Air Travel Tips for Hikers & Backpackers

IMG_20150511_065141If you have flown anywhere in recent years you likely know the list of items you cannot bring along in your checked or carry-on luggage is rather extensive. For the average business or vacation traveler the challenge of packing is complicated enough; however, for those of us who like to spend our vacation time tromping through remote wilderness locations with a backpack full of gear, the challenge is even greater!

In this article I will focus on domestic air travel in the US, not to exclude anyone, but rather because the rules and regulations of international air travel include not only the safety and security concerns of our own US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) but also those of similar agencies in other nations. Keep in mind that customs and immigration laws unrelated to air travel safety will also apply, so even if an item can be transported in a carry-on bag, it may not be legal to bring that item through customs; for example many countries, including the US, ban the import of certain food items. My only recommendation, if you are planning an international trip, is to start your research early.

Do I Need to Check Baggage?

The short answer is yes! If you are flying and bringing your own gear it is safe to assume you will need at least one checked bag for your gear if you are day hiking, and likely one checked bag per person if you are backpacking. You need to research the checked baggage policies and fees when booking your flights as checked baggage fees can add up quickly, often $25 or more, per bag each way depending on the airline. Some carriers like Southwest Airlines offer two checked bags per ticketed passenger at no extra charge. With their already low prices for airfare and the bonus of not having to pay extra for checked bags they are my personal favorite for our adventure travels whenever routes and schedules allow!

IMG_20150511_072601On the ground at Denver International Airport

Other Gear Transport Options

There are other options such as shipping your gear via a land based carrier, though, based on what I have paid to send Christmas gifts through various shippers in the past few years, the costs are significant, and there are still restrictions that apply. In addition to the cost, there are many logistical and timing issues you will need to work through if you go this route. Another option I will mention is working with an outfitter who rents gear at, or will ship it to, your destination. I have done a cursory look around the internet and know there are a number of companies who do this, but cannot comment on the cost or availability of these services, which I expect vary significantly depending on where your adventures take you and what time of year you travel. Even if you use one of these options there are still items you will need to purchase at your destination, so planning and research are always a must.

Special Considerations

If you have special dietary needs or require special medical equipment, supplies, or medications you need to do your homework regarding air travel restrictions. If there are items you plan to purchase at your destination, I expect most cities large enough to have an airport will also have places to purchase whatever you need, but do not take this for granted, especially in more remote destinations. Spend some time on the internet researching options, and by all means, follow up with a phone call, especially for highly specialized or critical items.

Planning Ahead and Preparing to Pack

Start gathering your gear at least two weeks before your trip. Our dining room becomes a staging area for gear before any backpacking trip, but this is especially true for our trips that include air travel. Waiting until the last minute is a sure way to forget a critical piece of gear or leave something in a carry-on bag that causes TSA agents and local police to take unwanted interest in you at the security check point! The later situation is certain to result in confiscation of the overlooked item, like a favorite pocket knife or multi-tool, or still worse, it could turn into a complete search of your person and baggage, a missed flight, and potentially a fine or even arrest, depending on what the item is.

IMG_5815Backpacking gear gathered in our dining room before a trip.

Check all the pockets in your backpacks and clothing to make sure there isn’t a spare lighter, fire starter, knife, or some other restricted item tucked away. And keep in mind that some outdoor clothing lines have hidden pockets and compartments for survival gear built into their clothing, so extra diligence is warranted with these types of items.

Packing Your Bags

The weight limit on checked bags is generally 50 pounds, with additional fees for oversize and overweight bags. As you pack your gear consider the fit as well as weight of each item. Once your bags are packed you should weigh them and make adjustments as needed.

IMG_5817Packed bags ready for weighing.

Having more than one checked bag gives you flexibility as you can shift items between bags to balance the weight and keep them all below the limit. If you check only a single bag you will need to closely watch the weight or just plan to pay the overweight baggage fee.

IMG_5820Hanging the bags on a luggage scale to ensure they are within the weight limits.

Guidelines for Specific Items

The following table is my attempt to cover the some of the most common items hikers and backpackers might carry.  Though this is certainly not an exhaustive list, I tried to include many of the pieces of gear I have personally had questions or concerns about in the past. With a few items I could not find specific TSA guidelines.  In those cases I have given you my personal interpretation and practices, which generally err on the conservative side. I prefer the no hassle approach and would rather not risk losing valuable gear! If you have specific items you are concerned about I suggest reviewing the TSA’s list of Permitted and Prohibited Items yourself or using their “Can I bring my…?” tool, that allows you to search for guidelines on specific items. If you review these resources and still have questions I suggest calling the airline or contacting the manufacturer of the item.

airtravelrestrictions

At Your Destination

Another practice I recommend is spending some time before your trip searching the internet for outfitters, grocery stores, and other vendors where you can purchase supplies once you arrive at your destination. This saves time, allows you to find the stores closest to your road travel route, and gives you an opportunity to call ahead to check hours and make sure any special items you need are available. I usually plug the addresses into my GPS unit before the trip, as well, making navigation quick and easy.

