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Travel gear to go
Product reviews of travel gear to go for people on the go.
By Buzzy Gordon
One of the more odious airline strategies to offset fuel prices (and stick it once more to consumers), is charging passengers for checked luggage. (Hopefully, U.S. airlines will not go as far as SAS, which charges even for tea, coffee and soft drinks on its intra-Scandinavian flights; if you're lucky, a hot drink might be free.) As more people start carrying otherwise checked luggage on board, the flying experience grows more frustrating: aisles clog during boarding while passengers struggle to shove bags of all shapes and sizes into overhead compartments that stubbornly refuse to expand to accommodate the increased loads.
In this column, Travel Gear to Go begins a series of reviews of wheeled luggage that meets airline carry-on requirements. In general, the maximum height for such bags is 22 inches; companies are now competing to manufacture the best and most versatile entries in the market niche defined by this lengthwise dimension.
The Tarmac 22 by Eagle Creek
Eagle Creek's Tarmac 22, which weighs only eight lbs. empty, comprises two outer compartments and four inner compartments (expandable to six inner ones) within its 14 x 22 x 9.5 inch dimensions. Two zippered mesh compartments on the inside of the lid are particularly handy for pockets that might vary in volume as your trip progresses, due to such inevitables as laundry. When packed to the gills, the Tarmac expands to accommodate another 1.5 inches in depth; an exterior zipper frees up more space, much like loosening one's belt after eating a big meal.
I found the Tarmac's layout convenient and its overall handling easy. It comes in several attractive colors; the palm green is distinctive enough to make spotting it on a baggage claim conveyor belt a breeze.
The full-sized telescoping handle is sturdy enough to support the outfitter's separate Back Office backpack, equipped with a back slip panel for easy and snug stacking on top of the wheeled Tarmac. Even when loaded with the Back Office, the Tarmac's maneuverability is quite agile. While the Back Office is a good combination daypack-backpack companion piece, the lower outer compartment of Tarmac 22 itself can accommodate smaller laptops if you really don't want to travel with two pieces of luggage.
The Back Office has two front pockets, two side pockets and two large top-loading compartments. Both top-loading sections contain internal dividers; the forward one has an accordion-style organizer, while the rear one has a sleeve that can protectively accommodate laptops of most sizes. The lower front-loading pocket is subdivided into five smaller compartments, one with a zipper and two with Velcro, along with penholders and a strap for keys. The zippers of all exterior pockets/compartments are slightly recessed, with a flap that covers them, presumably as protection from the elements, or possibly even pilferers. Personally, I found this feature occasionally irksome and a hindrance to easy packing; I simply peeled them back for easier zipper access. The Tarmac 22, paired with the Back Office, is an excellent combination for trips of even several weeks in duration.
For more information:
MLC Wheelie by Patagonia
The MLC (Maximum Legal Carry-On) Wheelie is a handsome bag with three outer compartments, including an "elephant ear" zippered panel, for easy access to airline tickets, passports and the like. Smaller than the Tarmac 22, at 7 lbs., 10 oz. and 21 x 15 x 8 inches, it is nevertheless quite suitable for short trips. It also converts, by means of stowed shoulder straps, to a standalone backpack.
The MLC's single-shaft T-handle retracts and extends with the touch of one hand and is fairly responsive, but not suitable for supporting anything larger than a small daypack as an add-on if you wanted to stack an additional piece on the wheeled bag. Moreover, as I walked, pulling the bag by the handle, it occasionally (and annoyingly) bumped into the back of my leg.
The main compartment contains some nifty features: a completely detachable zippered mesh floating divider, an expanding pocket flap on the interior lid, and zippered entry to a place to stash dirty laundry between the lining and the outer shell. I would use the MLC Wheelie as an all-round bag for one- to three-day trips, perhaps in conjunction with a small, over-the-shoulder daypack for added convenience.
For more information:
Over the course of his 30-year career, award-winning journalist Buzzy Gordon has been a reporter, copy editor, columnist, bureau chief and travel writer on five continents. He has visited nearly 70 countries and lectures frequently on the subject of travel. In 2007, he became a regular contributor to the travel section of USA Today.
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