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Thread: Co-Pilot vs. Red Oxx Gator - a Review

  1. #1
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    Co-Pilot vs. Red Oxx Gator - a Review

    After nearly two months, here's my review of the Tom Bihn Co-Pilot, versus the Red Oxx Gator.

    Let me start by saying I've had 4 years to knock my Gator, both physically and verbally, and so I extended my original month-long test to include certain specific destinations I have used the Gator for (not routine destinations, once-a-year ones) as well as using the Co-Pilot daily.

    The specs:
    Co-Pilot $110.00
    Two fabrics, Ballistic or Dyneema
    Dimensions: 12"L x 10"H x 5"W / 300 x 255 x 125mm

    Volume: 10 liters / 600 cu.in.

    Weight:
    Ballistic nylon: 17.2 ounces / 485 grams
    Dyneema/nylon: 11.2 ounces / 315 grams

    Red Oxx Gator $105.00
    One fabric only, Cordura
    Dimensions: 12"L x 9"H x 6"W

    Volume: 648 Cubic Inches

    Weight: 2.35 lbs

    The two bags are very similar in dimension, but very dissimilar in what can be packed in them. The Gator is one large, padded compartment with a mesh panel on one side of the interior, one external very tight zipper panel, and two external bellows pockets one one side, with a drink holder pocket on each narrow end, right under the strap rings (more on THAT later). The Co-Pilot is actually four pockets, one large for iPad/Netbook or other similar item,
    two smaller side front pockets for wallet/phone/3-1-1/etc. and a center pocket for a drink/umbrella/computer accessories/what have you. The Co-Pilot is not padded, one reason it weighs more than a pound less in the Balistic version alone.

    The shoulder straps do add to the weight difference. If you don't order the basic Co-Pilot strap it will weigh more with the Absolute. The Gator comes with the Red Oxx Claw. It's heavy, and it doesn't flex on your shoulder to lighten the load. However, it WON'T slip. I guarantee that. But the Absolute wins, hands-down. I bought one to use on my Gator and Air Boss.

    Let me say right now that I've been using Red Oxx products for over four years now, and the Gator was a love-hate item right from the start. There was no other bag on the market in that size, so I had no real choice but to use it.

    So I'll start with the 'why I no longer use my Gator.'

    The Gator is heavy empty. It's padded so it's not crushable to fit into another bag (it won't fit into Red Oxx's Air Boss - if I'd gotten the Air Boss first I'd have returned the Gator). I just made sure to swing it about to the front of me as I got on and off buses or trains, as its non-crushable size stuck out on my hip and was good at sideswiping people.

    It has rings on each end that are double the size of the Air Boss's strap rings - serious overkill. One Gator reviewer stated one could probably be airlifted by the bag. They weren't kidding. But that kind of overkill weighs one's shoulder down FAST. The rings also are right over the drink pockets. If you carried a Klean Kanteen or Sigg bottle the rings are a clinkety-clanking nightmare.

    And, worse yet, the pockets aren't deep enough to hold the bottles IN - one of my favorite Siggs looks like it's been through a lion cage - scratches and dents from those rings and falling out of said pockets.

    The front zipper pocket has no bellows expansion, so getting things in and out of it is difficult at best. I kept my wallet here and DARED a pickpocket to get into it without me knowing. It was that tight at fit. But was it an undertaking just to dig it out to pay for something!

    Writers keep papers on them. Well, the Gator chews up 81/2" by 11" paper. It's a fraction too small in the internal compartment and there's no external file size pocket like the back pocket of the Co-Pilot.

    However, the Gator held my netbook in an Apex sleeve, a wireless mouse, the brick, a 4th Gen iPod Nano, at least one Moleskine Cahier, my Laptop Lunches lunchbox, my wallet/change purse/bus pass, a rain shell, the Sigg bottle (if I was lucky), and my phone. It was padded and therefore helped my items survive as I ran about Seattle or whereve I was. Like I said, no other bag was doing all that and keeping the contents dry... until the Co-Pilot came along.

    The Co-Pilot holds my netbook inside the big pocket in a Cache, the wireless mouse in one of the interior pockets, the brick and Moleskine in another, and a crammed-in rain shell or Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero. One front pocket holds my phone, the bus pass in the front of an organizer wallet (the back of the wallet holds my five most-used Sound Transit bus schedules), and a pack of Kleenex. The other front pocket holds a pen, a lip stain, my iPod, my organizer wallet used as a -natch- wallet, a nose spray, and a change purse. I also keep spare house/car keys in the change purse, so it has some heft to it. Earphones in a case drop to the bottom of this pocket. The center waterbottle pocket always has something liquid in it, and was I surprised when my Zojirushi half-liter thermos bottle fit right in! That bottle pocket is something else, let me tell you. It holds every soft-drink bottle I've stuck in, even Japanese ones.

