It has always been my dream to travel with little luggage. I admire travelers who are able to travel around the world with a backpack or bag. After experiencing lost baggage at my final destination, it was time for a self-experiment.
It happened on the way back from Churchill, known as the polar bear capital of the world in Manitoba Canada: We should have long been on board and our plane airborne with destination Winnipeg. But we were still waiting in the little departure hall. There was no announcement that gave us the reason for the delay. I asked an employee whether the plane was defective. He said: “No, they cast lots. For the baggage.”
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In the evening, I reached Winnipeg. Without luggage
The airlines in Northern Canada carry mainly cargo into remote areas. Cargo is big money. It is how the airlines make their money. The passengers` baggage is not first priority.
The ATR-Propeller was absolutely overloaded
So this is the reason for the delay. After one hour, an airport employee arrives. She stoically reads names from a list. She names the passengers whose baggage has remained in Churchill. My name is also on the list.
I reach Winnipeg late in the evening. My suitcase is supposed to be delivered within the next 24 hours according to the customer service. Great! Early in the morning, a canoe tour is scheduled, in the afternoon a reception at Go media Canada, that connects top Canadian and international travel media with travel experts and Canadian tourism organizations. As I have arrived from Arctica, I wear functional outdoor clothes and hiking boots. I see myself at the reception with dirty hiking shoes and a sweaty T-Shirt and swear to never check my luggage again.
Traveling with carry-on only– is that possible?
In October, I travel to British Columbia. For ten days, I travel off the beaten track of the big cities and do research on old gold mining towns in the Cariboo Mountains. Furthermore, I am up to canoeing and an excursion in the footsteps of the Grizzlies. I need clothes for unsettled October weather, hiking boots, rain coat, a fleece as well as gear for canoeing. Of course, the camera equipment including the telephoto lenses, the objective lens, and two camera houses need to be stored. Travelling with carry-on only? Seems impossible. Nonetheless, I will give it a try.
Tom Bihn provided me with one of their travel bags for my test. The American company manufactures travel bags since 1972. What I like about Tom Bihn is that they attach great importance to quality and that they produce in their own factory in Seattle. And it is the story of Tom Bihn that convinced me in the first place. As a ten-year old youngster, Tom asked his parents for money to purchase equipment for his aspired outdoor adventures. His parents suggested to increase his pocket money with a job or to consider how he can make something himself. Tom chose the latter. With the old Singer sewing machine of his grandmother he sewed his first bags. And the rest – as they say, is history. Today, it is not very often that you find a company that manufactures with passion and presents its entire workforce like a big family on the website. Excited, I waited for the bag that Tom Bihn sent to me via UPS.
When unpacking the box from Tom Bihn, my delight changed into disillusionment though. My first impression: “Way too small.” It might be big enough for a weekend trip to Berlin. But a ten-day trip into the Canadian wilderness with this bag? Impossible! The bag, an Aeronaut, is not much bigger than my gym bag, in which I pack my towel and extra clothes for my work-out.
Tom Bihn sets great value on multi-functional design: According to various needs, the Aeronaut can be used as a bag with handles, as a shoulder bag with shoulder strap (sold separately), as well as a backpack. The carrying strap, which transforms the Aeronaut into a backpack, is hidden inside that bag in an inner pocket with zipper.
So, simply attach the straps to the bottom of the back, shoulder the Aeronaut and off you go! The backpack carrying system is mainly intended for bridging longer distances at the airport, in train stations or on the way to the hotel and not as a substitute for a backpack.
The Aeronaut as an intelligent packing system
The Aeronaut is more than a bag, in which you store your luggage. It is an intelligent packing system. Tom Bihn manufactures matching Packing Cubes, bags for clothes in various sizes. The cubes are perfect for arranging the clothes and for reducing the volume of the bag. For several years, I have been using packing bags in my Rimowa suitcase, which has stood the test. Tom Bihn offers different sizes, all tailored to fit in the Aeronaut. There is even a bag that can also be used as a rucksack for a day. Everything is very well-thought-out down to the last detail, which I like very much.
The Aeronaut turns out to be a packing miracle
In the large bag, there is enough room for my Fjäll Raven outdoor pants, a Salomon hiking pants, my warm Icebreaker hoodie, a sweatshirt, long merino underwear, and my Arcteryx-Softshell jacket. The two smaller bags are big enough for my T-shirts, panties and socks. I also pack my feathery Mono-Luna-Sandal and Soft-Star shoes. All bags are tightly filled when I pack them into the main compartment. And there is still room! I am surprised. There must be elves at work in the bag!
The Aeronaut turns out to be a true packing miracle. In the side compartments, I tuck away my rain coat and wash bag. Tom Bihn thought of everything here as well: The resourceful designers created a transparent wash bag (3D Clear Organizer Cube). That saves me time as I do not need to repack my cosmetics into the plastic bags of the security check at the airport.
And the elves perform more magic: there is still enough room in the bag for my heavy Nikkor telephoto lens 80-200 2.8. and my Nikon flash. Incredible! And even more is fitting: gloves, scarf and hat, my bag with all kinds of adapters and cables find room in the main compartment. The bag now weighs just over 10 pounds. What else still needs to come along? My flashlight! I store it in one of the side pockets. Similarly, a GoPro monopod and the gorilla pad plus holder for the microphone.
