Flying with your gear.
Lighters, knives, even guns are allowed in checked baggage. You
6,037 forum posts
I fly with gear a lot and have found a number of things that help get your gear through in one piece, er, that is, undamaged or minimal damage. First, a slight correction to adam's comments. Since 9/11, the airlines have gotten a LOT stricter on what you can carry in carry-on and in checked luggage. In general, you cannot carry anything flammable or explosive in either checked or carry-on luggage. This means you cannot carry lighters or matches in either checked or carry-on. This is proving a super-pain for me when I head up to Alaska in a few weeks - have to leave my favorite lighter behind (only lighter I have found that works consistently on backpacking stoves and at altitude). It also happens that Alaska Air is the strictest for taking stoves - none, nada, zero, whether new in the box, used, in checked or carryon. The answer is that I am using UPS and sending my stoves and fuel bottles to a friend to pick up when I get there.
So count on buying lighters and matches, as well as fuel and possibly fuel bottles, when you get to your destination. Since you say you are coming out to the Left Coast (where I am), rest easy - we have many many outdoor stores, some of which sell such things cheap. As for the stove (and fuel bottles), check with your airline. What will they accept in checked luggage - any stove, purged stove, purged fuel bottle, only new fuel bottles, or what? Since the airlines are doing at least random checks of checked bags (and at some airports, X-ray of all checked bags), if they find forbidden items, you are subject not only to confiscation of the stove and bottles, but possibly fines and jail. (remember the case of the guy last week, April 11, who had his shoes confiscated and blown up because they thought he had explosives in them - turned out to be just electric footwarmers. I posted the story over on the climbing side of this board, about 5 main topics down, under "I'm not kidding").
Ok, so what to do if the airline says no way (as Alaska does)? If you have a friend near your destination, ask him/her if you can UPS the stove and fuel bottles to be picked up (ground only, I think, check with UPS). Another alternative is that generally butane stoves are ok with the airlines (without cartridge, of course). So consider a Primus or MSR stove of the type you screw onto a cartridge. You can buy the Lindahl-valve cartridges in most sporting goods stores, as well as the backpacker shops around here. Even WalMart, K-Mart, and Target carry them. Since you are coming in the warm season, these will work very well.
Now for the rest of your gear. Consider cutting your weight as much as possible. If you are backpacking, you should be well under the limit for checked bags (geez, adam, what are you carrying for summer that brings your weight up to anywhere near the 75 pound limit?). As adam says, put your pack inside a large duffle. The baggage handlers (mechanical and human) love to grab straps and tear them off. I have also had zippers lose their pulltabs, even on a regular soft bag. Pack straps are a natural, as are compression straps. You can get a large enough duffle for a LOT less than it costs to repair a shoulder strap. Get one made of heavy-weight cordura or similar material. I have been using a giant-sized OR duffle for several years and carry my winter climbing gear in it - no damage to the pack, ice tools, hiking poles, snowshoes, etc. This includes international trips, as well as to Alaska and to other parts of the lower 48 (ConUS, as they call it). When I take skis, I use a heavy-weight purpose-made ski bag. But skis get handled differently from other baggage.
If you take sharpies (ice tools, crampons, a hand ax - although in California, we LNT-ers frown on people who chop wood and build campfires), be sure to cover and pad the sharp ends. Make a fold-over cover from heavy boxboard and tape it in place with duct tape. Folding knives (obviously in checked baggage, as is required even for nail files and nail clippers these days) need no extra padding.
When you pack your pack, put the bendable, breakable items in the middle and the soft stuff (clothes) on the outside. I usually put things like my ice tools and poles inside the pack, but the snowshoes end up outside the pack against the bottom of the duffle (opposite the duffle's straps and zipper).
If you have clothing that is hard to replace (probably not for Calif in summer, but like your down parka if you were going to AK), put it in your carryon that goes under the seat. I usually wear my hiking/climbing boots, but this has caused problems at security since 9/11. I always have to take the boots off and send them through the xray. At SFO and SJC, you may have to send even regular shoes through the Xray.
