How to Get Your Gear Where You’re Going

Air travel with backpacking gear:

Going on your first “well away from home” backpacking trip?  Read on for strategies to get your precious gear to the trailhead safe and sound.

What This Article is Not

Let’s start with what this article is not: It’s not about basic flight rules as imposed by airlines or government security agencies (TSA here in the U.S.).  The aggregate of these rules are complicated, can vary by airline and by country, and are beyond the scope of this article.   This is also not a “complete and last word” on the subject; if you were to poll a lot of experienced backpackers, you might find the responses to various issues would remind you of the story of the blind men encountering an elephant — different people have different ideas and have had different experiences.   So please do use this article as an idea generator, but don’t assume that it’s complete, that everyone agrees with my ideas, or that any flight-related rules that I might reference are current.

I also want to warn you that if you’re a sequential “read everything” reader, then this isn’t a short article.  Rather than cut out anything significant, I leave it to you to use the read-skim technique to zero in on the bits that most interest you.

Finally, note that I set out here to talk about long distance travel dynamics for backpackers in general, but the vast majority of such issues fell into the “air travel” category.  Going by car — your own or someone else’s — rarely causes gear safety issues.  Ditto train travel.

Long-Distance Bus Travel

Long distance bus travel does offer one issue worth discussing however: you generally have to store your backpack in the luggage compartment underneath the seating area of the bus, and have no access to it while travelling.  Sometimes you can place your pack there yourself, but other times the driver or another bus company worker will do it.  There’s nothing like seeing your heavily loaded “ultralight” (and hence, somewhat delicate) pack being jerk-lifted by one pack strap and then tossed into the luggage compartment.     Even where you are allowed to place it yourself, you might find that other passengers are none too gentle in trying to make room for their luggage or in the scramble to get their stuff off the bus on arrival.     For the most part, ideas for protecting your luggage in air travel will apply equally well here (and are covered later in this article).

One somewhat bus-specific issue however: I once had my backpack carefully covered with a taped-on contractor type (thick plastic) bag, only to have the bus driver inform me that it was against their policy to have luggage in plastic bags like that — I was forced to remove it.  I have no idea if or how unusual this might be in long distance bus travel (by preference, I don’t do it often!).

Just about everything else I can think of comes down to air travel issues.

Air Travel: What’s The Problem?

There are multiple air travel problems confronting a backpacker taking gear far from home for a backpacking adventure.

Perhaps most obvious is that some common backpacking items aren’t allowed in a carry-on bag, and so by default must be checked.  Examples include a knife, trekking poles, cathole digger, anything that might be deemed a weapon.  There can be a bit of a grey area aspect for some of these items, so you might hear people tell you things like “I fly with my trekking poles in carry-on all the time”, or “I’ve never had a problem with tent stakes in carry-on”, etc.    The problem is that different TSA agents at different airports and in different time periods aren’t going to be perfectly consistent in either interpretation of the rules nor in enforcement.   If you want to play a little fast and loose, that’s of course up to you, but it can still be helpful to be aware of the issues and alternatives available to you.

A related problem is making sure that gear that’s not in your immediate possession during the trip manages to arrive, safe and sound, and is in your possession by the time you’re ready to hike.

There are more issues to potentially deal with, but most of these vary somewhat based on the particular approach you take to solving the “can’t have certain things in carry-on luggage” problem.

So, What Are My Options?

I’ll briefly list options, and then talk about each one in more detail.

