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For frequent travelers ready to get back on board, dialing in your luggage is key

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: June 13, 2020
  • Published June 13, 2020

Is it time to get some new luggage? Are you ready to plan a trip? Are you already traveling?

It’s one thing to keep the safety protocols in mind, complete with testing requirements and wearing your mask on the plane. It’s another thing to keep all of your things together while you’re traveling.

At Costco, you can pick up a rolling suitcase or backpack for between $40 and $100. I like some of the selections, and you can pick up the bag and try it out. It’s a good gift idea for the graduate headed off to college.

But if you are a heavy traveler, you need a bag that will stand up to everyday use. These professional-grade bags often can’t be found in stores. You usually have to go online to find them.

Tom Bihn has a travel bag manufacturing company in Seattle. “I grew up as a hiker and a camper in Santa Cruz,” said Bihn. “I got all the catalogs Kelty and North Face and I wanted that stuff. My parents said I could get an after-school job — or make it myself.

“I had my grandmother’s sewing machine and some tips from my dad, who was an engineer. And I took off from there,” he said.

A traveler wears the Aeronaut travel bag. (Photo courtesy Tom Bihn)

For the last 40 years, Bihn has been designing and manufacturing backpacks, travel bags and accessories that pass the everyday-use test. The bulk of his sales are done through the company’s website, backed up with an extensive library of videos, lengthy product descriptions, a user forum and a robust social media presence. Bihn’s factory is not far from Seattle’s Boeing Field. All of his bags are made in the U.S.

Bihn also is a frequent traveler (although not lately, because of COVID-19), so he’s always testing his own gear.

“The Aeronaut is the bag I travel with,” said Bihn. “I almost never unpack. I live out of it. It’s like a chest of drawers, and the way it’s designed, the shoes are easily segregated from clothing,” he said. “It’s perfect for Africa.”

The Aeronaut comes in two sizes: 30 liters and 45 liters. Both fall within carry-on limits for airlines, although the 30-liter bag also fits on more of the regional jets and puddle-jumpers. It’s designed to be carried three ways: as a backpack, over the shoulder or with a handle. One model is made from high-tenacity ballistic nylon, the fabric they use for bullet-proof vests. There are all kinds of pockets and zippers, and Bihn offers a multitude of packing cubes, laptop sleeves and organizers for travelers.

For years, I’ve traveled with a rolling suitcase and a big backpack, including my laptop, charging cords and accessories. As airlines squeeze in-cabin limits to one item, a bag like the Aeronaut can handle the whole load. Then, I’d roll up a super-light daypack for exploring once I arrive.

The Aeronaut sells for $290 to $300.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, lots of folks are coming up with masks: fancy cloth masks, surgical masks and custom designs.

But Myron Glaser’s idea was different: He and his wife, Kari, offered to do a Zoom video chat to customize the mask. The Glaser Designs mask has both high-tech touches and a sleek design.

First, I hopped on a video chat with Myron and Kari, so it was like sitting in their workshop. Since 1975, the Glasers have designed and produced made-to-order leather products for travelers.

“All of our customers travel a lot on business,” said Myron. “Back when we started, we used to put a small ad in The Economist. But now with the video calls, we can see what you put in your bag, whether you carry a laptop and how tall you are.”

Glaser Designs co-owner Kari Glaser displays some made-to-order travel bags. (Photo courtesy Glaser Designs)

As Myron went over the specifics of the mask — the Belgian linen outside cover, the heat-melt polypropylene filter and the hemp weave — I could see leather briefcases, tote bags and larger garment bags on the shelves.

Back to the masks. “These masks won’t work if you have a long beard,” said Myron. “They have to fit against the face. And we have a copper wire over the top for a good fit, so your glasses won’t steam up.”

The masks cost $75 and come with one filter. If you’re wearing the mask quite a bit, you’ll need to get extra filters, which the Glasers sell for $10 each.

Kari walked around the Glaser’s workshop with the phone so I could get a good look at the studio. There were bolts of thick, dyed leather on the workbench. Their son, Ely, was working in the background. So I asked again about the leather bags.

“We equip professionals with competent gear,” said Myron. “We outfit people. We show them the styles right here in our workshop and then we customize the piece for the individual.”

Each piece takes about 30 hours to make, he said.

As an example, Myron pulled a backpack off the shelf while Kari pulled the phone in close so I could see. The backpack stood up by itself on the workbench because there was a built-in leather “pedestal” that kept it steady.

The Glasers also have an assortment of organizers made out of sturdy sailcloth that match up with bags and backpacks. Then there’s also a unique slip-in with Velcro so the organizing pouches stay put inside the bag.

“We really want to see what the traveler is putting in their bag. From that, we build the structure. And we have different organizing systems to manage the interior space in the bag,” he said.

One of the larger bags on the shelf was a fold-up garment bag. The Glasers, in the video call, determine the measurements of the traveler’s suit, which dictates the dimensions of the garment bag.

“We’re not a fashion bag maker,” said Myron. Still, the pieces on display were tasteful and elegant. “We can customize the leather color and hand-paint the linen,” he said.

All of the Glasers’ bags are made in their San Francisco studio. The cost for a “Business Backpack” is $1,250. A “Traveler’s Briefcase” is $1,450. A “City Tote” is $975.

Whether it’s Bihn’s “perfect bag for Africa” or the Glasers’ made-to-order garment bag, online shopping can bring artisan-quality luggage up close and personal.

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