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 your 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!
1. Pilot Certificate & Medical
This one’s a no brainer, because you can’t legally fly without these. Make sure they are always in your flight bag.
2. Headset (with extra batteries if necessary)
This one should be a no-brainer as well, but always make sure you’ve got your 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 pilot, you’ll generally be able to borrow one from the flight school if necessary.
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.
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.
5. Snacks & Water
Are snacks really necessities? Not always, but they can come in handy in the times you least expect.
A couple 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 flight bag.
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.
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 for 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 flight bag, but makes all the difference!
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.
9. Extra Tools & Survival Gear
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 we wouldn't consider all of these as student pilot essentials.
It’s always a good idea to keep a pocket knife or multitool on you, and we also recommend keeping extra oil and some microfiber towels in the aircraft as well.
You'll also want to be sure you have a good flashlight. You can check out our guide on the best flashlights for pilots to help you find a good one.
It can’t hurt to also have a barf bag handy… for your passengers, of course!
How much or how little survival gear to keep in your flight bag is up to you, but it’s a good idea to at least bring some basic items like a compass and a first aid kit.
Nobody wants to think of the possibility of needing these 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.
10. Spare Handheld Two-Way Radio
Every single pilot should always have a spare handheld two-way radio. You don’t want to be stuck with no communication if your radio goes out.
If you don’t always have a spare radio with you, you’ll never miss it until it’s too late.
On top of the obvious benefit of backup radio communications, you can also use your spare radio to turn on pilot controlled lighting systems at non-towered and even small towered airports.
Don’t be stuck over a pitch black airport with no visibility!
And there you have it! Our top ten flight bag essentials! Now it’s important to remember, just like no two pilots are the same, no two flight bags are the same!
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?