Travel Luggage That Can Take It–All
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Outside magazine, February 1996
Travel Luggage That Can Take It–All
Rugged duffels, gear bags, and convertible packs that hold everything you think you might need
No one is more obnoxious than the travel geek who shows up for a two-week trip toting nothing more than a carry-on and prattling about having packing “down to a system.” My highly refined system is to take everything I think I might need. And because that often means a large quantity of stuff, I choose bags that can withstand the rigors of overloading as well as the usual
My ideal luggage is a plain, bombproof duffel–simple, lightweight, reliable–though I also admire some of the more feature-laden bags, with their enticing abundance of pockets, convertibility, expandability, rollability, and other design ingenuities. Every bag, however, whether spartan or baroque, has to meet some basic requirements.
Materials. Most travel bags are made of 1,000-denier Cordura nylon: extremely strong, abrasion-resistant, and–when treated on the inside with a water-resistant coating–reasonably weather-worthy. Cordura-Plus is pretty much the same, with a softer hand. You’ll also see bags made of ballistics nylon and vinyl-coated nylon; both are extremely
Construction. Look inside the bag for neatly taped seams; raw fabric edges will fray and catch in zippers. Straps and handles should be sewn directly to the bag material, not merely tucked into a seam, and reinforced (look for an X-shaped, box-and-cross stitching pattern or a thick line of bartacking). The straps should be made of nylon
Convenience and comfort. A horseshoe-shaped zipper gives better access to the main compartment and dissipates stress on the bag better than a straight zipper. Compression straps, whether sewn inside or out, help keep your load from shifting. If the bag is big enough to get heavy, it should have haul handles on the ends so you can buddy-carry it.
The bags I’ve stuffed, toted, and tossed for this review show a cross-section of what’s available in sizes suitable for a long weekend up to a week or two on the road.
Duffels and Gear Bags
I’ve abused a B.A.D. (Best American Duffel) Bags No. 4 (25 inches long by 16 wide by 13 deep, $104) for years now, and I have yet to find a better-built duffel. It’s made of 1,000-denier Cordura-Plus, with two-inch seat-belt nylon for straps, handles, and
The ultimate gear bag is Eagle Creek’s Toy Chest (30 by 15 by 13, $149), made of Cordura-Plus. The construction is excellent, but this bag’s coolest feature is its expandable side pockets, one mesh, one Cordura–zip out the extra three inches, and each end
The North Face Gear Duffel (medium size, 26 by 15 by 13; $75) isn’t as meticulously made–some raw fabric edges are exposed along the main zipper tape–but the polyurethane-coated nylon bag is still plenty strong and has features such as end compartments for shoes and a grab handle on each end. A nice touch is a mesh pouch sewn into the peel-back
The two bags I tested made from natural fibers are an aesthetic notch above the others. The Lands’ End Square Rigger Flight Bag (large size, 24.5 by 14 by 15 inches; $129) is a canvas-duck work of art, with leather trim, nylon lining, molded steel hardware, and huge, looped zipper pulls. The TerraPax Duffel Bag (23 by
All three rollers I tested have strong, sealed-bearing wheels. The High Sierra Endeavors Drop-Bottom Wheeled Duffel (29 by 16 by 13 inches, $125) has a subfloor compartment for a small garment bag (included). I used it for boots and funky stuff, but it could also hold a few more formal items, like a suit and dress shoes. The nylon bag is PVC coated
It’s the suspension system you pay for in the better travel packs: Aluminum stays, which can be bent to the contour of your back, transfer weight to a padded hipbelt; the shoulder harness is adjustable, with well-padded straps. The Caribou Mucho Pack is a
The MEI Flying Scotsman (27 by 17 by 13 inches, $180) has the same features as the Caribou but for the bag compartment, and adds a better-quality suitcase handle. The straps are nicely reinforced (with leather, yet), and interior compression straps are a welcome touch, as are the accessory straps which can hold a sleeping bag.
Jansport’s Vagabond Travel Pack (26 by 16 by 15 inches, $150) has most of the fancy-pack features–bendable stays, hipbelt, zip-off daypack–and for less money. The shoulder harness isn’t adjustable, though–be sure it fits well if you plan to carry much
In its backpack mode, Eagle Creek’s Cargo Switchback Plus (20 by 14 by 8 inches, $235) is much more scaled-down, with no hipbelt or suspension system, but it one-ups the others with its built-in dolly, a spiffy retractable handle and wheels of the sort favored by flight attendants. The wheels aren’t heavy-duty–they’re for the airport and train
Bob Howells is a frequent contributor to Outside‘s Review pages.