The Pros: Rugged construction, handsome looks, tremendous capacity

The Cons: Lack of smaller pockets for odds and ends

The Verdict: The BOSS of “one bag” travel

After deplaning in Omaha a few weeks ago, I ended up waiting in the gate area for a colleague to make his way off the plane. After tossing my Air Boss on an unoccupied seat, I began fiddling with my iPod when I noticed a middle aged couple nearby eyeing my bag.

After a few more moments of whispering with his wife, the husband spoke up: “Excuse me, what IS that bag? Who makes it?”

So I quickly launched into the story of Red Oxx – a small company located in Montana, founded by a former Green Beret and parachute rigger, maker of “adventure” and travel bags of unequaled quality.

Extraordinarily robust construction

This isn’t an unusual experience. Even in its fairly subdued “safari” color scheme, this bag attracts attention. Look at it for no more than a few seconds and you can’t help but be floored by the robustness of its construction. A few examples:

Above: YKK #10 zippers – these look like something that ought to be on a flak vest! The “monkey’s fist” zipper pulls are distinctive and easy to grab and use. An extra benefit: these zippers will absolutely not slip open under any condition!

Military spec snaps and hardware (above) are used throughout.

Another example – the heavy duty D-Ring and strap latch shown above, for instance – look like they’ll last a lifetime – plus! Red Oxx employs double stitching, heavy nylon reinforcement straps, and 1000 weight ( ! ) urethane coated, Dupont certified Cordura nylon.

Everywhere you look, the Air Boss oozes rugged quality.

All 3 main compartments are fully zippered on 3 sides, so you can open the bag up flat for packing – a tremendous convenience! Two of these compartments feature adjustable tie-down straps for securing clothing. All are lined with ~1/8″ thick closed cell foam padding (covered with the red material) for protection and to give the bag a bit of structural integrity when empty.

Heavy duty, rubberized “claw” strap will NOT slip off your shoulder, “gives” slightly for comfort, is double sided so there’s no fumbling around, trying to find the “correct” side.

Sounds great – but who is this bag for?

Also noteworthy about the Air Boss are the things you won’t find in these pictures: wheels, telescoping handles, and superfluous extras.

Although built like a brick house, the Air Boss is at its essence a minimalist device. There are few frills. What you get is pure function:  3 main compartments; a zippered compartment in the front for magazines, folders or perhaps tee shirts; a snap-closure open compartment on the back, along with a (tall, narrow) zippered compartment for boarding passes and perhaps a couple of extras like a music player.

That’s it. This is a bag for the person who wants to pack light and carry his or her bag with him/her at all times while in transit. Designed with the help of “one bag” guru Doug Dyment, the Air Boss enables you to pack for a 2-7 day trip featuring one and only one bag. Perfect (and designed for) the business traveler, the bag is nevertheless funky and functional enough to serve a student traveling abroad; the only downside in this regard is that it lacks backpack straps that are generally preferred by younger travelers (see note about the Red Oxx “Sky Train” below.)

Why adopt a one bag approach? No fees for checked luggage. No fear of your bag being lost. Greater flexibility – connecting flight canceled late at night? – all your stuff is with you. Want to accept a later flight in exchange for a voucher from the airline? – ditto. No bellman tips. No fear of someone pawing through your stuff somewhere in the baggage department. Greater peace of mind.

As such, Red Oxx eschewed frills and extras with the Air Boss. The result is a bag that is both wildly overbuilt and lightweight – right under 4 lbs.  (A typical wheelie weights 12-16 lbs., by contrast.) By the way, you could check this bag without fear – it’s a beast and could handle whatever a baggage handler could throw at it. But that’s not the point – it’s ideal for anyone who wants to enjoy the security, freedom and peace of mind that one bag travel offers.

