October 4, 2013. Venice, CA — Is it a suitcase, duffle or backpack? All three….sort of.
This past August I had the opportunity to replace the ragged luggage I usually use for long trips with the latest from Eagle Creek, a leading manufacturer of rugged, versatile bags, cases, duffles and packs for adventure trips.
The company sent me their Switchback 26 to use on my three week driving trip along the Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast of Ireland. What attracted me about the luggage, besides the high quality materials and attractive and functional design typical of Eagle Creek products, was the backpack that zips seamlessly (figuratively speaking here – of course there were seams, well stitched ones at that) onto the main bag plus the transferable shoulder straps for converting both bags into backpacks. There is also a padded hip belt on the main bag to help handle heavy loads.
First the pluses. The durable, lightweight design, the sturdy hard rubber wheels, and well placed handles and compression straps make the bag easy to handle. The backpack served as a handy compartment for shoes and other items I needed to access easily and often. It’s also an attractive piece of luggage, unlike the uncool, frayed, unwieldy luggage I usually drag around on trips. Plus, it’s soft-sided, except for the bottom panel where the wheels are attached. That means that with the compression straps, you can make the bag fit into smaller spaces.
The limitations of the luggage are few and relatively minor. First, because the backpack does not have a hip belt, it is more appropriate for urban use than serious hiking on the trail. So if your trip involves more than just walking around a city, you still might need to bring your serious daypack with you and use the Switchback pack as I did, for packing shoes and items you need to get to easily.
The second problem is that it is not obvious or easy to figure out how to attach the straps to convert either bag into a backpack. The illustrated booklet that comes with the bag helps, but it still took me a few minutes and some practice to get it right. This is not a serious problem and is easily remedied by practicing at home before you leave on your trip. You don’t want to be fiddling with the straps and trying to make out the instructions on a rainy night on a muddy road in some backwater town in the middle of nowhere.
The last “problem” is that with the backpack attached and full, the bag may not stand by itself on its two wheels and stubby front legs. The bulky profile also makes it difficult to stuff it into the trunk or hatchback of a small car. For this latter issue, the remedy is simple – zip off the pack and shove the bag in like you would any other piece of luggage, then stuff the pack into the interstices of the trunk or on the floor of the car behind the front seats. The instability is more bothersome. Tightening the compression straps on the pack so that the weight of the pack is closer to the center of gravity of the assembled luggage helps. Or do what I usually did — look for a wall, chair, or potted plant to prop it against. Either that or I would just lay it on the floor and hope nobody would trip over it.
Except for the stability issue, these are minor problems that are easy to deal with. The bottom line is that the Switchback is a highly functional, attractive, well-built bag that will neither embarrass you nor give you a hernia as you navigate airports, hotels, and streets around the world.