About ten years ago, I had a fantastic camping trip planned with my dad. We were flying up to Canada to go on an awesome camping and fishing vacation. It was something we had thought about for a while and had planned out for months. I was excited and so was he. However, it wasn’t until we got to the airport that I realized I actually hadn’t thought about the obvious question: how to fly with camping gear.
It was actually really dumb of me not to have thought about this earlier. In today’s world, I’m sure that would have been a few hundred bucks in fees to bring all that stuff with us. Back then, they didn’t charge us nearly as much. In fact, I don’t remember being annoyed about paying a fee so I think they let us on without that.
Of course, I’ve flown recently with camping supplies and they weren’t nearly as friendly! With that in mind, I thought it was worth writing a brief guide on how best to think about camping supplies and the airlines.
Is it better to drive or fly camping?
This depends on distance and how much you hate flying vs driving.
However, as you’ll see, you can’t bring a lot of gear that you need when you fly. That leads to most campers needing to buy or rent equipment when they get to a new camping location.
For me, I’d drive to any campsite that is less than 10 hours and I’m going for the weekend. If I have more time, such as a week, I’d drive to any location that is under 20 hours or so drive.
What to pack for camping when you fly
The first and most important question to think about when you are flying is to think about what you can bring with you and what you can’t from a legal perspective.
For example, there are a couple of things you absolutely cannot bring with you. For example, you can’t bring a camping knife since it’s a weapon or a camping stove because it’s flammable. There are a couple of borderline items that you probably wouldn’t consider aren’t allowed, but actually are. For example, A camp shovel is also on the “no-fly” list because it also is considered a weapon and a fire starter also isn’t allowed since it can start a fire.
Now that you have eliminated the things you can’t actually bring with you, now let’s look at the stuff you probably won’t want to bring. Most airlines these days have a 50-pound weight limit per bag. With that in mind, you don’t want to bring something heavy like a skillet, mess kit, or a bulky lantern.
So, what’s left?
Well, most of the soft goods. That leaves a bunch of items you could bring with you, like your tent, sleeping bags, blankets, rain gear, clothes, and more. All of these are necessary and won’t bring anyone bag over the 50-pound weight limit.
If you pack a suitcase or duffel bag strategically, you can fit most of your soft goods into a bigger duffel. The trick is to add the bulkier items, like sleeping bags first. Then, add in the clothes and other soft gear in any cracks and crevices left in the bag.
But, that raises the obvious question….
How to bring big camping gear, like a tent?
A tent bag, depending on the size of the tent, can get extremely bulky. While they frequently are less than 50 pounds, they can get extremely bulky. For that reason, most airlines will not accept those bags as a standard checked bag.
However, airlines have an “oversized” baggage compartment that will accept larger items like a tent. I’ve done this before with items like a tent, and fishing rods as well. The oversized drop-off section typically has a special security screen but it’s almost always in the main terminal.
You may need to show up at the airport early in order to get through the added security and extra drop off point though.
What will oversized gear cost to fly?
This is airline dependant and I think season-dependent as well, although don’t quote me on it. I feel like I’ve seen some airlines raise their prices for oversized gear during the winter because of people trying to bring skis and snowboards with them.
My suggestion would be to check your local airline’s website and look for the oversized luggage rates. I’d also recommend taking a screenshot or picture of those rates, just in case the rates increase.
What camping gear can’t fly?
I mentioned this earlier but it typically falls into the “weapons” category or the “flammable” category. Neither of which really tends to work well when flying!
If you think something might be able to fly or is in a gray area, like the fire starter, then it’s worth checking the FAA’s website to see if it’s a prohibited item. If you aren’t sure, I’d recommend leaving it at home. I’ve had a few items get confiscated at airports when I tried to get them through.
How can I get the gear I need?
So you’ve arrived at your ideal camping location after a long flight and terrible on-board peanuts. You have all of your soft goods, but you still need supplies. Depending on what you are doing, you’ll probably need, at a minimum:
- A lighter
- A large knife with a serrated blade, hatchet, or small axe
- A camping stove
- A mess kit, skillet, or other metal cooking utensils
That’s the bare minimum and you probably don’t have any of it if you flew!
Should I buy or rent?
Rent. Many rental agencies tend to charge a high price per day for equipment, but that’s often because camping supplies are extremely high quality these days. Even if you’re going camping for a few weeks, it doesn’t make sense to buy something new only to not be able to bring it home with you after you are doing camping.
It’s for this reason that you see so many rental agencies in more rural locations, like Alaska.
I hope this has been helpful for you as you think about flying with camping supplies! Overall, I think it’s much better to just drive in most cases. If you do fly, know that you can’t bring a lot of supplies with you and will need to either buy or rent them once you get there.
See you at the campsite!
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