Carry-on bag options
August 5, 2013 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for low cost ideas for a carry-on bag. It's got to meet United Airline carry-on regulations (14" x 9" x 22"). Ideally, I'd like to be able to stash it under the seat, rather than overhead, since I'm small and it's hard to heft a loaded bag over my head. My son will be travelling with me, so that's not a hard and fast request-he can certainly get a bag in the overhead! Details: we're going to Signal Mountain Resort in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming beginning of September, for 6 days. Casual dress, hiking boots are what we'll be carrying with us. I am good at condensed packing, but have never tried to take a carry-on for this length of time. We'll be staying with my daughter and her husband, so we'll be able to skip a good amount of personal care stuff; we'll borrow from them, or get sample sizes when we get out there. I have not been here before, so hints and tips specific to packing for this area would be most welcome.
posted by LaBellaStella to Travel & Transportation around Teton Range, WY (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not a comprehensive answer, but a few thoughts:

1. look for inexpensive nylon duffle bags.
2. That area can get cold, and the temperature can change dramatically in the course of a day. Plan to dress accordingly. Bring clothes you can layer. A light weight polarfleece pull-over, maybe a heavier-weight synthetic vest, a breathable nylon shell, etc.
posted by Good Brain at 9:06 AM on August 5, 2013

You don't say if you'd prefer a wheeled bag, backpack, messenger style, or what, so:

I got this small wheeled bag and while it won't fit under the seat, it's pretty lightweight even when fully packed (unless you're carrying rocks or something). It easily held what I needed for a 5-day trip (to somewhere warm, mind, so I wasn't bringing a lot of bulky clothes).

I've also used this backpack as a carry-on and it's been fine for three- and four-day trips, but again, not with me needing to pack a bunch of bulky outerwear.
posted by rtha at 9:08 AM on August 5, 2013

I will take a moment to evangelize regarding "MLC" (=Maximum Legal Carryon) bags and the science of "bundle packing".

A typical MLC bag has backpack straps and/or a shoulder strap, has no wheels which saves a surprising amount of room and weight, and fits fine under the seat of everything, even small regional jets. At the reasonable end are bags like the Patagonia MLC, which even then might stretch anyone's definition of "Low cost", and at the splurge end are bags like my Tom Bihn Aeronaut. There are also bags from LL Bean, Red Oxx, MEI, and probably others.

These bags are organized a little smaller and differently than your typical wheely bag. We pack them using bundle packing. Here is a quick video that I found but didn't get a chance to watch that is female-specific. Basically, you make a certain type of bundle of all your clothes, and then you get where you're going and undo the whole bundle and hang it up (you can't take just one thing out of a bundled pack).

We also tend to save some space by wearing bulkier or harder to keep neat stuff; that is, if you were traveling with a suit, or a bulky coat, you might wear it rather than packing. Same with the boots.

I'm not sure if this is practical for everyone (especially with regards to men vs. women) but I have done Tokyo for 13 days and Australia for 8 with one bag and will never go back. Google on "one bag" and start clicking around to find out more :)
posted by ftm at 9:10 AM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think packing for six days in something that fits under the seat is going to be a bit of a stretch unless you are extremely low maintenance. Low maintenance is in, no toiletries of any kind, only one or two changes of clothes, only the shoes you wear on the plane.

I agree with Good Brain. A lightweight nylon duffle or "weekend bag" is probably what you want. Something you can sling over your shoulder. At least with that, you stand a chance of being able to cram it under the seat if you pack very light. With a rolling bag or more structured piece of luggage, the size of the item in itself is going to make under the seat impossible.

Also keep in mind that if you carry a handbag at all, that will have to be stowed somewhere, too.
posted by Sara C. at 9:11 AM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

It takes a pretty small bag to fit under the seat, particularly as some seats have equipment that further reduces the available area. I traveled with a duffel bag that was 9" square by 18" long and it just barely fit under the seat.

I would recommend paying close attention to the bags' weights when you are shopping. Look for bags without wheels if at all possible as the wheel mechanism takes up a lot of the bag's space, and makes it heavier.

I'd recommend looking at Lipault luggage. The 19" shoulder bag should fit underneath the seat. According to Zappos, the 22" rollaboard is 6 pounds, which is quite light for a rolling bag.

