Full Guide To Flying With Camping Gear (Must Read!)


Many of the best camping destinations around the world are probably in places that you need to fly to from where you live. Whenever the subject of flying comes up, the first thing many of us think about is “what camping gear can I fly with?”. I always wondered the same thing and so I did the research and put this guide together.

So, what camping gear can you fly with? Most essential camping gear items are allowed on planes as checked and carry on luggage according to the TSA as long as the individual airline approves it.

It is really important to note that even if the TSA website says that it is allowed, it is ultimately up to the TSA officer at the airport to make the decision. Specific airlines may also impose their own restrictions on outdoor items, so it is best to check with your individual airline before you go.

By the way, If you are in the market for a new tent, then you should click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.

Where To Find Information On What Camping Gear You Can Fly With

Perhaps the best and easiest way to get an idea of if you can bring a particular camping gear item (or any item for that matter) is to check out the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) website. They have a very convenient search tool that acts as a sort of frequently asked questions page. It is called “What Can I Bring?” and it is usually easily located on the top of the website. I will include the link to the tool below:

What Can I Bring?

The TSA website is a great resource because it is consistently kept up to date, especially that tool because it is so frequently used by travelers from all over the world. The TSA also has some blog posts about what items you can and cannot bring, but policies can change due to many different circumstances and they even say at the top of their blog posts that rules and regulations can change.

Reading other blog posts about what you can and can bring (including this article) is a great way to get a general idea, but ultimately it is the TSA that makes the rules on what you can and cannot bring on a plane. All of my responses in this article will 100% reference the TSA website, but things can change so it is up to you to check their website to see if anything has changed.

I also want to you know something else that is extremely important with regards to the TSA. They clearly state on their website that even if something is allowed and within their policy at the time (including guidelines on their official published website)

“The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.”

This means that unfortunately, even if you follow all the rules according to their website, you could still be barred from bringing certain items if a TSA officer at your checkpoint says otherwise. That means you should never bring anything that you aren’t willing to lose, give up, or not take. I’ll discuss more of that later, but you also need to keep in mind that just because the TSA does allow something, it doesn’t mean that a particular airline does as well.

Even if you can make it through TSA security with a camping item, it doesn’t mean that your airline will approve it. For this reason, it is essential that you do research on your particular airline to see what you can bring and if there will be any extra fees associated with them due to size restrictions, weight restrictions, and item restrictions, etc. Flying with camping gear can be quite a hassle (as is flying in general) but if it’s a camping destination worth flying to, then it’s a camping destination worth jumping through all of these hoops to bring your gear.

Camping Items And If You Can Fly With Them

Gear ItemCarry On Okay?Checked Luggage Okay?
TentYesYes
Sleeping BagYesYes
Sleeping PadYesYes
Air MattressYesYes
Camping StoveYesYes
Camping KnifeNoYes
FlashlightsYesYes
Hiking PolesNoYes
Safety MatchesYesNo
Strike-Anywhere MatchesNoNo
Camping FuelNoNo
Bear SprayNoNo
FlaresNoNo
Torch LighterNoNo

Can I Fly With A Tent?

According to the TSA, tents may be put in your checked luggage provided that it fits in the overhead bin and meets the dimension and weight requirements set forth by your airlines. 

However, they also note that tent stakes and tent poles are not allowed in your carry on luggage, and these items must be checked. So you can carry the tent on the plane but its poles and stakes must be checked. In my opinion, you are better off keeping them all together and checking all of it.

You can see what kind of tent I recommend on this page.

Can I Fly With A Sleeping Bag?

According to the TSA, sleeping bags can be put into your carry on luggage or into your checked luggage. Some small backpacking sleeping bags can be as small as a football when they are packed up, these are probably the kind you want for taking on a plane because car camping sleeping bags tend to be very large.

Check out what sleeping bag I recommend on this page.

Can I Fly With A Sleeping Pad?

