Flying with a Loaded Backpacking (Wilderness Backpacking Backpack)
July 31, 2013 7:59 PM   Subscribe

On August 23rd, I am flying to Fairbanks, Alaska for a week long camping/hiking trip in Denali National Park and would like to not have to check any items if possible.

We (three males and one female - all in our mid-to-late 30's) are not actually backpacking, we are staying at Riley Creek Campground on the 24th and 29th and at Wonder Lake from the 25th to the 28th. (Hopefully at Igloo campground as well.) We are going to be doing dayhikes by catching the camper/shuttle buses during the time we are there: Polychrome, Mount Eilson, Cathedral Mountain, etc.

We have the hiking and bushwhacking part of the hike figure out for the most part. (We are good with maps and hiking off trail.) We even have a hostel in Fairbanks that is going to accept our shipment of items such as our backpacking camping stoves, tents, knives, and most of our food. (Since we are taking the train, we are not be able to ship the fuel canisters - they are not allowed on the trains. We will pick some up outside of Denali.)

My question is can I carry a halfway packed backpacking backpack (a Kelty Red Cloud 5600 and my amigos have similar sized packs - though theirs are likely smaller) onto a Delta flight? One of our party is flying American Airlines.

What is the largest carry-on that we can get away with? We don't want to check anything because our gear is critical to the success of the trip? Any advice for folks going camping/backpacking and traveling by plane and train? Any advice in general?

I have found this: Flying with a Backpack but it doe not seem like an authoritative source...

Any resources you may be able to point me to would be more than welcomed!
posted by cinemafiend to Travel & Transportation around Denali National Park and Preserve, AK (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Nowadays the airlines are pretty clear about their carry-on policies. Here's Delta's. Here is American's. And you still need to be cognizant of the general TSA rules about liquids and toiletries and such.

However, if you're on a full flight and every passenger's bringing the biggest possible carry on you can still get screwed and have to check your stuff at the gate. It's a bit of a crap shoot.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:13 PM on July 31, 2013

I have an Osprey Kestrel 48, which, in terms of measurements, is OK to carry on every airline I've tried it with so far. I usually check it when it's overstuffed on the way back from a trip, but at 75% "leave room for souvenirs" (my standard starting point at the beginning of travels), it's always been fine.

No idea how a 48 litre pack measures up to what you guys need for this trip, though. Also, I will say that I bought this pack specifically with the intent of having a carry-on-able pack, and I had to look at a lot of packs before I found one that would work. So definitely measure and make sure.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 PM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: I definitely would bring a canvas backpack sack just to be on the safe side if you are forced to check it due to over crowding. It will help keep any straps from getting caught in conveyor belts and torn.
posted by HMSSM at 8:29 PM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: If you haven't already sent your stuff, you might want to contact the Denali Park Post Office at 907-683-2291 and ask about general delivery options. The PO is right next to Riley Creek. It might be more convenient, though I'm not sure that would help much with the fuel as I imagine USPS won't allow you to send it to Alaska (mostly air mail up here).

You can buy fuel and bear spray (and a lot of creature comforts) at the Riley Creek Mercantile.

Check the weather as you plan your packing, it's been a ridiculously hot summer and you might need more warm weather stuff than you think. Mosquitoes were quite bad earlier in July, I'm heading up there again this weekend so I can report back on the current situation.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:30 PM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: We don't want to check anything because our gear is critical to the success of the trip?

Ship what you can't carry on. Since you aren't actually backpacking, you probably aren't bringing special lightweight backpacking foods -- you can save on shipping by buying food in Alaska.

If you have metal trowels or other small metal tools I'd ship those to save any hassle at security.

I'm not familiar with the pack you named, but wouldn't recommend bringing an external frame pack as a carry on. Internal frame packs should be fine, just make sure you can squish it into the allowed luggage dimensions, and don't count on it being your "personal item". Like any other carry on luggage, there may be situations when you are forced to check it.
posted by yohko at 8:30 PM on July 31, 2013

The Flying with a Backpack source you linked sounds about right, from my experience. However, every time I've backpacked out of state and flown to get there, I've checked my backpack in an Air Travel Cover. Carry on? You could easily be asked to check your bag because of its size.
posted by horizonseeker at 8:32 PM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: I've got a ~55L backpack which I can usually bring as carry-on, but sometimes am forced to gate-check especially on small commuter jets.

Your Kelty Red Cloud 5600 is ~92L, I think? You'll almost certainly have to check it. It's a personal nuisance, but part of fairness to other passengers.

