This is a guest post by Practical Hacks subscriber & frequent commenter Michael W. from the Bay Area in California. An experienced traveler, Michael offers great insight into two Rick Steves travel bags…

Two months ago, I purchased Rick Steves’ nicely redesigned and upgraded convertible carry-on luggage/backpack called the Classic Back Door bag.  At $79 it’s a steal, as Kevin admits in his detailed review HERE

I intended to use it for a trip to Thailand where, among other things, I was to compete in a jiu jitsu tournament.

But guess what – the  Classic (to the right) turned out to be TOO big – who would have thought its legal carry-on size (45″ maximum total for length, width, and depth) – would turn out to be too much for a week long trip!? And that’s even AFTER trial packing it with all the gear I needed for the jiu jitsu competition!

So after I returned from my trip, I searched the Rick Steves’ online Travel Store some more, and read this description of one of his day packs, the Appenzell:

Kid-Friendly: It’s also the ideal “junior big bag” for kids who aren’t ready to lug around a full-size 9″ x 21″ x 14″ carry-on bag.

“Now that’s intriguing,” I thought. “I wonder if it might work for me, even though I’m far from a ‘kid’….”

7 day trip to Thailand with one small bag – NOT the Steves Classic!

My story begins when I decided I just had to travel to Thailand to compete in the very old guys’ division of a regional Brazilian jiu jitsu tournament.

I thought I had way too much gear to even dream of traveling with just carry-on luggage. I mean, carrying on all the stuff the average person just needs for a regular vacation is already tough enough, right? Much less packing bulky sports gear.

But after reading Kevin’s persuasive arguments and helpful tips, and trying some “bundle wrapping” of clothes, and reading up at Dyment’s “one bag” site, I decided to give it a try and ordered the Steves’ Classic (photo above right) and began trial packing it in earnest.

By trial packing the Classic in advance of my departure,  I learned that “military rolled” clothes take up much less space than any other form of packing. This isn’t a style of packing that Kevin recommends for regular clothing because it wrinkles clothing like mad, but with a bulky jiu jitsu “kimono” or “gi” it’s perfect, because wrinkles don’t matter. After military rolling the gi, it took up MUCH less space in the Steves Classic than it has EVER taken up in my gym bag.

Then I put my regular clothes and all my other stuff in the Classic, but the Classic was still mostly empty. Embarrassingly empty.

Apparently for years I have been senselessly checking bags in the past when there was absolutely no need to do so! It’s a question of figuring out what you really “need” vs. what you “might” need.

So for my jiu jitsu trip, I ended up sidelining the Classic and just using an old duffel.

On the way back I carried on even less, because I checked the gi and all the useless “extra” clothing I thought I needed but never used, putting them all in the “souvenir” bag I brought along.  So it turned out I only needed a 1,400 cubic inch tote to carry the rest of my stuff back to the States.

Yep, 1,400 cubic inches was all I needed:  that’s a tote, a day pack, or a messenger bag.

Next trip: the Steves Appenzell

As soon as I got back, I revisited Kevin’s article on using a day pack as his sole carry-on bag for short business trips. Then I revisited the Rick Steves travel store website and ordered his “perfect for the kids” Appenzell day pack, pictured below.

Rick Steves Appenzell Day Pack

Unlike many packs you see in stores, the Appenzell has an optimally rectangular shape (6″ x 18″ x 13″) that maximizes storage volume and packing strategies. The use of thinner materials, and use of padding only on the back panel and straps, insures that the Appenzell has an “honest” 1,400 cubic inch volume. Heck, even the laptop sleeve is only minimally padded – you use your clothing for extra cushioning. Maximum efficiency!

Based on my hasty return flight packing, 1,400 cubic inches is optimal, and I’ve since verified that with trial packing experiments with the Appenzell.

CAVEAT: For future trips to SE Asia, I also plan on using a small flight bag for my “seat side” items, those odds and ends (like neck pillow, very thin pullover, ear plugs, toothbrush) which I like to keep at seat level during my flights, and also to shift some “heavy” items out of the Appenzell, like books and power bricks. I can also move the “x-ray opaque” items to this flight bag, which means if I put my DVD player in the Appenzell, it should sail through x-ray inspection without having to remove it. The Red Oxx Gator is my current choice of optimal, well-made flight bags – based on Kevin’s comments on Red Oxx quality, I decided to cut to the chase and invest my money with them.

