The Highs: Capacity, low price, features, low price, 3 carry modes, did I mention low price?

The Lows: When your executor reads your will, this won’t be mentioned

The Verdict: A perfectly serviceable carry-on that’s a killer value

If you’re looking for an economical carry-on that’s perfect for occasional use, quick weekend jaunts, or for use by a student or young adult, you really ought to check out the Outdoor Products Essential Carry-on.  No, this bag will not cause gnashing of teeth or insomnia over at Red Oxx, Bihn, or Briggs & Riley headquarters, but then again they don’t sell stuff that goes for south of $35, either.

What you get for your 33 bones is a basic two compartment bag with 3 carry modes (briefcase, shoulder strap, backpack straps) that is quite commodius.  I put 3 full size bath towels and 5 hand towels in the main compartment, and another 3 hand towels in the secondary compartment before taking the photo below; there was a fair amount of room left over.

Will the bag last for decades?  Uh, no.  Will women swoon and small animals run away when you approach with the Essential Carry-on slung over your shoulder?  Hardly.   But within its own limitations (lighter duty materials, polymer hardware, light weight), it’s a decent bag and at the price, a compelling value.  Think of it this way:  you can buy 7 of these for the price of one Air Boss.

Outdoor Products Essential Carryon

Before we dig in, let’s take a quick look at the bag’s specifications.

Specs

  • Airline regulation size carry-on – 21″ x 13″ x 9″
  • Capacity:  2,825 cubic inches
  • 500 denier Cordura Plus® nylon fabric; water repellent
  • Rubber briefcase grip
  • Stowable backpack straps
  • Detachable shoulder strap with “non-slip” shoulder pad
  • One main compartment with compression straps and zippered mesh pocket
  • Front pocket for 3-1-1 bag or magazines, etc.; includes a couple of pen slots & simple storage pockets
  • Zippered accessory pocket for travel documents, pens, etc.
  • Fabric pulls on zippers
  • Storm flap on main zipper
  • Umbrella loops under accessory pocket
  • Polymer hardware
  • Weight:  1 lb. 12 oz.
  • Made in Vietnam

A quick photo tour…

The main compartment opened.  Note the compression straps on the bottom, and a zippered mesh compartment on the opposing side:

Outdoor Products Essential Carryon main compartment

Facing the front is an accessory pocket which is perfect for boarding passes and the like; a mesh pocket which can only be accessed by unzipping the larger pocket is also included:

Outdoor Products Essential Carryon front pocket detail

A detail shot of the compression strap buckle.  Again, this isn’t mil-spec stuff, but for occasional use it should be just fine:

Outdoor  Products Essential Carryon compression strap detail

As is the practice with many of these bags (Steves Classic, etc.), backpack straps deploy from a zippered compartment.  A sternum strap would help, particularly if you really load the bag up.  Note that all hardware is polymer, and it appears to be of reasonable quality.  The backpack straps are a bit thin, but are comfortable with 12-15 lb. loads; of course this bag isn’t really suited for much heavier loads, in my opinion:

DSC_1650

The molded rubberized briefcase handle is quite comfortable:

DSC_1642

A close-up of the shoulder strap hardware; again, all of it is made with a high impact polymer:

DSC_1646

The grab handle above the backpack strap stowage pocket is a perfunctory affair, but it’ll certainly work in a pinch:

DSC_1649

How big is this bag?

Just to give you an idea of how large the bag is, here’s a quick shot of it with the Red Oxx Air Boss and the Tom Bihn Tri-Star:

Air Boss, Essential Carry-on, Tri-Star

As you can see, it’s about the same size as the Tri-Star and a bit smaller than the maximum legal carry-on Air Boss.  The differences in materials and build quality are obvious even in this picture, but that’s hardly the point.  This isn’t a bag for the road warrior; rather, it’s for the person who can’t justify the price commanded by bags suited for week-in and week-out usage.  Occasional travelers, someone looking for a back-up bag that’ll see limited use, or students who hit the road for semester breaks will do quite nicely with this bag.

