Stakes on a Plane

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

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.”)

About James Hanley

James Hanley is former Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and currently an independent scholar.
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17 Responses to Stakes on a Plane

  1. This reminds me of the time my parents-in-law gave my wife and me a large bag full of prize-winning Japanese pears to take back to my parents from Japan as a goodwill present upon the birth of our first child.

    All of us had diligently checked every available government website to make sure Japanese pears were okay to bring into the US. The unanimous answer was that they were acceptable for international transport provided that they were properly declared and inspected at port.

    When we arrived in the US, of course, the pears were confiscated with no explanation given. When I mentioned how the websites of the state department, USDA, and TSA had all said the pears were on the list of acceptable for transport subject to inspection, the agent told me that that was true. After they were confiscated and we had left the airport and continued onto our connecting flight, the agents would cut open all the pears and inspect them all for pests. I believe I called her a “fucking asshole”.

  2. James Hanley says:

    I bet they enjoyed their lunch, courtesy of your in-laws.

  3. lancifer666 says:


    Is there an equivalent to Craig’s List in Belize? Might be cheaper to buy a used tent there, than have to pay to check it or risk having it confiscated.

    Also wouldn’t have to lug it on and off the plane.

  4. James Hanley says:

    I’m actually taking them for the guide down there. Importing them costs him a lot in import fees, and buying them locally costs a lot for the the same reason.

  5. ppnl says:

    I’m guessing you will be OK with tent stakes. Just do yourself a favor and don’t try to carry on any PowerBars…..

    Security theater. You gotta love it or they will drag you away screaming. Sometimes they drag you away anyway.

    Years ago on a flight home from Hawaii I shipped home a disassembled fan stand on checked luggage. It didn’t come out with the rest of the luggage but was delivered by hand much latter. I’m guessing the x-rays looked suspicious.

  6. James Hanley says:

    I’d say I’d take some snacks that were less appetizing, but there’s not much that’s less appetizing than power bars.

  7. trumwill says:

    Did you know that packages of Community Coffee are the same dimensions as a certain kind of dynamite? Want to guess how I know that?

  8. lancifer666 says:

    Speaking of security theater, I have noticed signs if federal buildings that threaten “offenders” with big fines and jail time for being “disruptive” among other “offenses”.

    In one Homeland Security office (previously called the Immigration and Naturalization Service) a big obnoxious security guard didn’t like the fact that I made a “pfft” noise when he yelled at me and my wife (who was there for an interview to be naturalized) when we turned the wrong way (away from his little security check point) getting out of the elevator.

    He started screaming “Do you have a problem?!” at me. I asked, “Do you have a problem?” He pointed to the sign warning of the penalties for “disrupting” a federal employee in the “performance of their duties”.

    I just laughed, which pissed him off even more. He walked behind me and my wife, menacing us all the way to our seats in the waiting area. He then walked up to the woman behind the glass partition and said, loudly, “Let me know if this clown gives you any trouble.” Then he went back to his little chair and stared at me for the 35 minutes that we waited for the interview.

    My wife kept begging me not to “provoke” him.

    Sadly. I’m sure that most of the people that come to that office kowtow to this authoritarian prick because they are desperate to get their visa or citizenship.

  9. James Hanley says:

    I can so see it, Lance. And I’m pretty sure I know how you’re going to die.

  10. lancifer666 says:

    Yeah, someday one of these psychopaths with a badge is gonna shoot me.

  11. James Hanley says:

    Radley Balko will write about you.

  12. Jeremy Sell says:

    I’m interesting in hearing how this turns out since I’ve been wondering about carrying my 80L backpack with a tent and all the gear on a plane (minus the obvious stuff like a knife, bear spray, stove fuel, etc.).

  13. James Hanley says:

    With that big a bag you’re well beyond carry-on size, so you’ll have to check it anyway. You can check a bag with a knife in it. No stove fuel, though. From a perspective of logic, you ought to be able to put bear spray in a checked bag, but the TSA isn’t about logic.

  14. Jeremy Sell says:

    Without food and water it probably squishes down to carry-on size, but checking it might be better anyway to keep the knife and bear spray.

  15. trumwill says:

    Huh. I just realized my 4oz ecigarette liquid containers break the 3oz rule. I wonder why they’ve never said anything. Must not be able to tell the difference between 3oz and 4oz.

  16. Jeremy Sell says:

    I’ve always honored the 3.4 oz. rule, but I’ve always put the liquids in a 1 gallon clear plastic bag instead of the requisite 1 quart clear plastic bag. Why? Because I have 1 gallon bags in my kitchen. Also, I’ve never removed the bag from my carry on and placed it in a bin as required. Out of scores of flights in a number of cities, no one has ever said anything. So I’m not surprised they don’t catch 4 oz. containers either. Makes me wonder if they’d catch 5 oz. Or 6 oz.

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