Gadling Gear Review: Incase EO Travel Roller

The Incase EO Travel RollerChoosing the proper luggage for travel can be a very personal experience. After all, with any luck you are selecting a travel companion that will be with you for many years to come and will accompany you on everything from weekend escapes to longer excursions abroad. A good set of luggage can be quite an investment too, which is why it needs to be stylish, versatile and durable. The new EO Travel collection from Incase has been designed from the ground up to meet that criteria and so much more. I recently had the good fortune to test their EO Travel Roller and found it to be a fantastic option for modern travelers looking for a great bag for both business and pleasure.

The first thing that caught my eye about the Roller was the clean, classic looking exterior design. Unlike many other bags, the Roller isn’t cluttered with numerous zippers and pockets that are tacked on without thought for form or function. In fact, with just one exterior pocket, I wondered if this bag would have enough storage options to keep everything well organized while on the road. Turns out I needn’t have worried, but more on that later.

In addition to the clean look of the EO Travel Roller, I was also immediately struck by the high quality handle and wheels, both of which have a very solid and rugged feel. The handle easily slides out at the touch of a button, extending to the perfect length for rolling it through the airport, which is made all the easier thanks to the smooth and steady wheels. Two additional non-telescoping soft handles on the top and side make it a simple affair to grab the bag from either side when it needs to be hefted into or out of a vehicle, or retrieved from the baggage claim.The Incase EO Travel RollerThe exterior of the Travel Roller doesn’t give much of an indication of what to expect from the inside, so I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it up. As I mentioned above, the lack of exterior pockets was a concern at first glance, but opening the bag put those fears to rest quickly. Incase has put a great deal of thought into the layout of the interior of the Roller and it shows. In addition to a standard large main compartment, they’ve also included a second storage area that has multiple integrated organizational pockets that are perfect for the modern traveler who never leaves home without his or her gadgets. This area of the bag features a laptop sleeve capable of holding a 17″ laptop, several pockets for cables and chargers, and even a compartment specifically designed for an iPad or other tablet. The entire section is lined with thick padding that keeps our favorite tech toys safe and sound, even while they are jostled about in transit.

The bag is designed to be used as a carry-on and complies with the size restrictions for most airlines. But for those times when you need just a little extra storage, the entire Roller expands by an additional 35% with just the simple slide of a zipper. This comes in particularly handy on those trips when you’re returning home with newfound treasure and could use the extra room to safely carry those items. It also adds a nice level of versatility to the bag, which can pull double duty as a carry-on or something larger as needed.

As someone who typically travels out of a backpack, the Travel Roller came as quite a breath of fresh air. Classy and refined, this is a piece of luggage that is prefect for the business traveler who is regularly on the road or someone who likes to travel as light as possible while still enjoying a real piece of luggage. I was impressed with how much the Roller can carry and the fact that it has room for a laptop and other tech gear means that it is possible you could travel with just one bag, leaving the laptop case behind.

I was also impressed with how durable this bag is. Its exterior features a weather resistant front panel that helps repel rain and snow, while the rest of the body is made of rugged materials that won’t scuff, tear or rip easily. That helps deliver a certain piece of mind that this is a bag that you’ll still be using years down the line.

The EO Travel Roller comes with a $249 price tag, which puts it out of the budget of most casual travelers. But for those of us who spend a great deal of time on the road, its impressive design, high quality construction and extra features make it well worth the money. Its integrated laptop sleeve and other organizational pockets help to make this bag stand out from the crowd and make it a fantastic choice for anyone who hits the road with plenty of tech gear in tow. For the modern day road warrior, I can’t think of a better option.

Gadling Gear Review: This Year’s Favorite Gear

I’ve been reviewing gear for a few years now. I wrote for a snowshoeing magazine and a site focused on gear for travelers before I joined the Gadling crew. That means I’m kind of a tough sell when it comes to new outdoor and travel clothing, bags and accessories. And I test everything, I ride my bike in the rain to see if that jacket is really waterproof, I wrangle that roller bag into the overhead bin, I wear those noise-canceling headsets on a long-haul flight. I pay attention to what always makes it into the bag, to what gets used more than once, to what works. Here are six things that really worked from this year’s gear.

