I know this is a little off-topic for the theme of this blog, but I thought reader's might enjoy my process of making a decision on travel luggage, and it's sort of a carry over article from my last article on laptop luggage. It's time for new luggage, my old luggage, has worn out. How do you choose? I like to just do carry-on luggage, and not check bags. For carry-on, you're allowed a personal bag, and a carry-on luggage bag.
I use a small personal bag for placing under the airline seat that has my laptop, tickets, ereader, passport, etc. I like keeping this bag close to me for use in flight, and not in the overhead. In my last article, I talked about my criteria for this bag, and got my selection down to two bags. In this article I want to cover my criteria, and choices, for the best wheeled carry-on bag.
The size restriction, for a carry-on bags, for U.S. domestic airlines, is 22 X 14 X 9 inches, not to exceed 45 linear inches when added together. However, in Europe, each airline makes their own size and weight restrictions. European airlines seem to worry more about weight more than U.S. airlines with some airlines down to 11 lbs.(Alitalia, Malaysia airlines); check the airline's web site for their size and weight restrictions. Most allow about 22-25 lbs. for carry-on. Your pretty safe if you keep the above size restriction, but you still may have to check your bag, if the ticket agent doesn't like the look, or the weight of the bag, or there's no room in the overhead. Let's be clear, we are looking for a bag that is equal to, or less than, 22 x 14 x 9 inches, that you intend to carry-on to the airplane, and during the flight, and place in the overhead.
There are many choices that need to be made.
Do you want no wheels, two wheels, two wheels with backpack, or four wheels?
I've been in many airline ticket lines, and don't care to carry a bag, or wear it on my back, while standing in line, when I can roll the bag, I prefer wheels. If you don't mind carrying a carry-on bag without wheels, I'd recommend the Tom Bihn TriStar bag.
Four wheels are nice for the airport, or any flat surface. The bag will not tip over, and moves easily. As soon as the surface is not flat these bags may start to roll away on their own, and become a nuisance. They do not fit in the overhead well, as the wheels get in the way of other luggage. I would recommend four wheels for large luggage bags only, luggage you intend to check. We're talking about a 22" bag that you can easily pick up, if need be, four wheels seems overkill for this size.
For a carry-on, I prefer two wheels, or two wheels with backpack straps. The backpack straps must have both a sternum belt, a hip belt, and a comfortable, ventilated back pad, or it will be uncomfortable to walk around with on your back.
Do you want hard-shelled luggage, or fabric?
Hard-shelled protects fragile items better, but most of your fragile items you'll put in your personal bag. The hard-shell tends to scratch and crack, and its harder to put in the overhead, there's no bend. I prefer fabric. Fabric bags can be squished, which is a plus in the overhead, and generally take up less space. However, these bags might rip, or tear, or the zippers break. Higher quality soft bags generally will not have these problems.
With those questions answered, we have some options I like in a carry-on bag. I like the bag to have an expandable zipper that will give me another inch or two when my bag gets full. I like compression straps inside and optionally outside the bag to compress and hold the content stable and compressed in transit. I would like my personal bag to fit over the handle, or be easily attached to the carry-on, so it will not fall off when I'm rolling through the airport.
Recently, there has been a new category of combination, or convertible, bags that has a combined a day pack with a wheeled backpack. Companies that make these combination packs are Osprey, High Sierra, and Eagle Creek. I shied away from these combo bags, because the personal bag would need to be combined when I got on and off the airplane, a hectic time to be messing with zippers. When the two bags were combined, I had trouble seeing them as a carry-on. They didn't fit with the size restriction, so you would need to separate them at the ticket counter, then combine them to roll through the airport, then separate them getting on the plane, etc. The process looked tedious to me, so I eliminated these bags from my choices. If you mostly wanted to carry a bag on your back, then a backpack might be a better choice. I like to carry a separate personal bag that fits over my wheeled carry-on handle, to wheel through the airport, simple and easy.
Given my above choices, I separated my search into two classes of bags: those with, and those without backpack straps.
