What to make of Red Oxx?  In a competitive landscape where your average $49 department store bag includes a velvet lined compartment for your Prius keys, a waterproof slot for your latte spoon, and a solar powered panini pocket, in barges Red Oxx:  “Here’s a bag.  It’s gonna outlast your sorry ass.  Put your crap in it and shut up!”

Perhaps I embellish a bit.  But you have to admire Red Oxx‘s allegiance to its tough as nails/hand crafted ethos in a world populated by offshore, mass produced bags that are often long on features and short on quality and durability.   Red Oxx makes bags that are simple, über-sturdy, and functional.  Fabrics are tough, heavyweight Cordura nylon; Mil Spec hardware looks as though it could survive a brush with ordnance.  Zippers that could have served on latter day Elvis jumpsuits are used extensively.  Everything is double stitched, the workmanship seemingly the product of  an army of obsessive-compulsives.  If it doesn’t add to the bag’s basic purpose – hold and transport stuff reliably, for years and years, if not decades – it just ain’t there.  Frills need not apply.

I’d never taken a close look at the Sky Train, thinking it little more than an Air Boss with a pair of funky shoulder straps grafted on.  Shame on me.

The Pros:  Soldier of Fortune build quality, versatile design

The Cons:  A Red Oxx riddle:  what’s smaller than an Air Boss, and bigger than an Air Boss?

The Verdict: A great option for globe trotting leisure travelers

Far from being an Air Boss with shoulder straps, the Sky Train is instead a convertible backpack bag targeted at casual travelers.  Whereas the Air Boss is a geared primarily for business travel, the Sky Train is targeted more at leisure travelers who want to enjoy the hands-free freedom a backpack offers.  The Sky Train can be carried by its “Euro” style top handle, over the shoulder with a shoulder strap (a la the Air Boss), or over both shoulders as a backpack.  As a result of the backpack straps and related hardware, the bag weighs 4 lbs. versus the Air Boss’s 3.4 lb. weight.  Despite the two bags’ similar dimensions, the Sky Train certainly seems smaller due to its slightly shorter length.  More on this later.

Before taking a closer look at the Sky Train’s features, here are the bag’s specifications from the Red Oxx site:

Sky Train Specs per Red Oxx:

  • Designed & made in the USA
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Soft Synergy Suede padded backpack straps
  • Dual claw-style 360-degree backpack straps swivel clips
  • A.L.I.C.E. pack strap adjusters
  • Detachable Claw nonslip adjustable shoulder strap
  • Dual “Euro” clear vinyl carry handles (top and side)
  • 4 lb. closed cell foam padding
  • Fabric: 1000 weight urethane coated, Dupont certified Cordura Nylon
  • Weather resistant
  • 400 weight denier soft red nylon lining
  • 4 lb. Volara closed cell foam padding on exterior back panel
  • All zippers #10 YKK self-locking
  • 1″ wide zipper flaps on 2 main and strap compartments
  • Thread: #92 bonded SolarMax Nylon
  • All seams double stitched and bound
  • Monkey Fist zip knots on all zippers
  • Heavy-duty vinyl luggage tag
  • Includes Cable Lock
  • Double box stitching on carry handles & reinforced areas
  • Available in 12 colors
  • US Dimensions: 20″L x 9″W x 13″H
  • Metric Dimensions: 50.8cm L x 22.7cm W x 33cm H
  • US Capacity: 2,340 cubic inches
  • Metric Capacity: 38,054.3 cubic centimeters
  • Weight:  4 lbs. / 1.8 kg

 Pocket measurements per Red Oxx:

  • Exterior zippered full length side flat pocket: 13″H x 19″W
  • 3/4 open flat zippered side compartment: 13″W x 19″L x 1″D
  • Interior side compartment zippered flat flap pocket: 11″W x 9″D
  • Main compartment with adjustable twin tie downs: 19″L x 13″W x 6.5″D
  • Exterior zippered full-width backpack straps flat pocket: 13″W x 19″L (Note: this pocket is for storing the straps. Since it has holes in the bottom for steel o-rings to attach the straps to the bottom of the bag, the pocket is only useful for flat magazines, newspapers and storing the straps).

