Gadling Gear Review: Westwater Roll Top Duffel By Fishpond

Choosing the right bag for an active, adventurous escape can be a real challenge. On the one hand, you need something with plenty of room to haul all of your gear but then again you don’t want something too large and bulky either. It should also provide a good measure of protection for whatever you’re carrying inside while also shrugging off the wear and tear that comes along with travel itself. That pretty much sums up my experience with the Westwater Roll Top Duffel from Fishpond, a bag that delivers a lot of value to demanding travelers and outdoor enthusiast alike.

Fishpond isn’t exactly a company that is well known for making travel gear. In fact, their core market is in the fishing business where they’ve spent more than a decade building a brand that is well respected for its quality and innovation. Recently, Fishpond has turned its attention to the adventure travel market, however, bringing new additions to their product line that are sure to be of interest to those who like to travel light. The Roll Top Duffel is one of those products and it manages to deftly break new ground while still finding a way to honor the company’s heritage.The Roll Top is a modestly sized duffel bag that is capable of filling a lot of different roles for travelers. It features 55L of interior storage, which is enough for a weeks worth of gear depending on the type of trip you’re taking and how smartly you pack. In fact, that is actually 5L of storage more than my favorite backpack, which accompanies me on all but the most gear intensive trips. The Roll Top also has a small exterior pocket that is nice for keeping small items close at hand, but other than that, there aren’t a lot of other storage options available. This lack of organizational compartments may be a turn off to those who are use to a plethora of pockets and storage compartments on their luggage, but the customer that this bag is designed for will appreciate its simplicity.

Made from thick, durable fabrics, this is the kind of duffel you can use on a weekend escape to that B&B in the country or on a longer excursion to a far-flung corner of the globe. The bag easily resists damage and is simple to keep clean, making it appear new even after it’s been around the block (or the world!) a couple of times. It is clear that Fishpond put a lot of thought into the Roll Top’s design, employing TPU welded fabrics that will ensure a very long life.

The quality doesn’t stop with the fabrics, however, as just about every other aspect of the Roll Top is impressive as well. Everything from the zipper on the exterior pocket to the two padded nylon handles give the impression that the company spared no expense in building this bag. A sturdy and adjustable shoulder strap and two compression straps, complete with heavy-duty clasps, do nothing to dispel this image either.

The one feature that completely sets this duffel bag apart from the crowd is that when properly sealed it is absolutely waterproof. The roll-top from which it derives its name, opens incredibly wide, providing unprecedented access to the interior compartment. This makes it a breeze to pack and once you’ve put everything you need inside, the bag seals up as tight as a drum. Using a design that is common on dry bags that are typically used in sports such as kayaking or scuba diving, the top of this bag rolls in on itself, creating a surprisingly tight seal. Once the compression straps are locked in and pulled tight, it is virtually impossible for moisture to find its way into the interior of the bag. This means no matter what you put inside this duffel, you can bet it’ll be well protected from the elements.

This level of waterproofing makes the Roll Top a fantastic option for sailing adventures, camping outings and of course extended fishing trips. But even if you’re not heading to a destination where your primary activities center on water, this is a duffel bag that is versatile enough for use in just about any environment. Whether they’re rushing through a crowded airport or making their way to a remote mountain cabin, the Roll Top’s ability to easily carry a large load will no doubt make it a favorite amongst travelers everywhere.

As someone who likes to travel as light as absolutely possible, a duffel bag is my preferred piece of luggage whenever I’m not using a backpack. Often they can be used as a carry-on, which helps save a few bucks at the airport, although a fully packed Roll Top will push the boundaries of what is allowed by the airlines. I also like being able to toss the bag over a shoulder, allowing me to keep my hands free for other items. This duffel does all of that while also providing a level of waterproofing that is very impressive indeed. You may not need that level of protection from moisture, but it sure is good to know that you have it just in case.