At ticket check-in, they may have extra-sturdy plastic bags for strollers and such, which you can use with your backpack to keep your straps and toggles from getting ripped off, although they'd run out when I'd flown last. I would buy a roll of extra-large, extra-tough clear plastic trash bags.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:32 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

No, they won't let you take them on most likely as backpacks don't fit well into overhead bins. Just check them, I do it all the time under similar circumstances and its fine and you can most likely pick up anything you need in Fairbanks pretty easily. If you're really worried ask if you can gate check them (carry to the gate and hand check them there) but the airline likely won't let you carry them on at all.

If you haven't checked backpacks before, you will want to remove the hip belts and other various straps or strap them down tightly or stuff the whole thing in a sturdy plastic bag so nothing gets torn off in the belts. Rare but it happens and it's a real bummer when half your hipbelt is missing.
posted by fshgrl at 10:51 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry can't answer your specific question but it may help to know Prospector Outfitters is a good outdoor store in Fairbanks. Was just there in April.

Also, yes, it's been what some old timers call the best summer in 50 years. Sunny, hot and dry. Dunno how that affects your planned water sources. Just a thought.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:53 AM on August 1, 2013

Looked up the specs on your pack -- 5300 to 5600 cu in fully loaded. Maximum legal carry-on size is 22x14x9 -- 2772 cu in. Even half loaded, your pack has an internal frame that is going to make the pack 32" or 35" long. It is going to be a crap shoot whether you can get it on. It looks like it will lay long-ways in a baggage compartment, but whether the flight attendants let you on with it or not is going to depend on how full the flight is and your boarding zone. If you are a Delta medallion flyer and will board with the other "skyzone" passengers, then I like your chances. If not, then it gets a lot more likely you'll have to gate check your bag, especially if flight is full. You can roughly gauge that in advance by trying to change your seat assignment and looking at how many open seats there are.
posted by kovacs at 2:16 AM on August 1, 2013

FWIW, I had to junk a perfectly good empty metal fuel bottle on a flight from Seattle to Fairbanks, from my checked luggage, because "it might have fumes in it." So there's that.
posted by cromagnon at 4:02 AM on August 1, 2013

Are you flying direct?

If so, having done this before, talk to the check-in agent, and ask if it's okay if you gate check it. You have to deal with the TSA (often arbitrary, I've had the most random of items cause problems), but then if they gate check, the chances of it going off on a random side adventure are low.
posted by kaszeta at 6:37 AM on August 1, 2013

Best answer: Agree with what's been said above; with a full-sized internal frame pack it's a crapshoot, regardless of what the baggage regs say. Every airport I've ever been to has one of the little metal cages in the entrance lobby that demonstrates the acceptable dimensions for a carry-on; you could show up and see if you can jam it into that, and then use the same demonstration if you're challenged at the gate. That said, plenty of people carry on awkward things like guitars and get away with it, so it all depends on the good graces of who you're talking to. Since it sounds like you're flying to Fairbanks from the lower 48, you're going to be on a decent sized plane, so they won't be automatically checking bags planeside like they would on little puddle hoppers (which is actually too bad; if they were doing that you would have better odds of just checking and receiving your bag planeside, which makes it tough for them to lose it).

Also, even though you're shipping things like stoves and knives, you still could get grief for things like tent stakes and the like. Again, it's probably not something prohibited by the TSA regs, but your experience will have more to do with the particular individuals from the TSA you're dealing with than it will anything else.

cromagnon's experience probably won't be yours, since it sounds like you've got canister stoves and won't be hauling fuel bottles. For those that do, wash your bottles a dozen times or so and let them air dry so there are no traces of fumes; then you can force the TSA rep to smell the thing.

I've been in your shoes before and just checked the backpack. It's worked out fine. YMMV.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:39 AM on August 1, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions everyone - I decided to get a 40L pack (Sierra Trading Post has a Granite Gear pack on sale for slightly less than a hundred bucks) to carry my clothes, sleeping bag, camera, and a few essentials.

I am going to wear most of my clothes for the flight up to save space in my pack.

I am going to ship my food, tent, stove, sleeping pad, trekking pole, toiletries such as razor and contact lens supplies along with a folded-up duffle bag (to lug everything to Denali) I can ship a box that is 30x24x6 to Fairbanks for $36.00 and pick up our fuel canisters at the Riley Creek Mercantile.

Looks like we are going ultralight for a camping trip.
posted by cinemafiend at 8:51 AM on August 1, 2013

I am going to ship my ... stove

This is a good plan. Even baggage is x-rayed now, and if they find a stove in your bag, they'll pull it as a hazardous good. That might mean a fine, but you certainly won't keep your stove.

Even so, it has to be shipped dry, without even a trace of fuel, even by mail or parcel service. You'll have to plan to buy fuel there.
posted by bonehead at 9:11 AM on August 1, 2013

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