If I have my dates right, then I have had my Red Oxx Gator since 2007. It has been with me for a 10,000 mile (16,000 km) drive around the USA; up, down and across the eastern and southern coasts of Australia; all around Europe on numerous trips; on two long expeditions to Antarctica; several trips to Asia; on countless local trains and short-hop airplanes as a weekend bag; and used countless times as my primary on-location photography bag.
For about seven years now, my Red Oxx Gator has been stuffed with DSLR’s and lenses, hand tools, clothing, camping gear and a whole litany of other items. I am very well aware of everything good, bad and in-between as it relates to this bag. (Although seven-plus years hasn’t been enough time to figure out much of the bad)
THE IRRELEVANT BACKSTORY, PRE-RED OXX ERA
Let me explain the progression:
I was going to be traveling to Asia for the first time and needed something more substantial than my trusty old Jansport duffel bag. As per the standard learning curve, I ended up with some behemoth (i.e. heavy even when empty) rollerboard luggage piece that pushed those 50lb. (23kg) airline checked bag limits every time (mostly in the airlines favour).
Hey look everyone, it is easy to wheel (on a perfectly flat, straight surface) and death to do anything else with—you should get one too! Want to store it while not using it? Just rent a garage. Want to lift it into the hotel shuttle van? Rent a forklift. Want to transport three sedated orangutans and an elephant from the savannah? Told you it would come in handy!
The quick conclusion after a trite bit of travel with The Beast was that I needed something else. I didn’t want to do the “wait half-a-day for the bag to come out of the luggage carousel” routine any longer. I didn’t want to wonder if one more toothbrush was going to push it over the weight limits (again). I didn’t want to sacrifice three vertebrate and four gallons of sweat each trip for the joy of having a giant rollerboard yanked—and tipping—along bumpy streets and up stairwells.
I did a bunch of research and came across the Red Oxx Air Boss. It was made to carry-on limitations, it was made in the USA, it seemed to be made well, it was good looking (proper ratios, etc) and it was less than four pounds (~1.5kg). Maybe one of these days I will put a review together on that bag but rest assured, it packs a ton of clothes (sometimes I wonder if it’s related to black holes) and has been a great bag (as long as you possess healthy shoulders).
So I’m in Yellowstone shooting the autumn colours back in 2007 and I decide to make a run up to Billings, Montana where Red Oxx bags are made (yes, they are made in the USA and yes I have an exorbitant affinity with factories) to check things out. Lo and behold, I end up leaving with two bags to compliment the Air Boss in the trunk: a Safari Beanos 5 or 5.5, which, sadly, seems to forever elude my needs, and the Red Oxx Gator, which after all the irrelevant jabberwocky written above, we can now start talking about.
THE RED OXX GATOR
Immediately, I threw my DSLR and lenses into this bag and started using it in the backcountry. I realize that no one probably wants (or has enough years remaining) to understand the full life and times of my bag in particular so let’s snap to the pros and cons.
THE RED OXX DESIGN
The Red Oxx Gator is designed extremely well. Hard to explain is the design on the front pockets (to have a chance, we will use “pocket” to mean the actual area where things are held and “pocket flap” as the lid to the pocket). Rather than including the male snap on the pocket itself, the bag has an extra loop sewn onto the front of the pocket so that you can get your thumb behind it. This does two things: first, as shown in the video, it allows you to open and close the pocket with one hand which is handy when it’s on your shoulder (or if you are an amputee or injured) and second, it ensures that you don’t need to push the female snap (on the pocket flap) into the male snap which (if it was sewn directly onto the pocket) would then be pushing itself into whatever (possibly sensitive or delicate) item you have in that pocket. For example, if we pretend that the delicate and precious item is a tunafish sandwich, this design ensures that if it went in as a Michelin-starred sandwich, it will come out as one.Another upside of the pocket design is that you can really stuff them with all kinds of odd shaped things and somehow figure out a way to close them. Because the male snap is on that extra piece of fabric, you can close the pockets at strange diagonals or let items stick out from the opening next to the pocket flap.
The interior is red which offers better visibility than if it were black or a dark colour. This seeming show of intelligence in the design is very much appreciated.
The side pocket fits a passport, pens and a host of other things that you might need to retrieve quickly. Another nice aspect of the side pocket is that there is headroom behind the zipper. This allows you to fit items that otherwise would not have fit. I have utilized this headroom multiple times.
The zippers have nicely knotted pulls on them to make grasping them (to pull the zipper) fool-proof and efficient. If you have gloves on (which you will in Antarctica), it is nice to be able to grab those zipper pulls and work the zipper. It’s the little things.
The mesh pocket on the interior of the main compartment lays pretty flat up against the bag which ensures you can use the whole compartment for tuna fish sandwiches (or whatever else you are transporting). However, if you need to protect some paper or something, it works as it should. The thing I most likely about it are the pockets incorporated into it (which I always have a certain use for while traveling).