Birki’s Skipper Slides
: You could not have told me that a shoe from Birkenstock would become a (fair weather) travel favorite, but they’re great for long-haul flights, easy to get in and out of at the airport, they do double duty as slippers or flip-flops when you’re running down the hall to the ice machine and, though they may not suit your style – they’re very casual – I love these things and think they’re great if you’ve got room for a second pair of shoes in your bag.

Ozone Ultralight Roller from Osprey: Just about perfect as a weekender, at its smallest size, this super light bag holds everything you need for a three-day getaway. What’s causing it to miss the 100% mark? It needs a shoulder strap for when it’s not appropriate to roll it. That aside, this is an extremely well designed bag with lots of pockets in sensible places – there’s even a place for your netbook or tablet – and it looks cool.

Gregory’s Border Laptop Backpack
: Everyone’s got a system for getting you through the TSA checkpoint with your laptop pack; most of them are fine. They all seem to use the same open flat configuration, but that doesn’t mean they also make a great day pack. The Border pack is full of sensible pockets that are exactly the right size and shape for whatever it is you’re carrying. If you can’t find the right place for it in this pack, you don’t need to be carrying it. (Ok, one exception: it’s not built to carry a DSLR.) This is, hands down, the best laptop pack I’ve tested.Mophie Juice Pack Plus: Addicted to your phone for travel apps, podcasts, photography, etc.? Yeah, me too. Which means I’m always burning through the battery. The Mophie Juice Pack Plus doubles the life of your phone by wrapping it in a case with an integrated battery. Strategists can shut down some of those power sucking things like Wi-Fi or data to get even more time out of it. That’s a terrific extra for the mobile addict.

Panasonic Lumix: I’m a devoted photographer and at times I carry a big heavy DSLR with big heavy lenses. But I sprung for a new Lumix this year and I left my DSLR at home for two big trips. I’ve been so happy with what the Lumix offers me – excellent optics, works beautifully in low light, all kinds of customization settings for photo nerds, and it fits in my pocket. I love this thing. Love it.

SmartWool Anything: Lots of brands are making nice stuff out of merino wool these days and it’s good stuff. Icebreaker makes styling clothing and base layers, Nau makes cool pieces that pack well; it’s all great stuff. SmartWool has been around forever, though, and while they’re not the cheapest and don’t always have the edge on style, they’re stuff is consistently excellent and it lasts for a very long time. I have SmartWool gear that I purchased more than ten years ago and it’s still in great shape. Their gear fits, wears tough and lasts. Get whatever you like, but the midweight stuff that they came out with this year? Aces. It’s rare that I’ll endorse a specific brand so whole-heartedly, but I am never disappointed with their gear. Never.

[Image credit: Packing for NZ by herdingnerfs via Flickr - Creative Commons]

Gadling Gear Review: Ozone Ultralight Roller Bag

Ospery Ozone Superlight Roller BagI look for three things in a roller bag. The bag should be easy to handle, easy to pack and be as light as possible. Osprey has tacked the weight issue head on with their new Ozone line of roller bags, and they score on handling and packability, too.

The bag comes in three sizes: an 18-inch (backpack size), a 22-inch (maximum carry-on size), and a 28-inch (you’ll have to check this one, fliers). I tested the 18-inch bag for four days of late summer travel.

The bag holds it shape well enough when you’re packing it and it held almost everything I needed. I could not get a second pair of shoes in without sacrificing something else. I’m not a heavy traveler and most of the items I packed were for summer weather, so if you decide to go with this bag as your carry-on travel bag, get the 22-inch version. The interior is lined with mesh pockets so there are good places to stow your odds and ends, your cables and gadgets – that kind of thing. There are two exterior pockets on the front for stuff you need access to, like your bag of three-ounce liquids, for example. And there’s an external pocket on the back of the bag that was the perfect size to hold my netbook. Compression straps cinch everything down when you’ve closed the bag, so it’s a very neat little piece of luggage. That’s a nice feature in a soft-sided bag.

