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I'm trying to plan a five-day camping trip in Joshua Tree NP. We already have a campsite booked, so that's taken care of. The catch is that we're coming from the East Coast. What makes the most sense in terms of effort, cost, etc?

  • Box up our own camping gear and ship it ahead of time, to be picked up at a Mail Boxes USA location or something
  • Box up our own camping gear and check it on the plane with us
  • Rent the stuff we need (tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, etc., etc.

(Tangentially, is that last option even possible? I assume so since you can rent every other thing on earth, but maybe I'm wrong.)

  • Are you backpacking or car-camping at your destination? – whatsisname Dec 24 '15 at 22:54
  • It's worth pointing out that stoves, and definitely fuel, cannot travel on most airplanes. Even empty stoves are generally banned from many airlines and carriers. Investigate it a bit before you have trouble. – Eric Dec 25 '15 at 0:44
  • I never had any problem carrying my stove on the plane, and I did so several times, including across countries. For reference, it is a small MSR PocketRocket. – njzk2 Dec 25 '15 at 4:45
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    how much gear do you have that you consider not checking it in the plane? – njzk2 Dec 25 '15 at 4:48
  • @njzk2 The amount of gear isn't the point. I'm asking because (a) I usually camp closer to home (within driving distance) and (b) I never check bags if I can avoid it, so I'm in unfamiliar planning territory. – crmdgn Dec 26 '15 at 23:25
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What makes the most sense in terms of effort, cost, etc?

(1) Assuming you don't have small children: It is no more effort -- actually, it is easier -- to pick up your luggage at the carousel than to make a separate trip to Mail Boxes to get your gear or to go to a camping store for rental. My husband and I have, for decades, checked two backpacks for 10 to 12 day backpacking trips, with no problems. (We have a two person tent and a tiny stove.)

On cost: the benchmark is how much the airline will charge you for each checked bag times how many bags you will need to check, and whether there are size/price categories on checked bags. Only your airline can tell you this; this info may be on your e-confirmation.

It would help to do a "trial packing" to figure out how many checked bags you need for your gear. The trial may also help you to discard unnecessary items, and to remember items that you have forgotten.

(2) If you have small children: I'm not qualified to answer with this complication thrown in.

Edit: Whatsisname is right! Do not pack fuel. It is illegal and dangerous.

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    Checking your gear is the way to go, however, don't leave your fuel in your bag, either ship that or buy it at your destination. – whatsisname Dec 24 '15 at 22:54
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    which also implies to make sure the fuel required in your stove is available (not all gas canisters are available in all countries, not all countries have the same name for fuels) – njzk2 Dec 25 '15 at 4:47
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Christmas 2014, my wife and I spent camping on an otherwise uninhabited car-free island in the Pacific Ocean. On Christmas Day, we hiked all day in superb weather in a spectacular landscape, less than 100 km from the Los Angeles area, and we did not see a single soul. It was the best day of my life. And we travelled there from Toronto, Ontario, most of the way by train

Christmas Day
Montañon Peak, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, Christmas Day, 2014. Probably the best day in my life.


Although the train is not a typical mode of transportation in North America, is it quite suitable for an outdoor vacation in combination with car rental. You're not limited much in the amount or type of stuff to take, you get to experience the distance and see the country, and you can get closer to most national parks than by air. Compared to driving, it saves time, because the train continues day and night.

We took a train from Toronto, Ontario to Salinas, California, then a bus to Monterey. From there we had a one-way car rental to Los Angeles, camping at the Big Sur and at Channel Islands National Park on the way (possibly the most underrated national park in the USA; see above). Then we took a train from Los Angeles to El Paso, from where we had a one-way car rental to San Antonio, while visiting White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and Big Bend National Park (we could have camped there, but it was winter and we decided to take a cabin, which was for the best because it turned out a serious winter storm was coming). From San Antonio we took the train back to the Great Lakes area.

It was a very memorable vacation and we did not enter an aeroplane once.

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