Red OXX Carry-Ons

Last week, en route to Vail, Colo., via a cab ride, a jet plane and a shuttle bus through the Rocky Mountains, I tested out some new luggage. I was on my way to participate in a 12-hour adventure race at the Teva Mountain Games. By default, and quite as usual, I was overloaded with gear.

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United Airlines allowed me to bring two pieces of luggage — each with a max weight of 50 pounds — plus two carry-on bags. After packing in snowshoes, helmets, a wetsuit, climbing gear and ropes, a paddle, shoes, inline skates, trekking poles, and a few other mandatory adventure items, I was nearing the airline’s prescribed stowaway limit.

Thus, I turned to Red Oxx Manufacturing Inc. (www.redoxx.com) to help maximize my carry-on capacity. The company, which is based in Billings, Mont., prides itself on helping customers take as much baggage as legally possible into the airplane.

The Safari-Beanos Bag model PR5, a square-ish duffle that measures about 10 × 10 × 24 inches, is, according to Red Oxx marketing literature, “as big a bag as you can legally go for carry-on items, both domestically and internationally.”

With six pockets and a large main compartment, the PR5 has about 2,400 cubic inches of capacity, meaning you can fit in shoes, clothing, a computer, a few books, your toiletries and other travel essentials. I packed all my outdoors gear in two large suitcases stowed away in the hull of the plane; the PR5, locked in the overhead compartment above my seat, held a week’s worth of clothes, my camera, a pair of shoes, and other basic travel articles.

The PR5 is a well made product, though a bit old school in design. It has large zipper teeth, snap closures, heavy buckles, and beefy straps. It comes in a dozen colors (as well as three other sizes). Logo patches, shiny metal and tasseled zipper pulls give it a traditional look.

Toting a loaded and heavy PR5 through the airport was not an effortless task. An absence of wheels or backpack straps made carrying the duffle a bit of a lug. However, a cool grippy rubber shoulder pad kept it steady and in one place hanging off my body.

The PR5 costs $175, which seemed expensive to me. However, the bag, as I said, is sturdy and nice. It is made to last.

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Further capitalizing on the airline’s carry-on policy — which allows a bag plus a “personal” briefcase or purse — I employed Red Oxx’s tidy Gator Bag, which measures 9 × 6 × 12 inches. It has about 650 cubic inches of capacity and fits neatly under an airline seat, which always seems to make the flight attendants happy.

I kept a book, snacks, my phone, a magazine and a couple water bottles in the Gator. A small laptop will squeeze in, too.

The Gator, which costs $95, has the same classy and traditional look as the Safari-Beanos line, with big zippers and buckles and many pockets. It’s of the same quality, too, and is made to last for years of on-the-road and through-the-friendly-skies travel abuse.

Posted by Michael W. - 07/08/2009 10:50 AM

Nice review and pics.

I use the Gator as my “briefcase” for work and in lieu of a small backpack on the weekends. It really holds a lot – when Red Oxx says it holds 650 c.i., they mean the main compartment, they aren’t counting the pouches on the outside. It organizes well, thanks to the slots and pouches.

I have my eye on the PR 5 as a carry-on bag for air travel, although generally I prefer “suitcase” style bags like the Rick Steves convertible backpack/suitcase and RedOxx’s own AirBoss (I have the Steves but not the AirBoss).

All suitcase style bags have one advantage over round, square, and oval duffels: they are generally limited to 8” o 9” in thickness, but provide comparable volume, while staying within the linear inches limit, by making the bag taller. Thus they better fit the “luggage testers” (which currently seldom used) at the check-in gate and ticket counters, which are only 8-9” thick. A bag like the PR5, with 10×10 dimensions, may need to be squished to fit the current luggage testers, and if the government mandates plastic templates at x-ray machines to bar “oversize” carryon luggage, a bag sized like this may not fit through even though the “linear” dimensions and overall cubic inches of capacity are perfectly legal.

That having been said, I prefer the lay-out of a duffel like this over a “suitcase” style carry-on. With a suitcase style, clothes tend to settle to the bottom anyway, making the bag irregularly shaped.

With a duffel like this, the end pouch and slots help a lot in organizing your packing, so essentially, if you do it right, you never have to unpack at your destination, you can just live out of the bag. In this regard, the end pouch is ideal for shoes, and keeps them separate from clean clothes.

One last thing savvy travelers need to keep in mind these days is weight limits, which are becoming more of an issue than bag size. I am getting weighed on my Asian airlines all the time now, and they have an almost draconian 15 pound limit. To stay within a limit like that, I have to off-load heavier items like books and computer to my “personal bag” (which doesn’t get weighed) and use ultralight luggage from Patagonia for the carryon piece (Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel, Lightweight Tote, Lightweight Pack are all under 1 pound of weight).

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