Appenzell: Compelling alternative to a conventionally sized carry-on

  • Unlike conventional day packs and as mentioned above, the Appenzell is very “rectangular,” which allows very efficient folding and packing of clothes into the main compartment, which is spacious. Even a small taper makes rectangular “bundle wrapping” impractical with most day packs, so don’t underestimate the importance of the “right shape.” Kevin’s excellent road-map, with pictures, explaining bundle wrapping is here.  Believe me, bundle wrapping really stops wrinkles dead, and the thing I like about it most, is that it lets me pack the week before and not worry about stuff coming out of my bag looking like I slept in it.
  • Right above the main compartment there is a second compartment (umbrella peeking out, in the picture below and to the right,) which has a full-length zipper along one side, in which I can stow a jacket or sweater if the weather’s cool or if I’ll be on a long, overly air conditioned flight. I like not having to rummage in the main compartment for my jacket. It’s also a natural space to put a magazine or papers.
  • There is a lower front pocket which has a keychain retainer and an organizer panel for pens and small electronic devices. There are also two useful upper pockets. Since I plan to use the Red Oxx Gator for “can’t live without ’em” seat side items, I may not need the extra organization provided by these 3 extra pockets/ compartments, but they don’t add to the bulk of the pack so I’d rather have them than not.

  • There are no waist belts or sternum straps to dangle in the way and present a messy appearance.  Besides not presenting a neat appearance, they seem to catch on door knobs or wedge into cracks…  almost always when I’m in a hurry! Let’s face it, this pack is for ultra-mobile travel, not for traversing a glacier, and does fine just with a pair of shoulder straps. And in fact these shoulder straps are nicely padded and so is the back panel; this pack is a comfortable carry.
  • The mesh bottle containers on each side of the pack have useful cinch straps and will easily hold a short water bottle (as shown in the picture above on the right), paperback book, or sunglasses. Be careful, though, the mesh panels don’t run up the side of the pack as far as you might like, and things might slip out if you don’t keep the pack upright.
  • The materials look nice, but are designed for maximum efficiency – thinner nylon, one way zippers except on the main compartment (not two zippers to open from either end). A nice touch is the use of sturdier ballistics nylon on the “foot” of the pack for added durability in the heaviest wear area. I much prefer the “functional minimalism” of this travel pack to the more luxurious appearance of more expensive day packs, which are overbuilt, over-padded, and under-useful.
  • There is a useful laptop compartment which I can use for either for a full-fledged laptop or for a DVD player. Please note, though, that while the pack panel has ample padding, the front panel of the laptop panel is pretty thin and you should plan on having clothes in the main compartment to provide extra cushioning on the far side of the laptop, or use a thin neoprene “jacket” for the laptop.
  • The Appenzell offers reasonably decent, but not perfect, access to its larger compartments. The problem is, the zippers don’t go all the way down the side on the main compartment, so that means the pack only opens halfway. I work around this problem by putting my bundle wrapped clothing into a flat, thin athlete’s cinch sack before I insert it into the Appenzell. These cost less than $10, or you can just use a recycled plastic bag from a retailer. Either option lets you fill the main compartment to its corners, which is optimal for bundle wrapping.

  • Finally, although the Appenzell is large enough for use as your main carry-on bag, it’s also innocuous, and small enough, to serve as a “personal sized” bag in addition to a wheelie if you are taking the proverbial kitchen sink and not just the utensils on your trip. The main thing about the Appenzell is that it is large on the inside while appearing small on the outside.

I highly recommend the Appenzell for travel use by adults, not only kids, if: (i) you are fanatical about traveling ultra light; or (ii) if you are going on a shorter trip; or (iii) if your trips will require checking some luggage anyway, but you want from a few days to a week’s worth of clothing and supplies in our carry-on bag, so you can survive until any lost or delayed luggage is delivered to you.

All this for $39! ...(and the online buzz is you can watch for this to go on sale from time to time, too.)  For additional details including a choice of 5 colors, CLICK HERE.

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22 Comments on Review: 2 Rick Steves carry-ons – $79 Backdoor Classic vs. $39 Appenzell day pack

  1. Kevin says:

    Michael –

    Nice review! This makes me wonder if I should consider a bag like the Appenzell for quick overnight trips – its shape is certainly more conducive to packing than my backpack is. Thanks for taking the time to craft a well written and thought provoking post!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  2. Michael W. says:

    Thanks for inviting me to do a guest review! It was a lot more work (but also a lot more satisfying) than I expected.

