I recently reviewed the Red Oxx Mini Boss as a candidate for one-bag, carry-on travel. I wanted to try something slightly larger, still carry-on, and with additional functionality. For reference, the Mini Boss measures 19"L x 12"H x 6.5"W, has a capacity of 24.3 liters, and tips the scale at 1540g. Red Oxx makes several duffel-style bags that meet domestic and international carry-on requirements. CEO Jim Markel discusses their attributes in an informative 3-part blog post, but for me, duffels just don’t cut it. They don’t feel like biz luggage, and their main compartments are too cavernous for proper organization. Even if you use organizational cubes, when you unzip the main compartment, you’re looking into a black hole.
In the category that might be described as “biz-leisure crossover,” there are two other Red Oxx bags: one is the Mini Boss’s big brother, the Air Boss. At 40.4L and 22"L x 8"W x 14"H, it’s close to maxing out the domestic carry-on limit of 45 linear inches—you do know that this is not actually an FAA requirement, don’t you?—won’t fit under many non-premium seats, and runs the risk of catching the eye of some Gestapo-trained gate agent. The Sky Train isn’t much smaller—only 2 linear inches—and it trades 2 liters of storage for the convenience of hideaway backpack straps. But it’s a very different bag for those two differences. The slightly different dimensions give the Sky Train a more business-briefcase look. And those backpack straps privière additional carry functionality.
Straight out of the box, here is what I noticed.
- It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. “Built like a tank,” “bombproof,” the “Bama of Bags,” whatever your metaphor for toughness and beauty, the Sky Train has it in reserve. Again, as with my Mini Boss, the Safari color scheme is just beautiful. Safari isn’t a single color. It’s a combo of light and dark olive shades. The interior is Bama red. I din’t go looking for that; it’s just kismet. 🐘
- Both main compartments open clamshell style. This is a wonderful bit of functionality for packing, organizing, and retrieving. One of the compartments contains sewn-in compression straps; these are very effective for preventing wrinkling when employing the bundle packing method. The Euro-style vinyl-wrapped handles are located on the axis of this compartment, which is the compartment that sits against your back when you strap this bag on that way. Unfortunately, the other compartment, where the flip-out poctet is located, does not contain compression straps. I think that’s a miss, but it’s certainly not a major one. Here’s the problem I imagine, but have yet to test: Some of us carry electronics that are distproportionately dense and heavy. I don’t carry a laptop anymore, but I do carry an iPad of one sort or another. A 2021 iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard is a small laptop. it will need to be stowed in a way that doesn’t allow it to move around. I’m thinking about a thin sleeve with user-added Velcro attachment, if I decide to put it in the second main compartment, and also trying it out in the external pocket that faces rearward.
- There is no laptop sleeve, but there is an external side pocket on the non-back strap side with more than ample room for a laptop, and you can use something like a Red Oxx Travel Tray1/ or even a t-shirt to provide some padding against the outside world. But because it’s on that side, that means it faces the rest of the world, both the good and evil. Be cautious about putting anything valuable in that pocket.
- The flip out toiletry pocket is either too big or too small. But it’s perfect for an iPad Mini with either a Folio Cover or thire party keyboard.
- There is no hip belt for the backpack feature. That’s a good thing. This bag isn’t goink up Mt. Whitney. For most leisure travel, a hip belt is just added weight for little additional functionality.
- The side handle is not the robust strap & wrap of the Air Boss or Mini Boss. Like the top handle, it’s “Euro-wrapped” in a vinyl tube; I am not a fan. That’s not a big deal, but it isn’t centered over the bag’s mid-line axis the way the Bosses’ handles are, and it isn’t anchored by 90-degree, body-sewn webbing.Depending on how you load the Sky Train, the side handle could cause a sense of imbalance. The top handle is on the same plane, but I suspect thatholding it vertically will be less subject to imbalance. I plan to test both potential sources of hand-carry imbalance.
- 1. Something that might be called a laptop sleeve, with or without padding could go in the secondary compartment. It would be useful even without a laptop or iPad, but it’s a conspicuous omission.
- Compression tie-down straps in the second compartment. These would allow more load balancing, and content control
- Make the flip-out toiletry bag removable or relocatable. A zipper or snaps would add negligible weight, and not diminish reliability or utility in any measurable way.
- Attached external compression straps, a la MEI. These go a long way toward creating an appearance of compactness at the gate. Yes, one can buy compression straps, but that’s another thing to lose, and they don’t have the leverage of sewn-in straps.
- Side handle enhancement. Convetting the side handle to a Boss-style handle and anchoring the two with wide side webbing. I don’t think this would be too hard. It might add a little weight, but it would improve the Sky Train’s briefcase-style carrying.
I’ll take the Sky Train out this next week on a short 4-day trip back east. I expect it to be understuffed and easy to carry, so not much of a challenge test. I just want to see how its organization and carry quality compare to the Mini Boss.
1/ A note on the Travel Tray. OneBag.com Useful Packing Tips page recommends keeping all your “stuff” in one place when you are traveling, and that starts with the bag and extends to how you organize your odds & ends in your room:
“When unpacking at one's destinations, it's important not to allow belongings to stray too far from home (your bag), where they might be forgotten when repacking. Make a conscious effort not to scatter possessions arbitrarily; rather, keep them together in a limited number of distinct areas.
“Whenever I check into a hotel or the like, one of my first actions is to completely clear at least one horizontal surface (desk, table, dresser top, etc.), and place all the removed clutter out of sight, often in a drawer. I then use this cleared area for any non-clothing items of my own that must be unpacked. That way, when I prepare to depart, I am unlikely to leave something behind because it "disappeared" among a bunch of sight-obscuring oddments.”
I like this advice. I’ve left stuff behind more than once. One certainly does not need to buy another doo-dad to accomplish this organization, but I like Red Oxx’s candidate: the Travel Tray. I thought the idea was silly at first, a superfluous luxury. But between OneBag.com and Red Oxx, the case for it started to make sense. And the Travel tray’s padding makes it an ideal cushion to place in your bag to protect something delicate. True, it’s another example of TANSTAAFL. The tray weighs in at 108g—not the 136 conservatively spec’s on the website, but perhaps that includes the dog tag—which is more than nothing. That’s more than a security lock, a Leatherman tool, even some t-shirts. It means making weight and space somewhere. As noted in the text, a t-shirt can cushion the iPad as well, but the t-shirt won’t serve as a “stuff organizer.”