While Crumpler's Dry Red No. 3 rolling carry-on wound up providing a surprising amount of space, now we turn to another bag you'd rightfully expect to provide generous cargo room: Their Spring Peeper with Wheels, a duffel bag perfectly sized to carry-on standards and featuring a retractable handle.
If we put the unladen bags side by side, they seem to occupy the same-sized footprint.
However, being a duffel bag the Spring Peeper doesn't have inherent structure on the sides, and this flexibility allows you to swell the bag up to its full 40-liter capacity (versus the 27 liters of the No. 3). The top and bottom panels are stiff and the retractable handle's frame provides stiffness on the bottom, which is what enables the bag to keep its shape.
The bag features the same chunky, grab-friendly zipper pulls as on the No. 3.
It also has integrated handles made from fabric that are comfortable to grab. They're located both top and bottom, making it easy to hoist the bag horizontally, as you do to get it up on the airport's conveyor belt.
Like the No. 3, the interior of the bag is brightly colored (aqua blue versus the No. 3's crimson red) to enable you to easily see what's inside.
Speaking of what's inside, I began loading it up with everything that was in the No. 3:
Again, the electronics go into the pouches provided at the bag's sides.
On the other side is a nice touch, a pocket lined with a waterproof material. Toiletries can be thrown in here with no need for a Ziploc.
The first layer of clothes goes in...
..and the bulky stuff goes on top.
There is still plenty of space around the sides to continue stuffing things, particularly once the internal compression straps are tightened.
One ergonomic gripe I have is the way the compression straps are allocated. Rather than the male and female parts of the buckle being centered, as they are on the No. 3 and most travel bags, the female part is confined to the lower part of the bag and has no play in the strap.
This provides a small hassle when the bag is full, as you have to dig around for a few seconds to locate the female buckles and snap them shut.
It's not a huge deal, but if I was packing in a hurry, I'd notice this deficiency every time and wonder why they did it that way.
In any case, the bag is now loaded and ready to go. External compression straps allow you to further slim the load.
In the airport security line, the first thing I do is empty all of my pockets into the external pockets of my rolling carry-on. Not just the metal things in my pockets, but every single thing as some airports now have those backscatter or millimeter wave machines requiring it.
The Spring Peeper has two external pockets. One is a smaller one on the side. In the photo it seems deceptively small, but it actually has a volume roughly equivalent to a stack of four CDs in jewelboxes.
The other is a larger one on the other side that seems it would hold a 20-liter bottle of soda and then some.
My wallet, cash, keys, change, and chewing gum are placed into the smaller pocket. My cell phone goes into the larger pocket so that the keys and change don't scratch the screen. I wish these pockets were located at the top of the bag, so I could perform this routine easily while still standing in the moving queue; I don't like to do it after hoisting the bag onto the conveyor platform as I feel like I'm slowing the line down.
After passing through security, I re-load my pockets from the bag. Fishing the phone out of the deep pocket is a minor hassle but certainly not a dealbreaker. I do wish, though, that some bag manufacturer would design something specifically for this pocket-emptying and re-filling ritual all of us must do at the airport. I guess no one has considered that the spread of backscatter machines ought to impact bag design.
This next point is where my travel idiosyncrasies affect my choice of travel bags in a way that may not apply to you. Once inside the concourse, my first step is always to purchase a large bottle of water--two if the flight is more than 4 hours--because I often get dehydrated on planes. I also purchase a meal-to-go somewhere on the concourse if the flight is more than 4 hours, as I don't like airplane food. I do not like to wedge potentially crushable food or water bottles into my bags; my routine is to keep these new purchases in their plastic shopping bags until I am on the plane and in my seat, when they go into the seatback pockets for easy access. Therefore I walk around the concourse with this plastic bag of food and water stacked on top of my rolling carry-on and resting against the retractable handle supports. Here's what this looks like on a standard carry-on:
As you can see, the rigid top surface of a standard stiff-sided rolling carry-on provides a little shelf that you can rest a bag on. I've also used this surface as a place to prop an open laptop when I'm stuck in an airport for a few hours. But the Spring Peeper's top panel, stiffened though it might be, is not designed to support these tasks. The plastic bag just rolls off and it wouldn't hold a laptop.
Another result of a design decision I don't care for occurs to me once boarding begins. After towing a rolling carry-on down the jetway, once I step over the plane's threshold I retract the handles, and walk down the aisle carrying the bag in front of me, by the top handle. (I don't like to tow it behind me because I'm a little clumsy, and with the bag behind me where I can't see it, it's easy for me to accidentally run a seated person's toes over.) Because the Spring Peeper's top handle is not centered, as you can see here...
...once you lift it by the top handle, it naturally tilts at an angle as the bag self-balances.
This makes it awkward to get down the narrow airplane aisle as it is now taking up much more space than it ought. I tried rotating it 90 degrees both one way and the other, but then the bag was hitting me in either the shins or the thighs as I walked, depending on which way it was rotated, forcing me to shuffle. Again this is not a huge deal--I'm only walking what, twenty or thirty feet like this--but it's an issue that doesn't occur with my normal rolling carry-on, and from a design perspective, I don't like it when a poorly-placed handle impacts the performance of a product in any way.
The bag fit perfectly into the overhead bin, fulfilling that requirement neatly.
By the time we landed and I'd deplaned, I'd consumed everything in the plastic bag, which would ordinarily free up the "top shelf" of my rolling carry-on. After exiting the plane my ritual is to then place my backpack on that shelf and tow both bags together, as after sitting in a plane for seven hours my shoulders don't feel like supporting a backpack, particularly if the airport exit's a long way off. But as mentioned before, the Spring Peeper's construction is not conducive to supporting anything on the top part, so the backpack stayed on my shoulders.
Conclusion on the Spring Peeper with Wheels:
The fit and finish appear to be quite good. I like the volume capacity of this bag, and would feel confident loading it up for a long trip even if going to a place where I intended to buy clothes and bring back more stuff than what I arrived with. As I mentioned earlier, even after loading the bag up with everything I'd need, there was still plenty more space to stuff things around the sides.
Packing the bag seemed faster than packing a stiff-sided rolling carry-on, because you don't have to carefully consider where everything will fit; with a soft-sided duffel, you can just keep throwing things in there and let the bag fill out naturally.
I had minor ergonomic gripes with the internal compression buckle location, the accessibility of the exterior pockets, the "no shelf" issue and the handle placement. As ridiculous and anal as it seems, the no-shelf thing and the top handle placement would probably be dealbreakers for me, which I attribute to my own finickiness.
Up Next: As mentioned earlier I carried two bags on this trip, the rolling carry-on and a laptop backpack. Stay tuned for a review of the latter.