    The iPod fits into the inner two pen pockets after I modified the bag a little. It's a five-minute job to rip out the inner divider seam in the pen pocket, leaving the Co-Pilot with two pen pockets and one larger pocket. That larger pocket fits a Nano perfectly. Please note if you do this your Co-Pilot is not returnable. That was not an issue for me - I wasn't about to return mine!

    Unfortunately, the one-inch depth difference on paper was substantial with the design differences. My Laptop Lunches bento box will not fit in the Co-Pilot if my netbook is inside. It will fit if the computer is left at home. So, now I have a choice to make as I leave the house: shall I meet friends in a coffeeshop with wifi so I can eat while we yack and work (we're all writers and hate to see our own four walls day in and day out), or shall I eat my own cooking and do the writing by hand? Third choice, carry lunch separately (boo) or get a Synapse... I've been eating out or eating Larabars or turkey jerky, mostly, they fit just fine. There just isn't another option for a netbook bag, not for me. One try of the Co-Pilot and I was hooked.

    IT COLLAPSES. Yes, siree, the Co-Pilot fits into either my Air Boss or my Aeronaut. I don't HAVE to carry two bags. I can leave the Brain Cell at home and carry a real daybag. With the Cache and the ballistic fabric around my netbook, I can bury the Co-Pilot between packing cubes in the Aeronaut and fear no broken screen or banjaxed hard drive, the two most common Apex netbook deaths. The Horizontal size 5 Brain Cell I use is 14.2 ounces, so 3 ounces extra for the Co-Pilot and probably 2 ounces extra for the Cache isn't a big weight difference, but oh, the usefulness of the Co-Pilot far exceeds the Brain Cell on a trip.

    My only quibble with the Co-Pilot, other than the Why? of four pen pockets, is with the strap pad. With a little finagling, I slid it off the strap and threw my Strap Wrap on. If I have a serious weight in the bag (anything over 7 pounds and my shoulder starts to complain) I switch to the Absolute.

    So, although I've had my Gator for four and a half years, it's gathering dust and will probably be looking for a new home. My Air Boss may join it - I love my Aeronaut - but that's another comparison review.
    Last edited by aiethabell; 08-21-2010 at 08:46 AM. Reason: The lovely, indispensable water bottle pocket!
    Indigo Co-Pilot w' Cache, Sapphire/Olive Medium Cafe bag, Sapphire/Black and Indigo Ballistic Swifts, 50+ assorted Stuff Sacks/Pouches/Key Straps, 4 Shop Bags. 2 Absolutes, 2 Strap Wraps, a #5 Brain Cell, 3 Clear Quarter Packing Cubes , 3 Aeronaut cubes, a 3D, a Kit, a Convertible Shoulder Bag and Convertible Backpack for my Indigo/Solar Aeronaut. Last, 3 Lifefactory Bottles and my Plum Field Journal! Plus a blue (natch) FOT. All bags decked out with Tom Bihn luggage tags .

  2. #2
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    Wow. This is some review. Thank you for the detailed post. I had looked for a long time at RedOxx Air Boss, but never got it cos it seemed just a bit too big and unstructured for me. It took me a while to find TB---and I discovered it quite accidentally. I was in Seattle last March for a conference, and I went to the factory just to check it out. And since then, I have been sold. The O-rings and water bottle pockets are both sheer genius. Overall, the bags just feel really more useful, and look better.
    I just wish TB would design a simple, durable, duffle style larger bag for times when I do travel with more and need to check in more things! That is where I keep eyeing the RedOxx Safari Beano bags--but have not got them yet.

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    aiethabell - Great review of the Co-Pilot. Parallels my experiences with the bag over the past few weeks. It is a great on-board bag when flying planes of any size - fits anywhere and carries a bunch of stuff. I am not brave enough to try modifying it. Sharp objects and my fingers just do not get along!

    Shiva - if you are looking for a basic duffle that will hold lots and is really well made, take a look at Best American Duffle (badbags.com). Their bags are constructed of high quality materials, have nice little features, and seem to last and last.

