A CGR Guide to what to look for in adventure travel wheeled luggage.
There are several of reasons why I’ve been switching from travelling with hold luggage to carry on these days. One, of course, is cost it can add significant cost to a flight to put your baggage into the hold. Often it can add up to a third of the cost so for budget minded adventure travellers this will be a big incentive to go carry on only. There are also an environmental incentive to lighten the load – less weight equals less fuel consumption and finally it can also speed your passage through airports, as airlines try to reduce delays by making customers check in baggage.
I’ve also discovered the joys of wheeled luggage which seems to make sense as with recent advances in materials and weight reduction makes using them for my short haul adventures pretty standard. Of course, carry on presents challenges, especially if you are taking kit for your adventures – one way around this is for one member of the team to pay for checked baggage and then share the cost of that as you fill it with kit.
These days I’m also trying to reduce my carbon footprint on my travels so I take fewer long haul flights and the train for more shorter adventures in Europe. So wheeled luggage makes transfers through the general hussle and bussle of train stations, subways and buses easier.
So now that I’ve persuaded you of the logic to choosing carry on what should you be looking for in modern, wheeled luggage that should be suitable your adventures?
Main Body Materials
A high denier outer material is good. You don’t want the material to be too flimsy as it will tear with the rough and tumble of throwing into the boot of a cab or the hold of a bus (many buses will not allow you to take baggage onto them and insist they go in the hold). Fortunately many of the adventure brands have plenty of packs in there range so look for a similar material to packs they make and see what they are used for. Look out for similar materials to backpacks. Ideally you want a little stiffness to the material to help keep the pack in shape, there’s nothing worse that having your kit moving around inside the pack as you are pulling it along. Some packs have retaining straps and some have compartments. My preference to to keep kit in separate bags or cubes and I’ve found that that works best.
A lightweight frame works best, so you will find many made from aluminium. There’s nothing wrong with that but look for a high quality aluminium frame. The cheaper the pack the cheaper and thinner will be the aluminium used. Look out for Easton or aircraft grade aluminium both for the suspension frame and the handle. Some packs will also have a plastic frame; these would be unlikely to last you a trip to a beach holiday in Tenerife let alone dragging over the notoriously poor pavements of Bangalore as you run to catch the overnight sleeper to Hampi. Remember that the pack needs to be light – you often only get 10kgs and I’ve noticed airlines clamping down as they try to keep their costs and carbon footprints down.
If there’s anything that is going to break on wheeled luggage for adventure it’s going to be the wheels. The one thing to look out for is the ability to either work on a field repair or an easy replacement. The best type of replacement I’ve used is a scooter wheel. So look for real ‘bombproof wheel designs that look like they can take serious abuse. The axle fitting should be a 5 or 6mm hexagonal bolt and the very best packs will have a through axle – but these are difficult to spot. Most of the packs we are going to look at will have ‘all terrain’ wheels with pretty much indestructible wheels so it will be the axle that is more likely to break. Check what sized hexagonal bolt is being used and pack the appropriated sized Allen key.
This should be well protected with a tough material as it gets a lot of abuse. Look for a good clearance between the base and the ground. The problem with the base is it gets a lot of contact with the ground and can often get snagged on items when you are pulling the bag around so you should look for some reinforcement on the base of the bag as well as sturdy rest legs. Some good quality packs have a fully covered base which is great reinforcement. Another thing to look out for is that a stiff undercarriage can affect the zip opening of the main compartment.
Really, you need nothing more than a large main compartment as you just want to pack as much as you can into it but more modern packs come fully featured. One feature I have found useful is a reasonably large separate pocket that can hold a few essentials for travelling through security so a pocket that you can have access to your clear toiletry bag and some other handy items such as charger, lead and headphones. Of course most packed come with an array of features such as padded tablet or laptop pockets, extra interior zipped pockets, water bottle pockets. One feature that is useful for me is a separate zipped front pocket big enough to put my smelly rock climbing shoes into.
We’ve scoured the manufacturers to take a look at 4 recommended wheeled carry on’s that we feel would be more than suitable for most adventure addicts. We chosen mainly on budget as we reckon a Rimowa or Hermes is a little overkill for dragging around Rocklands! As aways, we cannot guarantee that each of these packs will conform to all airline carry on luggage policies so it’s always best to check before you leave so as not to leave it to chance.
- Dimensions 55 x 35 x 25 cm
- Carry volume – 40L
- Weight – 2708g (CGR scales)
The Lowe Alpine AT Roll-On 40 is a great, fully featured pack that comes packed with a great array of little tweaks that are really useful.This is to be expected from a great brand that specialises in adventure travel.
One of the best features of the AT Roll-On 40 is the wide handle. This makes the pack really stable even if you are running with it (which I seem to do a lot of in airports!) and it will cope with the roughest of terrain due to the large 80mm diameter wheels which are easily changed with a 5mm hex key. As the telescopic handle is as wide as the frame this gives it plenty of space in the main compartment as the handle runs around the edge of the pack so there is no annoying ridge in the middle of the interior.
