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Thread: Please help me decide on a bag configuration for laptop carry and business travel

  1. #1
    erg
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    Please help me decide on a bag configuration for laptop carry and business travel

    Hi, I am hoping the wise folks on this forum can assist me in choosing a bag configuration. I think I want a dedicated laptop bag and a backpack-capable travel bag, but I'm not 100% sure. The choices probably should be straightforward, but I'm in full-on analysis paralysis, having spent days reading internet reviews, etc.

    I typically travel ~5 times per year for my job. This includes 1-2 international trips, usually to SE Asia. My typical trip duration is 5-7 days. When I'm not traveling, I carry a mid-size laptop (Dell E6410) and associated charger, etc. Generally, I don't have a need to carry much besides my laptop/charger and a few other small items on a daily basis.

    Currently, I use a large Timbuk2 laptop backpack as my daily laptop bag. When traveling, I carry the Timbuk2 backpack (placed under the seat) and a Tumi roller. I'd like to replace the backpack with a dedicated laptop bag (briefcase style preferred), and I'd like to ditch the Tumi (and rolling luggage in general) in favor of a backpack-capable travel bag.

    When traveling, I like to avoid the anxiety of trying to find overhead bin space, so I prefer a bag configuration where the larger clothing bag is most likely to fit in the overhead bin. Currently, I will often check a bag for a more stress-free experience, but I'd like to stop checking bags and only carry-on. To reduce what I need to carry, I'm planning to bring fewer items, do laundry once or twice on a trip, etc.

    Any advice on what bags I should be looking at? As I mention above, I think a dedicated laptop bag and a dedicated travel bag would best serve my needs, but I am open to suggestions. Also, if there is more information I can provide to help guide your advise, please let me know.

    Thanks!

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    I'm a bit of a heretic, in that I not only don't practice the One Bag theory that TB often espouses, I don't actually think it's always a great idea, for reasons we needn't get into here. The clothing bag that goes in the overhead really should be the Aeronaut. I've had one since it first came out. I was part of the group that gave input as to form/function, etc, and I think it's probably the best bag I own. It's lightweight, sensibly divided, absurdly well made (like everything else in the TB arsenal), and it fits perfectly overhead, even in littler planes. The laptop bag is a harder choice. I've used the SmartAlec for a zillion years and it still looks terrific, but I'm about to get a replacement, and I also want a briefcase look. I went back and forth between the Checkpoint Flyer and the Empire Builder, and I think I'll be settling on the EB. It could well be more bag than I need, but I'd rather that than overstuff a smaller bag that isn't designed for the load. I LOVE LOVE the idea of not having to take a laptop out for TSA inspection, but the EB doesn't do that. Besides, the CPF is delayed, and won't be ready until sometime until 2014. A few others may chime in on the laptop nominees.
    It's worth considering that your entire purpose in life could be to serve as a warning to others.

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    So you're wanting to replace your backpack with a briefcase style laptop bag, and get a new travel bag that has backpack straps? Is that right?

    Between the briefcase-style and messenger-style bags, you have a LOT of options for how to carry a laptop. Having been there recently, I appreciate how overwhelming a decision it can be. I recommend you first figure out which bags are actually big enough for the laptop you intend to carry. I looked at the laptop bag guide and it has a listing for a Dell Latitude E6400 (4 cell) and says that it requires size "4" cache or brain cell. It also has a listing for Dell Dimension E6400 (9 cell) and those require size "2S".

    Do you know if the E6400 is the same dimensions as an E6410? Do you know if you have a 4-cell or 9-cell battery? The "2S" size is larger than the size "4" and will greatly limit which bags you can choose from.

    The 4-cell would fit in any of the following bags:
    Empire Builder (very large briefcase style bag)
    Zephyr (smaller brief-case style)
    ID (messenger style)
    Super Ego (very large messenger style bag)
    Ego (messenger style)

    Personally, I don't see much difference between a briefcase style bag and a messenger style bag, and it sounds like you don't have that much to carry, so maybe take a closer look at the ID, Ego, or Zephyr.

