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How to Successfully Board A plane with a Hiking Backpack as Carry On

So you are planning to travel for your hike experience and want to know how well a carry-on hiking backpack can serve? Well, a carry-on backpack has its benefits, as you can store many essential gear and items on it. Everyone knows the sense of safety of having their hiking backpack with their most important stuff within eye reach. However, there are rules to boarding airlines with one.

The backpack’s size matters a lot, and so does the overall weight. All airlines have rules regarding hiking backpacks and carry-on luggage in general. You must stick to these rules to successfully travel via air with your hiking backpack as a carry-on. Find out all about these regulations to avoid mistakes on the day of boarding your flight.

Boarding a Plane with a Carry-On Hiking Bag

Know and Stick to the Weight Limit for a Carry-on Luggage

The number one requirement to handle if you have a carry-on backpack is not to overpack it. As far as air travel is concerned, you must load your bag within the recommended weight of the airline you want to fly.

Generally, most airlines do not allow passengers to go beyond the 10kg limit. That is about 22 pounds. A few go beyond 22 pounds and may even allow up to 30 pounds, which is quite amazing. So you have to be careful with the weight restriction so you do not have to unpack or find your backpack in the cargo section. That way, you end up paying more with an increased risk of losing your bag and gear.

Some airports are more concerned with the dimension of carry-on luggage than the weight. They offer specified limits for length, width, and height. In reality, dimension measurement does not necessarily mean you get a better option to load more weight, as the size limits are not so accommodating and may barely carry items over 10kg.

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Below are some major airlines and their carry-on Backpack specification. You can use them as a guide to know what to expect before you buy a hiking backpack and load it.


Frontier specifications on Carry-on Bags and backpacks are quite clear. Loaded bags must be less than 35 pounds which is very generous. The carry-on dimension limit is 24 inches high, 16 inches wide and 10 inches long.

American Airlines

American Airlines is as good as Frontier even though the dimension of the carry-on luggage allowed is not as vast as the latter. The accepted limit for carry-on luggage on an AA airline is 22 inches (H) X 14 inches (W) x 9 inches (L). However, the catch is that there is no recognized weight restriction. This means you could pack in some essentials, a little over 35 pounds, inside your hike backpack with American Airlines. It just has to fit, and you are good to go.

Delta Airlines

Delta Air Lines is pretty strict with its carry-on requirements. You can only take one carry-on backpack, which cannot exceed 22 pounds or the famous 10kg limit. The size of your bag should not exceed 22 inches in length, 14 inches in width, and 9 inches in height. When boarding from Singapore, your carry-on limit goes down to 7 kg, about 15.4 pounds.

United Airlines

United Airlines is also as accommodating as American Airlines but has restrictions. You cannot use its carry-on space if you are flying economy unless on international travel or if you are a MileagePlus member. The accepted weight limit is 22 inches (L) X 14 inches (W) X 9 inches (H). There is no published weight limit, but it is best not to overdo it, so you are not forced to check your backpack.

So based on popular airline weight requirements for carry-on luggage, it is clear you need to keep your hiking backpack small and within the 22 pounds limit. If your airline accommodates more weight and load, then all the better for you.

Hiking backpack as carry on 1

Keep All the Essential Gears You Cannot Afford to Lose on the Carry On

Now that you know most airlines’ weight requirement range, the next step is to decide how to load your backpack. It is best to have your flight booked to work with the outlined weight and size requirements. If you do not have that settled yet, you can check your airline carry-on dimensions and weight requirements.

More often than not, you are likely to travel with more than 10KG of hiking gear, so you generally have two choices:

  • Divide your gears and travel stuff into essentials and non-essentials
  • Leave most of your equipment behind and purchase them at your destination.

While desirable, the second option will see you spend more money purchasing equipment you may still need to dispose of when returning from your destination. The first option is recommended.

If you are traveling with lots of stuff and gear, you should keep all the essentials you cannot afford to lose inside your carry-on backpack. That way, you will have all your most valuable items within reach. Other equipment and items that are not top priorities can be kept in less-quality air travel temporary luggage. This luggage is often very cheap, and you do not have to spend a fortune to purchase it. The plan is to check the luggage and pay less for cargo space. You can buy a luggage cover, which is often available around airports, to protect your checked luggage.

What and Not What to Load on Your Carry-On Hiking Backpack

Knowing what your airline accepts in carry-on luggage is essential to avoid any trouble and possible flight cancellations. TSA requirements are stringent, so you need to adhere to them. You do not want to be arrested and slammed with possible criminal charges for loading prohibited equipment in your backpack.

What Can You Carry?

Based on personal experience, all airlines will let you load up to 3.5 ounces of liquid on your carry luggage. Most will let you pack insect repellents and Roll-ons. Try to keep all liquid contents under 100 milliliters. Personal toiletries and other skin-protective trail accessories are usually allowed on your carry-on. You can keep your toothpaste, sunscreens, deodorant and shampoo bars. Small equipment that cannot cause direct harm to a human is allowed in your carry-on. Watches, compasses, sunglasses, small clothes and boots can also be inside your carry-on.

Hiking backpack as carry on 2

What Not to Carry

Some important hiking gear you cannot have in your carry-on include Knives, firearms and hatchets. They are allowed in checked luggage if you are in the United States. If you are traveling with a firearm, it is expedient to have proof of ownership and a license. Also, it is vital that your target destination allows the legal possession of firearms.

Do not attempt to hide any of the above weapons on your carry-on, as you may fall into trouble with TSA Agents.

Equipment like trekking poles, Pickaxes, arrows, potty trowels and sharp-end objects should be kept in your Checked luggage. You cannot have pepper sprays with up to 2% Capsaicin on your hiking backpack.

If you plan to hike in bear territories and think you need bear bangers or repellents (these make a booming sound like explosives and firecrackers to scare bears), you will have to buy them at your destination. Most airlines do not accept explosive imitations on carry-on backpacks or checked luggage.


It is possible to have some personal items that are important to you and want them within eye reach. If you feel they may be prohibited on a carry-on, you should call your airline customer agent for clarification.

Last Thoughts

Travel hiking helps you enjoy a diversified experience, and preparing right, especially with the choice of luggage, is a major determinant of success. A carry-on backpack can help you store some essentials. However, as has been outlined in this piece, there are several limitations to how much you can store in a carry-on. Also, more importantly, certain equipment will not be allowed in your carry-on.

In most cases, you will need both checked luggage and a carry-on backpack to carry all your equipment for your travel hiking properly. The bottom line is to ensure that you stick with your airline rules and ensure you are not breaking any laws with your carry-on backpack. You do not want to ruin your travel hike, so it is best to stick to the law.

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