  1. Check your pack
    Pack goes as checked baggage while you bring a few things onboard as carry-on: keep with you things that are particularly valuable, things that you’re not allowed to check (but can carry on), and things that you just want to have with you on the airplane.
  2. Leave some stuff at home and make do
    Things you can’t take in carry-on just stay at home, then you buy, borrow, rent, or do without some items after you arrive.
  3. Push the rules a little
    i.e., bring things in carry-on that you might or might not get away with. Note that I am NOT recommending this, but knowing the long distance hiking community, at least a few folks are going to do it anyway, so I think it’s best to just address this upfront.
  4. Ship Gear ahead
    Send some, and perhaps just most of your gear ahead using a service such as UPS, FedEx, or the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
  5. Check or ship ahead just a few things
    A sort of hybrid approach is to take most of your things as carry-on luggage on the plane, and then just have a fairly small package of “cannot carry-on” stuff either as checked baggage or shipped ahead.
  6. Rent a lot of gear
    Another sort of hybrid approach is to pack lighter and plan to rent a lot of your gear on arrival. REI stores are probably the most wide-spread option for this around the U.S., but if you’re flying into a city in an area known for outdoor activities, there are likely other options too.
  7. Don’t fly after all
    Finally, consider whether flying really is your best option. Obviously if you’re going overseas then the answer is yes, and ditto if you’re flying from the east to the west coast or vice versa.  But sometimes there are ground transportation options that are worth considering.

Let’s Expand a Bit on Each of These

Now let’s talk a little more in-depth about each of these approaches, discussing advantages, and, inevitably, sometimes disadvantages too.  There isn’t a single “right way”, and even if there were it likely wouldn’t be right for every trip and situation.  But by thinking through the issues you might find ways to improve the approach that you use for a particular trip.

1. Checking Your Pack

In this scenario you check your pack as checked baggage, bringing a few things onboard as carry-on luggage. So in your carry-on, you bring things that are particularly valuable, things that you’re not allowed to check (but can carry on), and things that you just want with you during the flight.  A simple plastic grocery bag typically works as my high-fashion carry-on bag, and doubles for other uses when I’m hiking.

How to Protect Your Pack as Checked Baggage:

There are three general approaches to protecting your checked gear:  Duffel bag or suitcase, a cardboard box, or a thick plastic bag.

  • Put the pack (and contents) in a duffel bag or suitcase. This in turn lends itself to two variants: One choice is to use an old suitcase or duffel that you might pick up at a thrift store and then just give away at the other end.  Alternatively, if you’re able to store some stuff at your destination, you can bring a nicer suitcase or duffel — and perhaps store some “extra” stuff there too, like a change of clothes, perhaps toiletries that you might want when you come off the trail, etc.
    I personally favor a duffel bag approach over a rigid suitcase, though this depends mostly on how/where I’ll store it at my destination.  A common approach is to book a motel room for your first and last night and ask ahead if they’ll store a duffel bag with a few clothing items in it in between.  A lower volume duffel is easier for a hotel/motel/hostel to store.
    For many, and perhaps most backpackers, this will be the go-to approach.  It’s not always for me, as often I’m flying into one airport, hiking hundreds or thousands of miles, and then flying back from a different airport.  But if you have a round-trip ticket and a place you can store a few things at your destination, this is the easiest thing to do.
    Note that it’s possible to buy a pretty light weight duffel and just carry it with you on your trip.  Obviously not ideal to carry any extra weight on your back, and a lighter weight duffel is going to be less durable, but … it’s another option.
    When my wife and I fly somewhere to backpack together, typically we put one of our packs in a duffel as checked baggage containing some stuff from each of us, and we use the other pack as a shared carry-on.  Having just one checked bag between us means that’s one less piece of luggage that we have to take special care in packing, and only this one bag to worry about in terms of theft, damage, or loss.
  • Put the pack in a cardboard box and use that as your checked baggage, discarding the box on arrival. An issue here is then finding another cardboard box when you’re ready to fly home.
    But it’s always possible to use one technique on the flight out and another when flying home.
  • Use a thick plastic “contractor bag”. These are like those large black yard waste bags people use to collect leaves and such, except they’re tougher than the thin bags, made of thicker plastic.  The particular bags that I happen to have are called “Contractor Clean-Up Bags”, they’re 42 gallon size and the thickness of the plastic is 3 mil. You can buy these at hardware stores, and sometimes other department stores.
    If you use this approach take care to cover the pack in such a way that if TSA or other government security services decide to search the contents that they aren’t forced to take the bag off to do so.  A common approach for a top-opening backpack is to use duct tape to wrap tape around the bag in a couple of places (the contractor bag would be loose and floppy otherwise) and at the top, leaving just some part of the top opening and the grab handle of the pack available.
    This is one of my favorite approaches, and particularly for returning home from a trip.  I’ll sometimes ship my pack ahead for a backpacking trip, but on the way home it might not be convenient to find a UPS or FedEx or whatever kind of shipment outlet.  If I use a contractor bag as a pack liner, then all I need carry is a little extra duct tape to be set up for the return trip home.   I’ve used this method several times without issue.

