Luggage worth buying

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Whether you travel with just a carry-on or also check a bag or two, what types of luggage do you travel with these days and why? A number of readers answered that question, as shown below. (Also see Aug. ’10, pg. 39.)

If you write in, describe the backpack, carry-on and/or suitcase with which you have been most satisfied. Give the brand name plus any identifying model or style name or number. Tell where you found it and how much it cost. Lastly, what about it would you want improved? Write to Luggage Worth Buying, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com (include the address at which you receive ITN).

For reference, on most international airlines a checked bag cannot exceed 62 linear inches (combined length, width and depth) and a carry-on, 45 inches (March ’10, pg. 2).

I was excited by ITN’s request for luggage information, for I own what I regard as the perfect bag. I bought it from the L.L. Bean Sportsman’s Collection (Freeport, ME; 800/441-5713 or 207/552-3028, www.llbean.com). It’s a 22"x13"x9" bag that is sold as a carry-on, but since most of my flights require a change of planes, I am all too happy to check it.

When I went on the L.L. Bean website to check the price, I discovered that this bag has been redesigned. It is now called a Carry-on Rolling Garment Bag (current size, 22"x14"x9", at $199).

What do I like so much about my suitcase? Well, the main zipper divides the suitcase cavity into two almost equal units, each with a zippered net cover. I can open the case and remove from one half any items I need for a change while those in the other half remain tidily folded. I don’t have to pack and unpack all the time, something generally enjoyed only on a cruise.

I love my case and, fortunately, it is so sturdy that it will last the rest of my life.

May C. Targett

Cleveland, OH

Thank you, ITN, for running this topic, but one thing was left out in the questions to answer: the weight of the suitcase.

My husband, Jerry, and I flew Icelandair for a trip to Iceland, Feb. 11-18, 2010. Icelandair limits carry-ons in economy class to six kilograms, or 13 pounds. For almost all bags with wheels, fitting into this weight limit will be an impossibility.

My current bag is a rolling carry-on duffel from L.L. Bean that weighs six pounds. I hope to find a lighter bag.

Nili Olay

New York, NY

I have accumulated many excellent pieces of luggage over the years, but my favorites are two carry-ons and one suitcase. Each has served me well.

Carry-on and larger bag with strap attachment. Photo: Koehler

The first carry-on I would recommend is the Maximum Legal Carry-On, or MLC, from Patagonia (Reno, NV; 800/638-6464, www.patagonia.com — $159). Mine measures 22"x15"x8" (current model is 20½"x13½"x7"), but it’s only a few inches deep when empty.

I bought it in 2003, have found it ideal for short trips and have also used it on trips of two weeks. I love this bag because it’s lightweight and fits easily into any overhead luggage compartment. It comes with a shoulder strap that is removable and can be stored inside. It also has hidden straps to convert it into a backpack.

I use this more than any other bag. It can take a considerable beating. My only complaint is its shoulder strap tends to slide off my shoulder, so I usually use it as a backpack. It does not have wheels, which makes it all the more lightweight and easy to store overhead.

The next carry-on I would recommend was called the E-Motion 360 3.0 (now the 22" Trek Pack Plus, $300) when I purchased it for $270 in 2006 from Victorinox Swiss Army (Monroe, CT; 888/658-0717, www.swissarmy.com). This 22"x13"x10" wheeled backpack has a detachable “docking bag,” actually a mini-backpack with shoulder straps that can be used as a tote bag on day trips.

It is one of the best luggage investments I’ve made, and it is gradually replacing the Patagonia bag in my travels precisely because it is wheeled and I don’t have to carry it. Because of the wheel mechanism, however, it is a bit heavier, but it still fits easily into overhead storage bins except on small commuter planes.

The beautiful thing about this piece is the docking bag can be attached to the main backpack with a zipper so it all looks like a single piece of luggage. This means I can take another personal item on board with me as well. Highly recommended!

I have always preferred garment bags to suitcases because I like hanging my clothes rather than folding them. I use the Tumi Alpha Long Wheeled Garment Bag (Plainfield, NJ; 800/299-8864 or 908/756-4400, www.tumi.com) — 23½"x24½"x12". It cost $895 plus shipping.

I have always loved Tumi products because of their excellent quality. The garment bags are made of ballistic nylon and, of course, unfold to hang in a closet. In this bag there is an interior compartment for various items and, on the outside, two very large lockable pouches. Although a large bag, it moves very smoothly and easily on its wheels.

