I’m heading to Belize in 18 days with my students, and we’re taking two tents. I’m also hoping to avoid checking a bag, so I’d like to put the tents in our carry-on luggage. But while I’m sure the tents themselves are ok as carry-on, I’m not so sure about the poles and stakes. So I did what any citizen of a well-run country that properly promulgates its laws and rules would do, I checked the TSA website. Conveniently, they have a page titled “Camping Gear.” Inconveniently, the page has no mention of tents. Now I’ve slept under the stars without a tent on a number of occasions, but I’m still pretty sure that tents are considered fairly essential camping equipment.
When you enter “tent” into their search function, you get this page, which includes, down at the bottom of the list, several Excel files containing the results of the TSA’s customer satisfaction survey for its webpage, which in turn contain such responses as these:
- “tents was not mentioned under camping gear”
- “The Camping Equipment section doesn’t mention tents. I still don’t know whether or not I can take it on the plane! It’s a pop up tent, so it has no stakes.
- “The site didn’t have info on whether I can bring tent poles onboard or not!”
- “Your site does not address tent equipment under the camping/outdoor section. are tent poles allowed?”
- “Information on camping items does not cover tent poles (collapsible and light-weight, much like fising poles). Nor does it include guidance about tent stakes. Some tent stakes are much shorter than knitting needles and of comparable sharpness.”
- “Trying to establish if I can pack a tent with poles and stakes in my carryon baggage.”
- “Could not find if tent poles in a tent are allowed to carry on”
- “The site worked fine – it just didn’t have the answer to my question regarding tent stakes in carry-on.”
Which is all to say, either they’re not paying attention to the customer satisfaction survey, or they are and have chosen to not provide the information anyway.*
So I began to look elsewhere on the internet–Trip Advisor, traveler forums, etc.–and to absolutely nobody’s surprise, I’m sure, I received conflicting information, with some folks saying yes, you can, and others saying, no, you can’t. But of course none of them are authoritative, and it’s unclear what their real level of knowledge is.
My experience was echoed by a commenter at flyertalk.com
When I was looking around for an answer to this for a friend last fall, I found three answers.
- Yes you can do it
- No, the poles and stakes will not be allowed
- I pack it so I can check it, sometimes they let it through and sometimes they do not
There seems to be as many answers as there are people answering. There was very little actual experience from people doing it, just mostly people guessing.
Another commenter there notes that there appears to be no answer.
The short answer is…there is no answer.
The TSA website has a “camping section”, and they leave out one of the most important pieces of camping equipment.
If you ask the MyTSA application, you get a generic “check it in to avoid the chance” answer.
You won’t find it on their prohibited items list, and you won’t find it on their definitely allowed list either. It all depends on the whims of TSA, if they find it. … The safe answer would be to swing by the checkpoint first thing and ask the supervisor if he has a problem with it.
Putting on my egghead academic hat for a moment, one of the fundamental purposes and benefits of bureaucracy is to reduce the discretion of government agents in dealing with the public. So this tells us something about the quality of the TSA as a bureaucracy.
However at this backpackers’ forum two people who claim to be speaking from personal experience say they’ve had no trouble getting tent stakes through.
You can carry a tent, tent poles, and tent stakes without problems. TSA does not prohibit them, and I carry them all the time.
[Warning – Begin Rant] If you read all the above posts that say you can’t carry on tent poles or stakes — not a single one speaks from actual experience or can point to an authoritative source. It’s a real shame that folks have to chime in like this — adding nothing but more noise and confusion. It’s no wonder that infrequent travelers are forever confused! [End Rant]
As an UL hiker, I lug one carry on all the time … I have had TSA search through everything inside my pack (the guy said it was a “random” choice and I got picked) — and as expected, my tent poles and stakes and my cansister stove all passed actual TSA examination — no questions asked.
For me, at least, the beginning rant adds some authenticity to the claim (although the idea of an ultralight hiker who carries a tent and hiking poles is a bit dubious to me).
So I guess I’ll pack them in carry-on, and take the advice to talk to a TSA person straight off. We’ll be at the airport by 4 a.m., so I don’t think I’ll be distracting any of them from their crucial task of treating 5 year olds with panda backpacks as probable suicide terrorists.
*(Of course a search within Excel for “tent” also brings up some other words that incorporate the word tent, like the response “Typical, incompetent, unaccountable Government Bureaucracy.”)