2. Leave behind the things that you can’t carry-on

Let’s take a moment to talk about the things that you definitely should not pack in carry-on luggage, and also a few “grey area” items.  I’m going to lump them all together here, as I don’t try with any of these things; if you’re inclined to push things a little, I leave it up to you which is in your “grey area”.

  • Liquids or gels that are in excess of 3.4 oz or 100 milliliters (don’t forget your food bag contents)
  • Knife of any sort
  • Multi-tool / pocket “knife” that doesn’t have an actual knife blade – perhaps an example of a “light grey” area
  • Trekking poles
  • Stove fuel of any sort (not allowed in checked baggage either)
  • Bear spray (ditto, not allowed in checked baggage either)
  • Empty stove fuel bottle, especially if you’ve ever stored fuel in it
  • Tent stakes
  • Fishing pole or hooks
  • Spork (metal)
  • Cathole digger
  • Mini-scissors
  • A “saw” that’s just a sort of wire with loops at each end
  • And obviously an ice axe if you have one along!

I do not represent the above list as being complete, but it should at least be “pretty complete” in the context of a things specific to a backpacking trip.

Note that in the United States you can’t put matches or a lighter in checked baggage, but you can take one book of matches and one non-refillable Bic-type lighter in your carry-on baggage.  Noting as I mentioned at the start, all of these sorts of rules are subject to change.  I would point out that it’s generally not hard to find matches or a lighter in a gas station convenience store at your destination, but sometimes it’s not convenient to get to any sort of store before you get to the trailhead.

How Do I Get By Without … ?

The second time that I hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain I left my trekking poles at home and didn’t miss them.  I left my knife home and bought a cheap knife in Europe and just gave it away at the end of the trip.   Voila, an easier flight each way with only my pack as carry-on.  The Camino represents, however, a somewhat different type of ‘backpacking’ than we typically do in the U.S.

So let’s talk in detail about how you make do if you’ve left all of the above list behind.  As an aside, note that this approach isn’t practical for an old-school “traditional” (read “heavy pack”) backpacker — you will likely have too large a volume of stuff to stay within carry-on baggage volume/size limits, and perhaps not within carry-on weight limits either.  Particularly if you’re flying with several days of hiking food too.

But if you keep your pack weight reasonably light — and small — this is a credible approach, but how do you function without all of the things I just listed above?

I won’t say “beg, borrow, steal”, but it comes down to something like those choices, plus “buy” and/or “do without”.

I think that many if not most backpackers put too much emphasis on having a knife for safety and survival, and typically it’s more some male backpackers feel that they somehow have to have a beefy knife to be a real man.  Or something.  Experienced backpackers that I respect typically have a very minimal knife, so please don’t fall prey to watching too many reality TV shows and think of yourself as surviving in the scary wilderness with just a loincloth and your trusty blade.    Depending on the trip you might well find yourself never using it.  In certain first aid situations it’s nice to have something you can cut with, and on occasion for use in hasty repair of gear or clothing.   If a companion will be carrying a knife, however, that’s likely enough.  Or you can perhaps buy a cheap one and mail it home at the end of the trip or simply give it away.  An almost weightless shaving-type razor blade will serve for most of what you need if you can obtain something like that at your destination and then discard it at the end.

