The Quest For The Perfect Bag

UPDATE: I have posted an update listing which bag I purchased and how it has held up after 9 months of travel.

My bag situation in 2011
My bag situation in 2011

Whether it is a suitcase, a backpack, a duffle-bag or a rollaway, your travel bag is probably the quintessential item for travel. No matter where you go or how you travel, you have stuff and that stuff has to go in something if you want to be able to transport it. Even hobos would use a bindlestiff when tramping from town to town.

That being said, after almost 6-years of traveling, I have never been satisfied with any bag I have used. You would think that I’ve settled on the perfect bag after all this time, but I haven’t and it is an endless source of frustration for me.

Like most people setting out on an around the world adventure, I left home in 2007 with a backpack. Well, it was sort of a backpack. It was more of a duffle bag with some shoulder straps. I would wear my camera bag on my back and then sling my large bag over my shoulder. This worked fine for a while, but eventually it was doing some serious damage to my shoulder.

In Melbourne in 2008 I decided to abandon the bag I had and get a proper backpack. This left me with a problem of what I was going to do with my camera gear. I eventually changed my camera bag to a smaller shoulder camera bag.

This set up lasted me quite a while. I could carry most of my gear on my back and sling my camera bag across my shoulder without too much problem. However, it still wasn’t ideal. Because I live out of my bag, I am usually around the weight limit whenever I fly. My checked bag will be 17-20kg (37-44lbs) and my camera bag could vary dramatically depending on what I was carrying. I last checked the weight of my camera bag it was 13.6kg (30lbs). Metal and glass is heavy!

In 2010, after suffering more back and shoulder problems I eventually decided to ditch the backpack. I realized that unless I was going to do backcountry hiking, there really was no need for me to strap everything onto my back. For thousands of years humans have used a simple device to make things easier to transport and I figure it was time I took advantage of it. That device is the wheel.

Moving to a wheeled bag was a good move and I have no desire to go back. Other than occasionally having to carry it up stairs, it has been on the whole a net positive. I still have my large backpack if I should ever need it (in my mother’s basement) but the vast majority of traveling I do, a wheeled bag is the best solution.

That didn’t however solve the problem of which wheeled bag I should get. I have used 3 different bags since I made the decision to go wheels and I haven’t been satisfied with any of them. Problems include:

  • One bag was a 10 year old 4-wheel model that weighed 20 pounds! I was wondering why I was always over weight when I didn’t have much stuff. The answer was that the bag itself was taking up most of the weight!
  • Another one I purchased just because it was long enough to hold my old Manfrotto tripod. It was nothing more than an open sack with wheels and a bit too long because of the whole tripod thing.
  • My most recent bag was some generic one I purchased off of Amazon last August. It was a duffle bag with wheels. It was far too large and the sides were always collapsing and the bottom of the bag was falling apart because there was no support for the bag near the wheels. Everything would sink to the bottom and the soft underside would drag on the ground when I pulled it.

I should also note that I’ve recently started using packing cubes which have added some order to my life. By having separate containers for everything in the bag, there isn’t as much chaos I have to deal with when I open it up.

This is where I am as of today. Here is the criteria that I’m looking at in a bag:

  • It should obviously be rugged. My most recent bag had some velcro closures which caused the stitching around it to come apart almost immediately. Avoid velcro.
  • It should have sturdy wheels. Thin flimsy wheels are the weak spot on many bags.
  • It should have a supported bottom. See above.
  • It should be bigger than a carry-on bag. This will by my primary bag and I always check it when I’m on a flight.
  • It should be reasonably lightweight. I know wheels and a handle add weight, but it should still be under 10 pounds (4.5 kg)
  • There should be some support on the sides. It doesn’t have to be hard sided but it should collapse under its own weight either.

Here is what I’m looking at so far for my next bag. I need to made a decision by January 3.

If you have any other suggestions along the lines I set out above, I’m open to suggestions.

I’m also looking to change my camera bag. My current bag is fine, but it is really bulky. It is a Lowepro I got as a gift when I attended a Lightroom conference last year. It is cumbersome to carry around if I’m out exploring. I have a smaller camera bag from Timbuk2 that I’m thinking of switching to. I might have to move some cables and accessories into my larger bag, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

I’ve never found a bag that I’ve been really pleased with. I’m hoping I can finally find my bag soulmate this year.