Air Boss or Sky Train?

This last weekend we went to visit some family for a long weekend. I took the Air Boss, after a bit of deliberation.

The Air Boss is best suited for trips where you can use the bundle packing method. Folding works only so so, and living out of the bag quickly has it bulging in the middle because when it’s standing up and you’re pulling things out and stuffing them back in things gravitate toward the center. Usually if I’m visiting family it’s a living out of the bag situation, and the Air Boss isn’t the best choice.

But since I’m visiting my father, who has a lot of space and I know I’ll be able to unpack, I decided to take the Air Boss and it worked out fine.

Still love the bag for business travel – It once again proved itself during a speaking gig a few weeks ago. But a recent trip to Las Vegas where I took a different bag (it was two nights, and I had to wear a specific shirt for both days so there was little clothing) and that got me thinking about luggage again. I ended up looking at Tom Bihn’s stuff, and oogled a Western Flyer for a bit, and then I ended up back on Doug’s site and reading about bundle packing again. I’d used one of those packing folders to Vegas, and it was a pain.

Re-reading Doug’s site, I noticed he seemed to be talking about making a bundle tightly around a core, outside the bag, and then putting it inside the bag. When I was packing the Boss I noticed that the compartments are all pretty flat relative to the other dimensions. The bag is 21″ long by 13″, and the outside compartments that I use to hold clothes are only 2″ thick. That makes for a floppy bundle. I’ve never tried to bundle the clothes outside the bag and then fit the bundle inside, but I don’t think it would work very well. I’ve never been able to make a bundle very tight. When I try to pull clothes tightly around it tends to crumple the inner layers. There isn’t much space for a thick core. Regardless it works better than my old rolling bag, but when you’re a bag junkie, well, the pursuit of perfection and this kind of bagsturbation is it’s own reward.

That got me thinking about the Sky Train, which has two compartments instead of three and a different aspect ratio. One of them is 6.5″ thick, and the other 2.5″. The bag is an inch shorter, which doesn’t seem like much on paper but on a travel bag an inch is a lot. This makes the main compartment an obvious choice for a bundle, but now a bundle that could be thicker and more stable. I might not need the whole 6.5″, but things like sweaters or jackets, which are often needed while traveling, could be folded and put on top of the bundle. The other compartment could be used for either a smaller bundle or maybe the briefcase stuff. The thicker compartment might work better for live-out-of-the-bag situations as well.

There are a couple things that make me hesitate though. First, the bag is an inch shorter and the Air Boss is already on the edge of being too small for some shirts – with a 17.5″ neck, the body of the shirt is a bit over 21″ wide and the Sky Train is 20″. Second, the center compartment of the Air Boss is such a perfect place for lots of things that don’t really have another place, like shoes, computer, etc. They’re in the center of the bag so they don’t rub against me while walking. They’re protected. And, if I really need to thin the bag to fit it into an overhead (this happened only once, BTW) I can quickly yank out the computer and voila! The bag is thinner. I have this thing about symmetry as well.

I have a few more trips coming up, and I think I might try putting clothes in the center Air Boss compartment and the computer on the outside, and see how that goes.

The Red Oxx Air Boss, years later

I’ve noticed a lot of folks ending up here doing searches on the Red Oxx Air Boss bag. I can understand why.

It seems like it might be the perfect bag, but it seems expensive, and it can be hard to make the decision.

Well, for those of you who are curious, I’m still using it. As I sit in Ohio writing this, it’s sitting in the other room holding my stuff. I’ve got several other bags, but this is the one I end up using.

Another Reason To Love The Air Boss

So I’m in the line to board a Bombardier CRJ900 regional jet out of Atlanta on my way home from the Primir winter meeting. Every single roll-aboard in front of me had been stopped and tagged with one of those pink gate-check tags. While gate-checking is a lot more reliable than regular through-checking, I still prefer to have my stuff with me and tossed about by annoyed baggage handlers. I did a quick mental scan of what was in the bag. My computer was in my Metro briefcase. The only breakable thing in the Air Boss was the coffee mug I’d bought for my wife and it was pretty sturdy. Ok, if they ask to gate check it I won’t object.

