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.

Airlines Use Loopholes To Avoid Paying For Damaged Bags

If an airline damages a piece of your luggage, surely they will pay to repair or replace it, right? Don’t be so sure. I’ve been very lucky over the years in checking bags but my luck ran out on a flight to Chicago from San Francisco over the weekend, when I found out that there are plenty of loopholes that airlines use to avoid paying for damaged luggage.

I prefer to travel light and bring my suitcase as a carry-on, if I can, but when I travel with my two young sons, as I did on this occasion, I tend to check my suitcase because we’re traveling with car seats, a stroller and a host of other items to keep our kids content on the flight. For me, it’s usually worth it to pay to check the bags at the curbside check-in, and I did so on Saturday.

The skycap was terrific; he actually came right to our car and wheeled our suitcases over to the counter himself. But when we arrived at O’Hare later that evening, the pull handle on my beloved Burton/Gravis suitcase was broken. I waited in line at the airline’s baggage counter and was told by a pretty young woman that I was, essentially, out of luck.”Our policy doesn’t cover protruding parts,” she said.

“Protruding parts?” I said, wondering what that included.

“Wheels, straps, pull handles, hanger hooks, nothing like this,” she said.

I appealed to her supervisor, who looked like a retired boxer.

“The suitcase is still useable,” he said, eyeing it over.

“How so?” I asked, showing him that the handle was completely broken.

“You can pick it up and carry it,” he said.

It seemed like a preposterous suggestion. Carry a suitcase through the airport? I think that Bernard D. Sadow invented the rolling suitcase back in 1970 precisely to relieve people of that burden, but technically the supervisor was right. He told me that I could send a complaint to the airline’s customer relations department but I know from past experience that doing that is typically the equivalent of urinating into a wind gust.

Many airlines apparently have the same policy regarding “protruding” baggage parts. (Though one airline apparently gave this writer a credit for their checked bag fee after they made a fuss.) The sheet that the airline gave me has a laundry list of items or for which it won’t assume liability. Here are some examples:

-Overpacked (zipper or seam damage)
-Damage resulting from TSA inspection
-Sports item not packed in hard-sided case
-Infant/child restraint devices, including car seats and stroller
-Photographic equipment, computers, any other electronic equipment, jewelry, cash, documents, furs, antiques, liquids, medicines, art or any other valuable items.

So forget about trying to tell them that you packed a Van Gogh, an original copy of the Magna Carta or a $50,000 mink coat. If you take a look at my suitcase in the photo above, you can probably tell that it isn’t very valuable, and in fact, I’ve gotten years of great use out if it. I should probably just get a new one, right? Maybe so, but I develop a strong attachment to a good piece of luggage. That bag has been my travel companion on dozens of memorable trips all over the world. I’m not quite ready to say goodbye.

I thought about trying to super glue or duct tape it, but now my plan is to bring the suitcase with me, broken protruding pull handle and all, the next time I travel to a developing country. I’m afraid that fixing things has become a lost art here in our disposable society but in some places, cheap fix-it people still exist and thrive. My suitcase will live to travel another day. But I think I’ll carry my bag on board with me next time, because in its weak and fragile state, it needs me now more than ever.

UPDATE, 5/22/2013: I sent a complaint e-mail to this airline and ten days later received a $150 voucher toward a future purchase with this airline. Not quite as good as money to repair or replace the bag, but not bad at all. The moral of the story is that even if they tell you at the airport that they aren’t liable for your damaged bag, it’s worth it to follow up with a complaint.

[Photo credit: Dave Seminara]

The Day I Was Mistaken For A Terrorist

For some reason, people sometimes mistake me for a terrorist. Once I got interrogated by an air marshal for merely looking out a window, and the following year in London I totally freaked out several people on a bus.

The second incident was, I suppose, partially my fault. I boarded a city bus with a large suitcase, which I put on the luggage rack. Since the rack was right next to the door, I moved a little away from it so I wouldn’t be in the way.

For a couple of minutes I stood there, keeping an eye on my bag and not listening to the buzz of voices around me. One conversation, however, began to get my attention.

“I just don’t think it looks right,” a worried woman’s voice said.

“Well, then mention it to the driver,” a man said.

“I don’t want to make a fuss,” the woman replied.

“Look, you’re worried about it just sitting there. You don’t see the owner. So go up to the driver and mention it,” the man said. He didn’t sound worried himself. Instead he sounded a bit condescending.

I turned to them.”Are you talking about my bag?” I asked.

A wave of relief washed over the woman’s face.

“Yes!” she cried. “I didn’t see you put it down and nobody was standing around it, and I got very worried.”

“Don’t worry, no bomb in it, just a bunch of dirty clothes,” I said. Then I turned to the man next to her. “But you didn’t seem worried.”

He shrugged. “Nobody would need a bag that big to blow up a bus.”

I laughed. “Well maybe I’m a really inefficient bomber and I don’t know how to mix explosives correctly.”

“Oh no,” he dismissed that idea. “That is a huge bag. If it was filled with explosives you could barely lift it.”

I studied them for a moment and said, “So how do you know I’m really not a terrorist? All you have is my word.”

They looked back at me – middle-aged, middle-class, white me. The woman suddenly looked embarrassed. The man looked defiant.

“You don’t fit the profile,” he said.

“Remember Timothy McVeigh?” I asked.

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “The right wing loons in your country rarely do such things. Most terrorists look nothing like you.”

I smiled at him. “Who’s to say I’m not a right-wing loon?”

“WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP THIS CONVERSATION?!!!” A woman squawked from a few rows back.

“Sorry ma’am. This was all hypothetical,” I said.

She immediately looked relieved, just like the first woman. All it took was a reassuring word from a complete stranger – a light-skinned, well-spoken stranger.

