A Packable Bag For One Bag Travel

Why are packable briefcases not a thing companies make?

For years now I have struggled with the same problem, which is admittedly a problem for very few people. The problem is that I travel with just one bag, a small 20-26 liter bag, typically a GORUCK GR1 and I only store it at my feet on the plane. But when I get to where I am going, especially for business travel, I want a smaller bag which I can use to carry my iPad and a few essentials. All of which makes the GR1 overkill for most of those types of tasks.

I’ve never solved this issue, and I have tried numerous bags and setups. Some are hard to pack in my larger bag, taking up too much room, others are too large on their own while packing down nice. And a great many simply look terrible, such that I wouldn’t want to taken them anywhere but a hiking trail.

What I Am Looking For

Ideally here are the list of items I am looking for in this bag:

  • Lightweight: the bag should not add any significant weight to my pack.
  • Folds up small: I have used bags which fold up, pack down, and which just fit the footprint of my larger bag. By far the best are the ones which fold up or pack down into a stuff sack of some sort. The ones that are small and fit the shape of my bag, are too cumbersome to lug around.
  • Nice materials: I don’t want something that looks like crap. Ideally the bag is made out of Cuben Fiber, which now is called Dyneema Composite Fabric, but it is so confusing. Whatever.
  • Blends well: it needs to be black. That’s just all there is too it, and it shouldn’t have logos and crap all over it.
  • Small: I thought this would be the easiest part, but getting something small has proven the most difficult. Most bags like this expand to be big, because I guess that’s what normal people want, I want something which is tiny so that my iPad is not swimming around in it.

What I Had Made

To solve this issue I commissioned to have two bags made based on a rough drawing and dimensions (based on Tom Bihn’s Daylight Briefcase) I laid out. I’ve had these bags for a few years now, and while OK, they are still not ideal. Still, for what I paid and the fact that I only passed someone one image, they turned out great.

I based my design off of Tom Bihn’s Daylight Briefcase for the dimensions and general shape. I took cues from SDR Traveller’s D3 duffel for how I wanted the straps to look and function. What I ended up with required further strap tweaking from me, but essentially it is a very light weight shoulder bag. It looks nondescript which is ideal for this use and it packs down to nothing.

10.5” iPad Pro in Apple Leather Sleeve.

12.9” first Generation iPad Pro.

It is sized to hold a 12.9” iPad Pro, and is actually still a bit too large. Of course it has no padding in it, the thinking being that I would protect the iPad in another way. So far I’ve done that with the Silicone case on the iPad, and Smart Keyboard Cover, or by using the Apple Leather Sleeve to protect it. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but I’ve yet to run into a problem with this.

Overall this bag works well, and accomplished what I wanted. Had the person making the bag been local, I think there would be several more iterations of this bag, and an ideal variant having been realized by now. Alas, that was not the case.

What’s Out There

Since the bag is not perfect, I set about this last month searching for what else might be out there as a viable option. Here’s what I have found, in no particular order:

  • CHIO Bag from Alpha One Niner: strikes the right size and pocket balance, but it will not be packable. Bummer.
  • Field Satchel from SDR Traveller: recently released it looks terrible, but checks every other box. It is expensive as hell. A friend tells me it looks way better in person and that he loves it. So put this one on the list for me. I do worry that it is too large, and am skeptical of the looks. Also, the price is dumb, but so are the prices of everything SDR sells.
  • Daylight Backpack from TOM BIHN: I have had and used one of these bags for years. They are a fantastic size for both wear and packing down. If you get the Dyneema version (which is not the cuben fiber Dyneema) then it really packs down nicely. My main issue with this is that it doesn’t blend well in a business setting, and still does not pack down to nothing.
  • Daylight Briefcase from TOM BIHN: I had one of these and loved it, in the Dyneema material — again not the Cuben Fiber Dyneema. It’s a great bag and a near perfect size. The price is great too. Only issue being that it again does not pack down that small when you want to fold it up and stow it away. It does blend better in business settings though.
  • Azimuth Pack from Triple Aught Design: darn near checks every box, but it’s simply too large. I could almost pack for a trip in it, so I sold it.

What I am Going With For Now

I am sticking with what I had made for me for now. I had stopped using it, but circled back as it really is the closest to meeting all my requirements and is far cheaper than buying something from SDR. I still think I could make something better, and still might put my sewing skills to the test. Until then I remade the strap for my custom bag and am going to see where and how well it works.

For those who are not me, I think your best option is the Tom Bihn daylight briefcase, followed by the price-gouging-SDR Field Satchel.

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