Rethinking my bag strategy? (Long)
I'm interested in a new bag for adventure travel. Let me give you some background first. I'm a 44 year old male, about 5'4"-5'5", 160 lbs. I moved to Asia about 3 months ago from the US. Before, on my first trip to Hong Kong (1 week), I went with a big Atlantic upright roller, and a Ricardo of Beverly Hills overnighter. I was primarily in tourist mode the whole time, motels, and used a day pack for going out. Second trip was to the Philippines (1 month), and I was in Manila, along with staying in the rural province with a family. I used the same combination, and it was a BIG mistake! The apartment I was at in Manila didn't have an elevator/lift, only a flight of stairs! So I had to drag it up and down by hand, and Manila streets are uneven, full of trash, and potholes, so you can imagine trying to roll luggage down them. In the province, the mode of transportation is bus, and then jeepney, a tricyle, with my luggage on the top of the tricycle, exposed to inclement weather. Also,rurally, there's mud, trash, dirt, lack of pavement,etc.
After returning back to the US, I swore never again! I ended up purchasing a Macpac 70-90L, and a Dana Design Far Flung, 70-90L. I didn't use either, until moving to Asia. The Macpac sits in the Philippines, and I've used the Far Flung once! I moved from one place to another, using the Far Flung to move some of my stuff. Granted, it was not packed very well, but to me, it was definitely a chore in the hot sun, on small sidewalks, trying to dodge literally hundreds of people during the 6-7 city block trek. In a nutshell,they are too big, and overkill.
So, here I am. Now I plan on doing everything differently. I'm a FIRM believer in the " One Bag "approach to traveling. I'm hoping to find and purchase something in the 40-50L range, no more than 35-55L.
I've looked at:
Jalan 55-60+15 - The main site seems to be down (I can't access it anyway.) Seems like if i wanted/needed to contact them I'd be out of luck.
Global 50-70, Global Lite 50+15, Global Gapper 65+15, Global Hobo 65
En Route 60+10, Amazon Carry-on 40
All the packs look good, with the possible exception of the Karrimor...looks like it's unbalanced and awkward. Different to say the least. A lot of them are bigger than my criteria. Also, they are big companies, so I'm unsure of the communication. I like the idea of supporting a "cottage" industry, someone local, and made in the US. I dislike the idea of buying a pack/bag that was made/assembled in another country. There's also the quality control factor to think of.
Voyageur, Convertible, Silver Streak, Flying Scotsman I, II, Travel Master, Trekker I, II, China Clipper I, II, Eurail I, II, Executive Overniter (Towne & Country Traveler) - Company really does not have much in the way of a web site. Site and bags seem (to me) so '70's. I've read a review of someone experiencing fraying of the harness straps on his first trip out.
Classic Back Door Bag, Convertible Carry-On - Seems like it's made for the Gucci loafer, chino and sweater knotted around the shoulder set, comfortably touring Europe crowd, which I'm not. I sort of doubt the ruggedness and durability of the bags from looking at the pictures on the web, also. Too, the site is lacking about the specific fabric used. It looks like it would not hold up to abuse.
Sky Train, Air Boss - The bags look sturdy, almost too sturdy. They look boxy, and the Air Boss lacks a back pack harness, and the Sky Train's harness looks uncomfortable, and "chintzy". There's not a good selection of packable daypacks it looks like also. Plus, as an animal lover, I'm not to sure about supporting an outfit that does "trophy" hunting. There's also the matter of bulging in the middle of the Air Boss when it's packed full.
Aeronaut - I like most of the line. Seems like there would be a way to combine a need for a main bag and a daybag that can be packed along with it. Website and forum is full of information and reviews. Plus the ability of getting a smaller harness, the Breve. Also things like splash proof zippers, good reviews, the website has a forum so you can interact with the company and other customers. Also, the company seems to listen about product suggestions and input.