Two-wheeled, fabric bags with backpack straps, not combination bags
Let's be honest, I would probably use the backpack straps, maybe 10% of the time, tops. I would wheel most of the time, still this may be one of those options that is nice to have when walking around cobblestones, stairs, and off the main road. On any non-rugged surface, I'd be wheeling. That being said, I have to question whether backpack straps are needed on this smaller size carry-on bag?
Assuming you want the straps, if you eliminate all the bags with back straps that do not have hip straps and sternum belts, there is only one manufacturer you need to look at, and that is Eagle Creek.
1. The "Eagle Creek Flip Switch Wheeled Backpack 22", 2175 cu in, 6lbs 7ozs, $275. This has a unique front backpack design. that looks very comfortable. The belts tuck away and out quickly without a lot of setup, which is what you want. I like the look of this bag.
2. The "Eagle Creek Activate Wheeled Backpack 21", 2500 cu in, 5lbs 8ozs, around $220. This bag is slightly smaller so it will fit on European air carriers more easily, and because the straps are on the back, there is a little more space inside.
Two-Wheeled, fabric bags without backpack straps
Now, we're down to the meat of the matter, and a plethora of choices and options. Every manufacturer of luggage makes a 22" wheeled carry-on. How do you chose from this blizzard of bags? Let's get clear. The bag we're looking for fits the size restriction, has lots of room, has compression belts. What's not important is pockets for laptops and passports, because they'll be in your personal bag.
The next choice is what manufacturer? We're going fabric, so you want rugged, and high quality. I tend to shy away from the family oriented Samsonite's, and American Tourister's of the world, and lean toward companies that have made a living sewing high-density fabrics together. North Face, Tumi, and Tom Bihn are high quality companies, but they don't specialize in wheels. Osprey and Eagle Creek both have a good reputation and a life-time warranty on their bags. You can hardly go wrong with either company, but I give a slight edge to Eagle Creek. There are still choices to be made, as Eagle Creek makes many different types of bags. Here's what I got down to:
I actually went to a local store, and took a close look at both of these bags.
The "Eagle Creek Load Warrior™ Wheeled Duffel 22" 2500/2750 cu in expanded, 5lbs 13oz $230
This bag has a lot going for it. This bag looks great aesthetically, and is easy to spot in the sea of black bags. I watched a lot of videos, and read a lot of reviews of this bag, and they all were positive. What I especially liked, over any other bag, was it's low weight, and how easy it rolled. It felt sturdy. The handle for rolling comes out nice and smooth. I didn't care for the zippered flap over the handle, I prefer just having the handle outside the bag, however that did hide away a small pocket with elastic straps that are used for attaching other items to the bag, like your personal bag and overcoats. It had plenty of lifting handles for getting in and out of the overhead. Features I was so-so on were the front pocket opening zipper did not run all the way down the side, even though the front pocket went all the way down the bag front, the smaller opening made its use limited, and the side water-bottle pocket was a tad small. In most of the reviews I saw for this bag, it was being used for extended trips, like 18 days to China, and all said there was plenty of room inside even without the expansion.
The "Eagle Creek EC Adventure Upright 22" 2500/2750 expanded cu in, 7lbs 2ozs., $265
What I liked about this bag was there was no rolling handle zippered pocket. The roller handle was in the open. I liked the book opening to the main compartment. The other bag has a vertical opening flap. You attach other items to the bag from the front upper pocket. The two front pockets had zippers that went down the sides for easier opening. My biggest drawback to this bag was the weight, 7lbs 2ozs compared to the Load Warrior at 5lbs 13ozs. It seemed heavy, especially compared to the Load Warrior. I had the two bags side by side. This bag did not get a lot of reviews, and the reviews were so-so. It looked like any other piece of luggage out there. It did not roll or handle as easily as the Load Warrior.
Eagle Creek did cut the weight down by offering a hybrid of this bag with a hard plastic backing that got the weight down to 6lbs 4ozs, but I didn't care for the hard plastic backing, and the extra cost of $299.
Drum roll please, the bag I ended up with was the Eagle Creek Load Warrior Duffel 22. The bag looks great, and I liked the low weight, and handles for throwing it in the overhead. If someone can take it to China for 18 days, come back, and rave about this bag, I had no concerns about its ability to hold my clothes for extended trips.