I love bags. I love backpacks, messenger bags, luggage, packing cubes…
I love quality-made, customized bags.
But, I am cheap. (I take after my father.)
A few years ago I was on my first trip to Ireland. I packed my 26″ High Sierra drop bottom rolling duffel, which I had been using for years. Great bag. Good wheels, excellent capacity, tough fabric. But, any wheeled checked luggage would struggle when the ferry landing was 4km away from the town on a gravel road. On that trip I learned why I needed to find a good non-wheeled carry-on bag that could hold a few weeks of clothes.
When my mom asked what I could use for Christmas I showed her a reasonably priced Timbuktu bag. Timbuktu bags are good, well-made, and well-reviewed; and I love the colorful options. But, like me, my mother researches and reads reviews on most purchases. She came across the bag the Timbuktu seemed to be modeled after. It was twice as much as the Timbuktu, but was it better?
Tom Bihn Aeronaut
Enter the Tom Bihn Aeronaut ($250), made in Seattle. The Aeronaut is the largest capacity carry-on, fitting every major airline’s requirements. Instead of wheels, the Aeronaut offers stowaway backpack straps and an optional Absolute Shoulder Strap (worth every penny). Additionally, the Aeronaut has a top carry handle and side grab handle – very convenient when trying to quickly grab your bag from overhead storage. You can choose from at least a dozen color combinations, in 1050 denier nylon with an interior of 250d Dyneema nylon ripstop fabric, or in the 400d Dyneema on the outside. My Aeronaut in steel (charcoal), now 4 years old, looks as good as new.
Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut
The Aeronaut consists of 3 compartments – 1 large main center section and 2 side compartments – each with waterproof, high quality zippers. With packing cubes and compression bags, I can fit at least a week of clothes, maybe even 2 (depending on the season), a pair of shoes and a pair of sandals, jewelry, carry-on toiletries, maps and a guide book.
Tom Bihn has thought of everything. To make the Aeronaut even more functional, they offer dedicated Aeronaut packing cubes, key straps (to attach to several rings sewn into the bag), and other gear bags. Check out the Aeronaut and the rest of the Tom Bihn line at www.tombihn.com .
Was the Aeronaut worth twice as much as the other bag? I have no idea. I never tried the other bag. What I can say is that the Aeronaut has been worth every penny of its $250 tag.
So, with the Aeronaut on my back, my 2nd carry-on needs to be a shoulder bag that can fit under the seat. For that I have chosen another American-made bag…
Waterfield Design’s Sling
The Sling bag ($139, large) from Waterfield in San Francisco. The Sling is a different type of bag – think designer duffel with style. And when I say style, I mean sleek, modern, shiny. But don’t let the Sling’s good looks fool you – it’s a well-made, tough bag able to take a beating.
It’s a simple bag, really. Several pockets ring the interior of the Sling, and two open end pockets add quick access to maps, phones, itineraries, etc.
Waterfield advertises the Sling as perfect for commuters, gym-goers, and parents. I’m sure all of that is true. But, that’s not how I use it.
I love its versatility as a weekend or carry-on bag. The Sling can transform shape from a stuffed barrel when full to a hobo style when partially packed. I added a small Nite Ize S-Biner (Amazon) to the strap loops to pinch the ends together when I needed or wanted it to look smaller.
Like the Aeronaut, my Sling is 4 or 5 years old, but still looks new.
The bottom line is you can’t go wrong with Tom Bihn or Waterfield. Both are West Coast companies producing high quality, customized bags. They may cost a little more than some of the more ubiquitous brands available at every department store, but they will last you for years. And both companies will stand behind their product should you have a problem.