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    Three things I forgot to mention:

    The Co-Pilot and the Gator are similar in dimension, but not in visual size. The Co-Pilot looks much smaller and neater than the Gator. Maybe it's the sleek ballistic, but the visual size of the Co-Pilot is much smaller, packed full or not. That was another problem with the Gator; even empty it took up the full size and got me a few dirty looks when paired with my Air Boss OR my Aeronaut on a trip. Granted, many ladies' purses are bigger than the Co-Pilot, let alone the Gator, but here I was with two bags and one looked like a big blue and black box on a strap (the Gator).

    I have a camera, but I'm a novice at uploading photos. If someone wants me to send them a pix so they could upload it to this thread, PM me and I'll see if I can get a good shot. Failing that, maybe someone else on another site has posted a picture of the Co-Pilot and the Gator side-by-side. Post a link if you find it!

    Second, until the Tom Bihn Camera Insert comes out and provides padding for a DSLR or SLR in the Co-Pilot, the Gator wins the padded protection camera bag test. It's big enough for longer lenses and the padding is good enough to let you get away with dust sleeves over your lenses and nothing else. One huge compartment, though - I'd pad the body well so it didn't damage the lenses or vice versa.

    Third, to be honest, if you read Red Oxx's site for user reviews, the Gator seems to do a lot of duty as a range bag. It excels at that. However, I wouldn't even think of taking a Gator, used as such on a shooting range, to the airport and get it on a plane. I wouldn't want to explain why my bag had residue on it. So, those of you wondering if the Co-Pilot would make a range bag should take that into consideration if you also want to travel with it.

    One last, big reason I love my Co-Pilot AND my Aeronaut: the O-rings. I love that I can attach little bags of stuff to the bigger bag and not lose it at checkpoints or on the bus or somewhere else. There isn't one O-ring on any Red Oxx product. It may come as a complete surprise to many who love Red Oxx and can't imagine why I'd chuck my Gator, but the O-rings are far above and beyond any of the other reasons (well, maybe not the water bottle compartment) as to why I love my Co-Pilot so. Or my Cafe bag. Or any and all of the bags on the lower list.

    This isn't a 'now I hate Red Oxx' review. Right now my Red Oxx Lil Roy is a foot from my left elbow, serving as today's purse. My laundry is split between a Red Oxx Market Tote and a small Shop Bag. I'm just trying to point out the differences between two very size-similar carry-ons and why I chose one over the other, even after years of use. People who've seen me for years, carrying the one bag, have been very interested as to why I no longer carry it. Heck, I've even had the brass to carry it into the Tom Bihn store! But only until the Co-Pilot was ready. They'll never see my Gator again, unless I can figure out how to post that picture of the two bags side-by-side in this thread!
    Last edited by aiethabell; 08-22-2010 at 03:37 PM. Reason: The O-Rings.
    Indigo Co-Pilot w' Cache, Sapphire/Olive Medium Cafe bag, Sapphire/Black and Indigo Ballistic Swifts, 50+ assorted Stuff Sacks/Pouches/Key Straps, 4 Shop Bags. 2 Absolutes, 2 Strap Wraps, a #5 Brain Cell, 3 Clear Quarter Packing Cubes , 3 Aeronaut cubes, a 3D, a Kit, a Convertible Shoulder Bag and Convertible Backpack for my Indigo/Solar Aeronaut. Last, 3 Lifefactory Bottles and my Plum Field Journal! Plus a blue (natch) FOT. All bags decked out with Tom Bihn luggage tags .

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    Rabergnc: thanks for the tip. I have looked at their site, and I have heard good things about them. But they seem to have really large sizes..will have to look again! I was looking for something that is more 25 inches......

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shiva View Post
    I just wish TB would design a simple, durable, duffle style larger bag for times when I do travel with more and need to check in more things! That is where I keep eyeing the RedOxx Safari Beano bags--but have not got them yet.
    Shiva, have you pulled up the 'Aviator Duffel Bags' tab on Red Oxx's site? These are plain old duffels, at reasonable prices, with their overkill construction and sturdy fabrics. They're also, of course, USA made with that wonderful guarantee (just like Tom Bihn). Until Tom makes one, I'd heartily recommend the Red Oxx Aviator series over any other brand of duffel.

    If you're into sand sports, they even come in all-mesh!

    They're lighter (and cheaper) than the Beanos, a plus.
    Indigo Co-Pilot w' Cache, Sapphire/Olive Medium Cafe bag, Sapphire/Black and Indigo Ballistic Swifts, 50+ assorted Stuff Sacks/Pouches/Key Straps, 4 Shop Bags. 2 Absolutes, 2 Strap Wraps, a #5 Brain Cell, 3 Clear Quarter Packing Cubes , 3 Aeronaut cubes, a 3D, a Kit, a Convertible Shoulder Bag and Convertible Backpack for my Indigo/Solar Aeronaut. Last, 3 Lifefactory Bottles and my Plum Field Journal! Plus a blue (natch) FOT. All bags decked out with Tom Bihn luggage tags .

