HPL reader Ashlea Gross contacted us to ask about the need to buy extra protection for her backpack:
When I was purchasing it [the backpack], the sales clerk got me a little paranoid attempting to push me to buy a carrier to put the backpack in for when I check it at the airport. He said that airlines will refuse the bag and it is guaranteed to get destroyed on the conveyor belts. Is this true? Can airlines really deny your bag?
This is a tough question to answer because 95% of the time, your bag, if you cinch up the straps, will come out just fine. But, there are those people who have suffered from damaged and ripped backpacks because one of the many dangling straps and buckles got caught in the baggage carousel.
When I first started traveling and used an Osprey 55L backpack, I also packed an extra duffle that I could throw it in before checking. But that duffle did take up extra space in my backpack, and I never really knew if it was necessary. However, it did save me a couple times when I had too much stuff to fit in my backpack (after living in Central Asia for 5 months and acquiring many things) and I instead packed my backpack and any extras into the one big duffle! Ah… the days of not traveling light are behind me now.
Many backpacks these days come with built-in rain covers that help when checking, or other bags (like the Ebags Mother Lode Weekender) have the ability to stow away that straps completely.
Or you could just go for a small carry-on bag and never have to worry!
Ultimately the decision is up to you.
When we took this question to our community, here are a few of the responses we received:
I’ve had to check my 40L backpack a few times due to weight restrictions, and I’ve never had a problem. You want to make sure the straps are as secured/cinched up as possible before you hand over your bag, but you should not need a cover. If the backpack has a waist strap, try to loop it around the bag and buckle it up so it’s one less strap dangling from the bag. There is the possibility of the straps getting caught and/or pulled along the way (I lost part of the buckle on my waist strap once… before I ever thought to buckle the waist strap around the bag) but I’ve never had any major problems. -Alison Garland
I sometimes get a dirty look or two from the person checking my backpack, but I’ve flown to Europe and the Caribbean and back to Hawaii and never had it rip on the belt. I always snap every strap that snaps and tighten all the straps as much as possible when I check it! -Leah Buckman
I’ve checked my backpack (once) before, and didn’t have a problem (with check in or conveyor belts). I just buckled, tightened, and tried to tie up as many of the straps as possible. I’ve also seen backpacks at airports where the airlines have wrapped them in industrial sized plastic wrap. -Allyson Henning
I checked my 40L backpack with a yoga mat clipped to the sides! When u check in, ask for it in a clear plastic bag, never a problem! -Bindi Yogini
I’ve checked an 85L Gregory pack for five continents and a zillion flights without a cover and its not a problem. Just click and tighten all straps and should be good! Some airlines will put the pack in a massive plastic bag, which is great if they do, but no hassle if they don’t! -Elizabeth Gottwald
Never had a problem, flew with 5 different airlines on last trip. DEFINITELY have a cover though (not a separate bag) – in SE Asia if I didn’t cover my bag for flights/ buses / ferries /jeeps it got small tears, dust / oil marks etc. It stops people from riffling in the pockets too. -Hazel C Avellana
I bought one of those big blue ikea zip-up bags and it works like a charm! Folds up nice and small and my 55 liter fits in it with room to spare. my friend used to work selling backpacks and he said he heard from customers horror stories of the backpack frame getting damaged from the conveyor belt. -Felicia Holz
In Canada, the airports provide huge plastic bags to put your backpack in so the straps don’t get stuck somewhere in transit. I usually take an extra (or two) with me (I just tuck them into a side pocket on my backpack) for my bag for the way home because European airports don’t provide the bags. If this is an option for you, it works really well! -Kathryn Murphy
Never had a problem! I ask the airlines for one of their luggage plastic bags, which I put my backpack in. Every airline seems to have them so you don’t have to worry about the straps on the conveyor belt! -Sarah Elizabeth
I’ve never had a problem! I’ve had a few airlines (BA & Lufthansa) ask me to put it in oversized luggage because its apparently safer/better than the conveyor belt, but I tend to tighten all the straps and connect them so they’re not just loosely hanging off the bag. I have never been denied my bag without a cover (I don’t own one and don’t plan to purchase). -Erin McLaughlin
I just tighten all the straps and tie them in as many knots as possible to make it nice and compact. Sometimes they ask if you have a cover but don’t mind if you don’t. Last time, BA asked me to put it through the oversized luggage desk as apparently it’s safer on that conveyor belt. -Kirstie Dyke
I bought bags for our backpacks and glad I did, protects the pack and the bags were useful when we stowed unneeded clothes at a hotel in Nadi, when we island hopped in Fiji. noticed that most other back packers didn’t though. -Coral Musgrave
I always check my backpack (probably taken it on about 20 flights now) and I’ve never had any problems. Just tighten the straps and buckle the waist belt.
Kate @ Trekking Kate says
I use one of my husbands old army duffel bags. You could easily purchase one at an army surplus store. It does the trick everytime, after the flight I just strap it to the outside of my backpack and it works as some protection. I have also checked my backpack without the duffel and the airline has given me a giant plastic bag.
I don’t think it’s really necessary for airlines (as people say, just tighten up all the straps, especially the waist one, which can be reversed and clipped around the bag itself) but it’s a good idea for protecting the bag on other varieties of transport, perhaps?
I know you can get rain covers but that doesn’t protect the strap side of the bag, which in terms of dirt is usually the part of the bag you least want to get filthy, considering it’s going to be rubbing on your back! I’ve had a backpack strapped to a bus roof next to a leaking jerry can and when it came down, one shoulder strap was soaked in diesel. Smelly and bad for your skin with prolonged contact. Mmmm.
I got one for my 2 month, 9 flights Nepal and Korea trip this spring, and when I arrived home, my flightbag/carrier had a few holes and a semi-large tear, which I suppose would’ve otherwise been on my backpack. Glad i bought it! I fixed it with (pink) duct tape and it’s ready for the next trip!
I just use a big nylon laundry bag, tie the drawstring tight, and tuck in the strings. They’re super cheap, pack small and some even have a shoulder strap if you need to move it short distances with the cover on. Bonus, then you have a big laundry bag at your destination which can come in handy many ways.