Is it really $33??

You can find this bag at various retailers at varying prices, but Campmor seems to always have it priced at sub $35 levels.  It’s $32.99 at the Campmor site as I write this.  See it at Campmor:  Outdoor Products Essential Carry-on @ Campmor

7.13.2010 Update:  the OPEC is no longer available at Campor; you can buy it for $41.90 at OutdoorPros.com:  OPEC @ OutdoorPros.com


8.6.2011 Update:  Available at Campmor (with a huge Campmor logo emblazoned across its side) for $29.98, an unbelievable value.

3.5.2012 Update:  Appears to be no longer available.  Anywhere.  However:  check out the very similar but slightly smaller (18″) Goodhope Convertible, which sells for less than $30.  I haven’t used this bag – if you have, please comment!.  Read my review of the Goodhope

Mid August, 2012:  The Campmor version of the OPEC is once again available at the Campmor site

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41 Comments on Quick Review: Outdoor Products Essential Carry-on

  1. Michael W. says:

    Please confirm the weight – under 2 lbs, even if that is without the shoulder strap, is very light weight, and one usually has to pay some serious bucks to get a bag this size that light.

    Does the bag have any structure? Or would it benefit from the structural rigidity provided by, say, an Eagle Creek Pack-It? It would be interesting to see the Eagle Creek Pack-It in there.

    BTW the backpack straps are a HUGE feature – it’s easy to forget that the Air Boss does NOT have them.

    I take it there is NO laptop slot a la MLC…which may be a plus, it’s sort of a big waste on the MLC (I say sort of because my “personal bag” has an ample, padded slot, and I’m only carrying a netbook anyway – if I only had the MLC and had a white MacBook, I might view it differently).

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Michael: I put the bag with shoulder strap on our UPS scale at work and it indicated 1.7 lbs.; this bag is light.

    As you can see from the photo with the main compartment unzipped, it doesn’t have a lot of structure, but your bundle or packing cubes could certainly help in that regard.

    No laptop slot, but whaddya want for $33? ;-)

    [Reply]

    Michael W. Reply:

    I’ll gladly forego a laptop slot for more clothing room and a 1.5 pound weight (guestimating how much I’d save by leaving the shoulder strap at home). I’m only carrying a netbook which can be shoved in a clothing bundle after I transit security (laptops only come out on the American side of the transit – in Taipei and BKK they can stay in the bag – go figure).

    The MLC weighs 2.7 pounds in comparision, per your earlier review – and I thought THAT was light!

    How cheap does this thing look – proudly “Jack Benny” cheap or “Khao San Road” cheap?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    MW: Its appearance is similar to that of the Steves Classic.

  2. Alan Birnbaum says:

    EXCELLENT review! I am not unhappy that I opted for an Redoxx Air Boss, which is semi-structured using a pair of 1/4″ x 12″ x 20″ foam sheets on either side of its center compartment, but clearly the OPEC, available for less than half of what the other OPEC now charges for a barrel of crude oil, and 12% of the RAB, would adequately meet the needs of many on a budget, whether that be dollars or pounds. As for:

    “Does the bag have any structure? Or would it benefit from the structural rigidity provided by, say, an Eagle Creek Pack-It?”

    I would imagine that the 13 oz., $27.50 18″ x 12″ size ECPI, when filled with, say, four shirts, two pair of pants, and a sweater, with a jacket wrapped around it, would provide substantial “structure” to a bag like the OPEC, while delivering that outfit to one’s destination with a lot fewer wrinkles.

    Also, for someone whose typical airliner has a relatively tight overhead compartment, tapered towards the rear, less than full height outside pocket of the OPEC might well conform a bit more easily, though it would require insertion “backwards.”

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Alan,

    Thanks for your comment. Totally agree regarding the Pack-It; see my response to Michael.

    [Reply]

    Michael W. Reply:

    Wa-wa! I want to see the Pack It innit!

