need a bag
June 9, 2011 8:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to live out of a carry-on sized bag and small laptop messenger bag for a year. I have the messenger bag. Help me choose the other.

On a recent small trip I had only the messenger bag and a small duffle bag. The duffel bag was monstrously uncomfortable to lug around the airport, so i definitely don't want to do that for a year. Things I'm considering are duffel bags with backpack straps or rolling luggage. The latter is kind of heavy, though.

Also, my budget is pretty small. I definitely can't pay more than $200, and the further below that the better. Ideas?
posted by resiny to Shopping (31 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The standard carry-on-sized recommendations would be the MEI Voyageur, Patagonia MLC, Tom Bihn Aeronaut, and Red Oxx Air Boss, but the latter two are more than $200. (I'm mentioning them anyway because you might still be able to find used ones within your budget.) The MEI is a great choice for extended travel, as it's very comfortable to carry (full backpack suspension), durable, and easy to open and repack.
posted by RogerB at 8:21 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't have any specific bag recommendations, but I wouldn't particularly recommend rolling luggage; it's also not-so-fun to drag around airports.
posted by cp311 at 8:26 PM on June 9, 2011

Where are you located?
posted by lalex at 8:27 PM on June 9, 2011

The U.S.
posted by resiny at 8:28 PM on June 9, 2011

How about a backpack (as in, a backpacking backpack with an internal frame)? They're built for maximum comfort. Some are larger than carry-on size, but my 47L ultralite is quite compact, for example. If you don't fill it all the way to the top it looks like a normal backpack, and the belt pockets/buckle are very unobtrusive if you leave them hanging. Mine was $150 but there are definitely cheaper options.
posted by acidic at 8:31 PM on June 9, 2011

My carry-on is a backpacking bag somewhat similar to this $100 model from REI. I've had it for ten years, so I doubt they still make the same one, but that one looks close. It has a large capacity, but you can use the straps (on mine, at least) to compress it into carry-on size, and the hip belt makes it very easy to carry through the airport. It's also durable (ten years, man!), neon bright, and closes securely, so if the plane is full and they make you check your bag it'll get through just fine. Besides, backpacking bags are designed for living out of... and the nice thing about REI is that they'll let you come in and try on all the different packs before you decide!
posted by vorfeed at 8:34 PM on June 9, 2011

I have this bag ( and really like it. It is easy to carry with the backpack straps, but you can pack it like a duffle bag and access your stuff a lot easier than a top loading hiking type pack. It is surprisingly large, but I have never had a problem carrying it on an airplane.
posted by mjcon at 9:02 PM on June 9, 2011

Seconding MEI. I have had my FAA approved bag for 10+ years. It has been halfway around the world and still going strong.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 9:08 PM on June 9, 2011

I have the Ramble 22" rolling luggage from Eagle Creek. It has the largest internal capacity that I have ever encountered in a carry on bag - 3539 cu in. I was absolutely gobsmacked at what I could get into this bag. I am not a light packer, but I got enough for a two week business trip into this case (with lots of changes of clothes). It's pretty lightweight - when it is packed, it is substantial enough, but I would not want to trust it to baggage handlers. It is also at the limit of carry on dimensions. I have flown with it 8-9 times and never been refused permission to take it on board, but you might have to check it at the gate, where it would go into the pilot's hold, which is better than trusting it to the tender mercies of the baggage handlers.
Given the choice, I'd buy this again. It is the best organized and most capacious bag that I've ever had.
posted by Susurration at 9:18 PM on June 9, 2011

I've done up to 7 weeks with the MEC Shuttle; now discontinued in favour of a sequel. It's been to 4 continents and still looks sharp. MEC is the go-to brand for Canadians looking for bombproof gear at totally reasonable prices, and they ship to the States. It's got fold away backpack straps that are good for reasonable walks (recently a mile to my hotel from BART for instance), although it's not the thing for full-on backpacking.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:25 PM on June 9, 2011

Eagle Creek 22" Switchback.

Rolls, can be used if a backpack when necessary, not heavy and super-sturdy. I absolutely love mine.
posted by cyndigo at 9:33 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did this several years ago.

Eagle Creek. Get one used on ebay, ideally the soft-sided sort that has both backpack straps and also wheels. They are both extremely useful.

Also, don't use the wheels over very rough terrain. If you do, Eagle Creek will replace the wheels for you (for free), but you'll be without your bag for a few weeks.
posted by arnicae at 9:41 PM on June 9, 2011

Timbuk2's Wingman suitcase -- a duffel with backpack straps?
posted by gingerbeer at 10:11 PM on June 9, 2011

I would only look at roll-aboard luggage with multi-directional/spinning wheels (I have one like this Samsonite that I really like). It just makes moving through an airport so much quicker and less frustrating.
posted by milkrate at 10:39 PM on June 9, 2011

Frequent (female) business traveler here. I've absolutely loved (my older version of) the eBags Mother Lode.

