22 Jul 2022
Ever considered flying to your next camping adventure? Wondered how you can bring your camping gear on a plane?
You can’t always drive yourself to your next outdoor adventure. Australia is too big and frankly has too many amazing places to explore.
You might prefer to hire a campervan, caravan or all-terrain vehicle once you get there, but that still begs the question, how do you fly with camping gear?
Apart from the obvious weight, size and common sense safety considerations, there’s airport security to get through, the thought of expensive equipment being thrown on and off carousels and excess baggage fees to consider.
Luckily, we have some experience with this, and we’re only too happy to help. Let’s start with the most obvious question:
1. What am I allowed to bring on a plane?
Before you book your expensive flight, it pays to consider what you’re allowed to bring on the plane. If your plan is to carry any kind of camping gear onboard, avail yourself immediately of the following list of prohibited items from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
Anything that can be potentially considered a weapon is a no-no (tent poles, tents pegs, knives etc.) and if you think you’re going to get the latest 4-burner gas-powered cooktop in the overhead luggage compartment, think again.
Camping fuel and fire starters are not allowed in carry-on or checked bags, nor are propane tanks, so you should make arrangements to acquire these items at your destination if needed. Insect repellent can be packed in a carry-on bag but only in very small quantities.
Once you’ve checked this, as well as the allowable checked baggage weight limits on your choice of carrier - here’s one for Virgin - you can start thinking about what you’re going to bring with you, how you might pack it, and what you might be able to hire or acquire once you arrive.
2. Backpack or Duffel bag? Choose the best way to carry your camping gear.
Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb - don’t send anything by plane that you’re not prepared to lose!
Airport officers are legally allowed to open luggage if they suspect anything and when that happens, objects can go missing. It’s also an unfortunate fact of flying, especially if there is more than one flight involved, that luggage doesn’t go where it’s supposed to.
In terms of what bag to check-in and what bag to use as carry-on, we recommend checking your camping gear in either a backpack or a large duffel bag.
The duffel has some advantages over a backpack including the fact that you can fit a lot in it, especially bulky items like sleeping bags and tents. You can also buy a waterproof one and one with straps that you can still carry on your back over shorter distances. This is especially effective if you will be setting up a base camp and making trips from there.
If you are going on a purely backpacking trip where you’ll hike to each new destination with all your contents on your back, one large backpack is definitely the best option.
Before you fly, we recommend adjusting all the straps and hooks to be as tight as possible. This will avoid unnecessary damage. Another great way of securing your possessions is to wrap your backpack in plastic. This is easily achieved at most major airports nowadays.
3. Double check luggage restrictions
Avoid a potential travel disaster or unwanted financial hit.
Once you’ve decided which bag or bags you’re bringing onboard, measure them so you know their dimensions. When you’re booking your flight, or flights, check the luggage policy for each leg of your journey to make sure you can actually bring your bag onboard.
Carry-on bags usually can’t be bigger than about 22” x 14” and if you’re pushing that limit, it may not fit in the overhead of a smaller, regional plane.
4. Pack like a pro
The most important thing to think about when packing camping gear for a flight is to pack light. This cannot be overstated.
You want to make sure that you have everything you need for a safe adventure and absolutely nothing you don’t. Basically, anything not on this list should be considered a luxury:
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Basic Cookware
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Weather appropriate clothing
- First aid kit
- Personal items for health and hygiene
If your camping gear is specifically designed for backpacking, it will generally be lighter and smaller. If you can use something for more than one purpose, this will also help. For example, your sleeping pad can double as a camp chair and your sleeping bag can double as a blanket.
Leave the jeans at home
It goes without saying to leave your bulky, hard-to-dry jeans at home and, instead, pack layers of lightweight, breathable clothing and extra socks. In addition, it’s a good idea to get a set of good microfiber towels. They are amazingly absorbent, dry fast and even the beach towel-sized versions fold down to a tiny parcel.
A compression sack can also help with packing because, as the name suggests, it compresses what you put into it. Remember also to apply common sense - no need to pack things that will already be at your campsite.
When it comes to food, there are a few ways to keep bulk at a minimum. One-pot meals are your best bet as is multipurpose lightweight cooking gear. Depending on where you’re going and whether you can buy camp food when you arrive, think about stocking up on some freeze dried meals.
5. Get insured
Travel insurance is highly recommended for any flight, but flying with camping gear is definitely a higher stakes mission.
Bent tent poles, broken backpack straps and missing gear can really put a dent in your well-laid plans, and while serious damage or theft is unusual, you want to be able to replace your gear with as little fuss and personal expense as possible. As the saying goes, if you have insurance, you probably won’t need it.
6. Consider renting your gear when you get there
Renting used gear might not appeal to every camper, so this really comes down to personal preference.
However, if you need to fly to your camping destination, generally speaking, renting bulkier items like tents, sleeping bags, and camping chairs will save you the most space. Here are some pros and cons of renting to consider.
- A higher level of outdoor luxury. Things like camp chairs, camp tables, and coolers are difficult to bring on a plane. With a rental, you don’t have to settle for less than what you want.
- There is much less risk of gear getting lost, damaged, delayed, or confiscated during transport.
- Convenience. You don’t have to think about what to pack or obsess over your checklist to make sure you have everything.
- The cost! You will most definitely spend more on renting equipment than if you bring it with you. Two checked bags with excess might set you back $100 or so, but an additional 3-night car trip will likely set you back hundreds.
- It’s likely that you won’t get exactly what you want. Certain gear may be unavailable during peak season, and this will vary by location. Call the rental shop way ahead of time to see what you can reserve.
Looking for a camping rental company? Aussie Camping Hire is a good place to start.
7. Ship it!
In Australia, companies like Wild Earth are only too happy to facilitate overlanding your gear ahead of time.
Some of the benefits of shipping your gear include a) not having to worry about being rejected by over zealous airport officials, b) you know that all your favourite camping gear will be waiting for you on arrival, and c) that there are generally much fewer restrictions on what you can send.
On the other hand, the cost of doing this might prove prohibitive and you will need to be organised so far in advance you might forget to pack a simple but much relied upon item. Additionally, it can be difficult to find someone you can trust in a place you've never been.
Ready to go camping?