Wear your hiking boots and any other heavy/bulky clothing on the plane, and think layers when you pack. For example, instead of bringing a bulky coat, bring a few base layers, a top layer, and a very lightweight rain shell.
posted by payoto at 9:12 AM on August 5, 2013

Side note suggestion for packing whatever bag you get: Your hiking boots will take up the most space, so wear them on the plane or stash them into your second allowed bag. It's a pain to put on/take off hiking boots at security checkpoints, but many hikers travel that way to save space.
posted by Elsie at 9:15 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have an earlier version of this eBags backpack, which is deceptively small; I use it when I'm trekking to conferences. No wheels, so it smooshes down nicely when necessary. But yes, you'll need to wear your boots & any heavy jackets on the plane.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:19 AM on August 5, 2013

I just bought a perfectly nice rolling duffel at Bed Bath and Beyond for $20. I'm mostly using it on (frequent) car trips, but it's a duffel and it rolls and the wheels aren't complete crap. The handle's not the fanciest (it doesn't lock at multiple heights like my $120 laptop bag, for example, and I can tell it's not going to last a lifetime or anything), but it's got good zip-pockets on the ends and one side.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:42 AM on August 5, 2013

I fly frequently and often use carry on only.
1) Get something with soft sides/top. Easier to take advantage of nooks/crannies.
2) I used to use only non-wheeled/duffel/backpack but you do have to be prepared to get mighty tired of carrying it. I now use a wheeled carry on and a very light weight backpack style. Wheeled is just so much more comfortable when moving to/from airport, moving between terminals and long treks to the gates. Other passenger take pleasure in hefting your carry on into the overhead bins.
3) Take full advantage of washer/dryer facilities at your destination.
4) Wear your heavy/hiking shoes
5) If you spend money on anything make it a good quality light weight wind breaker/rain jacket. GORTEX or similar product.
6) Minimize any personal products that can be inexpensively purchased.
Have fun--remember all you really reallyneed is identification/passport, a credit card, prescription medication and the clothes you are wearing.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:43 AM on August 5, 2013

Seconding the idea of a duffle bag if you want something that is maximum permissible size but can fit under the seat. However, a flight attendant would surely be able to help you get your bag into the overhead if you're unable to wrangle it there. Choose a bag that will allow you to wear your heaviest jacket and secure it to the outside of your carryon if it gets too hot in transit.

Your biggest bang-for-buck, IMHO, is going to be a medium-weight water-resistant, wind-resistant softshell jacket (ideally with a hood). I don't have any specific recommendations because the two I use are no longer made/hard to find. And fleece is nice but takes up SO MUCH ROOM. Often, a couple of non-fleece layers (moisture-wicking wherever possible)--such as a thin turtleneck under a thin 1/4 zip shirt--provides as much insulation as a fleece shirt, at half the space requirement.
posted by drlith at 9:48 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't count on help from a flight attendant since they are often forbidden by their employers from putting passengers' luggage into overhead bins. If you can't lift things into the overhead bin yourself, you should either make sure your bag can fit under the seat in front of you, or that you are OK with it being gate-checked.
posted by grouse at 10:00 AM on August 5, 2013

I love my LLBean Deluxe Book Pack. It's a little costly upfront. At the same time, it lasts forever.

I have had mine so long that they don't even make it in my backpack's color anymore (goldenrod yellow). It is still going strong.

They are perfect for long trips because they fit a lot of stuff and they squish well. I have only once had a problem fitting my backpack under the airplane seat in front of me and that was because the seat was really low to the floor and my backpack was stuffed to the brim.

The hiking boots are the real space taker here so I would recommend that whatever bag you end up getting, wear your boots and carry flipflops in your bag for casual wear.
posted by donut_princess at 10:44 AM on August 5, 2013

Constant traveler here:
Seconding the caution about relying on help from the attendants; most of the time they can't, or aren't in a convenient position/place, to help you store overhead.
I'm small (5'4") so placing my bag under the seat is no problem. I prefer it, because I don't have to worry about getting on theplane early before all the overhead bins are taken.
I also don't want to carry a duffle for extended periods, so I go with a roller bag. The one I've used weekly for the past 3 years is a Chinese-made, soft-sided wheeler made by High Sierra. I don't see the model on their website but they do have a similar wheeled duffle that might work. The one I have fits under every seat except the aisle seat of the little puddle jumpers. So I just book middle seat or window.
posted by memewit at 12:02 PM on August 5, 2013

The Vera Bradley Miller Bag is my carry-on of choice. It holds an insane amount of stuff, yet fits under an airplane seat with no problem.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:46 PM on August 5, 2013

This 20" duffel is my carry on bag. It is just about as cheap as you can possibly get (16$). It's only a few inches short of the limit, and you can pack it enough so that it bulges out probably to the limit. Fully packed, I'm not sure if you can get it under the seat, you certainly can lightly packed and if you pull the base support out. You can fit it in any overhead (even the extra-tiny Embraer where everyone else had to gate check, although I had to squash it a bit...which wasn't too hard because the overhead was at approximately shoulder height).

But 6 days? Hiking boots? At very minimum I would bring a carry on to go in the overhead and an extremely large "personal item" (laptop backpack) to go under the seat.
posted by anaelith at 4:14 AM on August 6, 2013

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