Experienced travellers please help!!
December 12, 2011 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Best luggage for the $$?? Inexperienced (but soon to be experienced) traveler here. I need GOOD luggage. And, of course, I am looking for a good deal...

Recently retired, I plan to do a lot of travelling soon. By car and by plane. New to me.

I am not looking for "airport chic." My lifestyle is remote Rockies.

I want lifetime luggage that I can stow in my Subaru Outback or take to Thailand. Must be rugged, flexible, and the main piece must have wheels that can take abuse. Must be adaptable to a variety of travel scenarios.

But, I am ignorant. I am willing to spend a few hundred dollars. But, I am very dollar conscious and am looking for deals (such as Sierra Trading Post, etc). I wish to spend money ONCE.

What should I look for and where should I look for it? I will be packing for long trips (such as Costa Rica or a month on the road). Basically blue jeans and boots lifestyle. But, it must be airplane friendly.

Soft and expandable would seem to make sense to me. Backpack-like. So, experienced "rough guides," I need your help!!

Thank you in advance... Packing help would be most appreciated as well.
posted by private_idaho to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Lifetime is a pretty lofty goal... Sadly. But it just the nature of what this stuff does.

We use a lot of the Patagonia luggage. It is rugged but designed for today's standards of weight. They also have a very good warranty policy.

If you're waiting for a discount, January should be a good time... Spring stuff will be coming in and fall stuff will be going out. Black won't go on sale but more fashion-y colors will.
posted by k8t at 1:59 PM on December 12, 2011

I just buy whatever wheeled thing Costco sells. If the wheels get bent or ripped off, I buy another one. Luxury luggage went out with the QEII. I've had Swiss Army brand, Kirkland, etc.--all the same to me. The airlines will destroy the suitcases before you can wear them out.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:06 PM on December 12, 2011


They opted to go out of business instead of lowering their standards. In a previous thread I'd mis-identified the bag I'd been carrying for years. This is the brand. Amazon has some still and I'm sorely tempted to buy another even though I don't need one - they are just that good.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:07 PM on December 12, 2011

I recently purchased some Dakine luggage, and some of it, I believe, was actually on sale at Sierra Trading Post. The large roller bag is kind of like packing in a dresser because of all the separate zippered compartments and such. I ended up buying three large bags (2 wheeled, 1 duffle) and two smaller toiletry type bags, and I do think they will last me through just about anything I need to pack for.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 2:08 PM on December 12, 2011

I just invested the cash in a Tom Bihn bag, specifically the Tri-Star. I am looking for slightly different things from you. I don't want wheels because I think it adds weight, and I'm okay with backpack straps instead. I wanted Made in the US and good zippers. I wanted something that wasn't going to fall apart. If you're seriously looking for lifetime warranty [as opposed to just lasting a long time] I'd really look into LL Bean's or something similar. I feel like most people aren't looking for lifetime. The folks at One Bag have good lists as far as what you should consider. When I was looking, I also looked at Red Oxx and MEI.
posted by jessamyn at 2:10 PM on December 12, 2011

I bought a High Colorado rucksack in France twelve years ago and it still looks new after travelling extensively for at least eight of those years. It fits everything all I need.
posted by bravowhiskey at 2:11 PM on December 12, 2011

My Eagle Creek Switchback 22" is carryon size with a detachable daypack. Rolls and can be used as a backpack. Still looks great after 10 years of hard use in rugged conditions (mine's solid black). Looks great. Sent it in once when a zipper broke and it came back completely reconditioned.

I would marry this bag.
posted by cyndigo at 2:19 PM on December 12, 2011

Buy a backpack from REI. If it falls apart, you can return it, no (or few) questions asked.
posted by asphericalcow at 2:25 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Recommending LLBean.com. If it breaks, they'll replace it. I have a rolling duffle that I quite like. Sturdy, easy to maneuver.
posted by theora55 at 2:31 PM on December 12, 2011

I've been plenty happy enough with Samsonite.
posted by spbmp at 2:32 PM on December 12, 2011

I cannot recommend Briggs & Riley highly enough, especially if you're looking to only spend the money once. All their luggage comes with a lifetime guarantee, so if you/the airline damages your luggage, they fix or replace it, free of charge. I have some pieces from their Transcend series, and they've been absolutely perfect - the cases can take a lot of abuse, and they're really nice-looking, too.

