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Ask Kristin

Airline Travel Options for a Loaded Pack

What are some packing options for checking a loaded duffle on an airplane?

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We are taking our loaded backpacks on an airplane and are looking for protective sacks that we can put the backpacks in so they don’t get destroyed during baggage handling. Where do I find this type of protection?

Submitted by – Anonymous


The key question: how much do you want to spend? No worries, I’ve got solutions that range from $0 to $160.

Let’s start with the frugal method. If you’re an organized person and can get everything into your pack (and use a carry-on for overflow) you can get away with skipping the duffle altogether. Just wrap the hipbelt backwards around the pack body and clip it tight. Then crank down on all the other straps (shoulder straps, load lifters, compression straps. Tuck and wrap any extra strappage securely away–the idea is to make a lean, mean package that won’t get hung up on conveyor belts. Often, the airlines will give you a big sturdy, plastic bag at check in. You can slip the whole pack inside, tape it up, and your covered.

If you’ve got a little money to spend on a duffle, cool. I actually prefer this method when packing for a big trip. Because I’m always switching things out and repacking (based on weather conditions and group gear needs) up to the last minute, I find it frustrating to get myself all organized at home, only to rip it all apart at the trailhead. So I like to lay my empty pack at the bottom of a huge duffle, then layer all my other stuff on top. Then I make final decisions and load my pack at the trailhead. This also allows me to pack a separate bag for post-hike street clothes and comfy shoes, and gives me a little extra space for to hold any souvenirs I pick up along the way for my kids.

You can find very cheap, serviceable duffle bags at most army surplus stores or track down one of these for about 25 bucks:

If you’re willing to make a serious investment, however, I’ve got the ultimate bag for you: The North Face Basecamp Duffle in XL for $160. Now, I know that sounds like a big chunk of change to spend on a duffle bag, but consider this: I’ve been dragging one around for about 15 years, and it’s still going strong. It’s made of a bombproof rubberized material that will outlast any canvas or nylon. And the integrated shoulder straps make it easy to schlep through airports. It’s practically the official luggage of BACKPACKER editors (I noticed this on our recent trip to Norway, where 4 out of 7 of us carried them). We love this bag so much we gave it our Editors’ Choice Gold Award last year. Check out this review for more details.