Fishpond has priced the Roll Top duffel at $159.95, which seems like an excellent deal considering the overall level of quality that this bag delivers. If you’re in the market for a new duffel bag to accompany you on your next adventure, it is tough to beat this one in terms of durability and protection.

Gadling Travelers On Their Favorite Gear

Gadling contributors are, by occupation, a well traveled lot and they’re hard on their kit. They want stuff that works – stuff that lasts, stuff that’s genuinely useful, stuff they’re never sorry they packed. While you’re hunting little extras to gift your favorite traveler, consider this list of favorites from some of the most traveled people on the Internet.

McLean Robbins: As a traveler who can’t manage to ever get comfortable on an airplane or with hotel pillows, I can’t leave home without this Brookstone accessory. I purchased it on a whim before a long-haul European flight where I thought I’d be stuck in a middle coach seat, and have used it on even short domestic flights ever since. The pillow is great in its U-shaped form, but I place it under those flimsy hotel pillows for extra support too. Best of all? It compacts nicely into my carry-on bag as well.

Jessica Marati
: Melatonin. This natural sleep aid is the best way to get rest on redeye flights and combat jet lag. I don’t travel without it.

Chris Owen: I usually pack specifically for each trip but one thing that always makes it is my bag full of cords, plugs, power converters and backup battery power. It’s called a Flex Pack and made by Victorinox.

Dave Seminara: I travel with a Princeton Tec headlamp so I can read in hotel rooms (or tents) after my sons go to bed! [Note: There’s always a headlamp in my pack too. And if you get one that’s got a red light mode, you can dig around in your bag or find your way to your bunk in the hostel without waking and/or blinding your roomies.Kyle Ellison: The two things I never travel without are duct tape and nylon cord, both available at your local hardware store. With the tape you can fix a rip in your backpack, seal a cut on your foot, create a waterproof barrier on anything, make labels, bookmarks, a lid for your food … anything really. With the cord you can make a clothesline, tie a tent down, fix a backpack, make a tourniquet, a belt, shoelaces … again, it’s a life saver.

Mix these in with a Leatherman multi-tool (opening cans, getting out splinters, cutting your tape and cord, opening wine bottles, sawing through wood, unscrewing air ducts in hotels, which are vibrating, fixing your glasses, hammering in tent stakes, etc.) Unfortunately, your multi-tool can only travel with you via land travel or checked baggage.

Laurel Miller: This small, rip-stop compact folding duffel bag. It has zippered side pockets so you can stuff it into itself, and it compacts to the size of a sandwich. I keep it in the bottom of my backpack and use it to bring home the inevitable souvenirs or press materials that accumulate on my travels. It also makes a great overnight bag, especially if I’m on a big trip that has some side trips where I can leave my backpack behind.

Meg Nesterov: I love the TotSeat portable high chair. It fits in a purse/bag, weighs almost nothing, and is handy anytime I want to put my baby in a regular chair and have her stay there. It is way superior to the other “travel” high chairs that are as big as phone books (if that reference even makes sense anymore), though it is essentially like tying your child to a chair!

Alex Robertson Textor: It’s super un-techy but I don’t like to travel without my Moleskine Classic Large Ruled Notebook. Notes feel more substantial in a paper notebook.

What do you want to add to your travel kit this year? What are you giving your favorite traveler?

[Images courtesy of Brookstone and Leatherman]

Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut: A Great Long Weekend Bag

I have what’s fast becoming a stupid amount of luggage. It seems a little ridiculous that I haven’t discovered the one bag to rule them, what with the tide of carry-on sized backpacks, roll-aboards, and duffels that come through the house. The problem is that each bag has its own idea use scenario, they’ve all got a different mash of features, and some are better for certain types of trips than others.

I had dearly wanted to pack the newest bag in my house — the Tom Bihn Aeronaut ($240 from Tom Bihn) — for my safari trip, but I was vanquished by a sleeping bag. I was able to stuff a shocking amount of gear into what looks like not that much space. With my clothes crammed into packing cubes, I could just get everything I needed to pack into the bag, but the sleeping bag, nope, no dice. I ended up taking my Gregory rolling duffel instead.

