5 Tips For Checking Your Travel Backpack at the Airport

While we typically carry our backpacks with us wherever we go, for long haul flights, we sometimes choose to check our backpacks onto the airplane.  But travel backpacks are very different than standard luggage that is checked on an airplane.  And the last thing you need is for an important strap to be tore up or a clip to be broken during transit.  Over the years we have come to find out some essential tips for when you check your travel backpack. Here are our top 5 tips for checking your travel backpack.  

5 tips for checking your backpack

1. Secure All Your Hanging Straps on Your Travel Backpack

A good travel backpack has a lot of straps.  And they are all quite important, as we discussed in our post “how to fit your travel backpack.”  So one thing to make sure of before passing your bags over to be checked by the airlines is to make sure there are no loose straps.

Ready to travel

Our Mountainsmith travel backpacks are great, but sometimes it is more convenient to check them on the airplane!

This will not only help keep your bag from getting stuck in the belts, but it will keep from tearing the straps up in the process!  It also helps maintain the length of your straps when you pick up your pack at baggage claim, so you don’t have to do as much readjusting.

Liz has really enjoyed having her Mountiansmith Juniper 55, and I travel with my Mountainsmith Lariat 65.  Our backpacks are important pieces of equipment, so the last thing we want is for our straps to be ruined.

Getting Ready to Fly

Lots of hanging straps! Be sure to tie them all up before checking your travel backpack on the plane…or they might get tore up!

2. Tie Your Travel Backpack Shoulder Straps Together

This is a tip that a lot of people may overlook, but to me this is an extremely important tip when checking your travel backpack. Let’s be honest, the crews in the back couldn’t care less about your bags. And they are used to moving mostly typical travel luggage, with handles and wheels.  But backpacks are unique.

Backpacks have a lot of hanging straps, including the two critical suspension straps for your shoulders.  And as we know, travel backpacks are very important pieces of equipment…that should be handled with care!

Single Strap

Securing my travel backpack shoulder straps together makes one easy strap for airline baggage handlers to use!

I like to try and make their job a bit easier (and protect my travel backpack) by giving them one main strap to hold on to, rather than two.  This helps them move my pack to where it needs to go. I have seen that by doing this it keeps my strap at the length that I want them. That way once I get my bag at baggage claim, I can get it and go and not have to go through a full on adjustment of straps. This helps me out in case I might have to run to my next connection or mode of transportation.

3. Bring Electronics & Power Cords With You in Your Carry-On

Never check your electronics OR power cords. But sometimes in the airport, we may have to rush to check our bags and might forget about our electronics in our backpacks until the last minute. So having easy access to our main compartment is essential in getting our carry-on ready to travel. The u-shape design on our packs makes this so easy.

Secure Electronics

We love our collapsible Mountainsmith Scream 25 bag – we can take valuables out of our travel backpacks when we check them and take the Scream as our carry-on.

At first we were unsure about this design, but we soon come to love it because it is much easier to access our items throughout the bag and not mess up our packing! Also our Scream 25 collapsible bag makes for a great carry-on bag. We can easily pull it out of the big backpack and stuff it with our electronics to take on the plane with us.

4. Buckle Your Waist Strap Around Your Pack to Secure It

This tip is one we had to learn the hard way. During a  prior trip, we didn’t have the waist straps secure by wrapping it around the main part of the pack. We arrived at baggage claim with a missing snap. This made the critical waist strap on the backpack useless.

Since then, we have been making sure that our waist straps are secure by latching them around to the main pack. Extremely important!

Waist Straps

At the check-in counter, my travel backpack’s waist straps are secured by wrapping them around the back and buckled.

5. Secure All Zippers and Be Sure Important Items are Deep Inside the Big Compartment

Make sure that you do not have anything valuable (or simply important) in the top pouch our the outside pouch of your pack.  This will at least make it a little bit harder for anyone to get it out of your bag.

Also make sure zippers are tucked under zipper hangover liner. If you have double zippers to a compartment, make sure they are all the way on one side & stuffed into the corner edge of the zipper liner — this will help keep zippers from being snagged and pulled open, with your contents falling out!

Secure Carry on

Getting our travel backpacks ready to be checked on our long flight overseas!

Next time you travel with your pack and are thinking about checking it, make sure you use these tips to ensure you arrive at your destination with your pack and all of your straps.


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Being Mountainsmith users and fans for years, we were ecstatic to begin working with them.  However while we may receive free products to test and review, all opinions are strictly our own.

  • Sean
    Posted at 10:05h, 30 May Reply

    I prefer to put my pack inside a duffle. Doesn’t have to be a super heavy-duty gym bag type. I actually made my own from rip-stop polyester that’s just a little heavier than a typical stuff-sack. a simple 1-compartment bag with a long zipper closure and a pair of straps that wrap around the bottom. Keeps all the straps & buckles contained, and gives the baggage handlers a more familiar type package to handle. When I get to my destination I unzip the duffle and stuff it to the bottom of the pack’s main compartment. when fully wadded up, it takes up less space than a t-shirt.

