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Eagle Creek 2-in-1 Backpack Duffel

I love packable travel backpacks. The new Eagle Creek 2-in-1 duffel may be the best I’ve seen to-date. It meets my non-negotiable criteria for an overnight carry-on: it’s lightweight, packable (stuffs into its own pocket), and offers many of the bells and whistles of a full-scale (non-stuffable) backpack.

eagle-creek-2-in-1-duffelI’m usually less of a fan of convertible bags. Maybe it’s just me, but on a given trip, I either need a duffle or a backpack, but rarely both. However, with the Eagle Creek 2-in-1, you don’t lose as much valuable space when switching between styles as you do with many convertibles, making this a non-issue for me.

The 2-in-1 is made of ripstop nylon and carry-on sized at 11 x 22.5 x 7.5. It has a 33 L capacity (28 as a backpack).

What I love about the 2-in-1: when used in backpack mode, the pack can be accessed by top-load panel or side panel zippers, and offers two roomy water bottle pockets, a deep top zippered pocket, and a deep interior zippered pocket.  The zippers are lockable, and you also get side and bottom compression straps with external lash points for stowing more gear.  The bag is reflective and very lightweight. Converting the pack to a duffel is pleasantly simple (see photos below) and when you do convert, the duffel version gives you 15% more space (though a little bit is lost to shoulder strap storage).

What I don’t love so much: I really wish the shoulder straps slightly more significant (I’m willing to add some weight for this feature) and more adjustable. They do adjust at a basic level, but I was unable to fit the straps to my nine-year-old. I know, the 2-in-1 has never been touted as a child’s pack, but because of the size and weight, it’s the ideal carry-on bag for a kid. We love using the top zippered pocket for my son’s iPod, ear buds, and Kindle (all the possessions he could possibly want on a trip) and the main compartment for the rest of his gear.

How it converts: Converting from a backpack to a duffel is easy, as illustrated below. Eagle Creek is nice enough to color-code the straps and clips for us (all are gray), making it even simpler. Step 1: unhook the shoulder straps from the bottom of the pack. Step 2: stuff them into the zippered back panel. Step 3: Unzip the bottom circular compartment. Step 4: Pull out the duffel straps. Step 5: Attach the duffel straps to the coordinating clips.

eagle-creek-2-in-1-duffel

Pick up a 2-in-1 duffel from Eagle Creek for $80, or find it at Amazon, Sunny Sports, or Moosejaw for the same price. Colors include black, flame orange, or mantis green. While you’re shopping, take a look at additional Eagle Creek gear we’ve reviewed.

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Crumpler Spring Peeper Duffel

I get very attached to my luggage. If my checked luggage is a sight for sore eyes every time it makes it to that final baggage claim conveyor belt, my carry-on luggage is girl’s best friend. Finding the perfect carry-on bag is tough: I like my Crumpler Red Dye No 9, but wish it were a bit more streamlined for bulkhead storage, and like my trusty age-old duffel, but wish it had wheels. Crumpler’s Spring Peeper duffel combines the space of the duffel with the posh features I’ve come to expect from Crumpler. Hello, new favorite travel buddy.

crumpler-spring-peeperThe Spring Peeper comes in two sizes, large and medium. I reviewed the medium, which is 70-litres and carry-on size approved (even at persnickety airline counters). The large is checked-bag only, which is good to know going in. The medium Spring Peeper sports your traditional duffel style, with the added benefit of a three-position handle and wheels. The lockable main compartment is roomy, and includes Crumpler features such as extra tie-downs, an internal compression panel, and compartmentalized interior side pockets. Even though the main space is large, you can keep things organized. You get an extra zippered external pocket that’s also quite roomy, and an internal ‘wet pocket’.  The Spring Peeper is simpler than other Crumpler bags I’ve reviewed, but in my experience, too many compartments and divisions can equal lost or unusable space.

I love the zipper closure of the Spring Peeper. No, zippers are not a new phenomenon to me, but this one follows a kidney shape around the exterior of the main compartment, making it much easier to cram a ton of dirty clothes into close. The zipper pulls are well made, and I’ve never had a snag issue (even while cramming).

The trolley handle has a nice rubber grip and collapses with a button. The top straps close with thick velcro, and two additional straps tighten the overall shape to fit into any overhead compartment. I’ve taken the Spring Peeper on the smallest of commercial planes without a problem. The bag has wheels on one end (not on both), and pulls smoothly through terminals everywhere. The material is weather-resistant, and if you don’t want to take my word on the carry-on compatibility, the exact size is 32 cm in width by 55 cm in height (volume of 40 cm).

Pick up a medium-sized Spring Peeper at Crumpler for $210, or, if you are looking for the large, find it on Amazon for $265 (either way, enjoy their ‘death do us part’ warranty). The bag comes in black or red.