The TSA does not currently have specific guidance on sleeping pads, but they do have guidance on air mattresses, which are probably the same thing for these standards. Air mattresses (and most likely sleeping pads) can be both put in your carry on luggage and put into checked luggage. Sleeping pads can be very compact and perfect for flying, but air mattresses tend to be much bulkier.

Can I Fly With A Camping Stove?

According to the TSA, Camping stoves can be carried on both your carry on luggage or your checked baggage. However, there is a special requirement that your camping stove must be completely empty of all camping fuel and it must be cleaned so that no fuel vapor or residue remains. So if you are going to being your camping stove, be extra cautious in how you clean it beforehand.

You can see what camping cooking gear I use on this page.

Can I Fly With A Camping Knife?

According to the TSA, camping knives (or any knives really) cannot be carried on the plane in your carry on luggage, but they can be placed in your checked baggage. Keep in mind that all sharp objects need to be sheaved or wrapped securely so that they do not present a danger to bag handlers or bag inspectors.

Can I Fly With Flashlights?

According to the TSA, flashlights can be placed in both your carry on luggage and your checked luggage. So rest assured that you won’t be left in the dark on your camping trip!

Can I Fly With Hiking Poles?

According to the TSA, hiking poles can not be taken on the plane in your carry on luggage. They can, however, be placed into your checked luggage so hikers rejoice!

Check out the hiking poles I use on my hiking gear page.

Can I Fly With Matches?

According to the TSA, safety matches cannot be brought in your checked luggage, but one book of safety matches can be in your carry on luggage. A “book” of matches refers to the smaller matchbook that carries about 20 matches. Not your typical camping matches where you have a large box’s worth.

Keep in mind that there is another type of match that the TSA prohibits on flights known as “Strike-anywhere Matches”. Strike-anywhere matches cannot be carried in your carry on luggage or placed in your checked baggage.

I like using matches for starting my campfire and lighting my camping stove, but this is one item where I would just pick up at my destination rather than try to bring some. Matches are generally widely available and low in price, so in my opinion, I wouldn’t even bother with bringing them on a plane with me.

Camping Gear That You CANNOT Fly With

According to the TSA website, the following common camping gear items cannot be flown with;

Fuel

Any kind of fuel that would be required to use while camping such as for cooking is not allowed on the plane both in your carry on luggage or your checked luggage. You will need to purchase some fuel once you get to your destination if you want to cook with a camping stove.

Bear spray

Bear spray is a camping item that cannot be brought on the plane in your carry on luggage or in your checked luggage. So if you are heading to Alaska on your camping trip, you are going to need to pick up some bear spray once you arrive. If you did not use the bear spray you will need to leave it behind. I’m sure there is someone arriving that would be more than happy to take it off your hands.

Flares

Flares are not allowed on the plane in either your carry on luggage or your checked luggage according to the TSA. If you will be participating in a high-risk activity where you could get lost and require rescue, then be sure to get some flares once you get to your destination.

Torch Lighter

If you usually use a torch lighter to start your campfire then I have bad news for you. Torch lighters are not allowed on the plane in either your carry on or in your checked luggage according to the TSA. Torch lighters typically release a direct flame no matter what position the lighter is in.

Things Change

Always check the TSA website for updated information and consider giving the airports a call. There is probably more camping related gear that you might not be able to fly with, but I covered the primary and most common gear that is restricted.

Tip: Put Most Of Your Camping Gear In Checked Baggage

I believe that the easiest way to bring most of your camping gear with you on a plane is to place most of it in your checked baggage. Checked baggage is usually much less strict because it is in the belly of the plane instead of on the plane with all the passengers. Do your own research before you leave and utilize the TSA website in order to double-check regulations and call your airline to check with them as well.

Make things easier on yourself and plan and prepare in advance. Try only bringing the bare essentials and just buying the low cost smaller items once you arrive.