    I found a good online source for the athlete’s “cinch sack” I mentioned, for holding the bundle wrapped clothing, at LLBean (it’s called Bean’s Cinch Sack):

    http://www.llbean.com/webapp/w.....&np=Y

    Someone at the Rick Steves forum also mentioned using a packing cube for their clothing, and said that the largest Steves packing cube fits the bottom of the Appenzell almost perfectly, leaving room at the top for an average-sized pair of shoes (i.e., running shoes not hiking boots). But I like using a cinch sack better, the thin, pliable cloth of the cinch sack conforms to the shape of the clothes really well and, as a result, doesn’t leave any dead space, which is sometimes the problem with a less than optimally filled packing cubes.

    Plus, you can use the cinch sack as a gym bag at destination or, on the return flight home, when you aren’t worried about clothing wrinkles and soiling, you can use it to carry back souvenirs.

    I am coming around to the point of view that for a non-business trip, a medium sized daypack like the Appenzell is more than enough for trips lasting up to a week, even overseas trips. Luggage, per se, isn’t required. Business trips can make things trickier since sometimes you need extra business slacks or oxford shirts, not to mention a laptop computer, but I don’t think trips to colder climes are out of the question, if you wear your heavier clothing instead of packing it. I also think the iPod Touch is an interesting alternative to a laptop, for doing secure business and credit card transactions at internet cafes overseas, reserving the internet cafe computer for web browsing, but I haven’t had a chance to test this out yet. If savvy travelers downsize from laptops to iPod Touch’s or similar “net” appliances, a lot of the bulk and weight of a laptop is going to disappear.

    The more I play with the Appenzell the more I like it. The LLBean book packs (yes, school kids packs! check out the “Deluxe Book Pack” and “Original Book Pack”) come close to the Appenzell in pure functionality – they have the same rectangular shape, which is essential – but they definitely have a “kiddie pack” look instead of the “travel pack” look of the Appenzell, and their pockets aren’t optimized for travel use, the way Steves has optimized the Appenzell.

    There’s one other point I didn’t have time to make in the article, which was already getting long, and that is: use synthetics for clothing wherever possible. My synthetic “golf” polos from Target didn’t wrinkle and dried overnight after a sink washing. Ditto my synthetic underwear from Patagonia and Coolmax black socks from Target. I’ve heard Ex Officio has some great travel briefs too, Tilley supposedly has great travel socks, but so long as you get all synthetic, with no cotton, even a discount store brand should be fine.

    I’ve found through bitter experience that there’s a world of difference between synthetics that dry overnight with almost no wrinkles, and cotton that takes at least two, if not more, days to dry and has tons of wrinkles from drip-drying.

    On my trip to Thailand, I took five pairs of underwear and five pairs of socks, but guess what? By sink washing my socks and underwear each night before I went to bed, I only needed two of each – the rest turned out to be dead weight. If you can sink wash, three synthetic polo style or t-shirt style shirts are more than sufficient, ditto for socks and underwear.

    [Reply]

  3. Michael W. says:

    Oh one other comment. I don’t know if you can add pictures after an article is posted, but if you were to put the picture for the Classic side-by-side with the picture for the Appenzell, it’s really clear that the Appenzell is just a “mini-me” of the Classic, the main difference between the two is that the backpack straps on the Appenzell never “hide” like the ones on the Classic, and are the sole means of carry (apart from the usual carry loop at the top of the day pack).

    And yeah, I finally came across Tom Bihn’s bags the other day, the Western Flyer looks very functional:

    http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/500/TB0950

    But I think I like the “rugged” styling of the RedOxx line better.

    Both Red0xx and Bihn are made in America, however, which is really cool these days.

    [Reply]

  4. Michael W. says:

    I just received the LLBean “Sack Pack,” which is Bean’s implementation of the traditional, minimalist athlete’s cinch sack usually sold for under $10 at sporting goods stores and used by high school students for carrying gym clothes.

    As with most LLBean products, workmanship is top-notch and the emphasis is on functionality. The Sack Pack is basically a thoughtful, quality upgrade on traditional gym cinch sacks. It is a little longer and wider, has thicker material at the bottom for better wear and even the main body has thicker material than customary, and uses non-binding 3/4 inch webbing (more like a tape than a thick webbing) instead of string for the cinch straps. These webbing straps provide just enough friction so that the mouth of the cinch sack doesn’t close down when you are trying to fill the sack, yet not so much friction that the sack is hard to cinch closed when you want to.

    The grommets at the bottom are a notch above what you usually see in quality, and there is a sliding buckle on the straps to allow adjusting the backstrap length when the cinch sack is closed, something I have never seen on other cinch sacks before.

