We Tested a $1,000 Inflatable Travel Bag
Freitag's 85-liter Zippelin duffel uses innovative materials and packs down to the size of a shoebox. But is it worth the $980 price tag?
As far as suitcases go, the simplicity of a duffel bag is part of its draw. Packability, ease of use, and durability usually all factor into deciding which design is for you, but leave it to the Swiss to find a way to take it a step further.
Freitag has been hand-making travel bags from repurposed bicycle tubes, seat belts, and commercial truck tarps for the past 24 years. But the product it had yet to master was a large roller for long-haul travel. It sought to use its signature tarps but found that the material, while ultra durable, was too heavy for a traditional metal frame. The brand’s solution? To remove the frame and replace it with a bike tube. Pumped full of air, the tube frame serves as a lightweight body that supports a wheeled bag. Deflated, the 85-liter bag can roll up to the size of a shoebox. Once Freitag reached its Kickstarter goal of $100,000—something that only took 12 hours—the company sent the prototype into production.
The Zippelin bag hit the market in 2018, boasting a hefty $980 price tag, owing to its handcrafted nature and top-shelf materials. While it certainly scores points for innovation, would it effectively combine the ease of use of a duffel with the practicality of a roller bag? I decided to try one and find out.
The tarp material certainly feels tough and burly, and after years serving as the protection on cargo trucks, I have no doubt of its ability to withstand rough handling by airlines and being tossed around in the back of my truck. My dog loves to stand on the suitcase pile in the back of my rig and has damaged plenty of bags that way, but on a recent drive, the Zippelin came out unscathed.
Ease of Setup: 9/10
Setting the Freitag up for travel is easy. It took less than two minutes to inflate the “frame,” a bike tube hidden away in a zippered chamber on the back of the bag, blowing it up to 25 psi using a standard bike pump. Popping on the lightweight, removable wheels, which tuck away nicely into their own storage compartment, took a few seconds. After that I just unzipped the main compartment and folded the bottom panels down over the frame, and I was all set.
I was impressed with the inflatable frame; it was almost as sturdy as a traditional metal one. And once I packed up the bag, it handled a full 85 liters’ worth of clothes, toiletries, and gear without problem.
The two compression straps on either side of the bag, made from recycled car seat belts, are for hand-carrying, while a longer shoulder strap runs across the length of the bag. This latter strap is comfortable, but because there’s only one, you can’t carry the Freitag like a backpack and distribute weight evenly over both shoulders, which is disappointing given its size. There are two handles on the top for pulling it and one on the side for loading purposes.
The wheels are basically oversize versions of those found on inline skates, and they glide smoothly over pavement. The wheels use skateboard bearings and are larger than those on just about any other rolling bag I’ve seen, so they cruise over dirt better than a standard roller board. Since you can take the wheels off and stow them, they’ll avoid accidental damage at the airport or tied to a roof rack.
Like most duffels, the interior of the bag is basically one big pocket. The only organizational features include a small, interior side stash pocket and a separate zipped compartment that can be accessed from the back for items like a phone or passport. You can also quickly access the interior from a zippered window on the back panel, so it’s possible to grab a jacket without unzipping the main opening. While that sounds useful in practice, unless you’ve packed whatever you’re reaching for in just the right spot on the bottom of the bag, items are nearly impossible to dig out.
Weight and Storage: 8/10
While the Zippelin compresses down small enough to fit in a shoebox, it weighs in at around eight pounds. By comparison, Eagle Creek’s 110L Migrate Wheeled Duffel ($149) is only five pounds, and Patagonia’s 70L Black Hole Wheeled Duffel Bag ($329) is seven pounds. It’s worth noting, though, that the Migrate is frameless and therefore harder to roll, while the Black Hole has a plastic frame and doesn’t store well at home. You also can’t remove the wheels on either. If you’re looking for a bag that’s sturdy and compact, the Zippelin is the front-runner, but for how much more it costs and weighs, it’s hard to justify the difference.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a super sturdy, easy-to-store, high-packability bag—and most important, have the money to spare—the Freitag is a top contender, especially if you value innovation and eco-friendliness. I love seeing companies getting creative with recycled materials that are easily repairable and replaceable. But for this price, I find it hard to move past the fact that it doesn’t function like a true backpack and is heavier than a traditional frameless wheeled duffel. Now that Freitag has paved the way for inflatable-frame bags, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other companies snatch that idea and run with it. The Zippelin might just be a glimpse into the future of luggage, and I’m excited to see where it leads.