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.
Before we dig in, let’s take a quick look at the bag’s specifications.
- 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:
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:
A detail shot of the compression strap buckle. Again, this isn’t mil-spec stuff, but for occasional use it should be just fine:
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:
The molded rubberized briefcase handle is quite comfortable:
A close-up of the shoulder strap hardware; again, all of it is made with a high impact polymer:
The grab handle above the backpack strap stowage pocket is a perfunctory affair, but it’ll certainly work in a pinch:
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:
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