The specifications:

  • “Claw” Shoulder Strap
  • 4 lb. closed cell foam padding
  • Fabric:1000 weight urethane coated, Dupont certified Cordura nylon
  • All zippers #10 YKK self locking
  • Thread:#92 bonded SolarMax nylon
  • All seams double stitched and bound
  • Stainless steel Military spec snaps with Red Oxx logo
  • Zip knots on all zippers
  • Heavy duty luggage tag
  • Embroidered logo
  • Double box stitch on carry handles
  • Available in 12 colors
  • Made in USA
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Dimensions: 21″L x 8″W x 13″H (meets nearly all airline carry-on requirements)
  • Capacity: 2,184 Cubic Inches

Impressions, Comments, Concerns…

I’ve used my Air Boss extensively, and it has proven itself over and over as a tough, reliable performer. I can easily pack enough clothing for 3-6 day business trips and the bag remains relatively light. The only caveat I’d offer is that if I want to bring along my laptop, I end up packing it in my Metro daily bag as the Air Boss gets a bit too heavy with the addition of a 6-7 lb. laptop. It’s my preference to not do that, however, as I find it very liberating to travel with just one bag – it’s so much simpler and easier! (I am investigating picking up a mini laptop to get around this issue.)

If you occasionally carry looseleaf binders or say literature from trade shows, you needn’t worry that you’ll abrade or punch a hole in your Air Boss; the 1000 weight Cordura nylon is extremely tough.

Another interesting aspect: if you need to remove something (padfolio, laptop, folders) from one of the main compartments, the fact that their zippers run across 3 sides of the bag makes it very easy – unzip the side and slip your item out that way, vs. out the top, if you prefer. This is handy when the bag is in an overhead and you need to retrieve something, or when taking a laptop out at the TSA checkpoint.

I have one beef with the design of the bag. The snap closure for the main handles is not conveniently designed. I’ve written about that issue in the past; click here for details plus photos of my unpacking the bag at my destination during a 5 day trip.

I alluded earlier to my only other concern: if you have an iPod, earplugs, or other small items, the only small pocket on the bag is the “boarding pass” pocket, and small items naturally end up at its bottom – and it spans the entire height of the bag. A pocket made out of lighter material – or one additional zippered pocket on the back of the bag would be useful. If I wear my travel vest, this issue is eliminated altogether. (Interestingly enough, Red Oxx’s “Sky Train” has such a pocket, as well as backpack-type straps for occasionally carrying the bag backpack-style; it’s more expensive than the Air Boss, however.)

There’s also no key retainer on the Air Boss. Paranoiacs among my readers may wish to consider picking up Red Oxx’s Pin Mount Key Clip, introduced since this review was first published. You can see it in the image below, mounted to one of the compression straps in one of my Air Boss’s side compartments; handy, costs less than $10:

Wrap Up

As a frequent traveler, anything which makes my life on the road simpler and provides greater peace of mind is of significant value. Adopting the one bag approach has done just that, and the Air Boss is the perfect complement to this philosophy. It swallows up enough clothing for 5-6 day trips with ease and can easily be placed in overhead compartments. Slung over my shoulder, it’s easy to navigate through airports, get on and off rental car shuttles, and breeze down aircraft aisles.

I should point out that I am in my 50′s and of average build and physical condition. Carrying a fully loaded Air Boss has not been an issue… plus it’s immeasurably easier to hoist into an overhead versus my old wheelie.

The Air Boss is manufactured by Red Oxx in Montana. It’s backed by a lifetime warranty; price is $225. At that price, the bag represents a fine value; this is a bag that will easily last decades.

Visit Red Oxx for more details.

Related Information

Learn about the bundle method of packing here.

A key to traveling with one bag is packing light; create a customizable packing checklist here.

If you have not visited Doug Dyment’s OneBag.com, please do so. There’s a great deal of information on the one bag approach to travel and it’s a well written site. Visit for a few minutes and you’ll be intrigued, if not a convert.

For a review of the Red Oxx Metro, click here.

Thanks for visiting; happy travels!


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15 Comments on Review: Red Oxx Air Boss – bulletproof “one bag” workhorse!

  1. Michael W. says:

    If you every find yourself near a Patagonia store, please take a look at their MLC (an acronym for “maximum legal carryon”) carryon and their Lightwire Briefcase. These two items seem to fall into the same niche as your RedOxx carry-on and briefcase. It’s easy for me to check out the MLC and Lightwire Briefcase without having to actually buy them; to get my grubby little paws on a RedOxx, I have to actually buy one. So I’d be interested in your initial compare/contrast impressions, should you visit a Patagonia store.

