Shopping for Luggage: In Search of the Rolling Duffel Carry-on Backpack Thing


So you've decided to take the plunge and make this summer the one where you take your dream trip to Europe. Or Thailand. Or Australia. Or all of the above. But you survey your luggage situation and find, much to your chagrin, that you are in dire straights indeed. Do you need a bag that's extremely portable, because you don't know what sort of situation you'll find yourself in? Do you need one that can handle a sizable load but still remain manageable? Do you need something you won't be ashamed of in your posh hotel? Whatever shall you do?

If this is your situation (or if you're just looking for a new travel bag in general), maybe I can help you. See, I've been shopping for new luggage recently. On my honeymoon, my favorite rolling duffel, the one that they told me would last forever, broke while I was rolling it down a cobbled street in Mexico. When I brought it back and asked about the extended warranty they'd touted so highly when selling me the bag, I was informed that what I'd asked the bag to do was considered 'extreme use' and therefore was not covered (go figure...I expected a rolling duffel bag to, you know, ROLL). Ever since then, I've been looking for a new bag.

Believe me when I say that I've looked high and low. I've crossed hill and dale, mountain and valley, dry desert and lashing get the idea. Along the way, I've learned a thing or two.

1. Find your own qualifications for the perfect bag. What do you want the bag to do? Where will you use it, and when? Don't listen to other people (you and your spouse might have two very different lists). My qualifications are thus:

  • The bag must roll.
    • The wheels must have ball bearings (none of that plastic crap.
  • The bag must be made out of a material that is tough and durable. Water resistant earns it bonus points.
  • The bag must have a backpack harness that will easily support the full weight of the ba.
    • The harness must include a padded waistbelt. Adjustable height here gets a bonus.
  • The bag must have a medium-to-full-sized zip-off backpack attachment that can function as a daypack.
    • It would be helpful if my laptop, DSLR, and a water bottle fit comfortably into this pack.
  • The main bag must qualify as a carry-on and the backpack as a personal item (because I hate lost luggage, but I hate waiting at baggage carousels more).

Since I don't live in a perfect world, I'm willing to give-and-take on some of these, but my ideal bag would have them all.

2. Get a sense for what's out there. Going in-person helps.

This weekend, I went to REI and spent some time touching bags, trying them on, and just getting a general feel for what's there. I chose REI because this type of bag is more sporty than anything else. Touching the different fabrics and getting the feel for what different bags and harnesses feel like on my back gave me a much better idea of what I really want, what's important to me, and which characteristics aren't essential. Also, check the zippers. Make sure they're sturdy.

3. Look where the pros are.

I happen to be a fan of Outside magazine, and I knew that they, once upon a time, had reviews of some bags like this, so I started at their website. If you're looking for a nice jet-set bag, Irv's luggage might have some good tips. This will help you get a feel for who makes the kind of bags you like.

4. Go directly to the manufacturer.

Sometimes it's hard to figure out exactly what the specs are on a bag, particularly when different retailers discuss it differently. The manufacturer has the last word in this, and they're often quicker to return your emails if you have a question than the retailer will be. Be sure to get the name and the size of several bags.

5. Compare based on what's important to you.

Literally make a chart. Draw lines and put in each category from your wish list. Mark where each bag fits into that category, so you can look at the specs of all your bags together.

6. Choose the best bag for you.

Since space was not on my wishlist (I know that I'll fill the space I have and be fine with that, no matter how much I get), I'm actually going with the smallest bag on my list. It's also more expensive than some of the others, but that's ok with me because it comes with a tried-and-true lifetime warranty. I read some travel horror stories and this company came through, so it sounds like they stand behind their products, unlike the last bag I bought.

7. Purchase your bag with joy.

Ok, haven't done this one yet. That requires a paycheck. But I will get it, and I know I'll get something I like because of all this research.

Enjoy the process--it's fun to learn what's out there and to imagine yourself traveling with each of the bags. Oh, and my big winner?

The Eagle Creek Switchback Max--22 (and they didn't give me anything for saying that!).

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Guest's picture

check these out.. airboss or skytrain..

Guest's picture

"The main bag must qualify as a carry-on and the backpack as a personal item (because I hate lost luggage, but I hate waiting at baggage carousels more)."

.... is people who bring huge carry on, and expect it to fit in the overhead compartments. Or expect others to move their stuff (which is the correct size) to under their seats so their huge carry on can be put in the overhead.

Oddly enough, I've only ever seen it on flights internal to the US. No such a big problem in Europe, South East Asia or around the Pacific (NZ, Aus).

Of course, I've never had lost luggage in any of those places (14 flights from NZ to UK via Asia and Europe - nothing lost), but they always go missing when I travel in the US (4 flights from UK to Colorado - luggage delayed IN and OUT of the US).

Maybe something in the US system needs fixing - currently, it's badly broken.

Personally, I carry the least I can onboard - small bag with a sweetshirt, headphones/ipod and maybe a book, laptop, and id. Thats it. Why not encourage people to travel lighter in general, and not to take so much as carry on, for the benefit of everyone on the plane.

My wife and I can go from the UK to Colorado - for _two_ weeks, in winter - with a bag each which are about the size of your carry on shown above. We saw people comeing out of 2 days at COMDEX with 2-3x that.

Myscha Theriault's picture

It really can be an exhausting process. We try to get bags that can do as much double duty as possible, but sometimes certain situations require slightly different bags.

Thanks for providing a starting point for folks. And amen on the padded waist / hip support. Us old folks with aging backs need that.  


Guest's picture

For fantastic design and durability I highly recommend Tom Bihn bags. They make all manner of bags, thoughtfully designed, and bomb-proof.

Guest's picture

I've traveled a far amount and there is nothing quite as irritating as having an uncomfortable or ill-suited bag, and I definitely agree that the ideal bag needs to be able to roll (which works for most surfaces), but is also easy and comfortable to carry over cobblestones and other uneven ground. And of course, it would be nice if it was somewhat attractive as well!

3Luxe (a curated shopping site) lists three quality roller bags, but I like the Load Warrior LT 25 from Eagle Creek for my purposes: Load Warrior from Eagle Creek. However, it is on the sporty side. The same site also lists the FlightPro Expandable Rollaboard, which is probably more suitable for business travel.

Guest's picture

I was lucky to get rolling carry on luggage sale at Bergman Luggage with the exciting new collection from Briggs Riley that was combining elegant style and exclusive design at 30% discount.

Guest's picture

If you are looking for a lot of Variety for booking Luggage Online, then I would suggest you to check out Bergman Luggage. Some of the new collection of bags range from Tumi, Samsonite luggage, Travelpro, Hartmann, and over 100 other brands. Purchase Luggage Online from Shop that features carry on luggage in many styles.