Avoiding damage to backpacks on airlines...

1:03 p.m. on January 19, 2010 (EST)
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I'm flying from Canada to South America to do some backpacking. Just wondering what others do with their rucksacks on the airlines.

Seems they're too big for hand carry luggage, so I guess I have to check it. But with all the straps, openings, loops etc on it, I'm worried about it being damaged by the baggage throwers. Any thoughts on how I can keep it from damage?

tighten all the straps, use bungy cords to lash loose parts down, fill it with paper to make it bulky??

All thoughts appreciated. Thanks, Dave

8:32 p.m. on January 19, 2010 (EST)
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I actually run an airline, so hopefully I can give you some insight :)


The *easiest* way is to get the rain cover and use some sort of locking mechanism to keep it from opening up. I've been able to use my larger rain cover to have almost everything but a small hole on the backside. The only downside is to make sure the shoulder straps are out - most agents typically put the bag tag there.

We just carried a bunch of rescuers down to Haiti and they had garbage bags on their backpacks. One guy had an external framepack - we were talking and he told me the external doesn't get beat up nearly as bad - which makes sense, as most luggage is transferred on conveyor belt with "smashers" .. err "pushers" that direct it down the right path.

Some guys here will tell you to get a large duffle bag - which you can find online at campmor.com and rei.com - and just put your pack in there.

9:07 p.m. on January 19, 2010 (EST)
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One of my Scout Advisers told me to attach a "packing list" to the check-in luggage as a convenience to the baggage handlers. In some cases, a disclosure of contents speeds up the screening process and avoids the digging around to check the contents. I am told that baggage handlers have unpacked a backpack and were unable to re-pack the contents, causing loss of equipment in the loading process. In the case of U.S. travel, sending sensitive possessions, i.e., fly rods, reel, fly boxes, or digital cameras via FedEx or U.S.Mail to a friend/family member at the selected destination is a suitable solution. Carry all of your personal medications onto the aircraft so they not be lost in transit! Please respond with other views; thanks!

10:08 a.m. on February 7, 2010 (EST)
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Assuming that you won't need to secure the contents against theft, a large duffle bag is the general solution. The idea is to get all of the pack's loose ends well corralled so they don't get damaged during transit. You should pack everything you want in the pack, take it down to a sports store and find a duffel that comes closest to fitting it. Since it will probably be identified as overweight to start with (and call for premium air freight pricing), you might as well plan on stuffing whatever else you need with you inside as well - including your boots. I wear mine. I figure I can replace most everything else quickly.

I doubt you will be so fortunate to find a duffel that will fit your pack like a kid glove. Unless you have one made for it, it will probably be somewhat bigger.

Depending on what you have in the duffel, you might want wheels on it or at least handles on it that give two people a chance at getting it moved. A heavy duffel is awkward to get out of the terminal. Check with the airline on externally wrapping the duffel up with rope to secure it and provide readily available handles. I suspect most would discourage that for the same reason that you are putting the bag inside a duffel to reduce the loose fitting pieces on the outside.

It will probably fit better if you remove the harness/waist belt or at least compress and tie it securely to the pack. Any pointy things like trek poles, crampons and ice tools should be well wrapped, protected, secured to the pack and caution on the outside so as not to hurt a baggage handler or your gear.

If there are portions of the duffel bag that are still available for more stuff, you might consider duct taping it to be more compact rather than add more to 'buff it out'. Also consider a roll of duct tape inside for the return.

So long as you are not shipping any fuel, the stove should pass inspection if it is odor free. Check with the airline on any concerns they have.

Make sure you have identification on the loose pieces inside in case some get 'lost' on the way. I took a picture of the contents of the bag for insurance purposes. Once you add up all the replacement costs of your gear, you will find that the airline's insurance barely covers the cost of the duffel bag.

At your destination, it is unlikely it will come down the luggage chute to whatever they have as a carousel equivalent. Ask the airline where your duffel can be found at your destination. It has been a long tense wait full of apprehension for some after the luggage area shuts down and their package is still not there, only to find it waiting just around the corner at a 'will call' area.

Plan ahead what you will be doing immediately after you collect your duffel. It may be more convenient to reassemble your back pack away in a corner someplace, so that you will have your hands free when you enter customs. But make sure you plan what you will do with all the extraneous things you might have tossed in there 'because you could'.

What will you do with the now empty duffel at your destination?

7:19 p.m. on February 7, 2010 (EST)
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What about one of those big plastic bags they have at the check-in counters? I usually use that to keeps everything together.

