Luggage in Hong Kong Airport (Shutterstock: see credit below)
Review Words : Phoebe Smith | 11 January

Traveller's guide to buying adventure-ready luggage

Sometimes a straightforward suitcase just won’t do. So we help you pick the perfect travel bag, for when you need more versatility from your luggage

Things to consider when buying convertible luggage...

Weight
If a bag is heavy even when empty, you might struggle to pack everything you need without exceeding your airline’s maximum luggage allowance. Look for a bag that is lightweight without compromising on durability.

Fabric
Will your bag be strapped on top of vehicles or pass through many airports? Look for a tough, durable fabric that won’t rip easily. Consider a bag with solid sections on the bottom to help maintain its integrity.

Convertability
All the bags on test here have at least two different carrying options; some even separate into two bags. But how useful are the different methods to you? If you don’t require a bag with multiple options, consider buying a cheaper, less versatile model.

Size
Self sufficiency is key: consider what you can realistically carry – at airports, between hotels or for long periods on the road. Filling up a large piece of luggage is no good if you can’t manage it by yourself.

Ease of use
Does the bag have multiple unzipping, compartment or carry options? If so, ensure you know how to use them all easily and quickly, so you’re not grappling with instructions while you’re away.

Zips
Make sure zips are large enough and fit for purpose – a flimsy zip on a big case will spell trouble. Also look for zips that you can lock together for security.

SNUGPAK Subdivide Roller Carry-All

£80, snugpak.com


The Subdivide is an interesting concept. Part wheelie bag and part holdall, it has touches of rucksack too.

With a retractable handle and two wheels, it can be pulled like a wheelie, though the rounded bottom makes it difficult to stand upright. On its back it’s a classic holdall, with a large zipped compartment (great for packing in a hurry), two large straps and bungy cords for securing extras. However, it’s harder to carry as a holdall due to the wheels and frame.

So why is this bag useful? Featuring a second zip, the bottom part of the bag is a separate compartment, so you can lock up all the items you don’t need till later and save the top bit for things you need to access quickly. There’s also a handy zipped section at the top near the wheelie handle for quickly stowing phones, pens, documents or chargers.

The fabric feels robust though tougher zips would have been better for the main sections. It’s third-lightest on test (2.10kg), which isn’t bad for a 90L capacity. However, a detachable top section may have been more useful.

The verdict: A good price for a reasonably versatile, reasonably light bag, but some tweaks would have made it better.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Carry options: ★★★✩✩
Ease of use: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩


BERGHAUS Mule II 80 Wheeled Holdall

£90, berghaus.com


Berghaus has kept things really simple with its Mule II Wheeled Holdall. The bag uses a classic wheelie frame as standard, so can be rolled along when heavy. But it also has two wide straps that can be secured together and used to carry it over your shoulder or in your hands.

Dispensing with any bells and whistles means that the space inside is impressive (80L). And, thanks to a single, heavy duty, lockable zip, you can pack this bag to capacity without having to worry about it bursting open at the check-in desk; also, compression straps hold everything together. Grab-handles at both ends mean it’s easy to pull off the luggage carousel. Large zips tabs are handy and quick to find.

Weight-wise, it’s middle of the road, coming in at 2.45kg. It does suffer from a similar issue as the Snugpak, being harder to stand up when wheeling as the bottom is rounded. However, the fabric is designed to last, and the reinforced bottom should survive pretty rigorous handling.

The verdict: Proof that, if you don’t need all the extra features, simple can work well – and can come at a reasonable price.

Features: ★★★✩✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Carry options: ★★★✩✩
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

PATAGONIA Black Hole Duffel

£110,
patagonia.com/eu

The Black Hole is the only bag on test without wheels. Designed with climbers in mind – though still useful for travellers – it offers the options of being handheld, shouldered or carried using back straps.

Made from highly weather-resistant and durable fabric, and featuring a padded bottom panel, this bag should easily survive the attentions of an over-enthusiastic baggage handler or the rigours of being strapped to a Himalayan mule or overlanding vehicle. The main zip is heavy duty, lockable and covered with fabric.