Alas, this is another case where the specs provided by the manufacturer of a soft-sided bag are a bit subjective.  I was perilously close to hitting the “Publish” button for this post when I began puzzling over a Sky Train oddity:  how does a bag that looks smaller than the Air Boss offer 7% greater capacity than that bag?  Before we try to answer this question, let’s take a closer look at the Sky Train.

A photo tour

The Sky Train’s front panel features a shallow pocket that’s ideal for magazines, paperwork, or perhaps an e-reader (although it should be noted that this pocket is unpadded).  As with all Red Oxx bags, an adjustable Claw shoulder strap is included.  The red patch is a point of contention for some users; if I had my choice, I’d opt for the subtlety of a black patch:

On the rear panel, a compartment where the backpack straps can be hidden when not deployed; attachment points are tucked away in reinforced pockets:

The straps look as though they wouldn’t be very comfortable, but in actual use, substantial padding makes them comfy even with 18 to 20 pound loads.  They conform to the shape of your shoulders, and their width helps distribute the load; a sternum strap would be handy, though.  Both the top and end of the Sky Train feature heavy vinyl handles; the one on the end is handy for retrieving the bag from overheads.

Below, a peek inside the front compartment; beefy Monkey’s Fist pulls, made in a small Guatemalan village in which Red Oxx has graciously invested, are used on all zippers:

The second compartment, below.  It includes a pouch for smaller items and valuables.  It’s a bit odd that the pouch includes two zipper pulls, and in this instance the #10 YKK zipper is overkill, even for Red Oxx.  In any event, the extra weight involved is likely negligible.  This photo may leave you with an erroneous impression:  this compartment unzips on three sides (the hinged part is on the right in this image).  This makes efficiently packing this compartment much easier…

The Sky Train’s main compartment also fully unzips on three sides, opening clamshell style.  Compression straps help secure items.  Your packing method is a matter of choice, but it’s worth noting that Red Oxx promotes the bundle method for this bag, including an instructional pdf on the Sky Train web pages.  Both walls of this main compartment are padded with substantial closed cell foam padding.

Photo courtesy of Red Oxx

Below, a close up of the backpack strap hardware.  The A.L.I.C.E. adjusters on the straps are incredibly slick:  pull down on the bottom strap to tighten; to loosen, pull up on the paracord; sweet!  Adjusting the straps is a breeze, and like everything else on the bag, each of the components has a satisfying heft to it.  This is the kind of bag that could convert nonbelievers to using a backpack bag: it’s that good.

A close-up of one of the backpack attachment points and hardware:

The swivel hardware, below; note the box stitching on the strap:

A.L.I.C.E. backpack strap adjuster, below.  Their operation is flawless, and as described above, easy.  Try to find this sort of quality on a bag at your local Target!

Below, a close-up of one of the vinyl handles and the dog tag-style tag which comes on a cable lock; used to secure zippers, the cable lock will foil or slow down casual thieves.  All zippers are the YKK self locking type, meaning that pilfering by spreading the zippers apart is impossible.

Although not shown here, every Red Oxx bag comes with a heavy duty luggage tag; I can attest to how durable they are, having used them for years on my Red Oxx bags.  Finally, a close-up of the Monkey’s Fist pulls and the storm flap that helps keep the elements out of all the bag’s main compartments:

Wrap-Up

The Sky Train is a hell of a bag.  Its capacity is, well, about that of the Air Boss (keep reading), it has the added capability of functioning as a backpack, and yet only extracts a half pound or so penalty for the added flexibility. (It will also extract an extra $30 from your wallet, versus the Air Boss.)  Also, there’s no rule you can’t use it for business travel with the backpack straps stowed, and then turn around and use it as a backpack while hosteling in Europe.  It certainly lacks the suspension system, hip belt, and sternum strap of a dedicated backpack, but as a compromise, it works well.  Although I haven’t mentioned it, the bag of course meets most airlines’ regulations for carry-ons.

