Gadling Gear Review: EXO Hardside Luggage From eBags

With all that electronica the modern traveler hauls from Point A to Point B and back again, it’s natural to be worried about things getting crunched, crushed and smashed. Hard-sided luggage is the solution, especially if you’re checking a bag, and eBags has a new line of branded gear; I tested one out on a recent trip.

There were two less than perfect things I discovered right away about the EXO Hardside Spinner. The first: there’s no brake on the wheels so if you’re on a sloped surface, the bag will wander away if you don’t keep an eye on it. It’s an odd thing to discover, but there we are, saying goodbye on the airport drive and my bag is heading off for the car behind us, perhaps preferring not to board a coach flight to Seattle.

The other issue I wasn’t thrilled with? No outside pockets. There’s a packing strategy for this surely, but if your laptop and your baggie full of 3-ounce liquids is packed inside the bag, you have to open it up at the security checkpoint. I’m a carry-on traveler in most situations and dealing with my TSA scrutinized belongings at the checkpoint was more difficult than when I have a bag with external pockets to stow my stuff.

You do lose a little interior space with a four-wheel spinner (two-wheel rollers have a bit more), but there are some clear advantages. The bag holds its shape and that makes efficient packing a breeze. It’s really maneuverable and getting down the airplane aisle is a snap. It’s perfectly sized for the overhead and I did not worry about my belongings getting crunched by other travelers’ stuff in the game of luggage Tetris that takes place on every flight. Because eBags makes this line in crazy bright colors, it’s easy to spot on the carousel if you decide to check your bag. There’s a built-in TSA approved combination lock too – a nice detail.I also tried out a set of eBags’ packing cubes. They’re designed to fit the luggage perfectly. I’m a recent convert to packing systems, and a surprised one at that, but I like the sense of order a set of packing cubes gives to my otherwise haphazard packing method. I can’t honestly recommend the eBags set over the many others available, but know that if you choose this bag, you can get a packing system designed to work with their bags.

What’s more, eBags backs their brand with a lifetime warranty. On an anecdotal note, folks have told me that the company is very responsive when you give them feedback about their products; they really want you to like the gear and they’re eager to learn what makes great gear from the people that use their stuff.

The eBags EXO line comes in a carry-on size and a larger, 24-inch size. The carry-on retails for $119, and the larger bag for the packing system is $143.99. Check for the sales at eBags – these are back to school prices and subject to change.

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.

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.