Patagonia Lightweight Travel DuffelThis is a quick follow-up to my post Experiment in Minimalist Packing:  Business Casual – 3D/2N/8.6 lbs.

As a traveler, there’s nothing quite as liberating as casually strolling through an airport with nothing more than a lightweight bag on your back, your hands free to carry a cup of coffee or perhaps a newspaper.  Nothing to check, no dragging a wheeled bag behind you, nothing to snag armrests as you go down the aisle, no heavy wheelie to try to stow in the overhead, no need to pay a bellman, no need to go to the baggage area…  it’s genuinely empowering and puts a little pleasure back in an activity that’s often frustrating.

This is exactly what it was like to travel with the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel.  Packed with enough clothing for a few days, the obligatory toiletries, a few odds and ends (iPod, earbuds, etc.)  and several spiral bound booklets, it weighed only 8.6 lbs.

But as I mentioned in the earlier post, I had some concerns: because my clothing bundle didn’t hold many items, it was flimsy.  Exacerbating the issue:

…the core of the bundle was small and about 5 or 6″ thick; as a result, it didn’t provide much support for the surrounding clothing and looked as though I’d wrapped my clothing around a grapefruit.  I was fairly sure everything would be badly wrinkled upon arrival at my hotel in Dallas.

As things turned out, it wasn’t nearly that bad:

All I had to do the next morning was hang the shirt and pair of slacks I planned on wearing in the bathroom while I showered; no touch up with a clothes iron was required.

All in all, I really enjoyed traveling with the bag.  I still have some concerns about the durability of the backpack straps, but in actual use they were fine.  Only additional trips will enable me to address the durability issue.

Modifying the bag so it’s better suited to bundle packing

Actually, this isn’t a bag modification; rather, I thought it might be possible to create something that would address two issues at once:  a) provide a bit more structure to the bag, and b) provide a much better “core” for bundle packing this bag.

At Wal-Mart I found a foam exercise mat camping pad for $5.88   The foam is ½” thick and quite lightweight.  Then I removed the perforated foam padding used in the backpack strap compartment on the Lightweight Travel Duffel, and used it as a template.  I marked the foam so it was about 3/4″ smaller than the perforated foam:


…cut out a piece (note:  I was being really careful as I cut this; best to put a piece of corrugated board or plywood beneath the foam as you cut it – or do this on a workbench)–


I then used that piece of foam itself as a template, and cut two more pieces, after which I checked how they fit in the bag:


After a bit of experimenting I cut them down to 14″ x 10½” (x 1½” thick) and taped them together:


To try it out I formed a quick bundle consisting of a couple of long sleeve dress shirts, a golf shirt, and a pair of chinos.  I swear I’ll eventually remember to choose shirts without stripes! – sorry about the moire pattern:


The resulting bundle had one important thing the bundle for my Dallas trip didn’t have:  structure.  Putting it into the bag was extremely easy (click on any of these photos for a close-up)–


And of course, there’s plenty of room left over on top – for undershirts, socks, folders, etc.  You could even put some lightweight workout gear and a pair of running flats (or sneakers) in and have room to spare:


The foam “package” weighed about 5 oz.  I certainly have some misgivings about adding weight in this manner, but I think what I’d gain would outweigh the weight penalty.  The next time I have a similar trip (early June) I’ll try this approach.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel:  it’s a keeper!

Patagonia Lightweight Travel DuffelAs I mentioned in the video, the bag was terrific in actual use.  The side pockets are fairly large, the pocket with the semicircular opening is perfect for your 3-1-1 bag (plus more) and the entire package was very, very light.  Next trip, I’ll also bring my netbook and its power brick along.

This isn’t the right bag for the road warrior who’s on the road every week for 4-5 days, but this may very well become my go-to bag for relatively short business casual trips...  it’s that good.

The Fine Print:  I have no connection with Patagonia (or with Wal-Mart!!)