    If you have a 9-cell computer, your only choices would be the super ego. (Or the Tri-Star, which is more of a travel bag.)

    Speaking of the Tri-Star, that's the travel bag I would recommend for you. I have one and it's perfect for exactly the type of trip you describe. You might even consider the Western Flyer if you plan to take the laptop bag as a second bag. Both bags have backpack straps (a option on the WF that you would have to pick).

    Hope that helps,
    Mike

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    erg
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    Thanks everyone for the quick responses, and for the clarifying questions. As may be obvious, I'm not 100% sure what I want, and I appreciate the guidance.

    The dimensions on my laptop are 13.7 x 9.4 x 1.2. I'm happy to do the work to check the dimensions against the available options, though I appreciate any recommendations for specific sizes.

    For travel, I'd like something that can hold 5-7 days worth of clothes, will fit comfortably in the overheard bin, and can potentially fit under the seat, too. I prefer something with a backpack option, for convenience.

    For every day use, I am looking for a nice laptop bag, in briefcase or messenger style. I generally prefer something small, though more substantial (with more storage) than a simple sleeve. I am also considering going with a bigger laptop bag and using the extra space as "overflow" (more clothes, etc.), if necessary, when traveling. I didn't mention it before, but it would be great if this bag to fit into the main travel bag for true one-bag use.

    Perhaps I should just consider these as different use cases and optimize for each experience (daily and travel) vs. combining them. It seems that the Tri-Star is designed with this in mind.

    Having looked at the options more closely, I think I am leaning towards the Tri-Star, as I like the smaller dimensions vs. the Aeronaut. Are their dedicated laptop bags that are commonly paired with the Tri-Star?

    Any other tips?

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    Quote Originally Posted by erg View Post
    The dimensions on my laptop are 13.7 x 9.4 x 1.2. I'm happy to do the work to check the dimensions against the available options, though I appreciate any recommendations for specific sizes.
    Just send an email or call Tom Bihn and give them your dimensions and laptop make/model and they will tell you for sure which size Cache or Brain Cell you need and which bags will fit.

    I really love the Tri-Star because it is big enough for 5-7 days of clothes (especially if you're willing to do laundry once or twice) and there's lots of organization and you can get at everything without ever having to dig around for it. (3 main pockets!) If you end up getting a horizontal brain cell for your EDC laptop bag, it can easily be transferred into the Tri-Star. That's actually what I plan to do eventually.

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    I love my TriStar but there is little chance that I can ever get 5 days in it for a trip!
    I don't really consider having to do laundry as the same thing?
    It really depends too on what else goes in there but even if I used it for clothes alone I can't see it working for me.

    The Aeronaut seems the obvious choice for this and I wish I had one sometimes but alas I can not have them all?

    I do have an EB and Super Ego and have a tough time deciding before each trip which one will get the duty and make it out the door.
    Again I think it will depend on exactly what you need and how you feel comfortable packing it to make that decision for yourself. Both bags are unbelievable in that they hold more than you think and more than you will want to carry too.

    Another choice for me would be the Synapse which is maybe my favorite all around bag as again it is a "Sleeper" by design,holding easily much more than you would think.
    I also carry the Synapse inside the TriStar sometimes but usually only for a 1 way plane ride with a drive return trip.

    The Brain Bag is also worth a look as it is the one that started it all in backpacks here and both is cavernous and comfortable to carry and it does not look like a suitcase or briefcase but will actually do either and both at the same time.

    Clear as Mud?

    Ed

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    It's true that the Aeronaut is a great and very popular choice if you need to carry a lot of stuff. Like if your job requires you to wear suits, or you need multiple pairs of shoes, or if you have certain bulky items that don't easily fit in the pockets of the tri-star or western-flyer (such as a cpap machine.) But the OP expressed an interest in bringing less stuff and even suggested they would be willing to do laundry once or twice.

