Traveling with bulky gear—like surfboards—is possible, even if you don't have a plane all to yourself.
Traveling with bulky gear—like surfboards—is possible, even if you don't have a plane all to yourself. (Photo: Scott Dickerson/TandemStock)
Gear Guy

What Are Some Useful Tricks for Flying with Outdoor Gear?

We asked the pros how they haul bikes, skis, and camera gear across the world

Traveling with bulky gear—like surfboards—is possible, even if you don't have a plane all to yourself.

Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.

Flying with your gear sucks. In addition to schlepping heavy bags and worrying about careless baggage handlers, it can be expensive. So I called a few pros to get their useful tricks. Here’s what they said.

Caroline Gleich: Pro Skier

Last year, Gleich brought nine bags—duffels, ski carriers, and other odds and ends—on a three-week trip to Peru. Her first suggestion: pack all your small but heavy gear—think Goal Zero batteries and Clif Bars—in a carry-on so you don’t get charged extra for an overweight checked bag. “Sometimes I will have a 50-to-60-pound carry-on,” Gleich says. She also likes being able to roll everything without a cart—just in case there aren’t any at the airport—so she’s devised a system where all her duffels fit on top of her wheeled ski bags. Finally, Gleich always brings a handful of surfboard tie-downs to strap her skis to a rental car, even if it doesn’t have a rack. “But don’t let the rental company see it, because they will freak out,” she says.

Eric Porter: Pro Mountain Biker

Bikes are even more unwieldy than skis, so Porter likes to enlist help when he travels. Instead of parking at the airport, where he has to haul his own stuff, he parks at an off-site lot where attendants help him haul his bike, or bikes, from the truck to the airport curbside check-in counter. He also isn’t afraid to use a cardboard box (instead of a hard case) to pack his bikes. He goes to the local bike shop and asks for the biggest 29er or fat bike box so he doesn’t have to disassemble much of his bike, and he adds padding, such as foam and bubble wrap, to protect against the chaos of the baggage system.

Darin McQuoid: Pro Kayak Photographer

Kayaks might win for most awkward gear to travel with. McQuoid suggests researching your airline’s kayak policy before buying a ticket because each one is different. Virgin Atlantic allows kayaks at no extra charge, Southwest charges $75 each way, and United doesn't allow kayaks to be checked. With rental cars, McQuoid likes to have at least a basic rack so he can tie the kayaks down.

Ken Hoeve: Pro Stand-Up Paddleboarder

It’s fairly easy to travel with an inflatable SUP because it packs down to the size of a tent. Hoeve suggests bringing two pumps, just in case, and testing them before you leave. If your SUP is rigid, you'll have to call the airline and ask whether they have a SUP policy. For his carry-on, Hoeve uses a Yeti Hopper because it’s big enough for his computer and other essentials and holds cold beer and food when he’s on the water.

Anson Fogel: Pro Videographer and Camp 4 Collective Partner

When Fogel and Camp 4 are shooting, they have hundreds of pounds of of camera gear. Most amateurs will travel a lot lighter but face similar travel problems. He suggests carrying your camera gear on the plane because you don’t want it banged up in the baggage area. If you have to check it, go for a bomber hard-sided Pelican Case. “You have to assume that everything you check is going to be thrown out of the plane,” he says. Fogel also suggests contacting the airline about its lithium battery rule, which will specify where those batteries need to be stored (usually in your carry-on). Finally, he suggests checking whether your homeowners insurance will cover your camera gear on the road. This can be pricey, but it gives you peace of mind if something gets lost, stolen, or broken on the tarmac.

Lead Photo: Scott Dickerson/TandemStock

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small commission. We do not accept money for editorial gear reviews. Read more about our policy.

promo logo