If you travel, you've seen the sad result of inadequate luggage, with clothes and other personal items strewn on the baggage carousel. You can avoid such embarrassment and inconvenience by getting the right bag. But sometimes it can be hard to tell what's a good value and what's just cheap when it comes to luggage deals. You need to take a few minutes to look over the luggage you are tempted to buy and ask the question, is this good enough for my needs?
It's the Size of the Flight in the Bag
Even though some airlines now charge fees even for carry-on bags, there are still a lot of travelers out there who prefer to skip the hassle of the baggage carousel altogether and fit everything they need in an overhead bin. The size of these containers varies from airline to airline, but is usually around 22" x 14" x 9". And there are weight restrictions too that vary.
It's not all about mini-wheelie carts, although those are still the most popular. You can get something as simple (and as rugged) as one of these micro duffle bags from REI for $8 with $6 shipping, which measures 16 x 8 x 8 when stuffed full of gear. eBag's least expensive "best of the best" carry-on luggage is a Olympia Shopper Tote for $24 (pictured). A traditional rolling cart that is a solid value is the 21" Coleman Rolling Carry-on for $37, which gets 9.4 out of 10 stars.
Might As Well Check It
These days, with baggage fees even for carry on bags, many people are stepping up to larger pieces they can check. And for longer trips, a suitcase that is 24" to 28" is essential. If you're looking for durability, the bag that gets a top Good Housekeeping seal of approval is the Briggs and Riley Transcend 24" soft-sided rolling cart, which now runs about $272. But if you're carrying suits or other clothes that don't stand up to folding, a Tumi Alpha Garment Carrier for $350 may be the way you want to go, especially if you want to look like a million bucks in an unwrinkled outfit for the business meeting at your destination. If you're traveling with foldables, a Delsey Helium Superlite 29" Duffel is a best bet at $127; you can also get it for slightly more in a traditional box frame. If you're adventuring, you might want to consider a Briggs and Riley BRX Excursion Backpack for around $120 (pictured), which is perfect for lugging around on the hostel circuit, but still looks good.
To Hard-Shell or Not?
Most of the bags you see on the carousel are soft-side or semi-soft-side. The purposefully forgiving material allows travelers to stuff in last minute must-haves and leaves all the weight for the stuff on the inside. But travelers are starting to give hard-sided bags another look, given the sorry fate of many soft-sided bags from baggage handlers.
Be prepared, however, to pay a premium for a durable hard-sided bag. The best are made of polycarbonate, aluminum or even the very expensive carbon fiber (which you can now get for 25% off from ZeroHalliburton, making a 19" wheeled carry-on just $240 (pictured). "With hard-sided cases you get what you pay for...a hard-sided case that is not going to crack when it gets crushed is typically a very expensive case, in the $700-$800 range," says Richard Krulik, CEO of Briggs & Riley Travelware.
There's another perceived advantage to a hard-shell case: defense against bedbugs. Buyers presume there will be fewer places within for the wee bugs to lurk, but that avoids thinking about what's inside the bag.
Most soft and semi-soft sided bags are made of some type of nylon. The strength of nylon is represented by deniers, a measure of the thickness of the fiber with which it is woven; higher is better. Stop by a luggage store and compare the feel of more expensive material, such as 2520 ballistic-grade nylon (such as in this Tumi Tumi International 20" carry-on that is in the $600 price range), to that used on the less expensive bags, such as polypropylene; your hands will tell you the difference.
Also, pay attention to the other specs of the bag, like:
- Weight: A premium bag will be durable yet light; you don't want to be schlepping a heavy bag for miles through airports.
- Handles: Most luggage today comes with retractable handles and wheels, allowing you to pull and roll your baggage rather than carry it. Here too, there are differences in materials and workmanship.
- Connections: A good handle is well secured to the bag. It will be subjected to a lot of abuse, and a stronger material, such as aircraft aluminum, will tolerate this better. Be skeptical of cheap plastic handles that have a lot of flex. Also, make sure that the handle is long enough to allow you to pull the case comfortably.
- Lifting straps: These are important when hefting that bag into an overhead compartment. Make sure they are securely attached on at least two side of the case, preferably with rivets as well as stitching.
- Wheels: An important element in a good bag. You will find luggage with two or four wheels; bags with four wheels are known as spinner cases, and are useful when space is tight. Most wheels are nylon or plastic. Higher price-point bags will have rubber wheels. One innovation you may find in luggage is the use of in-line skating wheels. However, according to Krulik, these wheels, intended for 150-200 lb. people traveling 20 miles an hour, tend to get "gunked up" when pulled through snow, slush and mud.
- Zippers: These can make or break your vacation. Cheap luggage uses cheap zippers; don't be afraid to tug a bit to test the security of the zipper. Zippers come in two types, chain (the traditional one) and coil. Chain zippers made from a modern synthetic are a good choice for luggage, durable yet strong. Look for a brand name such as YKK for assurance that you're getting a quality zipper. Also check out how the tape part of the zipper is attached to the bag; more than one row of lock- stitching along the sides and reinforcing at either end of the zipper will alleviate tearing at those points.
- Locks: Many zippers also incorporate a lock, begging the question, should you have one? Certainly they provide a modicum of protection against the most casual thief. If you do go this route, be sure to use a Transportation Security Administration-accepted lock. The TSA can unlock these should they wish to do an inspection, without destroying the lock (or your bag).
- Compartments: both outside and inside the bag, these make it easier to keep track of loose items. If on the outside, make sure the pocket doesn't present a corner on which it could snag. Some bags have wet compartments for your damp swimsuit and the like, a nice amenity. Straps crisscrossing the contents inside the bag can help hold them in place no matter how your bag ends up oriented.
- Durability: Check the bag warranty. You might be initially floored at the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on your luggage, but if you plan to travel frequently, a lifetime warranty might be worth the extra money. It might be a better deal than a bag that falls apart after half-a-dozen trips and leaves you at the airport with your possessions in a cardboard box.
Traveling today is fraught with enough headaches that you don't need a burst suitcase added to the mix. Shop wisely to make your next trip as trouble-free as possible.
Do you have a favorite bag? Tell us your choice for durability and quality in our comments section below, and if we find deals, we'll let you know.
o5com via Flickr.