Give Your Insides A Trial Run
Feeling a little dizzy with all of your luggage choices? Not even sure you would actually be able to fit all your things into a carry-on? Give your "insides" a trial run before you make a commitment to spend your money on a new carry-on.
Find an empty carton of letter-sized paper. These are fairly easy to come by these days, when most offices have laser printers. A carton box holds 10 reams of paper, and it also happens to match the general size of a carry-on. Keep in mind that the dimensions don't quite match.
I think most manufacturers don't spend much time thinking about their shoulder straps. However, your shoulder strap is one of the most important things about your bag because that is what you carry your bag with! Many manufacturers just toss a cheap strap in with your bag as an add-on. Between the way the bag is designed, the placement of the D-rings, and the heft of the strap itself, it can make for an uncomfortable trip.
When looking for a shoulder strap, consider:
By the way, you can cinch up the shoulder strap on your travelpack and clip each end of the strap to the D-rings where your backpack straps go. It will not provide you the support you'd get from a real back pack waist belt, but it will provide you with some stability.
Some people like to wear their shoulder strap diagonally, the way bicycle messengers do. If you wish to carry your bag this way, make sure your shoulder strap can extend long enough to provide you with enough room to take the bag up and off of yourself easily. Because of the way the bag's weight gets distributed on you, a protection pad is not as important a feature.
The following suggestion comes from Mike Muise:
In addition to checking a bag's seams, take a look at its zippers. Cheaply made bags tend to use cheap zippers that can become uncogged; a serious problem if this happens to your main travelpack in the middle of nowhere. In general, the YKK brand zippers are probably the best in consistent quality. The teeth of the zippers should be large enough for you to be able to discern (smaller cogged zippers in my experience tend to come apart easier). Some bag manufacturers such as Eagle Creek also use a larger-than-normal zipper. Mark Brosius stresses that those planning extensive (months-long) travels should take sturdy zippers into serious consideration as the zipper on his wife's daypack blew out in six months of continuous travel.
When looking at bags for purchase, try all of the zippers to see how easy they run. How are the seams near the zippers put together? Do they tend to get in the way of the zipper, causing the zipper to catch? Also, some plastic zippers are self-mending, so that if they blow out they can be forced back to zip again. Unfortunately once they blow out, they tend to repeat this at the same spot.
Putting a padlock between two zipper tabs will not secure your bag! This is only a temporary safeguard if you are still going to be near your bag (such as when you wish to take a nap on the train, with your bag as your pillow). Try the following experiment: Take your luggage lock to your bag's zippers. Lock the zipper either to a D-ring on the end of your bag, or lock up two zipper bags. Then take your thumb and index finger and wedge them between the two zippers (or the zipper and D-ring). Wiggle your thumb and finger back and forth. Within seconds, you should be able to open up the zippers to where you can get your hand into the bag. Within two minutes you should be able to open the bag enough to where you can easily rifle through the bag to take some smaller items.
The only way to prevent the thumb-and-finger trick is to buy a bag with two zipper tabs that overlap each other. You will then only need to put the lock through one tab (the tab that pokes out through the second tab). There are also some bags with built-in locks in the zippers themselves. However these will more than likely require you to keep your keys on your body. Many luggage locks are combination-only and do not require keys.
Some travelpacks come with zipper pulls attached to the zipper tabs. These make it easier for you to open and close your zippers. If the zippers on your pack do not come with pulls, attach your own by using a big paper clip or a plastic bag twist tie.
You will never get a manufacturer to agree with me, but I strongly recommend that you take brand name labels off all of your bags. Jansport, Eagle Creek and others have visible labels on all their merchandise for advertising purposes. Do it as soon as you buy your bag (after you've decided you want to keep it), before the color fades and you get a "tan line" under your label. No-label bags look nicer, but more importantly, you don't want to advertise anything you don't need to (i.e. that your baggage is American, you speak English, you buy into consumerism, etc.).
This is especially important if you're taking a separate computer case. Don't take that case with the Apple logo on it. It's recognized internationally as the symbol for "Steal Me." Same goes for camera bags, which by their very shape are dead giveaways, anyway. Tell me what comes to mind when I say TAMRAC. "Camera bag," right? No, it means "Steal Me," just like that Apple logo.
Wanna have fun with your creative side? Take some fabric paint or markers, and draw some squiggly designs or dots on your Cordura bag! It will personalize your bag, and will make it less palatable to a potential thief. Who's gonna carry anything worth stealing, in an artsy hand-painted bag that looks like someone's craft project? I even recommend this for check-in bags--imagine how easy it would be to find your bag on the luggage carousel if you have some brightly painted sunflowers on the side of your bag!
If you don't feel like slapping some paint on your bag, how about embroidered sew-on patches from the places you visit? I see this fairly often. It will also give you something to collect, and something to talk about with other people.
One thing you must not retain on your bag however, are old luggage tags from previous trips on various airlines. Some tourists think this is a badge of honor, as if having different hang tags (from such exotic-sounding places like MCO, ORD or OGG) on your handle is a sign that you've traveled. All it shows is that you are ignorant of the way these tags are used. Sure, go ahead and confuse your baggage handler. If you're trying to get to New Orleans, you probably don't want your bag to end up at Chicago O'Hare, or Maui.
Next: Duffel Bags.