. This gives you needed space in your backpack and you can ultimately travel with more gear. Plan on wearing your hiking clothes in town to cut down on the need for additional casual clothing.
Leave Non-Essentials at Home
If you still need space for everything you want or need to take, leave at home all of the items you can easily buy at your destination. Food, extra small clothing items, and toiletries can be purchased once you arrive at your destination.
Ship Gear to Your Destination
If you absolutely must have items that may not be readily available at your destination, ship them to a local post office. I did this when I flew to Nevada and mailed my gear to a post office via their General Delivery service.
I called ahead to make sure I addressed the package correctly and discovered I needed to include my name and the words “General Delivery” on the shipping label. To ensure that my package was clearly to be held for pick up at the post office, I wrote “Hold for Pick up” directly on the box itself.
A photo ID was required when I picked up the package. Plan ahead to be sure your package arrives before you do. Check with your post office for specific requirements.
Pro tip: If you need trekking poles at your destination, ship them inside of a poster tube container via post office General Delivery before your trip.
Travel With Your Regular Hiking Backpack
There is no need to buy a separate backpack designed for travel. Most likely, these packs will be too heavy and awkward for use on your backpacking adventure. You are much better off traveling with the pack that you are accustomed to and fits your backpacking style well.
Pack Irreplaceable Items
If checking baggage is unavoidable, as it was for me on my Kilimanjaro trek, separate the gear that you absolutely cannot be without and carry it in your backpack.
When I traveled to Africa, I packed my backpack with every item of clothing I would need for summit night, since these items would not be found for rent in Tanzania. Everything else was either worn or checked as baggage.
Sometimes a wheeled backpack is helpful if you will need to change terminals or make other long treks through the airport. You can find some great wheeled backpacks here.
Checking baggage should be a last resort but is sometimes necessary.
Do Not Carry Stove Fuel
Airport security will find it so do not include any kind of stove fuel in your backpack.
Use an Alcohol Stove at Your Destination
If you must prepare meals or hot water for coffee at your destination, consider switching to an alcohol stove. Denatured alcohol (a.k.a. ethanol, methylated spirits, marine stove fuel), methanol or similar fuels are readily available at sporting and hardware stores and are fairly inexpensive. If needed, you can make your own alcohol stove with an empty cat food can once you arrive at your destination. Directions here: Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove.
Don’t Pack A Knife
Don’t even think about packing a knife inside your pack; it will be confiscated by airport security. Check out the link for the TSA What Can I Bring Site
I hope you find these tips for packing your backpack for airline travel helpful. If you have other tips, let me know in a comment below.
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