What To Pack For A Camping Trip You Are Flying To

If you are going to be flying then it is best to only bring the bare essentials and just purchase all of the smaller things when you get there. Your individual needs may vary, but here is a list of camping gear that you should bring with you on the flight:

  • Weather appropriate clothing
  • Backpack
  • Tent
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Trashbag (for waterproofing)

Most of your other camping gear is smaller or more luxury items. Think of how an ultralight backpacker would pack for a long backpacking trip. Less is more, and the same is true for camping gear that you want to fly with. Pack light, bring smaller gear and pack smartly.

Consider Renting Camping Gear Instead

Another alternative to consider is renting camping gear instead of bringing your own on the plane. It certainly can be much more convenient and really it could be similar in cost to bring your own if you have to pay for more checked luggage.

Compare the costs of rental gear where you are heading to the cost of bringing it on the plane to help determine if the difference in cost makes wither option more feasible. Most popular outdoor destinations you travel to will have establishments that rent out the camping gear.

Consider Driving Instead

Flying with camping gear can be somewhat complicated given all the rules, restrictions, weight limits, size limits, costs, etc. Take a look at your itinerary and consider if driving to your destination is at all possible. Driving surely will take longer than flying no doubt and of course, this isn’t going to be an option for everyone. If you are going from Los Angeles to New Zealand then obviously you cannot drive, but if you are going from Los Angeles to Yellowstone National Park then you could drive instead of fly. 

Driving will take longer, but really the difference in time can be seen as less when you factor in the time of driving to the airport, going through security, waiting at your gate, boarding, take off, flight, landing, etc. then driving can make much more sense over certain distances. With driving, there is no restriction on what camping gear you can and can’t take and so it could save you money on not having to buy certain camping items.

If you are going on a camping trip with someone else then you can split the cost of the car rental. You can’t split the cost of airline tickets because you each have to purchase your own (possibly at drastically different prices). Driving can be a good option for some people going certain distances and it can cause less headache so don’t always count out driving vs flying to a faraway camping spot.

Other Tips On Flying With Camping Gear

Don’t Bring Something You Aren’t Willing To Lose

Things sometimes get lost or damaged when you go flying. That’s why I would never want to bring my best and most expensive camping gear with me on a plane. At the same time, even with all the guidelines on the TSA website, the determination is up to the TSA agent at the time if they will allow you to bring a certain item on the plane. If they say no then you might have to leave a piece of gear item behind, no one wants to do that.

Learn Your Specific Airline Baggage Size and Weight Limits

Even if the TSA gives you the go-ahead for what items you can bring on, the specific airline you are flying with can have restrictions of their own. These restrictions can come in the form of size, weight, and shape limitations. You might have to pay extra just for flying with certain sporting goods items like camping gear. Check with your airline while doing your research.

Prepare A List Of What You Need To Buy When You Arrive At Your Destination

Surely you will not be able to bring all of the camping gear you want to bring because of some restrictions. So while you are packing, pay attention to what you will need still after you arrive so that you don’t forget and so that you can get everything you will need all at once before the camping trip takes place.

Keep In Mind Other Transportation Needs

If you fly to a destination to go camping you will also probably need to take some other kind of transportation to get around. Whether you rent a car, take the bus, take a taxi, Uber, Lyft, or just walk, you will still have all of your gear with you that you need to lug around. Keep this in mind when you are packing up everything.

Keep In Mind That International Destinations May Differ

The Transportation Security Administration is based in the United States so even if you follow their rules when it comes to your carry on and checked luggage, it doesn’t mean that the same thing will apply when you go overseas.

For this reason, you will want to research the specific country and area where you plan on going camping if it is outside of the U.S. Some countries can and do have stricter regulations for what they will let you on the plane with, but typically the same basic guidelines are followed when it comes to potentially dangerous items, etc.

Related Questions:

Can I bring a tent in my carry on?

The TSA has said that you can bring a tent on your carry on, but the tent poles and stakes must be in your checked luggage.

Can you bring a hiking backpack on a plane?

You can bring a hiking backpack on a plane as long as it fits the carry on size requirements set by your airline.

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click here to check out my favorite on Amazon.
  • Tent: click here to see my favorite tent available on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Pad: click here to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click here to see the best camping stove on Amazon.

Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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