It has a zipped external pocket, handy for those items you need to get to quickly. The main internal compartment has a capacity of 120L. There is a mesh pocket for laundry or wet items that you want to keep separate.

There are grab handles at either end to enable you to pick it up quickly. Rucksack straps are padded for comfort but also fully and easily removable if not needed. Unsurprisingly – given that it lacks wheels – it is the lightest bag on test, weighing 1.15kg.

The verdict: Lacking wheels, this bag may not be for everyone, but if packed carefully it is a great option for those heading on a supported multi-day trek.

Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★★
Carry options: ★★★✩✩
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩


VANGO Escape 60+20

£120, vango.co.uk


On first glance, Vango’s 80L Escape looks like a fairly standard piece of luggage – but a closer inspection reveals that there’s a lot more to it.

It can be wheeled, by extending the cleverly hidden-away handle; it can also be transformed into a rucksack, using the neatly concealed back straps. Due to the bag’s rigid construction, it’s not the most comfortable backpack, but for short-term use it’s OK.

There’s further versatility too. The front pouch zips off to become a standalone daypack (20L); this has an organiser pocket and a padded sleeve for your laptop or tablet. The main wheeled compartment (60L) features a heavy-duty zip that is lockable and covered by a flap of fabric to stop it catching on luggage carousels. The bag is easy to convert, and both the daypack and the wheelie options are user-friendly.

The fabric is suitably tough. Weight-wise it is the second-heaviest on test, at 3.25kg. Considering the number of features, it is well-priced.

The verdict: With a good range of carry choices at a good price, it’s only the weight that may deter some.

Features: ★★★★★
Design: ★★★★✩
Carry options: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★✩

OSPREY Ozone Convertible 70

£180, ospreyeurope.com


For a bag with three different carrying options, and a total capacity of 70L, the Ozone impressively hits the scales at just 1.30kg – the lightest of all the wheelie luggage here. The wheeled frame is very light, easy to use and well positioned, so the bag stands up easily and the handle doesn’t get in the way.

A zip at the back conceals well-padded shoulder straps and a hipbelt, so it can be used as a backpack. It’s the most comfortable conversion on test (though still better for short-term use). On the front is a zip-off 15L daypack, which features a padded sleeve for laptops/tablets and even two wand pockets, suitable for a waterbottle or small tripod.

The main compartment is less spacious than others on test but is easy to access. The zips are lockable, but it would have benefited from being tougher, so you could fill it to capacity with more confidence. Grab handles make it easy to pick up and a top zip pocket is handy for need-to-reach items. The fabric is suitably strong. Converting it is straightforward.

The verdict: Lots of options for a light weight and a good price; tougher zips would have made it perfect.

Features: ★★★★★
Design: ★★★★✩
Carry options: ★★★★✩
Ease of use: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★★


EAGLE CREEK Morphus 30

£400, eaglecreek.com


The versatile Morphus has six carrying methods. First, it’s a standard wheelie with an impressive capacity of 93L that’s full of lockable zipped compartments and easily compressed with straps. If you don’t want to wheel it, you can attach a strap and carry it on your shoulder instead.

Need more room? Zip off the top to create two separate bags, both with big capacity – one simple wheelie with no pockets (with a 93L capacity) and one feature-packed shoulder bag (91L); the shoulder bag also has concealed straps that turn it into a backpack. It’s largely userfriendly: taking it apart is easy, but reattaching the two bags can be a little bit tricky.

It’s durable, with polycarbonate at the back and tough fabric on top, and the wheels are reinforced. Zips can be locked, though heavier duty ones on the wheeled section would be better. The whole case comes with a No Matter What Warranty that covers any damage, regardless of the cause. It is the heaviest on test (3.90kg), but with the many baggage options that is hardly surprising.

The verdict: A truly versatile bag with a multitude of options – but you pay for them.

Features: ★★★★★
Design: ★★★★✩
Carry options: ★★★★★
Ease of use: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★✩✩
Overall: ★★★★✩


Main image: Luggage in Hong Kong Airport (Shutterstock)


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