It has been all over the world with me, but, mostly due to the wheel mechanism, it is heavy; the empty bag weighs 21 pounds — one of its major drawbacks.

A final note about taking a carry-on versus checking a bag — I like to travel independently whenever I can, and my philosophy is to ALWAYS take just a carry-on to expedite my progress through airports. My vision of hell would be to spend all eternity waiting at a luggage carousel!

But I make two exceptions to this rule: 1) I take my checked suitcase when I am on a tour, since I am going to have to wait for the other tour participants to retrieve their luggage from a carousel anyway, and 2) if I am going on a trip that involves both hot and cold climates, rather than carry a winter coat through the tropics I take the large bag and just hang the coat inside the bag until I need it.

Bill Fickling

Columbia, SC

I love Eagle Creek (Carlsbad, CA; 800/874-1048 or 760/431-6400, www.eaglecreek.com). I bought a 22-inch rolling carry-on about 15 years ago that has a zip-on/off backpack. I think it cost about $180. (A similar version of this bag, the Tarmac22, measures 22"x14"x9½" and retails for $285.)

I purchased it at REI (Sumner, WA; 800/426-4840 or 253/891-2500, www.rei.com). It is lightweight, and the zippers are still working well. It has been all over the world on many adventures and still goes with me!

Toni Stafford

Manhattan Beach, CA

Do I have luggage?! I’ve traveled the world for over 30 years and have more pieces of luggage than any intelligent man should.

I travel heavy, not light. I’ve been a trekker, a mountain climber and a very enthusiastic photographer, which translates to 35 pounds of camera stuff in a photo backpack plus a heavy camera tripod, trekking poles, trekking boots and a lot of cold-weather clothing. I’ve lightened up a bit in my senior-citizen years.

The backpack is my carry-on; the “other stuff” goes into the checked baggage.

For over 20 years I’ve used a Tamrac Model 787 Extreme Super Photo Backpack (Tamrac Carrying Systems; Chatsworth, CA; 800/662-0717 or 818/407-9500, www.tamrac.com — currently $399.95) — 22½"x12"x11¼". It just fits within many airlines’ carry-on dimensions. It has literally been around the world — the five ’Stans, Tibet, the Antarctic, Canada’s high Arctic, Russia and more. Not one zipper or buckle failure — it has survived everything.

For many years in my youthful prime I used a variety of duffels and backpacks from Eagle Creek. I was quite happy with using one big duffel for a trip despite its being rather heavy by most people’s standards, but airline weight limits in recent years have put an end to that.

The clincher came in July ’06 as I was checking in for an American Airlines flight out of LAX to Istanbul by way of JFK. The agent told me my bag was overweight and I replied, “Fine. I’ll pay the fee,” but the agent said they simply could not accept a bag over 50 pounds. (American Airlines’ website, www.aa.com, has a table listing the maximum per-piece weight allowance for luggage; the limit varies with travel destination.)

Several other people and I were caught off guard with that policy, but AA had the solution in hand. They had extra bags available for a small price so we could divide up the load.

So now I use a system from Briggs & Riley (888/462-2247, www.briggs-riley.com). My big rolling duffel is 30"x22"x14", and the small bag, at 23"x16"x11", attaches quite nicely and firmly to the big bag. The models I own are out of production, but their website shows newer versions which look very similar.

Both bags have the expand/collapse feature, in case you don’t need all the space. They both have relatively small but very usable zippered and lockable external side pockets and small but usable internal side pockets.

With the combination of the two bags, I have never come close to maxing them out, despite trekking boots, heavy tripod, etc., and I easily make the single-bag weight limit.

The system cost just under $450 when I bought it on sale in 2006 — not inexpensive. I’ve used it on several long trips and it has stood up very well. Although the system is called a “duffel” and is soft-sided, it has some hard internal structure that helps it keep its shape like a hard suitcase.

Since there are millions of black bags on those luggage belts, I purchased the olive-green version, which shows up across the entire length of any airport baggage claim area. I also use the bright-green-and-yellow baggage tags available from Magellan’s (Santa Barbara, CA; 800/962-4943 or 888/962-5631, www.magellans.com).