    It does cost $12, but compared to a regular pack that is still a steal, and it still has that core “gym bag” functionality which is based, to a large extent, on its “minimalism.”

    The Sack Pack does not have the exterior zip pocket now found on some sporting good stores’ cinch sacks, nor is it made of mesh, which facilitate air drying of gym clothes when hung in a student’s locker. I’d like to see Bean come out with a mesh alternative, with a small zip pocket. (That would be ideal for my gym trips, but not any better than the current version for travel needs.)

    On the other hand, the use of solid fabric, instead of mesh, means it is better suited as a clothing pouch for my “one-bag,” which is its intended purpose. The solid fabric protects from spills and soiling.

    The Sack Pack size is 14.5″x19″ which is more than ample for bundle-wrapped slacks with shirts (with socks and underwear as the core). This size is actually larger than the interior compartment on the Appenzell (13×18) which means I can’t fill the Sack Pack to the corners with clothing when packing for the Appenzell. On the other hand, the Sack Pack is a good fit for the Steves Classic full sized carry-on (14×21) and is probably a perfect fit for the slightly smaller, nearly full-sized carry-ons like the Red Oxx Air Boss, Bihn Western Flyer, and Patagonia MLC.

    Unlike the Costco “shirt pouch” that came with my old Costco carry-on wheelie – which I used to hold my bundle-wrapped clothing last time – the Sack Pack can double up as a destination day pack.

    The Sack Pack is even big enough to haul my bulky jiu jitsu uniform with knee pads, mouthpieces, cup, etc., around at my destination, although I’d probably still want a waist pack or Red Oxx Gator for my personal items…I wouldn’t want to have to fish around in the Sack Pack for them. Plus, the Sack Pack isn’t going to be mistaken as a classy bag; while attractive for what it is, what it is, is a sack with straps.

    I highly recommend consideration of the Sack Pack in lieu of packing cubes and other “purpose built” packing cubes and packing folders as made by Eagle Creek and others. The Sack Pack is, in most cases, simpler, equally efficient, and dual-purposed.

    [Reply]

  5. Claudia says:

    Great review! I’d been eyeing the Appenzell for a while and this made me finally get one. I’m very pleased with my purchase — I use it with the 15″ Eagle Creek Pack-it Folder, plus one large Rick Steves packing cube and one small one. I can easily pack a week’s worth of clothes and I tuck in a Civita day pack (I use it as a day pack, plus it becomes my carry-on on the return trip if I buy too much and have to check in my Appenzell. And, no. I don’t work for Rick Steves, lol — I just find that he makes some excellent travel gear.)

    The laptop pocket is wasted on me, since I use a netbook which fits better in the front lower pocket of the Appenzell. (It would make really happy if they ever came out with a version that replaced the large laptop pocket with a bit of padding on this front lower pocket; given how many people use netbooks these days, this would meet a real market need.)

    PS I also got the Backdoor Classic bag to replace an ancient MEC bag that was finally starting to show its age. I have the Red Oxx Air Boss, and I really love the look and workmanship of the bag; however, I find that much prefer the lightness (the Backdoor Classic weighs only half as much as the Air Boss, and that makes a big difference with some of the international carry-on weight restrictions), extra pockets and backpack shoulder straps of the Backdoor Classic. In fact, my Air Boss has gathered dust ever since I picked up the Backdoor Classic.

    [Reply]

  6. matthew harris says:

    i use rick’s classic bag as my main bag and put that in the over head bin and use the appenzell day pack for all my other other odds and ends that i want to have with me at all times and just keep that under my seat…i have not checked a bag in years…i also store along the smaller lighter civita day bag so when i reach my destination i just use that when i am out site seeing etc etc…

    [Reply]

  7. Michael W. says:

    I think the Steves Classic convertible plus the Appenzell is an awesome combination – the gate attendant has never hassled you because the Appenzell is a little large for a “personal item?”

    How do you carry them together – they are both “backpack straps” bagss – one one each shoulder, single strap, or one on your back and the other in hand? I don’t recollect the Steves Classic having shoulder strap attachment points and I’m at work and can’t rummage in the closet to make sure…so that probably isn’t a carry option.

