Best Flight bag for pilots
As a seasoned pilot or a pilot-in-training, it is important to have the right equipment in your flight bag before heading to the airport.
We received some great feedback on our earlier article detailing what to pack in your flight bag. That feedback and additional research have led us to update our list to be more thorough and much more efficient.
This list is the product of that research and valuable feedback. We’ve certainly improved our own flight bags as a result.
Some of the flying equipment I list is still on my “wish list”, but I’ll let you know if I own the product referenced. If not, I try to include reviews or feedback other pilots have given us.
This seems obvious – but we have to start here.
The key to the right flight bag is one that is small enough to fit compactly in the plane (with you and your guests and other luggage) while also affording optimal organization and access.
I actually have a couple of bags, but my favorite is by far the affordable Light Gear HP Captain’s Bag. It has a lot of pockets and can “sit upright” in the cockpit. I can fit everything I list on this page in my bag.
This bag is carrying important equipment that may be needed in a moment’s notice, so proper compartments and pockets – and knowing what you’ve got stored in each is so important.
Some pilots also have a separate, smaller bag that just houses a headset. I don’t have on of these smaller bags, but my fellow pilots recommend something similar to what Kore provides.
I liken a pilot’s headset to a wizard’s wand – for those Harry Potter fans out there. You don’t want to go cheap when picking one out – though you don’t have to break the bank either.
I personally own a David Clark headset, specifically the DC PRO-X. I like that it is smaller but also has noise cancellation.
We get it – aviation is an expensive hobby. We always look for cost savings where we can, too.
However, your headset is not an instance where you want to risk relying on a knock-off or sub-par set of kit. Check out our full write-up on choosing the best aviation headset for you in case you’d like more in-depth information. It is quite likely that you’ll only be making this purchase once – so choose wisely.
All pilots track their time in an aviation logbook to prove that adequate training has been received for each license (e.g., private pilot), endorsement (e.g., complex or high performance), or type rating (e.g., to fly a specific plane).
It serves as the ultimate source of truth for pilot testing applications – so it is important to have a good one – and to keep it in your flight bag so that you can record your flight after landing each time.
I use this Gleim logbook for my training. It’s set up logically and orderly for private pilots like me. Note: if you’re flying regularly and on a professional basis, this book isn’t going to cut it.
This might seem like a strange thing to keep in your flight bag. After all, once in the air, you likely won’t have time to digest anything substantive from a Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) – and it is assumed that you already know the major characteristics of the plane you are flying.
Also, per the well-known acronym all pilots learn, “ARROW”, every pilot should ensure that the plane has the “operating limitations” (the ‘O’ in ARROW) in the plane before takeoff, and these are often found in the POH.
However, I like to carry an extra copy of the POH for the plane I’m flying in my flight bag. I don’t want to worry about removing the official copy in the plane. Perhaps I need to review something on a pit stop? Maybe I encounter something unusual while starting the plane? I feel better having it at my fingertips.
You can find copies directly from the manufacturer of the aircraft you are flying. Used POH’s can often be found for the year/model you need by doing a quick Amazon or eBay search.
I almost forgot to include this fantastic tool here – because I wear my pilot watch everywhere!
When I first received my private pilot license, I treated myself to a smart pilot watch made by Garmin, the D2 Bravo.
With complete sincerity, this is probably one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. I’ve had my watch for several years now and have even run over it with my vehicle – no joke. It still works perfectly, though with some scratches). I doubt an Apple watch would have survived my sedan.
I only need to charge it weekly (unless I just am flying around the clock) and it has a lot of neat features. For instance, it can track altitude, airspeed, and keeps tabs of any “nearest” airports as you fly to your destination. This “nearest” feature could be a life saver for you if you experience an emergency in an area of the country where you don’t normally fly.
I really enjoy tracking my “course” across the ground after a flight (very similar to Flight Aware). I can tell you it was helpful to critique my “flights about a point” that is required for the private. Those first few lessons were ovals at best!
When it came out new, it was running close to $700 in price – very steep! I certainly don’t regret my purchase, but I’m glad to see that these have come down in price since I first bought mine.
Even better, you can actually now find certified refurbished D2 Bravos on Amazon for about half that (see the link to the side).
I’ll have to admit that I don’t really carry my sunglasses in my flight bag; rather, I just carry them with me always – and especially when flying!
Get a pair that fits your face and helps protect your eyes while at altitude.
Also, make sure that they are “non-polarized” (this may be the most important point) because polarized lens can make it difficult to read “glass cockpit” avionics (e.g., LCD or LED screens).
