Once you’ve picked out the best flight bag you can find, it’s time to stock it with all the essential gear you’ll need to fly. Every pilot has their own method for what gear they take with them while flying, but there are a few we think every private pilot should always take with them when they fly.
Whether you’re an experienced pilot or a brand new student pilot, there’s gear here you’ll use on every single flight. Plus some gear you may not use regularly, but will definitely want just in case.
Here are the top ten essentials!
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1. Pilot Certificate & Medical
This one’s a no-brainer because you can’t legally fly without these. Make sure your pilot certificate and medical are always in your
2. Headset (with extra batteries if necessary)
This one should be a no-brainer as well, but always make sure you’ve got your pilot headset with you before heading to the airport.
Nothing will ruin your planned flight faster than opening your bag and realizing you’ve forgotten it.
As a student, you’ll generally be able to borrow one from the flight school if necessary.
[Check out our review of the Bose A20 headset]
3. iPad with ForeFlight and/or Sectional Charts
ForeFlight allows you increased situational awareness in the cockpit, and many pilots swear by it. It’s arguably the most popular electronic charts option on the market.
If you fly with ForeFlight, it can also be a good idea to keep a set of sectional charts as a backup in case anything ever happens with your iPad.
And make sure you keep your sectional charts up to date.
A tablet is a must-have in the cockpit in 2021. If you're not sure which one to go with the Apple iPad is easily the most popular tablet on the market. The 2021 iPad is a great option. Some people also like the iPad Mini and if you really want cutting edge go with the iPad Air.
4. Kneeboard with Pen and Paper
This next one might seem “old school”, but every pilot should have pen and paper nearby to write down instructions and frequencies. With a kneeboard, you can have your pens and paper handy, and ready to go.
Plus, most kneeboards are built to hold your iPad along with a pen and small notepad. Check out our post on the best pilot kneeboards if you need help picking one out.
5. Snacks & Water
Are snacks really necessities? Not always, but they can come in handy in the times you least expect.
A couple of energy bars weigh next to nothing and take up very little space, and they can save you from being preoccupied with unexpected hunger in flight. Trust me, throw a couple in your
Worst case scenario you don’t eat them and they’re already in there for your next flight.
Water is a no-brainer: dehydration can cause you serious physical and mental issues, and it’s not something you want to experience while 10,000 feet in the air. Drink plenty of water. Pick up a good reusable water bottle and get in the habit of filling it up before each flight.
If you’re a full-time student pilot, snacks are definitely essential.
Add some other nice-to-have gear from this list of the best gifts for pilots.
6. Charging Cords and a Backup Battery
If you’re flying with an iPad a charging cord and backup battery is essential. Particularly on those long cross-country flights.
It’s a good idea to pick up a battery that’s strong enough to charge your iPad a few times, just in case.
It also helps when you need to charge your phone mid-flight.
7. Non-polarized sunglasses
Flying in Texas has taught us that sunglasses aren’t just nice things to have so you can look cool in the cockpit.
They are necessities without which your vision can be severely impaired when flying certain headings throughout the day.
Get a pair of good non-polarized glasses that won’t reduce visibility through windscreens or instruments with anti-glare filters.
8. Fuel Tester with Screwdriver
A fuel tester and screwdriver is a flying MUST! It hardly takes up any space in your
With a fuel tester and 4-way screwdriver, or reversible screwdriver attachment, you can check the quality of your fuel before you fly.
Besides the obvious reason, checking fuel is also important because you may get different fuel from other airports. And you want to make sure you have quality fuel to get you where you want to go
This is one pilot accessory you don’t want to skip. Whether or not you go night flying frequently, you want to be sure you have a good flashlight.
You never know when you might get stuck at a remote airport and have to fly back in the dark. You can check out our guide on the best flashlights for pilots to help you find a good one. But the one below is easily my top pick.
It’s always a good idea to keep a multi-tool on you or in your
The Leatherman Wave Plus is what I carry with me. It’s well built and incredibly versatile.
Here are a few other great items to keep in your bag or on the plane but not necessarily “essentials.”
Extra tools can be a huge help in the cockpit and very handy on emergency maintenance stops. Many of these items are things you’ll collect as your aviation career goes on, so I wouldn’t consider all of these as student pilot essentials.
While a multi-tool is a great thing to always keep on you, a small toolbox full of tools could be a great item to keep in your own plane. This is especially true if you do much backcountry flying.
How much or how little survival gear to keep in your
Nobody wants to think of the possibility of needing survival items, but to be a truly safe pilot you have to plan for the unthinkable.
If you commonly fly over bodies of water, consider getting a water-activated emergency light or beacon.
If you fly at high altitudes, look into getting a pulse oximeter.
There are countless survival items designed specifically for pilots that have saved lives.
Do yourself a big favor and research some of these items. Decide which are necessary for you, keep them with you, and hope you never have to use them.
And there you have it! Our top ten
Just getting started on your journey to becoming a pilot? Check out our guide on how to become a pilot.
And if you’re headed out on an extra-long trip be sure to bring along one of these top aviation books every pilot should read.
What other gear do you recommend as student pilot essentials?