    [Reply]

  8. matthew harris says:

    when boarding i carry the classic like normal suitcase (two sets of grab handles on classic-top and side…) i keep back straps in concealed zipped compartment…i just keep the appenzell slung over a shoulder…the appenzell is normal backpack size…it’s actually an inch shorter than my basic north face backpack…it really does not draw any more attention because i do not pack it full so it still looks flat and not bloated or stuffed…i keep things like travel books, travel docs, mags, ipod, cell phone, camera etc…all the smaller items i want to grab or things i want to shove somewhere in a hurry…i have taken a smaller pack in the past but was always bursting that pack at the seams even with just the basics…i’d rather have the spare extra room…when i land i put on the classic like a backpack and just carry the appenzell with the grab handle…i have seen others board with personal bags that seem much larger and bloated than the appenzell…

    [Reply]

  9. Richard J Laue says:

    Hi, Michael W –

    Re the Appenzell’s laptop compartment: how easy/convenient is it for pulling the laptop out for TSA inspection, and then replacing it afterwards?

    I carry a 13″ MacBook, so it ought to fit that compartment okay. But in the confusion of the TSA line — both before and after getting scanned — even simple tasks can turn hectic, and I don’t want to have to fight the other contents of the bag in order to remove/replace the laptop.

    Many thanks –
    RJLaue

    [Reply]

  10. Michael W. says:

    I will double check the Appenzell when I get home tonight (but may not be able to post again here until tomorrow, due to some connection problems on the internet connection at home).

    But iirc, the Appenzell does not have a “dedicated” computer slot with its own entry zipper NOR, iirc, even padding on the front side of the computer slot – it looks like a panel design for a hydration slot was simply converted to computer use. So it’s not an ideal choice for laptops…but then again, it isn’t ridiculously overbuilt and overpriced like some laptop friendly day packs I have seen, such as the $160 Patagonia Dawn Patrol MLC pack.

    (I don’t fault Steves for leaving the retention panel unpadded, he counts on us using our clothing creatively to provide padding on that side and also under the computer, so it doesn’t jar the floor when the pack is set down.)

    You might consider a different solution, one I have to follow myself due to the draconian (15 pound) weight limit for carry-on bags on international transpacific flight – just get a second bag which is smaller, but more laptop friendly, and carry your laptop and TSA pouch there (might as well have all security items in the same place so you only have to fuss with one bag).

    My current bag combination starts with the Appenzell or similar student size, oblong day pack (like the Trans Pack by Jansport sold all year round at Target, or the seasonal “back to school” High Sierra Streak pack – only $14.99 – now available at Costco ).

    This main bag easily holds my clothing and other bulky but relativelyl light items, and passes the scale test handily. (If I am carrying my bulky jiu jitsu uniform, then I have to “up-size” to the Rick Steves Classic Convertible suitcase/backpack unless I am willing to add a checked bag, but even so I have to be careful about the weight limit).

    For my second bag, the smaller personal sized item, I use a Patagonia Lightwire Brief, which has an excellent dedicated laptop slot with padding on all three sides. I use this to carry not only my my netbook and TSA pouch – which both have to come out through security – but, additionally, everything I think I will need during transit, whether on the ground or in the airplane cabin.

    This means a neck brace so my neck doesn’t flop around while sleeping; a loose fitting watchcap to help keep me warm but also to roll down over my eyes for sleeping; my water bottles refilled after security; snacks; my reading materials; my non-TSA toiletries as well as the TSA items, so this becomes my emergency “go” bag; a pair of underwear and socks; a fleece pullover in case the flight is cold or I get disembarked to a cold terminal; and a thin nylon jacket in case there is non-gate disembarkation in the rain (I like the Integral Designs shown here http://www.integraldesigns.com.....cttypeid=1 which is 4.6 ounces and not only doubles as a light rain jacket but also looks smart enough, in black, for cafe dining – the Patagonia Houdinis and Marmot Ion are alternatives at more expensive and less expensive price points, respectively). All this and the bag is still compact and will fit under the seat in front of me with plenty of room on both sides for my legs, or behind my legs after take-off.

    This approach keeps all my “must come out through security” items in one bag; means I can stow my day pack “carry-on” bag overhead and forget about it; and means all the stuff I want during the flight is right there at my feet, either behind my legs or under the seat in front of me, with room to spare.

    As an alternative personal bag, you might check out the TSA approved “splitting sides” laptop bags at Target. These are, iirc, about $40 and make transiting security with a laptop a breeze. There isn’t as much room for all the personal items I like to stow besides a laptop, but there is enough room for a lot of them, in the adjacent compartment. I used to use a smaller bike messenger bag for my laptop since it doesn’t cry out “laptop,” but given domestic security concerns this is no longer a practical option.