They're pricey, but you should be able to find some deals/sales that make them more affordable.
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 2:36 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I second Briggs & Riley. I have one bag from them and plan to upgrade the rest of my suitcases to this brand when I have the money. They're really thoughtfully designed and incredibly sturdy.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:44 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Note that many of these bag brands can be found at awesome deals at Ross, TJMaxx, and/or Marshalls. I have purchased nearly all of my luggage at these places and I travel very frequently all over the world. Samsonite, American Tourister, Brigs and Riley, Swiss Army... nearly all the brands mentioned here (save Lands End and Patagonia) can be found at these stores.

I also concur with the Sierra Trading Post recommendation.
posted by superfille at 3:20 PM on December 12, 2011

Pelican luggage - like this perhaps - is ridiculously rugged in its construction: if you really wanted to buy something just once and have it last then that would be an option.

But it weighs quite a lot in comparison to what it carries, it is not flexible so as to be crammed into tight spaces, it draws attention to you in a way you might not always want and you would cry if you left if behind somewhere. This is why a lot of people who travel a great deal get attracted towards the one bag outlook.
posted by rongorongo at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2011

So I've traveled overseas and also have an outdoorsy inclination, and I haven't found the one perfect bag. The bag that's great for traveling through airports and to cities, with wheels, feels incredibly awkward when you arrive at a dirt path to your hotel in Belize or even your gravel driveway at your mountain home.

Having said that, take a look at the Eagle Creek luggage website. They make some versatile pieces that attempt to walk this line.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:15 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can get Briggs and Riley at Sierra Trading Post- good deals if you use a good coupon.
posted by cushie at 4:25 PM on December 12, 2011

I liked Pathfinder too. I had a Pathfinder bag for 20 years that finally died this year and now they've gone out of business. So I bought a TravelPro instead but I don't know how long it's going to hold up.
posted by interplanetjanet at 4:29 PM on December 12, 2011

I think you're doing this a bit backwards. You'll learn from experience traveling what is really important to you in luggage and it might not turn out to be what you think it is - or may be more different depending on the type of trip than you realize. Don't spend so much that you feel locked into whatever you chose before your first trip. Also, as you travel you'll meet other travellers and you can see how they're doing with their luggage choices, and ask them about their experiences.

What's your first trip? I'd buy reasonably priced luggage for that, from a place like LL Bean or REI, where you can return if it turns out completely disappointing.

For me personally what turned out to be really important was that the luggage itself is light (I almost never travel by car, or at least not exclusively by car), that I can carry it relatively comfortably on my back (I almost always travel by transit and have to go up and down staircases and through turnstiles), and that it has pockets easily accessible.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:14 PM on December 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Adding my voice to the chorus recommending Eagle Creek. They actually do feature a Lifetime Warranty on their products against defect or malfunction. They also offer a No Matter What warranty on three of their product lines, meaning that if something happens to your bag, even if it's the fault of the airlines or a cheetah or whatever, they will fix or replace your bag for free. (I have recommended Eagle Creek before but I'm not affiliated with them other than being a happy EC owner.)

You can purchase some lines of Eagle Creek at REI, making a sort of perfect storm of finding the best luggage for your travels.
posted by heathergirl at 5:27 PM on December 12, 2011

Congratulations on getting to travel!

I've traveled a lot. For non-car travel (plane, bus, train, whatever), I'd recommend that you use one carry-on bag and a small pack for your laptop or daytrips, and that's it, regardless of the length of the journey. This is especially true if you'll be changing locations every week or more often. See onebag.com for features to look for, how to pack it, and why to travel so light.

I agree that you should travel some before you make a big commitment to one type of bag. For example, I used an Eagle Creek backpack for several trips, and I came to hate it. Even if you travel light, a backpack starts to weigh a lot when you walk more than a few blocks and you're over 40. I'm big and strong and the bag was supposedly light but I ended up selling it to a friend.