As far as ruggedness and dependability goes, the Red Oxx and Tom Bihn products are hard to find fault with, with pictures of round the world travelers and of soldiers and correspondents in Iraq being posted from customers.
I'm looking for ideally a carry on size, not something too big, with a daypack (ideally from the same manufacturer) that can be folded up and put with the main bag when not in use. I did a lot of my flying to Asia pre-9/11, so I was able to carry on items like a nail file, scissors, a swiss army knife, etc., so i really haven't come up with a solution to that problem. Plus, in Asia, everything is crowded, the apartments/flats, elevators are really small, and the streets are VERY crowded. The trams, buses, and subway are crowded, you have to really be careful when you're riding them. Plus, I'm only 5'4"-5'5' you have to remember! I'm not after a "gimmicky" product that is thoughtfully and sensibly designed, and ideally tested by someone in the company before it's produced. I'd like to be able to correspond with the company, and have some rapport about the products, able to communicate any questions/concerns I have. I'm not a business traveler, although I might use the bag for business. I also carry on occasionally a MacBook 13", too make it more confusing! Something which is, rugged, dependable, able to take ANY abuse, and looks good. Something that you can drag around the world with you, and can also be used in a 5 star hotel (I doubt very seriously that will happen to me, but hey, it might :-). I want to avoid anything questionable as far as quality of construction/materials goes, poorly designed, not "real world " tested (I like how the owners of Red Oxx and Tom Bihn really seem to test their products out), and anything "gimmicky"'
I've also looked at Eagle Creek, and they seem to be changing designs just to have new and different products every year, not what the customer really wants or needs. The quality is really questionable to my thinking...seems like it's being targeted to the 20's student crowd for a smaller duration trip.
Well, I'm interested in hearing any advice or experiences. Thanks for being patient and reading about my needs.
Tom Bihn's Customer Service Counts For a Lot!
Unfortunately, I don't have enough experience with the travel bags you're considering (Tom Bihn or otherwise) to comment on specific items. I'll leave that to others.
Originally Posted by dbradford
However, I have to tell you that I can't even imagine a company having better customer service than Tom Bihn. They listen to customers in the forums, and carefully talked my mother through some questions over the phone. Once I received my bag (the Super Ego), the service and perks continued, to my pleasant surprise. I recently placed my second order, and two more bags are on the way (Aeronaut and Brain Bag).
Ultimately, you need a bag that suits your specific needs, or you won't be satisfied. But if you find yourself deciding between a Tom Bihn bag and another company, I think it's a no-brainer to go with Tom Bihn. They have the best customer service -- by a large margin -- of any company I've dealt with in my 35 years.
Good luck in your search for the right bag!
Happy with the responses so far.
Well. I've been impressed with the speed of responses from Darcy at Tom Bihn, the customer service is really great. Thanks Darcy! Thanks also for all who've posted on the forums so far. Ay one else feel free to chime in!
Aeronaut vs. MEI Voyageur and Red Oxx Air Boss
I'm going to respond to Gary's recommendation of the MEI Voyageur.
I've only used the Aeronaut myself, but back in June, I posted to the Aeronaut vs MEI Voyageur thread with some comments and comparisons based on my readings of the descriptions of the two bags, and also based on earlier comments in other threads that appeared relevant to the discussion. (The orignal poster, lefty, was considering buying an MEI Voyageur instead of an Aeronaut. I didn't see a reply from lefty to my summary comparison in that thread, but before the end of June I did see a remark in another thread that lefty had ordered the Aeronaut; last month lefty posted:)
Originally Posted by GaryS
For a more thoughtful evaluation of the relative merits/features of these two products, try comparing the Aeronaut review at One Bag, One World with their MEI Voyageur review. I thought this was a fair assessment of relative strengths and weaknesses. Here's their punchline:
Originally Posted by lefty
If retro is your thing, you aren't worried about a few wrinkles, and you're going to carry it full-time as a backpack then the Voyageur MEI may well be your dream bag. Ditto if you're a twentysomething who doesn't mind (or prefers) looking a little scruffy. I believe the Voyageur is a good enough backpack to suffice for the short-term vagabonder. I just don't think most modern carryon travelers who have widely-varying travel needs will prefer it as their first-choice bag. At $136 it is an excellent value for a USA-made product.