She, too, had missed the point.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Galley Gossip: The Worst, Funniest and Most Common Bad Airline Passengers

Photo credit: Telstar Logistics

From time to time I get asked questions about bad passengers. I thought I’d share a few of them here.

What’s the worst passenger behavior you’ve witnessed?

I’ve caught passengers taking other people’s luggage out of the bin to make room for their own bags. I’m not joking. They’ll pull out a bag, drop it on the floor and walk away leaving it in the middle of the aisle for the passengers behind them to crawl over. Have you ever tried stepping over a 21-inch Rollaboard? Not easy. Happened three times last month!

The funniest?

Recently a woman tried to stow her suitcase in that, oh, what do you call that spot? Crevice? Crack? Between the overhead bin and the ceiling? There’s like a millimeter of space there! I don’t care which airline you’re traveling on, that’s not going to fit. Then there are the recliners and the anti-recliners. One anti-recliner got upset at a recliner because she couldn’t get her tray table down. I suggested if maybe she removed the gigantic fanny pack from around her waist it might go down. She looked at me like I was the crazy one! One man actually called me over because the passenger in front of him had reclined his seat. I had to point out that, uh … his seat was reclined too!

What’s the most common bad passenger behavior you’ve seen?

These days, people are so self-absorbed multitasking as they board a flight they don’t even say hello to the flight attendant greeting them at the boarding door. They’re too busy talking on the phone, typing on their laptops, listening to music and texting as they walk down the aisle to notice their backpacks and duffle bags are whacking people in the head. Recently a passenger got mad at me – ME! – because I wouldn’t help him lift a heavy bag. That’s because he couldn’t get off the phone to improve his one arm bag swing. Two arms always work better than one when it comes to getting those bags into the overhead bins.

What are the rules for dealing with bad passengers?

We can’t call the police or the fire department at 30,000 feet. That’s why it’s a good idea to take care of problem passengers on the ground before we depart. Before we kick someone off the plane, we’ll do everything we can to make a bad situation good again. Usually, it involves doing the following:

  1. Getting Down: Literally, we get down on one knee in the aisle at the passenger’s level. This position is less threatening to passengers.
  2. Listening: Most passengers just want to be heard. That’s it.
  3. Keeping Calm: We try not to raise our voices. Staying calm and in control will diffuse most situations.
  4. The Facts: We might ask what the problem is and then have the passenger suggest a solution. This way we’re all on the same page.
  5. Walking Away: A new face is new energy. If I’m not getting anywhere with a difficult passenger, I’ll remove myself from the situation and ask a coworker to step in. Even though a coworker may tell the passenger the exact same thing I did, they could get a completely different response.

If that doesn’t work, and we’re in flight, we might issue a written warning signed by the Captain. All this means is if a passenger doesn’t stop doing whatever it is they were doing, authorities will be called to meet the flight. That’s why I say if you’re going to freak out, might be a good idea to wait until we’re safe and sound on the ground and parked at the gate. No one wants to divert a flight. Plus you don’t want to end up in jail far away from home where no one can rescue you.

Save Money And (Maybe) Time With The Right Luggage, Packed Efficiently

I am one of the lucky ones: a traveler who has never experienced the inconvenience of lost or damaged luggage. I like knowing that but have never dared talk about it out loud, for fear of jinxing the luck or angering the luggage gods. Instead, when others tell their tale of woe concerning luggage mishaps or go on about inadequate reimbursement from airlines, I politely nod in sympathy. Still, I know that luck does not hold out forever. Wanting to go out on top, combined with a need for speed and a love for saving money, I tried a different approach on a trip to Amsterdam recently; I checked nothing and carried on all of my luggage.

“Back in the day, checking your bag on a trip only cost you 20 minutes of your time after a flight. Now you’re lucky if it only costs you $20,” says Adam Dachis from Lifehacker, a website with tips, tricks and downloads for getting things done.

My thoughts exactly – but as more air travelers try to beat the system by carrying on more, less space is available, making packing efficiently a must. Picking the right bag, rolling clothes and taking only what we actually need make for a good start. But getting your head in the game can score some of the best results.”Problems occur when you start thinking of everything you pack as “single use” items,” says Dachis in “How to Fit Two Weeks Worth of Luggage Under the Airplane Seat in Front of You,” urging us to realize that most clothing can easily be worn more than once, some many times.

Dachis recommends a flexible duffel-style bag that gives up little space to padding, protection or aesthetics. Been there, done that, not for me. Spending a lot of time in airports I had seen businessmen with stackable luggage. A medium sized bag that fits overhead and a smaller one that fits under the seat. These were the road warriors I needed to pay attention to. Many had rollerboard-style luggage with four wheels too. I liked that idea as well. These were my personal luggage idols. They had crossed the finish line with a huge luggage win.

In my case, the search was long and tedious to find the right luggage. After years of searching, trying and eventually adding failed bags to a spare bedroom we call “the luggage room,” I may have found a good fit.

TravelPro’s 21-inch Spinner Suiter combined from their Crew collection can easily go in overhead storage and holds plenty of clothes for a week. What Travelpro calls a “business brief,” from the same collection, has extra room for more clothing too and fits easily under an airline seat. On my trip to Amsterdam, home for a day then off to Venice, I don’t want to unpack and pack again. This looks to be the right tool for the job – for me. Everyone has different needs.

“You can’t have a perfect packing system,” admits Dachis, placing his greatest emphasis on efficiency. “Good preparation makes for better travel.”

I couldn’t agree more. The down side? I still have to wait for those I travel with to collect their checked luggage. So much for saving time.

Looking for more reasons to change your thinking about the luggage game? Watch this video:

[Photo credit – Canadian Pacific]