    The Aeronaut carries more, but isn't really computer friendly, and I think I would miss the accessibility of the tri-star. Need a clean t-shirt? It's in the packing cube in the bottom-left corner, under those two other packing cubes. That doesn't happen with the Tri-Star, except maybe in the center compartment.

    I recently took my Tri-star on a 3-week family vacation to Alaska. In it I packed 6 shirts, 3 pr pants, 5pr socks, 5pr underwear, pullover top, toiletries, meds, glasses, phone, tablet, chargers, rain jacket, running shorts, camera, chargers, guide book, and my CPAP machine with all its paraphernalia which took up half of the entire middle pocket and bulged into the side pockets. Yes, I had to do laundry every few days, and yes, I wore some stuff more than once. But it all fit. (and at the end I decided I had brought too much) This was pretty much the limit of the bag, however, and it's worth mentioning that the CPAP machine (which is 4" in its narrowest dimension) did NOT fit comfortably and would have been easier to throw into an Aeronaut.

    I'm not trying to sell the OP on one over the other, as both are great bags and the choice will in the end be a personal one. Here's a nice review that actually covers both bags:
    Beers & Beans | Straight Outta Seattle: @TomBihn Travel Bag Reviews
    Last edited by Mike; 09-24-2013 at 05:45 PM.

  8. #8
    erg
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    Thanks again everyone. After reading your replies and more "Tri-Star vs. Aeronaut" threads, I'm firmly back on the fence. I like the idea of future-proofing with the Aeronaut, but I also prefer the organization and smaller size of the Tri-Star, I think.

    In case it helps, here's a test case: I have an upcoming trip to SE Asia, leaving on a Friday, and returning the following Friday. Here's what I would typically pack:

    5 knit short sleeved shirts
    5 undershirts
    5 underwear
    5 pairs of socks
    1 pair of jeans
    athletic shoes (lightweight Nike "Free")
    toiletries
    medications
    laptop + charger
    misc. small electronics (iPhone + charger, UK power adapter, etc.)
    2 or 3 granola bars

    All of this is in addition to what I would wear on the plane, of course (including a jacket, belt, and nicer shoes).

    Would the above fit in the Tri-Star without it feeling over-packed? As I stated previously, I am willing to do some laundry to reduce this further, but I'd be sold further on the Tri-Star if I were confident it could handle the above.

    Thanks again for the help!
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    To me the idea of washing clothes sort of opens the door to ANY bag being big enough?

    If you will wash what you bring then you could do with 2 change of clothes really so like I said I do not consider practical packing for a week to bring a few days worth and wash them.

    Packing for a week in my world is packing enough to change every day or more so......

    Maybe I just have Giant Clothes or something but I can not imagine getting by for a week in my TriStar.

    Oh I also have no business attire so that is not a factor.

    But to each their own I suppose.

    Ed

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    I'll try packing that into my bag this evening and take a photo for you.

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    erg
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    You guys are very helpful. Thanks a ton!

    Good point about doing laundry opening the door to any bag. If I'm really honest with myself, I'd prefer to do laundry as a last resort.

    I think my choice will come down to whether or not a working week's worth of clothes (listed above) fits reasonably in the Tri-Star.

    Thanks again!

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    erg,
    given what you mention, I think it is possible to fit what you want in the TS. That said, at the same time you are looking to upgrading your bag, it may also be worthwhile to consider re-thinking your clothes so that you don't have to pack as many. I can understand wanting fresh shirts and the like in SE Asia, but investing in some technical undershirts might keep your knit shirts fresher, and thus you'd only need three instead of five. I've found ultra-light woven shirts (i.e., Patagonia) that air out very well and weigh just a few ounces. In general, knits are heavier/bulkier than weaves, so that's something to consider as well.

