Quest for the Perfect Bag – Update

Posted: August 22, 2013    Categories: Travel

My 32

My 32″ Gear Warrior which I use as my primary bag

Last December I wrote about my problems in finding the right bag. When you travel as much as I do, your bag/suitcase/backpack is a vital piece of equipment.

After six years of traveling around the world, I still hadn’t found a bag I was satisfied with. I tried backpacks, duffle bags, rolling duffle bags, suitcases and combinations thereof. I wasn’t happy.

Some bags were too heavy. Some were painful to carry. Some just fell apart because they were designed poorly.

Last December I decided that I was going to take a stab at solving this problem once and for all. I’d owned enough failed bags to know what I didn’t want. I just needed to find a bag that avoided all those bad things.

I narrowed down my search to bags from three companies. They were:

I eventually settled on the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior.

For the record, I payed full price which is the most I have ever spent on a bag. There were no freebies involved. (I should also note that as a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, I can get a discount on Eagle Creek products, but I didn’t know about the discount until after I purchased it!)

After 8 months of traveling around Europe, the Middle East, Central American and the Caribbean I can report that this is in fact the best bag I’ve ever owned. What I like about it:

  • Quality construction. The cloth has been scuffed, which is to be expected for any bag which is thrown about by airport baggage handlers. However, there hasn’t been so much as a single loose thread on the bag. The wheels have been dragged several kilometers across cobblestone and are still in good shape. The zippers are very heavy and have never caught on anything, gotten stuck or broken. The only minor complaint I have is that the handle seems to be a bit loose and there was one screw that was coming loose, but I managed to tighten on my own.
  • Soft sided with support. The bag I was using prior to this one was a duffle bag with wheels. The problem with it was it would flop and collapse if it wasn’t totally full. When I would pull it with its wheels, the bottom would slump to the ground and drag. This bag has support on the bottom and sides to prevent it from flopping about if it isn’t totally full.
  • No unnecessary pouches or straps. One problem I always have with bags is that they have extra side pockets and straps that do nothing but get in the way. The Gear Warrior has two compression straps on the outside, and that’s it. There is an elastic cord that lets you attach items to the exterior of the bag, but that easily tucks away and if you don’t use it you never have to see it. This means that the odds of the bag getting caught on a conveyor bet or a car door is much less. There is a single pouch on the front flap that doesn’t get in the way.
  • Unique design. This is a tiny thing, but its a thing nonetheless. When my bag comes off a conveyor belt at an airport, I want to spot it right away. I also don’t want anyone else thinking it is their bag. I purchased a yellow bag. The color coupled with the design means there will almost certainly never be another bag like mine coming someone might confused it with.

It is difficult to purchase a bag online without being able to see it first. I took a gamble when I bought this, but it paid off.

Given how much I travel, I assume that any bag I use will probably need to get replaced within a year. Given the current condition of my Gear Warrior, I could easily see it lasting through 2014 as well.

Not a bad deal for the thing that holds all my stuff in the world.

Camera Bag

The Timbuk2 Sleuth which I used for most of this year

The Timbuk2 Sleuth which I used for most of this year

I use 2 bags on a regular basis. My primary bag, which I’ve detailed above, and my computer/camera bag. My primary bag gets checked at the airport and my camera bag is carried on the plane with me. It is also my primary day pack when I’m out exploring a place.

My camera bag takes more abuse than my main bag does, because I use it every day. Like my main bag, I’ve been through multiple camera bags over the years. I’ve had full blown professional camera bags, shoulder bags, and messenger bags. Most of last year I was using a Lowepro camera bag. It was actually a fine bag, but like other camera bags I’ve had, there was way too much padding on it. It would only fit in the overhead bin on a place if I smushed the padding together and squeezed it in. It was big and bulky. If I was traveling to photo shoots in a car, it would probably be the bag I would use all the time.

Having gotten sick of carrying the bulky bag around, I decided to try Timbuk2 Sleuth bag I had sitting at my mom’s house. I had visited the Timbuk2 headquarters in the Mission District in San Francisco a few years ago and they sent me the bag to test, but I never used it because I felt it was too small.

I eventually decided that smaller might be better, so I set out in January with less gear and a smaller camera bag.

The decision to use a lighter bag was a good one, but I wasn’t quite happy with the Sleuth. For starters, it was just a bit too small. It fit everything, barely. Second, the main compartment at the top had a zipper. The stitching that held the zipper to the bag eventually came apart which left my bag open to the world. This was a huge problem for me during my photography tour in Italy last May.

I vowed I was going to get a new bag during my week long break between TBEX in Toronto and the start of my Caribbean trip.

In a total coincidence I was contacted by JR Johnson, the CEO of Trippy.com, before TBEX who said he had a gift for me. (Disclosure: I am on the board of advisors of Trippy.com)

What was his gift??

The Timbuk2 Espionage which I am currently using

The Timbuk2 Espionage which I am currently using

A Timbuk2 camera bag!! He has recently purchased one based on a recommendation from Techcrunch but he found it to be too big, so he figured he’d give it to me because he knew I was a photographer. I was sitting on a broken bag that I found too small, from the exact same manufacturer. He has no idea I was looking for a new camera bag, let alone that I was using a bag from the same company.

The bag he brought me was the Timbuk2 Espionage.

I’ve been using it the last three months during my Caribbean island hopping trip and so far I find it to be the best camera bag I’ve used. Here’s why:

  • Not so bulky. The compartment for the camera has padding, but that’s it. It protects my camera gear as well as the larger Lowepro I used to use, but it is easier to carry around. It easily fits in the overhead bins of even small regional planes. I never had a problem carrying it on board the propeller planes I had to fly in the Caribbean.
  • There is no zipper for the main enclosure. At first I thought this might be a problem. Almost every backpack is enclosed by a zipper. The top of this bag is closed by a flap which means the amount of room in the main compartment is variable. I can shorten or expand the flap depending on how much I carry. Also, I don’t have to worry about the zipper breaking like it did on my previous bag.
  • Perfectly sized. I only carry one camera body and 3 lenses with me. I don’t need a bag which has slots for 10 lenses and two bodies. My camera gear fits in the camera area and my other electronics fit in the rest of the bag. It is sort of like the Goldilocks bag in that it is just the right size.

For the first time, I’m pretty satisfied with my packing situation.

Both bags I’m currently using get the job done and don’t have any major flaws. While I’m always willing to upgrade to something better, I’m not actively looking to upgrade at the moment.

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