    The Pack It has those dual plastic sheets – one for the bottom and the other for folding chores – which would give it a heckuva lot more rigidity than my floppy Bihn and Steves packing cubes.

    If I use a Pack It I might even be able to upgrade from tee shirts to polos with real collars or even to (blush) an oxford shirt or two for destination use….

    I guess it’s all how you want to spend your weight budget – on the bag (just a large wrapper) or on something that actually helps packing and prevents wrinkles…on the bag or on the clothing.

    Till has me thinking about reverting to Ziploc’s for my toiletries after having invested in a doorknob hanging Steves nylon toiletry kit.

    It’s all about the weight.

    (This week anyway. Next week I’ll worry about what the maids think of my travel kit when they gossip with the rest of the hotel staff.)

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    I have one of those marvelous Bihn 3D organizer cubes, a beautiful thing, really (if such an object can be considered beautiful), but when I’m in full weight cutting mode, it’s a Ziploc.

  3. Berg says:

    Thanks for your review! I just got this bag a few weeks ago and will probably be taking it to Japan later this month. If you pack right, you could definitely fit 2 weeks’ (or more!) worth of stuff in this bag and still have room left over for souvenirs, especially with the weight you save on the bag itself. One thing I would add would be exterior straps to help compress the bag (I’ve heard many people say they’ve done this themselves).

    I compared this bag to my Osprey Porter 46, and I think the OP bag might actually hold a little more, though it obviously lacks the compression the Osprey has in spades. Having packing cubes/bundles in there definitely helps with shape — it’s one of the few bags whose structure benefits from being a little fuller (but not necessarily heavier), otherwise it tends to sag a lot, as I’m sure you noticed (though it does depend on how you’re carrying it). I did buy an OpTech shoulder strap to supplement the OPEC, which shouldn’t add too much weight. I was going to go with a Bihn strap, but I didn’t want to spend more on the strap than I did on the bag. ;) Ironically, the EC cubes and folders I’ll be using cost also far more than the bag they are being put inside of. Oh, well. C’est la vie.

    Oh, one thing you wrote confused me: “The surface which meets your back is of course padded.” Is the back of your bag padded? I don’t think mine is…

    Either way, it’s hard to argue that it’s a great value at $30.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Berg:

    Thanks for commenting. I actually linked to your video comparison a week or so ago. And… you caught me – that panel is NOT padded. I was writing this copy w/o the bag present (long story) and thought it was padded. I just checked and it indeed is not. I’ll fix this mistake later on today. Thanks for the catch.

    Thanks again, and travel safe!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

    Berg Reply:

    Hey Kevin:

    Sorry I missed your link! But thanks! I’m glad you found the video useful.

    As for Michael’s comment about the packing folder… I did a quick packing run-through the other day, using an EC folder, and yes, it did seem to help the structure (I also had bundled some pants around the folder). I did take out the heavier plastic sheet from the folder and just left in the folding sheet, which seemed to work fine (I don’t see the point in needing both unless you can spare the weight). IMO, a comparable solution would be to just have a firm, well-made bundle, period, or a few cubes stuffed until they are reasonably stiff.

    I will try to take some pictures (or video) of how I pack my bag for my trip, to try and satisfy Michael’s curiosity, if he can wait that long, heh.

    [Reply]

  4. Guillaume says:

    I bought this bag at Campmor a few months ago after seeing it reviewed on this site

    http://geeksqueek.blogspot.com.....ntial.html

    I bought a foam camping mat at Wallmart for under $5 and cut two pieces in it the size of the bag. I have inserted one piece inside the large mesh pocket in the main compartment and the other piece in the outside pocket where the straps are. This added some rigidity to the bag.

    I have taken a few trips with it, including 10 days to California.
    Bag is holding well so far.
    Will be taking it to France for 7 days at end of November!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Guillaume:

    Thanks for commenting! I’ve used the same trick (foam camping mat) with another bag, and it works well… thanks for the reminder and for adding to the dialog.

