I travel a fair bit for work. Over the last couple of years I’ve also done something I’ve never done before: prioritized using the vacation benefits I get from work. As a result, I’m generally traveling quite frequently. My trips range from short work trips to more standard seven to ten day vacations. In all situations, though, I’m basically working with a carry-on sized piece of luggage (or, for work, a carry-on bag plus a backpack with a computer and work materials). My roller, the most common item, is a Victorinox Swiss Werks Travler 22″ and on shorter trips I use a small duffel/tote, also by Swiss Army. They’re both fine – the 22″ is as big as a domestic carry-on can get. The smaller duffel really isn’t better for more than 2 days of business travel, though it can hold my MacBook Pro.
At the end of the day, though, neither of these bags really fit my needs. First, I’d like to get something that can function as a backpack. I want the straps to be well-padded and comfortable; I also want there to be at least a sternum strap. Second, I want something lightweight and flexible. Third, I want a carry-on that actually functions like a carry-on. I want easy access to pockets and key items at angles that realistically exist in overhead compartments. My small duffel is all top oriented and doesn’t preserve access to any sizable pockets while being stored.
Right now the bags I’m looking at are:
- Tom Bihn Aeronaut: This is probably the front-runner right now. The reviews online are stellar and it seems to be one of the two or three go-to bags in the carry-on bag geek world. The only thing holding me up on it is the high cost ($220+ depending on options).
- Patagonia MLC: This seems to be the affordable option. It’s pretty basic and seems to be well suited for both business and pleasure trips – a shape that works for folding dress clothes, space for a laptop or iPad, good access to exterior pockets for documents. ($159)
- MEI Voyageur: This bag has an incredibly simple design. The main compartment is huge (possibly too big) and it’s backpack strap system includes really robust waist straps. But the price is pretty great. ($136)
- MEI Executive Overniter: Another great, straightforward three-compartment bag. It’s pricier than the Voyageur, but seems closer to what I’m looking for. My biggest concern with the MEI bags is delivery time – all sales are through the company and I don’t know what their timeline is for sales right now. ($200) [Update: I just exchanged emails with MEI and was assured that I could get either bag in time for my trips this month, so that is no longer a concern.]
I also considered, but decided to pass up a couple other bags. The GoLite TraveLite Convertible Carry-On was an early front-runner, but I don’t like the two divided exterior pockets nor the lack of a sternum strap. The Red Oxx Sky Train seems like the other main fan favorite. No doubt, it’s bomber. But it’s expensive and a bit boxy for my tastes. Tom Bihn’s Tri-Star looks pretty awesome, but may be smaller than I want for those business trips where multiple dress shirts, pants, and shoes are needed. Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Pangea 40 Travel Pack seemed great, but I decided I didn’t want just a backpack, but a suitcase that converted to a backpack.
In a world where I wasn’t traveling extensively over the holidays and in January (Oklahoma, New Orleans, & Chile), I’d probably order all of these bags, see them in person, and return whatever I didn’t like. But I don’t think I have the time for it. I’m leaning towards getting one and hoping for the best.
A lot of my thinking on this is influenced by my experience doing the No Baggage Challenge for Charity with Scottevest. I know I can travel lighter than I have in the past and I want a small bag that lets me do that. There’s a much larger universe of specialized, kick-ass bags than I ever knew existed. This is a hard decision, so if anyone has experience or strong opinions with any of the mentioned bags, let me know.
Next Day Update…
The challenge I’m having is that I want a bag that works for both work and travel. In the case of work, this means the ability to hold a laptop. That makes the MEI Overniter and the Patagonia MLC a bit more appealing, because of their three and two pocket structures in particular. The Aeronaut seems like the perfect bag for personal travel, but will it meet my needs for work travel?