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Mountainsmith Descent Camera Bag

The Mountainsmith Descent is a solid camera bag option for anyone who travels with their DSLR and extra camera gear. It’s not massive, so you won’t feel dwarfed by your camera equipment everywhere you go, and it’s affordable while still delivering on the features you need. The Descent is designed with a cross-chest carry (more on that in a minute) and features a handy clamshell access to the main compartment. You get a media pocket under the lid, and an external front pocket with key clip. A large front section offers plenty of organizational space for documents, a tablet or Kindle, and a wallet. The bag could definitely double as your carry-on if you travel light.

mountainsmith descentInside, the main compartment is divided into four sections with sturdy Atilon foam with a 14 L volume. You can fit two camera bodies and two lenses, no problem. The outside is nylon with waterproof coating, and there’s a rain hood as well.

The mobility for this bag is quite good. due to a secure hip belt in addition to the shoulder strap. I know some photographers prefer backpacks to sling bags, and I do too…when hiking good distances. When I have my DSLR with me, however, I tend to want to stop often and take lots of shots. If you’re like me, and want to access your camera at any moment, the Descent’s sling shoulder strap will really work for you. I like the ability to slide the bag forward as I walk or when I stop at a sight. I don’t want to  have to take the entire bag off my body to access the camera. Is the Descent going to be as comfortable to move with as a backpack style? No, but it’s darn close. If you’ll be hiking or traveling good distances between shots, a backpack might be for you, but if you’re a stop and shoot all day long kind of photographer, opt for the sling carry.

The Descent is versatile, fitting most users, but if you have a long torso, you’ll want to try it out in a brick and mortar store before ordering. The adults in our family had no problem exchanging the bag back and forth to wear, with easy adjustments to the sling strap and optional chest strap. Pick up the Descent for an exclusive $99 price at REI this December or find it on at other retailers and Mountainsmith in January.

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Transpack ski and snowboard boot bags

Alternate title: OMG, I’ll never carry my ski gear in a shoulder bag ever again. Transpack specializes in backpack-style ski and snowboard boot bags, with several distinct models to choose from. What they all have in common: high quality construction, intelligent design, and comfort.

Transpack calls its design the ‘isosceles storage system’, which reminds me unpleasantly of high school geometry but, unlike my math education, turns out to be something I can actually use in the real world. What an ‘isosceles storage system means: the interior design of most Transpack bags is such that the toes of the boots meet together in the front of the pack, away from your back when you carry the load. The weight of the pack is distributed to the sides, which equals happy shoulders and neck muscles.

Go on the Transpack site, and you’ll be faced with a dizzying array of options. While they only make a few main styles of backpacks, there are several models in each category. To break it down and identify the main differences in styles, my skiing and snowboarding family and I tried out four different Transpacks. (We try to be helpful like that.)

For starters, no matter what your boot bag needs, Transpack has you well taken care of with backpack straps for an impressively comfortable carry. The question you have to ask yourself is: how big a bag do I need, how sturdy does it have to be, and where will it be traveling with me?

Transpack boot bags

Transpack breakdown (clockwise from top left): Compact Pro, Sidekick, XT1, and Edge Jr.

Transpack Pro:

This is the pack you need if you’re an every-weekend, all winter long kind of skier. I tested this out for myself, as I ski at least once per week all season long. The Pro comes in a standard size or a compact size, features the Isosceles Storage System (so it’s triangular shaped), and is made of super tough, treated 1680 ballistic nylon with a water resistant TPU tarpaulin bottom. You get reflective piping on the sides, a roomy central compartment for gear, side zippered pockets for ski or snowboard boots (with drainage), and many internal and external pockets, including a soft fleece-lined goggle pocket. There’s a stabilizing waist strap in addition to the shoulder straps, and a mesh padded back panel that you’d expect to see on a hiking day pack, not a boot bag. I found the compact Pro to be plenty big enough to store my helmet, my boots, gloves, two pairs of goggles, an extra shell, and all the little items that get lost in the bottom of a standard bag: sunscreen, car keys, screwdriver and binding adjustment tool, ski pass, sunglasses, and lip balm. I’d only opt for a standard for men with very large ski boots. The Pro is $119 through Transpack retailers like REI and $109 on Amazon, and comes in a variety of colors.

Transpack XT1:

If you plan to use your pack a little less often (say 2-3 major ski trips per season), you can save some dough downgrading from a Pro to an XT1. The main difference: the XT1 is made of water resistant coated 600 denier polyester instead of the higher grade ballistic nylon. There’s no major difference visibly. You still get the rubberized water resistant TPU tarp bottom, and because the XT1 is one of the more popular styles, it comes in a greater variety of colors and prints. The design is the same as the Pro, including the patented Isosceles Storage System. Our 12-year-old is using the XT1, and he’s been swapping out his ski boots and snowboard boots in the boot pockets, finding that they fit both easily. You get mesh zippered size pockets and a top pocket on the outside, perfect for ski passes, keys, and other small items. Like with the Pro, helmets, gloves, and other larger items fit in the main compartment. The XT1 retails for $90 at Transpack and can be found on Amazon or Sun And Ski Sports for as low as $69. (Your other economical option is the Edge, found on Amazon for under $50.)

