- Buyer's Guide
For the following road test we roped in Richard Bolus: Bellroy Special Ops, linguist and polite Englishman who has an annoying ability to see the bright side of things – except lazy design. He likes reading, taking long walks at sunset and his favourite colour is blue. He's also ex-British Army and taught martial arts to the Tokyo Riot Police.
It's always nice when you get to test a bit of kit like this, and boy did we test it! This Samsonite Firelite Spinner saw two trips from Australia to Japan and one to the USA – all up, 3 months of hard travel, international and domestic, airports great and small.
You see, I'm a salesmen (please don't judge me, ha!) and I needed to lug a ton of sales gear to the US for a tradeshow, which would suitably test the case's strength. In addition, navigating Tokyo’s insanely busy public transport system was a perfect testing ground for the case's lightness (not to mention agility). See how it fared....
- Name: Firelite
- Brand: Samsonite
- Format: Spinner
- Measurement: 55 x 32 x 81 cm
- Capacity: 124 L
- Weight: 3.1 kg
- Zippers: Water-resistant PU coated zipper
- Material: Curv® material (woven polypropylene)
Who it suits
If you believe that luggage should be light, functional and a pleasure to use then this quiet achiever is for you.
It carries a pretty large price tag though so it’s by no means for the budget traveller. It’s more suited to frequent flyers and business types who are prepared to cough up a large sum of money - the size of which one might normally associate with a getaway car - in order to make their lives easier.
Who it doesn’t suit
People with no BANK.
On first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking this case is made of carbon fibre – a look I’m sure Samsonite were keen to emulate (it’s actually woven polypropylene).
The pattern is quite distinctive and not the generic straight lines associated with most tough cases. It would definitely tick the box of ‘Modern Styling’ and I could imagine it sitting quite comfortably next to anything from a Prius to an Aston Martin.
The shell-like ridges on the case serve both utility and aesthetic purposes. The multi-directional profiling increases rigidity in the shell construction which I imagine, due to the material being so thin, would seem flimsy and too squashable if manufactured sans ridges.
The build quality is faultless, as you’d expect for this price. There is a really good balance between the size of the case versus its weight. The shells which make the case are manufactured using Curv® technology, which is German smarts exclusive to Samsonite. Essentially woven polypropylene strands molded into shell-like forms.
When I first opened the case, I thought the two sides were only held together with the water-resistant zip which goes all around the outside. However, there are two flexible hinges holding them together as well. The flexibility of the hinges made things a little wobbly when I lifted the already packed zipped half of the case over in order to close it. Needless to say, I forgot a series of items so had to fumble to flip the heavy top section over with monotonous regularity. Most organised packers wouldn’t have this issue though and most packers wouldn’t be carrying the heavy kit I was.
The shell is made of woven polypropylene. The interior is (I think) made of nylon. There seems to be a PVC piping where the zip is stitched in and that's chunked just a little bit. This is more of an aesthetic issue though, rather than a performance concern (perhaps it could reduce the water resistance very slightly if water accessed those stitching spots).
The single YKK zip that runs all the way around the case is water-resistant and adds a nice touch to the aesthetics. The zip heads are fixed in place with a TSA combination lock. While it's still possible to break into the zip with a pen or the like, opportunistic thieves will be less likely to do so since the zip heads can't be slid up and down to conceal the break-in.
The hinges aren't superb. They are quite soft and don't inspire much confidence. Having said that, they are holding up okay and haven't torn yet. The castors are well made and roll well.
The case features an internal zipped divider section. This does exactly what it is supposed to do – keep your gear from falling out when you tip the one half of the case up to close it.
The handle had a neat feature whereby it not only had the lockable ‘down’ and ‘fully extended’ settings but also a sort of ‘1/3 extended’ setting which Samsonite calls ‘carry handle setting’ - this option was much more comfortable when wheeling the case vertically (rather than lugging it up and down stairs, which I also did plenty of). It prevented the need to try to wheel the case hunched over, or with the handle fully extended, which ends up with you twisting the handle (as you are essentially guiding it from its side edge, not along its central axis, and it naturally wants to turn away from you as you walk). So well done Samsonite on thinking that through, even if you did name it something else.
There's bags of room in this case. Rather than concealing the structure with overlaying fabric that creates voids, the interior lining has been laminated over the case structure in order to avoid sacrificing usable space.
The case has good access and straightforward organisation to reduce unnecessary weight. I did find the boomerang-shaped zipper handles a bit tricky to lock into the lock mechanism (nothing a third hand wouldn’t fix).
Pockets and Organising
The organisation within the case should be sufficient for most travellers' needs. One half features a zipped divider, while the other half has elastic ribbons which clip together and there's also a zipped pocket for extra organisation. There are no unnecessary organisation features that would needlessly add to the case's weight.
The 1/3 extended handle option is excellent for rolling the case through airports. There was also a handy recess between the castors for when lifting the case horizontally.
The case, with its water-resistant zip, is definitely weatherproof. It’d be interesting to see whether sunlight affects the polypropylene over time (not that it’s designed to live outside all the time though). I’d love to test whether it would keep water out when submerged as that would make for a great shipwreck story.
Alternatives to Consider
Talking alternatives we're going to keep it to spinners. If you want a wheeled gear bag that's a different category. Rimowa Salsa Air: A solid contender, which looks great but is slightly let down by small wheel size and flex. Or a Samsonite Cosmolite. Heavier spinners which feel more solid and wheel a touch easier (but weigh another kg or two) – the Rimowa Salsa series look awesome. Briggs & Riley are heavier but have a great durability reputation.
Although Samsonite say that this is one of their strongest cases I reckon resilient would be a better description. As the pursuit of lightness has diminished the wall thickness, it’s very flexible. You wouldn’t carry something that you couldn't afford to be squashed - no delicate origami porcupine (if anything like that even exists, that is).
However, flexibility is an undervalued attribute to have in a case as cases take a lot of punishment and often one international journey is enough to make a case look old beyond its years. So whereas you could argue that this case is rather expensive, in reality you’ll probably be prepared to use it for twice as long as a case that gets bent out of shape. The case also comes with a limited 10-year global warranty and when you're spending a significant amount of money on luggage, a warranty is something you definitely want to be thinking about.
Not So Good
The single wheel castors work like a dream on polished airport concourses. However, when fully laden they can get bogged down in thick carpet - just like the kind used in hotel lobbies. You could enhance the mobility of the case with larger twin-wheel castors but this would of course add weight.
The case has flexed and warped just a little with use. There's been lots of scuffs but they're pretty well concealed by the carbon fibre look of the case. In terms of aesthetics the case won't appeal to everyone but its style is certainly distinct. It's not the burliest case out there because it is one of the lightest – and that's so valuable when travelling. If Samsonite could improve some of the materials like the hinge and piping, as well as the tyre material for the wheels this would enhance the case's overall appeal. However, it does boast sensible functionality and is excellent in terms of a lightweight piece of luggage. It was a breeze to use and made my travels more enjoyable (and a lot less stressful). I'd happily recommend.