walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Luggage Link Fu

I thought I'd check in on the status of the great backpack v suitcase debate, round 2014. It has evolved in two obvious ways. First, there are a lot of permanent/professional travelers who have converted to wheels, and there a lot of people who were/are extremely committed to being backpackers who can no longer actually wear a backpack. This has complicated the debate in interesting ways.

Just remember: this is just the travel version of vi vs. emacs. We all get excited about it; some of us remember to retain a little perspective as well.

First, a summary:


The comments are important! A duffel bagger is represented. They aspire to things like Red Oxx' Air Boss, or maybe a Tom Bihn bag.

"As a die-hard duffel bagger, I take serious offense to those statements. I mean, what’s not to love? They’re lightweight (no extra weight from silly wheels), they’re flexible (easily conforming to airplane overhead bins), and they have only ONE strap (two straps are SO complicated)."

Terrain really does matter, and this debate mostly captures it. Flat, level, with waits that reward being able to provide your own seat = rolling suitcase. Non-road surfaces (mud, beach, lack of paving or cobbles, extensive stairs) = backpack. Mixed generally favors rolling, unless there will be a _lot_ of non-road surfaces. Packing lighter makes everything work better. Weirdly, people will pack too much in either configuration.

Rick Steves, of PBS Europe Through the Back Door (believe me, all the jokes have already been made), was a long time backpack proponent, but his customers were older and weren't trying to save money. They just wanted an interesting outing that wasn't programmed down to the minute and completely mobbed by everyone else. They weren't going to be carrying backpacks, and indeed, the Rick Steves operation is mostly converted by this point.


He isn't a convert, but can see the writing on the calendar on the wall.

Parents trying to figure out whether their college kid should have a backpack or rolling bag on through trip through Europe are arguing in favor of backpacks largely based on the cool factor.


That's novel.

It includes one parent/offspring pair in which it was the offspring whose back gave out first. They switched to rolling because they stored better in all the places that backpackers say suitcases don't work at all.

What's really interesting is how the results change on google depending on how the question is framed. backpack vs suitcase gets disproportionately backpack-friendly results. Backpack vs roll* (rolling luggage, rolling suitcase, etc.) quite the contrary!

There is a conversion process of backpacker to rolling suitcase user. You can watch it happen, since the web has been around for a few years.


You can even see it broken down into stages here:


and here:


In essence, what happens is this. 20 something young'uns travel with backpacks. As they get older and have more money, and their tastes change, they care more about fitting in at hotels vs. at hostels (this is the cool factor that drives backpacks post college and rolling bags after 30). Some of them also develop some kind of pain associated with travel. But the only thing that keeps people out on the road over and over and over again is if they figure out a way to reduce the weight of the overall kit, whether it is in a duffel, in a backpack or on wheels. Once you get the kit weight down, it sort of doesn't matter what you pick, which is why the Red Oxx aficionados claim they can use the hand straps on the Air Boss as backpack straps. They probably can, altho of course no one would ever want to! And those folks are probably all operating in some sort of "This is my go-bag we're wheels up in 20" mode, even if they are just a bunch of geek boys and girls headed out for a conference, and they may at no point on the entire trip experience natural lighting, never mind off road travel.

I love the existence of the web. It means that in my perpetual dissatisfaction that leads to constant turnover of product in an effort to solve a fundamentally not readily solvable problem (look, I _had_ a solution, up until I had kids. This will all eventually take care of itself. They just have to get about 10 years older), I can feel like part of a herd. Yay me.

Some more links.

Even when pain is the primary driver, age and taste factors in as well.


Watch a n00b get varying treatment from the hardcore backpackers on thorntree:


Here's my favorite part of the comments: "Most of the itineraries I see posted here are extremely city-centric. In those cases, either a backpack or a suitcase would suffice. But I think a certain percentage of travelers buy a backpack simply to assure themselves that they are backpackers and that what they are doing is indeed backpacking.

I will say this: the people I see with unmanageably huge rolling suitcases tend to be middle aged or older. The people I see with huge overstuffed backpacks tend to be much younger.

If you travel light and if you're not planning on taking a dump in the woods, I really don't see a difference."


I feel like I should include a whole series of links about duffels, because there's this incredible, highly masculine, minimalist aesthetic that really cracks me up (shades of Jan Michael Vincent in the made for TV adaptation of Wouk's The Winds of War, tossing that incredible leather duffel in the back seat -- ah, the 1980s! Very little leather over on Gear Patrol's 2013 roundup of cool bags http://gearpatrol.com/2013/05/20/best-duffel-bags/ Too many people looking for vegan friendly bags, maybe?). I'll include at least a few.


Best American Duffel, in Seattle (!!!) makes BadBags. Mmmm. We love those acronyms. Maybe not that color scheme, tho.

Maybe Montana, instead?


They want to make absolutely sure that you're on board with this whole we-carry-bags-on-our-shoulders-because-we-are-strong thing. Their gift card graphic is an old-skool pinup style: http://www.redoxx.com/Red-Oxx-Merchandise/Pinup-Gift-Card/92113/190/Product

I question whether those arms could lift that bag, never mind just one arm. OTOH, maybe it only has the packing material in it?

Tom Bihn bags are a little tough to categorize, which may explain why their product descriptions have paragraph after paragraph -- honestly, they make me sound concise.


But they are prepared to call that a duffel, at least in part. I think the theory there was to produce something that exactly matched the specs for carry-on.

Also in Seattle. I believe my friend K. first brought these folks to my attention, around the time the first iPad came out and I was looking for a good bag for it (I loved the Timbuk2 -- also Seattle -- CandyBar, but retired it when I switched to the mini, which I'm on my second one of and I lllluuuuurve it because I can pretty much carry anything I want now without having to buy something special for the electronics. Win!).

These guys have created a table:


Their criteria appear to be as follows: D opening? Backpack straps? Not too heavy? Secondary criteria involve how hard is it to hook to a sled. I don't think these guys worry about whether it counts as oversize for checked or fits in the overhead.

And I'm going to stop now, because duffels are a whole "thing" where there are all these technical uses that are designed to, and then people just bring them to the gym or whatever. I don't get it at all, so other than pointing and going, wha? I have little to offer (in their favor, even highly technical duffels are quite inexpensive as luggage goes, and reusability does count for something, too).

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