When I was recently planning an extended hiking trip in another county, the foremost thought that gripped my mind was hefting my gear around in a wheelie bag. In addition, not only would packing my belongings in a suitcase cost more in airline fees, but it would add to my overall travel stress.

Can you take your hiking backpack as a carry-on? Yes, you can.

The Geez likes things simplified. Immediately, I looked on the internet for my airline’s weight restriction guidelines for hiking backpacks for a carry on to replace the baggage with a lightweight hiking backpack!

But, traveling on a plane with your hiking gear requires a bit of preplanning and like any other carry-on luggage, backpack weight and size limitations are the same. However, most airlines have between 25 and 50-pound weight restrictions. Yet, some budget airlines have an even lower weight limit.

The real trick is to measure and weigh the backpack at home before setting foot in the airport. Above all, you must adhere to each airline’s specific policies before you set out.

What If I Have To Check My Backpack

Is your pack too large for a carry-on? If so, you will be required to check your bag. Therefore, checking your larger backpacks may be your only option. Most importantly, if you do have to check your bag, make sure you secure your backpack’s belts, harnesses, and straps.

Loose backpack straps may get entangled in the baggage handling conveyor belts and damage your backpack. Get a backpack airport cover. Above all, it prevents your pack from getting damaged by airport handling equipment and arrives with added security and peace of mind. And you know that your pack is protected.

Carry On Your Irreplaceable Hiking Gear

Traveling with a hiking backpack as an airline carry-on releases the tension of misplaced luggage. You will always have your necessary gear with you. A brilliant tip a fellow traveler gave me was to pack my expensive or irreplaceable gear in the backpack as a carry-on. Other non-essential stuff can be packed in a cheap duffle bag as checked luggage. After arrival, its contents can be transferred to your backpack and you can throw away the cheap ugly bag.

While hustling through the international airport with your hiking pack on, be vigilant. With several external zippers and pockets for hiking convenience, thieves can open and dig out your belongings quite easily. So, use zip ties, also known as cable tie wraps, to secure the zippers.

Although I can’t say which is better, to check your backpack or take it as a carry-on. I can say it really depends. For instance, are you traveling domestically or internationally? First, how large is your backpack and how much weight are you carrying? Second, do you have TSA restricted items that must be checked? Third, what king of trip are you going on?

The Geez always likes a carry-on whenever possible. After that, my choice is a carry-on that I check at the boarding gate. Similarly, this is the same procedure some travelers do with strollers and wheelchairs.

Size Limit of A Hiking Backpack For A Carry-On

The perfect backpack volume is based on its dimensions and expressed in liters. Many airlines allow a backpack as a carry on with a volume up to 45 liters. However, make sure to weigh your bag and comply with the airline’s weight rules. For instance, budget airlines often restrict carry-on bag weight to even less than the normal 22lbs (10 kg) limit. For example, they may ask for extra charges and require you to pay an additional baggage fee.

The most common carry-on luggage size limit is 22 x 14 x 9 inches, inclusive of side pockets, handles, wheels. Although, it varies from airline to airline, with some allowing slightly smaller or larger carry-ons and backpacks.

It’s always recommended to check with your airlines a few days ahead of the flight. So, to make it easier – here’s a carry-on backpack size chart of the airlines worldwide.

If you are like this old geezer, and you prefer traveling light, then pack wisely and use every corner of your backpack. Certainly, you want to take full advantage of using your hiking backpack as a carry-on. So, for that reason, daypacks are the best hiking backpack carry-on based on size.

How to Pack Your Hiking Backpack For A Carry-On Per TSA Regulations

As per my experience, airlines allow you to take 3.4 ounces or smaller bottles of liquids. Roll-ons and insect repellent containers must not exceed 100 milliliters. As for your sundries such as toothpaste, deodorant, sunblock, and soap, pack dry non-liquid versions create more room within the backpack. I know this sounds crazy coming from an old geezer like me, especially one who has been bald for many decades but check out shampoo bars. Also, make sure and use a bar with that it has no additional fragrance added. I frequently hike through bear habitats and scented soaps are a no-no.

TSA requires you to carry some gear only in checked luggage—knives, hatchets, and firearms. You can carry them in your bag only if you store them in a sheath or hard casing that meets TSA requirements. But, I really don’t trust the TSA agents, their searches seem to be arbitrary.

Can I Carry Bear Repellent In My Carry On

If TSA regulations aren’t met, your gear will be taken away from you, and you might, in some cases, have to face criminal charges. A checked backpack is the right place for carrying trekking poles, arrows, pickaxes, potty trowels, or any other pointy objects.

If your hiking itinerary includes hiking through bear territory you must leave your bear repellent and bear bangers (bangers make an explosive noise like a firecracker) at home. You may buy some when you get to your destination.  Personal pepper spray aerosols with 2% capsaicin are likewise not permitted.

You can bring your backpacking stove, but not the stove fuel on a plane. If the airlines permit, take an alcohol stove with you instead. Or simply grab your fuel from a local sporting goods store before heading out on the hiking trail.

Get the Disallowed Gear Shipped to the Destination

Absolutely in need of your favorite hiking gear, multitool, or food items? Is it expensive to get a new one? Send them via FedEx, UPS, or DHL to the destination city and have the package held. You can claim it by showing your picture ID via your passport. Most importantly, ship early and give the shipper adequate time to send it to your destination. You want it to arrive before you do.

