In recent months I've mentioned a few times that I was going to attempt to use my A30 as my main bag for a two week trip to Europe in September. While I am a light packer, I didn't know if I could truly pack ultralight in only 30 litres. I'm happy to report that I recently returned from my trip (Istanbul weekend followed by 12 days throughout Italy) where I successfully used my A30 for my main bag with only a purse as my other carry. Ah, sweet success! The Italy portion was a tour--moving every two days--so flexibility was key. And can I just say that it was a stark contrast when I put my A30 next to some of the behemoth bags that some people took with them on that tour.
Based on my experience, I want to share my thoughts about the A30 as well as on some of the A30/other Tom Bihn accessories that I used during the trip. My airline (Turkish Airlines) had an 8kg carry-on limit and I weighed in at 6.8kg leaving the U.S. I will try to post a few pics, too.
Here's my overview (I can write more later about my exact clothing and other packing items if people ask for it):
- Build quality: I stuffed the A30 full and was quite rough with it at times to get things to fit the way I needed them to throughout the trip. Not surprisingly, the A30 was flawless in this regard--tough as nails.
- Versatility: I used the center compartment unzipped to allow more maneuverability, which really increased its functionality. It's a really nice feature. I put two packing cubes (more on them below), my toiletries kit, an umbrella, my Travel Tray, and odds & ends in the center compartment. Modes:I used the A30 mainly in backpack mode, as during our tour we took trains, buses, etc. and walked up and down lots of stairs. I was quite surprised that 95% of the people on the tour took wheeled bags! I received so many compliments and kudos from people not only for the backpack capability of the A30 but also its size. I also used the Absolute Strap a few times and it was super comfy and did its job. That said, I just don't like carrying bags on my shoulder, no matter how light, so if I'm going more than a short distance, I'll definitely use the backpack straps.
- Accessories: While I purchased both the TB Travel Laundry Stuff Sack and the A30 End Pocket with my A30, I ended up only taking the End Pocket, which I used to carry my quick-access clothing items (sleep shirt, pair of socks, scarf, travel washcloth, light jacket). What I really, really loved and are my new favorites are the two Packing Cube Shoulder Bags I bought on a midnight whim a few days before my trip. Boy, I LOVE these! They hold a ton (in one I had 7 shirts in the main section and 5 pairs of undies in the zipped pocket; in the other I had two travel pants, a skirt, a maxi dress, 2 scarves, and a travel jacket). They were like bricks they were stuffed so full but hey, it all fit in each cube and fit nicely in the A30 (see the pics). I didn't end up using either as a shoulder bag this trip but I can imagine possibly doing that in the future. All in all, I have high praise for these 3 packing cubes. FYI, at first I rolled all my clothes and tried packing that way (with then without the packing cubes) but didn't like the result. I ended up putting using the packing cubes with folded items as that was the most efficient for the A30.
- Other bits: I put 5 empty ziploc bags (2 Ziploc 2-gallon size, 2 Ziploc freezer quart size, 1 cell phone size Loksak) in the backpack compartment (under the straps when they were stored). I put two pairs of shoes in the second A30 pocket in my own shoe bags; 1 pair of Teva sandals and one pair of Merrell ballet flats (which I left in Italy; the pair of Keen light hikers that you see in the photo were what I wore on travel days and on the plane). Also packed in the A30: a medium size umbrella (broke during a turbulent rainstorm in Pisa so it also was left behind in Italy), my wasabi Travel Tray, and some miscellaneous items (Istanbul city guide in end zipper section), a foot massage ball (luxury item; I won't take it again as I didn't use it enough).
- Clothing choices: It was much warmer in Italy than the weather suggested so I had one long sleeved Icebreaker tee that I never wore, as well as a light travel jacket that wasn't needed. Other than that I had two main travel pants, a dressier skirt for evening (we went to the ballet one night, for example), plus approximately 5 shirts, 2 travel weight cardigans, 5 undies, 3 socks, 1 sleep shirt, one yoga capri, and 2 scarves (plus I bought two shirts while there and was able to pack them in the A30). FYI, if you plan to buy things while away, I suggest you take a packable duffel or similar if the A30 is your main bag. I took a packable REI duffel with me that was about 1/2 full on the return trip.
Final vote: Buy an A30!! It is more than enough for a two week (or potentially longer) trip. I think I'll use it mainly for 1 week or less trips from now on but it's proven itself to be a Tardis bag. It's well worth the money and the color is lovely (I suggest the Steel/Wasabi...my color combo It got lots of compliments). I own both a Tristar and the A30 and I may be selling my Tristar (why keep it if I won't use it?!) so keep your eyes peeled if you are in the market for a Black/Solar (yes, solar!) Tristar.
Thanks for listening!!