    Finally, since the carry-on rules don’t say the bags have to be different “types”, only that one must be small and the other can have combined linear dimensions (L, W, H) not exceeding 45″, conceivably you could carry a larger day pack for your clothing, and a smaller day pack for your laptop, such as this $90 Lightwire Pack from Patagonia, which DOES have a separate entry (but may not be “double padded,” can’t tell):

    http://www.patagonia.com/web/u.....8863-0-685

    Or the original Lightwire Brief is on sale for $50 here:

    http://www.patagonia.com/web/u.....9016-1-090

    [Reply]

  11. Richard J Laue says:

    Hi, Michael –

    I appreciate your well-though-out comments and suggestions, but I’m very specifically trying to get down to one bag only.

    I currently have an Eddie Bauer Westlake 20″ duffel, and a laptop case (Samsonite). No check-thru luggage for several years now!

    I travel regularly between 4 destinations; in each destination I have my own dedicated room, complete with clothes, toiletries, books, bedding, etc. In other words, self-contained! So I travel VERY light indeed! My laptop case is actually heavier at this point than my half-empty carry-on bag!

    My carry-on is never full anymore, and I COULD put my laptop and its few accessories in there and forego the laptop case entirely, except that the mouth of the duffel is shaped such that getting the laptop in and out quickly is a hassle. Hence my interest in the Appenzell.

    The Appie will be plenty big enough for the few items I pack and should still accomodate the laptop, IF the convenience factor of removing/replacing the laptop is significantly improved. And I have no problem padding the laptop, sides and bottom, with a tee-shirt or a sweatshirt.

    BTW – I never remove the laptop (other than for TSA inspection) in airports or on the plane anymore. I recently got an iPod Touch, and it has become my “mini-computer” and entertainment center for killing time in airports or while on the plane. I strongly suggest you do NOT try one, unless you’re prepared to become totally addicted — they’re that good!

    So back to the Appenzell: I’d still like your take on the ease of removal/replacement, and whether that can be done without dislodging the other stuff too much. I’m really drawn to it, partly from your write-up and partly from the enthusiastic reviews of owners on various websites.

    On the VERY rare occasions where I might need a second bag, I could always use the duffel as my “carry-on” and plead the Appie as my “computer case,” and probably get them both on the plane with no trouble ….

    Cheers and aloha –
    RJLaue

    [Reply]

  12. Michael W. says:

    Thanks for the additional context Richard. It sounds like we all have different travel niches – Kevin seems to favor short business hops, I do transpacific international flights … and you have your clothing etc. already waiting for you at your four dedicated destinations! (I should be so lucky….)

    If you don’t overfill the Appenzell, it should work well for you, the laptop divider panel is slightly padded (against scratches, not shocks) and has a hook and loop closure strap to keep the laptop from falling out should you somehow invert the Appenzell while the top is open. You’d still need put some socks or something under the bottom edge of the Macbook. The pack mouth is wide enough that if you bundle wrap any clothing you are carrying or use a packing cube, you’ll still have very easy access to the laptop. The only time I had trouble reaching in, was when I overfilled the pack and, on top of that, stuffed some Crocs Scutes sandals in, right at the very top.

    Keep in mind the Appenzell is NOT a purpose-built laptop pack – it is very LIGHTLY built and padded vs. the typical overbuilt/overpadded laptop pack. Costco was also selling, for $29.99, student laptop packs next to the $14.99 book packs the last time I went in. My objection to most laptop packs, is that they are so darn overpadded and bulky that they don’t usually leave much room for contents. But if you are worried about knocking the Macbook around, it’s something to think about.

    IMHO the Cadillac of laptop packs is the Patagonia MLC Dawn Patrol. I brought one of the Spring ’09 models for domestic travel where there aren’t any current significant weight limitations on carry-on. Unfortunately it was just discontinued by Patagonia, but the shopping feature on Bing turned up some left-overs which are even on sale:

    http://www.bing.com/shopping/s.....;form=QBRE

    If that link is dependent on cookies on my computer and won’t work for you, just open bing.com, click on shopping, and enter Patagonia MLC Dawn Patrol.

    I can’t completely place myself in your shoes, but here’s my parting thought:

    If I’m using the laptop for pleasure – to watch movies on Hulu and read email more easily – if the laptop is a little old anyway and I wouldn’t mind replacing it if I had to – if I were using my much cheaper netbook – I’d use the Appenzell because it is a great pack and will provide adequate protection.

