Luggage worth buying

This item appears on page 39 of the August 2010 issue.

Whether you travel with just a carry-on or also check a bag or two, what types — and brands — of luggage do you travel with these days, and why? That was what we asked recently, with the following instructions. Describe the backpack, carry-on and/or suitcase with which you have been most satisfied. So that others can duplicate your purchase, give the brand name plus any identifying model or style name or number. If you purchased it recently, tell where you found it and approximately how much it cost. Lastly, what about it would you want improved or what would your ideal bag be like?

Some responses are shown below, with more to come. Have something to add? Write to Luggage Worth Buying, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail (include the address at which you receive ITN).

For reference, on most international airlines a checked bag cannot exceed 62 linear inches (combined length, width and depth) and a carry-on, 45 inches (March ’10, pg. 2).

My husband, Peter, and I are bird-watchers who travel to some pretty rugged spots (Borneo, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon) and cannot use carry-ons only.

We are more than delighted with our three-year-old wheeled duffels from Briggs & Riley (888/462-2247, — current models cost $339 [26"x14"x15.3"] and $300 [28"x16"x14"]).

They are made of extremely rugged Cordura nylon that has not shown a tear or a bit of damage in many trips on large and small airlines to remote locations. These bags were not cheap, but when we bought the first one it was so fabulous that we immediately bought a second.

The top section is large enough for our hiking boots and is separate from the large bottom section where we pack everything else in zip-lock bags to protect it all from the humidity. The duffel shape makes the bags compressible to slide under beds easily.

The wheels still work perfectly after three years. These bags look great and are fine for nonadventure travel as well.

Linda Beuret

Santa Barbara, CA

I travel a lot, usually more than six months out of the year and sometimes almost 10 months a year. I fly, cruise and also spend time on escorted tours.

A few years ago the owner of the local luggage shop, It’s…In The Bag! (Palm Desert, CA; 760/568-6400), insisted that I buy a piece of luggage from Briggs & Riley. We both were tired of repairing and paying for my damaged luggage.

I’ve added to my original bag and now own three pieces of Briggs & Riley. The size, shape and style are irrelevant here. The most important thing is Briggs & Riley’s simple, honest and straightforward guarantee: if it is broken or even worn out, they fix it for free.

Okay, I have had to wait to get home to have a piece of luggage fixed, but no matter what the problem is, it either gets fixed or I get a replacement. This includes zippers, handles, bent frames, sticky extensions, popped-out rivets, etc.

I drag my luggage down subway stairs. I’ve seen my bag fall off the top of a luggage cart. And I’ve used it like a handcart to carry well over 150 pounds.

Their guarantee makes all the difference to me.

H.L. Todd

Palm Springs, CA

Luggage worth buying? In two words, Eagle Creek! Luggage from Eagle Creek (Carlsbad, CA; 800/874-1048 or760/431-6400) comes with a lifetime guarantee, and they honor it.

My husband had used my favorite suitcase for a trip and returned with the zipper heads ripped off one of the outside compartments by baggage handlers. I was in a bit of a panic, as I was scheduled to leave for a trip, myself, in 10 days. I called Eagle Creek and they said to send the bag immediately by two-day air and they would take care of it. They did and returned the bag by overnight express at their expense.

Eagle Creek is definitely our luggage of choice, and we own several pieces. My primary checked bag is the Eagle Creek ORV Trunk, a rolling duffel that is 30"x16"x15", has 6,000 cubic inches of capacity and weighs only 10 pounds, six ounces. I am always amazed at how much I can pack in there and still meet airline weight limits.

The bag has both internal and external compression straps plus handles on every side but the bottom. With large wheels and a sturdy handle, it provides easy rolling.

This bag was purchased from REI (Sumner, WA; 800/426-4840 or 253/891-2500) several years ago and cost about $250 at that time (2010 price, $300).

My primary carry-on is a two-part Eagle Creek Continental Journey (no longer available).

Tamara Compton

Bellingham, WA

We used to swear by our heavy-duty, 21½-inch, expandable, lightweight Over Under rollaboards from Dakine (Hood River, OR; 541/386-3166 — $150). Each opens like a book and has flat, large, open spaces. For anyone interested in a soft-sided bag, we would still recommend the Over Under — available now only in “girls’” models with patterned polyester fabric.

However, after six trips to Japan, where we often found ourselves arriving at a rail station in the rain a very wet walking distance from our hotel, we decided to try hard-sided luggage, and we haven’t looked back since.