My record? I packed for 2 weeks in just this bag. No biggee, you say? Well, within those 2 weeks at the end of September I went from a business trip in misty, 65-degree Portland, OR to ~90 degrees poolside in AZ to winter sweaters in NY to an evening wedding in Portland, Maine, including my dress and all the normal female accoutrements.

This bag is magic, capacity-wise, but there are awesome tricks to packing efficiently too. (Hint: start with the shoes, brown OR black, and make sure everything you pack matches those shoes and multi-tasks.)

And incidentally, when I take this bag, the one I leave at home is a Tumi. Several of my colleagues have followed suit.
posted by nadise at 11:01 PM on June 9, 2011

I've traveled a decent amount with the Redwing 50 and it's fantastic. It looks pretty much like a regular daypack, but if you'll be doing any sort of walking around cities the internal frame is priceless, and I've never had a problem taking it carry-on. I have an ultralight 50L pack too (Meridian Vapor), but it's not nearly as convenient for travel - it's a single compartment with a tiny pouch on the top, and while it's more comfortable for long distances, getting in and out of it constantly is a huge pain in the ass. It's just meant for a different situation.

I'm avoiding the rolling luggage for as long as I can. I fear it's creeping up on me, though...
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:41 PM on June 9, 2011

I would say rolling bags are great if the bulk of walking with them occurs in the airport. Then it's absolutely great. Like if you were on a business trip, and pretty much all you need to do is take a taxi or drive to the hotel, and then you can forget about the bag. Otherwise, it's good to have a backpack.
posted by Busoni at 11:56 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love my MLC. The shoulder straps are adequate without being overkill, the variety of pockets is amazing- there's a place for everything. I had to wait for a vintage one to come up on Ebay, but when it did, I nailed it. Great bag. I also recommend the bags from Fish Climbing Products. While it can take a while to get one, they are indestructible and worth the price.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 12:02 AM on June 10, 2011

I have a golite convertible travel bag. It's pretty awesome although I think it might be slightly smaller than maximum carry on size.

As an aside, if you're ever travelling in Europe by plane you can normally only take 1 bag. Not 1 bag plus another smaller one.
posted by plonkee at 1:06 AM on June 10, 2011

North Face Duffels are a) indestructible b) really roomy and c) have straps for carrying. I wouldn't be without mine.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:42 AM on June 10, 2011

What kind of traveling will you be doing? And where? For almost four years in the mid-90's I lived out of the precursor to this backpack. It was light weight (no internal frame) and as a top-loader without the extra pockets and bells and whistles it could pack an amazing amount of stuff. The top-loading aspect has drawbacks, of course, if you aren't a savvy packer. I was doing a lot of travel in Asia/India and Latin America, with a bit of Europe thrown in and it fit into all regulation spaces. I hiked with the thing on my back for 21 days straight and the lack of an internal frame never bothered me. I usually had a sleeping bag cinched to one side and a thermarest cinched to the other. It was a system that worked beautifully for me.
posted by tidecat at 4:02 AM on June 10, 2011

Legal carry-on size luggage is quite tiny. I recently bought this (Osprey Porter 46) to be in full compliance with The Rules:

I think it will give me a good two weeks worth of clothes, which is all I need. And, it is so small that nobody will ever try to size your bag with those sizer things if it's on your back. It also has the option of a attaching a detachable smaller backpack that will fit under the seat in front of you. I went ahead and ordered one but haven't received it yet; I think it will be good for a laptop, change of clothes, and toiletries, which is just what you need for long flights.

All in all, the build quality of the pack is pretty excellent, but the feature list is minimal. You can put your clothes in this backpack and it's the maximum size allowed by FAA rules. End of feature list. No laptop compartment, no super cool pockets... basically a big space for stuff, with compression straps and backpack straps and a wasitband.
posted by jrockway at 4:04 AM on June 10, 2011

If you go for rolling, I second milkrate's suggestion about the new type of wheels.
posted by radioamy at 6:02 AM on June 10, 2011

I use this: Weekender from eBags. I know it's called "weekender" but I've certainly gone on three-week trips with it and it was fine. And it's only about $60! I don't know how it would hold up to a year of continuous use but I've had mine for two or three years and I've used it for pretty much every trip I've taken in that time, and it's in great shape (except it's dirty).
posted by mskyle at 6:18 AM on June 10, 2011

