Flying Solo With Recording Gear – Mistakes and Successes

I’ve been doing a lot of flying lately for a sound effects library I’m working on. It’s been a nice change of pace; Using my library sales to fund these trips, rather than spending it on gear and props. However, as many know, flying can be a pain in the rear–especially in America. Add on to that carrying a bunch of suspicious-to-TSA looking audio gear, and you’ve got a recipe for frustration. Through my various trips, I’ve found some ways to make things less frustrating, and I’d like to share them with you!

1. Pack what you need. Only what you need.

(Newbie Stosh)

When I first started these trips, I got in the trap of packing every little thing I could in case I needed it on location. What if I need to raise my mics really high?… Better bring a couple taller stands. Oh I guess I should pack some longer XLR now as well. What if it’s super windy?… Better bring extra windjammers. What if my batteries die?… I guess I’ll grab some extras, and a charger too, just in case.

Of course, none of those things are bad ideas if you’ve got the room to pack them all. However in my case, I’m travelling with just a carry-on and a personal item (backpack). I choose to travel that way out of preference (I’m a little bit of a minimalist), and ease of mobility (I am but one recordist).

(Pro Stosh)

With space at a premium, I’ve learned to make practical decisions about what I need to take, and what I can live without. Most of this comes down to thorough planning prior to the trip. There are always going to be some variables out of your control, but most can be accounted for prior to departure:

  • You can find out the weather to decide what clothes/wind protection/gear you need to bring.
  • You can take some time to figure out how much battery power you actually need with what you’ll be utilizing, not what you could possibly need.
  • You can quite literally get an (often 3d) view at all angles of locations you plan to record utilizing Google Maps.
  • You can research others (recordists or not) who have visited to see any tips or experiences they have to offer.

I could go on, but suffice to say the internet is an amazing utility. Use it! All of that planning means I can take a minimal amount of gear, and still be covered for things that might pop up.

2. Arrange Your Gear Wisely

I’ve learned that how I pack my gear is almost as important as what I choose to bring. Arranging gear appropriately can help expedite security screenings, and protect your gear from damage or getting lost.

(Newbie Stosh)

On my first couple trips, I decided to pack as much as I possibly could in my hard Pelican carry-on. While this was convenient and felt safe at first, I soon realized a couple of major flaws to this strategy.

First: The TSA doesn’t like electronics. They especially don’t like large amounts of electronics tightly packed in a carry on. When I would go through security, my case would inevitably get flagged for manual inspection. That in itself is not an issue. The issue is manual inspection usually means the entire contents of your meticulously packed carry-on will be removed, and I can assure you the TSA won’t be kind enough to pack it back up for you. This means taking extra time (which you may not have) to repack all of your gear in the middle of one of the most crowded sections in an airport. I can say from experience it’s not a very fun thing to do.

The second problem with my “one carry-on to rule them all” strategy: It was the sort of literal version of putting all of my eggs in one basket. Every piece of expensive and essential gear in one case. Convenient, but risky. What if you’re forced to check your bag because of lack of overhead space? The airline will complimentary check it, but now all of your gear is thrown into the gauntlet of potential hazards of checked luggage, rather than with you.

The workers loading your luggage will not take the same care you did when transporting your luggage. They’re typically in a rush and won’t hesitate to literally throw your bag to the ground or on the plane. I can say that because I’ve seen it. However,  I can only imagine what happens behind the scenes getting your luggage from the plane to baggage claim (if it even makes it), and I don’t imagine it’s good.

(Pro Stosh)

Now when I fly with gear, I take time to strategize what gets packed where. While this is still evolving, I have some general guidelines.

Any expensive/fragile electronics are packed in my backpack (personal item).  That means mics, recorder, batteries, cameras, etc. My bag is easy to unpack so I can take all of those scary-to-TSA looking electronics out to place them in a tray at security. Also, the personal item is also the one thing I can be certain will be totally in my control throughout my travels. Peace of mind in that regard is priceless!

In my carry-on, I pack pretty much everything else: Tripods, cables, audio bag, wind protection, clothes, etc. This is the kind of stuff that’s easier for the TSA to identify and clear, which means MUCH fewer searches. Having the less expensive (and to some degree less essential) stuff in the carry-on also makes lost or damaged luggage less devastating.

A Final Note

I’d like to thank all of the folks who’ve supported me over the years by purchasing Collected Transients libraries. The library that has me doing all of this travelling is (by far) the most expensive-to-produce library I’ve ever made if only for the travel/hotel costs. Like I’ve mentioned in past posts, every penny I get from library sales goes solely and directly into creating libraries and keeping the business running. There’s no personal money involved, and I’m proud of that. Without the support of my customers, there’s no way I’d be able to do this. Thanks again, and happy designing!


  1. Awesome article! Any chance you have / would do a quick gear list of everything you bring with you? I’m a touring audio engineer and always looking to improve my carry.

    • Sure! My gear list of course changes depending on what kind of stuff I’m recording, but the following is fairly standard for me on most flights:

      – Sound Devices MixPre 10t
      – Sennheiser MKH 8040 (x2)
      – Sennheiser MKH 60
      – DPA 4060 (x2)
      – Sony PCM D100
      – Zoom H4n
      – Blimps/Windjammers as necessary
      – NP1 Battery
      – USB Battery Bank
      – A bunch of various Gorillapods
      – Manfrotto tripod (don’t recall the model but it’s tiny enough to fit in a backpack/carry on
      – GoPro
      – Fancy Sony Camera that I don’t remember the model

      Of course also all of the misc. cables/clips/accessories that I need. I think that’s about it!

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