Yet more on the Red Oxx Air Boss

Yes, I know it’s a bit odd that I’ve written more about the bag I used to travel to a conference than the conference itself, but there are lots of folks writing about the conference, and digital printing isn’t an area where I have any expertise. In fact I don’t really have any opinion.

About bags I have a lot of opinions 😉

I’ve used the Red Oxx Air Boss for two flights now, and I’ve got to say it works pretty well. When you combine it with the Tom Bihn Brain cell it’s a great combination. You can take just the Brain Cell and have your computer along with a few other items, and then dump the BC back into the Air Boss when you head back to the airport. If god forbid you’re asked to gate check your bag, you can yank out the Brain Cell and not have to worry about sending your computer into the hold.

The strap from the Air Boss fit the Brain Cell with just a little persuasion, and worked pretty well. More on that later. The Brain Cell is a very good size – enough to carry a computer and a few extras, but not enough to get it so heavy you can’t carry it all day. It held the computer and power adapter just fine, with enough room left over for business cards, pens, a modest show guide, and a small digital camera clipped to the strap. I’d even suggest it could use a thin flap pocket on the side opposite the mesh pocket. The Brain Cell is stiff and padded enough I didn’t worry about my computer at all, I even walked with it in light rain although I’m not sure I’d recommend relying on the Brain Cell to be weather proof.

The Air Boss has held everything with the addition of some souvenier t-shirts, bags of peanuts and Cracker jacks, and the give-away bag from Xerox. The weight is a bit much for lengthy slogs though, and I’d suggest that anyone looking at long walks should be eyeing a bag with backpack straps. The strap is part of the problem, though. I have a love/hate relationship with the strap, mostly hate.

I love it because it’s very sticky, and will not slip off a shoulder. Your outer garment will be missing a sleeve before your bag hits the ground. For lighter bags you carry off one shoulder this is great.

I hate it because it’s very sticky and you cannot shift the bag at all until you remove all the weight from the strap. Even then it’s tough. This is really irritating when I’m carrying a bag messenger style, and shift it to the back while walking to minimize bounce, but need to pull it up front to get something out of it. It doesn’t pull. I basically have to take the bag off to get into it.

The strap is also a bit narrow, and even though the rubber pad is wider, it’s not stiff enough to distribute the load very well. Hanging the bag off a shoulder rather than across the chest was pretty uncomfortable for any substantial length of time. The strap seems identical to Tom Bihn’s TerraGrip strap and I’m guessing neither company makes it themselves. I have a pretty cushy strap from Eagle Creek I’ll try on the next trip.

I’ve thought of a few more potential improvements for the Air Boss:

  1. I was going to suggest a key clip, but then I got a better idea – how about a few rings in each section, to which one could clip small pouches? Failing that, a key clip in the center compartment (where the keys won’t create a hip-irritating lump) would be appreciated. It doesn’t need to be a long leash, just a short but secure clip.
  2. How about a short unsewn section on the handle straps, for carrying an umbrella?
  3. I’m tempted to ask for external compression straps…but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.
  4. A flap on the inside of the slip pocket would help keep items in the pocket. A carry on bag eventually has to be lifted overhead and that’s when things start falling out.
  5. When I bought a Tilley hat a long time ago it came with a few “Brag Tags” – small printed cards with info about how to order the hat. The idea was that when people commented to the wearer, he could just pull out a brag tag and hand it to the person making the comment. I’ve been asked by one person about the Air Boss already…

More on the Red Oxx Air Boss

I’m sitting in Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, and next to me is my Red Oxx Air Boss, with Tom Bihn Brain Cell. It’s proven so far to be a pretty awesome combination.

The bag isn’t full – I’ve only got two shirts, underwear, socks, undershirts and a pair of pants on one side and a jacket in the other side, with my laptop, toiletries and a few gadgets in the middle. It’s a bit heavy, and the strap padding could be a bit thicker. But it didn’t even come close to sliding off my shoulder.

The outside pocket did fine to hold the things I need handy, and the slip pocket held my very threatening zip baggy of toothpaste to satisfy TSA regulations. The bag is not small, but it doesn’t feel big either. Like an oversized briefcase. I’ve actually carried briefcases heavier than this, back when I used to think I had to carry 5 books on a flight 😉

I’d originally thought the shoulder strap was a bit narrow, but I discovered an advantage to it – it fits the clip on my blackberry holster better. It’s the width of a men’s dress belt, so that makes sense.img_0674.jpg

There it is sitting happily in an airport chair.img_0675.jpg

I pulled the Brain Cell out a bit so you can get a look at it – the two bags make an awesome combination.

So far the only suggestions I would have are:

  1. Add a pencil/pen slot or two at one end of the large slip pocket. You could just run a line of stitching about 2″ long about 1″ in from an end to form a short sleeve that would hold a pen perfectly.
  2. If you put a bit of padding at the bottom, carrying a laptop directly in the bag would be a lot safer.

So far, it’s been a good bag!

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.

Finally got the Air Boss

A long while ago I’d written about the Red Oxx Air Boss bag, and how I was lusting after it. I ordered their tote bag and travel basket and wrote about them, but couldn’t get myself to order the Air Boss.

I’m a bit of a luggage nut, so normally I would have popped for it easily. However, a distinct lack of travel combined with two young children at home put the damper on those kinds of purchases. Another thing that held me back was suits. I have to travel with them from time to time, I’d been brainwashed that they had to be folded up in some special apparatus made for the purpose. A suiter, or my roll aboard with the three-panel suit folding thingy. Surely just folding them up would turn them in to crepe paper, right? I’d read about the bundle method of packing, and even used it with casual clothes, but I just couldn’t accept doing it with formal wear.

Not so. On my last trip I took my roll aboard, but because I wore my blazer on the way there I took out the three-panel suit folding thingy and just had a basic suitcase. However, I ended up not wearing the blazer on the way back, so I just folded it like a shirt and stuck it in the case. Came out just fine. I became convinced that formal wear could be bundled.

Still have the kids (and love them dearly) but the travel has increased a bit so I’ve converted some little-used electronic items to new luggage – a saffron Air Boss.

Why saffron? First, I figure it is less likely to be stolen. A guy walking around an airport with a black bag is pretty invisible, but that same guy walking around with a bright yellow one is bound to get noticed. Second, sometimes, when I want to live like a civilized human being at my destination (meaning, with a pocket knife in my pocket) I will check a bag. As anyone with a small black roll-aboard knows, everyone has one. Bright yellow bags are much easier to spot at the luggage carousel.

Last but not least, if you’ve ever had that delightful conversation with those exceptionally relaxed and pleasant folks at the lost luggage counter, you’ve seen the diagram of various bags they show you to help you describe your bag so they can find it. You know, “My bag is just like bag ‘J’.” The difference between bag “J” and bags “K” and “I” is subtle changes in size and wheel placement – all bags are black. Yellow bags are a lot easier to describe, right? I mean, it’s yellow. They probably don’t even have to know what size it is or if it has wheels. Ok, maybe, just to ensure they don’t mistake it for a taxi. But I digress.

I don’t have it yet, but I’ve just gotten an email saying it’s shipped. I’m way too impatient a person to buy things by mail order, as I’m sure the overworked UPS Tracking server can attest.

I’ve got two trips coming up – one for the SCIP annual conference in New York City, which I’m really looking forward to, and another to somewhere else which I’m also looking forward to. I’ll explain more once my hosts give clearance. Anyway, it’s two opportunities to give this bag a workout, and I’m looking forward to it!

[UPDATE] It’s due on Monday, UPS says. First trip leaves 4/16, so all is well.