A single telescoping handle runs down the center of the back of the bag, but it’s easy to pack around. And the bag handles very nicely, the hardware is smooth and everything works well. Part of the ease of handling is, I’m sure, in the barebones weight – it’s much easier to wheel around a bag that’s half the weight of your typical denier fabric roll-aboard.Because the fabric is so light, you’ll want to pack really smart when it comes to your crunchables. This isn’t an issue with the bag so much as it is with what you’ll be doing with it, but be aware that if the baggage guys are hurling out of the hold on to a cart, there could be collateral damage. This is not a bag for protecting your belongings; you’re going to want hard-sided luggage for that.

I liked traveling with this bag a lot. I really appreciated how light it was and how easy it was to move around. The grips are in the right place, it’s easy to pack, and it’s well designed. There’s one feature the bag doesn’t have that I’d like: a shoulder strap or stowaway backpack straps. Let’s face it; sometimes you have to carry your bag. You can’t always wheel it and weaklings like me can’t carry a grip for very long.

The Ozone comes in two colors, a bright green and a gray. The 22-inch (that carry-on size) lists for $199.

Eagle Creek Traverse Pro Roller Bag

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made the full jump to the roller bag. It’s what I pack now, unless I’m traveling super light, and then I just take a little day pack. The perfect bag remains just out of reach, though I’ve noticed some real improvements since I got my Costco standard sized carry on a few years back. Luggage is lighter and more versatile these days, and generally more thoughtfully designed.

The Traverse Pro is a combination bag — a day pack and suitcase in one. There’s a TSA friendly zip-off backpack and a standard roller bag. The bag is overhead bin sized even with the day pack on it, though if you’ve really stuffed it tight and you’re on a smaller plane, you may find you can’t stow the whole thing in the bin. To test the bag, I packed for a short weekend away, I flew to my destination –that’s how I know about the overhead bin issue.

I wasn’t thrilled with packing the Traverse, though it’s easier to manage with the auxiliary backpack zipped off. The bag zips most of the way open with a large flap; I wanted it it to open all the way and to lay flat and it doesn’t quite do that. It’s not a dealbreaker, it’s just a minor detail that could be improved.

The bag has your standard “keep your stuff in place” straps and the inside of the lid is a full zippered pocket for your lose items. There are two outside pockets on the front, one big sleeve, one smaller. You have to keep in mind that they’re not easy to get to if you’ve got the day pack zipped on, so don’t put your boarding pass in there.

The bag was easy to wheel around — I liked the locking handle and the maneuverability of the wheels — those things can be clunky sometimes, the handle sticks or the wheels just aren’t smooth. This bag has nice base hardware and is easy to move around. Plus, it’s light compared to anything else I’ve tested in this category. The zipper pulls are nice — they have those round, finger tip shaped things that make the bag easy to open and close, but the zippers themselves were a little resistant when going around the corners on the bag.The day pack is handy, and it’s a nice one, it’s got padded straps and a sleeve for your laptop. It’s got some nice organizer pockets sized right to hold your phone or your pocket camera. There’s a key hook which is great if you’re me and you’re always digging in the depths or your bag to find your house key while you’re on the front porch in the rain. It doesn’t have external water bottle pockets, something I always want on a pack and something that seems to be often left off a luggage system. (See also, this review of the Airporter pack.)

Top and side grips make the bag easy to deal with when you’re hefting it in and out of the rental car trunk, or again, up into that overhead bin. There’s a nice little luggage tag sleeve on the side that tucks out of the way — a small detail that I’m seeing on newer bags and really appreciating. I’ve had airlines lose my bags repeatedly and knowing that there’s ID on them helps. (Sidebar: I have also always had my bags find me. Up to five days later, but still, they find me.)

Eagle Creek pairs this bag with a recommended, optional packing system which I also tried out. It includes a couple of packing cubes and a folder. I’m coming around to the idea of packing cubes for things like socks and underwear, the smaller bits that go wandering around the inside of your bag. Eagle Creek makes their own, but candidly, I’m not brand loyal and hey, I used to just use plastic shopping bags. I still do for dirty laundry.