The Bihn Bag I saved for a long weekend in bad weather to the Columbia River Gorge, and it was really nothing short of perfect for that. I packed three days of foul weather gear — a down sweater, a rain shell, long underwear, a hat and gloves, a little black dress (because really, you never know) and a pair of chunky knee high boots. I also had two magazines, a book, and the usual socks/underwear/toiletries. Oh, and flannel pajamas. I could easily have traveled for a week on the stuff I had in there, longer, if need be.

Here’s what I like about this bag. It’s got stow away backpack straps and a removable waist belt, so if you’re needing to carry it through town or while you run for the bus, you’re set. It’s got two side pockets that are the perfect size for stowing a pair of low rise hikers. It’s got a net pocket in the zippered top; you could use that instead of a toiletries bag, and it’s perfect for stowing the little things that get loose in your bag — a flashlight, the moisturizer you poached from the hotel… you know. There’s a grip handle on the top and the side and a removable shoulder strap so you can configure and carry the bag in whatever way works best for you. It’s regulation carry on size, so you’ll have no trouble fitting it in the overhead bin on your flight.I’ll admit that I’m partial to Tom Bihn products because they’re made right here in my home town — it’s almost impossible to find American made gear these days. I’ve visited the Tom Bihn factory twice. Both times I noticed how detail obsessed Tom Bihn himself is. You see it in his bags. The hardware is quality stuff, tough and designed to last. The shoulder straps are backed with neoprene so they don’t slide. There are lots of little add-ons and accessories that are designed to work together beautifully. I’ve got a little clip on red light that helps you see what’s in your bag in the dark without waking up your roomie — you can get a white light, instead. I’ve also got a packing cube type bag that doubles as a day pack; this is a hugely useful item for stowing in any bag — it’s great for the beach or for campground showers. Bihn bags are really well considered, you can see it in all the attention to detail.

The Aeronaut is Tom Bihn’s recommended round the world bag and there are lots of testimonials on their site backing this up. I have a caveat on that. I wasn’t packing heavy for my Africa trip, not by a long shot. (See also, strapping lad on my tour hefts my bag and pauses. “Wow, you’re traveling really light!”) I just needed a little more room, just a tiny bit, the size of, oh, a sleeping bag in a compression sack, to make the bag work.

If you’re not carrying a sleeping bag — and really, I had everything else — you’d do well to go with the Aeronaut. It’s not the lightest bag on the market, but I’d wager that it’s one of the best designed and it’s built to take a beating.

Review: Skooba Design Weekend Warrior duffel bag

This morning, Skooba design unveiled (yet another) new line of luggage – and one of the highlights is their new Techlife Weekend Warrior duffel bag. Skooba is no stranger to innovative new bags, after designing one of the very first checkpoint friendly laptop bags, they’ve clearly learned a thing or two about what travelers look for in a bag.

The Weekend Warrior is a hybrid duffel – part laptop bag and part weekend bag. The bag has everything you’d expect from a good laptop bag – including a removable padded laptop sleeve, room for chargers and USB keys as well as an ID card pocket.

But that is where the comparisons with a laptop bag end – because once you’ve stored your laptop, you can also pack some clothes, toiletries and a pair of shoes.

Now, I’m not a big fan of PR photos in a review (like the one at the top of the article), so I decided to pack the Weekend Warrior with the kind of stuff I’d take on a 2-3 day trip. In the bag I packed the following:

  • 13″ laptop
  • Gadget power bag (chargers, battery packs and cables)
  • Memory card and USB device bag
  • Toiletries zip-loc bag
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Livescribe Echo smartpen in case
  • Moleskine notepad
  • Livescribe mini notepad
  • Joey bags
  • Blackberry and Palm (spare phones)
  • Headphones
  • Small laptop charger
  • 1 pair of shoes
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 3 shirts
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 1 bottle of water
  • Bluetooth mouse

Yeah, I know I pack like I’m going on a 6-month mission. All these items fit the bag just fine, with a generous amount of unused space, which is perfect for packing gifts or other junk you pick up on your trip.

