Best way to check backpack on airline for longer travel

My husband & I will be backpacking Europe for 5 weeks and have larger backpacks that we are taking with us. We will be checking our bags in and were hoping to get suggestions on the best way to check our bags. (i.e. wrapping the pack?) or would anyone recommend just carrying on?? Thanks!

Posted by Ceidleh
Boston, MA, United States
1423 posts

Check the size and weight limits for all of the airlines you will be flying on during the trip to find out if you would have the option to carry your packs with you in the cabin.

If your bag exceeds the limits, you could find a backpack sleeve at a store like REI. If you haven't already purchased a backpack yet, you might want to research buying a pack that allows you to zip up the shoulder and waist harness straps so they don't get caught in the conveyor belts at the airports.

Posted by Ellen
Centennial, CO, USA
1617 posts

Does your backpack have a rain fly? If it does, use that to cover the straps. Get a band large enough to go around the bag to secure the rain fly.

Another option. Purchase a lightweight nylon duffel that will fit your pack. You can then simply put the duffel into the pack until needed for your return flight.

You can only carry on if the pack fits the airline regulations for luggage. If not, it must check.

That being said, if you are going for 5 weeks, your pack shouldn't be over 55 liters in size, and thus should fit in the overheat compartment.

Posted by Jon
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
368 posts

I checked my pack when traveling last year and found that if the straps are long enough, you can tie them together and get them out of the way. Also, you can buy some compression straps can be used to further secure the bag.

Also, ask the airlines if you can get one of the large plastic bag when you check in that they put baby-seats in.

Posted by Frank II
4845 posts

Just remember not to pack it so that it is too difficult to get into. Just like regular luggage, if TSA sees something in the bag they don't like, they will want to get into it. Make it too hard, and they will just cut the outer wrapping.

Posted by Maureen
1357 posts

You will have to somehow secure the straps, or they won't take it. We've traveled with our backpacks often, and checked them when we did. Our packs had straps that either a)removed so we could put them inside the packs or b)had zippered compartments that we could tuck the straps into. Anything else hanging off of it we just tied together as tightly as we could. When you get your luggage off the carousel, you'll have to get the straps back out, but it doesn't take long.

Posted by Amy
Clarksville, TN, USA
865 posts

I agree with Maureen and Jon. I traveled with my backpack (it's a large backpack) again at Christmas, and the skycap made it easier on me and just gave me one of those large plastic bags so I didn't have to worry about trying to tie off and tuck in all the straps. So when we go to Ireland in September, I'm going to go that route again. Plus, if there's room in my pack to take it along, it will come in handy if it rains while we're enroute to any accomodations! Happy travels, 5 weeks would be heaven!

Posted by Pauliina
11 posts

Thanks everyone for all the helpful information!!
We'll be flying SAS so I'm hoping they will have the plastic bags for us to use to cover our packs!!

Posted by Pauline
British Columbia, Canada
188 posts

We checked backpacks and were concerned about the straps getting caught in the conveyor belts. No problems--my straps tucked away but my husband's did not. He just made sure that everything was shortened and not hanging loose. One note about the plastic bags--we thought that was a great solution for my son who had to travel through the US. However, the guys at LAX opened his bag and disgarded the plastic bag. Oh well, everything arrived in one piece but he spent some time looking for his pack in a plastic bag before he realized what had happened!!

Posted by Chris
Puyallup, WA, USA
881 posts

After 15 or so trips with the back pack, Ellen's suggestions are probably the best. Rain flies work great, a thin duffle it will fit it, or stuff sack.

Rain fly worked great most times, but stuff sack was difficult to get a hold of.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
8186 posts

You can buy waterproof bags to check them in. I think that's the best option to keep any loose straps (or straps that might become loose) from getting caught in machinery and tearing your pack up.

Even if you tuck everything away nicely. TSA may look in your pack and not do as thourough of job putting it back in order.

Posted by Larson
110 posts

As an aside...from a packing POV..dont think of it as going for 5 weeks...think of it as going for one week x 5.

5 weeks worth of stuff is just WAY too much stuff. once every week or 10 days take a morning off and hit the laundromart..they're pretty entertaining in themselves. The last one I hit was in Florence, and had a little pub attached--the most fun I've had doing laudry ever!!

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
8186 posts

Like Larson said. One of the best tips I've seen is always pack for four days, whether you are traveling for a weekend or a month. I'm not sure I do exactly that but I keep it in the back of my head while I'm packing.

Posted by Tigerfan
Savannah, GA, USA
156 posts

We decided to check our backpacks coming back to US at the end of our trip and they just automatically handed us big plastic bags to put them in when we walked up to check them. This was for a Delta flight out of Munich. They did arrive in the US in the bags.

In the US, for an extended backpacking trip out west, we went to our nearest UPS store and had the packs shrink-wrapped for a couple of dollars each, and then found the same in Salt Lake City to have it done again there. Worked great.

Posted by Beth
Richmond, VA, US
1 posts

Wow, Shrink Wrapped, eh? I have never heard of that. How interesting!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24152 posts


First of all, do either of your Packs have a "stowable" harness system? That's a great feature to prevent straps from being torn off by airport conveyor systems. Also, are your Packs "top loaders" (with drawstrings) or "panel loaders" (with zippers)?

A few points that I've found when travelling with a Backpack:

  • I use a panel load Pack and always secure the zipper, either with a TSA Lock or one of Rick's plastic luggage locks. If the officials decide to inspect the contents, they shouldn't have any problems.

  • My pack does have a stowable harness. Even so when I was travelling recently, the airline placed it into a "plastic tub" for the ride along the conveyor system.

  • The shrink wrapping option is available at some airports. One place I noticed this recenlty was Milano / MXP. The service was provided for a few Euros, and it was a lime-green coloured wrap so easy to spot on a carousel. With shrink wrapping, keep in mind that you have to get into the pack at your destination, and all your cutting implements are inside the pack!

  • Some people pack a collapsible Duffel to store their packs during air transport. I've never bothered because my Pack doesn't need that and because that's just one more thing to haul around Europe.

  • I use the companion Daypack that came with my Backpack for carry-on.

  • If your Backpacks are larger, you won't have the option of carrying on, either due to size or weight. Also, if it's heavy you'll be required to lift it into the overhead bins and on some aircraft there won't be room under the seat. One that I flew on lately had some kind of "equipment" mounted under the seat, which meant I had half the foot room (and storage room) that most of the other passengers had.

Happy travels!