    I do think your point/counterpoint on the Steves Classic vs. the RedOxx AirBoss helps those of us on the sidelines make a better educated guess on those two bags, which seem to be at opposite ends of the price/poshness scales. There is a lot to be said for an independent reviewer (you) vs. the ad copy on any website (however sincere the website owners are, be they Rick Steves or the RedOxx folks).

    I’ve had my RedOxx Gator (their “personal sized” flight bag) for a week now and it is a nice piece of work, although the “O” rings attaching the shoulder strap are certainly oversized, as is the snap fastener. The nonslip strap is fantastic, I’ve had “no slip” straps before (starting with the famous Domke camera strap) and this beats them all – the rubber is very “tacky” and grippy, and as you said, it’s on both sides so you don’t have to worry about inadvertently shouldering the strap upside down. It’s also segmented like an alligator’s back and conforms to my skinny shoulder very well indeed.

    To be honest, the Gator “flight bag” most resembles those 1960′s “tour group” flight bags the old tour guides used to hand out, back in the days when tour guides actually flew out with their groups. I guess that size was actually ideal, because I trial-packed the Gator for my next trip overseas and it is just about perfect. Plenty robust to handle a DVD player or laptop, plenty big enough for “seat side” items I like to keep down below the storage bin for easy access during my flight (neck pillow, very light sweater, etc.) I don’t think the Gator will ever get “forcibly checked” by an overeager gate attendant, even if your other bag IS a fully packed AirBoss or Steves Classic or even a 21″ wheelie. It also looks slick – business casual as opposed to collegiate hipster doofus (the old “business travelers don’t do daypacks” issue). Finally, the high density padding adds structure and protecion.

    To a large extent I think your preference for the slightly heavier RedOxx over the minimalist, and much cheaper, Steves Classic is based on style.

    But I don’t think that is a bad thing. When you travel, it’s important to make a decent impression, and its mandatory for business travel, where you might have to bring your bag from your hotel to a morning meeting before an afternoon flight.

    I think the Steves Classic may well be the better of the two bags for packing clothing, since the Classic seems about 1.5 pounds lighter based on your estimates, if I recall correctly. In that sense, Rick Steves has hewn very close to his design mandate – one bag, backpack straps, maximum efficiency, doesn’t attract thieves.

    But I will also admit that the Steves Classic does NOT seem robust enough for routine checking, and I WOULDN’T want to carry books, binders, or even sharp cornered folders very frequently in it.

    If I had it to do over again, I would probably opt for the RedOxx AirBoss over the Steves Classic, for the following reasons:

    1. I no longer object to the foam padding in the AirBoss – the minor reduction in effective volume (you lose almost 100 cubic inches per panel) doesn’t matter to me, the Steves Classic is too large for my short trips to tropical countries (less bulky clothing and less of it). I’d rather have the extra “structure” added by the foam.

    2. While the Steves Classic does not look embarrassingly cheap, neither does it make hotel staff at a nice hotel proud to have you as their customer. I’d rather have a bag, at my age, that might get me a little more helpful attention and consideration.

    3. While the Steves Classic is $79 to the AirBoss’s $225, if you travel frequently the difference isn’t as great as it looks.

    4. I don’t like backpack straps. I prefer a shoulder strap. The Steves Classic has backpack straps but not shoulder strap. The AirBoss has no backpack straps, but I’m sold on their “claw strap.”

    BTW, I have given up on the “one bag” concept. I have modified it to a “no checked bag” philosophy. I want to have a second bag for ease of transiting security (TSA “1 quart” items here, any inspection items here) and so I have a bag at seat level during the flight. I do think it is important not to start sprouting bags, however, since there is a risk of getting absent minded (think: long international flights and red-eye flights) and forgetting one.

    4. And, most importantly #4, your reviews have convinced me.

    [Reply]

  2. Kevin says:

    Michael,

    Thanks for an interesting comment. I’ll keep my eyes open for a Patagonia store; in the meantime I’ll visit their website and look at the products you mentioned.

    As for the hardware on the Red Oxx products, they use the same on all the bags – so that what is robust on the Air Boss looks like demented overkill on a product like the Tri Fold Shave Kit – e.g., the #10 zippers on their toiletry kit. …but ultimately that’s part of the appeal of the brand.

