Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Backpack as Luggage

Air travel is a pain.  And frankly, I'm sick of it.  I sometimes think it would be better to drive eight hours than to take a short flight...

I used to really enjoy the process of flying...when I was eight or nine.  But now as an adult, I find it to be an expensive, uncomfortable and nerve-racking process.  It's a game.  What will I have to pay for?  Will I get to use the arm-rest?  Have the others in my row elected to use deodorant?  Will my neighbor's body fat "share" my seat?  Will my luggage get there?  How long will I have to sit on a plane that isn't moving?

I hate it.

But I also recognize that it is part of the process.  To go anywhere really cool, you have to fly.  And flying somewhere on a climbing trip means that you have to check baggage.

Obviously one of the key components to a flight is your backpack.  There are a couple of ways to deal with this ever-so-important item.

A smaller pack (under 3500 cubic inches) can often be brought into the cabin with you.  On foreign mountaineering trips, we often recommend that climbers stow their boots and hard-shells in the pack.  These are things that you won't be able to replace if your luggage gets lost.

Some people suggest carrying a rock rack or harness in your carry-on.  If you elect to do this, expect to spend significant time at the security check-point.  If you have things on your harness, don't forget to check your harness knife, otherwise they'll take it away.

This should be common sense, but don't even consider carrying an ice rack, ice tools or an ice axe in your carry-on.  You can expect to have significant problems trying to get through security with such items...and an attempt to bring so many sharp things through, could lead to all kinds of additional problems (i.e. a "backroom" search).

If you intend on checking a backpack, it should be noted that pack-straps can cause significant issues on the different machines used in airports to maneuver luggage.  It's important to pull the shoulder straps tight and to clip the waist belt around the body of the pack.

In this photo, note that the shoulder straps have been pulled as tightly as possible and 
that the waist belt has been clipped on the opposite side of the pack.

There are still a lot of straps that could get caught, but by pulling everything tight, 
there are a lot less loops that could get caught in airport machinery.

Some airlines will simply put a backpack in a large plastic sack.  This would also be a perfectly acceptable way for you to ensure that nothing on your pack got stuck.

Airline travel is terrible...but to do what we love to do, it is often a necessary evil.

--Jason D. Martin


  1. If you're really close to the 50lb checked baggage weight limit, I often wear my mountaineering boots onto the plane then switch into flip flops for the duration of the flight. It's a great way to save a significant chunk of weight.

  2. I feel you with the hating to fly thing. We live in Chile, and we return about once a year to the states to see fam. Troublesome to say the least. Plus, they keep reducing weight limits.


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