The main body fabric is burly woven Nylon so will take plenty of abuse and the top and side handles make carrying and overhead locker placement a breeze. Four webbed loops on front means you can attached some bungy cord for stashing extras if needed.This is all finished off with two compression straps so you can cinch the AT Roll-On 40 down to cram it into the bag sizer.
As I said earlier the main compartment is spacious because of the handle design so you can really fill the interior with all your essentials. These can be held in place with the internal compression straps. There is also a large, zipped mesh pocket for stowing extras you want separated such as underwear and socks. The main compartment has a reasonable zip opening which allows for full access to the compartment. The stiffened undercarriage means that the lid does not fully open and limits access to the base of the mesh pocket, but this is a minor inconvenience. The lid has security TSA lock compatible zip pulls with large, easy to use zip tags.
The front pocket has a neat array of features such as two zipped mesh pockets that can be used to stow leads, chargers, cables, headphones as well as blackout masks and ear plugs, etc. The padded tablet pocket will fit a large tablet or a small laptop (my 11” MacBook Air fits) that leaves room for other flat items such as books, slides (or flip flops) and occasionally my rock shoes. There are also 2 pen holders, one each side as you can never have enough pens when on the move. The front pocket also has TSA lock compatible zip pulls and is a nice touch and shows attention to detail. The AT Roll-On 40 also comes with detachable shoulder straps that can be deployed when the terrain becomes unwieldy – such as snow or deep gravel.
All in all the Lowe Alpine AT Roll-On 40 is a great pack that would be suitable for all your short haul adventures. We like the wide handle which makes the pack really stable, the bombproof outer fabric, the burly wheels and the great attention to detail. The weight isn’t the lightest at 2.75kgs but if you leave behind the detachable shoulder straps you can shed some weight when you have to make the choice between your climbing harness and the straps!
SRP is £140 in the UK and it is available direct from Lowe Alpine UK and specialist retailers.
- Dimensions – 55 x 36 x 24
- Carry volume 36L
- Weight – 2580g (CGR scales)
The Farpoint Wheels 36 is a fully featured version of the popular Farpoint series of travel pack from this Californian pack maker. I’ve used a couple of Farpoint products over the years and particularly enjoy my Farpoint 55 which has been on many an adventure. The Farpoint Wheels offers a great and versatile pack as it has an integrated carry harness which includes a hip belt.
This means that you can use it for more extensive hiking trips, so you you want to travel around Jordan and decide to hike some legs of the Jordan Trail through Petra then you should be able to do that in comfort with the carry system. There are comfortable shoulder straps, a wide hip belt, a sternum strap and two clips to attach an 18L Osprey Daylite pack for more volume should you need it. The carry system is accessed by unzipping a cover (which has a hidden ID slot) just like the other Farpoint packs. The cover also holds the single pole telescopic handle which is easy to deploy and is comfortable to use for towing. One concern we have is that the cover is clipped into two plastic buckles under the wired foot rests, we feel it would be a more robust design to have metal buckles as the underneath of these style of packs takes a lot of the abuse.
The Osprey Farpoint Wheels 36 has one main compartment and two other pockets. One very hand top pocket that is easily big enough for all your transit essentials such as toiletry bag, headphones, leads and portable power pack so no faffing around trying to get your stuff out of the main compartment. It also has a large front pocket that can be used for stashing spare shoes, trainers, slides or rock shoes as well as dirty laundry for the return trip.
The main compartment has great, open access as the lid fully opens giving access to the main compartment. The harness and single pole handle means that you do lose some internal space here but with careful packing you easily be able to pack enough for a 5-7 day adventure. Everything can be kept in place with a neat internal compression system and there is also a zipped mesh flap pocket for keeping books, magazines, maps and some smaller items such as sleeping mask, ear plugs and head torch. The main body of the Farpoint Wheels 36 is finished with two mesh outer pockets which are very handy for water bottles and travel sized hardshell. It can be cinched very tight with the compression straps and there are also four loops for adding some bungy cord if you need to add even more stuff onto it. Not that all these features add weight as it weighs in at a resectable 2.4kgs so in line with the other packs.
The low profile wheels are robust and have a large 100mm diameter and can be accessed with a 5mm hex key. They have been designed so that they do not interfere with the carry which is a great touch. In conclusion, the Osprey Farpoint Wheel 36 is a great pack, what it lacks in volume it more than makes up in features and the carry system is great for extended hiking trips. There is also a women’s specific version the Farview Wheels 36.
SRP is £190 and it is available direct from Osprey Europe and specialist retailers.