Think about any electronic devices you might be carrying - cell phone, FRS or ham radio, CD player, games, electronic cameras. These will get close scrutiny. I still hand my film camera and film around for hand inspection (I use professional film, which is more sensitive to x-rays, especially multiple passes - never put film in checked bags, since the checked bag xrays are higher intensity).
Anything that could conceivably be used as a weapon is forbidden for carry-on luggage. That includes hiking poles, nail clippers, knitting needles, etc. (don't understand why it doesn't include sharpened pencils, though, or shoe laces which could be used for garroting). Look on the airline websites. American and Alaska have the most extensive lists.
Keep in mind what the media have reported - the airport security people are poorly paid and often poorly educated. They will follow the rules exactly. Be very friendly and laid back - don't argue. You can ask them to please repeat so you understand exactly what they are asking you to do.
Keep in mind that camping and backpacking gear are out of the ordinary, so you will get some extra scrutiny. Don't dress like a dirtbag camper, but more like an ordinary tourist (clean up before your return trip). Stuff your return pack with the filthy stinky clothes on top (this stops hand inspections pretty quickly). Mostly be very patient, get there much before the recommended time (recommended for domestic these days is about an hour, so get there 2 hours ahead, but try not to be first in line - first few people tend to get picked for the hand inspections and repeat checks).
You will get questioned at the checkin counter. You may get picked at the check-in for a random checked baggage check (be ready to unpack and repack everything), or an explsives sniffer check (this is a huge machine that takes the bag inside, closes its doors, and does a chemical check). You will have your bags xrayed and go through the metal detector (put all keys, coins, belt buckles, etc in your carryon bags, and don't forget the canopener you have on your keychain). You may get selected for a hand check at the security gate, even if you pass the metal detector without setting it off (at SFBay area airports, they select every 2nd or 3rd person for rechecks these days). You may get selected for recheck at the gate while boarding (again, every 2-4 people - I've seen a 3 year old boy get selected, with his backpack full of toys completely emptied). Oh, yeah, you get to repack your bag after the recheck. And if something gets damaged, too bad, security is not responsible (says so in writing). My wife got selected for every handcheck on a trip to Florida, which included at a change of planes in Atlanta. So far, my only complete recheck of checked bags was in Mexico City.
Just be patient. They are only doing their job. We don't want repeats of 9/11.
409 forum posts
I fly with gear a lot and have found a number of things that help get your gear through in one piece, er, that is, undamaged or minimal damage. First, a slight correction to adam's comments. Since 9/11, the airlines have gotten a LOT stricter on what you can carry in carry-on and in checked luggage. In general, you cannot carry anything flammable or explosive in either checked or carry-on luggage. This means you cannot carry lighters or matches in either checked or carry-on.
Good stuff, Bill. However, I see folks with lighters and matches all the time. You will too if you look in the smoking section of any airport. So...lighters and matches are not prohibited items unless they are "self strike matches" and you can't carry "lighter refill".
Also, I've heard tell of folk takin' their fuel bottles and filling with kool aid and carrying on. Or checking. A white gas stove might be more of a bummer. Harder to clean and get rid of 100% of fumes. May be better to mail that bugger.
Brian in SLC
From Alaska Airlines, here's the prohibited list of items:
What items are restricted from being in my baggage?
Many common items used everyday in the home or workplace may seem harmless; however, when transported by air, they can be very dangerous. In flight, variations in temperature and pressure can cause items to leak, generate toxic fumes or start a fire.
Items that may not be packed in your carry-on or checked baggage include:
Explosives: Fireworks, gunpowder, signal flares, sparklers or other explosives
Flammable Liquids or Solids: Fuel, paints, lighter refills, strike anywhere matches, sterno
Household Items: Drain cleaners, solvents, other caustic or corrosive solids or liquids
Pressurized Containers: Butane fuel, scuba tanks, propane tanks, CO2 cartridges, self inflating rafts, spray cans (limited amounts of personal toilet articles, such as hair spray, are allowed)
Undeclared Firearms: Firearms may not be placed in carry-on baggage. They may be included in checked baggage if they are declared, unloaded, and properly packaged. Special restrictions apply for flights to/from Canada and Mexico. For details call 1-800-ALASKAAIR (1-800-252-7522).