    …and to a degree I think you’re right as for why I prefer the Air Boss. As I mentioned in an email, I just can’t see myself traveling with the Steves Classic – it’s a bit too, well, let’s say “inexpensive looking.” The Boss on the other hand screams “Built to last” and oozes quality. I like that. I will pay more for that. Different strokes, and all that…

    Oh – one thing about your comment that’s been bugging me. By my calculations, each of the closed cell panels consumes 30 cubic inches of space – 20″ x 12″ x .125″ = 30 cubic inches. There are 2 of them in the Air Boss – stitched into the walls which separate the central compartment from the other 2 compartments. (I am estimating their thickness at an eighth of an inch or .125″) I captured the 20×12 dimensions by measuring a panel. …perhaps I am misunderstanding your comment.

    As for your concluding comment about “no checked bag” – absolutely. With a laptop along, I have to bring the Metro. I don’t like it, but the Air Boss just gets a bit too heavy with the laptop. Otherwise, all the “seat level” stuff goes in my travel vest.

    Thanks for commenting…

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  3. Michael W. says:

    I once calculated lost volume using a camping foam pad, based on using the Steves Classic size – 21×14 for each panel. I was curious how “costly” it would be, to cut down a piece of camping foam and insert it in the Classic.

    Using the Classic width and height dimensions, and assuming 3/8 inch thick foam, which is common, that produces a volume loss of 21x14x(3/8) = 110 cubic inches.

    It jumps to a whopping loss of 147 cubic inches, if you bump the pad thickness up only an 1/8 of an inch to .5 inch total.

    So while a pad looks pretty innocuous, it can consume space rather quickly, depending on thickness.

    I didn’t realize that the total thickness of the panels in the Air Boss is a very minimal .125 (about 1/8 of an inch). That, plus the slightly small width and height, brings us down to your number. Props to Air Boss for keeping the foam panels VERY minimal.

    The pad in my Gator, by the way, feels closer to .5 inch or even 3/8, it’s pretty robust…but I appreciate it being there.

    [Reply]

  4. Michael W. says:

    So you carry the Metro as well as the Air Boss! We need a Practical Hacks bumper sticker or luggage tag reading “NO CHECKED BAGS HERE!”

    [Reply]

  5. Kevin says:

    Prompted by this exchange, I just measured the thickness of the foam in the Air Boss – it’s 1/4″ thick. So 20 x 12 x .25 x 2 = 120 cubic inches for the entire bag, which is not insubstantial. I’d just as soon have it there than not, though.

    [Reply]

  6. David says:

    I ordered the “Air Boss” and returned it. I certainly agree it’s a well made bag. But honestly I think it looks awful. I ordered it in black. The Red Oxx brand is emblazoned in red on both sides of the bag and in my opinion does not look professional at all. The zippers are huge and the hardware looks like it is something one would use for a military campaign. I’m a civilian who travels. I am not going into battle. I think it’s overkill. There seems to be an almost cult following surrounding this bag. Really folks it’s just a suitcase. As others have mentioned, there is no key tether which seems out of date in 2009.

    I haven’t decided which bag to get. It’s between the Tom Bihn Aeronaut and the Patagonia MLC. I am leaning towards the MLC. I reckon I’m in the minority here but wanted to share my point of view.

    [Reply]

    Till Reply:

    The “military” looks can be explained by its pedigree, see the review. It is about the only thing one can reproach the Airboss.

    However, it is for this very reason, that when I needed/wanted to buy such a bag I did not get the Airboss. Instead I got the Easygoing Carry-on. Unfortunately, it is not produced anymore but with a little luck you might find one on ebay.

    The main differences are that the EG bag is a tad lighter, the foam panels are actually removable, it uses different zippers and it uses 1050D ballistic instead of 1000D Cordura nylon. It is simply black with no garish logos. There is a very discrete logo that can be cut off if you want to. The shoulder strap is more of the anti-theft variety than of the anti-slip kind (check out Kevin’s review). It was also a bit cheaper ($25 or so). The size and pocket layout are just like that of the Airboss.

