You may be wondering if you can fly with your stand up paddleboard on your next trip. Everyone dreams about paddleboarding in exotic locations. Flying is the only way to easily get to many of them. You are in luck. You can take your paddleboard next time you fly or travel by bus or train. Most board bags can be checked in as luggage. With a little packing care, your inflatable SUP board will arrive safe and ready to go. Keep reading for our 5 best tips for flying with an inflatable paddle board.
5 tips for flying with an inflatable paddle board?
One of the great things about inflatable paddle boards is that they are easy to travel with. You can check them in like regular luggage. Almost all of them come in bags that fit the dimensions of a regular checked bag and fall under weight limits.
1 – Check bag limitations
Most US and Canadian airlines have a size and weight limit for checked bags of 62 inches and 50 lbs. There are exceptions such as Spirit Airlines which lets you go up to 80 inches. The weight limit can go from 40 to 60 lbs depending on the airline.
What this means is that your SUP bags measured dimensions must be less than 62 inches total. Length + Width + Depth must be less than 62 inches. A standard inflatable paddleboard travel bag has published dimensions that are 36 x 16 x 12 inches. 36 + 16 + 12 = 64 inches. That’s larger than 62 so that is bad right?
No. Not necessarily. That is the size of the bag if you had it 100% filled and stretched to capacity. It has a few extra inches in all dimensions so that your inflatable boards will actually fit inside it. The chances are the measured dimensions with a board in are less than that so you’ll be fine.
Most airlines have policies for sports equipement allowing it to be oversized. That also gives your SUP bag a pass to go on as a checked bag.
Skyscanner has a great guide to airline size and weight limits.
Electric Pump Batteries can’t go checked bags
If you want to bring a battery for your electric pump, you need to take it as a carry on. The FAA does not allow spare batteries in checked bags. They do allow up to a 100 watthour battery in your carry on bag.
This covers a 6000 mah 12 volt battery (72 watthour) which is the largest electric paddleboard battery I know of. Learn more about taking batteries on planes here.
Inflatable PFD’s also can’t go in checked bags
If you use an inflatable PFD like a belt pack such as an Onyx M-16, it must go in your carry on bag. You have to take it out and put it in a separate tray for airport security. It can’t go in a checked bag. You cannot take extra CO2 cartridges with you as a carry on.
2 – Carry on bag limitations
The standard size limits for a carryon bag are 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
The only inflatable paddleboards I know of that come close to this are the iRocker Ultra and Blackfin Ultra boards and the Paul Hana Backcountry Solo. My Blackfin Ultra CX bag measures 19 x 10 x 24 inches with a tape measure. It is a little large at the carry on bag check at the local airport. It’s close so someone who can pack it really tight might pull it off. If you took the electric pump and fins out and put them in your “personal item” I’m pretty sure it would make it as a carry on.
It is not legal to take paddles on as a carry on item. Even if it collapses like a 5 piece travel paddle you would still have to check it.
3 – Packing your paddleboard to go on a plane
Inflatable paddleboards are a pretty strong and durable item. The only weak points when it comes to packing for air travel are the pump, paddle, and fins. With some care, you can make sure your board and accessories arrive safe and unbroken.
Use a good paddle board bag
A durable padded backpack with strong zippers and cinch straps stands a much better chance of surviving a flight. Rollers on the bag make it much easier to move around the airport and parking. A padded bag will provide protection for the items inside it. Some have compartments for the paddle pieces and an electric pump and maybe a spot to put your life jacket.
Use a multi-piece paddle
Most inflatable paddle board packages come with a multi piece paddle that fits in the carry bag. Some high end boards such as Red Paddle Co and Starboard do not provide a paddle. A 1 piece adjustable paddle will perform better on the water. There is no question about that. For air travel you need a paddle that can fit in the bag with the board. There are many good carbon 3 piece and 5 piece paddles that perform almost as well as a 1 piece paddle.
Wrap the board around the pump
The safest way to pack your paddleboard pump is to wrap the board around it. This is also the easiest way to fit your paddleboard back into the bag for many boards. Roll the nose of the board around the pump. Once your board gets wider than the pump, roll it around the base and handle of the pump. This will give the pump several inches of padding and prevent it from breaking.
Put the SUP paddle inside the bag
Some people like to carry their paddles outside the bag on the sides. When traveling you want to put it inside of the bag. Some bags have built in features for holding the paddle pieces. You will need a multi-piece paddle for this to work.
Protect the paddle blade and fins
The most fragile item going into your inflatable stand up paddle board bag is the paddle blade. The blade itself isn’t that hard to bend or break. Some fins are not that strong either. I like to wrap mine in a towl to give it some extra padding. Lay it in the bottom of the paddleboard so the blade is flush against the rolled up paddleboard. This will give it some support.
Wrap the bag after packing to protect it
The baggage handling system at most airports can put a lot of wear and tear on your paddleboard bag. Expect it to come out with more scratches and scuff marks than it went in with. A lot of airports offer wrapping services for a fee. You can do it yourself at home as well.
This offers 2 benefits.
- It keeps your bag from getting scratched and scuffed up.
- It keeps your bag from bursting open if one of the zippers fails.
If the TSA decides to inspect your bag and open it up. They won’t rewrap it when they finish.
Even if you don’t wrap your bag, it is still a good idea to put an extra strap or 2 around it to make sure it stays shut. You don’t want to lose your SUP leash or repair kit because a zipper slid open.
You can learn more about wrapping luggage here.
4 – Save space in your bag with an electric pump
I hate using hand pumps for inflating my paddle boards. I use an electric pump 99% of the time. A small compact electric pump takes up a lot less space in your bag than a big hand pump. Chances are you are getting a rental car where you are going to get to your paddleboarding spot. You have 12 volt electricity. If not, you can get a battery to power your electric pump and throw it in your carry on bag.
The iRocker electric pump is very fast and compact. They sell an optional battery that is good for a couple of boards per charge.
See our review of the iRocker electric pump to learn more about it.
5 – The best paddleboard to fly with
Some inflatable paddle boards are much easier to pack and travel with than others. My favorite travel paddleboard and the best inflatable SUP for flying is the Blackfin Ultra CX. It is a super compact design that fits into a bag half the size of most paddleboard bags. It comes with an electric pump instead of hand pump. It’s just an all around great performing board as well. It’s one of my favorite paddle boards and one I throw in the car when going places just in case.
See our guide to the best portable paddle board for other great options.
See our review of the Blackfin Ultra CX to learn more.
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About the author
My name is Doug Ryan. I am an outdoors enthusiast always looking forward to my next adventure. I spend as much time skiing, biking, and paddleboarding as I can. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for all things outdoor adventures and to help other people have as much fun as me.