Trekking poles: only you know if and how well you can get by without these, but do pay attention to the particular trip dynamics.  Perhaps for one trip you just really need them, whereas for another trip they’re pretty optional.   Keep in mind that some tent designs assume the use of trekking poles for support — it would be pretty embarrassing to hit the trail without them in that case!         Consider also whether you can rent or somehow borrow a pair of poles.

Stove fuel is an issue regardless of how you transport your gear, and the common solution is to buy it locally on arrival if possible. With a little research, you should also be able to ship fuel ahead, so long as you follow the rules and it travels by ground transportation only.

I’d like you to consider another option here which is to just eat all of your meals cold.  For trips of under a couple weeks (and sometimes longer), I find that I’m perfectly content eating cold meals in any conditions, so long as I can get to a decent grocery store to have good selection of what I’ll be eating.  And in a pinch I can even resupply this way at a gas station minimart type of store.  Experience at this helps, however, so you might want to try it out on a short local trip before committing to it on a longer remote adventure.          I’m not saying that this is for you (!), just that it’s an option to consider.  I should add that while I’m happy eating cold dinners on trail, my wife is very much not okay in doing so.

Tent stakes are a bit of a challenge to do without, and it’s one place that you might “push” a little — and bring something along in carry-on.  If so, I would think in terms of finding the most inoffensive stakes you can find, whatever looks least like a weapon!  And be prepared for them to be confiscated anyway.  Consider whether you can buy plastic stakes for this trip. If you have modest low volume stakes that are wrapped up inside your tent, hopefully you’ll do fine.  Worst comes to worst on arrival you can try to find a substitute on arrival at a sporting goods store, or even a hardware store.  Or whittle yourself replacements with the knife I just told you that you don’t need!
Seriously, with not much time and effort it’s often not that hard to make a stick into a sort-of tent stake.  You can also use cord lashed around large rocks to stake down your tent fly, and/or tie off to a nearby bush or tree.   This takes some fiddling, but is often do-able.
And here’s where the “borrow” part of “beg, borrow, steal” comes in (and by the way, I wasn’t really serious about the “steal” part …).   Maybe a hiking companion is checking baggage or taking ground transportation and can bring an extra set of stakes for you if you ask nicely.

A plastic (lexan) spork is probably something that you can get away with just fine, so I would definitely take one of those, and I’m pretty sure that I have done so as carry-on.

For a cathole digger, consider getting one that’s made of rigid plastic; I speculate that’s going to seem less like a weapon to a TSA agent.

3. Push the rules a little

I flew to a hiking trip once with an old friend who swore that he always brings his poles on as carry-on with never a problem, but after I got through security I watched as he was turned away.  He ultimately checked just his poles, and there was some hassle at the destination end about that too.  Then on the way home, the same thing happened.   In some cases, “pushing the rules” results in just a little inconvenience, but recognize that you could be risking missing your flight, or I suppose that it’s even possible that worse consequences could arise if it was felt that you were attempting to conceal something that TSA agents deem could be used as a weapon.  My personal feeling is that it’s in no way worth the potential hassle or the worry as there are other fine alternatives that follow all of the rules.

I don’t want to talk a whole lot more about this, other than to say that if you do get caught up short by TSA, everything I’ve heard and experienced suggests that the only sensible approach is to be polite, patient, and not argumentative.  You might choose to print out relevant current regulations that you think might cover something that you’ve brought as a carry-on item, but even then — polite, patient, and not pushy.

4. Ship some (most?) of your gear ahead using FedEx, UPS, or USPS

Buckle up, as there’s more to talk about on this topic than any other.

Let me start by saying that this has become my favorite approach for domestic trips, at least for the outbound flight; for the flight back home I typically go with “check the pack, protected by a contractor bag” just because I don’t have ready access to a UPS/FedEx/etc outlet at that point.
Overseas shipping can be a lot more costly; I’ve only used this “ship it ahead” approach for trips in the U.S.

