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.
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:
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