Gear Review: Eagle Creek’s Flip Switch Wheeled Backpack

My last backpack was getting pretty pathetic; after seven years and many journeys throughout the world, I was ready to retire it after my last trip to India in November. On that trip, two of my travel buddies were rolling with Eagle Creek luggage, which they both loved, so I decided to look into the brand.

I’m giving away a 3-piece packing cube set:
see the bottom of the post to find out how to win it!

I had been thinking for quite some time that my next backpack should be a combination, convertible wheeled model—one that you can roll like any other wheeled luggage, but that has straps to convert into a true backpack when needed. Because in my experience, most of us don’t really need to lug around a backpack all the time. Unless you really are hiking, trekking or camping in remote areas, the majority of the time you don’t need to carry around your bag for most typical travel. And when you do, it just puts extra unnecessary strain on your shoulders and back.

IMG_1897But I did still want the backpack feature, because I do travel in many places where it’s important to be able to carry your bag easily: up and down stairs or over bridges, in tight spaces and crowded streets, up and down railway station flyovers, etc. The reality is that most of the time—I would estimate 90% of the time—I can roll my bag just fine, though. So why lug around 30 or 40 pounds all that time when I don’t have to?

Fortunately for me, Eagle Creek had just come out with a brand new model of wheeled backpack: The Flip Switch. It comes in both 22″ and 28″ sizes. I selected the 28″ model, along with a few packing systems such as a folder and some cubes. I already have a small rollaboard, carry-on size bag for small trips, and wanted my new wheeled backpack to be able to see me around the world on trips that would last weeks or months.

I road tested my new Eagle Creek Flip Switch this month, on a three week trip to Mexico and El Salvador. Here are my findings:

Weight and Size

A big argument against wheeled backpacks has been the extra weight and bulk that the wheels and handle cause; however, today’s models are super lightweight. In fact, my Flip Switch model actually weighs less than many other same-size models of backpacks without wheels, including Osprey and REI’s brand. And, if you know you will be using it only as a rolling bag, you can remove the straps for even less bulk and weight.

I will admit that when I first opened the box on my new Flip Switch, I was a little dismayed at the size in terms of actual backpack use. The 22″ model was just way too small for my needs, and while the height on the 28″ posed no problem, it’s a little deeper than most. Fortunately, when utilizing the backpack straps to carry it on your back, there are many cinching-in adjustments that can be made to reduce its bulk.

Looks & Durability

I think it’s a mighty fine-looking piece of luggage. I chose the blue, which is a nice color; it also comes in black. More color choices in the future would be nice, maybe red or yellow. The durability factor is high; the Helix™ material is strong and sturdy, the lockable zippers are extremely heavy-duty, and the wheels and housing are rock solid. The backpack straps are as strong and adequate as any pack that comes as a backpack only—contoured and detachable 3D Air Mesh shoulder straps, and a hip belt for extra support. There is also a sternum strap with attached whistle, which as a woman traveler I found a nice extra touch (along with the reflective accents for nighttime visibility).

Capacity, Space & Packing

IMG_1896Using the packing cube system, this bag was a breeze to pack. I used one large packing folder for a few skirts, a dress and two nicer shirts. That went on the bottom of the bag. I then used two regular Pack-It Cubes on top of this—one for my pants and one for my t-shirts and tank tops, all of which I rolled up. One cube held two pairs of jeans, cotton drawstring pants and a capri pant; the other cube held about eight small shirts. I put my underwear in a half-tube cube, and used the smaller folder for miscellaneous items such as my swimsuit, lightweight jacket and several scarves. It was a breeze, and organized, and I think I was able to fit more into a smaller space packing this way.

But what I liked best about the packing cube/folder system, was once I was on the road. It was so great to know just where everything was: tops here, pants here, etc. And after a week or two, not to have that “bag explosion” that I usually have, with everything just shoved in haphazardly (that I have to dig through to find anything), really made being on the road, along with the unpacking and repacking at stops along the way, so much easier. I don’t know why I haven’t used these cubes before.

Screen Shot 2013-01-26 at 11.51.33 AM

Final Assessments

All in all, I really loved using the Flip Switch and find it both a rugged and good-looking piece of luggage. My major criticism is that I really, really wish it was available in a 25″ size, along with the 22 and 28 (hint, hint, Eagle Creek). As mentioned before, the 22″ is way too small for my needs, but I felt the 28″ was just a little on the bulky side for me. If this model came in a 25″, it would be perfect for me. Hopefully this will be a future option in this line of backpack.

As suspected, I have found so far that I rarely need to actually carry this around as a backpack; but to do so, the straps are excellent, and the adjustments made to make it easier to carry work well. In fact, as a backpack the Flip Switch actually feels a lot better, and rests on my back easier, than my previous backpack did.

Final vote: a win! If you’re looking for a lightweight model that you can use as rolling luggage and a backpack, this is the way to go. Eagle Creek also has another model called the Switchback, that is also a wheeled backpack with a separate detachable day pack that can be used as a plane carry-on as well. That model does come in a 25″ size.

Update 6/3/14: I just test-drove a new Eagle Creek wheeled carry-on bag — the Tarmac 22. Check out my review of that piece of luggage here!

Oh, and get those packing cubes. They made my packing and unpacking so much more organized and easier. I can’t believe I’ve traveled all these years without them!

Would you like to win a 3-piece Pack-It Specter Cube Set?

Simply tweet this post or share it on Facebook, and leave a comment below letting me know you did so. One reader will be selected on February 1 (at 5 pm CST) to receive these handy little cubes to make your packing so much easier! (Only for residents of the United States, sorry).

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