If you plan to go hiking or backpacking in a foreign country or travel out-of-state by plane, here are 10 packing tips to help guarantee that your backpacking gear does not get lost, destroyed by luggage handlers, stolen, or confiscated by airport security.
1. Don’t Check Luggage
Pack light, pack small and carry your backpack on the plane with you instead of checking a bag for the luggage compartment. If you have to, suck it up and pay extra for carry-on luggage if your airline charges extra for it. Your gear is far more likely to arrive with you if it never leaves your possession.
2. Wear Your Hiking Clothes on the Plane
Don’t pack your hiking clothes in your pack, wear them, especially the bulky ones. This will give you more space in your backpack. If you’re too warm, you can take off any extra layers in the plane.
3. Buy What You Need When You Arrive
If you’re having difficulty reducing your pack size or weight, eliminate everything you can buy at your destination, such as food, toiletries (especially), even extra clothing items like underwear, socks, and t-shirts.
4. Send or Ship Gear to Your Destination by Post or Express Shipping
Absolutely need a certain kind of food? Worried about your hiking poles? Send them to a B&B using DHL (best for international packages), FedEx, or UPS or have it held at the post office. Many countries have postal services which will hold a package for you at the post office (called General Delivery) which you can pick up with a picture ID like a passport. Search on the web for county-specific instructions and give your package adequate time to arrive before you travel.
5. Don’t Buy a Travel Backpack
If you’re a serious backpacker, don’t be tempted by so-called travel backpacks like the Osprey Packs Porter 65 or Farpoint 80 that have hideaway straps or wheels for rolling around airports. While convenient for business trips or touring out of hotels, they’re too heavy and awkward to use for backcountry backpacking.
6. Carry Irreplaceable Items
If you must check a bag (really a last resort), separate irreplaceable or expensive items like your backpack, trekking poles, sleeping bag, tent, GPS, etc. and carry them on the plane with you, while checking all other items in a cheap duffel bag like the Northstar 75L. Why a cheap duffel bag? – so you can discard it when you reach your destination and not feel too bad about it. You really don’t want to lug an empty duffel bag with you during your hike.
7. Pack your Backpack in a Duffel Bag
If you must check your backpack (again, a last resort), pack it in a tough duffel back to protect it’s straps and compartments. The aforementioned NorthStar 75 duffel is an excellent option with rugged fabric and a heavy-duty zipper.
8. Don’t Carry Stove Fuel
Don’t try to carry any stove fuel on the plane, including ESBIT cubes. It’s flat out illegal. Don’t even carry an empty liquid stove fuel bottle if you can avoid it, since it can have residual fuel or fumes, and be confiscated by security authorities.
9. Switch to an Alcohol Stove
If conditions permit, use an alcohol stove on your trip. Denatured alcohol, methylated spirits (or “meths”), and ethyl alcohol (190 proof or better) is available worldwide so you don’t have to pack any or worry about finding it at your destination.
10. Don’t Carry a Knife
Don’t bring a knife, a multi-tool or a machete. Easy to forget if you’re packing on autopilot, but Take Stuff Away (TSA) can take it away, so leave your blades at home.
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