So if this is such a great thing, why doesn’t everyone do it? Wait for it — to really undercut my story, I’m going to start with disadvantages:

Disadvantages of shipping gear ahead

  • You have to plan ahead. And this alone takes it off the menu for some hikers!  e., to be sure that you get your gear there when you are, you have to prep and ship it off at least a few days in advance.
  • In fact, you have ship it inside of a window of time. Meaning that not only do you need to send it early enough, in some cases — depending on whoever is receiving it for you — you might also need to be concerned that you don’t send it too early.
  • You need a place to ship it to. A place that you can trust to get it — which might include them having to go pick it up somewhere.  To hold and store it secure from theft, weather, rodents or other animals, whatever.  And for someone to be available to give it to you when you arrive.  There’s nothing like showing up on a Friday afternoon only to find that your box isn’t available for pickup until Monday morning.  Or being told “Oh, we only go into town to pick up packages once a week” (and that happened earlier the same day).
  • Total cost could be higher. Yes, you have to pay these days in most cases to check a bag on a flight anyway, but don’t assume the costs will be equivalent.  They might be, but factor in also whether you’ll opt to insure this box of various possibly valuable backpacking goodies.  And whether there’s a charge to hold your box at the other end.
    Finally, you also have to have a box in the first place, and typically for me that means buying a box.  Perhaps twice in fact, once for the flight out, another for the flight home.
    I’ve had a mix of experiences in comparing the total costs to that of checking a bag. A couple of times the costs weren’t that far apart, and once it was something like twice the cost to ship it. In the latter case I still reckoned that there was value in shipping it ahead (see below), but just don’t assume the cost factor is always a wash.  Depends on how you ship it, how far you ship it, which service you use, whether you can reuse a box you already had on hand, and whether and for how much you insure it for.
  • Usually a minor issue, but on arrival you will have to discard the cardboard somehow. And open the box without use of the knife that you likely have packed inside.  Typically though, whoever received and is storing the box for you can help with both issues.
  • One final kind of weird potential downside: in today’s paranoid security conscious travel culture, might flying with very little luggage seem suspicious? Worse, I’m typically doing so on a one-way ticket when going on long distance backpacking trips.   Maybe it’s because I’m relatively old, or perhaps I’ve just been lucky, but I have not been pulled aside for any special airport screening attention as a result.  Even when long-bearded and scruffy on the return flights. Hopefully you won’t be either.

That’s a lot of downsides — so now what’s so great about shipping ahead?