    If I just bought a new Macbook Pro 13″ (I’ve been thinking of just that); or if I had to use it for work; I’d either use the Lightwire Brief, which provides great protection, or a laptop pack, or something else built with better protection in mind.

    [Reply]

  13. Michael W. says:

    Oh –

    Sounds like I will have to get an iPod Touch…

    and

    Sounds like you could actually pack in a Lightwire Brief – it has 1,600 cubic inches capacity, in the original version, and the original version is being closed out for $50 in gray at Patagonia here:

    http://www.patagonia.com/web/u.....9016-1-090

    [Reply]

  14. Richard J Laue says:

    Hi, Michael –

    One of the benefits of this site is the back-and-forth conversations like ours. We can point out advantages or disadvantages that someone failed to notice. We do, after all, have blind spots in our own thinking sometimes.

    Your comment — reminder, actually — that the Appenzell is NOT a particularly robust or rugged pack brought me back to reality.

    It’s not just the airplane storage bin I have to deal with — sometimes it’s the shuttle van (with all the bags tossed willy-nilly in the back — or maybe a bus or BART ride, etc. I want a bag that can take a fair amount of abuse and protect an enclosed laptop if necessary. You’ve helped me realize that the Appenzell is NOT that bag, whatever its other virtues.

    Remember Kevin’s review of the Tom Binh Aeronaut? He came to respect the form-factor after putting it to the practical test. Well, that form-factor is what my present bag is, and I really like it — the form-factor AND the bag.

    The Aeronaut is 2700 cu.in., which is way too big for my needs. My current bag, which I’ll talk about in a moment, is 2000 cu.in., which is a tad tight if I try to include my laptop. The Eagle Creek Tarmac Flight Bag is 2300 cu.in, and the more I look at it, the more convinced I am that it’s the right one for me.

    My current bag is an Eddie Bauer Westlake 20″ duffel, currently discontinued and being blown out by Target for $40. It’s a bargain at that price — well built, many thoughtful touches, compact — it’s like a shrunken down Aeronaut.

    The Eagle Creek Tarmac splits the difference, size-wise, between the Aeronaut and the Westlake. Same form-factor, but slightly larger in every dimension than the Westlake, and with a more robust construction and some extra pockets and other small but thoughtful features. It’s suggested retail price is $130, so money-wise it’s a definite step up for a modest size gain. But that modest size gain might make all the difference for adding a laptop to the mix.

    What I envision is putting the laptop (in a sleeve) on top of everything else — the last item placed in the large center compartment. Easy removal for TSA, then quickly put it back in the same place.

    When I get to the waiting area, I can remove the laptop and slide it down between my clothing bundle (on the bottom of the bag) and some loose clothing like my jacket or a sweatshirt on TOP of the laptop. At that point it’s pretty well protected in all directions, and I wouldn’t even worry if the bag gets tossed around a little (within reason, of course!).

    I went back yesterday to Summit Hut, bringing my Eddie Bauer duffel with me, and compared it very scrupulously with the Eagle Creek Tarmac. I took very precise measurements, and even took 2 photos of the bags side by side. (Not sure how to include a photo in these responses).

    I also have photos of my Eddie Bauer duffel packed with a clothing bundle and shoes — and it’s still not full! The bundle was one pr long pants; one pr shorts; 2 shirts; 2 pr underwear; and 2 teeshirts. With the bundle OUTside of the bag, you’d swear there’s no way it would fit — but it did, with a minimum of nudging. I’ve got the pictures to prove it!

    The Eagle Creek Tarmac, as I said, would allow me to also pack my laptop (a 13″ MacBook) and its accessories, and still fit in a commuter-plane’s overhead bins. I have a feeling it’s going to be my Christmas present to myself!

    Cheers and aloha –
    RJLaue

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    RJ: Alas, you (and I) can’t post images to comments. If you can host images somewhere (Flickr, Photobucket, etc.) you can of course link to those images in a comment. Or… get to work on a guest post!

    Michael: you really need to take photos when you pack for your September trip to Thailand, and do a post about your approach – and the trip. Put that new camera to work!

    kc

    [Reply]

  15. Richard J Laue says:

    There’s a nice U-Tube video on the Eagle Creek Tarmac Flight Bag:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sWc745sPEU

    Here’s the link to the bag on Eagle Creek’s website:
    http://www.eaglecreek.com/prod.....flight+bag

    I want it in Palm Green. What the video doesn’t show is the robustness of the material and the construction. This is a heavy-duty bag!