A deep fan of MEI. My gear has been with me for 15+ years (wow) and has traveled around the world. I am glad that they are still in business though their website needs a lot of help. The gear has always been great.
posted by jadepearl at 6:35 AM on June 10, 2011

Filson makes the best bags, period. You might try looking on ebay for a used duffel that you can grab for less than $200. Even used, it will last you forever.
posted by milestogo at 7:16 AM on June 10, 2011

for hard-sided rolling luggage, the stuff at fuerte cases is like pelican waterproof cases but much cheaper. i've got one that's the next size up from carryon that i love to bits.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:42 AM on June 10, 2011

The Eagle Creek Continental Journey I used to have is discontinued, but this Rincon looks pretty similar. I left the daypack at home, and used a messenger bag. Eagle Creek products are top-notch.

Also, I'd highly recommend the packing cubes, if you're travelling from place to place.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:09 AM on June 10, 2011

Second the Eagle Creek Continental Journey. I've had mine for the better part of a decade and it's been all over the world. It's my standard luggage. Sadly for you, they've discontinued it, and the replacements are much larger.

I recently helped a friend pick a bag for an around-Asia and he settled on one of these and really liked it. The lack of daypack shouldn't matter to you since you have your laptop messenger. It also comes in a smaller size - check out both and see if you can get away with the smaller one for ease of carry-on
posted by yggdrasil at 12:50 PM on June 10, 2011

Timbuk2's Wingman suitcase -- a duffel with backpack straps?

I just got one of these, and just this week used it on a business trip. It was actually a little big for the trip - I was only gone three days - but it was still great. It's got a separate shoe pocket, another pocket on the side where the shoulder strap lives (but I used the pocket for my baggie of liquids), and a shallow zip pocket on the outside that's perfect for stuff like boarding passes. I used the backpack straps for trucking through the airport, and they were totally fine and tucked away quickly at security. And it's got a laptop compartment. It was under $150 on ebags but they seem to be out of stock right now.
posted by rtha at 6:01 PM on June 10, 2011

Unless you're going to be hiking, as in actually carrying your bed roll and food and water for a three day, 80 km hike, I would recommend against a framed backpack. It adds lots of extra weight, is a lot less flexible and is a lot more awkward to put in small spaces, such as overhead compartments, the boot of a taxi or between your feet on a crowded subway.

Unless you're going to be traveling in airports only and using taxis to get between them and your hotel, I would also recommend against rolling luggage. I think roller bags are great for business travelers and people going from hotel to airport to hotel in cars. However, if you're planning on going up and down subway stairs or walking a couple of k's to get to the bus station or wanting to bring your bag with you for a morning while you visit a museum, roller bags tend to get in the way. They're heavier and less flexible.

What I would recommend is an unframed backpack style bag with straps that pack away. Here's the one I've used for the last 7 years: Rick Steves Convertible Carry On. It's specifically designed to meet airline carry-on standards, is light and tough, looks presentable, has straps that quickly fold away and is $100. I've never had to check mine (although I've chosen to a few times), I've had the same one for 7 years and it's still going strong, I am not embarrassed to bring mine to a nice hotel and it does not immediately mark one out as a "backpacker" in the same way that framed bags do, it is very easy to bring the straps out and put it on to go up and down stairs or walk around the city but the straps pack away if you ever do want to check it (so they can't get caught in the baggage machines) and it has two nice big handles, one on the top and one on the side so that you can grab it and hoist it from any direction. I've used these to throw it on top of a guatemalan chicken bus or to hand it to the bell boy. It has a waist strap and I once lived out of it for two months while camping - it was somehow spacious enough to fit my tent and bedroll along with my clothes. I have taken long distance hiking trips with it - probably not as great as a framed bag after the 30 k mark, but I made it just as well as everyone else.

I'm pretty passionate about this bag, mostly because it has been with me for the last 7 years complementing many different types of travel, from backpacking to camping to hosteling to flying to plane rides to taxis to buses to walking.

But of course I'm sure it's not the only bag out there that fits the criteria. I've heard good things about Eagle Creek, though I have never met one in the wild. I have convinced a couple of my traveler friends to get the Rick Steves bag and they have definitely not regretted it.

Plus, since it's only $100, you can invest in a couple of packing cubes, which will make a long time of living out of any bag much pleasanter.

Finally, I would recommend a look through One Bag. There are a lot of great topics to read, but you will probably be particularly interested in their essay on choosing a bag.

Best of luck, have a great year traveling, and I hope you find the perfect bag for you!
posted by mosessis at 6:06 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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