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Backpack as checked airline luggage?


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I'm going to be flying out to Arizona for a Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in June, and I'm going to use my backpack as my primary piece of luggage. It's too big to carry on, so I will have to check it. So, here's my question: What do I put around the backpack to protect it during the flight? I'm thinking about a duffel large enough to hold it, but I have seen backpacks in heavy plastic bags. Do the airlines provide these bags? Any general suggestions on how to protect my backpack for check-through? Thanks

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I'm going to be flying out to Arizona for a Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in June, and I'm going to use my backpack as my primary piece of luggage. It's too big to carry on, so I will have to check it. So, here's my question: What do I put around the backpack to protect it during the flight? I'm thinking about a duffel large enough to hold it, but I have seen backpacks in heavy plastic bags. Do the airlines provide these bags? Any general suggestions on how to protect my backpack for check-through? Thanks


On our side of the pond you can by things like this. I'm sure you can get something similar in the States.


There's a similar one on eBay and it looks like the seller will ship internationally - see here for details.


Hope this helps,




(edited for stupid bannana fingers....D'oh!)

Edited by Von-Horst
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The main thing you want to do is protect the straps, buckles, zipper tabs, etc... from the baggage handling equipment. If it gets hung up in the works, they are gonna cut off whatever gets jammed and blame it on you.


If you have a place to store it when you arrive, I would shoot for a large wheeled duffle that the pack fits in. Possibly one with a telescoping handle as well. If you have to keep it with you or dispose of it, shoot for a heavy plastic bag. Just remember to check with the airlines for size and weight restrictions before taking the plunge.


Also, remember, TSA needs to be able to search your checked baggage, so you either have to leave it unlocked, or use one of the TSA-approved locks. And they may not get your stuff re-packed as neatly as you, so leave a bit of unused space.

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Plastic wrap works great for protecting your pack while it is in transit, be it on a bus, train, UPS, or the back of a pick up. I have not tried this with airlines and TSA since 9-11, so you'll need to think that one through before flying.


The process below sounds involved, but it really only takes about five or six minutes to prepare your pack for safe shipping once you've done the preparation work.


Get ready.


Purchase industrial plastic wrap at a U-Haul store that sell moving accessories (it's green). I found U-Haul to be much less expensive than the big box home stores. The wrap comes on a roll about 18" wide, with handles on each end to facilitate wrapping. A roll that will wrap maybe 10 packs cost about $10 bucks. Also round up a 1"x3"x18" piece of wood, a length of 18" 1/2" diameter rope, and destination and return address labels.


Start here.


Fully pack your pack as if you are ready to hit the trail. You can even have things hanging on the pack. The exception is that you must leave out 1) anything you'll need before you get to where you are going, and 2) any item restricted from shipping (fuel, etc.).


You are not done yet. :yikes:


Stand your pack on end and wrap the plastic around the pack, streatching the plastic wrap as you go. It helps to have help with this process. Go around the pack about three times at the top, then slowly start to wind your way down to the bottom of the pack, with each round overlapping the previous set of wraps. When complete with this step, every layer will have at least three layers of wrap.


You are not done yet. :D


At this point, the top and the bottom of the pack will be the only parts of the pack visible. Now, lay your pack on its side, and wrap the pack from top to bottom. Remember, streatch the plastic wrap as you go. After a few laps, the pack will be completely covered, like a mummy.


You are not done yet. :shocked:


Now, print a "destination label" on your printer. Use really large and bold type and completely fill a 8.5"x11.0" sheet of paper. Take this label and put it on top of the plastic wrapped pack, and then wrap over it about two wraps. The wrap is clear so your label will be easy to see.


You are not done yet. :anicute:


Take a piece of 1"x3" wood, 18" long. Drill two 1/2" diameter holes in the center of the 3" face of the wood, 6" in from each end. Now, take an 18" length of 1/2" diameter rope and thread each end through one of the of the holes in the wood, and tie the two ends of the rope together in a square knot (if you can't tie a square knot, you might want to cancel the pack trip and stay at the lodge :( ). You have now made the handle for your mummy-wrapped pack. Adjust the size of the handle by adjusting the square knot.


You are not done yet. <_<


Lay the wood and rope handle on the front or side of your pack, right on top of the mummy wrap. Try to locate the handle at the point where the back will be balanced when lifted by the handle. I like to have my handle on the side of the pack so that it will carry like a suitcase. Now, wrap the pack some more going around the handle and the rope. Remember to streatch the wrap and to overlap the previous wrap. Yes, you are now wondering why you didn't just put the handle down with the initial wrapping. Stay tuned, you will learn why.


You are not done yet. :ph34r:


Now, carefully, take a knife and cut a slit in the plastic along side the rope. Fish the rope through the slit. By putting the handle on last, your pack is essentially waterproof even though you cut the wrap to get access to the handle.


You are now done. :D


Extras hints.


