- Buyer's Guide
Away Travel Carry-On Review :: Road Test
We are living in a very 2.0 world right now. Whether it’s Uber disrupting the taxi market, Warby Parker offering an alternative to Luxottica, or Tesla proving that making electric cars can be viable – the result is consumers have demanded options and now they’re receiving it. Not to be left out of the conversation, Away Travel is truly a Luggage 2.0 company. Let’s see if they managed to distinguish themselves clearly enough from the stalwarts of the industry, and whether their bags are worthy of your attention.
It might surprise some that Away was founded by two former Warby Parker employees, who joined the spectacle company in the early days. They no doubt took what they learned from Warby Parker and applied it to Away. Let’s take a minute to talk about why this new generation of luggage companies are important. Like many other industries, luggage has historically been dominated by a few large players and there was little innovation to get excited about. Luggage from 2005 was not much different than 1995. Slowly, startups started appearing and while Away was not the first “2.0” luggage company, I’d consider them the face of the movement.
What is 2.0 luggage? Well, for starters, it’s about options and it’s about changing to adapt to the modern traveler; features like built-in USB charging, integrated TSA-approved locks, and clever organization. It’s also about vibrant colorways and the agility to pivot quickly and introduce new lines or collaborations. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and late last year Away was kind enough to send me their Carry-On to try out.
The model I tried is their Carry-On. They now offer The Bigger Carry-On and of course two checked bags. Since I travel out of a regional airport and am often flying on smaller planes, I didn’t want to risk having any overhead restrictions with The Bigger Carry-On. The Carry-On measures 21.7” x 13.7” x 9” which should be within most airline limits. It weighs 7 lbs and is made of a thin, flexible polycarbonate material that has a slightly rough texture that seems to help hide scratches and scuffs.
It also features four Hinomoto 360 wheels for easy maneuvering, a built-in TSA-approved lock, YKK zippers, a built-in laundry bag, and of course a removable 10,000 mAh battery (more on that later).
Who It Suits
With 38 liters of capacity, the Away suits the type of traveler who values efficiency. If you are a frequent visitor to the site and follow our tips on packing, you’ll comfortably fit a week’s worth of clothing in this pack. I consider myself a pretty minimalist traveler that makes the occasional accommodation for comfort so I easily traveled 4-6 days with the Away. I’ve taken it on short trips around California, and to Portland, Salt Lake City, New York, and DC.
The Carry-On would also appeal to someone who needs to be constantly connected and would enjoy the convenience of having a battery pack on-hand. I have seen people ask what’s the difference between just carrying a battery pack and having one in your suitcase. The answer is simple: convenience. Usually when I am waiting at a gate, it’s quicker to plug my phone or tablet into the built-in USB ports, rather than pull out a pack. It’s not a huge difference but not having to hunt for a free outlet or dig up your battery pack buried in your day pack is nice.
Who It Doesn’t
Due to its thin carbonate construction, the Carry-On sits between a traditional hardshell suitcase and a flexible nylon/canvas one. That means there’s some wiggle room for packing but you really need to respect its boundaries. Taking this into consideration, the Carry-On is not suited for a traveler who does not pack efficiently and/or needs to carry a lot of extra comforts (ie multiple pairs of shoes, lots of toiletries, extra layers, etc). For those folks, consider the Bigger Carry-On but make sure you think about what sort of airplanes you typically fly in and their restrictions.
By the looks of it, you should also be able to conclude that the Carry-On is not fit for expedition types of trips. I would not pack my scuba or safari gear into a case, and definitely not any expensive film or photography equipment, especially if I was going to check it in. It is a hard shell but offers less protection than its more sturdier counterparts.
For starters, I think the Carry-On is a good looking kit. Most luggage is black with a bulging overstuffed silhouette and indistinguishable from the rest. Away offers the Carry-On in multiple colorways and if their Instagram feed is any indication, they are constantly doing short promotional runs whether it’s for an event or a partnership with a celebrity. Their marketing is on point and they just look cool. It’s subjective, but I actually feel like a jetsetter when I roll through an airport with the Carry-On.
Speaking of rolling, the Japanese Hinomoto wheels are great. I have always used 2-wheeled luggage, so to have a set of four 360-degree spinners makes traversing with the Carry-On a breeze. They spin effortlessly and I can push the suitcase with a finger if needed. These wheels are often found on more expensive cases so to have them on the Carry-On is a treat.