For comparison, here's the Red Oxx Air Boss review, too, from One Bag, One World so you can get some idea of comparisons of different bags from the same site. They quite liked both this bag and the Aeronaut. However, my impression from the comments and the review is that you'd find the Aeronaut more comfortable. See also the comments to the later discussion on multi-tasking with the Air Boss at the One Bag, On World site. Here's the first comment:
After trying the Air Boss for the first time I can't help but think the author is barking up the wrong tree. With just clothes I found a fully packed Air Boss too uncomfortable and I'm in good shape and weigh in at 170 pounds. My clothes did arrive in great condition but just waiting in line for the xray was torture. Everyone else was perfectly comfortable while I struggled to not notice the Air Boss on my shoulder. I really wanted to like this bag, I really did, but it just wasn't for me. I feel bad about it too because I love the team at Red Oxx but I can't see how anyone who does run of the mill big plane travel in major US airports can handle this bag compared to a simple backpack or wheeled bag. I hate to say it because of their political label stance, but the Tom Bihn Aeronaut may be a superior solution for non wheeled travelers. Only drawback is that maybe the Air Boss is better about wrinkles.
The third comment was interesting, because the writer also included an ebags link to a Victorinox Swiss Army bag that was being offered as an alternative the Red Oxx Sky Train straps, with comparable comfort to the Rich Steves bag straps. However, when I read the latest (September 6, 2007) review of the Victorinox Werks Traveler 2.0 Weekender 2-Zip Overnighter that the forum member at One Bags, One World liked, I saw:
This reminded me of the discussion in the original design inputs thread for what became the Aeronaut, and how many women commented that a lot of these bags simply didn't work comfortably on smaller frames. It's clear this issue is usually not considered in most reviews, since the person at the One Bags, One World forum who recommended the Victorinox bag clearly didn't find this to be an issue. I've always been impressed by the way that the Tom Bihn bag designs manage to scale comfortably for different frames. In the case of the Aeronaut, where the scaling doesn't work as well, they offer a Breve model. And incidentally, I've also tried the regular Aeronaut, and it's workable for me (at 5'4") but not as comfortable as the Breve because the shoulder straps are set slightly farther apart. But I'd guess that even the regular Aeronaut is far more comfortable than the Victorinox bag.
I so wanted to love this bag! Like all Victorinox products, the red color is stunning. The fabric is very durable and the construction of the bag is top notch. The zip-out expansion is quite a nice feature, and I think even unzipped and fully loaded, the bag is actually quite slim in appearance. Other pluses include the key fob in the outside pocket and the compression straps in the main compartment. I was looking specifically for a bag that could be carried like a backpack while running through the airport, or as a shoulder bag for more professional settings. Unfortunately, this one was just too big and boxy for me. The squared rather than rounded corners really made it look quite dorky when worn as a backpack (for reference, I am 5'5, 135 lb woman). On a larger man, this bag would probably look OK.
Just my 2 cents.
I finally decided on Ton Bihn!
Well, after giving it some thought, and looking online and at the reviews, I've decided on Tom Bihn (I bet you guys figured I would all along!). I decided that based on the quality and looks, and the completeness of the line of products.
I'll most likely buy at the start of the new year, after the "Western Flyer" is finished and available. I plan on getting that one for my wife, and I also am looking to get an everyday bag for my wife and I, market totes, toiletry bags, and some organizers. You can expect some reviews to be coming your way, and lots of pictures! So, thanks for all the input!
Now I just have to decide which particular bags to get!
Dave in Hong Kong