Shopping for the perfect pack
Where to find the best bag, suitcase, or other piece of luggage to fit your personality and travel style
I have my own recommendations for the best bags on a separate page, But if you want to browse on your own and find the luggage that best suits you, here are the best places to shop (the merchants from which, over the years, I have bought my own bags).
The selection could, frankly, be wider—but even though there aren't as many bags on offer as at some other outlets, the key is that nearly all of these packs and suitcases are carefully selected to be perfect for travelers.
eBags.com is one of those Internet-only outfits that leverages the power of the web to offer the widest selection of anyone in the industry—and the lowest prices, with most items discounted at least 10% to 15% off the retail price.
The selection is mind-boggling: more than 40,000 bags from 470 different brands, all supported by millions of customer reviews. Frankly, if you can't find it here, it probably doesn't exist.
Also, some nifty shopping aids, like the "will my laptop fit this bag" feature that lets you select your laptop from a drop-down menu to see if a given shoulder bag, backpack, or other carrying case will work for you.
They also have an excellent free shipping and free returns policy, so there's never any buyer's remorse.
For 65 years, one of the best all-around outdoors, camping, and adventure travel outfitter, with just about everything you need, whether you're a novice or a hard-core enthusiast.
Lots of high-tech clothing designed for heavy-duty wear, tear, travel, and sport, plus everything from packs to personal mosquito nets to biodegradable detergent and freeze-dried grub—and of course, all the basic gear for camping, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, skiing, canoeing and kayaking.
It's actually run as a co-op, so if you become a member ($15 to join for life), you get 8% cash back on your purchases at the store at the end of the year (10% back if you use the no-fee, free credit card they give you, which also generates 1% back on non-REI purchases).
Eagle Creek (www.eaglecreek.com)
The premier manufacturer of soft-sided luggage, duffels, packs, and various sorts of daypacks designed for travelers, not tourists. It ain't fancy—this is durable woven nylon territory, not leather or Kevlar —but the products are well designed, well made, long-lasting, and get the job done twice as well and at half the price of more pretentious luggage.
A bag like the Eagle Creek Rincon 65L Travel Backpack not only fits into the overhead bin (so you needn't check any luggage), but it can hold everything you need for any trip—and it comes with a zip-off daypack.
For several years, while on the road I lived out of one what they now call Eagle Creek Rincon 65L Travel Backpack with shoulder straps and a hip belt that tuck away (for respectability at certain hotels). It measures right around the maximum size requirement for airplane carry-ons—so I never had to check my luggage.
Eagle Creek also makes some of the best moneybelts and those space-saving vacuum-sealed clothes packing devices. You can buy their products from the Magellan's or REI catalogs.
L.L. Bean (www.llbean.com)
This Maine camping clothier and catalogue legend was selling flannel shirts long before Seattle produced its first garage band, and decades before J. Crew and Banana Republic co-opted the outdoorsy look and made it Yuppie. Their travel specialty gear is, as with most of their stock, head and shoulders above anyone else for durability, quality, and utility (if not always style).
I used to go through about one travel bag per year from other companies before the straps would break, zippers need dentures, retractable handles bend, wheels went wobbly, or exterior feet and corner moldings got ripped off by airport baggage systems.
My sturdy little L.L. Bean bag survived more than 22 Transatlantic flights, a dozen more within the US or Europe, has been to Asia and back, and gone on countless weekend car trips. It was then used for years by my girlfriend whenever we'd travel together. And now? It's has officially become our three-year-old's suitcase.
Best of all, L.L. Bean guarantees all merchandise for life.