Guidelines for Traveling with Hiking Gear

What TSA Does and Does Not Allow

If your trip to the trailhead involves a plane, you don't want to lose your hiking poles at airport security. Some of your gear you can carry on or check, and some should be left at home.

If you're at all unsure whether you can carry something on or not, take the safe route and check it. For more information, access the "Can I bring...?" search tool or use the "My TSA" app (available for both iOS and Android devices).

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Cooking and Fire

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Photo (c) Bud Force/Getty Images

If it's flammable, there's a good chance it's prohibited. Items like lighters, fuel, and camp stoves are generally not allowed on the plane, even in checked luggage.

  • Camp stoves: These can be brought "only if they are empty of all fuel and then cleaned such that no fuel vapors or residue are noticeable" (according to the My TSA "Can I Bring?" tool). Camp stoves are one of the few items that receive fairly strong "TSA gets the final call" wording (lighters are another), so be extra careful with that cleaning to make sure you don't lose your WhisperLite at the security checkpoint.
  • Empty fuel canisters: TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers says that you take clean, empty fuel canisters aboard, although she recommends placing them in checked baggage to avoid confusion. If the canisters are brand new, Dankers recommends leaving them in their original packaging to underscore that fact.
  • Fuel for your stove: Not a chance. Plan to buy it at your destination. If you use disposable canisters, return unused canisters to the store at the end of your trip. Donate partial canisters locally before you leave.
  • Lighters: The rules for these are a little confusing. Lighters without fuel are allowed in checked luggage. You can have up to two fueled lighters in your checked bag, but only if they're in a DOT-approved case. One lighter is allowed in carry-on luggage, although some strong wording makes it clear that the TSA can take your lighter away if they want to. Torch lighters are prohibited completely.
  • Matches: One—and only one—book of safety matches ("non-strike anywhere," says the TSA) are permitted in your carry-on. Surprisingly, you're not allowed to check matches through at all.
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Defense Items

Firearms and other self-defense items are strictly prohibited in carry-on luggage. But you don't need to leave these at home. If properly stored, they are usually allowed in a checked bag.

  • Bear spray and other self-defense sprays: Prohibited in carry-on luggage. You can check these if they're 4 oz (118 ml) or smaller, with no more than a 2 percent concentration of the active ingredient. In practical terms that means bear spray is not allowed at all in your checked baggage—it's too big—but some personal pepper sprays are.
  • Firearms: You can't carry these on, but in most cases, you can check them through. Always double-check with your airline about any limitations, including specific packaging requirements and fees. Flares and straight gunpowder, including black powder and percussion caps, are completely prohibited.
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Pointed Objects

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Photo (c) DESCAMPS Simon/hemis.fr/Getty Images

​Pointed objects like knives and even hiking poles can be dangerous. Make sure these are in your checked bag before you board your plane.

  • Knife: A good knife is a critical part of most hikers' gear, but the TSA is not going to let you on the plane with one. Put your beloved pocketknife in your checked bag to make sure you don't lose it in the last-minute hustle through security.
  • Hiking Poles: Check only—which is much easier to do if they're the collapsible sort. If you still have rubber tip guards, put them on so your poles don't end up tearing through the side of your suitcase or puncturing anything else.
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Miscellaneous Tools

Photo © Lisa Maloney

​If you're carrying 200 yards of rope, you may raise eyebrows at airport security. Although these items aren't strictly prohibited, it's usually best to check them if you can.

  • Cordage: Carry on or check, according to Dankers. If you think your cordage might look suspicious for some reason, though—maybe you're carrying a lot of it?—better check it through just to be safe.
  • Duct tape: Carry on or check.
  • Zip ties: These are great for emergency repairs, and you're allowed to carry them on or check them through.
  • Personal care items: You can take insect repellent and sunblock in your carry-on if it follows the standing TSA regulations for liquids: 3.4-oz or smaller container, and it has to squeeze into the single, quart-size zip-close plastic bag of liquids and gels that each passenger is allowed. Larger containers can go in your checked luggage.