“Carry-on” goes the British call in the face of any challenge. “Carry-on” is also many traveler’s mantra whether it’s about attitudinal stuff in your head or physical stuff in the overhead. Seems like increasingly air travelers are trying to avoid baggage claim delays and possible lost luggage hassles by going all carry-on.
The question I pose is “wheels or straps?” Carry your stuff via straps on your back and shoulders and be hands-free for flexibility? Or roll it and be “weight-free” on your body? “Wheels or straps?” applies whether you are master-minding a “carry on” only plan, or are checking in bags and still want an optimal sized carry-on bag.
I’ve been an “omni-directional wheels on small suitcase” traveler the last couple of years, but I had a chance to re-visit the “wheels or straps” carry-on question when I was one of the writers invited on a remarkable Kelty trip to Costa Rica that included trying out different gear, clothes, and travel bags. I was game to look for other ways to “Carry On!”
Our one week trip in Costa Rica, customized by the stellar Austin Lehman Adventure (ALA) company, included river rafting, ocean kayaking, outrigger canoeing, zip-lining, hiking in jungles and second growth rain forests, as well as waterfall rock sliding, hammock swinging, river floating, and eating at local farms and restaurants. Plans called for river rafting into the Rios Tropicales Eco-Lodge, not accessible by road or plane, and then going downriver for a road trip to the Arenal Observatory Lodge for volcano watching, then on to the famous Manuel Antonio National Park and the Pacific Ocean for resort and sea time at Si Como No, part of the Greentique Hotels of Costa Rica. That called for some diverse items in packing, and durable, flexible luggage.
Kelty has been an iconic name in backpacks for decades. I was curious what their brain trust would create for the adventure traveler. Instead of wheels or straps, we were given both to try out: The Flyway back pack, and the Ascender series backpack that attaches and detatches from a sturdy frame with inline skating wheels. Both would be put through some paces on our action-filled trip.
Kelty- For Straps
“The Flyway” backpack is designed with air travelers and adventures in mind, coupling Kelty traditional back pack features with a separate pocket for wet clothes, dirty clothes, or shoes. The padded shoulder straps have their own pocket to streamline the bag if you want to check it in. I used the Flyway to Carry On, and appreciated how easy it was to pull my laptop in and out of the interior padded sleeve for Airport Security. Once airborne, when I could use my computer, I also could smoothly pull my laptop out of the backpack while it was in the overhead without pulling the whole bag down (something I can’t do with a small suitcase). My travel pillow was also easy to nab from the side pocket.
Once in Costa Rica, the backpack could serve as a comfortable day pack for hikes as well – helpful for
*photo gear awaiting sloths, toucans, monkeys, deer, colorful poison dart frogs, orchids and bromeliads,
*more activities: towel, sunblock, and swimsuit for hikes to pristine pools and wondrous waterfalls, a raincoat, dry clothes
*shopping for Costa Rican coffee, cigars, woodcraft, organic papayas
There’s even a rain hood that pulls out of a pocket — good the sudden downpours in the rainy season of Costa Rica
The Flyway sports exterior pockets for water bottles and interior pockets for cards, travel docs and pens. I wish there was a little secret compartment to hide a passport and money, and that the bag sat better when taken off, but I appreciate its relative comfort and versatility to serve for both trails and travels!
Kelty- For Wheels
This August, Kelty debuts the Ascender 22 series of three travel bags ( a backpack, WR Duffel and Trunk bag) that can all be attached to an expandable sturdy frame with wheels- not just any wheels, but hardy, in-line skating wheels.
The adjustable frame can shorten or lengthen to hold various new Kelty sized bags We checked out the Ascender backpack which fits with the frame in the overhead bin. You can also extend the rollable frame to balance the Flyway on top of the Ascender bag to wheel it all through the airport.
The Ascender backpack has an expandable pocket and the frame can accommodate the added height. The bag is no longer a carry on then. I loved being able to pick up gifts for family and friends, put them in the top pocket, and watch the bag grow.
The Ascender bag can also be detatched from the frame and worn as a backpack. This kind of flexibility makes it a desirable way to roll for trips that ask for squishable luggage — cruises and barge trips with limited cabin space, and outdoor adventure trips where suitcases don’t roll well with the rocks.
For this adventurous, memorable trip, I was glad to be both wheels and straps!
Are you a “Wheels or Straps” traveler? How do you Carry On?
Photographs by Lisa TE Sonne in Costa Rica
-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens