Pilots carry a lot of equipment: headset, kneeboard, paper sectionals and approach plates or their e-version on an iPad, flashlights, water bottles, yoke clips, multi-tool—and you need a gear bag that can fit it all. While it is tempting to repurpose that backpack you utilize for day hikes or the duffle bag you use for overnight trips, they may not be the best choice, as pilot gear bags are often designed with an aviator’s particular needs in mind. A pilot gear bag is designed not only to carry the gear, but also to protect it and help the pilot stay organized. One of the first things you may notice when you shop for a pilot gear bag is that the majority of the fabric ones are black—and that is the only color. The next thing is that they all have a number of pockets held closed by zippers, velcro, or ties. The price of pilot gear bags starts at around $40 for synthetic fabric and goes all the way to north of $250 for something made of leather.
Features to Look For
Here are a few elements that make a bag useful for a broad range of pilots.
Interior as well as exterior pockets
Organization is key for a pilot. A bag should have securable exterior pockets for the things you will be reaching for during the flight, such as the E6-B flight computer, water bottle, or iPad, and interior pockets for the things you want to keep more secure—your logbook or wallet.
Material that is easy to clean, easy to repair
Fabric gear bags (usually nylon or canvas) are easier to clean than leather ones. This will be important if someone needs to “call pterodactyls” during the flight and barfs in your flight bag. Fabric bags tear more frequently than leather ones, but can also be easier to repair, as finding a shop with a needle strong enough to go through leather can be a challenge.
The trick to organization is having items sorted in compartments. One holds your handheld radio, another has the flashlight and extra batteries, and another holds your sunglasses, for example. Compartments that can be zipped up or closed with velcro are prized.
A padded pocket for a headset
A pilot headset is a very expensive piece of equipment. While some headsets come with their own padded carrying case (for example, Lightspeed and Bose), others have a carry bag with minimal protective padding—if they have any protection at all. When the headset costs upwards of $300, spend the money to get a gear bag that has a specialized pocket for it.
A padded pocket designed for iPad or tablet
If the idea of your iPad bouncing around unsecured in your flight bag bothers you (and seriously, it should), find a gear bag with a designated pocket for an iPad or tablet—and its charging cords.
Pen and pencil holders
Nothing ruins a bag—or the gear in it—quicker than a pen exploding. It is unsettling to reach into your bag and discover the interior looks like an octopus panicked. Designated pockets prevent this.
Pocket for flashlight and batteries
Searching for a flashlight or batteries is not something you want to be doing in a dark cockpit. Many bags have a designated and sized pocket for a flashlight and a separate zip-up compartment that will hold spare batteries. Pro-tip: keep the batteries in a compartment of their own and in the original packing, or install painter’s tape across the contact points of loose batteries to prevent them from arcing.
Gear bags hold a lot of weight, and when placed on hard, rough surfaces (like the ramp) on a regular basis, the bottom of the bag, specifically the corners, tend to wear out. You want a bag that has reinforcement in its construction, especially in the corners. Some bags have a hard-surface lower bulkhead, which can also make them more resistant to damage.
Adjustable and padded shoulder straps
Some gear bags can be worn like backpacks. Others have a single shoulder strap. Look for one that is padded and adjustable. Note the buckles and possibly velcro that hold the strap in place. Ideally, once the straps are set to where you want them they should lock down and stay there.
Jeppesen Student Pilot Bag
This one’s often the first gear bag a fledgling pilot gets. The bag’s dimensions of 16 inches by 11 inches by 5.5 inches make it a perfect device for carrying all the books necessary for Part 141 training. Cost: $40
Crosswind Flight Gear Bag
According to Sporty’s Pilot Shop, this bag was designed around function and finances—as they say, “Put more cash towards flight training and less towards gear with the Crosswind Flight Gear Bag.” The bag has padded pockets for both the headset and iPad as well as a “cavernous compartment” for everything else. As with most Sporty’s bags, there’s the option to have the top entry flap embroidered for an extra price. The bag comes with a three-year warranty. Cost: $59.95
If you are looking for versatility in a flight bag in terms of size and form, check out the offerings from Flight Outfitters. The Flight Outfitters Lift Flight Bag is very popular with beginning aviators. Black with orange trim, the external dimensions of the bag measure 12 inches by 10.5 inches by 9 inches. The interior of the bag is easily accessible thanks to all-the-way-around zippers, so it is easy to get into and out of the bag. The interior pocket is fleece-lined and holds a headset with ease, and there are two external pockets perfect for paper charts or a notepad. The bag also has fleece-lined pockets for your electronic gadgets, such as tablets or GPS, along with four internal mesh organizers to keep the cables and charging cords for these devices from turning into a tangled mess. The headset pocket has elastic loops to give you a place to put those extra batteries if you have an ANR headset. The lining of the Lift Flight Bag is bright orange—I mean ‘‘spot me in the woods/come get me now’’ orange—handy if you have to get someone’s attention after an unscheduled off-airport landing. You can also get the FLYING logo placed prominently on the front.
The carry handle is braided reinforced wire with metal hardware and has ergonomic padding for ease of carry. There is also a shoulder strap. Flight Outfitters has other designs—the Lift Flight Mini for the pilot who doesn’t need that much room, to the Lift XL Flight Bag and Flight Bag Pro for the pilot who has a lot to carry. For the aviators who prefer a backpack style to carry their supplies, Flight Outfitters has the Flight Outfitters Sling Pack and the Waypoint Backpack. Cost: $69.95 to $129.95
ASA AirClassics Flight Bag
Aviation Supplies and Academics has been facilitating pilot education since the 1940s, and a big part of that is helping them carry their gear. The ASA Flight Bag is made from water-repellent 600D polyester, with reinforced corners and a large central pocket with repositionable dividers for a customized configuration. The bag has zippered pockets on both ends that are large enough for headsets or tablets. On the back of the bag is an open pocket that doubles as a sleeve to slipover a roller bag for easy transport. Cost: $74.95
Leather Flight Bag
When you’re ready for leather, Sporty’s is ready for you with its Flight Gear series. The bag is made from black calfskin and has exterior pockets for a headset, GPS, and transceiver (there is also a special pocket for storage of the antennae) along with two side pockets and an organizer section for pens, keys, flashlight, sunglasses, etc. The interior main pocket of the leather Flight Gear bag is large enough to stow a headset in its case. The bag has a loop on the back, making it easy to attach to a rolling suitcase if you wish. Cost: $249.95.
Brightline B7 Flight Bags
If you are obsessive about organization—and need a ballistic gear bag—the folks at Brightline have something for you: the Brightline B7 Flight Bag. The bag is like what happens when an overnight bag and an accordion have a lovechild—this bag expands, and I do mean expands. There are so many pockets on this bag that all can be secured with a zipper. When unzipped, the bag opens up like, yes, an accordion for ease of access. Cost: $254
This article was originally published in the March 2023, Issue 935 of FLYING.