Gear Picks - One Bag to Rule Them All

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In case you haven't realized it yet, my plan isn't just to spend a year traveling. It's to spend a year traveling with just a single carry-on sized bag. Therefore the choice of bag is, to put it mildly, somewhat important. The best website out there for packing light is that of the one-bag guru Doug Dyment. If you're looking for great information on what to pack, how to pack, and what to pack it all in, you can't go wrong at that site.

Here are my basic criteria for an RTW bag (RTW is short for 'Round The World, and is what all the Cool Kids say). My bag must be:

  • Soft-sided - No wheels! They add weight and take away interior space. Also, they're Hell on cobblestones, dirt, grass, gravel... really anything that isn't a smooth airport concourse or featureless sidewalk. I know there will be times I wish I could roll along, but I think overall the extra weight and bulk would be too much.
  • Convertible - meaning it can be carried with a handle like a suitcase, or with a shoulder strap, or with stow-away backpack straps. Note that the backpack straps on convertibles aren't nearly as ergonomically designed as those on REAL trekking backpacks, but I'm not climbing Everest here.
  • Carry-on sized - Every airline has slightly different rules which makes this is a slippery concept, but most people seem to agree that about 9" x 14" x 22" is a reasonable size (about 45 litres). A bag this size will end up being too big to carry on with a few airlines, but anything small enough for all contingencies might be, well, too small. (For a look at a bag that would probably pass anywhere, check out the Tom Bihn Westen Flyer and imagine living out of 26 litres for a year.)
  • Tough - This bag has to last me through a year of packing and unpacking almost every day. While my eBags Weekender Convertible was a steal at $69.99, I really don't think it would last.
My current favourite pick for an RTW bag is the Tom Bihn Aeronaut. It's been very well reviewed here, here and here (and in a zillion other places too). There's even a video here of a guy taking a ten-minute shower with a packed Aeronaut showing Tom Bihn's claim that the zippers are "splash-proof" is a bit of an understatement. I think I've read every word the internet has to offer on this bag, and most people agree that Tom Bihn makes really high end stuff of exceptional quality - tough enough to live out of for a year. In fact, people tend to rave.

Here's what the Aeronaut looks like:It's pricey, especially when you add in things like the Absolute Shoulder Strap, and the Convertible Packing Cube, but I have a feeling this is an area where I really shouldn't cheap out.

Here's what I like about the bag:
  • It's got a few compartments which will help with organization, but it doesn't have so many pockets that I'll forget where I put things.
  • I think the end pockets will be big enough to hold two pairs of shoes in one end and a day pack with Eee PC, guidebook, MP3 player, and snack in the other end. This would make for easy extraction of the day pack before stowing the main bag and sitting down in a plane, train, bus, rickshaw, donkey cart etc...
  • I like that it's got lots of places to grab - both ends and the top, plus the straps.
  • Most reviewers say that they were able to fit lots more into the bag than they expected, and found it more comfortable to carry than they thought they would, despite the weight.
Here's what I don't like:
  • It's expensive, and there's really no way I can get a look at one without shelling out the money up front.
  • It only comes in red, black and grey. Though the red is flashy, I'm leaning towards grey.
  • There's no obvious place for a water bottle, unlike the Rick Steves bag, which is also a contender (though the decided underdog) in my One Bag Smackdown.
  • The square-shaped centre compartment looks like it might be kind of awkward to pack.
Despite these minor drawback I think that once I actually commit fully to this crazy plan one of my first purchases will be a shiny new Aeronaut, with all the accessories. I even have a short trip to Montreal in January which would let me test it out a bit. When I actually take the plunge, you'll hear about it here first.


Mitch said...

I would also splurge on the zipper pulls!

Pam said...

Zipper pulls! No way! They might make it easier for me to get the zippers open, but they would do the same thing for EVIL-DOERS! I'm thinking about something like this (,43456) to clip zippers shut!

Anonymous said...

WOW - I thought we were trying to pack light by planning on a 40L pack...but a carry on?! I bow down...

You keep talking about 'once you actually commit fully to this crazy plan' -- what's up with that? You sound committed to me. How could you possibly consider NOT doing it now? Come on,'s nice here on the other side I assure you!!

Pam said...

@Gillian - I'm committed, it's just the timeline that has me flummoxed for now. More on that in a later post, I think.

As for the One Bag concept - I'm definitely committed to that! In case I had any doubts, these two posts came up in my feed reader today:

What to pack on your trip


Unknown said...

I love this bag, but I have to admit I'm a bit thrown by the demo video of the bag in a shower. Seriously, splurge on hotels with doors that lock, and leave the bag on the bed while you bathe...

As to colour - you will get bored of red, black is a little too obvious, but the grey will work with everything!

Laurie said...

Pam, you can easily add a mesh water bottle pocket to the outside somewhere...Or I could for you. And a Canadian flag....I wassorry that I hadn't thought to put one on my pack this past summer.

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