Three Kings of Carry-on – Which Bag for You?

Comparing the Air Boss, Sky Train and Tres Hombres – a Fan’s Perspective.

Red Oxx fan Steve Olson presented us with this outstanding carry-on bag review, an article he originally wrote for his co-workers who had asked about his choice of travel bags. We were blown away by the brilliant uses Steve has come up with for our “three kings of carry-on”. Steve also offers several ingenious ways to travel with bags we build that don’t come with carry or compression straps. Read on as this fan gives you his unique perspective on carry-on bags.

I’ve been a Red Oxx fan for several years and during the past two years I was able to really put them to the test. Many choices and personal preferences go into a bag purchase. My first purchase was the Air Boss a few years ago. I then added a Tres Hombres two years ago and finally the Sky Train this last year.

I put more than 200 travel nights on these during this time. Here is my personal comparison. I also have some ideas for those that want little added features.

Hint: buy them yourself and modify to your own preference.

Tres Hombres as Tool and Work Gear Bag.

My job as a field service engineer takes me to several out-of-the-way places, the boardroom or the international city. If I’m going to inspect or fix a piece of equipment, I need all my heavy Carharrt gear, helmet, steel toe boots, etc. So I’m forced to pack the Tres Hombres in those cases to hold my extra gear. I love everything about this bag, it looks BAD A**, packs up a whole lot and still fits in the small commuter aircraft overhead compartments. I prefer carrying it as a backpack and I leave the Claw strap at home. The bag has sturdy handles on the ends that I always use when I’m boarding and pulling it out of the overhead bin.

I’ve taken the Tres Hombres on more than 30 trips to the field this past year and have never been disappointed. I’ve not missed any flights waiting for a gate checked bag (that’s why I bought it) and I have packed it up past 40 lbs with metal tools (just make sure they are less than seven inches in length). During these trips I check zero bags without the related problems and issues. My retrofit on this carry-on bag is a set of extra compression straps inside for my clothes in the main compartment, which I picked up for six dollars.

I use two to four Lil Roys to carry tools and my electrical stuff. I pack using the bundle method and strap the bundle together tight, which reduces the size and keeps my clothes wrinkle-free. So far, the Tres Hombres is probably my favorite of the “three kings”; it’s bigger, has built-in outer compression straps and can be carried via backpack style. If you need to convert to hand carry, it’s a very simple conversion process that I’ve easily performed while waiting on the jetbridge.

Air Boss as Business Boardroom Bag.

Several times during the year I do inspections at our suppliers, which are typically boardroom events and do not require all the related safety and heavyweight gear. For this I typically use my Air Boss carry-on. I’ve taken my Air Boss on more than a dozen of these trips, several of these international, and I carry enough clothing for a solid weeks stay (plus fitness gear). My personal modification for the Air Boss is a pair of outer cinch straps. This helps compress the bag down when I “over pack” it and makes it fit closer to my body.

The Claw shoulder strap drives me nuts unless I put it on the opposite shoulder, but that’s probably just me. The only drawback for this bag is there are no backpack straps and sometimes because I over-stuff it. It would be nice to be able to convert to a backpack. (Red Oxx says: We tried this idea and it didn’t work out, thus developing the Sky Train) This is the ONLY drawback for me and it’s certainly a personal preference. I cannot fault Red Oxx, their design works great for its intended carry-on business bag purpose.

Sky Train as Leisure Travel Bag.

My wife and I are going to Europe next summer and I talked her into a Sky Train, so we could easily transition during travel. We have the latest version with the new softer shoulder pads and the snap-on chest strap! Of course, I would not let her do something I wouldn’t do, so I had to try the Sky Train carry-on backpack bag.

Sometimes I’m called into the wilderness in the dead of winter. I cannot fit all my polar gear into any carry-on bag, so I have a checked 5000 cubic inch rolling baseball team bag and put all of my heaviest safety gear and tools in that. I carry one set of heavy polar wear, and boots, in the Sky Train as my carry-on. The Sky Train has an extremely deep pocket that perfectly fits a Carhartt polar suit with boots! The Sky Train is back-packable, which I prefer, and it’s tough and cool in appearance, like all the Red Oxx products. It’s easier to place under the seat and handles really well with the two handles provided.

My modifications for the Sky Train are the addition of two outer compression straps, this really cuts down the thickness and makes it easier to handle. The only drawback is if I need to put the backpack straps into their pocket, then the compression straps are in the way, unlike the Tres Hombres, which is simpler to convert to hand carry. I will have to do some more traveling with the Sky Train before I can come up with my clear choices for different travel approaches.

Comparing the Air Boss, Sky Train and Tres Hombres.

I like darker colors. Although the Air Boss and Sky Train have nearly the same volume, they’re slightly different in sizes and approach. The Air Boss is thinner and a little longer than the Sky Train and looks good enough to bring into the office or professional meetings. The Sky Train provides a good balance of dimensions, fits under the seat and overhead and is easier to grab and has more ways to carry and handle it during transitions. Both the Sky Train and Air Boss have separated compartments which make them slightly easier to organize without extra packing cubes.

The Tres Hombres is by far the largest, has more of a duffel approach with a large central compartment and for me, it requires packing cubes to get organized. The large side pockets hold two Lil Roy’s each and still have space for extra socks and such. The enormous central compartment is big enough to swallow a Sky Train, while I hardly use the outer side pockets, I keep extra plastic bags or small items in them. I have removed the outer side pocket monkey fists because they were getting frayed and I don’t use those pockets that much anyways. The outer compression straps here compress everything down so this bag can fit in the smallest overhead with 40 lbs of gear! With all the extra handles, it’s extremely friendly to switch from backpack carry to hand-carry on one end. The end handle makes it easier to carry down the airplane aisle or when pulling it out of the overhead bin.

My personal preference is to use the Tres Hombres for the longest trips and trips that require a lot of heavy work clothes and safety gear. I choose the Air Boss for business travel for periods of less than a week. I choose the Sky Train for short holidays, short work trips or trips where I have a large checked bag. I carry-on an extra set of work-wear just in case they lose my checked bag. I also include the use of several Lil Roy’s for organization of electronics, tools and safety gear. I have a set of extra compression straps for each bag: on the Tres Hombres to hold my clothes tight on the inside; on the Air Boss and Sky Train I use the compression straps on the outside.

Simple Modifications to an Aviator Bag Improves Use.

I also purchased the Small and Extra Small Aviator bags. A lot of reviews complained about “no compression straps” or “no capability to use a shoulder strap” (Red Oxx says: Because the bags zip open across the top and down the sides, attaching a carry strap would not work, we tried it). I use two compression straps and plastic loops and fashioned them to use the Claw strap on the Small Aviator (see image below). I use the Extra Small Aviator bag to pack clean clothes in my Tres Hombres. So the reality is that if you want a bag to do something else, then you need to bite the bullet and get some straps and hardware at a gear shop and modify it to your liking. If you practice macrame you can use para-chord and fashion yourself some brilliant solutions.

I hope my gear review provides everyone with a fair comparison of the best of the Red Oxx carry-on bags. I used all of these for a minimum of a dozen trips each and I used the Tres Hombres for more than 120 travel nights last year. My personal preferences and modifications may not match yours, but it may provide you with some good ideas.

Wow, what great ideas Steve. Thanks so much for sending us this article written out of sheer passion for our gear. With a little thought and preparation you too, can create a carry-on bag that suits your needs.

Red Oxx Extra Small Aviator customized with exterior compression straps and The Claw carry strap.

Red Oxx Extra Small Aviator customized with exterior compression straps and The Claw carry strap.

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