My pulse quickened a bit as I got to the head of the line, but Mr pink tag just waved me through.

Of course, I was carrying the air boss properly loaded and not bulging at the seams, so it didn’t look much bigger than the Metro briefcase I had on my shoulder. Either that, or perhaps that both are saffron made me look just weird enough not to triffle with.

Once on the plane, one that has overhead bins substantially shorter (in the vertical dimension) than the other planes I’d been on, the Air Boss slid neatly into place without any shoving, the metro under the seat. Two people nearby had those newer wheeled briefcases that must have held several versions of the tax code plus an 90’s vintage laptop. One fit in the overhead with two people persuading it. The other didn’t.

I’ve been toying with getting a Sky Train, but I think I’m going to stick with the Air Boss.

Air Boss still the boss

I just got back from the Primir meeting in Portland, Oregon. Portland is a great city, with a nice transportation, reasonable prices, and the weather was even nice. The Primir meeting was enlightening as always, and it was nice to see everyone again. The travel to and from the meeting was less enjoyable, but I’m alive and these days that’s about the limit of what we expect. It was also a nice chance to play with luggage. 😉

The trip got me thinking about bags again.

A long time ago I stopped carrying a briefcase at all. I had realized that I was mostly hauling a bunch of stuff to work that didn’t need to be there, and stuff back home that didn’t need to be their either. So I just stopped. Then after a while I missed having a few things with me, more than would fit in my pockets. So I started carrying a man-purse. I’ve owned many of these, and the last was a small messenger bag called the Timbuk2 Mini Metro. Then my job changed again, I started missing some paperwork at home, and I bought a Chrome small messenger bag as my Timbuk2 Mini Metro was too small for files. I like the Chrome, but it is really best suited to its intended purpose rather than an impromptu brief case. The metal seatbelt buckle in the front is probably very handy for messengers, but I just keep banging it into things. The size and shape are good, but I miss the small pockets in the Timbuk2.

So I’ve been thinking about getting a briefcase. Yes, I have a few but nothing mid-sized. I used to have a Land’s End canvas briefcase, but tossed it after it got ratty looking. I was not stiff enough anyway.

Then I went to Portland and took my Red Oxx Air Boss & Tom Bihn Brain Cell combination which worked as well as last time. Both did what I expected, and everything went fine. I’m finding that the more I use the Air Boss, the more I like it. Things fit well and the more I use the bag the more I realize the thought that went into not only the design but the precision of the dimensions. For example, if you find the cinch straps in the outer compartments aren’t long enough, you’ve got too much stuff in that compartment and it will bulge when you zip it. When the bag is over stuffed it’s hard to snap the handles together – another signal that the bag is too full, and you may have trouble sticking it in the overhead. You can stuff the bag past these warnings, and I’ve yet to be unable to get it to go where it needed to, but it’s an easier carry when it’s properly loaded. Also, if you’re going carry-on, it’s always good to be asking if you really need to be carrying this or that extra item.

But the fun of luggage is in the pursuit of the perfect solution, and so every time I travel I always thinking about how things could be done better. On this trip I identified the following:

  • I missed having various things with me while in flight, because everything was in the Air Boss, in the overhead. When I have my preferred aisle seat, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get space near my seat it’s no big deal to get up and get something, but I was in the middle on this trip. Note to self – book earlier!
  • I missed having some workout clothes which I couldn’t fit into
    the Air Boss because of the space taken by the computer.
  • The Air Boss gets heavy when my computer is in it. Add some paper, and it gets to be pretty uncomfortable. The Claw strap keeps it on the shoulder, but it’s not a happy shoulder.

