Suitcase to Backpack: The Carry-on Chronicles

Growing up in a country notorious for luggage thefts, the concept of hauling weight from one place to another was always about suitcases, those hard-shell, rectangular boxes with combination locks.

They were meant to be safe, waterproof and (if possible) airport-friendly. In most cases suitcases were real good at it. Living in the farthest corners of a country where road-travel is prone to deadly accidents and mishandling of all sorts; these hardy boys could just about take everything. However they would regularly lose a handle or two, get locked on its own and weighed a ton to carry. And for some odd reason, there were always a handful of them lying around. Red, olive, blue and what not!

A few overseas travel and lifestyle drama shows later, the family was introduced to the idea of wheeled luggage. It was nothing but the suitcase on two wheels. Still heavy, cumbersome and ugly. But then again, those were the days with (almost) unlimited luggage allowance. So it hardly mattered.

The next natural evolution was to 4 wheel luggage. This was the first major physical change to luggage design. To accommodate 4 rolling wheels, the shape was made less-flatter and more cubical. From bi-directional to omnidirectional wheels, things were just getting better everyday.

As airline luggage rules started got stricter, luggage got smaller and lighter. From hard-shell plastics to soft-tops, full-size suitcases to carry-on rollers; the sizes and materials kept evolving. And so did the luggage collection at home. Soon I realized, there were hardly any signs of those stone-age boxes left around.

As time flew by, I grew older and (perhaps) cooler. And after a back-breaking rolling luggage trip to Darjeeling the idea of backpacking seemed so much more in than the hardy boys of past. I got myself a cheap  60 liter North Face Chinese knockoff . It was a worthless piece of junk, but I adored it. There was no internal frame, the buckles broke in months and the cheapness of the bag material was just unbelievable. But then again, who complains about a $25 North Face backpack anyway.

As i got sucked into the professional world, I switched back to the rolling stones (pun intended). They were more airport-friendly and I wasn’t doing anything adventurous anyway. Both personal and official trips were limited to full-fledged hotels and tourist infested, well-trekked destinations. I felt middle-aged (I was getting closer to it anyway) and life seemed as mechanical as those rolling wheels.

It was only during another back-breaking (this time I actually pulled a few muscles) experience in Dharamsala, that I made a promise to myself… no more suitcase business. It was time to be cool; backpacker cool!!!

Around the same time, I was getting interested in the idea of travelling light (ref. One Bag, One Bag, One World). In these troubled times of “no personal items”, “less than 100ml liquids” or “only one carry-on” on board; I went overboard with the idea of carrying just one. And as with all other impatient OCD-ed travelers, I scavenged through the internet to find the right one. The one I would carry on-board, travel around with and yet be light enough to feel next to nothing. In short, I had learnt my lesson well.

First up, was my make-do choice. I was travelling to India for a week and wanted to get my hands on a branded-backpack as soon as I landed. I came across this brand named VITALGear, a Singaporean company that supplied to defense forces in Asia and had built a reputation for quality outdoor gear. I could only find their Leo40 rucksack to fit my need for a carry-on backpack (though later I realized, it wasn’t) and went for the following,

VITAL Gear Leo40
VITAL Gear Leo40

The guys I ordered from (the cash-on-delivery king flipkart) flunked. On the second last day of my trip I gave it a 2nd thought, whether to wait it out and (possibly) leave without a pack or just go for my other option. For qualities (not proud of) mentioned before I couldn’t wait, went for the kill and settled for this…

Wildcraft Techpack 45
Wildcraft Techpack 45

The name Wildcraft is quite popular in India. Aside from being an indigenous brand, they had a wider array of selection from which the front-loading Techpack 45 stood out. It was laptop compatible and utilized the most space while staying within the carry-on luggage limitations (already tested). The bag was big and spacious (49L, if memory serves me right). However with its aluminium stay rod and comfortable hip belt, it barely mattered. The only thing that I didn’t like about it was perhaps the material. The 420D and 210D nylon used didn’t feel very sturdy. Nor was the overall build-quality.

I dont mean to complaint. For $55, I really didn’t expect the long list of features it came with (compared to a more internationally recognized brand). It was borderline a technical pack with the benefits of a day pack. But as they say, don’t stop till you’ve hit the spot.

And so I dint.

Since the material used was a concern for me, I went back hunting with additional knowledge. Son of an army man, I have grown up seeing all kinds of tactical gear around the house. Tarpaulin and canvas are words I learnt even before attending kindergarten. No way was I stopping at anything second best.

In came the idea of tactical backpacks.

These were purpose-built backpacks with lots (and lots) of compartmentalization made with heavy-duty materials. Unlike technical backpacks, they were heavier and less comfortable to carry; but who really cared. If I had to look out for my bag every time I stepped out, when will it take care of me… was my defining mantra for the moment.

Being a gear-junkie, I didn’t stop at user reviews. I dug deep. Made friends with an actual bag designer, Taylor Welden of Carrylogy, learnt words like EDC (Every Day Carry), BOB (Bug Out Bag), 3-Day Pack, Assault Pack, Patrol Pack and Get Home Bag. Read through hundreds of forum discussions. Ordered and cancelled at Amazon (a 5.11 Rush 12). Compared between two excellent bags with a loyal fanbase (pictured below),comparison

And finally after coming a few excellent reviews (Travellious Test Lab reviewOne traveler’s quest for the ultimate backpack and Nathan Shipley Travels review), I decided to finally go for this.

Blackhawk 3-Day Assault Pack
Blackhawk 3-Day Assault Pack

From nearly indestructible 1000D Nytaneon to self-healing YKK zippers, hydration compatibility to expandable packs; this bag had it all. And to top it off, it didn’t took tactical at all (apparently you get stopped at airports more frequently if you are carrying one). With this Blackhawk 3-Day Assault Pack, I suddenly had all that I wished for and more. And all this together didn’t even cost a dime over hundred dollars.

After having placed an order for it last night,  I now await the homecoming!!!


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