We tend to purchase most of our supplies in the cities where our flights take us. Cities with airports tend to be larger so the stores have a better selection and usually cheaper prices. That said, the stores we have patronized in and around the national parks have not had significantly higher prices. And, although the selection of items is usually limited, you should have no problem finding the basics of food, water, and fuel. Taking the time to do a little research in this area will save you time, frustration, and disappointment which is not what any of us want when we are tired from spending hours in airports and sitting on a plane!

Final Advice

If you want to avoid hassles, delays, or the loss of an important piece of gear, I strongly suggest you err on the conservative side and leave questionable items at home or plan to purchase them at your destination. Consider every item you take, large or small, and finally make sure you check and double check your gear to ensure you don’t forget anything critical or leave a restricted item in a carry-on or checked bag that will cause problems going through security screening at the airport.

Travel safe, hike safe, and by all means get out there and explore this vast, amazing, and beautiful world that God has blessed us with!

Todd the Hiker

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015 & 2017.

Relevant TSA Website Links:
Permitted & Prohibited Items: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/prohibited-items
Liquids & Gels: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/liquids-rule
“Can I bring my…?”: http://apps.tsa.dhs.gov/mytsa/cib_home.aspx

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He Has Put Eternity into Man’s Heart

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.  ~ Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (ESV)

IMG_6059View along the Grand View Overlook Trail, Island in the Sky District, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah.

The open spaces and seemingly infinite views of the American west provide us with many iconic landscapes that encapsulate our nation’s deep seated spirit of independence and freedom.  Our recent trip to Canyonlands and Arches National Park fully met, and perhaps even exceeded, my expectations of amazing vistas and endless photo opportunities.  I have yet to decide whether these places are a photographer’s dream or nightmare, as incredible scenes surround you every step you take along the trail.  The real challenge is deciding what not to photograph!

As we would pause on our hikes to gaze out upon yet another magnificent panorama, I could not help but reflect on the vastness of the wilderness that lay before us, and ultimately my thoughts would turn to my own smallness in contrast to the infiniteness of our mighty God who created all of this.  What is it about scenes like the one in this photograph that give us pause and lead us to great moments of reflection?

Beautiful places like this serve multiple purposes in God’s sovereign plan.  On one hand they are simply a gift from God given for our enjoyment and relaxation.  On the other hand, they are also intentionally designed to stir deep feelings within us. As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, these feelings come from God, who “has put eternity into man’s heart.”  God has made us in His own image, and part of that image is a mind that allows us to consider things beyond ourselves, beyond the physical horizons before us, beyond the moments in which we currently live, and eventually to things eternal.

And yet, while we may ponder the eternal, we will never have all the answers, in fact this passage tells us we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We cannot know the mind of God, nor will we ever fully understand His ways, but thankfully he has given us hearts that desire eternity.  Ultimately that longing we feel is a longing for God, a longing for a personal relationship with the Almighty Creator, Himself.  In our fallen, sinful state, though, our desires lead us to pursue things other than God as we try to fill the void within us.

But praise God, because he has not only given us a desire for eternity, he has also given us a means to fulfill this desire!  He has given us an amazing creation that points us to Him.  He has given us his written word, the Bible, that tells us how to fulfill this desire.  Above all He has given us  the Living Word, His own Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who, through His perfect life, undeserved death, and glorious resurrection, gives us the only way to fulfill this desire and spend eternity with Him beyond our brief and tiny lives here in this world.

To God be the glory, forever and ever!  Amen!

Yours in Christ,
Todd the Hiker

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.

He is Risen!!!

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But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” ~Luke 24:1-7 ESV

Wishing you a blessed and happy Easter!

Yours in Christ,
Todd the Hiker

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.

Rocky S2V Ambassador!

teamS2V-todd

The past couple of weeks have been quite eventful for me, to say the least. After the ambassadorship with UST Brands announced last week, this Thursday I was contacted by Rocky S2V (Smart, Strong, Versatile) about joining their team of ambassadors. Once again, little time was required for me to formulate my response, another quick and hearty, “Yes!”

Rocky has been well known for making top quality boots for the military and outdoorsmen since WWII, and in recent years they have adapted and expanded their line into an “integrated system of outdoor apparel, footwear, and outdoor essentials.” I have already had the opportunity to try out a couple of items from this product line the Agonic Mid-Layer Jacket and Dead Reckoning Trek Pants I am wearing in the photo. The Agonic has already become my every day spring jacket and go to for hiking on cooler days. Given the great performance of these items, I am really looking forward to putting the rest of their gear through the paces.

One other thing that makes this such an exciting opportunity for me, aside from Rocky’s well-known name and long-standing reputation for quality and ruggedness, is the fact that they are based in Nelsonville, right here in my home state of Ohio. They are just a couple hour’s drive from home, and also quite near one of Ohio’s scenic treasures, Hocking Hills State Park. Somehow I sense a visit to ROCKY BRANDS™, Inc. and a hike at Hocking Hills may soon be in the making; I can’t wait!

IMG_0803Cedar Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.

Todd the Hiker

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2015.