I love this set of baggage. It is the best I’ve had. I recommend anyone looking for new baggage to check out the Briggs & Riley line.

Richard Wood

Lancaster, CA

My current computer case is a Briggs & Riley 15.4-inch, slim rolling Brief. It almost always fits under the seat in front of me. I got a discontinued color on closeout for about $189. It’s my favorite computer bag so far.

Kathleen Baxter

Minneapolis MN

Buying a suitcase is much like buying a car after a test drive around the block. You really don’t know what you’re getting until you’ve had it a while, and then it may be too late.

Tucking items (such as socks) by the retractable-handle assembly in one spot pushes the liner out in another, reducing packing space. Photo: Koehler

As a die-hard “carry-on luggage” traveler, I know that every cubic inch and ounce of weight counts. The bag I bought in 2007 (the Revolution LT) was made by a company that went out of business in November 2009 (Pathfinder) but, having looked for luggage in all price ranges before deciding, I now know what features to consider:

• Is the pullout handle long enough that the bag will not hit your heel when walking?

• Having exterior zippers that are protected, especially at the corners, will increase their longevity.

• Check the “tip over” factor. Some bags tip when empty.

• Look for a detachable strap to attach a piggybacked bag. Placing a small bag on top of the wheeled bag unbalances the load, so a strap is useful to secure the smaller bag.

• Expandable bags are about a pound heavier, and the foot should be attached to the expandable portion, otherwise the bag will have a tendency to tip over when expanded.

• A polycarbonate cellular-memory frame or similar structure will provide strength with minimal weight.

• Look for a bag that, when laid on its back, has a slight taper near the handle end. Placing a bag in the plane’s overhead bin, handle end first, the taper will better fit the curvature of the bin.

• The inside of a bag is another issue. Many bags limit packing efficiency by installing a loose but nondetachable fabric liner.

Typically, the interior back of a bag has two parallel metal “tubes” housing the collapsible handle. A fabric liner allows clothes to be packed between the tubes and between a tube and one side. But when items are placed in one spot between the tubes, it causes the fabric to be drawn tight in the other spots and no longer follow the contours of the tubes.

These structures can reduce capacity by an astounding 70 cubic inches!

Fred Koehler

Orange, CA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Whether you travel with just a carry-on or also check a bag or two, what types of luggage do you travel with these days and why? A number of readers answered that question, as shown below. (Also see Aug. ’10, pg. 39.)

If you write in, describe the backpack, carry-on and/or suitcase with which you have been most satisfied. Give the brand name plus any identifying model or style name or number. Tell where you found it and how much it cost. Lastly, what about it would you want improved? Write to Luggage Worth Buying, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com (include the address at which you receive ITN).

For reference, on most international airlines a checked bag cannot exceed 62 linear inches (combined length, width and depth) and a carry-on, 45 inches (March ’10, pg. 2).

I was excited by ITN’s request for luggage information, for I own what I regard as the perfect bag. I bought it from the L.L. Bean Sportsman’s Collection (Freeport, ME; 800/441-5713 or 207/552-3028, www.llbean.com). It’s a 22"x13"x9" bag that is sold as a carry-on, but since most of my flights require a change of planes, I am all too happy to check it.

When I went on the L.L. Bean website to check the price, I discovered that this bag has been redesigned. It is now called a Carry-on Rolling Garment Bag (current size, 22"x14"x9", at $199).

What do I like so much about my suitcase? Well, the main zipper divides the suitcase cavity into two almost equal units, each with a zippered net cover. I can open the case and remove from one half any items I need for a change while those in the other half remain tidily folded. I don’t have to pack and unpack all the time, something generally enjoyed only on a cruise.

I love my case and, fortunately, it is so sturdy that it will last the rest of my life.

May C. Targett

Cleveland, OH

Thank you, ITN, for running this topic, but one thing was left out in the questions to answer: the weight of the suitcase.

My husband, Jerry, and I flew Icelandair for a trip to Iceland, Feb. 11-18, 2010. Icelandair limits carry-ons in economy class to six kilograms, or 13 pounds. For almost all bags with wheels, fitting into this weight limit will be an impossibility.

My current bag is a rolling carry-on duffel from L.L. Bean that weighs six pounds. I hope to find a lighter bag.

Nili Olay

New York, NY

I have accumulated many excellent pieces of luggage over the years, but my favorites are two carry-ons and one suitcase. Each has served me well.

