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I’ve Been Air Bossed

My long awaited Air Boss arrived a few days ago. It arrived at work, so I could only pull it out of the box and inspect it briefly. Even so, here are my initial observations:

  • The saffron color is, well, saffron. For some reason I was expecting a much colder yellow – I think it was a picture I saw on a another site discussing the bag – even though the color matches the Red Oxx site photos perfectly.
  • It’s light and soft. Because of this, the fabric seems a bit insubstantial. After a moment’s thought, I realized why it felt this way. First, my usual murse (man purse) is a black Timbuk2 metro, which has a thick rubbery coating on the inside which makes it very stiff and quite heavy. Second, whenever I envisioned the Air Boss, I was imagining my Tumi briefcase of a similar design. It’s made of ballistic nylon, which seems denser and heavier than the Cordura used in the Air Boss.
  • It seems small. However, I’ve learned that luggage, particularly soft luggage, is often very deceptive when it comes to size. Bags that seem huge fill quicker than expected, and seemingly stuffed bags swallow unexpected loads with no trouble.
  • The zippers seem very large – not a bad thing, just surprising.
  • There are three external pockets. One full length that has a simple snap closure, one full length zip, and one narrow (the space between the handle straps) zip. The narrow one surprisingly goes all the way to the bottom of the bag, but it’s wide enough to get my arm down there so it works ok. The pocket is intended to hold airline tickets and that sort of thing, and it should work well for that. The fact that it goes to the bottom provides a place for a few rarely needed but necessary items, like packets of Immodium, cold medicine and aspirin.
  • I was a little surprised to find the bottom of the main compartment wasn’t padded – some of the web references I found suggested folks putting their laptops in there so I assumed it would be padded. It doesn’t matter to me because I ordered a Brain Cell from Mr. Tom Bihn to take care of my computer.

But will it hold enough?

When I brought it home later in the day I could try it out, and I packed the following with ease:

Side A: 2 dress shirts, 2 t-shirts, and a pair of twills. This side was full but not bulging at all – another shirt would be no problem.

Side B: 1 blazer, 2 dress shirts, 2 t-shirts, and a pair of twills. This side was bulging a bit – I could have gotten more in there, but the bag would start being football-shaped.

Middle: 1 pair of shoes and 4 pair each of socks and underwear. I think I could have gotten my laptop and toiletries in there with no room to spare.

In total I fit four day’s worth of clothes without wearing the same shirt twice. Normally, I’d take only more underwear/undershirts/socks to get more days in a business environment so I think the bag really is good for a week on the road. Indefinitely if laundry services are available. In one of Red Oxx owner Jim Markel’s trip reports he mentions what he packed in an Air Boss, and it seems reasonable to me. A full suit and two shirts, along with a few ties and an undershirt to be the core would be no problem in one side alone.

I used the bundle method for the clothing, except the t-shirts which were folded and formed the center of each bundle. I think it would have worked better with them just being bundled like the rest. If I needed much more clothing or was traveling in winter I think I would probably take a separate bag for the computer, or just the brain cell as it can take a shoulder strap. The beauty of the bundle method is that it’s very space efficient. The bad news is that there’s no pulling out just one item – you have to unpack.

Once the bag was full, silly for thinking it was small. It’s not that huge, but the bag hides it’s width when it’s empty. When it’s full it grows to it’s full 8″+ width and the center of gravity moves further away from my body. Even so on my shoulder it didn’t seem very heavy, or hard to manuever. The shoulder strap has pretty soft, grippy rubber which is very shoulder friendly. It attaches with normal clips, so other straps could be substituted if needed.

Another thing I noticed is that the zip for the center compartment is centered on the bag, so the strap is offset to one side. This favors carrying the bag so the larger outside zip pocket is away from your body. I’m not sure if this or the non-zip pocket would be better on the outside. Usage will tell. If choosing between centering the zip or the strap was part of the design process, I’d be interesting to hear the trade-offs that were discussed.

I like:

  • The size seems perfect. It’s big enough to haul as much as you can reasonably lift, assuming it’s mostly clothes.
  • The three-compartment design is aimed at clothing and allows the bag to work even if you have enough to fill only the two outside compartments. A single compartment bag just doesn’t work when it’s not full. This bag was designed as a collaboration with Doug Dyment (of OneBag.com fame) and Red Oxx so it’s no surprise it’s laid out well.
  • Dealing with Red Oxx is a pleasure, as you would expect a smaller US-based manufacturer to be. You also know that the folks who made the bag are paid a living wage.
  • The outside zip pocket is large enough and well placed to hold all of the last minute items I ditch into my bag as I get to airport security.

I like less:

  • The zippers aren’t covered. The missing cover on the outside means that leaving this bag in the rain will more likely mean wet clothes. Outside covers do tend to hide the zipper handles, although the really nifty monkey-fist pulls would alleviate this.
  • The yellow fabric is light enough that you can see through it somewhat. Granted, it’s not like I’ll be carrying anything secret in the outside pockets, but it was noticeable when I stuck magazines in the outside pockets I could read the titles. On the other hand, it does make it easier to find stuff. I would assume that this is a color specific issue.
  • The pockets aren’t lined. This isn’t a big deal as it doesn’t make the bag less useful. It’s just a “nice touch” that I’ve seen on other bags, i.e. Tumi. It does make me extra glad I ordered the Saffron color because they are real bright inside – it will be no trouble to find stuff. I used to buy every bag in black, and I’ve learned that light interiors really make a bag easier to use. The main compartments are lined except for the ends, top and bottom.
  • Overall the bag doesn’t exude the solidity I expected. Again, this goes to my comparison to Tumi and perception of weight. What I have to remember is that if Tumi made this bag it would be a) Black, b) at least $200 more, and c) probably a pound or two heavier. I asked the folks at Red Oxx about the fabric choice, and they responded that using ballistic would have been a) heavier, and b) limited the choice of colors.

So far I’m pleased with the Air Boss and I’m anxious to see how this bag will work out on my way to the OnDemand conference. It’s only two nights, and not very formal so I’ll be taking only this bag. A week later I have a four night trip that’s more which will be a tougher test.

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