- Max Dimensions – 55 x 35 x 24 cm
- Carry volume – 37L
- Weight – 2924g (CGR scales)
We featured an Eagle Creek Gear warrior pack in our Ultimate Pack List for Solo Travel feature and it’s proved to be a great bag – spacious and well featured. The Gear Warrior 4-Wheel International Carry On takes that pack and elevates it to the next level of comfort and practicality. It has 4 wheels (the clue is in the title) so is a push along style of carry on, with each wheel fully rotating through 360 degrees and can be removed using a 5mm hex key. One of the key features of the pack is the rock solid base construction – a solid polycarbonate base keeps everything rigid and upright when transferring through and enhances the internal space.
The burly construction continues with the use of 1000D Poly Twill and totally bombproof 100% recycled diamond ripstop Poly in the high exposure areas. The capacity is either super compact 36L for a weekender or, using the expander zip, 37L so it should comply with most carrier carry on restrictions. So pretty similar to the Osprey Farpoint 36. The interior of the main compartment is restricted (which is typical for wheeled luggage) by the twin rails of the handle and the top zip compartment that tidy’s the handle away when not in use. But that said there’s plenty of room for all you’d need on a short haul adventure if you pack wisely (see our Ultimate Pack List for Solo Travel feature for ideas here). There is an internal, mesh compression strap to keep everything stowed tightly inside. The interior is finished with a zipped mesh pocket on the front panel. Useful for keeping all those small essentials such as earplugs, cables, eye mask, inflatable pillow, chargers, etc. This also contains a wire gate key clip big enough for multiple keys.
The wide telescopic handle is a two piece affair, wide enough to give stability when running to gate before closure but not too wide to pop a daysack over it. Another great feature of the 4-Wheel International Carry On is the Equipment Keeper, an elasticated strap to keep jackets, daypacks or other items of gear you may want quick access to whilst on the move. The metal buckle doubles up as a bottle opener should you feel the need for a beer at the terminal and the unit stashes away in a mesh pocket if not needed. There is also a zipped front pocket that has a padded sleeved plenty big enough for most tablets and it fitted my 11” MacBook Air easily and even my wife’s 13” laptop. Both panels have TSA lock compatible zippers and an extra attachment at the front for added security.
The remainder of the space is plenty large enough to hold all manner of stuff and it can be cinched down using the side compression straps. Some smaller pockets and pen holder would be good here and would really improve the front panel compartment. There are also 4 more external handles, of which one is the signature Gear Warrior top handle, so getting the bag out of the overhead locker or off the luggage carousel is super easy.
The Eagle Creek Gear Warrior 4 -Wheel International Carry On is a great addition to the Gear Warrior range. It comes in 3 colour options and also 65L, 95L and a huge 110L options. It retails at £220 and is available direct from Eagle Creek EU and specialist retailers.
- Dimensions – 52 x 38 x 22 cm
- Carry volume – 36L
- Weight – 2165g (CGR scales)
Ah Turin, a very underrated Italian city and a perfect launchpad for a whole variety of excellent adventures – still, we’re not here to talk about adventures but luggage! The German outdoor company Vaude have been quietly beavering away making a huge amount of sustainably manufactured outdoor kit for many years. They attained Fair Wear Leader status in 2015. The Vaude Turin S is the most traditional looking of the luggage we’ve showcased so if you are looking at combining business and some adventure then the Turin S is going to suit you. That’s not all, The Turin S has some great sustainability credentials with recycled materials, Eco PCF Free finishing and both Fair Wear and Green Shape labelling – and all for a very good price.
The lid unzips book style to give good access to the 35L interior which feel more spacious than it is. No fancy interior pockets so you will have to be organised with extra storage bags to keep items separated, but everything can be kept in place with the internal compression straps. There is also a zipped front pocket for keeping those essentials you need access to on the go. The top, back and base are all reinforced which makes the Turin S really nice to handle. The 2 piece telescopic handle is easy to operate and tucks away flush; there is also a large, soft handle at the top to make handling the pack easily into and out of the overhead locker. Unfortunately you do not get lockable zips which is a let down but this shouldn’t be a problem if you are just using the pack for carry on.
The solid wheels will be able to take some punishment on cobbles and gravel and can be removed/replaced with a 4mm hex key. There is also a plastic foot rest to give the pack some clearance off the ground. This is all finished off with a neat, understated Vaude logo ad the whole aspect of the pack is sleek and business like with no unnecessary external features. The dimensions are carry on friendly and the pack should meet most carry on luggage restrictions and at 2165g is nice and light (for carry ons).
Although not over endowed with features the Vaude Turin S is a sleek and stylish piece of luggage that should be more than enough for any short haul adventure. What it it lacks in features it more than makes up in its sustainability credentials. And at the price it’s a steal and you’d be paying twice as much for the bigger and more well publicised eco brands out there.
The Vaude Turin S retails at £105 and is available direct from Vaude and specialist retailers. It also comes in three colour options and bigger sizes Turin M and Turin L.
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers and writers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising or link to affiliate sales. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene and safety reasons and more often it’s in no fit state to return!