Bags! More than two years ago I wrote about bags and an update is needed. For two reasons: (a) my brain is about to explode from climate change thinking and I needed a break; and (b) my travel has evolved and with it so have my top bag recommendations. And so here I am, again, on bags.
I’ve become a convert to the #onebag movement. My take is:
When you travel with just one carry on bag, you are lighter and more flexible. It also forces you to not overpack. You really don’t need seven sets of everything for a seven day trip, nor do you need to simultaneously cater for being shipwrecked in Antarctica or deciding to enter the Paris-Dakar race.
Air travel is a major contributor to climate change. By traveling super light, you are alleviating at least some of the damage — airplanes actually consume less fuel when they weigh less. Better to not take that flight, but if you are going to, you may as well do it in the most eco-friendly way possible. This is an actual thing, and it is A Very Good Thing.
If you want to learn more about onebagging, check out the r/onebag sub-reddit, or just Google your way to any of 10,000 sites. But most things in the public domain are not geared at the business traveller. There’s reams of prose about strapping on a big honking 50L backpack and wandering through Southeast Asia on foot. Hence this essay — if you’re someone who routinely gets off a flight and goes to a meeting rather than following a Lonely Planet itinerary.
There is a different optimal onebag for the three or four main “use cases” (you can tell I’ve spent too much time around software companies). You’ll have to decide which of these is your most frequent, and procure accordingly.
A comment on the two Tom Bihn bags below: the reason these are the winners for the backpack category is that they are convertible backpacks — and when the straps are stowed away, they can pass with ease for business bags. There are loads of convertible backpacks but either they make you look like you’re headed for Everest Base Camp or the backpack functionality is really mediocre.
When you need to travel with formal suits or when you are likely to be hiking through a large airport
For these situations you need a roller as you can’t stuff a formal suit into your backpack. You also can’t rock up to a meeting with the Queen of England with a backpack, no matter how nice said backpack is (I am not in the habit of meeting the Queen of England, but I do find myself in very formal situations at least thrice a year).
And there is no doubt that if you’re wandering through Heathrow or Dubai or JFK and changing terminals, a roller will be better.
And so my recommendations:
Two wheeler: the Briggs and Riley Commuter Upright; 20”x13.5”x10”; 37.9L to 44.2L; 6.8 lbs. This is the perfect roller, except for situations when you’d rather get a spinner. You will never run afoul of carry on size restrictions; like all Briggs rollers, the handle is outside the case so you can pack more efficiently; it expands when you need it (albeit with a zip system versus the Transcend described below); and it has an external iPad/laptop pocket which makes it highly onebag-friendly.
I am not listing all the other clever features here, other than to mention the two smaller external pockets that are perfect for when you need to quickly empty your pockets before a security check.
Spinner: the Briggs and Riley Transcend Tall Upright; 22”x14”x9”; 36.8L to 48.2L; 8.6 lbs. Readers paying attention will note that this link, unlike the others, takes you to the Amazon page for this bag. The bag is, as of this writing, no longer available on the Briggs site. The spinner they do have is a zip around expander — the one at the link above has the Briggs VX expansion system which I find better than a zip-based mechanism, as the bag holds its shape much better with the former. It also allows you to expand part way, which can be useful.
Anyhow, point being: it is an awesome 4 wheeler, with a built-in suiter and the external laptop/iPad pocket, like the two wheeler mentioned above, is allows you to go full #onebag here. Please note the tradeoff for the ease of movement is: it is going to be one heavy bag when filled, and you’re going to be lifting it at least twice on a trip.
3 to 7 day trips
Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30: 19.7”x12.6”x7.9”; 30L; 2.4 lbs. This is the ur-onebag — if I had to pick just one bag out of the four listed here, this’d be it. It doesn’t look like much — it’s a damn duffel bag! But then you look more closely and you see: 1. Hideaway backpack straps that completely change how you use it when you’re huffing and puffing through an airport; 2. The duffel handles are on the long axis of the bag, making it much easier to carry and also not getting in the way of the zips to the main compartment (and making the overall look more business-y); and 3. Intelligent organization of pockets so you can split up all your stuff.
The pocket that stows the backpack straps is easily used to hold your iPad (although I often pack a slim case in the main compartment that serves as a briefcase in formal settings, or use one of Tom Bihn’s packing cube backpacks as a day pack in informal settings). And look at that weight!
Bihn also makes the Aeronaut 45 which holds 50% more for almost no additional weight. This is both tempting and insidious. I’d advise against it for a simple reason — you will pack 50% more, and it is going weigh a TON.
2 to 3 day trips
Tom Bihn Western Flyer: 17.9”x12”x7.1”; 26L; 2.2 lbs. This is more of a large briefcase versus the Aeronaut, but brilliantly designed and organized for precisely this use case, namely two or three day trips. Convertible to a backpack like the Aeronaut. You’d be amazed at how much it can hold; and the dimensions are such that you can easily stick it under the seat in front of you if you want to keep it accessible.
If you want to get a window into how perfectionist the best bag makers are, just read any bag product description on the Tom Bihn web site. These guys are crazy (in a good way).
Things that will make your #onebag experience better
Bluffworks suits (and tshirts and chinos and dress shirts). Except for those three occasions in a year when I need a very formal suit, a Bluffworks suit is the way to go. And it can be scrunched up in the bottom of your bag and come out looking more or less new an hour later (indeed I’ve done meetings an hour after a 14 hour flight with a Bluffworks suit jacket that I’d just yanked out of my bag). Besides the suits, I highly recommend the Ascender Chinos for business travelers.
Bluffworks gear is designed for business travelers who want to travel light, and their stuff delivers.
Learn to love your iPad. With iPadOS, the iPad is a true portable work platform. I often find it better than my laptop, as it lends itself to concentrated work. No more fat power bricks and 23 dongles. I have taken two week trips and not missed my laptop or desktop computers.
You will observe that all these bags, while not quite in the sell-a-kidney category, are much more expensive than those in my last blog post. The thing is: if you are going to be onebagging it, you really have no choice but to get luggage that can stand up to rough treatment. These are bags that will last you ten years if not much longer — if you amortize the cost across all your travel for the next ten years, you’ll see that it is worth it. These are all tough bags, and both Briggs and Tom Bihn have lifetime guarantees.
I have no affiliation either Briggs and Riley or Tom Bihn — but I loved the Bluffworks stuff so much, I weaseled my way into an angel investment in the company.
And One More Thing
I don’t always manage to #onebag it. Some of the time I just need two bags.