You'll never get your mummy pack to unwrap. To get at your pack, carefully cut the wrap using a sharp knife. For this reason, make sure you don't need anything out of your pack before you get to where you are going, and don't leave anything in your pack that will freak out TSA inspectors (e.g., MSR fuel bottles, propane canisters, etc.).


Pre-print a return label if you plan to come home. Put the label in your pack before you start the wrapping process.


If you plan to come home via public transportation, consider buying two roles of plastic. The first role will be wrapped to your pack. When you get to your destination, you can stash the extra roll of wrap, the return label, and handle, and then wrap your pack once the trip is over.


Have a great trip!

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Thanks. I suspect TSA may get rather grumpy when they get the pack, since they reserve the right to rifle through one's things whenever it strikes their fancy. The only luggage locks they don't cut are the ones that can be opened with their skeleton keys. Based on past experience, I wouldn't be surprised to see my pack gutted like a fish from stem to stern, with a sarcastic note from the TSA apologizing for any damage the pack may have suffered while they were cutting away the mummy-wrap.


Apologies to any TSA people on this board, but I have had very negative experiences with TSA over the years.

Edited by imajeep
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I will be doing the North to South rim to rim hike in MAY. Last time I hiked the Grand Canyon (South Kaibab down..Bright Angel up) I had to take a smaller external frame pack than I usually use. We were able to fit 2 empty packs in a large suitcase by just undoing the top (internal) support wires. I am currently looking for an internal frame pack for my upcoming trip.



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If you're a backpacker, then you may go by the adage: always be prepared.

Expecting the airlines to always have a plastic bag available for you does not seem very prepared. If they don't have one, have a new employee who doesn't know where they are, you are late and can't wait for the new employee to find one, etc. what do you do?

Just get a nice big duffle bag from your local surplus store and call it a day.

I know some people who travel with their backpacks around the world all the time and they recently came to me to get their dufflebags repaired that had thousands of miles and many years use on them. They swear by them.

If the airlines could damage a duffle bag as badly as theirs were, I would Not want to put an expensive backpack in a baggie.

Use something that will protect it. It's worth the price of saving your pack, or having to repair it at a strange location before your trip.

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Aha! I found it! I'm preparing for my trip out to the Grand Canyon (actually two trips--one to do a rim-to-rim, then another to go down Thunder Canyon to Tapeats Creek two weeks later). Anyway, REI carries pack covers made specifically for airline travel. They cost about $30. I got an Osprey Airporter--it says it will hold packs up to 8200 cu. in. I believe it--my Kelty Red Cloud has 5600 Cu. in., and it didn't come close to filling up the pack cover. Zip-up, reasonably sturdy, and it stows in its own pouch to the size of a hardback book. Weight is 13. oz. REI makes a slightly smaller one for about the same price.

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I'll add one more follow up. I exchanged the Osprey bag for an REI house-brand bag that was just the right size for my Kelty 5600. I got a couple of 60' REI pack straps to strap around the bag to secure it to the pack. It all works like a chanp, and I'm ready to go!

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What I use for my backpack is a large drawstring bag made of canvas.

Pop the bag in and pull the strings tight loop knot it then stuff the strings in the bag.

Makes it easier for the customs to search it and is really easy to store aftarwards.

Plus you can dye it for easier spotting at the baggage drop. :(

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Not sure that this is the greatest advise but i can tell you some of the problems you might encounter with checking a backpack at the airport.


First the ticket agent is supposed to ask you questions about dangerous goods like matches/lighters/any kind of fuel or propellant, even aresols like bug spray, if you have any of this you have to get rid of it or they wont check your bag.


Next you might want to be prepaired for a charge of some kind, most airlines are nickel and diming everyone now even for thier first bag. Generally anything over 50 pounds will get charged more for heavy luggage.


As far as plastic bags go, well you have to consider the bag tag. It gets scanned so they can track it and its hard to scan it with the plastic wrapped around it, so what usually will happen is the we (I'm a baggage handler myself) will rip open the plastic where the tag is so we can scan it. Most of the time its because we have too much to get done and we simply dont have the time to try scanning it several different ways to get a good read on the bar code.


Also it was mentioned earlier that any kind of straps, bindings, buckles and stuff like that can get caught in the belts and conveyers that your bag is going to be riding on. Best to tape them up. I've seen a lot of luggage that has been ripped wide open and all your stuff goes spilling out. If this happens (due to the time thing) we'll find a big plastic tub to put your stuff in a pile and send it that way.


Another thing you may consider is liquids. Any kind of water or drinks you bring are likely going to be frozen solid when you reach your crusing altitude. Your containers could crack and then leak once it thaws.


Also keep in mind that those TSA (Thousands Standing Around) can open your bag up to search it. If you put any kind of lock on it they will cut it off and leave you a note inside with your cut lock.


As for protecting your gear inside, a good rule of thumb i would go by is that if you can stand on it w/o breaking anytrhing your probably ok


Its a lot to remember but most of the time backpacks make it intact with all your stuff

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