How Strict Are Airlines About Carry-On Baggage Size

Most airlines have luggage sizers right at the check-in entrance or while boarding the plane. If the check-in agent suspects your pack to be oversized or overweight you may be prevented from boarding with it. But, beware of overpacking. The trick is to make it appear lightly-packed to help escape unwanted attention at the checkpoints. Hiking backpacks always appear lighter comparative to traveling bags. Yet this old geezer doesn’t recommend you to test the boundaries set by the airlines. They can ask you to get your backpack measured and if it doesn’t fit in, you could be charged for it or they will make you check it.

In practice, airlines haven’t been too strict about the size limits and weight of your carry-ons. But, to be sure ahead of time, you can get a hiking daypack in the range of 30 to 45 liters with overall dimensions which adhere to airline guidelines.

Although, a daypack is hardly big enough for a long trek. The Geez recommends either checking your pack with a backpack airport cover or shipping your larger pack to your destination.

Can I Take Walking Sticks, Canes & Hiking Poles on a Plane

Traveling to the Rocky Mountains or state parks? Most hikers cannot live without hiking or trekking poles for support and balance to guide them to the top. As we get older it never hurts to use them, even if you think you don’t need them. But, the first question that’ll pop up in your mind is whether you can take the canes, walking sticks, trekking poles or hiking staffs on the plane?

TSA allows walking sticks or canes only if they are required as an assistive device. Trekking poles, however, are strictly disallowed.

You can take folding hiking poles (that aren’t sharp or pointy) or folding hiking staffs inside your carry-on. It’s better to put it in a protective bag or cover to prevent any damage to the backpack. If the airlines’ policies don’t let you carry your hiking poles in the carry-on, you can place it in the checked luggage to be safe.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Hiking For Seniors: How To Decide What Hiking Poles To Get

 I fly with my folding hiking poles in my carry-on all the time with no problems. But we all know that TSA agents are all different and can be quite random in their searches. So, I will advise you to place them in your carry-on while traveling at your own risk. 

5 Tricks to Easily Gain Clearance from the Airport Authorities

  1. Overpacking leads to expansion of the backpack beyond the provided measurements. Therefore strictly avoid doing so.
  2. When the airline allows for an extra personal item, remove your DSLR, laptop, or another heavier item at the check-in desk to make the backpack looks lighter and properly sized. You can always place it back in once you’ve passed security. In exceptional cases, airlines include the weight of your personal items along with the carry-on, so always check with the airline prior to flight.
  3. Wear your heaviest hiking clothes and shoes or tie them around the waist to lighten your pack.
  4. Compression bags and stuff sacks are great to reduce the bulky-looking size of your backpack. If it appears lighter, most likely the airlines wouldn’t weigh it at all.
  5. Carry a single backpack instead of being loaded with various items, again, you don’t want to draw attention to your overstuffed backpack.

What Is The Difference Between A Daypack And A Backpack

My 88L Backpack and 35L Daypack

My daypack is one of my favorite pieces of gear. There are times I want to carry around a few items for regular hiking trips or travel, like my camera, energy bars, my favorite ground cloth, etc. Fortunately, it is smaller in size. Subsequently, my regular larger hiking backpack is quite bulky.

I found a daypack online that I love. Since then it has been easier for me to choose what I really need to carry for short hikes or as a personal carry-on when I fly.

Conceptually, bags with shoulder straps are categorized as backpacks. So, daypacks are a type of backpack. Still, there is a difference! A daypack is lightweight, spacious enough to accommodate a few extra small necessities, and is reserved for short-duration, day hikes. Hiking backpacks are much larger and can carry heavier loads. They are built with support in mind.

The carrying capacity of daypacks is generally measured in liters. As a rule, they fall between 15L to 45L. Even a 15L daypack is spacious enough to keep a laptop and a few extra items. However, a 45L allows you to spend a weekend comfortably with all your necessities in one place. In addition, you can use a day pack as a carry-on.

A Daypack Makes A Great Hiking Backpack Carry-On

Daypacks generally have no back support, although many include some shoulder padding to provide optimum comfort. However, the shoulder straps aren’t as padded as a regular backpack. They are not meant to be worn for long treks or heavy loads. If you are planning to get one for yourself, ensure that it has a sternum or hip belt for added support and comfort. Higher-end daypacks have padded hip belts for even more comfort.

Overall, daypacks can be worn anytime and anywhere. Because they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles they are a must have piece of hiking gear.

Final Verdict

Years of hiking expeditions have trained this old geezer to leave no stone unturned. Above all, when you travel to your favorite hiking destination, there are always certain rules and regulations to abide by. That being said, there are generally ways to circumvent those rules by being diligent and a bit creative. However, I always check the size and weight restrictions of the airline ahead of time. Most importantly, by measuring the size and weight before leaving I avoid problems at the airport. In short, the Geez gets the essentials on board without the least bit of trouble. 

Happy Trail Travels!

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The Geez

I’m Dan Cousins the Geez behind Old Geezer Hiking.

Tag along with me as you explore how to hike safely and gain confidence on the trail. Learn the best places to hike and the latest backpacking and hiking equipment for older hikers. Discover how to dehydrate your food for nutritious tasty meals on the trail.

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