The 7 Best Travel Bags of Summer 2012

Tumi Ducati Due Porte (Courtesy of Tumi)
Tumi Ducati Due Porte

Tumi Ducati Due Porte Suitcase

The partnership of a venerable luggage maker with an Italian motorsports legend has us duly impressed. Yup, we swooned for the Euro styling; it drew comments every time we deplaned. But the 9.5-pound beaut stands solid with an intelligent design we loved throughout a 16,000-mile land/sea/air recon in Australia and New Zealand. What’s so smart? The polycarbonate hard-shell bottom hinged to a crushproof collapsible nylon top panel that worked like a lightweight shipping crate. On the ocean leg it withstood piles of stacked bags without squashing. And we like the simplicity—just two roomy compartments (separated by a zippered divider) worth 77 liters that swallowed a month’s clothes and snorkeling gear. The TSA-approved integrated combo lock secures the main zipper access, but you’ll still need an additional lock for the top panel. Bottom line: sure, it’s pricy, but it’s sophisticated, it’s durable, and it features clever engineering that separates it from the pack. 9.5 lbs

DURABILITY: 4.5
PERFORMANCE: 4.5 (OUT OF 5)

Gravis Jetway 40L Suitcase

Gravis Jetway 40L
Gravis Jetway 40L (Courtesy of Gravis)

BEST FOR: Weekending and carry-on travel. THE TEST: A month in Australia and New Zealand didn’t faze the 40-liter Jetway’s reinforced, thermomolded plastic bottom and skid plate. (Another tester has been abusing an earlier version of this bag for five years with no zipper blowouts or other problems.) But its best feature is inside: a pull-out interior laundry bag keeps stuff like soaked base layers and muddy trail-running shoes from fouling up your entire bag. While the small (2.4 inches in diameter), inline-skate-esque wheels roll fantastically on smooth surfaces, they don’t do as well on cobblestones and dirt. THE VERDICT: As tough as it is sleek. 6.9 lbs

DURABILITY: 3.5
PERFORMANCE: 4

The Gravis and JanSport are carry-on compliant, as is the smaller 22-liter version of the Gregory.

eBags Exo Hardside 24 Spinner Suitcase

eBags Exo Hardside 24 Spinner Suitcase
eBags Exo Hardside 24 Spinner Suitcase (Courtesy of eBags)

BEST FOR: Defensive travelers. THE TEST: Not only is the Exo the most durable and versatile spinner (a bag with four wheels instead of two) we’ve ever tested, it’s also the safest. The protection comes by way of the integrated TSA lock and a pure polycarbonate ribbed shell, which returned dent-free from a 13,000-mile European tour. Inside, the spacious 72 liters separate with a zippered mesh panel, and an adjustable horizontal divider divvies up the bottom compartment. The one (obvious) knock: our testers dug the upright maneuverability on smooth surfaces, but Barcelona’s cobblestone streets were a challenge. THE VERDICT: An agile hauler that protects like Fort Knox—and is priced right. 9.4 lbs

DURABILITY: 5
PERFORMANCE: 4

Helly Hansen 90L Duffel Bag

Helly Hansen 90L Duffel Bag
Helly Hansen 90L Duffel Bag (Courtesy of Helly Hansen)

BEST FOR: Off-road adventures. THE TEST: This 90-liter hauler isn’t a drybag, but it comes dang close. The zippers aren’t watertight (as they are on your hard shell), but the thick nylon truck-tarp-like fabric is practically impervious to the elements and kept our clothes dry on both splashy raft trips and drizzly walks around town. For longer hauls, you can deploy the hidden padded shoulder straps and carry it backpack-style. “For a backpackable unit without a frame, it’s surprisingly well mannered,” said one tester. “Of course, the more you stuff it, the better it behaves.” And indeed, you can stuff it silly. The exterior webbing constrains the single main compartment like an exoskeleton. THE VERDICT: If you don’t need no stinkin’ wheels, this is your bag. 3.7 lbs

DURABILITY: 4
PERFORMANCE: 4

Jansport Skip Yowell Fort Hays Bag

Jansport Skip Yowell Fort Hayes Bag
Jansport Skip Yowell Fort Hayes Bag (Courtesy of Jansport)

BEST FOR: Style-conscious retros. THE TEST: This 15-liter shoulder bag works as suitcase, office, carry-on, and road-trip cohort. The keys to its versatility are the hinged top and the accordion sides that expand to hold a laptop and a few days’ clothing or collapse to a compact briefcase. Three separator sleeves and two elastic shoe pockets organize the interior; four exterior pockets are big enough for shirts, shoes, electronics, and such. But while the Fort Hays’s waxed cotton is reasonably water-resistant and the pack is extremely well made, not everyone was smitten with it. Figuring out all the pockets and straps is confusing (some seem to have no discernible function); some, like the comically long shoulder strap, are simply poorly designed. THE VERDICT: Fashionable, spacious, versatile, and a bit unfinished. 4.7 lbs

DURABILITY: 3.5
PERFORMANCE: 3

Gregory Cache 28L Pack

Gregory Cache 28L Pack
Gregory Cache 28L Pack (Courtesy of Gregory)

BEST FOR: Slinging it on your back. THE TEST: The Cache has a secret weapon: a single shoulder strap that affixes to the exterior, soft side of the pack. It’s a smart design, especially if you only occasionally need to shoulder your bag: the well-padded strap is surprisingly comfy and adds virtually no weight. The 77-liter roller’s other unique feature is its extra-wide handle, which allows you to roll it beside you. And because the handle’s -aluminum posts run down the sides of the bag, as opposed to right down the middle, you can lay shirts flat and pack more efficiently. The only problem: the handle doesn’t lock in place as well as others and has an annoying tendency to collapse when you lean on it or, say, try to push it (instead of roll it). THE VERDICT: A smart, if imperfect, take on a convertible roller. 10.2 lbs

DURABILITY: 4.5
PERFORMANCE: 4

Should the need arise, a hide-away shoulder strap on Gregory's Cache allows you to quickly sling it across your back.

Eagle Creek Flashpoint ORV Super Trunk 36 Suitcase

Eagle Creek Flashpoint ORV Super Trunk 36 Suitcase
Eagle Creek Flashpoint ORV Super Trunk 36 Suitcase (Courtesy of Eagle Creek)

BEST FOR: Gear-intensive excursions. THE TEST: A cavernous 140-liter compartment swallows gear up to 34 inches long, like the trekking poles and tripod we packed for rainy Peru. Then came the real test: the chicken bus to Puno, our final destination. After several bumpy, muddy transfers, the Flashpoint’s polyurethane-coated and puncture-proof fabric emerged scuffed and muddy—but intact, with contents dry. And being an Eagle Creek bag, it excels at keeping you organized: there’s a roomy sealed (and seam-taped) external -compartment for mucky gear, and plenty of pockets for quick-grabs like maps, guidebooks, and electronic gizmos. THE VERDICT: Keeps everything orderly and safe—even on multi-week trips. 11.7 lbs

DURABILITY: 4.5
PERFORMANCE: 4.5

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