Gregory “Alpaca” Roller Duffel Bag

Gregory Alpaca Roller DuffelHere’s my issue with many rolling duffel bags: they don’t hold their shape. There are a few other nits — the material is too light and punctures or tears easily, the zippers give out, and weirdly, they’re heavy, making me wonder why I didn’t just go with a hard sided bag. Gregory’s new Alpaca Roller Duffel addresses all these complaints and then some, plus, the frame has been re-engineered so it doesn’t eat up valuable space in your bag.

Gregory’s Alpaca Roller Duffel is sort of a hybrid bag — the bottom and the wheelbase is lightweight molded plastic covered with tough fabric — this helps the the bag keep it’s shape; it also makes it easy to pack because unlike a lot of roller bags, the bottom is flat and the hard sides help it hold its shape. The upper part of the bag is treated fabric, tough, waterproof and hey, mine is red so if I do end up checking it, it’s easy to spot on the baggage carousel.

The handle is so much easier to use than the misnamed quick release handles on my other roller bags. There’s a strap to hold it in place when it’s down, but I imagine myself losing that and finding that, oh, look, the handle still stays down just fine. The big fat wheels mean it’s easy to maneuver, though I don’t yet know how that translates in the narrow aisles of a coach cabin.

The straps on the top of the bag Velcro together with a grip like most bags, but the straps themselves are designed like backpack straps. This is a nice compromise, it means when you’re finding your destination in that neighborhood that’s all narrow walkways or navigating the staircases of the train station, you can carry your bag like a backpack. That’s a really thoughtful touch. You can take the straps off, too, they’re designed to be easily removed if you’re not using them.
The interior lid of the bag is a netted, zippered compartment; there’s a strap with a clasp on it sewn in place, answering the question of where to put your keys while you’re not using them. There are cinch straps at the bottom of the bag to keep your stuff in place — and cinch straps on the outside for additional security.

On the outside of the bag there are lots of loops and tie downs; I suppose you might tie your muddy hikers to them, or your wet swimsuit. There’s a little pocket for your ID, and another small zippered pocket for odds and ends — it’s probably a convenient place for your travel documents while you’re wheeling through the airport.

Getting the perfect piece of luggage is tricky, that’s probably why I have so many bags. A soft-sided bag isn’t going to protect all the electronic gadgets I haul around; that’s a concern. I’d love an outside pocket for sandals — it’s bad form to have stuff flopping all over when you’re boarding a plane. But the Alpaca 22 (the 22 is carry on size, it comes in a 28 as well) , paired with my favorite digital backpack, is big enough, sturdy enough, and versatile enough to see me through a week or a month of travel.

The Alpaca Roller comes in Tarmac Black or Sunset Red. The 22 retails for $299, the 28 for $349. The bag hits retail stores in July, 2011.