Edge Jr:

For kids under 10, the Edge Jr is a manageable size. We’re big fans of kids carrying their own gear, but our eight-year-old really struggled with a shoulder-strap style bag. It kept slipping off his shoulder or thumping against his legs as he navigated the parking lot. With the Edge Jr, which is pretty much identical to the XT1 but smaller, he can easily carry his bag and his skis and poles. There’s plenty of room for a kid-sized helmet, gloves, boots, and outer layer, though this bag is missing the dedicated goggle pocket. I guess Transpack (correctly) assumes that kids have already scratched their goggles beyond repair anyway. The Edge Jr is $49 at Amazon, a bit less at Paragon Sports, and comes in fun prints, like gray camo.

Transpack Sidekick and Sidekick Pro:

The sidekick is the alternative to the Isosceles Storage System style. This backpack carries boots on the outside of the pack, using a Delta strap boot system with optional, stowaway boot covers to protect boots against the elements. Personally, I prefer for my boots to be zippered into an interior dedicated pocket, but the Sidekick is perfect for my 14-year-old, who wants a more versatile bag.

How is the Sidekick different? In addition to the exterior boot carry, this bag has a traditional backpack design, complete with hydration sleeve, laptop sleeve, and an exterior zippered helmet compartment. Our teen uses his bag to and from school ski trips, so he uses the laptop sleeve to stow homework and books. He also likes that he has the option of the hydration sleeve for use as an on-mountain pack. The Sidekick Pro is made from the same ballistic nylon as the regular Pro, and the regular Sidekick sports the polyester. The pack appears pretty bulky and cumbersome loaded up with ski boots on either side and helmet strapped in the outside pocket, but in fact, my son and I were both amazed by how well the shoulder and waist straps support the weight, and how well that weight is distributed. Like the other bags, you get plenty of interior and exterior pockets to keep your gear organized. The Sidekick Pro retails for $120 through Transpack retailers or as low as $99 on Amazon, in a good variety of solid colors.

Outfitting your entire family in quality boot bags is an investment, but we don’t plan on needing to replace our Transpacks for a long time. I can’t say the same of the cheaper shoulder strap bags we’ve used in the past. A set of Transpacks might make for a great holiday gift to the whole family under the tree this year. Just saying.

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Crumpler Karachi Outpost Camera Pack

karachi outpost

In the world of camera bags, Crumpler’s Karachi Outpost  is like every other bag’s better looking, cooler cousin. The retro rucksack style of the small and large sized Outpost sports a soft, brushed twill fabric, warm colors, and fun accents (oddly, the medium has a more urban, sleeker look). But while it looks as though its all about appearances, the Karachi is very practical as well…a welcome surprise. That brushed fabric I mentioned? It’s all-weather and water resistant. The cargo flap pockets? Each has a purpose. Hidden from view? A padded 11-inch Macbook Air or tablet pocket and detachable tripod holder.

The Karachi is extremely comfortable to wear, even when loaded with camera gear and accessories. You get nine storage ‘zones’, with a total of 31 L of space in the main compartment, plus an extendable drawstring-closure hood. The main compartment is divided into 12 separate spaces defined by adjustable velcro ‘walls’ and four elastic straps. This is ‘build your own camera compartments’ at its best: it’s possible to customize your space to suit.

The hood pocket (that’s the drawstring closure one) is fully lined, which makes it the convenient location for your sunglasses. Also handy: a stow-able, elastic rain cover that’s easy to access. You get two side stuff pockets for that grab-and-go stuff you need at the ready, and a front cargo pocket with an internal mesh pocket (maybe for memory cards or extra batteries).

When I loaded up the Karachi, I easily fit a DSLR, modest telephoto lens, and numerous additional lenses, flash, and filters. The superior construction and double-stitching was evident right away as I hefted the pack up and onto my back. I loved the equipment walls: they are definitely of superior construction to what I’ve experienced in the past. They do a great job of holding the camera and lenses in place while the pack is in motion (on your back).

Karachi OutpostI already noted how comfortable the Karachi is to wear. This is because of the extra features you don’t usually see on a camera bag (but do see on quality backpacking gear): a length-adjusting harness, vented back padding, and Air Mesh shoulder padding. The chest belt/sternum strap is adjustable and removable.

My only caveat: The Karachi’s main compartment is rear-entry. Some might consider this a plus, but I don’t like the necessity of taking the pack all the way off every time I want access to my camera. Call me lazy.

If you want to pick up a Karachi, you have three size options, as noted above. The large has a width of 38 cm/15 inches and height of 52 cm/20.5 inches. It comes in three color options: a beautiful deep blue, a bright orange, and an olive green. You really can’t go wrong. The small is a few inches shorter and leaner. Grab the large for $265 or the small for $215. Available also on Amazon for the same price.

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