So you have the bag totally jammed and you have a jacket on and are hot – oh what do you do? Well, the handles on the Gator have a closing mechanism on them which combines both handles into one. I have used this countless times to stuff clothing under. Fold the jacket up into the size of the top of the bag, or a slight bit larger, put it on top and then pull both handles over the jacket and fasten the handles together.
The side bottle holders seem to work very well; things stay put in them. However, it seems like they stretch more than they used to as if they lost some elasticity. That might be me being delirious but thought I’d mention it as an item that (if I’m not being delirious) appears to have succumbed to wear (and would probably be fixed if I sent it back)
It fits under almost all plane seats. If it hasn’t fit under a plane seat, it is a rare occurrence. Overheads? Other than some really tight overheads on old rusted out battle-ax buses in developing nations it seems to fix in overheads just fine.
I doubt that the design took into account certain laptops but it JUST fits my mid-2012 MacBook Pro 13″ laptop. Or, if you don’t have a computer in there, it can fit something like a DSLR (Nikon D40, D300, D800, etc) along with a 70-200mm (lens attached). If you aren’t going to be taking it in and out (i.e. you aren’t going to be shooting on the street, just trying to transport it from Place A and Place B), you can also add a 24-70mm f/2.8 in there (using a shirt as padding between the two). If you are really nervous about cameras getting scrapes, then I would say this bag is maybe not what you are looking for. I only offer this analysis so that you can visualize what it can actually hold.
The Red Oxx Gator is built with quality materials.The zippers are heavy-duty and trouble-free. This bag has found itself in bird guano, in beach sand, on dirty streets and in the rain. The zippers open every time. To date, they don’t snag, they don’t cough, they won’t die. Typically observers will notice the zippers first.The material is heavy duty. In its seventh year, it has developed a very small (controlled) hole (shown in the video review) and a couple pieces of nylon have come free here and there (as you can see on the Red Oxx logo in the video review) but for the amount of usage this bag has gotten, it is in great condition which speaks to the quality of nylon, etc.
The bottom is reinforced with cell foam padding so that it stands up when placed down and offers some protection to the items inside. (If you were planning on squeezing the Red Oxx Gator into a ball to pack into another bag, this padding will stand in your way).
The metal hardware is ridiculously tough and still looks new. This isn’t some junky imported 18/0 stainless steel that rusts four days after you receive it. Connected to the metal hardware is a very substantial shoulder strap. The downside of all this hardware is the weight and bulk (if that concerns you). The upside is that it works great and keeps on ticking.
PRICE POINT, ECONOMICS, QUALITY, MANUFACTURING
From an economics standpoint:I like supporting a small business that seems to have a soul and is creating jobs in places like the USA (where the bags are made) and Guatemala (where the zipper pulls are knotted). Red Oxx seems to exist to make bags rather than just as something that will produce money.Based on a recent order, I find the shipping & handling costs quite steep (prohibitively so). I realize this is mostly the doing of the S&H barons (like UPS) but I guess a little subsidy would make a difference.
The price for the Gator has held within a reasonable range over the years, especially considering the price increases of virtually everything else around us. Currently it is running at $135.
For the price, you are getting a quality bag that is well-designed (personal satisfaction) and comes with a great warranty. The downside of the warranty is that the repair might not look pretty. I sent a different bag back for damage (that bag saw itself in a very very extreme situation and it performed very admirably but did end with a hole) and it came back with a Frankenstein looking repair which was okay with me but just saying…
CONCLUSION OF THE RED OXX GATOR BAG
Overall, the Red Oxx Gator is a great carry-on shoulder bag. I really like the size of it, and it seems to always come in handy to me. To be honest, when I got it (and even up until last year), I never envisioned that I’d possibly be able to use it as my sole bag for international long-term travel assignments. But over the years, I have winnowed down my pack to include only what I truly need (hot weather climates help), and finally, on my last trip, the Gator held all of my essentials and make getting around a pleasure.
I really like that I can use it in so many different facets: I can show up to a business meeting with it, I can walk on streets anywhere in the world (without it being obvious I just got off the plane) and I can use it for photo shoots. You want to go to the beach with it? Sure. You want to take it for a quick hop on a Cessna? Sure.
When I started writing this review, it got me thinking of everywhere my Red Oxx Gator has been and everything it has helped me accomplish. And beyond all that, it still is quite a feat that it still looks in such great condition considering the abuse it’s taken over the nearly eight years of ownership.
If you are looking for a small shoulder bag (probably good for an overnight bag or maybe a weekend bag if you aren’t packing much in the way of clothes), then check it out. For photography, if you want compartments and padding, look at a ThinkTank or something. If you want a bag where you can just pull your camera out, shoot and chuck it back in (which is my favourite method), this makes a great bag.
I don’t have some ingenious conclusion paragraph written up and I have to get back to the road, so I apologize for that. In lieu of the flowery lingo, the Red Oxx Gator is a great, well-built shoulder bag that I’m very happy to have purchased.