    Cheers and aloha –
    RJLaue

    [Reply]

  16. matthew harris says:

    i’ve always packed light and enjoy trying to pack lighter and lighter…having used the appenzell as a personal bag before (overkill) i realized i could use it as my main carry-on overhead bin bag and revert back to my smaller under the seat personal bag…i usually use rick’s classic back door bag as my main bag and i really like it but i thought the appenzell would suffice on my latest trip and it did…i fit 9 folded shirts in rick’s large packing cube and that fits exactly in bottom of the main appenzell area…i slid two pants folded in the laptop sleeve area…a weeks worth of socks and underwear fit in a smaller packing cube…toiletries kit…mesh bag of odds and ends plus use of the other outer zipped compartments for other “stuff”…and then i have a nice smaller daypack i use as my personal bag for all the other things i need to have handy…i wear the only shoes i take…always versatile hiking shoes…this was the smoothest and lightest i have ever packed in the smallest bag i ever used as my main bag…i am going to use this similar approach when i go back again to europe…

    [Reply]

  17. Michael W. says:

    Matthew,

    I’m liking packing cubes more and more, thanks for sharing your experience with them.

    Now my burning question is: what did you use for your under-the-seat personal bag?

    I’ve used the RedOxx Gator with great success, although the darn thing is heavy even before I pack it. The much larger Patagonia Lighwire Brief is a bag I’m considering for next time – it’s not as well organized as the Gator, but I swear it FEELS lighter.

    [Reply]

  18. matthew harris says:

    for the personal bag i used rick’s veloce shoulder bag which can also transform into a backpack…15x11x5…not as large as my basic north face backpack (which is good in this case…) but has many more compartments (6 of various size) than your typical backpack and definitely built with travel in mind…laptop area in main large compartment for those who may need…mesh water bottle holder…media cord port…

    [Reply]

  19. Till says:

    Excellent review. Makes me want to try the Classic. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to travel with the Appenzell on anything longer than two days I guess and in that case I might as well just take some clothes along in my briefcase.

    What I don’t share is the positive impression of bundle wrapping. Yes, it does conserve space quite well. I’d estimate a 10-20% space saving over smartly done traditional packing but the wrinkles definitely do increase and it takes longer to pack and unpack.

    This depends of course largely on the type of clothes you are bringing and of the style of traveling you are doing. If the clothes are wrinkle free, great. If you need some extra space in the bag at the end of the trip, great, too. If you must bring more stuff than what would normally fit in the bag but you must stay within the requirements for carry-on luggage, bundle wrapping is also a good solution, as long as you only unpack once.

    Here is a little thread I started on OBOW on the subject:
    http://www.1bag1world.com/obow.....ost/878417

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Till:

    Thanks; I’m sure Michael appreciates the feedback.

    I haven’t had a chance to check the thread you linked to, but will.

    I’m a fan of bundle packing, but I did pick up an Eagle Creek Pack-It 18 recently to give it a trial run. What approach do you take when packing for a 3-5 day trip?

    [Reply]

  20. Till says:

    Obviously it all depends on destination and what I need to take. If it’s a conference or interviews or a presentation, I can’t get around suits, might even take two. But I am pretty good at packing suits even in my shoulder bags.

    For those more professional occasions I also usually need a briefcase/laptop bag and will carry a lot of paper to and from the destination. So for those trips it is not unlikely that I will choose the Plat5 roller plus the Tumi briefcase or BB107 backpack.

    The quantity of things packed might be the same. I’d just do laundry once on a five day trip and none on a 3 day.

    I use the shirt folder on most trips even short leisure trips. Actually got a 15″ model, too, so that I could use it in smaller bags. I just got this great Andiamo 18″ six pocket tote for a song. If a sportcoat is dressy enough, this would actually even work in a professional setting for a 3-5 day trip because it is not too big to use as a briefcase once I arrive. Using the 235x as a briefcase would be a bit ridiculous.

    Pants get wrapped around the shirt folder. Socks and fragiles go in an extra pair of shoes. Underwear and t-shirts go in a cube, rolled. Sweaters just go in the bag.

    The main difference is not so much in the length of the trip or in the bag size. I can live indefinitely from either my roller or my shoulder bags. The difference is in whether I have to carry a heavy tech case, meaning an extra case. Given that most of the travel I do with that need is urban, the roller plus briefcase combo serves me well then. Otherwise I just use a single shoulder bag and not even a personal item. The laptop, if I bring it, goes into the single bag. I will use a plastic bag or whatever I pick up in situ as my “daypack” but usually not even that is necessary because I have my travel anorak or coat.

    [Reply]

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