Guerrilla’s Airporter Pack: A Backpacker All-in-One Bag

Man, do I see a lot of luggage. Roll-aboards. Day packs. Laptop/iPad/digital whatever storage solutions. And honestly, most of them don’t quite make the cut. Part of the reason I have so many of these things is that I continue to quest for The Perfect Bag. Light, versatile, the right pocket for that one thing that always gets loose and floats around inside my luggage.

I’m impressed when a bag designer really thinks about how a bag will get used. Attention to detail, that makes all the difference. (See also, this bag by Tom Bihn.) The folks behind the Airporter by Guerrilla Packs have given a great deal of thought to putting their bag together. They’ve made a well designed backpacker/round-the-world bag and if you’re in the market for such a thing, you should check it out.

The Airporter is one of those system packs with a clip on day pack. Gravity isn’t always your friend with these things, your balance gets out of whack because where the weight sits is just wrong. The day pack on the Airporter is small, so that helps. Pack smart and keep most of your gear in the big bag, just use the day pack for stuff you need to access frequently and you’ll be fine. Then, when you’re day tripping, use the bag for whatever you need — stowing your swimsuit for that snorkel boat day, shopping, whatever.

There’s a sleeve for your laptop in the back, a pull through for your headphones, some internal pockets and key loop. Plus, hey, that’s nice… picked up too much stuff while out shopping? The day pack expands, just open the wrap around zipper. Clever. What’s missing? A water bottle pocket. Sure you could stow your water bottle inside the pack, but that’s beside the point, no?

The main pack has a couple of external pockets — two smaller zip pockets on the top and water bottle/dirty hikers pockets on the side. There are lashing straps for your sleeping bag or raincoat or whatever, and a bunch of tie on loops along the top. In the bottom, there’s a rain cover that’s sewn on; you won’t lose it unless you cut it off.

Inside the body of the pack, there are two attached padded pockets — ideal for your pocket camera, and a clip in place padded laptop sleeve that you can use as a shoulder bag. The sleeve just fits in the day pack if you’ve got the day pack expanded. Another useful feature? The entire front panel of the pack zips away for loading. Those top-loader packs make me crazy, the thing you want is always at the bottom.

A removable lightweight plastic frame helps the pack hold its shape. A zippered back panel hides padding for your back and the padded shoulder and waist straps. That panel stows in the same place where the rain cover is hiding. It’s nice to be able to stow those straps when you’re checking your bag for a flight, or tossing it into an overhead bin on a plane or train. Grips on the top and side mean that you can handle this just like any other duffel — though there’s no additional shoulder strap. Oh, and yes, it’s the right size for a carry-on, because really, who wants to check a bag these days?

Besides the lack of a water bottle pocket on the day pack, I found little to criticize on the Airporter. Tougher hardware would be nice, but that would add more weight. There’s only one of those “keep your stuff in place” straps inside, but packing cubes would fix that. Truth be told, I look at this thing and kind of wish I was graduating from college all over again, with a Eurail pass and a boundless sense of optimism.

The Airporter retails for $129.00. It’s super versatile, has a lot of genuinely useful features, and designed for the urban backpacker who travels light. Check it out here.

Gregory “Alpaca” Roller Duffel Bag

Here’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.

Ditch the wheelie-bags and grab a pack – International travel tip

Plan on enjoying the cobbled streets of Barcelona? Taking the metro around Paris? Then ditch that wheeled suitcase and pack in an interior frame backpack or a large bag with shoulder straps.

Wheelie-bags are great in the airport or for wheeling from the car up the paved drive to the hotel, but not if you’re exploring less accessible destinations. Their wheels catch in cobblestones and brick, they overturn on sidewalk curbs, and they’re hard to maneuver in tight quarters.

Strap on your backpack and you’re ready to walk to the train station or take the metro.