May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside's Annual Travel Guide, 1999/2000

There's really just one reason to get a convertible—a bag that morphs from suitcase to backpack: to save your body on long-haul carries. The best ones have the ride-on-the-hips support you need to lug 30 or more pounds on a long trail hike or trek, not to mention through endless train-station corridors, plus a light-duty daypack that attaches to the main bag. Between schleps, the backpack harness zips away and the thing behaves quietly as a suitcase. Don't think, though, that it suddenly passes for Dad's Samsonite; there's no disguising the adventure-eager look.

Mountainsmith's new 4,000-cubic-inch Nomad ($237) uses a sturdy but highly breathable, no-sweat foam in its straps and incorporates an interior divider should you want to isolate a small sleeping bag or boots. The Adventure Brief, an attachable daypack (sold separately, $64), is a classic Mountainsmith lumbar pack, superior to the flimsy little dangle-from-the-shoulders backpacks that come with most convertibles. The North Face's new Galileo ($235) is a heavier-duty bag; its suspension system includes a weight-transferring polyethylene framesheet worthy of its 4,600-cubic-inch capacity. Two innovative features: a built-in rain cover and a thin steel cable riveted to the framesheet to lock the pack to another object.

The Voyageur APS Plus 65+10 (4,500 cubic inches, $249) from Lowe Alpine offers lots of interior organization with three zippered pockets, plus a clever design that allows you to stuff it from the top like a backpack or via a panel like a duffel. It also incorporates a rain cover, and its little daypack can clip to the harness at your chest for better balance on long carries.

Good as these convertibles are, they're not true backpacks capable of hauling expedition weights. That's where Madden Mountaineering's Meridian (4,700 cubic inches, $370) comes in. This is a no-compromise backpack with dense foam straps and a serious suspension that'll haul as much weight as you can lift. What makes it a travel pack is Madden's Eclipse travel duffel ($50), a separate piece that's something of a body bag for the backpack. Toss the Meridian inside it and you have an instant duffel bag. It also serves as a rain cover when you're in backpack mode and otherwise stores inside the main pack.


Don't confuse these bags with the priggish carry-ons ubiquitous in airports; these are built to adventure specs, using sturdy in-line skate wheels, and are more versatile. Case in point: Pangaëa's Transit C.O. ($190), which at 3,100 cubic inches is indeed carry-on size. But it's made of indestructible ballistics nylon, offers organizing pockets in the main and outer compartments, and has shoulder straps for an emergency portage over cobblestones or monsoon-drenched roads. The retractable handle and wheels are part of a removable aluminum dolly, which is compatible with both larger and smaller Pangaëa bags. The Timberland Outback ($300) represents a similar concept—wheels and zip-away shoulder straps—on a much larger (5,800 cubic inches) scale. The main compartment is stiffened around the circumference, so its maw gapes cooperatively while you fill its cavernous space, and it comes with a built-in garment bag should you need to tote some go-to-meetin' duds. There's a detachable daypack, too, hyperorganized and hence, travel-friendly. The Sportsman's Rolling Gear Bag from L.L. Bean (large size is 3,700 cubic inches, $139) is a duffel on wheels, with a huge horseshoe-shaped opening that zips clear down to the bottom of the pack, making it easy to see and access whatever's lurking at its nadir. It also has two end compartments so you can put soiled shoes or wet suits in solitary confinement. Best of all, it's from Bean, so you can have it monogrammed.


Travel light, and you don't need wheels, backpack straps, or a lot of money. JanSport's Road Warrior has everything you do need for only $80: 5,500- cubic-inch capacity, two end compartments (one is water-resistant and has a drain port), a water-resistant underside (you can set it in a puddle), and an exceptionally comfortable, contoured, nonslip shoulder strap. Sometimes, though, we just have to arrive with dressier duds than can survive duffel stuffing. Enter TravelSmith's B-4 Garment Bag (3,024 cubic inches, $139), which looks a lot like the one my Air Force–pilot father used to take flying. The big difference between this very cool bag and, well, civilian versions is an all-around zipper—keeps the bag compact when shut, plus it's lockable. Inside, besides hanging capacity for your flight jacket and three or four changes of clothes, is a full-length mesh organizer to keep sundries tidy. Outside, five big pockets hold everything else. Kiva Designs, which makes the B-4 for TravelSmith, offers a downscaled version of the bag called the Kiva Suiter Shuttle ($99). The smaller bag has similar features but less capacity, and it meets airline restrictions for carry-on luggage.


A carry-on should be versatile and practical, not just a single-purpose shoulder bag. Here's a great find: Eagle Creek's new Bhatah Sab ($150). It combines a heavy-duty, 2,800-cubic-inch daypack with a zip-off lumbar pack, which is highly organized and a perfect light-duty, around-city bag for camera, notebooks, and lunch. However, I generally prefer a fanny pack as my day bag. L.L. Bean's All-Purpose Hip Pack (360 cubic inches, $19.50) is just the right size for sunglasses, tickets, passport, and a notebook. For greater capacity, Kelty's Essential ($45) is the best I've used. It holds 600 cubic inches securely because it has a bit of structure: a padded back and flexible plastic wand, activated by trim straps off the hipbelt, that snugs everything into your lumbar region—ergo, no fanny-pack flop. It also doubles as a shoulder bag, and its white-on-black checkerboard pattern is very hip—as a fanny pack should be. —Robert Earle Howells

For a Directory of Manufacturers, please see page 123.

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