Do Hiking Backpacks Count as Carry On? Flying Tips For Hikers

Are you prepping for a hike through the bush, a mountain trek, or a backpacking trip far away? You’re probably packing and unpacking your bag, trying to figure out the best way to fit all your gear into the hiking backpacks you’re considering bringing.

Hiking Backpacks on a Plane?

What happens if you’re travelling by plane? Can you take your gear with you, and what’s the best way to transport it to keep things safe?

It’s completely possible to fly to your destination when backpacking, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. Here are some air travel-friendly hiking tips to help you on your next international excursion.

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Research Your Remote Destination Early

The very first thing you should do before heading out on any hiking trip, no matter how far away, is some thorough research on your destination.

Take a good look at the factors that might influence the gear you bring. What kind of landscape will you be trekking through? Which hiking backpacks will you need? If it’s hot, dry, and sunny, long sleeves and breathable material are a must. If it’s humid and tropical, make sure you pack that mosquito netting.

Also, make sure you’re familiar with the landscape you’ll be hiking through. Will you be walking or climbing across rough terrain? Will you spend a lot of time in or along the water?

The answers to these questions will tell you not only what to pack, but also how to train your body to handle the trip.

Pack Only the Essentials

Once you have a good idea of the types of clothing and gear you’ll need on your trip, it’s time to whittle your packing list down to the essentials.

Because space matters so much in air travel, every item you bring should have a specific purpose. Try to choose things that are collapsible to make space in your hiking backpacks and ensure they are lightweight and multi-functional. Don’t bring the outfits you might wear for a night on the town or fancy shoes you can’t wear on the trail.

Plan for the Culture, Not Just the Weather

One final caveat: if you’re flying to a destination that’s conservative or holds different religious beliefs, make sure the clothing you pack is respectful of their culture. You can do this without taking up too much extra space in your bag by choosing multi-use items.

For example, zip-off shorts can be worn on the trail and converted into full-length pants when you reach the town. A cheap pashmina scarf can serve as a head covering, shade from the sun, and an impromptu rucksack.

Take Note of the Available Resources

The final thing to research is the availability of sporting goods shops at your destination. Even if you forget something at home, you might be able to buy it once you arrive (though don’t leave hiking backpacks behind, these can be pricey to replace!)

Mark the location of outdoors shops on your phone or map so you can find them after you land. The locals who work there could also be a great resource to answer questions you have about the area.

Protect Your Gear: Carry it with You

A good rule of thumb when flying is this: if you don’t want to lose it, carry it with you.

Lost luggage and confiscations are a fact of life for many unlucky travelers. Even though airline workers try their best to make sure your bags end up at the right destination, accidents do happen and it would be a nightmare to lose hiking backpacks and other equipment. If your suitcase does get lost in transit, unless it’s labelled very clearly, there’s a good chance you’ll never see it again.

That’s why it’s best to keep all your essential gear packed in a carry-on. Choosing one of the smaller hiking backpacks with a small, lightweight internal frame gives you the best chance of being able to take it on the plane with you.

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Wear Your Bulky Clothes on the Plane

It’s easy to run out of space in your backpack if you’re packing for a long hiking trip to a remote destination. The bulkiest thing you’re likely to pack is your clothing.

If you can, try to wear your bulkiest clothing to the airport, layering if possible. That saves you from trying to stuff your heavy boots and jackets into the bag, and you can always take them off during your flight.

Use a Cheap Duffel Bag as Cover

If you want to protect your backpack from rips and tears during the flight, it’s best to stick it inside a cheap duffel bag for protection. This also eliminates the risk of getting the straps stuck in conveyor belts if you end up having to check your backpack.

Check Carry-On Requirements Ahead of Time

There’s nothing worse than arriving at the airport only to be told your carry-on bag is too large and has to be checked. You’ll have to pay the baggage fee, risk getting separated from your luggage, and possibly even have to pay an extra “gate check” fee on top of it.

Don’t let yourself be blindsided by carry-on requirements. The allowed bag size differs from airline to airline, so make sure you check up on them ahead of time.

International flights may have different regulations between your stops, so be thorough and pack your bag according to the smallest requirements on your trip. Also, pay close attention to units of measurement when you’re seeing if your bag will fit. If you’re flying out of the states, you’ll have to convert your measurements from standard to metric.

Bring a Personal Item

Some airlines will also let you bring a “personal item” on the plane in addition to your carry on. It’s best to choose a small, light bag for this that can be packed away once you arrive to maximize space.

Keep everything you’ll need to access during the flight in your “personal item” bag. This could include your passport, phone and charger, in-flight snacks, and money. And if there’s anything that won’t quite fit in your carry-on bag, you can always try to fit it into your personal item.

Pack Security-Friendly Gear

Many of the items that hikers use are too dangerous to take on a plane. Something you wouldn’t think twice about taking on a car trip could get confiscated as you pass through security.

If you want to make your baggage inspection go smoothly, check out the list of allowed and prohibited items for carry-on luggage ahead of time. Follow these security-conscious tips to make your packing easier.

Bring Solid Toiletries

Most countries have regulations in place that limit the number and size of liquids you can fly with.

To stay compliant, leave the liquid hand soap and aerosol bug spray at home. When you’re packing for a flight, solid toiletries are the way to go. Some of the liquid items you can replace with solids include:

  • Shampoo
  • Hand soap
  • Insect Repellent
  • Deodorant
  • Toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen

As an added bonus, these tend to weigh less than their liquid versions. When you’re backpacking, every ounce matters!

Leave Knives and Fuel Behind

Machetes, hunting knives, axes, and propane are a definite “no” for carry-on luggage. Even small pocket knives, fingernail clippers with files, and multitools might be confiscated.

When in doubt, leave it behind. You might be able to get away with bringing a small multitool that doesn’t have a knife blade, but be prepared to give it up at the discretion of your security agent.

Be Careful with Stoves and Trekking Poles

Portable stoves and hiking or walking poles aren’t expressly prohibited. Even so, security agents have the right to take away anything they feel could be used as a weapon.

Pointed trekking poles and stoves with propane residue may not be allowed. Any other sharp metallic objects, like tent stakes, are also suspect. You might have to buy items like these after you land.

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What to Do with the Stuff You Can’t Carry On

If you’re planning an especially long trip or travelling through harsh terrain, you may not be able to fit all of your luggage in a carry-on. If that’s the case, you still have a few options to ensure you’re prepared upon arrival.

First, you can always check your luggage with the airline. If you go this route, make sure your bag is clearly labelled with your contact information, both on the outside and inside.

If you’re bringing something along that’s too large to take on the plane, or if you won’t have a way to transport it through the airport, you may be able to ship it ahead. Some countries will hold an item for you at the postal office until you arrive to pick it up.

But if it looks like you won’t be able to send your items ahead or bring them along, you’ll probably have to buy them there. Or, if you’re staying at a hostel or campground, you can ask your neighbours if they’d be willing to leave their extra supplies behind for you to use.

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Follow These Plane-Friendly Hiking Tips for Worry-Free Air Travel

Are you ready to head out on your next international backpacking adventure? Before you get on the plane, follow these gear-protecting steps to make sure you’re prepared upon arrival.

Looking for more great hiking tips? Check out our list of the top dos and don’ts of hiking in Australia.

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