I was so sure that this time it was the real thing.
Hobbits had it easy. I’ve spent decades on the quest for the ‘Perfect Luggage’ with little success. I’ve fought baggage handlers and trains’n’boats’n’planes with duffel cases, suitcases, big cases small cases, cheap cases and more expensive ones, but nothing has made an airtight case to convince me that “This Is IT”.
Until I saw Crumpler’s new Vis-a-Vis range of hard shell cases.
Stunning hardly comes close to describing their looks and design. Add that to Crumpler’s legendary reputation for toughness (I’ve had several of their camera gear bags, and it’s TRUE!) and it should be move over Samsonite, Antler, and Co. to the realm of ‘just cases’.
The vis-a-vis range includes a laptop bag but the headline act is the trio of 55cm cabin size, mid sized 68cm and the 74cm big daddy. These three come in all black which is understated classy, or black with red straps which is a whole other level of ‘wow’!
The first thing you learn is that finding these in the black and red is a whole holy grail quest on its own since the first batch sold out almost entirely months ago. In Australia anyway, you’ll have more chance of locating Red October than red vis-a-vis. New stock of the black and red is not expected until around June -ish.
After more sleuthing than Sherlock I tracked down two, took the plunge and bought a 55cm cabin size and a 68cm mid-sized ‘trunk’ (as Crumpler calls it).
The 55cm Cabin: Cabin fever or carry-on smiling?
What is a carry on bag FOR? It’s a great question with no single answer. First off, it has to GO IN the cabin. Most flyers are driven nuts by the plonkers who wheel on cabin bags that you could smuggle a small pony in and then have another bag piggy-backed on top of it. They then expect the flight attendants to find a space for them. I can think of one.
I’ve taken the vis-a-vis cabin 55 on several QANTAS domestic flights and a few international ones and it is the perfect size for carry on. It slides in above (wheels first of course) on the domestic 737-800s with just enough space on top of it for a folded jacket or even a box of Krispy Kreme’s!
I also took it as cabin on an internal Air New Zealand flight on a little Bombardier Q300. This was a bit more of a squeeze and took a little wriggle to fit in in sideways into to the overhead bin but nothing drastic.
It’s an incredibly roomy cabin bag but you may need to watch if your airline is fanatical about enforcing a ludicrous limit eg, a 7kg weight limit on Air NZ. QANTAS almost never worry about weight but Air New Zealand made me decant some things out of it and in to my 68 hold case as it was ‘over weight’. This would seriously defeat the purpose of using this, or any other carry-on bag for a short day or weekender trip where you plan to use carry-on bags only. As this one weighs 3.3kgs you are left with a paltry 3.7kgs of content.
I have also taken it as a ‘weekender bag’ for a few non flight trips and it is perfect.
I was sure that the ‘piano-black’ finish would rapidly lose its lustre with use, but no. It still looks fantastic. The red straps have the odd slight scuff mark but nothing at all above normal ‘wear and tear’. Crumpler have a winner in this finish.
As a hard shell case, the 55 is not going to ‘double up’ and become your one and only carry on bag. I tried this on one trip as an experiment and it failed miserably. This is not a cabin bag to dip in and out of on board if you need your Dr Dres , book or i-pod. By the time you open the TSA combi-lock, release the tension straps, un-pop the handle, and open the zip, part the shell halves and potentially take out the passenger beside you, your flight may have landed. No. This is a pack it and leave it case so bring your handbag or man bag along as well for the little things you need ready access to.
The vis-a-vis range seem to have more straps than a Kings Cross bondage salon but this is no flashy form over function. They make absolute design sense. The chunky handles are so comfy you could tote one of these babies all day, although with 4 wheels that let you spin and steer with literally one finger, you will hardly ever need to. As Orwell nearly wrote, “Two wheels bad, four wheels good”. The two tension straps are as reassuring as they are practical. When you really PACK one of these, you never have to worry about the zip splitting open, a) because the zip itself is well-nigh industrial quality but then when you slip those tension straps into place you can SEE them taking the strain and the zip breathing a sigh of relief. Brilliant!
Inside is pretty standard with space and a nice flat velcro system to compress the contents flat to save some space and to stop everything from moving around and falling out when you open it. Crumpler calls it a ‘CLOTHES COMPRESSION SYSTEM’ that is ‘patent pending’ so maybe there’s more to it than met my eyes.
As good a cabin case as you will ever get. Tough, roomy, perfectly sized, glides on air, and come on, admit it, damn the science, you just LOVE the look of it.
The 68cm Trunk: Breaking up is hard to do
I took the 68 with its little brother on its maiden voyage, a two week business trip to New Zealand, but what should have been a wonderful bonding experience quickly soured as the 68 cracked open wider and almost as quickly as the Titanic did on its first outing.
The case packed well but even as I was packing, I was thinking that I might need to go for the trifecta and get the 78cm trunk as well for upcoming month long trips. These were after all, going to be THE cases for the next 5 or 10 years of travel.
The Adelaide to Wellington leg was no problem and I THOUGHT that a short hop Wellington to Hamilton flight was also fine. I didn’t think to ‘check the luggage’. Why would you? A) This is Crumpler we’re talking about and B) Most of us are just so relieved to see our cases actually emerging on the belt.
I lived out of the case for a week and it was only as I was repacking that the horror hit me. What looked like a black hair in the corner of the case was in fact a huge crack. The corner foot had been driven through the ABS shell.
As I’d put the case into the car and taken it out at the other end carefully indeed, I can’t think of anywhere else that this damage could have happened other than on that short hop flight.
Now……we all know that luggage gets damaged. Nothing in luggage world is 100% indestructible. But for a case of Crumpler quality to go down on its first trip. That’s bad.
I’m not an engineer but as I looked at the damage – the foot that seemed to have been pushed through the floor of the case, I did wonder if these ‘feet’ might be a weak spot in the design. I can just see a baggage handler in a hurry “setting it down” (from a height of a foot or two) and a full case of about 20kg landing at an angle on just a single foot. Would that be enough to do this kind of damage? I don’t know.
The ABS shell does seem to be quite thin, no doubt to help keep the case’s weight down. It seems about the thickness of an Australian 10c coin, about 2mm thick.
I’m sure Crumpler test all of their designs and some indeed are “torture tested”, so maybe my 68 was just a freak one with a flaw or weakness.
The problem is of course, that a case that breaks this badly is a bit like having a bad meal at a restaurant. You are very reluctant to go back for more.
So that’s what I’ve done. I’m treasuring my vis-a-vis Cabin bag but I just can’t risk another big trip where this could happen again to another 68cm or even the bigger 74cm.
To their absolute credit, Crumpler showed why they have ‘fanboys’ like me. I took the case into my local shop on the Saturday and called back for a full refund on the Monday. When Crumpler offer a “lifetime guarantee” it actually means something.
I’m working through the grieving process at the loss of my vis-a-vis and I have decided to go ‘back to fabric’ for my hold luggage. For my next 2 week trip, I’ve ordered a Crumpler Dry Red #11.
This could be the start of something big.