June 16, 2014

One-bag travel: my bag research and final choice

I decided recently to become a one-bag traveler. I became tired of having rollies” that fell apart and wanted a more versitile travel bag. I publish this for the benefit of others that might be considering the same type of bag.

My exact criteria

  • Come as close to carry-on size as possible but not exceed max carry-on size.
  • Do double duty as a snow-gear bag during ski season.
  • Have backpack straps, a shoulder strap, top handle, side handle. +/- have a waist belt.
  • Have a laptop slot up to 15 inches.
  • Be a front-loader, not a top-loader.
  • Have a reasonable price.
  • Be durable.
  • Not have a military appearance. Camo and MOLLE webbing are out.
  • Fit me (I’m 6′ 4″)

Bags I considered

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Minaal

Liked: Charcoal color, rain cover, laptop slot, looked good.
Disliked: Waistbelt weak, expensive, only 35L, no return policy once on sale (an issue for me since I am taller and many packs don’t end up fitting me).
Bottom line: Received incredible amounts of attention via a Kickstarter campaign in 2013. An unproven, pricey newcomer that became trendy before anyone really tried it. I’m glad I did not go with this bag after reading this review from Carryology this week. The future is likely bright for this bag, though, as I’m sure they will iterate and improve it. A return policy is needed - at the time of my considerations they would not take returns that did not fit the buyer.

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Tortuga Travel backpack

Liked: 44L, up to 17 inch laptop, hip belt.
Disliked: I did not like the look of the boxy top or the bottle holder on the side.
Bottom line: popular, a contender, but I did not like its appearance in the end.

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GoRuck SK40

Liked: 40L, 17″ laptop, rugged, looked good for a ski bag, good warranty. Was able to try a GR1 on at Macworld in March and liked the feel and solid construction. Enjoyed talking to the owner of the bag as he was very enthusiastic about it and the brand in general. Company has been offering bags on sale this year for the first time as far as I know. Can obtain bags at a discount if you do their challenges.
Disliked: Expensive, brand popular and carries a name premium in the price, no waist belt or shoulder strap, makes no attempt to look like a shoulder bag - this is a military grade pack and only that although the SK line removes the MOLLE found on the GR line.
Bottom line: a great bag if you are into the brand, are ex-military, like the Go-ruck challenges, or want a simple, dedicated backpack-only bag. No shoulder strap, no converting it to a shoulder bag. Would have been great on the mountain but less so at airports. The images on their site of business travelers in suits with these packs on their backs is an attempt to appeal to shoulder bag travelers but falls flat in my opinion.
(Note as of 6/16/14 my original link to the SK40 is dead and I see no evidence of the SK line on goruck.com. There were many SK line bags available on the discount page recently so perhaps this was a poor seller).

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REI Vagabond 40

Liked: Good price, good REI return policy, converts to shoulder bag. Seemed to fit reasonably well (tried on at REI)
Disliked: No laptop slot - a glaring omission which unbelievably carried into a revision of this model this year.
Bottom line: No laptop slot killed it for me.

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Slicks SUIT25

Liked: internal suit storage, converts to shoulder bag, nice appearace.
Disliked: too small at 25L but this appears to be more of a cyclist commuter bag.

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Eaglecreek digihauler

Liked: Good price at US$120, side accessible laptop slot.
Disliked: seemed cheaply constructed, waist belt was anemic, did not fit me well (tried at REI).

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Patagonia MLC

Liked: 45L, up to 17″ laptop, has a sleeve to allow it to slip onto a rollie handle if desired. Disliked: not much.
Bottom line: I quite liked this bag. Seemed sturdy and well designed. Was not able to see it in person. In the end it seemed like it was a shoulder bag first and a backpack second. I wanted a bag that would do well while skiing the steeps/deeps if needed. This would have looked like luggage on my back rather than a backpack.

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QWSTION Weekender

Liked: nice appearance, up to 17″ laptop.
Disliked: only 30L, pricey at US$310.

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Timbuk2 Aviator

Liked: grey color.
Disliked: too small for me. I emailed them and learned they have no plans for a larger size. Orange accents did not appeal.
Bottom line: once I realized this pack was too small I stopped considering it.

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Arc’teryx Covert Case

Bottom line: a nice bag that is a should bag first and a back pack second. Did not fit my skiing needs.

Aeronaut tristar

Tom Bihn

Bottom line: a widely respected brand that did not appeal to me at all. Did not like the appearance of the Aeronaut which was close to the size I wanted. Liked the appearance of the Tristar but it was too small. Also did not favor their more modular, compartmentalized packing paradigm.

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Mission Workshop Limited Edition Cargo Pack

Bottom Line: I saw this pack after I’d made my decision. It is interesting as the main compartment can apparently be accessed via a roll-top or front panel flap. It does not appear to have top or side handles and does not convert to a shoulder bag. Up to 15″ laptop.

My selection

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Osprey farpoint 40

Liked: 40L, reasonable price at US$150, was able to try on at REI and fit me reasonably well, seemed equally good as a backpack or a shoulder bag, great warranty, up to 15″ laptop, bottle pockets on exterior were not annoying (such as on the Tortuga), looked like it could function on a mountain or at an airport.
Disliked: was not sure I liked the colors, was hard to obtain.
Bottom line: this was the bag I chose. I initially bought the blue model from REI with my member 20% discount (US $120) and, while I liked the color, ultimately decided against it. Searching the internet for the charcoal grey showed this bag to be nearly universally sold out with the closest availability in the UK (I’m in the US). I was patient and eventually Backcountry listed 5 charcoal grey bags at US$150.

First use

My first trip with the Farpoint 40 was in May to Tampa, FL for two days and then a short cruise over to Cozumel and back. I tried it in backpack mode as well as shoulder bag mode and was happy with the bag’s flexibility. I think I will obtain a shoulder strap pad as one is not included with the shoulder strap. I quite liked the internal compression straps. When closing the main compartment panel flap it took me some time to learn to sort out the internal from external compression straps. This was not a problem later after I could tell the difference. I think this bag will do well on the mountain as a gear hauler. I would not take it in the the backcountry for a multiday trip with shelter, sleeping bag, gear - it is not designed for that. I’d use my ULA Circuit for that.

All in all I am happy with my purchase.

Resources

Carryology - a great bag / pack site with annual awards around since, I think, 2010 or so. Very fun to have in your RSS reader.

Osprey Farpoint 40 review on Active Gear Review

Osprey Farpoint Series Review on Lenthy Travel

Minaal Review on Carryology

Most recent carry on awards on Carryology

Arc’teryx Covert Case on Carrylogy

Pack Light. Go Fast. is an awesome blog slanted, somewhat (a lot?), toward GoRuck coverage.)

Bagstreets - a site curating mens bags.

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