Now my approach is a slim backpack on my back with my laptop and in-flight stuff, and everything else in a small carry-on that has functional wheels but is also light for carrying.

My best bag was a small duffel that I bought in Australia, where the carry-on limits are more strict than in the US, so the bag would fit as a carry-on just about everywhere. It had little wheels that worked well enough and was also light enough to carry easily when I was on wheel-hostile surfaces or transit. Unfortunately, the brand isn't available in the US, but there should be bags like it.
posted by ceiba at 5:39 PM on December 12, 2011

I can't even describe how impressed I've been with my Red Oxx Air Boss.

$225 for a carry-on bag? That's crazy business. But since I've bought it, I haven't checked any luggage, even on long trips. It always fits in the overhead bin, even on commuter flights, and flight attendants won't give it a second glance even when it's bulging. It looks new even after a number of trips. And it has a lifetime warranty.

The catch? No wheels. But they have a backpack version, the Sky Train.
posted by eschatfische at 7:06 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have the Red Oxx Air Boss as well, and it is a supremely tough and well-crafted bag. But if I had to do it over again I'd save my back muscles and get something with backpack-style shoulder straps or wheels.
posted by swift at 7:43 PM on December 12, 2011

I came here to add an nth vote to Briggs and Riley. They have a lifetime warranty, and they make good on it. I have two pieces by them, and I'm not sure I'll ever have to buy any more luggage, but if I do, it would be by them.
posted by willbaude at 10:37 PM on December 12, 2011

Seconding Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo's suggestion of Briggs & Riley - especially if you want the lifetime guarantee. I bought a short while back and love mine.

I also looked quite hard at Thule's luggage range, which I thought looked like it was built to last.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:38 AM on December 13, 2011

Definitely consider luggage without wheels (unless you have some kind of back problem that necessitates them). You save so much weight without wheels, and you can squish a soft bag into a compartment that would not accept a wheelie bag.

My default luggage is a convertible backpack from eBags (they call it the "Weekender" but I don't own anything larger, and I've taken it on three-week trips). I love it. It probably won't last me forever (though so far I've probably used it for ~three months of travel total and it's in good shape, although visibly dirty) but it was only about $50.

Figure out what you actually need. It might not be a bulletproof wheelie bag.
posted by mskyle at 6:04 AM on December 13, 2011

The bag that's great for traveling through airports and to cities, with wheels, feels incredibly awkward when you arrive at a dirt path to your hotel in Belize or even your gravel driveway at your mountain home.

I feel the same way. I drank the cool aid and got the backpack strap bag last time I bought luggage. It turns out that when you only have a carry-on bag, you spend an awful lot of time schlepping it around the airport, and you really want wheels after a couple of hours of that. There's a reason our society invented them! But they are bulky and the handle adds weight as well.
posted by smackfu at 1:51 PM on December 13, 2011

Nthing the folks that are suggesting maybe dropping the requirement for wheels. I have travelled with both a wheeled suitcase and a duffle/backpack style bag, and by far the backpack is more versatile. Wheels are only really useful for schlepping your things around the airport and cities where smooth sidewalks with no stairs are a guarantee. For the airport you can always grab a trolley to push your bag around, no built-in wheels needed.

The bulk of my travel through several continents has involved many stairs, cobblestone streets, dirt roads, etc. and wheeled luggage would have been more a hindrance than an asset. Unless you intend to take a taxi everywhere I'd suggest looking at backpack-like alternatives. No wheels means lighter luggage (so important for air travel these days!), more versatility, and it's easier to stow in planes/trains/automobiles.

I do also agree that you should get cheaper luggage to start out with, until you've travelled a bit and have a better idea of what you want/need. Also, luggage is so easily lost/destroyed by airlines that I'd be hesitant to invest the $$$.

One Bag is a great source for things to consider when buying luggage.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 4:25 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

the best luggage i've purchased was a noname rollerboard at marshalls after mine died en route to the airport.

lands end also has a lifetime guarantee, fyi. full disclosure: i work for their sister corp., but i've used their lifetime guarantee A LOT. If you have the reciept they'll take anything back NO QUESTIONS ASKED. Even swimsuits!
posted by jennybento at 4:07 PM on December 25, 2011

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