So three more votes for a briefcase. I’ve looked at the Tumi Essential Brief, but at $300+ it’s pretty expensive. I’ve looked at Tom Bihn, but they don’t make a slim briefcase, only 6″ or wider. The shoulder straps attach on either side of the body, which tends to make a bag hard to open when it’s on my shoulder as it does with my Travel Pro case. I’ve checked out a few other bags at the local luggage store, but they’re all very fixated on things I just don’t want. Dedicated computer pockets, expandability, special snap-in accessory pouches all add cost without adding real usefulness or flexibility.

So I’m looking at Red Oxx’s “Slim-Line Padded Brief” – with other bags named “Air Boss”, “Gator” or “Benos”, it’s an oddly functional name – and I’ve all but decided to order it pending a few questions from Red Oxx. It looks like the right size, although it may be a bit full when my computer’s in it. Without the computer, how I’d carry it to work, it should be the right size. Not crazy about water bottle pockets, but I can live with them.

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Yet more on the Red Oxx Air Boss

Yes, I know it’s a bit odd that I’ve written more about the bag I used to travel to a conference than the conference itself, but there are lots of folks writing about the conference, and digital printing isn’t an area where I have any expertise. In fact I don’t really have any opinion.

About bags I have a lot of opinions 😉

I’ve used the Red Oxx Air Boss for two flights now, and I’ve got to say it works pretty well. When you combine it with the Tom Bihn Brain cell it’s a great combination. You can take just the Brain Cell and have your computer along with a few other items, and then dump the BC back into the Air Boss when you head back to the airport. If god forbid you’re asked to gate check your bag, you can yank out the Brain Cell and not have to worry about sending your computer into the hold.

The strap from the Air Boss fit the Brain Cell with just a little persuasion, and worked pretty well. More on that later. The Brain Cell is a very good size – enough to carry a computer and a few extras, but not enough to get it so heavy you can’t carry it all day. It held the computer and power adapter just fine, with enough room left over for business cards, pens, a modest show guide, and a small digital camera clipped to the strap. I’d even suggest it could use a thin flap pocket on the side opposite the mesh pocket. The Brain Cell is stiff and padded enough I didn’t worry about my computer at all, I even walked with it in light rain although I’m not sure I’d recommend relying on the Brain Cell to be weather proof.

The Air Boss has held everything with the addition of some souvenier t-shirts, bags of peanuts and Cracker jacks, and the give-away bag from Xerox. The weight is a bit much for lengthy slogs though, and I’d suggest that anyone looking at long walks should be eyeing a bag with backpack straps. The strap is part of the problem, though. I have a love/hate relationship with the strap, mostly hate.

I love it because it’s very sticky, and will not slip off a shoulder. Your outer garment will be missing a sleeve before your bag hits the ground. For lighter bags you carry off one shoulder this is great.

I hate it because it’s very sticky and you cannot shift the bag at all until you remove all the weight from the strap. Even then it’s tough. This is really irritating when I’m carrying a bag messenger style, and shift it to the back while walking to minimize bounce, but need to pull it up front to get something out of it. It doesn’t pull. I basically have to take the bag off to get into it.

The strap is also a bit narrow, and even though the rubber pad is wider, it’s not stiff enough to distribute the load very well. Hanging the bag off a shoulder rather than across the chest was pretty uncomfortable for any substantial length of time. The strap seems identical to Tom Bihn’s TerraGrip strap and I’m guessing neither company makes it themselves. I have a pretty cushy strap from Eagle Creek I’ll try on the next trip.

I’ve thought of a few more potential improvements for the Air Boss:

  1. I was going to suggest a key clip, but then I got a better idea – how about a few rings in each section, to which one could clip small pouches? Failing that, a key clip in the center compartment (where the keys won’t create a hip-irritating lump) would be appreciated. It doesn’t need to be a long leash, just a short but secure clip.
  2. How about a short unsewn section on the handle straps, for carrying an umbrella?
  3. I’m tempted to ask for external compression straps…but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.
  4. A flap on the inside of the slip pocket would help keep items in the pocket. A carry on bag eventually has to be lifted overhead and that’s when things start falling out.
  5. When I bought a Tilley hat a long time ago it came with a few “Brag Tags” – small printed cards with info about how to order the hat. The idea was that when people commented to the wearer, he could just pull out a brag tag and hand it to the person making the comment. I’ve been asked by one person about the Air Boss already…

More on the Red Oxx Air Boss

I’m sitting in Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, and next to me is my Red Oxx Air Boss, with Tom Bihn Brain Cell. It’s proven so far to be a pretty awesome combination.