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    I have a Gator, and it's been the sole reason I've hesitated on ordering the Co-Pilot - I already have a bag of similar size/dimensions. However, your review made me realize that the Gator's just been sitting there collecting dust for the better part of a year because it's pretty awkward to carry around - plus, people see me with it and ask if I'm going on a trip! Decision made - I'm getting a Co-Pilot as soon as the mysterious new Dyneema color shows up, so that I can order it (probably in ballistic, though) and the large shop bag in the new Dyneema in one fell swoop
    Last edited by Just; 08-23-2010 at 07:18 AM. Reason: Realized my question regarding Co-Pilot color was answered in the signature

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    Quote Originally Posted by aiethabell View Post
    Shiva, have you pulled up the 'Aviator Duffel Bags' tab on Red Oxx's site? These are plain old duffels, at reasonable prices, with their overkill construction and sturdy fabrics. They're also, of course, USA made with that wonderful guarantee (just like Tom Bihn). Until Tom makes one, I'd heartily recommend the Red Oxx Aviator series over any other brand of duffel.

    If you're into sand sports, they even come in all-mesh!

    They're lighter (and cheaper) than the Beanos, a plus.
    I have always been curious about these Aviator duffels...I understand that they do not have a shoulder strap, nor any attachment point. Do you find that to be a major drawback? What sizes of these bags have you tried? Thanks.
    --------------------------------

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    Nice review. Did you get your Co-Pilot in Dyneema? I can't imagine it folds into a small enough package to pack otherwise.

    I am also a Gator owner who has a love hate relationship with the bag. The size is great for a personal item and the open interior with padding makes it great for packing a DSLR. But the weight was annoying. My biggest gripe was it's form and that would be the same as the Co-Pilot - it's not a backpack. On some trips I hike and I just hated not having a backpack. Even just shopping would annoy me if it was long enough. Not really a fair complaint but more of a travel style preference. On the flip side the Co-Pilot / Gator style is much better than a backpack when it comes to dining and such. It sits well on the floor as opposed to a backpack that has to be propped up and is always going to fall over.

    I really don't need it but I may invest in a Co-Pilot also.
    Owner of : Imago, Aeronaut, Brain Bag, Smart Alec, Synapse, Co-Pilot

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    The Aviator Duffle bags from Red Oxx are great for camping and outdoors kind of travel. Correct: they do not have attachment points for a shoulder strap. They are exceptionally durable--I have a XS one which is quite large which I use when I go camping to gather my dirty clothes and such! Keeps it smell free.
    I am really looking for good well made duffle that I can check in when I travel abroad for extended periods of time. BAD is great, but their sizes are all over the place for international travel!

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    Quote Originally Posted by pretzelb View Post
    Did you get your Co-Pilot in Dyneema? I can't imagine it folds into a small enough package to pack otherwise.
    No, I originally ordered the Dyneema but changed to the Indigo Ballistic after seeing and holding one at the store pre-release.

    Somewhere else on the fora here I answered why I chose one over the other: the piping on both fabrics' finished bags. The piping prevents folding up the bag like a small square without a real hassle, and I was afraid of crimping the piping permanently.

    So collapsing the Co-Pilot front-to-back is what I do. The difference in crushed/empty depth between the two fabrics is maybe an inch, perhaps less. It's just extra padding on my netbook, and still is about the thickness of the Brain Cell or less with the netbook inside, and the Co-Pilot itself weighs only 5 ounces more. I just preferred my Co-Pilot to match my Aeronaut, not my Convertible Backpack.

    If anyone on here routinely folds up their Shop Bags into a size less than one of the pockets in the Shop Bag, how does the piping hold up? Does it crimp? I'm seriously thinking of getting a Dyneema one anyway, just for 'Look what I bought, hee hee' some years down the road when the Dyneema Co-Pilot is no longer offered.

    Don't think it won't go bye bye. I waited too long to order a Dyneema Synapse, and I'll forever rue it.