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11 Comments on Modding the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel for business casual travel

  1. Michael W. says:

    That foam pad trick is REALLY interesting.

    Are you tempted to “round” the corners or does a purely rectangular shape work best for the “core.”

    I haven’t been able to find that foam pad recently at Walmart – what department did you find it in? Or it could just a a regional variation. The version they are selling in NorCal now has “dimples” on one side and weighs more.


  2. Eric says:

    Hmmm, I just had a brainstorm…
    You could cut out (ala french fitting) spaces in the foam core to hold things you don’t need to get at, like rolled up undies, dry toiletry items…

    That would save you some weight and space at the same time! I might try that idea with my other bags.


    Kevin Reply:

    @ Eric – great idea; I thought of hollowing out a section for my netbook, but of course that’d be wildly impractical. No reason you couldn’t cut out a pocket for simple items that couldn’t possibly be an issue for TSA – non metallic items, toothbrush, non liquid meds, etc. I like it!

    @ Michael – My description was a bit sloppy (“exercise mat”) and I may have inadvertently misled you a bit. I found this pad in the camping section – it’s intended as a sleeping bag pad, I think. I could try rounded corners – they might help a bit… thanks. Let me know if you can’t find this pad at your local W-M; if you wanted, I could always grab another one here and send it to you.


    P.S. Courtesy of our trash can: pad is made by “Ozark Trail” – it’s a camping pad and measures 20″ x 72″. Number below the UPC: 18769 04340. Made in the U.S. (I’ll update the post; sorry for any inconvenience.)


  3. Michael W. says:

    It’s great to hear that an ultra-light alternative to conventional carry-on bags has passed PracticalHacks muster!

    Have you tried just cutting down some of your new foam pad to the same size as the factory pad, and inserting it in the main compartment on the floor?

    That would probably give the bag the desired rigidity.

    But I suppose you’d still have a “clothing bundle core” problem…I assume you don’t want to just pack a sweater or some gym clothes as the core?

    The Ozarks camping pad is EXACTLY the one I used to buy. The equivalent at REI costs $20.


  4. Michael W. says:

    Hey, I like Eric’s idea about cutting a two-pad deep “hole” for your netbook. Your foam core might not be “deep” enough to let the netbook sink in all the way, but you’ll have clothing wrapped around it to cushion it anyway. Mainly the niche in the foam pad will keep the netbook from shifting around in your Duffel, which is really important if you want to push it through the x-ray without unpacking. I’m pretty sure that if you keep the power brick and cord and any other metallic items out of the top-to-bottom x-ray path, you will be good to go under TSA rules.


    Kevin Reply:

    Hmm… I’m skeptical. Remember that the zipper on the Duffel runs right through the center of the bag; I don’t think it complies with the TSA guidelines. This is why I thought of it and quickly discarded the idea as impractical. …and frankly, I’m not willing to try it out with a bundle wrapped around the foam/netbook bundle. If they ask to see the netbook, I have to disassemble the entire thing.

    The other wild card is the variability we encounter with TSA agents themselves. Despite the guidelines, they all don’t behave exactly alike.

    MW, if you want to test this out, have at it. ;-) I’ll just put the Asus in its neoprene sleeve and put it in the backpack strap pocket – or on top of the clothing bundle.


  5. Michael W. says:

    Are the zippers metal? I thought the teeth are plastic, and only the closing tab/assembly is metal.

    But your point about the variability we encounter with TSA agents is well taken.

    I just got an Acer Aspire One. At first I though the graphics were too slow to handle Hulu videos, because there was a lot of jerkiness and stuttering on the first feed I tried. But on other feeds the motion was smooth. wasn’t happy with the maximum screen resolution for its “hi def” stream on Lost, but it looked ok. My Acer screen is not LED backlighted and could be brighter; is your Asus led backlighted?

    The Atom processor seems surprisingly capable for a processor designed for smartphone applications.