Carry-on and larger bag with strap attachment. Photo: Koehler

The first carry-on I would recommend is the Maximum Legal Carry-On, or MLC, from Patagonia (Reno, NV; 800/638-6464, www.patagonia.com — $159). Mine measures 22"x15"x8" (current model is 20½"x13½"x7"), but it’s only a few inches deep when empty.

I bought it in 2003, have found it ideal for short trips and have also used it on trips of two weeks. I love this bag because it’s lightweight and fits easily into any overhead luggage compartment. It comes with a shoulder strap that is removable and can be stored inside. It also has hidden straps to convert it into a backpack.

I use this more than any other bag. It can take a considerable beating. My only complaint is its shoulder strap tends to slide off my shoulder, so I usually use it as a backpack. It does not have wheels, which makes it all the more lightweight and easy to store overhead.

The next carry-on I would recommend was called the E-Motion 360 3.0 (now the 22" Trek Pack Plus, $300) when I purchased it for $270 in 2006 from Victorinox Swiss Army (Monroe, CT; 888/658-0717, www.swissarmy.com). This 22"x13"x10" wheeled backpack has a detachable “docking bag,” actually a mini-backpack with shoulder straps that can be used as a tote bag on day trips.

It is one of the best luggage investments I’ve made, and it is gradually replacing the Patagonia bag in my travels precisely because it is wheeled and I don’t have to carry it. Because of the wheel mechanism, however, it is a bit heavier, but it still fits easily into overhead storage bins except on small commuter planes.

The beautiful thing about this piece is the docking bag can be attached to the main backpack with a zipper so it all looks like a single piece of luggage. This means I can take another personal item on board with me as well. Highly recommended!

I have always preferred garment bags to suitcases because I like hanging my clothes rather than folding them. I use the Tumi Alpha Long Wheeled Garment Bag (Plainfield, NJ; 800/299-8864 or 908/756-4400, www.tumi.com) — 23½"x24½"x12". It cost $895 plus shipping.

I have always loved Tumi products because of their excellent quality. The garment bags are made of ballistic nylon and, of course, unfold to hang in a closet. In this bag there is an interior compartment for various items and, on the outside, two very large lockable pouches. Although a large bag, it moves very smoothly and easily on its wheels.

It has been all over the world with me, but, mostly due to the wheel mechanism, it is heavy; the empty bag weighs 21 pounds — one of its major drawbacks.

A final note about taking a carry-on versus checking a bag — I like to travel independently whenever I can, and my philosophy is to ALWAYS take just a carry-on to expedite my progress through airports. My vision of hell would be to spend all eternity waiting at a luggage carousel!

But I make two exceptions to this rule: 1) I take my checked suitcase when I am on a tour, since I am going to have to wait for the other tour participants to retrieve their luggage from a carousel anyway, and 2) if I am going on a trip that involves both hot and cold climates, rather than carry a winter coat through the tropics I take the large bag and just hang the coat inside the bag until I need it.

Bill Fickling

Columbia, SC

I love Eagle Creek (Carlsbad, CA; 800/874-1048 or 760/431-6400, www.eaglecreek.com). I bought a 22-inch rolling carry-on about 15 years ago that has a zip-on/off backpack. I think it cost about $180. (A similar version of this bag, the Tarmac22, measures 22"x14"x9½" and retails for $285.)

I purchased it at REI (Sumner, WA; 800/426-4840 or 253/891-2500, www.rei.com). It is lightweight, and the zippers are still working well. It has been all over the world on many adventures and still goes with me!

Toni Stafford

Manhattan Beach, CA

Do I have luggage?! I’ve traveled the world for over 30 years and have more pieces of luggage than any intelligent man should.

I travel heavy, not light. I’ve been a trekker, a mountain climber and a very enthusiastic photographer, which translates to 35 pounds of camera stuff in a photo backpack plus a heavy camera tripod, trekking poles, trekking boots and a lot of cold-weather clothing. I’ve lightened up a bit in my senior-citizen years.

The backpack is my carry-on; the “other stuff” goes into the checked baggage.

