I travel a lot. Sometimes too much. And I get asked by a lot of friends and acquaintances about gear and other preferences. I’ve been meaning to write some of this down for a while. Here’s my start.
Let’s start with my biases. I avoid checking luggage whenever possible, which is mostly any week-long business trip to start with and many other cases as well. I consider roll-aboards to be the instrument of the devil for anyone who is otherwise physically able to carry a shoulder bag or doesn’t have another specific need. They hog overhead space and trip you up on concourses. You should require a handicapped sticker to use one.
So soft luggage. Carry-on. What are my preferred options?
My go-to for business travel is the Patagonia MLC. (MLC = Maximum Legal Carryon) It’s got a nice shoulder strap as well as some thin backpack straps. Bomber zippers. A couple of outside compartments suitable for typical travel gear like pens, earphones, Kleenex, etc. My friend and former colleague Stephen O’Grady has called it the perfect luggage.
I don’t go that far. A couple demerits:
The primary thing that I find sub-optimal about the MLC is that it divides the main compartment vertically. I find that this makes it difficult to pack rectangular or square-ish shapes or even bulky shoes. I get the desire to create separate zones in luggage but generally I’d just as soon use stuff-sacks, laundry bags, Eagle Creek cubes, or even a supermarket plastic bag within a larger space to separate dirty clothes and the like.
The zippers are also wrap-around. This makes it somewhat easier to squeeze in tight loads but it also makes it easier for casually closed zippers to shed contents in the middle of an airport.
I’d also note that the thin backpack straps are intended for carrying modest loads for modest distances. But the MLC isn’t really intended as a “travel backpack.” It’s a reasonable tradeoff given that the backpack straps are not the focus of the luggage.
An alternative that I also use regularly is the Osprey Porter 46, which is much more explicitly in the vein of a travel backpack without silly distractions like the wheels or rigid hunks of material that many products in the category sport. While I wouldn’t want to carry it on my shoulders were it filled with lead weights, the shoulder straps are reasonably padded and it also includes a hip belt. Like the Patagonia bag the zippers and general quality are all solid.
While not rigid, the Osprey pack does loosely hold its shape. It’s primarily one large compartment although there’s a zipper at the top to a small compartment that basically takes its volume from the main compartment. As noted with the Patagonia, I’m generally good with the flexibility of this approach.
The Osprey is very much a travel backpack. It has a well-made padded handle but there’s no shoulder strap and it’s not really designed to be carried other than as a backpack. I generally take the Osprey when I know I’m going to be schlepping my luggage around a lot on foot, while I take the Patagonia on a more typical business trip.
There’s also an Osprey Porter 65, which has a 65L volume rather than a 46L volume but is otherwise identical to the smaller model. This bag is not airline carryon compliant but is typically fine for trains. Now, I’m certainly not going to encourage people to take oversized bags on planes, but I would note that this is a relatively soft compressible bag so it can generally be put in an overhead if it’s only partially filled. I’ve done this at times when I’ve wanted the extra space at my destination to consolidate my laptop etc. bag in my luggage for walking around cities or traveling on trains or when I’ve wanted some extra space for purchases that I can then check for the trip home.