8:51 p.m. on February 7, 2010 (EST)
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There are some really good points here. I travel frequently though I have not traveled with a large backpack. Looking at the great advise above, I would likely try the following...


1. Weigh your luggage before you get to the airport. Two bags at 30 lbs is typically free, 1 bag at 60 lbs will cost you $50US. My wife and I just had to pay this when coming home from Italy this fall. It's not fun.

2. I like the idea of protecting the backpack in a duffel bag. I am thinking it might be smart to take 2 duffel bags, one with the backpack and some items and a second for the rest of your stuff. Make sure there is extra space so the bags can be repacked if they are searched.

3. What do you do with the duffels once at your destination? Ship them home? Donate to someone less fortunate than you? Lock them in an airport locker upon arrival and reuse/repack when you leave (assuming you are leaving from the same airport). Leave them at a hotel and reuse/repack when you leave (this might be risky depending on where you are staying).

4. You could even donate the duffels when you arrive and buy some more cheepos when you leave for the trip home.

Good backpacks are not cheap and ruining one at the start of your trip would really suck. I would try pretty hard to protect them. I have had large softside luggage destroyed by baggage handlers in India. I would hate to think what they would do to the metal frame in your pack!

Cheers!

Mike

10:30 p.m. on February 7, 2010 (EST)
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I've used a duffel bag in the past (back and forth to the UK from San Diego. Worked great. Get a cheap one.

8:26 a.m. on February 8, 2010 (EST)
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Yes, weigh, weigh, redstribute, and weigh again.

Coming back from Salt Lake after OR last month my one duffel bag now weighed 63 pounds. The airline was going to charge me $125 on top of the $25 per checked bag fee if I couldn't get it down to 50.

I got it down to 52 and ended up carrying on two small backpacks, one of which contained a slackline, boots, and everything else heavy I could squeeze in, which I checked at the gate.

I'm considering doing more shipping of gear in the future, versus paying so much at the airport.

As for the backpack itself, I'd try to get it into a duffel bag. You can put it in flat with your gear, and pack when you arrive.

If you don't go the duffel bag route, make sure every strap is tightened down and closed, and request one of those big plastic bags. They're harder to find now though. We've saved ours in the past.

Actually, at the SLC airport while standing in the security line I saw a roll of those big heavy plastic bags and I considered going over to get one or two to take home for later use. However, I had no space for anything more to carry.

2:36 p.m. on February 8, 2010 (EST)
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I do a lot of traveling with climbing/backpacking/ski gear, including international travel. Everything except skis (too long) goes in my pack and then in a heavy duty duffle (Outdoor Research or my wheeled Eagle Creek). I have never had any damage to the contents, though my Eagle Creek had a zipper damaged (the one that covers the roll-around extendable handle - Eagle Creek repaired it and returned the bag for free, though I paid the shipping to them).

I frequently have ice tools, ice ax, ski poles (3-section usually, sometimes 2-section), crampons, rope, harness, helmet, carabiners, chocks, cams (full rack), cook gear (not stoves - those are strictly forbidden by some airlines and have restrictions for others), etc in the pack. Ice ax, crampons, poles, and ice tools are best packed with foam around the pointed ends. Good thing about the roll-around is that it has a rigid back frame that helps protect the poles.

With the soft duffels, I often use them as the gear bag on the sled (glacier approaches, for example). With the roll around, we usually are gathering the group at a B&B, hostel, or similar before and after. These places are usually willing to store the bag for the duration (the hotel we stayed at in Africa had a storage room for trekkers and climbers. same in Alaska and Punta Arenas, Chile. Hostels in France, Switzerland, Italy store stuff as well).

As for Security (TSA, that is), packing the pointy things and cook gear outside the pack in the duffle and only soft things in the pack makes life easy for them and less likely to take everything apart. On the way back, put your stinky sweaty clothes on the top - they will get as far as the stench and quit if it is apparent you went backpacking or climbing.

Other thing I do is ship stuff via FedEx or UPS - these both do international shipping. This works for the stove, and it is convenient for the tents as well. If you have a B&B, hostel or hotel for the beginning and end of the trip, you can usually ship it to yourself at that place (better if you stay at a trekker/climber friendly place than a 4-star or, gasp, 5-star). Or ship it to a friend who is there. FedEx and UPS will allow a will-call at some locations.

Oh, and I usually wear my plastic climbing or ski boots on the plane. Slows things a little at Security, but it gets the vital footgear there. Plus, my carryon has all the vital down gear in it - sleeping bag, parka, pants - you typically can not replace those at the destination if the bag gets lost.

And do keep the bags within the weight and size limits - these have shrunk lately.

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