Since the pandemic, I have been driving to my hiking destinations. We drove 18 hours from South Texas to Vail, Colorado, in July. More recently, we drove 11 hours to Big Bend National Park. Once the pandemic begins to wane, we are planning to fly to Italy to go hiking.
This got me wondering what hiking gear I can bring on a plane. I went to the Transportation Security Administration’s website to search their “What Can I Bring” pages. I compiled a list of which items can be carried on, placed in checked luggage, or are prohibited entirely. See the table below.
This is a critical post for anyone planning to travel with hiking gear. The last thing you want to do is check your luggage and then find out at security that your favorite solar-powered charger cannot travel with you in the cabin.
Always check with your airlines. Also, the TSA officer can decide not to allow any item regardless of what their website says.
TSA allows the most common hiking equipment to be carried on the plane with you. Items that are not allowed in carry-on luggage include those that pose a security risk to the plane itself or other passengers. These items include bear spray, knives, and camp stove fuel, for example. Check the TSA website for more details.
|Item||Carry On||Checked Luggage|
|Aerosol Insecticide||No||Yes *|
|Air Mattress with Built-in Pump||Yes *||Yes|
|Axes and Hatches||No||Yes|
|Camp Stoves||Yes *||Yes *|
|Disposable and Zippo Lighters||Yes||Yes *|
|Ice Axes/Ice Picks||No||Yes|
|Pepper Spray||No||Yes *|
|Small Fishing Lures||Yes||Yes|
|Solar Powered Charger||No||Yes|
|Tent Spikes & Poles||No||Yes|
Hiking Gear Allowed in Carry-on Luggage
You can carry on hiking items on your next flight that don’t pose a risk to the plane or passengers. No flammable items are allowed as carry-on items; neither are they allowed in your checked luggage. Knives and cutting tools are not allowed in carry-on luggage but can be placed in checked luggage if they are properly sheathed.
Any hiking or camping items that are sharp or pointed are not allowed in carry-on luggage. For the most part, you can store them in your checked luggage.
The Transportation Security Administration can choose to NOT allow any item in your carry-on luggage at their discretion, even if the item is listed on their website: What Can I Bring?
Hiking Gear Allowed in Checked Luggage
From the table above, you can see that far fewer hiking gear items are restricted from your checked luggage than your carry-on items. You can bring axes, machetes, knives, and saws in your checked luggage so long as they are properly sheathed and pose no risk to baggage handlers.
Can You Bring Hiking Sticks on a Plane?
One item that seems innocuous and yet is banned from carry-on luggage is walking sticks or trekking poles.
TSA does not allow hiking poles, also know as trekking poles, on the plane in your carry-on luggage. You can stow these items in your checked baggage as long as they are secured properly and pose no risk to the baggage handlers.
Similarly, you cannot bring tent poles or tent spikes on the plane with you in your carry-on luggage. These items will need to be placed in your checked luggage. Essentially, any hiking gear that is pointy or sharp needs to be properly stored in your checked luggage.
Can You Bring a Shovel on a Plane?
Like a solar-powered charger, the shovel is an item that does not appear in the searchable items list on the TSA website: What Can I Bring? Fortunately, TSA has a Twitter account, @AskTSA, and they are active. If you have a question about any item, you can send them a message through Twitter and even send a photo of your item, and they will provide an answer.
One user asked about bringing a solar-powered charger on a plane via Twitter, and TSA responded that it was allowed in checked luggage but not in a carry-on bag.
According to @AskTSA, the official Twitter account for TSA, shovels are allowed in checked luggage on a plane. You cannot bring a shovel in your carry-on luggage.
Since ‘shovel’ does not appear in the searchable TSA database, I sent them a question through Twitter, and they responded just ten minutes later. That is efficient!
Are TSA Rules Applicable on International Flights?
So what about my flight to Italy this summer. Will the same TSA rules apply?
TSA rules apply to international flights when they depart from the USA. TSA security guidelines are the same at all airports in the USA, whether you are on a domestic flight or an international flight.
Once in a foreign country, the allowable items in carry-on or checked luggage may differ somewhat from TSA guidelines for internal flights. In my experience, the same general rules apply for what is allowed in carry-on versus checked luggage, even on internal flights in foreign countries.
As with TSA, officers in foreign countries that perform security screenings in airports have the final decision. If they deem an item to be dangerous for any reason, they will not allow you to bring it on the plane.
Hiking Gear That Is Banned on a Plane
There are some hiking gear items that you may need on the trail that are also completely banned from being on a plane. These include bear bangers, bear spray, and stove fuels. For your hiking trip, you will need to purchase these items upon arrival.
Alternatives to Bringing Hiking Gear on a Plane
If you plan a trekking expedition and need to fly on a plane to arrive at your trailhead, instead of packing all of your gear in your luggage, you could consider some other options.
Instead of bringing all of your hiking gear on the plane, you could hire a local guide that provides some gear for you. During my five-day Ausangate trek in Peru, I hired a local guide service. This saved me from bringing heavy sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and tents in my luggage.
If you are considering using a guide, take a few minutes to read this post I made with a decision tool for when to use a hiking guide service and when not to.
Another great option to avoid bringing all of your hiking gear with you on a plane is to rent your equipment at your destination. Here is a list of companies that have gear rentals for hiking and backpacking.
Folks are accustomed to renting cars, ski equipment, and homes but not camping equipment. Somehow sleeping in a used sleeping bag feels like borrowing a toothbrush, but I think that sentiment is misguided.
Outdooorsgeek.com states that you could eat off their equipment when they send it since they disinfect every item before sending it to you.
Arriveoutdoors.com states that you return the equipment to them, and they take care of cleaning it.
In the end, the gear you need on the trail is going to have either travel with you on the plane or be purchased or rented upon arrival. This post has provided some information and considerations for the hiking gear items that can be carried on a plane or placed in checked luggage.