For over 20 years I’ve used a Tamrac Model 787 Extreme Super Photo Backpack (Tamrac Carrying Systems; Chatsworth, CA; 800/662-0717 or 818/407-9500, www.tamrac.com — currently $399.95) — 22½"x12"x11¼". It just fits within many airlines’ carry-on dimensions. It has literally been around the world — the five ’Stans, Tibet, the Antarctic, Canada’s high Arctic, Russia and more. Not one zipper or buckle failure — it has survived everything.

For many years in my youthful prime I used a variety of duffels and backpacks from Eagle Creek. I was quite happy with using one big duffel for a trip despite its being rather heavy by most people’s standards, but airline weight limits in recent years have put an end to that.

The clincher came in July ’06 as I was checking in for an American Airlines flight out of LAX to Istanbul by way of JFK. The agent told me my bag was overweight and I replied, “Fine. I’ll pay the fee,” but the agent said they simply could not accept a bag over 50 pounds. (American Airlines’ website, www.aa.com, has a table listing the maximum per-piece weight allowance for luggage; the limit varies with travel destination.)

Several other people and I were caught off guard with that policy, but AA had the solution in hand. They had extra bags available for a small price so we could divide up the load.

So now I use a system from Briggs & Riley (888/462-2247, www.briggs-riley.com). My big rolling duffel is 30"x22"x14", and the small bag, at 23"x16"x11", attaches quite nicely and firmly to the big bag. The models I own are out of production, but their website shows newer versions which look very similar.

Both bags have the expand/collapse feature, in case you don’t need all the space. They both have relatively small but very usable zippered and lockable external side pockets and small but usable internal side pockets.

With the combination of the two bags, I have never come close to maxing them out, despite trekking boots, heavy tripod, etc., and I easily make the single-bag weight limit.

The system cost just under $450 when I bought it on sale in 2006 — not inexpensive. I’ve used it on several long trips and it has stood up very well. Although the system is called a “duffel” and is soft-sided, it has some hard internal structure that helps it keep its shape like a hard suitcase.

Since there are millions of black bags on those luggage belts, I purchased the olive-green version, which shows up across the entire length of any airport baggage claim area. I also use the bright-green-and-yellow baggage tags available from Magellan’s (Santa Barbara, CA; 800/962-4943 or 888/962-5631, www.magellans.com).

I love this set of baggage. It is the best I’ve had. I recommend anyone looking for new baggage to check out the Briggs & Riley line.

Richard Wood

Lancaster, CA

My current computer case is a Briggs & Riley 15.4-inch, slim rolling Brief. It almost always fits under the seat in front of me. I got a discontinued color on closeout for about $189. It’s my favorite computer bag so far.

Kathleen Baxter

Minneapolis MN

Buying a suitcase is much like buying a car after a test drive around the block. You really don’t know what you’re getting until you’ve had it a while, and then it may be too late.

Tucking items (such as socks) by the retractable-handle assembly in one spot pushes the liner out in another, reducing packing space. Photo: Koehler

As a die-hard “carry-on luggage” traveler, I know that every cubic inch and ounce of weight counts. The bag I bought in 2007 (the Revolution LT) was made by a company that went out of business in November 2009 (Pathfinder) but, having looked for luggage in all price ranges before deciding, I now know what features to consider:

• Is the pullout handle long enough that the bag will not hit your heel when walking?

• Having exterior zippers that are protected, especially at the corners, will increase their longevity.

• Check the “tip over” factor. Some bags tip when empty.

• Look for a detachable strap to attach a piggybacked bag. Placing a small bag on top of the wheeled bag unbalances the load, so a strap is useful to secure the smaller bag.

• Expandable bags are about a pound heavier, and the foot should be attached to the expandable portion, otherwise the bag will have a tendency to tip over when expanded.

• A polycarbonate cellular-memory frame or similar structure will provide strength with minimal weight.

• Look for a bag that, when laid on its back, has a slight taper near the handle end. Placing a bag in the plane’s overhead bin, handle end first, the taper will better fit the curvature of the bin.

• The inside of a bag is another issue. Many bags limit packing efficiency by installing a loose but nondetachable fabric liner.

Typically, the interior back of a bag has two parallel metal “tubes” housing the collapsible handle. A fabric liner allows clothes to be packed between the tubes and between a tube and one side. But when items are placed in one spot between the tubes, it causes the fabric to be drawn tight in the other spots and no longer follow the contours of the tubes.

These structures can reduce capacity by an astounding 70 cubic inches!

Fred Koehler

Orange, CA