Travelling with Paddles can be a stressful time. Any one who has traveled with paddles has wondered how to keep them safe from the rigors of flying commercial airlines. What can seem like a resilient and nearly unbreakable trusted piece of gear on the water, suddenly feels as fragile as glass when you want to take them on the plane. You want to protect and preserve your valuable equipment and have it with you when you arrive at your destination. Most of us who travel with paddles would be unhappy if we had to go to a marine store for replacements.
Lets face it, today’s airline industry doesn’t want to wreck your gear any more than you do; in fact, they may be more gentle than you are when your are bashing your beloved and costly gear while running rapids or rock gardening.
Aside from buying an extra ticket like musicians with an exquisite, fragile cello, you’ll need to check your crap, kiss it farewell and wish it safe travels until you land.
Our first attempt at transporting paddles on the airlines was utilizing a snow-board bag. This way over-sized bag packed the paddles well, plus additional gear, but when we opened the bag we found that one of the paddle blades was broken. Broken neatly in fact. Close examination showed a matching crease on the bag, as if a door had been closed on the bag. Fortunately, this occurred on our way home from Georgia to Minnesota. Had this mishap occurred on the way to our paddling destination, we would have one fewer paddles among us.
The snow board bag seemed like a good idea at the time, with wheels at one end and a sturdy handle at the other, we envisioned ourselves walking through the airport with out a care. But these bags depend on the contents (snowboard) to give it some structure. The bag worked well, but sagged in the middle like a worn mule. We were able to load it up with a fair amount of other possessions though. Don’t expect it to come down the conveyor with the rest of the luggage; this is an oversize item and gets dropped at a different window or door and sometimes more convenient to you.
Commercially manufactured paddle bags offer a degree of protection from minor bumps, scrapes and abrasions of continuous vibrations, but offer little protection from damage when other luggage begins to pile up on it. These bags are great for automotive travel where you have some control where they are placed. The ability to put 2 paddles in one bag certainly makes it easier when lugging gear around.
An advantage of this style is the convenience of stashing it under your bed or in a closet while at your stay. You would probably not want to take it on a water journey, however, because it’s still a little bulky. When I use this plain black model, I sometimes fear someone will call the police with a rifle sniper sighting.
A more economical alternative to the commercial bag is this home-made version. With appeal to the do-it-yourself-er, I made these many years ago and they offer several unique advantages. They still keep the paddles from the minor bumps and bruises, like the ones noted above, but consume a little less space, thus can be packed in a smaller car without consuming as much space. After carrying your paddles to the water edge, they neatly go into your boat during your day excursion. I made these with different colored web straps for quick identification to the contents: his/hers, white water/sea, good/ not so good. They also work great for canoe paddles. The loop at the bottom is a convenience for hanging and storage.
4-piece paddles will fit neatly in with you regular luggage and swaddling it in the padding of your clothing will ensure a safer ride. Even though they are slightly more costly, their performance remains equal. If you can afford it, this may be the way to go.
The most secure way of transporting your paddles is a hard sided golf bag, bought on line or a sporting goods store and list for $70 – $100 . The vast storage of these provide you with extra luggage space, but be warned: it’s easy to over pack these beasts. Remember: there’s a 50 pound limit for luggage unless you want to pay the extra.
The open the bath-tub design of the roto-mold case offers you a place to keep your wet things. When we stay at hotels, we dumped all our wet crap into this while we shower and clean up, later we move the wet things to the shower/bath. Housekeeping would appreciate that!
Last summer for our Alaska journey, 5 of us put paddles in one golf bag. That’s 10 paddles plus room for a few clothing items. When you consider that any of the above listed means of paddle transport on commercial airlines means an extra luggage charge, we save a ton of money. As you can see, the home made paddle bags kept the paddles from wearing on each other.
This golf bag has several disadvantages to keep in mind. If you are renting a car, will there be room for it? It is bulky. We had to fold down the rear seat our our rental and line it up. Even still, the bottom of the bag was to much fro the rear hatch and it had to be loaded rear first.
Another consideration is what to do with the bag when you arrive at your destination. For the Alaska journey, we made arrangements to store the travel luggage and even went as far as to store the small padded bags behind too. You may find yourself encumbered by this in your hotel room if space is tight there too.
Travel and gear is costly enough, but having a combination of ways to transport your paddles will give you the peace of mind for your financial investment.