    • Liz
      Posted at 22:49h, 30 May Reply

      Thanks for reading Sean, and for the comment! Wow – that’s really creative of you to do that. Cheers & happy travels!

      – Liz

  • Pari
    Posted at 04:03h, 18 November Reply

    Hi, I would like to know whether back packs are carry on or baggage ? quick response please.

    • Liz
      Posted at 09:49h, 18 November Reply

      Hello Pari –

      It depends on the airline you are flying with, because many of them have different size requirements. We can bring our backpacks on the plane (carry on) most of the time, unless we are flying on a super budget carrier with strict requirements. We have only ever had 1 flight that made us check our packs.

      There are many different sizes of backpacks – certainly the bigger ones may be too big to carry on. But the middle sizes will fit the carry on requirements for many of the major airlines.

      – Liz

  • Leena A
    Posted at 08:13h, 06 April Reply

    First time traveling with a backpack (where it really matters), hoping to just carry on, but this was very helpful, Thanks!

    • Josh
      Posted at 08:22h, 06 April Reply

      Hi Leena!

      Thanks for checking out the post. Hope you find it useful in case you need to check your pack. Also check out our carry on bag restrictions for all the major airliners. This will let you know all the size requirements for major airliners. Where are you traveling to? http://www.peanutsorpretzels.com/carry-on-bag-size-what-to-pack/


  • Aaron Johnson
    Posted at 01:20h, 19 April Reply

    This is good info. My wife and I are planning a backpacking trip through patagonia in Argentina for this December. Trying to decide if I can make a 75L pack work for checked in luggage although it ends up being 65.5 inches total size instead of the 62 inch max that Delta has. Maybe I can squeeze everything together or not pack it quite as tight? Otherwise I’ll have to get a smaller pack, which I’d really prefer not to do.
    Once we figure that out, we just have to decide if it’s safe to leave our main packs in a hotel room for shorter day hikes while in country or if we should just lug everything with us everywhere we go. Either way, it’s going to be quite the trip!

    • Liz
      Posted at 10:16h, 23 April Reply

      Thanks for reading Aaron – and for the comment!

      Wow – that sounds like an epic adventure. We have not made it to Patagonia yet, but would LOVE to go! 75L – wow, that sounds like a pretty hefty bag. We’ve never had trouble with our packs on Delta, but our packs are only 65 liters. I would definitely try not to pack it so tight and see if you can slide it by 🙂

      Have a blast on your trip!

      – Liz

  • michelle
    Posted at 10:27h, 28 June Reply

    Hi Liz — Thanks so much. This is terrific, especially since my daughter’s about to take her 65 L Osprey to China. It looks like she can’t take it onboard — the carry-on limits are 21″ x 15.7 x 9, which I think is pretty standard for carry ons. I noticed you wrote that you often do carry on your back pack. Is that with your 65 Liter? Do you find they relax the 21″ limit with backpacks? Thanks!

    • Liz
      Posted at 19:37h, 02 July Reply

      Hi Michelle – thanks for reading and for the comment!

      We do have large bags – a 55 and 65 liter. We have been able to carry them onboard certain airlines in the states (like Delta) but we didn’t have them stuffed super full. We also tightened them down with the straps to try and compress the contents to make them look smaller. However since we’ve been abroad, we often do need to check them because they are packed full and quite large…so they are technically over the limit — especially for many of the budget airlines.

      So it really depends on how much you put in them.

      Thanks for reading and happy travels!
      – Liz

  • Dave
    Posted at 01:18h, 17 July Reply

    Great article.

    I’m really surprised at readers’ comments saying they take backpacks as carry-on luggage, surely even if the bag is the correct size and you can squeeze it in the checker at the airport, it would be way over the allowable weight?
    I’ve travelled all over Asia and Russia and I know full well my 60 litre would never be allowed as carry-on.

    Regarding straps, I use a 60 litre Berghaus Jalan II travel back which allows the harness to be zipped away out of the reach of airport conveyor belts!

  • Robert rt Tellier
    Posted at 19:39h, 16 August Reply

    Excellent Tips. Traveling to India this Fall with Our Backpacks. Will be sure to secure our packs as you suggest! 🙂

    • Liz
      Posted at 03:57h, 24 August Reply

      Thanks for reading Robert and for the comment. We are happy to know that you found our tips helpful. Have a wonderful trip!

      – Liz

  • Aytek
    Posted at 10:50h, 27 August Reply

    Hey ! Thanks fır the tips ! I will use many of them during my Safari trip to Kenya. All the best.

    • Liz
      Posted at 03:43h, 02 September Reply

      Thanks for reading, and for the comment. We are glad to hear that you found our tips useful. Have a wonderful trip!

      – Liz

  • Waqas ahmad
    Posted at 08:22h, 12 February Reply

    Never though people give such insights about securing backpacks during travel. It is common that people give advice to keep “important things” in backpacks. However, securing backpack is different. Thanks for sharing.

    • Liz
      Posted at 18:33h, 13 February Reply

      Thanks for reading and for the comment. Many people don’t consider about how to secure their backpack, but it’s a real problem if a backpack gets damaged during the trip. So it’s definitely important for people to take precautions.

      Happy travels!

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