Bag in transit – traveling with the Aeronaut
Was it a good decision to travel with carry-on only? I start doubting it when I board the train heading to the airport. Instead with a twenty kilogram Rimova suitcase, my camera bag and a backpack for additional carry-on, I travel with a 12 kilogram-heavy Aeronaut and the Deuter Futura 28 backpack. The Deuter backpack with its 10 kilogram is pretty heavy. No wonder, as the cameras and lenses (except the 80-200 Tele), flash, and iPad are stored in it. My hiking boots are too big and too clunky for the bag (mid-height footwear fits in the side pocket without a problem), so I have to bite the bullet. My Hanwag leather boots are perfect for hiking, but rather clumsy and heavy for travelling by train and plane. Except for two days in Vancouver we will be exclusively outdoors and I will hardly need other shoes. For the evenings and easy walks, I have the Luna sandals and Soft Star shoes with me.
Relaxed, I start the train ride to the airport. Instead of three pieces of luggage (one suitcase, one camera bag and one backpack), I travel with two bags. The reduced weight is convenient as well: without help, I am able to lift the Aeronaut bag into the luggage rack of the train cabin.
British Airways allows two carry-ons with a maximum weight of 23 kilogram
At the airport gate in Stuttgart, Germany, a British Airways employee addresses me reproachfully. She wants to know whether both pieces of luggage are carry-ons. With a stern look, she checks the black Aeronaut and instructs me to stow the bag in the cabin under the seat in front of me. Then she sticks two carry-on stickers on the bags. I do not understand the posturing, because British Airways allows two pieces of luggage (56x45x25 cm and 45x36x20 cm) as carry-on. So, I was far below the limit. For BA allows a maximum weight of 23! kilogram per hand luggage. I could have traveled with 69 kg of baggage – a checked-in suitcase luggage with 23 kg, or 2 x 23 kg for a ticket to the Y-class and two pieces of hand luggage with both 23 kilograms.
In London Heathrow, I have to transit to another terminal. The queue in front of the security check seems endless. The gradual progress with two bags is annoying. I could swear that my bags` weight increases with every meter. I wish I had to carry less and regret the decision to travel with hand luggage.
When boarding the BA jumbo, there is enough space for both pieces of luggage. I do not have to worry about my baggage as it is flying with me just half a meter higher. Actually not so bad to travel with carry-on only! About ten hours later: Arrival in Vancouver. I get off the plane, get myself a luggage cart and walk directly to the Fairmont Airport Hotel. It is a nice feeling not having to stand at the baggage belt for half an hour after arrival until the suitcase is delivered. Again, traveling with hand luggage scores.
Traveling with the Aeronaut
The TomBihn bag requires only half as much space as a suitcase. This is even more convenient if you have a small hotel room. You can simply unzip it and unpack the packing cubes with the clothes and utensils. Everything is nicely organized and can be packed quickly the next morning. While I always had to sort everything again for the suitcase, so that it does not fall apart when closing it – with the Aeronaut, I just put the packing cubes in the main compartment and it is done. This leaves more time for breakfast.
The next morning, I fly with a small propeller plane of Central Mountain Air. I am allowed to take my Deuter backpack with camera equipment on board, the Aeronaut bag must be checked in. I’m not too happy about it and a bit skeptical, but when I get the bag back at my final destination, all doubts are dispelled. The Aeronaut is made of high quality materials (Ballistic Nylon) and is so well made that you can check it in without hesitation.
On the ten-day trip, the Aeronaut has stood the test. However, I would not use it again as my main travel bag for such a trip when I have to lug a lot of photography equipment with me. Apart from that, I prefer the Tom Bihn travel bag to my suitcase for travel with light clothing. The layout of the bag and the packing system with Packing Cubes is awesome. If you need less space, the bag`s size can be reduced on both sides with snaps. If you decide not to use the cubes, you can tie the garments with straps. If you do not use the straps, you can take them out and save a bit of weight.
Are there any deficiencies?
The zippers are rather difficult to move and quite small in my opinion. Therefore, the opening was somewhat fiddly. Tom Bihn includes additional cords, which I did not use and most likely would not have made the opening of the zippers easier.
While one side pocket is secured with a zipper, the other one is open. Here I would have preferred a second zipper for safety reasons. In the latest version of the Aeronaut these two matters have already been taken into consideration and changed.
Further wishes and ideas for the Aeronaut
I would like to have a secret compartment where you can hide important documents such as passport or wallet. A small pocket for business cards would be great as well. A reinforcement of the outer material at the ends where the bag is placed on the ground, is also on my wish list.
The purchase of a piece of luggage is a long-term investment. It should be well thought out. The most important consideration here is the application and the size. The Aeronaut 45 is suitable for both business trips as well as for a weekend break or longer holiday trips. For me as a journalist it is the perfect bag for presstrips up to one week. Although the bag is quite small, it has an amazing volume and can be carried as a shoulder bag or backpack.
The Aeronaut offers also a perfect solution to travelers with a lot of luggage. With this bag, you can take advantage of the maximum volume allowed for hand luggage. However, you should check the limits with the airline in advance.
The original Aeronaut, which I was provided with for the test, is available at Tom Bihn with new features as Aeronaut 45 for 280 USD. In addition, there is a smaller version, the Aeronaut 30 with 30 liter volume for 270 dollars. Who is looking for a versatile bag, can do without a suitcase with wheels and is interested in minimalist travel will appreciate sophisticated and high quality products of Tom Bihn, its efficient and friendly customer service and will join the large community of satisfied customers.
The TomBihn Website provides an abundance of information and links to reviews of their bags. After my test, I may make a full recommendation to buy the Aeronaut and look forward to more trips with the bag.
Tom Bihn did provide the Aeronaut for this test, but I would like to point out that this article is my own opinion and that I was not paid by Tom Bihn for writing this article.
Thank you Heike Gerhold for the translation from the original German text.
Click here to read the original German text.