Cutting Instruments: No cutting instruments of any kind (regardless of size or composition) are permitted in the cabin or beyond the security check point. This includes knives of any kind, carpet knives, box cutters, scissors, razors, ice picks or other folding or retractable blades. Security may also confiscate other sharp objects or items that may contain sharp objects such as manicure sets and cork screw type wine openers.
Dry Ice: Please see the limitations for dry ice in baggage in the question below. Dry ice in excess of those quantities must be shipped as air freight.
Other Hazardous Materials: Gasoline-powered tools, wet-cell batteries, camping gear with fuel, radioactive materials, poisons, infectious substances.
409 forum posts
FAA sets the minimum rules. Airlines can be more restrictive.
Matches and lighters are allowed. "Matches and lighters may only be carried on your person. However, "strike-anywhere" matches, lighters with flammable liquid reservoirs and lighter fluid are forbidden."
So...carry your bic(s) on yer person.
Brian in SLC
From their website, here's the poop:
Do not pack in luggage or carry on board:
Signal flares, sparklers or other explosives
Flammable Liquids or Solids
Fuel, paints, lighter refills, matches
Drain cleaners and solvents
Spray cans, butane fuel, scuba tanks, propane tanks, CO2 cartridges, self-inflating rafts
Firearms, ammunition, gunpowder, mace, tear gas or pepper spray
Other Hazardous Materials:
Dry ice, gasoline-powered tools, wet-cell batteries, camping equipment with fuel, radioactive materials (except limited quantities), poisons, infectious substances
Many common items used everyday in the home or workplace may seem harmless, however, when transported by air, they can be very dangerous. In flight, variations in temperature and pressure can cause items to leak, generate toxic fumes or start a fire.
It's the Law...
You must declare your hazardous materials to the airline, air package carrier, or U.S. Postal Service. Violators of Federal hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR parts 171-180) may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $27,500 for each violation and, in appropriate cases, a criminal penalty of up to $500,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years.
Hazardous materials are prohibited in checked or carry-on baggage.
There are certain exceptions for personal care, medical needs, sporting equipment, and items to support physically challenged passengers. For example:
Personal care items containing hazardous materials (e.g., flammable perfume, aerosols) totaling no more than 70 ounces may be carried on board. Contents of each container may not exceed 16 fluid ounces.
Matches and lighters may only be carried on your person. However, "strike-anywhere" matches, lighters with flammable liquid reservoirs and lighter fluid are forbidden.
Firearms and Ammunition may not be carried by a passenger on an aircraft. However, unloaded firearms may be transported in checked baggage if declared to the agent at check in and packed in a suitable container. Handguns must be in a locked container. Boxed small arms ammunition for personal use may be transported in checked luggage. Amounts may vary depending on the airline.
Dry ice (4 pounds or less) for packing perishables, may be carried on board an aircraft provided the package is vented.
Electric wheelchairs must be transported in accordance with airline requirements. The battery may need to be disconnected, removed, and the terminals insulated to prevent short circuits.
For sharp items like ice axe/tools, hiking poles, etc. I have had good luck using old tennis balls. Just cut a 2 inch slit in the ball, stuff a bit of rag inside and insert the sharp end of the tool into the ball. This prevents the sharp stuff from damaging other gear or punching through your duffle. The tennis balls take up minimal space.
For crampons, I have the little rubber point protector thingies. I place the bottom points together opposing each other and wrap the whole mess in a mesh bag to keep it together.
I know from experience that Bill is right about the stinky clothes, but he should be more careful about suggesting ways to avoid baggage searches. You just don't know whose reading this stuff.
6,037 forum posts
...However, "strike-anywhere" matches, lighters with flammable liquid reservoirs and lighter fluid are forbidden."
