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How Do Folks Carry their full backpack loads on flights?

When flying to a hiking destination, I've been putting my backpack in a 'roller bag', checking it, then upon arrival at town next to trailhead,(when a rental car is not necessary) leaving roller bag at hotel (with travel clothing, etc)

I would like to know how others travel with their backpack, so I can just hit the trail and not worry about interim storage stops.  I'd prefer not to carry a duffel on my hike. Can I get the airline to 'shrink wrap' my pack?

Assume a 35lb pack, with poles, i.e. when I fly from VA to CA to hike the JMT.


REI Member Since 1979
7 Replies

HI @Philreedshikes !

I use the Osprey Airporter LZ,, Small, which fits bags larger than advertised.  I've used it up to a 60L backpack with room to spare.  It folds up nice and small so it's easy to store in the backpack once you arrive at your destination.



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one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Have not tried this myself but there is this from Zpacks...

I had my son do something similar with a large strong nylon laundry bag, tied and strapped around his 65L backpack so he could check it.  Not quite as light but much cheaper and his backpack came home without damage

It does depend a bit on how the waist belt on your backpack works.  If it is a stiff formed belt it may need some extra packing so it doesn't get crushed...perhaps use your sleeping bag.

For shorter trips I guess you could consider taking a smaller backpack like the Trail 40 that you can carry on.  The main problem with not checking stuff is that some stuff you kinda need like hiking poles, tent poles and stakes must be checked which is a bit limiting unless you can get it at your destination.  I haven't figured out a good solution for that.


When travelling abroad, we would secure all the straps (waist belt backwards around pack), tighten everything all the way, and just put it on the plane.  Never had any issues.  One airline shrink wrapped it for us, which was nice, but generated a small pile of plastic waste for just a few hours of flying.  

$8 22 gallon rubber maid plastic container.  drill a hole in each corner for a cable tie.  done this more than 100 times, including international.  

What do you do with the Rubbermaid container when you get to your destination?


Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

We've flown out to California to hike the Sierra Nevada (JMT and PCT) three years in a row now, and we've been lucky not to have any issues with checking our backpacks. We do ensure we have a direct flight with no stops; however, we happen to live in an area that services those types of flights.

We strap our poles to the sides of the pack, tighten all the straps, and then put the backpacks inside a large stroller bag (the ones people use to gate check their strollers).

One year, I carried the stroller bag on the trail with me and used it after the hike was over.

In the following two years, we shipped the stroller bags back home when reaching CA and bought laundry bags we found in Rite Aid (or Target) for the flight home. This worked out really well and the bags are cheap enough.

We've considered next time maybe pre-shipping one of the bags to a post office in CA to hold for the end of our hike and picking it up before coming home, and using one of the other bags we've accumulated to fly out to CA, sending that back home when reaching CA. 

We've also started bringing some pre-hike clothing with us that we can wear while acclimating to the altitude in Mammoth Lakes and then just shipping that back home before we start our hike. And we've been spending some time in CA after our hikes, so we've been buying cheap clothing to wear around town rather than wearing our stained hiking clothes. That clothing is usually touristy stuff that serve a dual purpose: one purpose is to wear it, the other is to bring home as a souvenir (such as our JMT t-shirts bought locally). 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@RedPackWalking great tips! thanks!  I've been lugging my pack in a rolling suitcase and leaving with a hotel in mammoth, but want to end the suitcase part, because that means I always have to return to mammoth to retrieve it.  Mammoth has become so expensive lately to fly into and stay and a hassle for me (2018 choked with smoke which continued to affect me after the my bus ride to lone pine).  Taking the bus to/from reno has become my go to option. (I've normally acclimatized a few days at the trailhead, but I'll miss the mexican food at Roberto's)

But you gave me some good ideas.  Maybe I could put my pack in a laundry bag or something, and then mail them to myself at tuolume meadows or somewhere....hmm.

REI Member Since 1979