    [Reply]

    Michael W. Reply:

    You can also remove the foam pads and put one under your hips and one under your shoulders if you have to sleep in the airport; or take out one for a cold park bench.

    That having been said, they add weight to the bag and decrease volume. No problem if you can spare the weight and haven’t overpacked…sometimes a big “if.”

    But I’d rather have removable pads that built-in, for the added versatility mentioned above.

    The trick I haven’t tried yet (because it’s going to cost me at least $30 or so) is the 18″ Pack It….

    [Reply]

  5. Patrick F. says:

    I would like to add something about this bag, the first is that I have a Netbook(Asus 1000he) and it can be stashed in the outer pocket with the neoprene protector on. The netbook on the outside “helps” me not to overpack and I can always take it out if I get challenged by anyone, take it as my personal item. The bag never gets a second look going through security/check-in(I mostly fly international too) as far as being too big. In fact that last time I came back from a two month trip, with only this bag, I had the guy in customs ask me how I spent that long with only this bag, while packing for colder climate.

    Also, the bag has no structure, I use the 18 inch Pack-it Folder on the bottom and that helps out a lot with the structure issue. I have had this bag for quite some time and it doesn’t fit that well under the seat in front of you, if you overfill it. I have overpacked it once or twice, due to needed larger books and my computer for certain trip. I never get the feeling that it is going to break or anything.

    This bag is all I need and I offer it to anyone I know that needs to take a short or long trip and tell them that it can be the only bag they need, too.

    All that being said, I am still wavering about whether I should “upgrade” to a Western Flier, only because of the hype. :-)

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Patrick,

    Great comment; thanks for adding to the discussion. The Western Flyer is a beautiful bag; keep in mind, however, that it’s considerably smaller than the EC.

    [Reply]

  6. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE one of these bags. We’re off to Ethiopia in the near future, and I’d love to take one of these as my carryon. HOWEVER, I can’t find any store that will ship one to Australia…

    So it seems I’m stuck with having to create my own. You know, with a sewing machine and fabric. I’d SO much rather just buy something ready-made. I have enough other things to do already before we go!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Yvette:

    How soon is your trip? I could buy one and ship it to you. Let me know.

    kc

    [Reply]

  7. Just wanting to report back on what a wonderful guy Kevin is! I contacted him about his offer to buy and ship a bag to me. It took trust on his part that I’d pay him back, and trust on my part that he’d actually send it. Well, it worked out beautifully. The bag arrived in great condition yesterday, only about 2 weeks after we first discussed the idea. I’ve already test packed it, and it will be perfect. Thanks so much Kevin!

    [Reply]

  8. Carole says:

    I found this bag for sale, however, they have plastered a huge CAMPMOR label on the side.
    http://www.campmor.com/essenti....._sku=60795
    I don’t like to draw attention to the fact that I’m an American in Europe. Anybody know if it’s something easy to remove or cover up.
    Heck I should just buy it and figure out how to deal with it.

    Cheers!

    [Reply]

    Michael W. Reply:

    Usually I like to engage in a little dialectic, but in this instance I simply opened the link and have to agree with Carole. The Campmor log is HORRIBLY HUGE.

    Oops, I did it, I added “horribly.”

    It would take a good half capacity of a Magic Marker or laundry marker to black that one out.

    What were they thinking? It looks like the branding would add $5 to the cost of manufacture.

    We can only hope it is a label, and not embroidered.

    [Reply]

    Carole Reply:

    Crazy, huh? Well, it’s ordered and I’ll figure it out. I’m thinking, maybe an iron patch and some sewing around the edges?

    [Reply]

    Michael W. Reply:

    The things we do for bag love….

  9. Michael says:

    I just purchased one of the Campmor OPECs for $29. It is indeed well worth the monies. The material is polyster cordura (coated on one side). I had read elsewhere that using either acetone or a power washer would remove the logo. I tried both. Ironically, I could remove a somewhat similar logo on a 2-year conference bag… but not the CampMor logo. It will not come off without destroying the fabric.

