How to Pack Your Ski Bag for a Flight

A well-packed ski bag can mean the difference between an epic holiday and trashed gear. Here's how to do it right.

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People have very strong opinions on the best way to pack ski gear for a flight. Some prefer to cram everything into one bag, others separate their equipment out of fear of losing luggage, and some are adamant about putting their boots in their carry-on (no matter how smelly).

I ski between 60 to 100 days a year and usually fly with my gear two or three times a season. Over time I’ve developed my own packing system based on trial and error as well as tips and tricks from friends who ski a whole lot more than I do. Here’s the best of both.

The Bag

A double ski bag (which fits two pairs of skis) is the only way to go, because it gives you room to pack clothes and extra equipment, like skins. I’ve used a Thule Roundtrip Ski Roller (from $280) for several years. It’s durable and effective without a ton of unnecessary features. If I’m taking a direct flight and only bringing one pair of skis, I tend to pack all my equipment and clothes in the roller.

If I’m bringing two pairs of skis, I usually bring a duffel bag like the Thule’s Chasm 70 (from $140) for outerwear and anything bulky. A bag with backpack straps is a must for manhandling heavy gear through the airport.

Most airlines will let you check a boot bag in addition to your ski bag at no extra charge. My method of choice is to shove my boots into the same bag as my skis; it’s one less piece of luggage to worry about.

How to Pack

Start with your skis first. If I’m taking one pair, I lay the skis side by side on their bases. You can use ski straps or thick rubber bands to hold the brakes up, which will help them stay flat. This gives you more room to pack other gear in the bag. If I’m bringing two pairs of skis, I’ll set each pair on their edges next to each other and fill the surrounding space with clothes. The Thule Roundtrip Ski Roller has a dedicated, padded sleeve for my poles.

Boots come next. I usually stuff socks into my boots and lay them on top of the tails of my skis. I also like to bring along a DryGuy Travel Dry DX portable boot dryer ($32), which will fit into the boots. If you’re worried about your boots scratching the topsheet of your skis, put a jacket between them or use stuffsacks (some ski bags come with them).

After that, the key is to keep things organized and fill out the rest of the bag with as much light and soft gear as possible. I usually lay my clothing (base layers, ski pants, jackets, midlayers) out on top of the skis to serve as extra padding. Rolling the bigger items can help save on space.

I keep smaller items that are easy to lose, like buffs, glove liners, and gloves, in a zippered compartment inside the bag. If your bag doesn’t have one, use a stuffsack.

The other thing you’ll want to leave room for is your helmet. I always try to keep the thin bag most helmets come with and pack it in that, with my goggles and lenses inside to prevent scratches. I find that on ski trips I don’t end up wearing much beyond what I ski in, so I can typically fit the rest of my clothes and toiletries in the ski bag.

If you’re backcountry skiing, pack bulky items, like skins and a shovel, in your ski bag, but keep your avalanche beacon in your carry-on. In general you’ll want to pack anything fragile separately or make sure it’s well protected within your ski bag.

Other Tips

If I have a tight connection or am going on an international trip, I always carry my boots on the plane with me. It’s easy to rent skis if your luggage doesn’t make it, but nothing ruins a ski trip faster than a pair of crappy rental boots.

I like to pack a small rag in my ski bag. This ensures I can wipe my skis and other gear down and try to dry things off as best as possible for the trip home—especially important if you plan to ski in the morning before your flight.

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