My husband, Clyde, discovered Cruzer3 bags from Heys (Miami, FL; 866/439-7872 or 305/629-9720 — $379 for four bags). Constructed of a flexible polycarbonate composite, the bags are lightweight and sturdy and provide protection from foul weather. The zipper is described as “weather resistant” and certainly appears tough.

The wheels seem quite sturdy. The handle does not take up interior space in the 21½-inch bag but does in the 19-inch one. The handle is slightly curved, which is supposed to be more comfortable. Clyde found the handles a bit short and, in his workshop, crafted homemade extensions for greater comfort.

Many hard-sided bags we saw were not expandable, so even though this bag can expand only 2½ inches, it was a huge advance over the other options available in 2009.

A built-in TSA lock makes locking each bag quick and easy. The seven-year warranty is icing on the cake.

The problem for us was trying to find someone who would sell us the pieces individually, not as the 4-piece set available through many online luggage dealers. Clyde called Heys directly and they put him on to Luggage World & Travel in Florida (Miami; 305/665-2446), which sold us just the pieces we wanted: two of the 21½-inch bags for $99 each and two 19-inch bags for $79 each.

When we flew to Delhi in November ’09, each person was allowed one carry-on and one personal item. We each took on board a 19-inch Heys bag and a homemade camera case with a bike helmet attached.

When we returned from India in December, the rules allowed us only one carry-on each. We will never check our camera cases, but we were also reluctant to check our small Heys bags, which contained all our other electronic equipment and some irreplaceable items.

With some clever redistribution of our stuff, including expanding the 21½-inch checked bags, we were able to put a camera bag inside each 19-inch case and thus had just one carry-on apiece.

Jane B. Holt

Hinesburg, VT

My husband and I travel for extended periods — Germany for eight weeks, England for four weeks, Italy for four weeks and so on. We won’t do wheeled luggage ever again!

Many cities where we travel independently have cobblestone streets or walkways or tons of stairs, such as the 100 steps leading up to the wonderful hostel we stayed at on the Rhine. Wheels are great for airport transfers but not for hostel living or getting on and off buses and trains.

We just prefer to put our luggage on our backs rather than wheel it!

Sadly, on the manufacturer’s website there is no longer anything similar to the sturdy backpack which I bought at Sierra Trading Post in Reno in 2003: the Wells Fargo model from Jack Wolfskin (Idstein, Germany). Maybe on eBay?

Lynn Meadows

Truckee, CA

I highly recommend using a rolling backpack as a carry-on. On smooth surfaces it rolls. On rough surfaces you can carry it using the shoulder straps.

Four years ago I bought a child’s size backpack small enough to fit in the overheads in small planes, but in January ’10 I bought a bigger one for $36: a Verucci Flight Carry-On Rolling Backpack through (800/843-2446).

At 20"x13"x 9" including wheels and handles, it just fits in the overhead bins in large airplanes. When full, however, for flights on smaller planes (like regional Embraer jets) it has to be left planeside, as the nine-inch depth measurement does not count two more inches of thickness available in a front pocket, handy for in-flight items, nor does it count a three-inch gusset which you can unzip to add a lot of space.

The entire front unzips and folds open like a suitcase — much better than a traditional backpack that only opens from the top. The front also has zippered compartments inside and out, big enough to store 9"x12" folders or books. There is a large, hook-and-loop-Velcro®-type flap to keep the shoulder straps out of the way while rolling.

The bag weighs 4½ pounds empty, yet the material is heavy and strong. The handles and wheels have been strong enough to show no wear after five months of weekly trips… rolling on city sidewalks, up and down curbs and on and off buses, trains and planes.

As for how to improve this bag, here are my suggestions.

Make the gusset 20 inches instead of three inches. The folded gusset needs very little space or weight, and using it forces you to check the bag, so it might as well provide the maximum checked-baggage size (62 inches total).

Put a zippered compartment inside the back to keep rarely used items out of the way. You can use the front zippers for this, but then the fold-open front gets heavy.

Separate the wheels the full 13-inch width for stability, not just nine inches apart.

Add a belt so we can carry more weight on our hips rather than just on our shoulders.

Add rubber protective strips to the bottom seams as on the top seams; they get scraped when it tips over on rocks.

Use rubber wheels instead of plastic for quieter rolling in residential neighborhoods.

Make each zipper a different color and texture so it is easier to pull the right one in a hurry.

A rolling backpack is a great combination, and I hope competition leads to even better bags.

Paul Burke

Harpers Ferry, WV