If you are planning to travel to the United States to go backpacking, you might be wondering what items you can bring with you. We’ll cover what backpacking gear is permitted in your carry-on and checked luggage so you can quickly get through U.S. customs without a problem.
Backpacking Food & U.S. Customs
Generally, the U.S. allows all food that is processed so that it is shelf-stable and free of pests. This includes dehydrated, freeze-dried, roasted, baked, cured, and candied food. All food must be commercially labeled (with an ingredient statement in English) and unopened in its original packaging. Meat and animal by-products, such as dried egg and jerky, is restricted depending on the country of origin. To simplify your travel, we recommend you not bring meat products and animal by-products, such as backpacking meals made with beef or chicken broth.
Instead of traveling with your food, consider purchasing your food after you arrive in the states. You can order online in advance and have the trail food shipped and held for pick-up at your hotel or the city’s main United States Post Office (General Delivery).
If you do decide to bring trail food with you to the United States, be sure to declare all food items on the customs form provided to you on your plane. Failure to report food can result in fines and penalties.
Foods Permitted when Traveling to the United States
- Dry Snacks, such as crackers, granola bars, and cookies.
- Dry Cereal, such as oats, wheat, and corn.
- Condiment packets, such as olive oil, nut butter, honey, vegemite, marmite are permitted if they do not contain meat or egg products.
- Cured cheese and hard cheese.
- Noodles and dried soups that do not contain meat or egg ingredients in spice packet.
- Dried fruits and vegetables are generally permitted. Packing an exotic food, or not sure? You can check the general admissibility of plant foods by consulting APHIS’s FAVIR database and then select the country of origin in the “Country/Region” field.
- Spices; no citrus leaves, including lemongrass.
- Seafood, such as dried, foil packed, or smoked fish is permitted if it is in the original packaging and labeled.
- Nuts if they have been boiled, cooked, powdered, dried, pureed, roasted, or steamed.
- Powdered drinks, roasted coffee and tea.
- Rice if cooked and dried.
Foods Not Permitted or Restricted when Traveling to the United States
- Meat Products and Animal By-Products: jerky, powdered animal milk, powdered eggs, including products made with these materials, such as dried soup mix, spice packets, or bouillon, are prohibited from entering the United States if there is a known animal disease from the country of origin. Dried meat from Canada is generally permissible. Check the USDA website for more information
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Citrus leaves, including tea leaves, such as orange, lemon, lime, lemongrass, and seed.
Backpacking Gear & U.S. Travel
Backpacking Stoves: Empty stoves are permitted in your carry-on luggage or checked bag. Make sure they are completely empty of any fuel.
Stove Fuel, Fuel Canisters & Fire Starter: These are prohibited from both carry-on and checked baggage. Empty propane or gas cylinders are allowed in checked or carry-on bags as long as you can view that it is empty. Purchase stove fuel in the United States. For help searching where to find stove fuel by country, here is a chart of international fuel names.
Lighters & Matches: Lighters without fuel are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage. Lighters with fuel are allowed in checked baggage if properly enclosed in a DOT approved case. One book of safety (non-strike anywhere) matches are permitted as carry-on items, but all matches are prohibited in checked baggage.
Trekking & Hiking Poles: These can only be packed in checked baggage.
Knife: These are permitted in your checked baggage, but not in your carry-on.
Backpack: Permitted as carry-on (depending on size) or check bag. We recommend checking in your backpack and covering it with a duffel bag cover or heavy plastic garbage bag to prevent the straps from getting caught on the conveyor belts. If you want to carry-on your backpack, contact the airline in advance for size restrictions. Each airline is different.
Bear Spray: It is not necessary to bring bear spray while hiking in the U.S. unless you are going to be traveling in a problem area or traveling alone in areas with grizzly bears. If you must take bear spray, it is best to purchase it once you are in the U.S. and leave it behind before leaving. Bear spray is only permitted in checked bag if the volume is less than four ounces and contains less than 2% active ingredient of either CS or CN. Most bear repellents exceed these limitations.
Medication: You can travel with your medication in both carry-on and checked baggage.
Batteries: Spare electronic batteries are generally OK in carry-on baggage.
Enjoy your travels!