Advantages of shipping gear ahead

  • It’s very comfortable and easy to show up at the airport with a relatively minimal amount of stuff that you want with you on the flight, no schlepping the backpack around all the time, taking it into the bathroom with you, etc.
    This can be particularly nice if you end up with tight connections and have to race from one gate to another — and in such cases with checked baggage, you have to worry about whether your checked bag makes the flight too.
    It also means that you don’t have to play the “baggage carousel lottery” — waiting and hoping at the baggage pickup area to see if you get all of your stuff back.
  • And in the same vein, when you ship ahead you can get a confirmation of receipt when your box arrives. It’s a nice feeling to get on the plane knowing for sure that your gear is already there waiting for you.
  • Use of public transport at your destination is easier if you don’t have a big backpack to deal with. Of course this is do-able anyway, but shipping ahead makes it just … easier.
  • As already mentioned, this approach needn’t cost much or perhaps even anything more given that you typically pay to check baggage these days.
  • No worries about what you can or cannot ship, for the most part. Even shipping fuel is possible, so long as it goes by ground transportation — but do check with your shipper to make sure you have the latest on this. I’ve never had reason to ship fuel and so have no experience to share.
    Ditto bear spray if you want that for a particular trip, but again, do check the rules first.  As with stove fuel, you certainly cannot fly with bear spray (!).   Note, however, that if you’re flying to somewhere that bear spray is a good idea, it’s likely readily available on arrival.  Still, the stuff is expensive, and you might want to keep your unused and expensively purchased bear spray when you fly back home.
    My feeling is that if you have to ship some stuff because you can’t fly with it, then you might just as well ship enough to make it worth while — and per above, make the flight easier.
    TSA can and will open bags to look for certain things, perhaps they have a sniffing device that detects fuel residue on your stove or empty fuel bottle — and they confiscate it, after shifting through your stuff and repacking it differently (and perhaps making it less protected from damage or loss as a result).  Perhaps they just see something they can’t readily identify with the x-ray machine and sort through your stuff for that reason.  Or maybe you just draw an unlucky number and they open it up as a random check.
    Note: do not try to fly back home with even a completely empty fuel canister from a canister stove.  Just don’t.
  • You pack the box the way that you feel keeps your gear the most safe and secure, and no one is going to open it up and repack it en route. I would add that some people feel that theft of individual items can be an issue when checking baggage; I have no such experience, nor have I heard any first-person stories, and generally I don’t know how to measure this as a possible risk.  But my guess is that if it is any sort of factor, it’s less of a risk when shipping ahead.
  • I listed the cost of insurance as a disadvantage, but it can be an advantage too insofar as you’re able to easily ensure expensive backpacking gear. And with no supporting data whatsoever, my suspicious mind suggests that your shipper might take a little better care of insured packages.  I personally just always put some insurance on such a box, typically in my case not for the full value of what I’m shipping.  I have no idea if this is the right strategy or not — it’s just what I do.
  • I think that the risk of damage to gear is less, assuming you take a little care in selecting the right size of box and in packing your gear. For what it’s worth, I usually leave my sleeping bag for last and put it in uncompressed to take up any remaining space; nothing rattles around much that way.

5. Hybrid Approach: Take most things as carry-on, check/ship a small package

In this scenario you can be confident that at least most of your gear will get there when you do, safe and sound.

So to really spell this out: you pull aside just those things that you’re not allowed to carry on with you and either use a small package (typically a box) as checked baggage or you ship these things ahead.
What I suggest is cutting up one or more boxes that you have at home and using packing tape to build your own custom box that will fit your poles; typically everything else will fit into that too.  Being comfortable in building a custom cardboard box can also, by the way, be a good thing at the other end of your trip, and in rare circumstances perhaps during the trip as well.

If you check this stuff as checked baggage, be careful not to make the box too small; this is particularly an issue for someone that doesn’t use trekking poles.  Airport baggage areas have what is often thought of as a separate “oversized baggage” area, but often this is more generally an “unusually sized baggage area”.  When my friend had to check just his trekking poles, we waited around in the Paris airport for quite some time before we were directed to this special baggage claim area where his poles sat waiting.

Of course the great thing about this approach is that you get to keep most of your stuff with you.  There’s nothing like having physical possession of your gear to ensure that it gets to your destination.
But as mentioned earlier, you need to have a low enough overall volume of gear to make this credible.  Too much stuff and a helpful flight steward will take your bag from you anyway to store for the duration of the flight.

If you’re bringing your first few days of backpacking food with you, consider whether any of your food items might be considered the sort of liquid or gel for which TSA has limitations and rules for.   Packets or a jar of peanut butter, for example.  If not sure, best to put it in the checked luggage box (or ship ahead).

6. Pack lighter and rent a lot of stuff at your destination

In the U.S., REI stores are probably the only really widespread rental source, or at least that I’m aware of, but at least in more “outdoor” oriented cities there are likely alternatives.  I’m talking about places like Seattle, Denver, Bozeman, etc.

I think this is a particularly good option for trips where you’re doing more than just one thing. I.e., perhaps you’re backpacking for a week or two, then after that you plan to be a more conventional tourist in the area — visit famous sites, take a cruise, whatever.  In that situation it’s very nice to not be burdened with bulky and heavy backpacking gear that you don’t need anymore.  Of course “ship it home” is an option there, but renting can be a good choice too.