Eagle Creek suggests you include their Pack-It Folder. It’s the exact size of the base of the bag — you fold your stuff up inside it, cinch it down, and it stays nice and flat. There’s even a folding guide for the folding challenged. Thing is, I can fold like no one’s business. While it’s tempting to stuff my clothes into a great wrinkly wad, I don’t. I don’t need a folding system. You might. If you’re packing challenged and just can’t make yourself fold your shirts properly, this is going to help you out a lot. And if you’re traveling for business or need to look pulled together, a folding system is worth checking out as a crutch. My shirts did stay nice and neat, I didn’t have to iron.

Get the bag and the packing system directly from Eagle Creek — the bag retails for just over 300USD. Bits and pieces in the packing system go from 15-40 USD.

Lessons from a Year of Travel Gear

Truth: Writing gear reviews is fun. I get to play around with a lot of different toys, try on clothes that are polar opposites of what passes for my personal style, and most of the people I meet in the outdoor gear industry are great fun. They’re just like you and me; they like to travel and camp and be kitted out nicely while they’re doing it.

The tough part about being a gear head is that you actually have to try the stuff out to say anything meaningful about it. This means finding the right situation for that one thing in your review pile, putting on some shoes, and heading out into the world to get dirty. I’ve ruined some stuff this way and while it’s all in the purpose of research, it makes me feel kind of bad when something doesn’t hold up. I want to like everything, but I just don’t, and sometimes, maybe I like it but it’s just not good travel gear.

Through testing and laundering and using and carrying and schlepping every single thing I review, I’ve come to a few broad conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. As this year closes and next year’s new stuff starts to appear in my review pile, I’ll share with you my lessons of this year in travel gear.

It’s got to be able to survive the washing machine. Yeah, I know it says dry clean or hand wash only. It doesn’t matter, everything I test goes into the laundry. I ruined a really nice cashmere blend sweater from Horny Toad because I washed it. I’m bummed, but if it can’t survive the laundry, it can’t survive my travels. Cashmere, you are staying home.It’s got to be wearable for the duration of a long haul flight. I don’t care how hot those boots make you look or that you can’t wear that top without that one bra. You have to be able to survive the indignities of coach in it for 10 hours without suffocating or screaming “Get it off me! Just get it off me!” Whatever it is, it can’t bind, be itchy, be too tight, cause your extremities to swell… you get the drill.

It’s got to fit in the overhead bin. If it can’t be carry on, it’s not going. Oh, I’ve checked a bag (then prayed for its safe arrival) but I want to know that if I have to carry it on, I can. I avoid any luggage that’s too big to take on the plane. Aside: I’ve got to be able to heft it up there myself, too. Sure, I can often find help, and people take pity on me because I’m short. But I need to be able to haul my own gear.

I’ve got to want to take it along. I’m looking at you, TSA approved luggage locks, weird camera mounting system, and a few other odds and ends kicking around the office in the “to be reviewed” pile. If I’m not excited about it from the get go, I’m probably never going to be.

You have to try it on in the store, then order online… mostly. Sizing is all over the place. I think I’m a pretty standard medium. Columbia Sportswear thinks I’m a large. (They’ve never ridden the bus I take downtown, clearly.) Sometimes you get lucky, other times, you hope you’ve chosen a company with a generous returns policy for their online shopping.

If I’ve totally ruined it in the test, I did my job. Turns out bug repellent totally eats the plastic those packing cubes are made of, go figure. If I broke a zipper, it means that the hardware isn’t up to snuff. Busted seams, torn fabrics, dirt stained fabrics… that’s the stuff. If I manage to really drag something through the wringer and am still packing it, I know I’ve got top notch gear in my hands.

You absolutely have to try the stuff out to know if it’s any good. I got my hands on a couple of things that I really loved this year. The Keen McKenzie hybrid sandals, a terrific roller bag from Gregory (you can carry it as a backpack and it’s tough, too), SmartWool base layers, to name a few. But I know I like this stuff because I’ve used it over and over and over again, three four trips out.

You can’t have too many pairs of really good socks. You can, however, have too much polar fleece.

I’m looking forward to see what stays in my bag for whatever adventures 2012 throws my way. And I’m curious — what’s your favorite piece of gear from 2011? Anything you think I should check out?

Photo: By Smath. via Flickr (Creative Commons)