But what about the issue raised earlier?  The Sky Train appears smaller than the Air Boss, so I was surprised that its capacity (listed as 2,340 cubic inches by Red Oxx) is 7% greater than the Air Boss’s claimed 2,184 cubic inch capacity. How dat possible?

Measuring soft sided bags, particularly those with pockets which technically have no depth (e.g., the front pocket on this bag) is difficult.  The Sky Train’s front pocket measures ~18″ x 12.5″, but technically has no depth.  So…  what’s the capacity of that pocket?  I assume that the pocket will hold materials one inch thick; if that’s the case, the resulting height and width of the pocket are effectively ~16″ x 10.5″ (something’s gotta give for the pocket to accommodate items).  Hence, I put the front pocket’s capacity at ~168 cubic inches.  In calculating the Sky Train’s volume at 2,340 cu. in., I imagine that the folks at Red Oxx went through a similar mathematical exercise.  Again, they put the Air Boss’s capacity at 2,184 cu. in.  Here are the two bags, side by side:

I have both bags.  The Sky Train is smaller.  I don’t think there’s any malfeasance going on here – measuring soft sided bags is inexact by nature – but I’m not really buying that the Sky Train’s capacity exceeds that of the Air Boss.  I measured both bags, and per my math, their capacities differed by approximately 3%.   Keep in mind that part of the capacity calculation involves the assumption that the pocket for the backpack straps will be used for storing stuff when the straps are deployed.  None of this diminishes the fact that the Sky Train is a terrific bag, and bottom line, it’s big enough to carry enough stuff for a couple of weeks of casual travel, IF you’re an efficient packer and traveler.

Whether this is the convertible bag for you comes down to issues of quality, self image, and branding.  If the military-esque/built like a brick shithouse studliness trips your trigger, you can’t go wrong with the Sky Train.

Lifetime Warranty, made in Montana.  The Red Oxx Sky Train is $255.  See it at the Red Oxx site:  Sky Train

 

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20 Comments on Review: Red Oxx Sky Train

  1. Michael W. says:

    I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor! Your opening paragraph made me laugh!

    I’m really glad to hear the back pack straps (and slip compartment to stow them in) only seem to add about 1/2 a pound to total weight. I have never really had this bag on my “list” in the mistaken belief it was a weight hog. But 4 pounds is actually pretty sweet.

    So this is a two compartment bag? A main compartment nearest the back pack straps, and a secondary, thinner compartment in front of that? It sounds like the main compartment has foam padding on both sides, which means, I take it, on the back pack strap side, and in the “middle” of the bag – the exterior, 1″ deep, secondary compartment would therefore be padded on the INSIDE and unpadded on the OUTSIDE right? I guess this gives the bag structure where it needs it – do you agree the “second” padding should be in the middle, and not on the exterior, panel? (This configuration would work fine for me, since I would use a 1″ “thin” secondary compartment either to stow soft-goods like a jacket or dirty laundry.

    How do you feel about the lack of computer slot? I know that RedOxx’s philosophy seems to be to provide rock-solid “empty space” and let us bring (mostly) our own organization, but a part of me yearns for a Macbook Air, netbook, or iPad sized slot on the back panel, something simple at least so a laptop won’t shift around. On the other hand, I have seen the “traveler’s electronics” marketplace change SO radically over the past 5 years (from 15.6″ behemoth laptops to 13″ devices, a swoop down to 10.1″ netbooks, then a slight sideways swoop to 11.6″ Macbook Airs – bigger rectangle but much thinner) that I pity the poor manufacturers, like Lands End and Patagonia, that build in super larger laptop slots that have become way too big to be useful.

    That’s sort of a trick question, since I have settled on always carrying a “personal item” carryon bag for my electronic device of choice these days and choose my “personal item” bag based on the electronics I want to bring. If you are of the “one bag” religiously faithful, of course, the Sky Train becomes slightly problematic if you carry a laptop – since you can’t bury it in your bundle wrapped clothing, it won’t be accessible for TSA x-raying if you do.

