How to get my hiking backpack on a plane
December 4, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Guatemala next semester and I want to bring a hiking backpack instead of a suitcase. What do I need to know about getting it through the airport and plane flight in one piece?

I am flying from Boston to Guatemala with a hiking backpack. I've been reading up on checking a hiking backpack and there doesn't seem to be a consensus on the best way to do it. Will it make it through okay if I tighten all the straps and make sure nothing is loose? Do I need to get a duffle to put it in and if so, what do I do with the duffle after? What's the chance of the airport have a plastic bag I can use and throw away?

The backpack I'm planning on getting is the REI Crestrail 65, if that matters.
posted by raeka to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
I've checked hiking packs on long (domestic) flights with no issue. Just cinch down the straps and make sure everything is tucked in nicely.

It's not a bad idea to get a rain cover anyway, and you can put that over everything and cinch it down for extra protection.
posted by charmcityblues at 2:29 PM on December 4, 2011

In the old days the airline would give you a free heavy gauge polythene bag, but I doubt that happens any more. Now I use something like these at around $30. You can fold them up and strap them to the top of your pack when you get off the plane.
posted by monotreme at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011

You can definitely buy a sack to protect your backpack while flying, I definitely wouldn't always count on an airline having a plastic bag to give you. Some do, some don't.

Personally I've taken a million flights with a naked backpack and the worst that's happened was a broken buckle. On the other hand a broken buckle means unstitching the bag and sewing the replacement buckle in, so you'll have to evaluate your own tolerance for risk.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011

When I was worried about this, I bought an enormous duffel bag and put my backpack in it when checking it. For walking around, I just folded it up and stashed it between the top compartment and the main one.

As a bonus, I used the duffel to store my stuff in a more accessible manner when I was staying somewhere for more than a day or two.
posted by Metasyntactic at 2:38 PM on December 4, 2011

I've wrapped mine in trash compactor bags (which you can find at any old supermarket)--you put it in one and stick another on top--and taped it with duct tape.
posted by hoyland at 2:49 PM on December 4, 2011

My hiking backpack went round the world just fine (seven international flights). I clipped the waist belt around the bottom of the bag and tied all the loose straps up and tucked them in as much as possible to minimise the chances of something getting caught, and everything was fine.
posted by Lebannen at 2:58 PM on December 4, 2011

I've checked in my hiking backpack plenty of times without any issue. You zip everything up and make sure there aren't any loose straps. I've never bothered with duffles or plastic bags.
posted by pravit at 3:08 PM on December 4, 2011

I had the plastic clips on the outside of my backpack destroyed when travelling as checked baggage. perhaps part of this was a quality issue (It was an EMS backpack). But next time I'm going to figure out some way to protect the plastic clips before I check it.
posted by deanc at 3:17 PM on December 4, 2011

Yeah, mine's gone on plenty of flights without being in an extra bag. If you want to be extra careful you could buy a few cinch straps to keep all the bits even tighter - and the straps will be very useful once you get there, I assure you.
posted by twirlypen at 3:19 PM on December 4, 2011

I've also checked a camping backpack many times without any trouble. Just try to avoid loose straps that can get caught on things - clip the waste buckle around the back of the bag and tie together any other straps
posted by one little who at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2011

I got an army surplus duffel bag for $10 and put it in that. For $10, if I didn't want to carry the extra, I could just give it away. I considered it cheap insurance.
posted by BlooPen at 8:54 PM on December 4, 2011

There's a couple of options:

1. Tuck in/roll up/tape up your straps, and either remove the hip belt or wrap it around the bag (instead of your hip) and cinch it tight. I (and everyone else) has done this dozens of times and nothing bad ever comes of it that might happen otherwise for luggage.

2. Duffle bag. Bug a cheap one, give it away after or use it to store extra stuff you buy that you'll want to bring home after your year long trip.

3. Saran-wrap. Some airports offer a service where your bag is inspected and then wrapped in saran/packing wrap (for lack of a better term) for about $5-25. All this really does is prevent clips from getting caught on mechanisms, IMHO you're just as well off with option 1.
posted by furtive at 9:23 PM on December 4, 2011

Make sure you put it in a plastic bag or something like that.
Hiking type bags have tons of buckles and straps on them and they get stuck all the time in the conveyor belt system.

When I worked at the airport they wouldn't bother stopping the belts, they would just lean over and cut off the straps that were stuck.
posted by Iax at 10:00 PM on December 4, 2011

You could buy a roll of cling film / glad wrap / saran wrap before each flight and just wrap up the bag with the entire roll. that would probably do the trick.

I have a MacPac that has a weird back zip section that can be zipped over all the arm straps to keep them contained and leave a smooth edge.
posted by mary8nne at 6:54 AM on December 5, 2011

Rain cover plus luggage strap.
posted by angab at 7:32 AM on December 5, 2011

If it needs stitching in Guatemala, there will be sewing shops equipped to stitch it.
posted by theora55 at 8:59 AM on December 5, 2011

I've used the army standard duffel bag for this, which will run you $20-$30 at an army surplus store. It's durable, reasonably easy to carry, and throwers know how to handle it. When you get where you're going, it functions as a misc stuff / dirty clothes / shopping sack.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:30 AM on December 5, 2011

I have traveled to Central America with a frame pack multiple times. Another fan of the duffel method here. Put the frame pack inside an enormous duffel, then chuck in your extra shoes, copy of the Flora of Panama, Spanish-English dictionary, or other chunky items that didn't fit in the pack to begin with. Stuff your winter coat inside just before checking, if you are coming from someplace cold. It will come in handy again if you are anyplace high-elevation.

Once I'm there, I use the duffel to store items I'm not using, dirty laundry, random acquisitions, or whatever. On the way back, I have more options for packing. Last time I think I carried on the large part of the pack, using the detached top 'brain' pocket as a purse thingy, and dumped everything I no longer felt like packing/carrying/dealing with/smelling into the duffel and checked it.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2011

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