    Here is my review of it and two other bags:
    http://www.1bag1world.com/blog.....otout.html

    By the way, the TX2 in that review is also discontinued BUT you can still get a very nice leather version of it made by Royce if you shop around.

    So this is clearly a tip for the luggage hunter. But the EG bag is a great alternative to the Airboss in a less martial look.

    [Reply]

  7. Kevin says:

    David – Thanks for your comment. If you haven’t checked out my review of the MLC, please do so. Depending upon your needs it might be perfect… or not quite large enough. Agree totally that the Air Boss is a beast, and for many that’s part of its appeal. I’ve always acknowledged that a few more frills (key clip, a couple of small pockets) would help a great deal. Over time I’ll likely add the items like these that I miss, and switch to a standard TerraGrip strap to compensate for the weight gain those items add. As with many things, choosing the bag that’s right for you often comes down to matters of taste, as your comment certainly proves. Thanks for visiting and for your honest comment!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  8. John S. says:

    For a recent two-week trip to Australia (including three intra-country flights), I traveled with the Air Boss and Gator bags. Qantas allows one carry-on bag, plus a personal item, neither of which can exceed 15 lbs (7 kg). My fully packed AB weighed closer to 17 lbs, maybe even 18 lbs, but because it wasn’t overstuffed no check-in agent showed any inclination to weigh it. Contrast that with one poor guy traveling with what probably was a 22″ wheeled bag. The agent insisted on weighing it, even though it clearly would have fit in an overhead bin. He was forced to check the bag. I don’t know, but guess he had no more stuff (and probably less) than I did. The Gator, being smaller than some women’s purses, scarcely attracted any attention.

    I’m a small guy (5’6″, 140 lbs). I’ve carried the AB more than once with closer to 23 lbs (laptop and accessories included). I wouldn’t want to trek through Europe that way, but it’s manageable for the type of travel I generally do. I like the flexibility of three sections, and use Eagle Creek sacks and cubes to pack small, loose items like pens (if I’m taking just one bag). That the AB doesn’t have various small pockets is insignificant for me.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    John,

    Thanks; great comment and thx for the tip on Eagle Creek cubes.

    [Reply]

  9. Alan Birnbaum says:

    I have sporadically used the original Patagonia MLC, in black ballistic nylon, over the last twenty years, but am considering now replacing it, as the urethane coating on the nylon has started to get somewhat tacky and oozes an odd odor. The bag otherwise is intact. I do see that it has coil zippers, only one of which fully opens the bag, rather than the three three-sided YKK #10. Probably I will sacrifice the backpack straps of the MLC, or the Red Oxx Sky Train, since most of the time, I will have available a luggage cart; not a folding one, but my wife’s 22″ Rollaboard or her 29″ Rimowa.

    [Reply]

  10. Till says:

    Alan, there is a very easy solution for the old MLC. Use the warranty. They will most likely give you a new bag.

    Patagonia has a very good warranty. They are very courteous. I recently brought in a 12 year old jacket. They exchanged the main zipper (I didn’t even ask that) and resealed the seams (I did ask that). No shipping cost, nothing. They also asked if I wanted a new jacket in case they couldn’t repair mine. How awesome is that?

    It will be easiest if you go to a Patagonia shop. But if there isn’t one near you, the website has a very good warranty form. They do ask the “do you want a new one” question also on the form. I actually said NO because they don’t make quite the equivalent jacket anymore of what I had. But for the bag this would probably be a good system.

    I’d at least try that way. Perhaps they give you a brand new bag or offer it to you for half price.

    Also consider the Burrito by Patagonia. Better for suits. I am a big fan of Briggs and Riley even if they are mainstream. So do look at those, too. That said, an Airboss is never a bad choice.

    [Reply]

  11. Guest1 says:

    I’m completely sold on the iPad – especially for travel. I will no longer carry a full size laptop. With that said, one feature I’d like to see added to the Air Boss is an iPad sized sleeve sewn into one of the middle dividers. Smack in the middle, so the iPad would be balanced and essentially float within the bag. It wouldn’t even need much padding, as your clothes would provide most of its protection. If you didn’t use it, the sleeve would take up very little space. But incredibly convenient if you do want to use it.

    [Reply]

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