    If you're already wearing Nike Frees, you might consider ultra-lightweight minimalist footwear, along the lines of FiveFingers. There are also ultra, ultra-minimalist options like Lunas. In terms of undergarments, you might find that ultra-lightweight merino socks can go 2 wearings before needing a wash; thus, three pairs instead of five, though YMMV on that one. Boxers by Ex Officio are pretty light and wash out in literally two minutes in the sink. There are some pretty helpful threads on this forum and others (FlyerTalk, OBOW, etc) in which people discuss traveling light whilst on business.

    Ed, I can pack for a week in my Tri-Star, but I don't pack seven shirts and seven pairs of pants. I don't even OWN seven pairs of pants. The key for me is garments that coordinate easily and outer layers that can be worn more than once before needing a wash.

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    No one needs to prove anything to me or show me that it can be done.
    I just know for the way I pack and travel that the limits of my bags are the limits for me.

    I think it is important to just be honest about these replies as we each find utility in these bags for ourselves.

    I have found several times here that we each define space as we see it and often what is suggested by one person here just does not match my own experience.

    Maybe I should not have posted at all considering the O.P.s stated needs and willingness to launder but this is my experience.

    I have never felt bad if I had too much room when packing but I frequently wish I had a little more.

    Ed

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    erg
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    Quote Originally Posted by AVService View Post
    Maybe I should not have posted at all considering the O.P.s stated needs and willingness to launder but this is my experience.

    I have never felt bad if I had too much room when packing but I frequently wish I had a little more.
    I appreciate your perspective, so thank you for offering it. The reality is my thinking on this subject is oscillating substantially as I soak up input from real-world users, reviews, etc. And like I mentioned in another reply, if I'm honest, I probably don't want to be doing laundry (though I have on past trips), so I am somewhat regretting even mentioning that.

    Contrary to what I have indicated previously, I think I'm close to pulling the trigger on the Aeronaut. My main concern was the ability to carry the bag onto a plane reliably, and I was particularly attracted to options that could fit under the seat. After more research, it looks like the Aeronaut still fits the bill as long as it's not packed fully. And of course, no bag will fit under the seat if its contents exceed the under-seat volume.

    That said, I'll probably change my mind again as I keep googling and reading these replies; I wish I could just get both .

    Thanks,
    Eric

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    Ok, I managed to fit everything, though I admit it took a little planning. Here are the pictures.

    First, the stuff layed out on the floor. Clockwise from top left: A pair of size-9 running shoes, a TB Size 1 Stuff sack with some phone chargers, headphones, etc. toiletries bag with meds and such, a Tri-Star medium packing cube containing 5 undershirts, 5 pr underwear, and 5 pr socks, laptop charger and laptop in a size 4s cache, 1 pr jeans, and an Eagle Creek 15 packing folder containing 3 short-sleeve polo shirts and 2 button-down long-sleeve shirts. If I were going to do it again, I'd use a larger Eagle Creek folder or skip it entirely, as it didn't properly fill the compartment it was in.

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    I put the jeans and the Eagle creek in the bottom compartment. In the middle compartment I put the laptop and charger. In the top compartment I put the shoes in the left 1-third, and the medium packing cube in the right side. I put the toiletries bag in the largest of the three front pockets (a tighter fit than I'd like, however...) and the stuff sack in the water bottle pocket (though there were plenty of places to squeeze it in). I'm sorry I didn't have any granola bars, but they, too, would fit lots of places.

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    And here's what it looks like all packed up.

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    It's probably a bit tighter fit than you'd like, but it would all easily fit if you put the laptop in a second bag (which I thought was the original plan?) As Badger points out, you also have options for taking less stuff (which is probably what I would do, too). And I'm sure if I repacked it again differently things would fit better, but that leads me to my final points:

    If you are planning to take a second laptop bag anyway, the Tri-star should be fine. If you really want to one-bag it but you don't want to be bothered with planning how to pack, get an Aeronaut.
    Last edited by Mike; 09-25-2013 at 06:07 PM.
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