    I deactivated the McAffee antivirus – it was sell-ware and only free for 90 days or so – and installed AVG, which has worked well on my other computers.

    I can’t get hooked up to the wireless at home. Must be doing something wrong. SO glad I am working with XP which I know pretty well, and not having a painful learning curve with Vista or even more painful curve with Linux. It’s amazing how much setup work is left to do on a new computer – and hour or so of downloading and installing the inevitable updates to Windows XP, setting up an antivirus, trying to activate wireless (at least a good old ethernet cable ALWAYS works), installing my preferred browsers.

    I can’t believe that Windows XP doesn’t automatically require a signin password, and gives ALL users Admin privileges right off the bat – I have to go in and fix that now.

    Fortunately I bought it from Costco, which meant I got a full 6 cell battery, and have a 90 day return privilege. I was almost tempted to return it and cough up the dough for a “white” Macbook, but the 5 pound weight of the Macbook killed it for me.

    I will probably take the netbook to LA this week, and MAY take it to Thailand – depends on whether I feel the need to access email or bank accounts etc. over there – I’d feel safer doing anything more serious than reading the NY Times and favorite blogs on my own computer, not an internet cafe computer. Truth is, even at the lightweight of this computer, I may not want to carry the extra weight to Thailand.

    BTW 10.1″ is pretty miniscule as far as screens go. That doesn’t sound much smaller than the 12″ and 13″ screens we started out on years ago, but since it’s a “wide” screen the usable top to bottom distance is quite small, while hardly anything really needs the extra width. And the type is eyestraining! I even have to put on my 2.0 diopter readers to be able to read the tiny type (I usually use 1.25 readers – I keep the 2.0’s around for “legal fine print” only – and now the netbook).


  6. Michael W. says:

    1. TSA wants the computer removed UNLESS it is in a TSA approved laptop bag. Woe is me. They don’t care what your bag is made of and what else is NOT in there.

    2. In light of your recent preview of the Eagle Creek 18″ Pack-It (dual folding boards sandwiching your clothing, all in a Velcro’d wrapper), would it be worth revisiting the Duffel in combination with the Pack-It? As I re-read this review months later, it seems kinda sad to take a voluminous, but lightweight, alternative to a simple day pack and eat up the volume with the 3-stack of foam padding…the Pack-It would solve the rigidity problem, methinks, while putting the volume to good use.


    Kevin Reply:

    Michael – an interesting thought. Perhaps the 15″ Pack-It would work. Worth looking at… but I gave the Lightweight Duffel to someone. (Too many bags lying about!)

    Today, unannounced and certainly not anticipated, a Bihn “Backpack/Packing Cube” arrived on my doorstep. Per its tag, it’s intended for use with the Western Flyer or Tri-Star. The main compartment unzips almost all the way on 3 sides for packing, and there’s an extra pocket on its front for stashing brochures, maps, etc. And in the main compartment: an O ring with a (provided) key tab. Gotta love it. This is like the Kiva keychain backpack, but more substantial. Very nice – perfect for bopping about around town, picking up souvenirs, and so forth.


    Michael W. Reply:

    I have the packing cube shoulder bag and it works very well to hold a folded up hoody during my flight. I have yet to use it at destination though.

    The backpack/packing cube looks quite nice on their website:

    But it does seem as though in backpack mode you can put more in than folded inside out into “cube” mode – the extra zipper compartment on the bottom seems to disappear into the inside of the bag when you turn it inside out – but I guess that’s the only way to make the bag tall enough to be a good pack, but then shorten it up to fit their Western Flyer.

    I like Bihn products. They are extremely well made with good materials choices.

    On the model, the pack looks gigantic – although due to its thinness, it only holds 975 c.i.

    Look forward to seeing your pictures (always better, even better than Bihn’s which are good) and reading your impressions.


  7. Till says:

    See FT for another post on this bag including a link to a user review:


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