The bag isn’t full – I’ve only got two shirts, underwear, socks, undershirts and a pair of pants on one side and a jacket in the other side, with my laptop, toiletries and a few gadgets in the middle. It’s a bit heavy, and the strap padding could be a bit thicker. But it didn’t even come close to sliding off my shoulder.

The outside pocket did fine to hold the things I need handy, and the slip pocket held my very threatening zip baggy of toothpaste to satisfy TSA regulations. The bag is not small, but it doesn’t feel big either. Like an oversized briefcase. I’ve actually carried briefcases heavier than this, back when I used to think I had to carry 5 books on a flight 😉

I’d originally thought the shoulder strap was a bit narrow, but I discovered an advantage to it – it fits the clip on my blackberry holster better. It’s the width of a men’s dress belt, so that makes sense.img_0674.jpg

There it is sitting happily in an airport chair.img_0675.jpg

I pulled the Brain Cell out a bit so you can get a look at it – the two bags make an awesome combination.

So far the only suggestions I would have are:

  1. Add a pencil/pen slot or two at one end of the large slip pocket. You could just run a line of stitching about 2″ long about 1″ in from an end to form a short sleeve that would hold a pen perfectly.
  2. If you put a bit of padding at the bottom, carrying a laptop directly in the bag would be a lot safer.

So far, it’s been a good bag!

I’ve been Air Bossed

My long awaited Air Boss arrived a few days ago. It arrived at work, so I could only pull it out of the box and inspect it briefly. Even so, here are my initial observations:

  • The saffron color is, well, saffron. For some reason I was expecting a much colder yellow – I think it was a picture I saw on a another site discussing the bag – even though the color matches the Red Oxx site photos perfectly.
  • It’s light and soft. Because of this, the fabric seems a bit insubstantial. After a moment’s thought, I realized why it felt this way. First, my usual murse (man purse) is a black Timbuk2 metro, which has a thick rubbery coating on the inside which makes it very stiff and quite heavy. Second, whenever I envisioned the Air Boss, I was imagining my Tumi briefcase of a similar design. It’s made of ballistic nylon, which seems denser and heavier than the Cordura used in the Air Boss.
  • It seems small. However, I’ve learned that luggage, particularly soft luggage, is often very deceptive when it comes to size. Bags that seem huge fill quicker than expected, and seemingly stuffed bags swallow unexpected loads with no trouble.
  • The zippers seem very large – not a bad thing, just surprising.
  • There are three external pockets. One full length that has a simple snap closure, one full length zip, and one narrow (the space between the handle straps) zip. The narrow one surprisingly goes all the way to the bottom of the bag, but it’s wide enough to get my arm down there so it works ok. The pocket is intended to hold airline tickets and that sort of thing, and it should work well for that. The fact that it goes to the bottom provides a place for a few rarely needed but necessary items, like packets of Immodium, cold medicine and aspirin.
  • I was a little surprised to find the bottom of the main compartment wasn’t padded – some of the web references I found suggested folks putting their laptops in there so I assumed it would be padded. It doesn’t matter to me because I ordered a Brain Cell from Mr. Tom Bihn to take care of my computer.

But will it hold enough?

When I brought it home later in the day I could try it out, and I packed the following with ease:

Side A: 2 dress shirts, 2 t-shirts, and a pair of twills. This side was full but not bulging at all – another shirt would be no problem.

Side B: 1 blazer, 2 dress shirts, 2 t-shirts, and a pair of twills. This side was bulging a bit – I could have gotten more in there, but the bag would start being football-shaped.

