Modular luggage and backpacks adjust to trips of all types
By C.C. Weiss
April 25, 2013
No matter how many different suitcases, backpacks, carry-ons, purses, man-satchels and such that you own, you can still find yourself lugging the wrong type of bag and thinking "man, I need some new luggage." A number of manufacturers are attempting to make your jet-setting a little easier by designing modular luggage pieces that can grow, shrink and shift shapes to suit a variety of situations. This new generation of modular luggage should make everything from overnighters to multi-year pilgrimages a little easier for travelers of all types and stripes.
Modular luggage surely isn't anything cutting edge, but it does seem to have captured the minds of manufacturers recently. At the latest Outdoor Retailer and ISPO Munich trade shows we saw a number of different designs from several outdoor/luggage manufacturers. And while some of them have outdoor adventure inspiration, they could also prove quite useful for more general types of travel.
Eagle Creek Morphus
The Eagle Creek Morphus looks like a normal wheeled suitcase – up until you realize that the main compartment zips off and transforms into a backpack, transferring up to 93 liters of capacity from the floor to your back. For a moment, the hollowed-out roller shell looks like it'll have to slink back into the closet, because clearly a roller frame without a suitcase is useless. But the Morphus has another trick up its sleeve in the form of a lining inside the frame that flips out and becomes a separate roller suitcase of its own, nearly doubling the overall hauling capacity.
To keep things light, zip off the backpack, leave it behind and use "suitcase B" on its own. For long trips requiring lots of clothing and gear, stuff both the backpack and suitcase B. For something in between, take advantage of the increased organization of suitcase A, which packs a document pocket, pen slots, laptop and tablet sleeves, and other organizational divisions. Or bring the whole Morphus on the way there, and zip off the backpack to carry all those souvenirs and duty-free goods home.
A 48 liter and 93 liter Morphus will hit the market in July for US$395 and $470, respectively.
Kelty Ascender Series
Kelty has a similar vision for luggage versatility but a different means of reaching it. Its new Ascender series uses a wheeled metal chassis as a foundation, which can be fitted with several accompanying packs. The base Ascender 22 pack, which is sold with the chassis, starts as a 40-liter pack and can expand upward (the chassis itself expands in height) and outward to 55 and 70 liters. The Ascender 22 also includes backpack straps so it can be used as a backpack either during transit or once you arrive at your destination.
Because the chassis itself expands, it can be used with larger packs. Kelty will offer the 65-liter W/R Duffel Bag ($149) and the 80-liter Trunk ($199), both of which can also be used as backpacks. The Ascender 22 bag with chassis base will retail for $349 when the new line hits the market in August.
Up until seeing its new luggage line, we knew Heimplant entirely as a German manufacturer of cool-looking inflatable tents. That all changed when we saw its new MONOLITH Series of Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment (M.O.L.L.E.).
Similar in concept to Mission Workshop's modular packs, Heimplanet's line begins with several base options, including a rucksack, a duffel bag and a transforming messenger bag-backpack. All the models include between one and five M.O.L.L.E. lash areas.
Heimplanet actually advertises that you can use any compatible accessories with the M.O.L.L.E. lash points, but of course it also offers its own VOLUME+ line of pouches and organizers, which expand the capacity and organization of the base backpack. You can redesign one pack to meet many different needs.
The MONOLITH Series is available now and retails between €170 and €220 (approx. US$220 to 285) for the base packs. The VOLUME+ pockets retail between €25 and €40 (approx. $33 to 52).
Boreas Bootlegger Modular Pack System
The Bootlegger is an outdoor-specific backpack designed to solve a problem similar to the one with luggage: You could spend thousands on different sized and shaped backpacks – daypacks, multi-day packs, lightweight hydration packs, etc. – and still find yourself lacking something just right. The Bootlegger modular system doesn't solve the problem with a single backpack, but it does help take the complication, fitting and (maybe) expense out of buying multiple packs for different activities.
The basis of the system is in a removable "Super-Tramp" suspension that can be fitted to any of the three compatible packs. The Torpedo is a small, light hydration pack designed for things like trail running and cycling. The Hopper is a larger 28-liter backpack designed for day hiking and other activities. The Scrimshaw is a seam-sealed dry bag designed for water sports and rainy days. It can also serve as a rain cover for the Hopper.
We like the idea of multiple packs sharing a suspension harness, but the pricing has to be right. If it turns out to be cheaper to buy separate hydration, day and dry packs – and given the generous discounts that are readily available on outdoor gear, that seems likely – there's really not much advantage to buying into the Bootlegger. Boreas' successful Kickstarter suggests the price for the whole package (Super-Tramp suspension, Torpedo, Hopper and Scrimshaw) will be $200.
You can watch the Kelty Ascender go to work in the video below.
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