I was told by Alaska that a Bic with a see-through reservoir is a "flammable liquid reservoir" (well, yeah, it's the liquified butane), and therefore forbidden. Just confirms Alaska's reputation as the most rigid and literal of the major carriers. I suspect the FAA actually means Zippo-type lighters, which is too bad, considering Zippos work at altitude and will light primed white gas stoves fairly reliably.
6,037 forum posts
unfortunately, the Bad Guys already know all this stuff. Remember how many trips they made on various airlines rehearsing and checking things out.
I hadn't thought of the duffle bag-a great idea. I might however, use one of those "tuffy" bins (allready have one-just have to check the dimensions). I checked UPS, they'll ship butane type cartridges (ground). I was planning a food drop halfway through my trip anyways, so one more shouldn't be a problem I'll send the lighter/matches as well.
Hey, I did say to keep it UNDER 70# :).
When I went on an extended assignment to Seattle a few years ago I took ALL of my gear which included 2 sets of boots, and 2 packs, 2 ropes, axes, harness and all other associated goodies. Total weight came out to 71#. I
6,037 forum posts
Hey, I did say to keep it UNDER 70# :).
Yeah, I know. Just joshing. My expedition checked weight often is around 65 pounds - makes for hard work in the airport, and taxi/van/shuttle drivers won't handle it, even for a large tip (OGBO's tips are based on the 1961 price of a can of brew in Germany).
Anyway, your comment about the metal tag on your dress shoes reminded me of the woman (someone I know from climbing circles) whose belly-button piercing set off the detector, and it took several passes with the wand before she realized what it was. My late father-in-law's hip replacement used to set them off all the time in his retirement travels around the world. Hmmm, wonder what the security people would say about medicinal nitroglycerine? Many people with heart conditions carry little nitro pills to use for angina and other heart symptoms. If it were in the luggage, a explosives-sniffing dog would pick it up immediately, I suspect.
Lot of great suggestions so far. I use a soft sided golf club travel bag (with wheels) to check-in my gear. Its large enough to hold a large external frame pack loaded, extra clothes, snowshoes, ice axe, you name it. These golf travel bags are made to handle travel -it works great for me.
6,037 forum posts
Thanks for the idea. I have also used one of the wheeled duffles, since manhandling a huge duffle by the handles is awkward as a cow on crutches. What is the cost of the golf bag carriers? Any size limit problems? I didn't get the largest rollaround duffle because of the size limits. Somehow, I never comprehended the way the size limit is set - length plus width plus height, with a maximum on the largest dimension. Somehow volume seems more logical.
You can find a wheeled golf club bag for $60-75. You don't need one with alot of bells and whistles. Just make sure its cordura.
Its no problem checking them in. I flew to Denver for a week long trip in the Wind Rivers last September. Everything I needed for a week fit in it. The clothes packed around it do a great job cushioning the gear.
The baggage handlers are actually surprised the bag is light. They expect a heaveir golf bag and club load.
have done many international trips w/a backpack and hands-down best way to go is a duffel. army surplus stores carry a great variety of HUGE duffels that are meant to be abused. so you can pick something a little bigger than your bag and fit whatever you can't/don't want to pack in the bag itself in the duffel.
fyi-have also just checked the backpack and made sure to secure straps by tieing them together or safety-pinning them down. that's worked as well - no probs. but the duffel is much easier for bringing along the extra stuff that doesn't fit in the pack.
Base Layer Bottoms
Smartwool Men's Intraknit Merino 250 Thermal Bottom
Seek Outside Divide 4500
Hydrapak Stash 1L
Long Sleeve Performance Tops
Black Diamond Men's Alpenglow Hoody
Mountain Hardwear Men's Stretch Ozonic Pant
Arm and Leg Sleeves
The Elixir UV Arm Sleeves
Liquid Fuel Stoves
Coleman Feather 442 Dual Fuel Stove
Mystery Ranch In and Out
Limmer Men's Mid-Weight