The Perfect Carry-On Luggage – Red Oxx Air Boss vs Tom Bihn Aeronaut

Spending a great deal of time working remote and traveling will give you a healthy appreciation for at least two things: airports and luggage.

You’ll also probably like things like Macbook Air’s and a good pair of ear buds (pss – if you’re serious about great audio and mic quality in an affordable package, go for the Klipsch S4′s – amazing) but for an aspiring minimilist, nothing captures the imagination like spending 6 hours in a tin can flying 600 miles per hour.

It’s like taking a subset of everything you own and saying, actually, this is all I REALLY need for 2 weeks… And as you cut down more and more stuff and make your list smaller and smaller, you begin to really care about the things on that list.

I remember I was reading an article about Andrew Hyde’s 15 things list one time, and the blogger commented on the tendency of minimilists to mention brand names for each entry. Trust me – I understand this completely. Curating your possessions to the point where you have only a few things in each category is a deeply personal experience. The items that you have left are like cherished friends that you just couldn’t bear to give up. And when choosing between items, the brand itself becomes part of the story, part of the personality of each item. It’s hard to explain without sounding a little crazy =) But I digress…

The other side effect of caring deeply for the possessions that you do have is that you end up really, really caring about what bag you use to PUT all that stuff in. Since I was going to be doing some traveling in Fall, 2012 and Spring, 2013 I thought this would be the perfect time to throw out this ugly, black, rolling duffle I had bought years ago and start over and do things right.

But where to start?

Well, I looked up all the other names in adventure minimalism (I think I just made that up). Andrew uses a Mei Voyageur (bright orange in fact). I took a look at it, and then I thought “yeah, no.. not going to happen”. When going for 1 or 2 week consulting trips, you’re requirements are a bit different then adventure traveling for 9 months.

And then I came across the “One Bag, One World” movement… Well, actually that’s a blog, but the idea is that if you are going on a trip, to have a bag that you can fit EVERYTHING you need into this carry on bag and be self-sufficient for weeks (if not months). That sounded interesting, and when you explore the rabbit hole of Google pursuing this line of thinking, there are clearly two distinct leaders in the “business/professional carry on” space. The Red Oxx Air Boss and the Tom Bihn Aeronaut.

I suppose I should thank these guys for splitting the market (at least on discussion forums all over the web). The nice thing about this is that the two bags could not be more different. Each has its own distinct pros and cons and which mesh neatly with a set of desired requirements. Let’s post some pictures so we can see just how different these two bags are in both look and functionality.

“Perfect! I thought. I just need to decide what I want to use this bag for, and then the clear winner will emerge!”… again, not so fast. Here is the quick list of pros and cons I came up with:

Air Boss (pros)

  • Seemed to be more of the professional businessmans choice due to the full full zippers (better for suits, blazers and shirts)
  • Seriously heavy duty YKK zippers
  • Bold colors and design
  • Central interior pocket where you could put another Red Oxx laptop case (ie. metro)

Air Boss (cons)

  • Heavier material than the Aeronaut
  • No backpack straps
  • Slightly funky design
  • The Red Oxx “claw” straps got consistently worse reviews than the TB shoulder straps
  • I prefer rolling my clothes, not folding

Aeronaut (pros)

  • Personal taste, but I preferred the Aeronaut design – classier
  • Lighter material
  • Had backpack straps
  • Had a much better internal system to attach smaller pouches for passports, airline tickets etc…

Aeronaut (cons)

  • To stay organized in the center compartment, you’d need to buy additional packing cubes from Tom Bihn, at $20 each
  • To get the better carry strap, it’s another $30

I think I trawled the forum and discussion boards for two days weighing in on all the comparative articles and personal stories… It’s actually very common for someone to end up getting both bags, as they both serve different use cases. Here are some of the articles and reviews for both bags.

I even started my own thread in the forums that focused on my own personal packing list and a few decision criteria:

Ultimately, it came down to three factors only:

  1. How important was it to have the OPTION to have backpack straps to me… this is less relevant for professional travel, of course, and more relevant for adventure traveling… (ie. Aeronaut)
  2. How important was it stick to my preferred way of packing (rolling) vs needing to adopt folding… (ie. Aeronaut)
  3. How important was it to be able to fit in a Red Oxx laptop Metro case and seriously ONE BAG it on my trips… (ie. Air Boss)

The bags both performed above and beyond on every other criteria of a premier carry on luggage (at least, for one in the $200 – $300 range) so it came down to those three issues. Ultimately, I did want backpack straps, and I did want to go with a packing cube/rolling methadology, so the Tom Bihn bag came out ahead by a hair.

Now that I have actually owned the bag for almost 1 month now, I can say with confidence that it was the right choice, hands down for actually another reason that I didn’t even think of at the time or weigh into my requirements. The Tom Bihn bag makes an excellent CASUAL bag… I’ve taken this bag on bike rides (backpack straps, mind you) and to picknicks and to trips to the coffee shop and even to the grocery store when I have a large amount of groceries to buy. I use it as a gym bag and a laundry bag perhaps once or twice a week. So what you end up getting in the Aeronaut (with one central, large compartment rather than three separate compartments) is a level of versatility that the Air Boss can’t match.

Similarly, I prefer the Tom Bihn material substantially more than the Red Oxx material. It has this quality about it that’s hard to describe.. a particular sheen that just looks and feels great.

For the unique, and specific requirement of professional travel, for less than 2 weeks, with mostly professional clothes – suits, ties, blazers – I think the Air Boss would be better, but for edge cases and ever day usability, the Aeronaut wins hands down.

Here’s what my set up looks like now:

There are a few pieces to the puzzle that make everything work.

First, the two LARGE sized packing cubes – one for shirts, one for pants.

Second, the MEDIUM sized packing cube – underwear and socks for one week.