    Two final, non-trick questions: what’s your gut feel on these two RedOxx bags versus the other great American manufacturer, Tom Bihn? and how do you feel about what appears to be the slightly off-center location of the horizontal carry handle? (On a side note, I DO like those grippy, easy to grab permanent vinyl “wrappers”.)

    – P.S. – I think a little “smaller” is a little “better” in this case!

    [Reply]

  2. Kevin says:

    Hey Michael,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, two compartments, as you describe. As for a computer slot, I travel with my MB Air, and that just goes in whatever seatside/personal bag I’ve selected. For me, it’s a non issue, and I suspect that’s the case for increasing numbers of travelers.

    As for Red Oxx vs. Bihn, they both make great products for what are undoubtedly different audiences.

    Every time see a new Red Oxx bag, and look at and test the hardware, I’m gobsmacked. They are so damned well made, and as I mentioned in the post, everything has such a satisfying heft to it. The bags are simple: they sure don’t suffer from feature creep, and that’s part of their appeal. They do things simply, and well, and will do so for friggin’ ever. You know the character Bruce Willis played in Sin City? He needs a Red Oxx bag.

    Bihn, wonderful quality as well, but for a totally different sensibility. Loaded with clever little touches, the Bihn bags delight in a different way, and I suspect they appeal to a much different type of person. They’re geekier (and I mean this in a positive way), and at least to my eye, have more of a urban/suburban more style conscious appeal to them, although as I type this I realize it’s an inadequate description. You get my drift, though, I imagine. I’ll be using a Dyneema Tri-Star over the holidays, and am really looking forward to it.

    Both are great bags. Which is right for you, only you can answer.

    As for the off center handle, I don’t think it’s an issue. The vinyl tubes make comfy handles. And finally, a little smaller is definitely a good thing in this case.

    Good to hear from you!

    [Reply]

  3. Andy says:

    I don’t care how amazing this bag is if it weighs four pounds empty. I’m actually still using the Patagonia you recommended years ago. Thanks for that, since they don’t really make it anymore.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Andy,

    I assume you’re referring to the older (4th gen) version of the MLC?

    [Reply]

    Andy Reply:

    Nope, the Lightweight Duffel.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Ahh… I gave mine to someone. aarrggghh! That is a sweet bag. I wasn’t aware they’d dropped it. Too bad.

  4. Michael W. says:

    I think Patagonia still offers it:

    http://www.patagonia.com/us/pr.....8822-0-042

    Yes, that is one sweet, ultralight solution. I decided for myself that I like stiffer fabric – not for durability, but just so the bag has enough body to stand up on its own.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Looks as though the design has changed a bit since my 2009 review; the price is now $69, vs. $100 for the bag I reviewed.

    [Reply]

  5. Michael W. says:

    I’ve got to visit a Patagonia store and check the new edition. I didn’t realize they had shifted from backpack straps in a panel on the bottom, to a modification of the top grab handle straps so they can double as backpack straps! That means the (clean) top will be on my back instead of the (possibly dusty or dirty) bottom – but it also means there is not thin foam padding layer anymore!

    Egads, what hath Patagonia wrought?

    [Reply]

  6. Michael W. says:

    Epic Fail.

    It’s so small it’s more of a tote now, not a travel duffel, so Andy is right. They discontinued the ultra light solution from a few years ago and only kept the name for what is now a small gym bag.

    [Reply]

  7. Michael W. says:

    Strangely, if you multiply the published dimensions of the new Lightweight Duffel I come up with 1710 cubic inches, vs. the published volume of 2136 c.i. – which just happens to be the volume of the old one! I chatted online with a seemingly very knowledgeable Patagonia rep who told me they use 1/2″ balls to determine volume – stuff their pack, then empty the balls into a volume measuring bucket or tube. This is a good methodology. But the very large variance between the published dimensions and the published volume makes me think they blew their webpage update – they updated dimensions, but not volume – merely carried forward the old published volume (it is the same, though from a personal inspection the new one is CLEARLY much smaller). So if you are shopping for this bag, you should probably figure on 1710 c.i. NOT 2136. I think it is actually closer to “flight bag” size now whereas before it felt like a trunk, so in some ways it is a good thing – weight shrunk to 8.5 ounces – I kind of wish the Maestro of Carryon would do his thing and get a PR sample from Paty and review it …. its a more “manly” alternative to the incredibly handy Patagonia Lightweight Tote, which is 1587 c.i. and a perfect rectangular shape (no wasted “rolled off” edges).