The side pockets are designed to hold shoes – but I do need to point out that they’ll really only work for shoes up to a size 9 or 10 – people with large feet will need to use the main compartment for their footware. Still, with all the stuff in the bag, a second pair of shoes would fit just fine.

Size is obviously an issue when you are traveling, as airlines think it is funny to banish slightly larger bags to the airplane hold. Packed with all my items, the bag measured 24x11x12, putting it just within the permitted sizes. Because the bag is not built around a rigid frame, even if you do overpack, you’ll still easily be able to fit it in a bag sizer or stuff it in the overhead compartment.

Even though the Weekend Warrior does what many rolling bags can do, not everyone likes rolling suitcases – others may have the need for more room than the Weekend Warrior has to offer. For travelers with a rolling case and the Weekend Warrior, you’ll be happy to know that the back of the duffel has a strap for attaching to the handle of a rolling bag.

I’m impressed with the bag – it builds upon the smart design features of other Skooba bags, feels well made, and is much lighter than a rolling suitcase. Every pound you can save means more available weight for your belongings. The bag itself weighs just 49 ounces.

The new Skooba Design Weekend Warrior bag is available today. It comes in charcoal/red, charcoal/blue and charcoal/abyss black. The bag retails for $119.95 with a small laptop sleeve or $124.95 with a large laptop sleeve. Orders over $50 ship for free when you apply coupon code FREERIDE.

Crumpler Old Banger duffel bag review

The Crumpler “Old Banger” duffel bag is the duffel bag you pick if you need two things – a good looking bag, and a duffel that’ll survive pretty much anything you throw at it.

On the outside, the bag isn’t really all that special – but it is how it is made that really matters with this bag. Crumpler built this bag around the best possible materials – 900D water resistant fabric on the outside, and 150D ripstop on the inside. All zippers are “self healing”, which means they’ll actually realign themselves if something gets stuck.

All the stitching is “bartack stitching” which makes every seam extremely strong. In addition to this, some portions feature triple stitching. The end result is an amazingly sturdy bag – with good looks to match.

The carrying handles are neoprene cushioned, so even when you stuff it full of your travel items, it won’t hurt your hands (too much). On the sides are additional carrying handles – making it easy to pull out of an overhead storage bin. It does lack shoulder straps, but the carrying handles are long enough to be used on your shoulder or even as a backpack.

The outside is decorated with the Crumpler logo – and the bag itself is available in green/orange and blue/green color combinations. Like another of my favorite bags, I love the bright inner color on the Old Banger – perhaps i’m just weird, but I love wacky and bright colors on my bags. In addition to this, the bright inside also makes it easier to find things in the dark.

The Old Banger features 2 additional pockets – one on the outside (with an integrated key ring/strap) and one on the inside. All zippers feature oversized pull tabs. Despite the high quality materials and stitching, Crumpler managed to keep the bag to a mere 1.87 lbs (0.85kg). To test the inner storage space I took a quick unscientific approach – I moved the contents of my fully loaded 22″ roller into the Old Banger – and was able to pack it with ease (and close the zippers). In a day and age where gate agents are on the lookout for heavy looking bags, a duffel is probably going to pass their strict looks easier than an overweight rolling case.

The Crumpler Old Banger comes with a lifetime warranty – but it obviously only covers defects in workmanship, not wear and tear. The lifetime warranty only applies to the original owner of the product.

All in all, a well designed piece of quality luggage – at $105 it is most certainly not a cheap duffel bag, but if you treat your luggage as rough as I do, an investment in something better than a $10 drugstore duffel is a must. You’ll find the Crumpler Old Banger over at their US site, or through their global store finder.