Renting can also be an opportunity to try different brands of backpacking gear, and/or different types of gear.  Caveat there, however: the selection of rental gear is typically not very high, you just have to use what they have set aside for rental. So you’re not going to be able to go into, for example, an REI store and say “I want to rent that particular stove and that particular model of sleeping bag”.  But still.

7. Consider whether flying really is your best option

If this is a domestic adventure and you’re not going too-o far, do consider ground transportation options.  I started my Continental Divide thru-hike and (five years later) my Pacific Northwest Trail hike both from the same trailhead in Glacier National Park.  In both cases I went by train, and in both cases I was glad that I did.  Certainly slower than flying, but very pleasant, and no trouble at all about whatever was in my pack.

It’s easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions without considering what could turn out to be a better approach. For me, if it’s more than a few hundred miles I tend to assume that air travel is best, and I think that it usually is.  But this depends on a lot of factors.  For example, a retired person might happily take a more time consuming train trip and enjoy the trip itself, whereas if your vacation time is precious you want to minimize how much of it you spend on transportation.   Cost can be a tricky factor; I think that due to extra cost of en route lodgings the faster (air travel) solution can often win there too, but not always. I have a friend who loves to drive, and thinks nothing of driving across the country if the opportunity arises.  To sleep on a multi-day trip, he happily pulls into a freeway rest area and snoozes for a few hours, so lodging cost isn’t a factor for him.  Sometimes a one-way car rental is prohibitively expensive, but sometimes it’s not bad, I presume based on car availability, the size of the town or city you’re renting in, and perhaps on the needs of the rental car company to reposition vehicles (?).  Anyway, it doesn’t hurt to check.

Enterprise car rental has (in the past at least) been willing to do trailhead pickups and drop-offs.  A friend and I took advantage of this when thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2010 to get off trail to go to Trail Days in Damascus VA.  This was a fun mini-vacation from the trail, and having the pickup and drop-off service from and to the trailhead made it a whole lot nicer and easier.

In Europe, there’s a kind of car-ride-sharing service called BlaBlaCar that people will take to go relatively long distances; I’m not aware of anything quite like it in the U.S.

The point is to think outside of the box a little, and recognize when your own situation and dynamics might suggest a good alternative to flying.  Me, I love an excuse to book a sleeper car on Amtrak and catch up on my reading en route, “spoiled” a little bit along the way before I start my next backpacking adventure.  We’re all different, no one size fits all here either.   Air travel is cramped and stressful, so do at least consider other options.

Final Note

I want to finish by reinforcing something that I hope is getting to be a little repetitive: there’s no single right answer.  Please consider the ideas here to just be input to what you synthesize into the right approach — perhaps somewhat unique for each trip — for you.

And — if you have personal experiences to share or corrections or amplifications of any sort, by all means please respond in the comments section.  The more ideas here the better!

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Comments 4

  • Drew : Feb 10th

    Are there any regulations that you know of with Amtrak? will be going cleveland to atlanta on the 6th! great post!

    • Brian Lewis : Feb 10th

      There are of course regulations on Amtrak. What I’ve always done on backpacking trips, and what I’ve heard others do is to not check baggage, just take it on with you and arrange it to fit as you can, taking along whatever reasonable thing you would need for a backpacking trip. If there are sharp poky bits, like trekking pole tips, I think it’s good to have those in the pack if possible, and (more commonly) where not to put something over them to cover and protect from the sharp tips.

      Given that no one checks nor seems concern — and I’m not suggesting you break any rules here! — but in that context I’ll say that I’ve never had anyone look at my pack at all, nor have I heard of it being done.

      You can find the official size/weight restrictions for carry-on here:

      More to the point of this article, Amtrak’s list of items prohibited onboard is here:

  • Amy : Mar 8th

    Thank you, this was helpful.

  • Anton : May 28th

    Great and very thorough article, thank you!


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