    [Reply]

  10. James says:

    What about this bag versus the Rick Stevens Classic? I realize that there is a slight price difference, but I am curious to see if the upgrade to the RS Classic is worth it?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Here’s a link to my review of the Steves Back Door Classic: http://bit.ly/EQkrK

    The Steves Classic is a good enough bag, but it’s tough to beat the OPEC from a value standpoint, given its price.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Thanks Kevin, it seems like the Rick Steves Classic Backdoor Bag is a full upgrade from the Campmor OPEC bag. This is taking into account the upgraded fabric and hardware along with the foam insert for structure and the compression straps for versatility. Guess I’ll save some more pennies and order the Rick Steves…

    OR I’ll go crazy and order the MEI Voyaguer! Hmm, MEI voyaguer vs. Rick Steves Classic Backdoor bag…

    [Reply]

  11. Mary Lynne says:

    I’m not getting the benefit of the cubes. I’ve looked at them on various websites, including Eagle Creek (and their “complete organizer” seems to me to be basically a suitcase), and all these various size cubes you buy are all collapsible, as are the travel bags like this one, so why are the cubes helpful? If you pack your carry-on full which I think everyone does, why doesn’t that provide as much stability as first packing it all in cubes (which certainly aren’t cheap) and then packing the cubes. What am I missing here?

    Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Cubes help with organization and space (by compressing smaller items like socks and underwear), and add a bit of weight. Your call as to whether they’re worth it.

    [Reply]

  12. Mary Lynne says:

    I’m searching for a lightweight bag that I’m sure I saw reviewed here and now can’t find it. It looked a lot like these other bags, but it had aluminum (I think) tubes inside to give it some structure and I think it maybe had wheels without the big bulky thing running down the middle of the bag like most wheeled suitcases have which drives me crazy. It weighed a little more – maybe 4. something pounds?

    Do you have any idea what one I’m talking about and can you point me to it? Thanks!!

    [Reply]

  13. Mary Lynne says:

    Wow! I’m embarrassed but also happy – I just found the one I’m talking about and it IS on your site and it DOES have wheels and the aluminum tubing so my brain was actually functioning fairly well. :)

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Mary,

    The bag you’re interested in is from Landor & Hawa, and is available @ Amazon: http://amzn.to/yywyZ2 (this is the original version), and: http://amzn.to/yLGbjl (the newer version, which I’d recommend).

    Thanks for commenting.

    [Reply]

  14. I have on OP Essential Carryon bag and love it except I don’t carry enough to fill it. Light weight material doesn’t matter to me because it’s low weight allows me to check it, and I can take care of it. Sad to see it is no longer sold.

    I also have Goodhope convertible. Everything I take to Europe for two weeks fits in it, but it’s tight.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Larry,

    Thanks for your comment. I just picked up the Goodhope and will review it sometime in the next couple of weeks.

    [Reply]

    Midwest Gear Guy Reply:

    What do you think of the Goodhope? I have 5 day trip to the west coast in July and I want something lighter than my eBags Motherloade(which other than the weight, is a great bag)

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    I haven’t traveled with the Goodhope. It’s the same sort of quality as the OPEC/campmor, but is about the size of the Bihn Western Flyer… not a large bag. A five day trip would be a challenge for most travelers.

    I’ll try to take photos this weekend for a quick review.

  15. Midwest Gear Guy says:

    Just spoke with a 1st level CS person at Campmor. Bag is expected back in stock 4 SEPT 2012.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Great news; thanks.

    [Reply]

  16. jkm says:

    In stock under the Campmor label.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Thanks for the heads up. Here’s a link: http://bit.ly/Plq41C Price is $29.98!!

    [Reply]

  17. […] http://www.1bag1world.com/obow-light…um/post/447354. And this review at practicalhacks.com: http://www.practicalhacks.com/2009/1…tial-carry-on/. If you're looking for a true backpack, this isn't it. And there's no guarantee that OP's other […]

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