    (Egad, I'm a Bag Queen, I just got a Le Sportsac tote because the fabric was cute kitties... there's no hope for me...)
    Last edited by aiethabell; 08-23-2010 at 03:48 PM.
    Indigo Co-Pilot w' Cache, Sapphire/Olive Medium Cafe bag, Sapphire/Black and Indigo Ballistic Swifts, 50+ assorted Stuff Sacks/Pouches/Key Straps, 4 Shop Bags. 2 Absolutes, 2 Strap Wraps, a #5 Brain Cell, 3 Clear Quarter Packing Cubes , 3 Aeronaut cubes, a 3D, a Kit, a Convertible Shoulder Bag and Convertible Backpack for my Indigo/Solar Aeronaut. Last, 3 Lifefactory Bottles and my Plum Field Journal! Plus a blue (natch) FOT. All bags decked out with Tom Bihn luggage tags .

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    Quote Originally Posted by aiethabell View Post
    I waited too long to order a Dyneema Synapse, and I'll forever rue it.
    I share your pain on the Dyneema Synapse, aiethabell . Gone for now but such a brilliant idea which I was too late in sufficiently appreciating.

    I also appreciate your outstanding review and insights on the Co-pilot and thank you for sharing them. In reading this thread my decision to obtain a Co-pilot is reinforced. Additionally, I am considering new avenues in another project of mine, where, after reading this thread, I may now be using duffel bags as a means toward my solution instead of wardrobe trunks. I may post more about that endeavor down the road in another thread.
    Bags: Super Ego (Black/indigo w/cork seatbelt); Aeronaut (Crimson/Steel); 2 Medium Cafe Bags (Navy/Cayenne, Linen/Olive), w/an Ultrasuede Shoulder Strap Wrap; Large Cafe Bag (Cocoa/Wasabi) w/Absolute Strap; Imago (sadly lost to hazmat); a Brain Cell w/ another Strap Wrap; and a Shop Bag (Steel). Accessories: Bunches and bunches.
    Wanted: Zephyr or Empire Builder.
    " ...all [that] you have to depend on is yourself and your luggage." - The Luggage Salesman (Joe Versus the Volcano)

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    I, too, am a Gator and Co-Pilot owner. I ordered the Co-Pilot mainly because I was looking for something a little more appropriate for the office (and I missed having the "O" rings!). Don't get me wrong - I still love the Gator, especially for carrying bulky items, (such as when I had to tote 2 small propane tanks about a block to a friend's barbecue!). The Gator will still get used, but it's no longer my everyday bag. I love the stash pocket on the back of the Co-Pilot and the front middle (beverage) pocket can hold a ton of stuff (especially if you don't carry a beverage in it!). Also, the steel ballistic is absolutely awesome!
    Owner of Founders Briefcase (navy/steel), Aeronaut (crimson/steel), Absolute Strap, Co-Pilot (steel/solar), Medium Cafe Bag (steel/sapphire), Imago (navy/cork/wasabi),Horizontal Freudian Slip, Snake Charmer (steel), Wallet (olive), Side Effect (olive), asst pouches and cubes.

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    This is a helpful thread as I am trying to decide between these two very bags. I own two or three Red OXx bags, they are awesome and well built etc.. but they do lack some of the "extras" like o-rings, sealed zippers, and a touch more design flair that Tom excels at putting in the bags.

    I am most hesitant to get the Gator because I envision my things getting all jumbled up inside the main open compartment...but I like the Gator because of the padding and the bullet proof construction. I like the co pilot because it looks more "finished" and I love Tom's sense of design...also I like the fact that there is more separation and organization possibilities with all the pockets, not to mention the o rings for adding storage pouches, which really appeals to me.

    I want to be able to carry my Panasonic Gf1, extra lens, spare batteries, gorilla pod, water bottle, snacks, cords, business cards, pocket knife, hand cleaner, multi-tool, LED flashlight..etc.

    I am sure I cant fit all this plus more in both bags..but I do not think a spare light rain shell or hat would fit in the co-pilot....but would in the Gator....

    I own two Red Oxx backpacks too, for days with lots of stuff.....but I find myself not using them often to carry the above stuff because the bags are way too big for that...

    I also own a Tom bihn Empire Builder...just bought it...so maybe it can be my day bag..but I fee it's too big for days I dont bring my macbook...so.with all this said..who thinks the co pilot is the best choice and vice versa...
    Last edited by Just; 09-11-2010 at 04:50 PM.

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    aiethabell,

    Great review.

    How many folks have had serious experience carrying (casual) clothes in a Gator or Co-Pilot as a gym bag or mini-overnight bag? Anyone tried using a packing cube or other clothing packing aid in one of these micro-suitcases?
    Owner of: Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

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