    [Reply]

  8. Michael W. says:

    …. or 2.8 ounces of silnylon and simple grab handles will get you 2420 cubic inches of space for $39.95 from Sea to Summit with their no bells or whistles duffel – I couldn’t resist picking one of these up from REI, it is truly huge and packs down fairly small, but NO accessory pockets or gizmos whatsover and carrying it fully packed with just those thin grab handle extensions would be a test of patience. Still, most travel bang for the buck imho: http://www.rei.com/product/829.....duffle-bag .

    It comes with a key-ring style stuff sack, but I have been unable to re-stow it, despite valiant efforts.

    [Reply]

  9. Billy says:

    Great blog! I’m very new to traveling and will be making my first trip to Italy this summer for two weeks. I’ll be hitting Rome, Florence, Pompeii, and a little bit of Switzerland. I’m very excited and I would like to go with the one bag route.

    I’m looking at the Rick Steves travel backpack along with the Red Oxx Sky Train Hybrid and was wondering what your suggestions would be? I’ve read your review on the Rick Steves and on his website it says that it holds 2500 Cubic inch of space compared to the 2300 cubic inch of the sky train. In your opinion for a first time traveler like me would you suggest the sky train? I’m leaning more towards it but it just looks like the Rick Steves bag holds a bit more. THoughts and comments? I’d love to hear them. Great job with the blog btw =D

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Billy,

    Are you referring to the Steves Classic Backdoor bag?

    [Reply]

    Billy Reply:

    yes i am.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    It depends… type of travel, how frequently you’ll be using the bag after this trip, the type of clothing you’ll be bringing, your personal style, etc. If you are ok with a bag that’s serviceable but won’t wow anyone, I’d go with the Steves bag. How can you go wrong at that price?

  10. Swede says:

    Hi,

    Sorry for a late question, but yours is one of few reviews that I can find that discuss the dimensions of the Sky Train in detail. I mainly fly the traditional European airlines (SAS, Lufthansa, KLM…) and the high-end budget carriers (Norwegian, EasyJet, AirBerlin…). Those usually have a width limit of 23 cm (9.05 in), for which the 9-in Sky Train seems to be a perfect match.

    But I would also like to have the possibility of using it on Ryanair, which has a stricter limit on the width (20 cm). What do you think, would it be possible to pack it (for example, by not using the side compartment) to fit into a 20 cm (7.87 in) sizer?

    Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Swede: Without a doubt. Unpacked, the Sky Train is about 3″ thick. Pack it carefully, and I don’t think you’d have any problem. Thanks for asking!!

    [Reply]

    Swede Reply:

    Perfect, that the answer that I wanted to hear. Thanks for your help!

    [Reply]

  11. Robert says:

    Great review. Thanks for that.

    I’ve had an Air Boss for several years. Traveled all over the world with it. It slips into the overhead bins after the roll-ons have taken most of the space. It’s a great bag and indestructible.

    I’m tempted by the Sky Train for the one-sided packing compartments (unlike the two-sided packing in the Air Boss) and the ability to use the shoulder straps. I’ve hesitated because, with all the thought and quality that go into Redoxx bags, I don’t understand why they don’t also have ergonomically designed shoulder straps and a sternum strap similar to the Bihn bags and other quality backpacks. Seems like an oversight to me.

    And, four pounds is HEAVY, especially in these days of new materials and ultralight packs. I’d like to see them offer a similar bag in lighter materials. I’d sacrifice some durability for less weight. But, still, great company and terrific bags.

    Binh bags just seem over-designed to me. I’d be forever trying to figure out which compartment I put stuff in only to be opening all those zippers five minutes later looking for something else. That time could be much more enjoyably spent in complaining about the airlines, for example.

    [Reply]

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