Middle: 1 pair of shoes and 4 pair each of socks and underwear. I think I could have gotten my laptop and toiletries in there with no room to spare.

In total I fit four day’s worth of clothes without wearing the same shirt twice. Normally, I’d take only more underwear/undershirts/socks to get more days in a business environment so I think the bag really is good for a week on the road. Indefinitely if laundry services are available. In one of Red Oxx owner Jim Markel’s trip reports he mentions what he packed in an Air Boss, and it seems reasonable to me. A full suit and two shirts, along with a few ties and an undershirt to be the core would be no problem in one side alone.

I used the bundle method for the clothing, except the t-shirts which were folded and formed the center of each bundle. I think it would have worked better with them just being bundled like the rest. If I needed much more clothing or was traveling in winter I think I would probably take a separate bag for the computer, or just the brain cell as it can take a shoulder strap. The beauty of the bundle method is that it’s very space efficient. The bad news is that there’s no pulling out just one item – you have to unpack.

Once the bag was full, silly for thinking it was small. It’s not that huge, but the bag hides it’s width when it’s empty. When it’s full it grows to it’s full 8″+ width and the center of gravity moves further away from my body. Even so on my shoulder it didn’t seem very heavy, or hard to manuever. The shoulder strap has pretty soft, grippy rubber which is very shoulder friendly. It attaches with normal clips, so other straps could be substituted if needed.

Another thing I noticed is that the zip for the center compartment is centered on the bag, so the strap is offset to one side. This favors carrying the bag so the larger outside zip pocket is away from your body. I’m not sure if this or the non-zip pocket would be better on the outside. Usage will tell. If choosing between centering the zip or the strap was part of the design process, I’d be interesting to hear the trade-offs that were discussed.

I like:

  • The size seems perfect. It’s big enough to haul as much as you can reasonably lift, assuming it’s mostly clothes.
  • The three-compartment design is aimed at clothing and allows the bag to work even if you have enough to fill only the two outside compartments. A single compartment bag just doesn’t work when it’s not full. This bag was designed as a collaboration with Doug Dyment (of fame) and Red Oxx so it’s no surprise it’s laid out well.
  • Dealing with Red Oxx is a pleasure, as you would expect a smaller US-based manufacturer to be. You also know that the folks who made the bag are paid a living wage.
  • The outside zip pocket is large enough and well placed to hold all of the last minute items I ditch into my bag as I get to airport security.

I like less:

  • The zippers aren’t covered. The missing cover on the outside means that leaving this bag in the rain will more likely mean wet clothes. Outside covers do tend to hide the zipper handles, although the really nifty monkey-fist pulls would alleviate this.
  • The yellow fabric is light enough that you can see through it somewhat. Granted, it’s not like I’ll be carrying anything secret in the outside pockets, but it was noticeable when I stuck magazines in the outside pockets I could read the titles. On the other hand, it does make it easier to find stuff. I would assume that this is a color specific issue.
  • The pockets aren’t lined. This isn’t a big deal as it doesn’t make the bag less useful. It’s just a “nice touch” that I’ve seen on other bags, i.e. Tumi. It does make me extra glad I ordered the Saffron color because they are real bright inside – it will be no trouble to find stuff. I used to buy every bag in black, and I’ve learned that light interiors really make a bag easier to use. The main compartments are lined except for the ends, top and bottom.
  • Overall the bag doesn’t exude the solidity I expected. Again, this goes to my comparison to Tumi and perception of weight. What I have to remember is that if Tumi made this bag it would be a) Black, b) at least $200 more, and c) probably a pound or two heavier. I asked the folks at Red Oxx about the fabric choice, and they responded that using ballistic would have been a) heavier, and b) limited the choice of colors.

So far I’m pleased with the Air Boss and I’m anxious to see how this bag will work out on my way to the OnDemand conference. It’s only two nights, and not very formal so I’ll be taking only this bag. A week later I have a four night trip that’s more which will be a tougher test.