There’s no doubt that the baggage regulations set by the TSA for what you can and can’t bring on a plane can be confusing, even for seasoned flyers.

Generally, though, the items that you can’t bring in your carry on fall into one of just a few categories.

Items You Can’t Pack in Your Carry On

Liquids, Gels and Aerosols

If you want to bring a liquid, gel, or aerosol on a plane in your carry on, each container must not be larger than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters), and all containers must fit into a single clear, plastic, quart-sized bag.

This also includes a bottle of water and food items.

Sharp Objects

Sharp objects not allowed in your carry on include box cutters, ice picks, knives (except for plastic or round bladed butter knives), pocket knives, meat cleavers, razor-type blades not in a cartridge, saw, and swords.

When it comes to scissors, you can pack them in your carry on if the blade is less than 4 inches long, though if flying from international airports this changes to 6 cm (2.36 inches).

Swiss army knives also aren’t allowed.

Sporting Equipment

The TSA put it simply: Sports equipment that can be “used as a bludgeon” is not allowed in your carry on.

This means that items like baseball bats, golf clubs, hockey and lacrosse sticks, ski and hiking poles, pool cues etc. are not allowed in your carry on and must be packed in your checked bag.

However, there are exceptions, including fishing poles, fishing hooks, tennis rackets, snowboards.

Self Defense Items and Sprays

You aren’t allowed to bring self-defense items and sprays in your carry on. This includes mace or pepper spray, and items such as black jacks, brass knuckles, and billy clubs.

Weapons and Explosives

Firearms, guns, and ammunition are not allowed in carry-on bags, though can be packed in your checked bags as long as they are unloaded, well-packaged, and you declare them at check-in.

Explosives, fireworks, and flammable items like gasoline and lighter fluid are not allowed in your carry on.

You should know that even if an item is not specifically prohibited by the TSA, the final decision on whether an item is allowed in your carry-on bag rests with the TSA officer at the security checkpoint.

Related: All of the 106 Items You Can’t Bring in Your Carry On

TSA Exceptions

There are a few exceptions for what items you can bring in your carry on, which apply to liquids, gels, and aerosols only.

Exceptions where the 3-1-1 rule doesn’t apply include:

  • Breast milk and formula
  • Baby food
  • Liquid medication
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Jumbo disinfecting wipes
  • STEB items (secure, tamper-evident bags purchased at the airport)
  • Cough syrup
  • Gel-filled bras
  • Saline solution
  • Ice packs (must be frozen solid)

If you are taking any of the above items, they should be removed from your carry on bags for additional screening.

Surprising Items You Can Pack in Your Carry On

There are a range of items that you might think aren’t allowed in your carry on, but actually are.

These items include:

  • Small tools: You are allowed to bring screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches and other small tools in your carry on as long as they are 7 inches or less long. Personal care items like nail clippers, and small scissors are also allowed.
  • Sewing Tools: Crochet hooks, sewing needles, knitting needles, rotary cutters, and safety pins are all allowed in your carry on.
  • Matches and lighters: The TSA will allow you to pack both disposable and Zippo lighters in your carry on bag. You are also allowed to bring a single box of safety matches; all other types of matches aren’t allowed.
  • Batteries: Dry cell batteries, lithium batteries with less than 100 watts installed in a device, lithium batteries with more than 100 watts (but less than 161 watts), and spare batteries are all allowed to be packed in your carry on. You are also allowed to bring a power bank.
  • Medication and medical equipment: The TSA allow medical equipment (including mobility aids, equipment and other external medical devices), as well as medically necessary liquids and/or medications that exceed the 3-1-1 rule to be packed in your carry on.
  • Vaping devices and e-liquids: According to TSA regulations, you can bring vape devices in your carry on, as well as spare batteries for your vape, and any e-liquid or nic salt provided it is a container that is less than 3.4oz in size.
  • Disposable and electric razors: You can bring both disposable razors and electric razors in your carry on. Safety razors are only allowed in your carry on bags with the blade removed, while straight razors are not permitted in your carry on bags at all.
  • Small pets: Small pets are allowed through the security checkpoint, though the airline you are flying with will have the final say whether your small pet will be allowed into the cabin.

Prohibited Items When Flying Internationally

While the rules will largely be the same worldwide, there are some important things to keep in mind.

  1. Agricultural Products: Many countries have restrictions on bringing in fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural products, including plants and flowers.
  2. Currency: There are restrictions on how much money you can bring on a plane and into another country.
  3. Medications: Some medications that are legal in one country may be illegal in another. It’s important to research the laws of the country you are traveling to before bringing any medications with you.
  4. Food and Drinks: Some countries have restrictions on bringing in food and drinks, especially if they are not packaged and sealed.
  5. Cultural Artifacts: Some countries have restrictions on bringing in cultural artifacts such as antiques or art.

What Happens If You Pack a Prohibited Item

If you pack a prohibited item in your carry on, in most cases, the item will simply be confiscated.

However, if you attempt to bring an item that can put the safety of passengers and the cabin crew at risk, you may face a fine or legal charges, depending on the severity of the offense.

Keep in mind that if you attempt to bring a prohibited item, even by mistake, it can lead to delays, and you run the risk of missing your flight, as security personnel will need to inspect your bag at the very least.

How to Pack Your Carry on Bag

When packing your carry-on bag, we recommend that you follow these guidelines to make the screening process go as smoothly as possible:

  • Check the list of prohibited items: First and foremost, make sure you know what items aren’t allowed in your carry on.
  • Follow the 3-1-1 rule: All your liquid, gel, and aerosol containers should be no larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml) and placed in a clear, plastic, quart-sized bag. Make sure that the bag is easy to access.
  • Pack sharp objects in checked baggage: While some sharp objects are allowed to be packed in your carry on, it’s best to pack them in your checked bag just to be on the safe side.
  • Make sure your electronic devices are accessible: Remember that while electronic device are allowed, those larger than a cell phone must be taken out of your bag and screened separately, so should be easily accessible.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).