Third, a toiletries bag I picked up on Amazon that’s just the right size for the end pocket.

Fourth, the extra-comfortable Tom Bihn carry strap… I’ve compared it to the claw, and it is definitely more comfortable.

There’s only one thing missing, which is that I still don’t have a good laptop case that’s only 3-4 inches wide (I’m using a sleeve, but that’s non-optimal). I’m still on the lookout, so if you have any suggestions let me know!

  • Viet Q Lam

    David, which toiletry bag did you pick up from Amazon? I will be purchasing an Aeronaut soon and am looking for a toiletry bag to fit it. Thanks.

    • http://davidkong.me David

      I ended up getting this one from Amazon.com (gotta love Prime):

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007V4RNLW/ref=wms_ohs_product

      It works well for what I need. I purchased this one for two reasons: 1) I didn’t want to spend like $75 dollars on a toiletry kit 2) I wanted something in the right form factor to put in the Aeronaut side pocket. This fits the bill perfectly.

      It has one large container (perfect for toothpaste, deoderant etc..) and one smaller, zip pocket (good for smaller things – dental floss, etc…

      The build quality on the toiletry case I got is alright (not as great as some of the mor expensive options) but most of the other “posh” alternatives just don’t have the right, flat form factor. I had previously purchased a Briggs and Riley case, but ended up returning it because the quality was really terrible for $40.

      So far I’m pretty happy with it, and it does fit in the Aeronaut side pocket perfectly, which was the main thing. So far I’ve really loved the Aeronaut, even 2 months in, so I hope you also really enjoy your purchase!

  • Robert MacGregor

    David, I saw this referenced on another forum, but it should fit your needs, too. It’s a slim laptop case from REI, and it was referenced as it fits neatly into the middle compartment of the Tom Bihn Tristar. I have one on order. It comes in three sizes, I think the small and medium fit in the Tristar, but be sure to check the dimensions of the Aeronaut’s interior (use the packing cube specs) to make sure it would fit.

    The advantage with this is it’s more than just a basic sleeve like the Tom Bihn “brain cell.” The protection is not as good though, and it doesn’t stand on end, but it’s a good minimalist option somewhere between a laptop case and a bare sleeve.

    http://www.rei.com/product/795064/rei-tech-wrap-laptop-sleeve-medium

  • Pds6

    I guess I’m not alone. I have narrowed it to the Aeronaut and the Air Boss. I am also a roller (What are you. Well, I’m a roller … Dear Me!). The Aeronaut decked-out is over $400.00. Currently, I’m leaning towards the Air Boss.

    The limited space and liquid and weight restrictions have always made my packing a toiletry bag difficult. I usually mail my toiletry bag in a First Class Mail Box and pack it empty on my return trip. For ten buck, I have my medicine chest on vacation.

  • bvp663

    Thanks for the review! I’m expecting to do some traveling around the world this year and have been researching incessantly. There’s a lot out there: Patagonia MLC, GoRuck GR2, Redoxx Air Boss, Tom Bihn Aeronaut, GoLite TraveLite, Arc’teryx Blade… I’m personally down the Patagonia MLC or the Aeronaut (more expensive).

    For your adventure traveling are you planning on JUST this bag or will you be combining it with something smaller? The Tom Bihn cube/backpack looks like a nice option.

    • http://davidkong.me David

      I probably plan on picking up a smaller daypack bag at some point. I’ll probably pack it into the Aeronaut empty because unless my trip is longer than 1 month, I really want to stick to one bag only. TB has the cube/backpack, but it honestly looks flimsy to me, though I haven’t personally tried it. Having the normal cubes, however, I definitely wouldn’t want to be taking these out and about even if it had straps.

      I really like the TB cube system for packing though. It makes a world of difference when packing (I’ve done several business trips – not adventure trips, per se, but I’m breaking it in =)

      Actually, there are three factors that when you really invest in a good system, make the world of difference:

      1) Get something with backpack straps… It makes it SO much more useful as a casual bag with backpack straps…

      2) The TB nicer strap. It makes a world of difference when carrying heavy loads… Noticeably better than Red Oxx’s claw.

      3) Packing cubes keep things much more organize… buy into a system, brand and philosophy, not just a bag.

      • Psandhu9777

        You’re right about the packing cube backpack; kind of flimsy. I use a synapse packed into the aeronaut as my travel set and it works great. A little tight in the center compartment sometimes. If I have to check it I can do so with the aeronaut and still have the synapse as a carry on. I got the dyneema for both to save on weight, but would have preferred the looks of the black cordura. I’ve travelled to Japan multiple times with this setup and for me it works really well.

  • http://twitter.com/CarryOnLuggageR CarryOnLuggageReview

    Great review! I am also a roller when it comes to packing my clothes because it allows me to reduce the overall size so much more. I always try to pack as light as possible when traveling, and I tend to favor backpacks more than suitcases or duffle bags. I actually used my North Face backpack for a two week trip across Europe, and it was more than enough for my needs.
    http://www.carry-onluggagereviews.com

    • http://davidkong.me David

      What was your favorite backpack? I’m looking at picking up a Kelty Redwing 50 L (black) for some adventure/camping use cases, hiking etc.. North Face has been a brand that comes up a lot too, although I really don’t know which packs are good.

      • http://twitter.com/CarryOnLuggageR CarryOnLuggageReview

        I have a North Face bag. I haven’t been on any camping trips lately, and it’s in storage at the moment. It’s from the Terra series…Terra 40 maybe. It’s the bag I took to Europe, and I’ve also taken it on a two 3-4 day mountain climbing trips. The shoulder straps are extremely comfortable.

  • Bill

    Have you taken a look at the Red Oxx Sky Train? It seems a lot more comparable to the Aeronaut.