With the above in mind, I don’t think there’s a “right” pair out there, though I love Ray Ban aviators myself.
iPad (and maybe an iPhone)
In today’s flying environment, the iPad (or iPad mini) has become standard issue for pilots. There are some seriously powerful tools that pilots can use while operating an iPad in the cockpit.
I recommend purchasing an iPad Pro 10.5-inch model. I have learned the hard way, as I have the much larger (12.9-inch) iPad Pro – and it is cumbersome in the cockpit.
For a GPS backup and for flight planning (and to run my SCOUT device mentioned in post), I use an application called Foreflight on my iPad. Its fantastic. If you are training to be a pilot, you’ll hear this tool come up repeatedly.
Also, Garmin Pilot (a competitor to Foreflight) is another widely-used iPad application. I personally don’t use this but have pilot mentors who do – and who swear by it.
I don’t think it matters which tool you choose, just as long as you know and understand the tool very well.
I also tell pilots to carry an iPhone in their flight bag to serve as a back up to your iPad – in case your iPad overheats at altitude or otherwise stops working. Your iPhone will have the same app (Foreflight, Garmin, or other) on it that can be utilized should you need it.
While you’ll have the iPad in a mount or on your lap, you’ll keep your iPhone in a designated pocket in your flight bag – to grab at a moment’s notice.
All pilots know the importance of checklists, which are used through all phases of the flying process to cut down on mental fatigue and costly errors.
For the plane you are flying, you should have pre-flight, in-flight (climb, cruise, descent), emergency and post-flight checklists handy with you – packed in a prominent compartment in your bag for easy access.
It may go without saying, but I think these checklists are the most important part of every flight bag.
If you need to replace old checklists (maybe due to wear and tear), I’d suggest looking at Pilot Mall. They have a variety of lists available by aircraft make and type.
Aviation handheld radio
In training, pilots spend a lot of time learning how to communicate when avionics (and radios) stop working while in the air.
In VFR conditions, this scenario isn’t as scary, though you’d have to remember various “light gun” signals to land in controlled airspace. In IFR conditions, the stakes are much higher – and IFR-rated pilots also learn how to deal with this scenario.
However, I’d rather just keep a back up hand held radio in my flight bag so that I can continue communicating if, and when, the avionics/radios in my plane go out while on a flight.
I recommend the same for you if you can swing it. I personally use a Sporty’s SP-400 in my bag. I like it, though you have to be sure to charge the battery before every flight, as it is energy-use heavy.
I bought it before I wrote this site, though. After lots more research, I would recommend the Yaesu FTA-250L instead.
Something to write on and with
With today’s technology, a pilot can legally fly without “paper and pencil”. Foreflight, for instance, has a “scratch pad” where a pilot can use a finger to “write out” instructions from ATIS and ATC on the face of your iPad while using the Foreflight application.
However, I’ve found this to be a poor substitute for a small note pad and pen that can clip into my kneeboard. Some air-traffic controllers talk very fast, and I tend to “smudge” the screen of my Foreflight app. It is embarrassing to read back something incorrectly, which only causes confusion, increases stress, etc.
Any kind of notepad and pencil will work. I personally prefer Field Notes, and I normally buy a three-pack. In fact, I always have hand-written emergency procedures for my Cessna in my flight bag, separated by type of emergency with post-it flags.
I also always carry two pens (in case one runs out). Nothing beats a cheap BIC Round Stic, and you can buy these in volume for cheap!
Bottled Water and Snacks
Flying is stressful. It’s mentally taxing in the best of times. If you throw in a busy sky, poor weather conditions and needy passengers, that stress escalates quickly.
I know I always get thirsty when flying as a result of this stress. Drinking water while flying can relax me, so I always have some in my flight bag. I think it is wise for all pilots to fly with bottled water.
As a rule, I don’t eat while I’m flying pilot-in-command. I’d hate to eat something and then inadvertently start choking while PIC. However, on longer trips where I know I’ll be refueling, I always pack snacks to recharge before taking on another leg of a journey. Just try to avoid foods with a high glycemic index. You don’t want to feel sleepy or get a sugar crash during your last leg. Here are some of my favorites:
Sahale Snacks (LOVE THESE)
Pilot’s License, Medical Certificate and ID
Once a pilot is issued a license, the FAA will send you a pilot license that lists out the type of license you’ve earned. Just as you are supposed to carry your drivers license when driving, a pilot is supposed to carry his or her pilot’s license.
You are also supposed to carry a photo ID and proof of having proper medical clearance (“your medical”).
I keep my pilot license and medical certificate in a separate pocket in my flight bag, and I just have a simple “extra wallet” where I keep them.
You could get something more formal like this Aviation Document Pouch. I don’t own this, but some of my pilot friends tell me that they prefer the clear labeling on the front as a visual cue.