The battery is 10,000 mAh which is enough to recharge your iPhone X three and a half times. It is topped off using a micro USB port and has two Type A ports for output. It’s fully removable in case you need to check the bag (due to new TSA regulations) and it has a nice set of sharp LEDs showing you the charge level of the pack.
There is also a built-in combination lock which I really like because I always thought that putting a separate lock on your zippers was too cumbersome. I also find the combination mechanism to be a lot smoother and more stable with it built into the top of the suitcase, compared to a lock I have to fumble with to get open. And, since it’s TSA-approved, an agent can get into it if needed.
To round it off, there are some small conveniences that make life a little easier. For example, there’s a built-in laundry bag so you have a tidy place to keep your dirty clothes during a trip. There are also two types of compartments – a large zippered one on the left and on the right there’s a large open area with double compression straps and a semi-rigid panel on top. This gives some flexibility but also direction on how to pack.
The Not So Good
I have a small set of quibbles with the Carry-On that don’t break the experience but makes for a less than ideal one. First is the durability of the Carry-On. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a thin polycarbonate material which means it’s pretty flexible so if you were to sit on it or step on it, it would definitely give. I definitely don’t think the shell would break but when I imagine being forced to check it in under the carriage on a small regional flight or it falling off a transport, it’s a little worrying. But maybe that’s just me, there’s no cracks or alike showing yet, so ‘the flex’ hasn’t become an issue.
I also wish the zippers were weather resistant. In the Raden, the entire zipper is water-sealed. I don’t expect to drag my suitcase through a monsoon but I have traveled to rainy locales every year and it’s inevitable that you’re caught in the rain. Sure, it’d take a while for water to actually soak through and leak onto your belongings but there’s much less chance of that with a sealed zipper.
The last annoyance I have in regards to durability is the most impactful and it has do with the handles. I appreciate that they are telescoping with specific stop points and that they are easy to extend and retract. What I don’t like is how wobbly they are. They work fine but there is so much play that it doesn’t make you feel confident in the suitcase. To me, it’s the difference of fit and finish between, say, how a luxury car door closes versus an economy car. Do you know what I mean? How when you get out of a nice car and close the door, it makes a solid thump? The handles on the Carry-On rattle and wiggle so much and it might not bother someone using it in isolation, but if you had it next to the Raden, for example, it’s a night and day difference. Does this affect day-to-day usage? Well yes and no. Yes, you can still roll it around and pull it over curbs, but each time you interact with it, it feels unfinished.
The other issue I have with the Carry-On is the battery itself. I know what you’re thinking – I listed it as positive. You’re right, it’s also one of the things that qualifies the Carry-On as a 2.0 luggage. However, battery technology is tricky. You have a lot of variables at play – the cable itself, the device being charged, the battery and charging circuit. I had a major issue where the two ports could not handle a sustained large output with two items plugged in, especially if one of them is high draw. For example, if I plugged both an iPad Mini and a phone, one would stop charging altogether.
The issue is that the ports are dependent on each other and the battery does not have the ability to provide a sustained amperage on both. The best I saw was 7.5W of charging which is 5V at 1.5 amps. I tried testing for an hour using two different USB charging meters to quantify the performance but the best I can leave you with is: don’t expect to charge two devices quickly, at the same time. You may be able to charge two low draw devices slowly, or one high draw device slowly. Some devices are also very picky and if they don’t get the minimum amperage, they’ll refuse to charge at all (some iPads, Sony Vita, etc). Also, it goes without saying that the battery does not support Power Delivery, or any Quick Charge capabilities.
Others to Consider
The smart luggage market is not very crowded but Away is certainly not the only player. The obvious competitor here is Raden, which we covered last year. They both are really similar except the Raden has extra features (built in scale, Bluetooth tracking), which you pay for. The Raden also has better construction and feels more sturdy during use. The G-Ro is worth mentioning too; they take a different approach (two over-sized wheels, soft sided) approach to things and might be good for a traveler that tends to overpack.
When I got the Away Carry-On, I actually threw away my other suitcases. That means I’ve used the Away quite extensively much of 2016 and all of 2017. I think that it represents an important milestone in travel and it’s what the industry needs. I view the Carry-On the same way I view Apple products (I am an Android guys) – it’s what I recommend to all my friends and family, not because it’s the best but because it’s the best for most people. Most folks would be really happy with the Away and may not even realize or have issue with the things I found fault with. At $225, it’s a palatable price-point and with the different colorways available, styling, and features, you can see why it’d be an easy recommendation.