Some of the items on this list operate on internal batteries (like an iPad). It is crucial to not have to worry about running low on device power on long trips, especially if you are operating on an electronic flight bag!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using my RAVPower portable charger, which has three USB ports.
You’ll be able to charge three devices at once, and I routinely do so while flying. I currently use Foreflight on my iPad Pro, Foreflight on my iPhone, and I also power a cheap ADS-B option (a SCOUT) that communicates with Foreflight.
I have flown round trips over several states without needing extra power for these three pieces of vital equipment.
One more source of power to consider is standard batteries. For instance, the noise-cancelling device on my David Clark headset runs off two Double A batteries. There’s nothing more aggravating than losing the noise cancellation capability at altitude.
Buy enough batteries to keep plenty of spare in a small pocket of your flight bag – in a pocket you could find with no effort at altitude.
I bet this is a strange one for a lot of you reading this, and I’ll admit it very well may be.
Sometimes the cockpit can become extremely warm, and I sweat. I had a bad experience where I was having a hard time holding the yoke on final approach in windy conditions in the middle of the summer.
I made it down safely, but from that day onward, I have flown with a golf glove in my flight bag. I always slip on my glove as a part of my descent checklist.
Any glove with proper grip will do. I got mine from my father’s old golf kit.
E6B Flight Computer
Most planes have capable enough avionics to calculate various crucial stats – like fuel consumption for the next leg or time to the next waypoint. Flight apps like Foreflight can also calculate these types of stats in real time.
However, what happens if your flight apps or in-plane avionics fail and you know you’ve got a long way to get to your next fueling stop?
Insert the student pilot’s favorite tool – the E6B flight computer. Most instructors still force their students to use a manual E6B, which is good practice and good redundancy.
I always carry my “old school” version with me in my bag. It may be an overkill, but I want the peace of mind to know that – even if s$%! hits the proverbial fan – I can reach into my flight bag and get immediate access to a tool that will allow me to cross reference my steam gauges to calculate my remaining fuel.
I want to note that but some flight instructors and allowing something similar to what high school Calculus students carry around to class. I have nothing against these, but I don’t have enough experience with these to recommend the best one.
Nothing is worse than making it to the airport, doing a pre-flight, and enriching the mixture only to realize you got to the airport without your plane key (and yes, not everyone locks their plane when not using it)!
If you don’t own your plane, it is likely that this won’t be an issue for you because you’ll be flying with someone else or renting – and the key will likely be kept in a “flight school” ‘box’.
If you own your plane, keep your key in a designated pocket in your flight bag so that forgetting it is a non-issue.
Also, you may consider making spare keys depending on the complexity of the aircraft. I was able to create spare keys for my Cessna 172 at an Elder’s Ace Hardware five minutes from my home airport! Not even kidding!
Historically, all pilots flew with a knee board since it was an efficient means to keep up with maps, flight plans, and writing material for note taking while communicating with ATC.
With the emergence of the electronic flight bag, fewer pilots use or carry a knee board. A lot of the necessities are all on your iPad.
I don’t often use a knee board myself, even though I routinely fly with pilots who do use them.
However, I do keep a small folding knee board in my flight bag in case I need to reference the paper maps/charts I carry with me if my iPad or dashboard avionics fails me, and I would recommend that you carry one too.
I like my IFR Tri-Fold Kneeboard, which I linked above.
If you are planning on doing some night flying, this is a mandatory piece of your flight bag.
You’ll want to have a flashlight that is as good outside the cockpit (for pre-flight checks) as inside.
Given the importance not to expose your eyes to bright light within half an hour before takeoff (so your eyes are adequately acclimated to the dark operating environment), I recommend a flashlight that has different light settings. For instance, I carry a light that has a “red” setting to use (if needed) in the cockpit.
In case you want to learn a little more about your eyes and night flying, I found a nice read from the FAA.
Change of Clothes and Toiletries
All pilots – especially VFR pilots – learn quickly that cross-country flying may leave you stranded at an airport that you didn’t intend on being stranded at when you took off.
Sometimes those clouds close or the freezing level comes down. When that happens, you’ve got to find the nearest hotel.
As one pilot to another, please pack a change of clothes and toiletries in your flight bag before your next trip. It’s much more pleasant to fly the next morning refreshed and clean.
This one is kind of cheating, because I don’t actually pack this specifically in my flight bag. My flight bag is only so big. Instead, I use a small toiletry bag. I simply pop it in a duffel that I reserve for a change of clothes whenever I’m going on a flight longer than an hour.
I hope that this post was helpful and that you are now ready to fly with a proper flight bag so that you are ready for whatever the winds bring your way.