Posted March 20, 2009 in Adventure Journals by Jim Markel
This traveler decided to replace their typical travel backpack and day pack with a Red Oxx Gator Carry-on Bag during a Jiu Jitsu Tournament in Thailand. They loaded up their Gator with a phenomenal amount of gear and discovered it to be nearly a "bottomless pit." Not only did they find the Gator to actually fit under their seat on the flight, but it proved itself to be a perfect day bag, ultimately replacing their day pack. But not only is this Adventure Journal a testament to the Gator, it’s also a resource for places to eat and stay at while in Thailand.
This February I flew to Bangkok, Thailand, to train at Bangkok BJJ, a new jiu jitsu school in the heart of the ex-pat community centered around Sukhumvit Road.
On my prior trip to Thailand for a jiu jitsu tournament last September, the check-in agent almost made me check my main carry-on bag (horrors!) because I was carrying a medium duffel and small day pack. My day pack was small at 900 cubic inches.
So many packs are routinely used as carry-on luggage that there’s no clear line of demarcation between an acceptable "day pack" and unacceptable "backpack." Because of this vagary, the agents went into a brain freeze and saw my luggage as two pieces instead of one piece and a personal bag. Unfortunate because personal bags are almost universally approved by carriers in addition to carry-on luggage.
So for the February trip I got smart and ordered the Gator. Configured in classic "flight bag" shape and size it has a look and style the airlines have been familiar seeing since the old Pan Am days.
Sure enough, this eliminated any gate agent confusion and got me on the plane easily. Where before they had wanted to look more closely and weigh both pieces, this time with the Gator they didn’t even want to look at it. I guess it looks so traditional. Or like a video bag, it didn’t raise any eyebrows.
I have to admit that when the Gator first arrived I wasn’t sure it was going to carry all the stuff I like to keep on the seat next to me, or under the seat in front. But like one reviewer said, it behaves like a bottomless pit and keeps swallowing stuff up. I think the rectangular shape is what makes the difference, it’s a lot more efficient than bags that taper towards the top, like most day packs and shoulder bags.
I think Red Oxx honestly rates the cubic inches on their bags, while some, but not all, vendors are wildly optimistic about calculating the capacities of their packs, etc. All I can say is that the Red Oxx Gator, during one trial run, easily swallowed all the daily stuff I usually carry in a typical manufacturer’s rated 900 cubic inch day pack. Note: Gator capacity is 648 cubic inches
Let’s think about what I put into the Gator. My bulkiest items were 1 pint and 1 quart flexible Platypus water bottles, which I filled after security, plus an extra pair of Birkenstocks. The water is critical, because they don’t bring much around on the flight, even though it is 13.5 hours for the first leg alone, and there’s always the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis) which increases when passengers on long flights get dehydrated, not to mention that dehydration’s uncomfortable.
Packing the Birkenstocks in the Gator wasn’t the smartest idea. On the way back I wore them instead; but it’s a good example of how much you can get in the Gator due to its smart dimensions. I replaced the shoes with a bulky neck cushion/brace before my San Francisco boarding.
Here’s my actual packing list, just so you can see how much the Gator carried. Skip the next paragraph if it’s too much detail:
Gator main compartment: Golite Wisp pull-over windshirt, ultralight, folded flat and packed in a Ziploc bag, behind the mesh separator panel; Golite Whim windpants, ultralight, folded flat and packed in a Ziploc bag next to the Wisp windshirt; two old Casio/Timex watches, one on local time and one on destination, tucked into the slot on the mesh separator panel; a small storage bag packed with toothbrush, MagLite AAA penlight w/Photon LED key ring light attached to end, floss sticks, EmergenC packets, BIC disposable safety razor, spork, spare vision eyeglasses in microfiber case, two strips disposable contacts; two flexible Platy water bottles; non-bulky synthetic watchcap; wool neck gaiter; gently rolled, but not Ziploc’d; size 43 Birkies all plastic sandals, to wear on flight which I swapped for neck brace right before boarding; unlined nylon Patagonia Velocity windbreaker; small silnylon stuff sack packed with more EmergenC, lip balm, ultralight, compact aluminum spoon, timer for naps on the fly, earplugs, eyeshades; detergent dispenser measuring cup for topping off the Platy’s and for drinking beverages at any street vendors in Thailand; key ring tote bag stuffed into the cup; eyeglasses pouch with all plastic vision glasses for transiting security and generic +2.0 reading glasses; wallet with Thai baht currency from last trip.
Gator zipper pull: Photon key ring light clipped onto monkey fist pull.
Gator zip outside pocket: passport and e-ticket copy.
Main zipper pull: Photon clip light.
Gator left and right outside snap pockets, left end and right end elastic pouches: snack foods. Fischer Space Pen. Ear plugs. And other miscellaneous items I can’t remember.
Well, if making it past the ticket counter and onto the plane is the minimum acceptable requirement for a personal flight bag, that’d be good, but it wouldn’t be much of a story. After all, a shopping bag could get you on a flight, too.
What I liked about the Red Oxx Gator was the way it fit under the seat, the way it upgraded my appearance without being fancy-schmancy, and the way it served in lieu of a day pack on my comings and goings in Thailand.
Fitting well under a seat is one of those grossly underrated things a good bag should do. I’ve been lucky in the past to have a vacant seat next to me on most flights, but no such luck on this flight neither going nor returning. Due to a massive sale, the flights were sold out. That meant I either had to put the Gator in the overhead bin, which would defeat the purpose of having a seat side bag in the first place, or put it under the seat in front.
Compared to a day pack or shoulder bag, the Gator not only fit easily, it also left ample room on its left and right sides for my legs. That’s no mean feat – the typical bag I’ve used in the past loses its shape and takes the whole space, with wasted space on top. The Gator with it’s semi-rigid dense foam reinforced sides and bottom was a nice compact brick out of the way of my legs.
It wasn’t just on the flight that the efficient shape of the Gator helped out – I took a micro van bus back from Koh Samet to Bangkok, and carried the bag on my lap. I used it on my shoulder, or cross-body, while taking the Skytrain to beat the traffic below on the streets of Bangkok. The size and shape helped a lot in those two settings.
In terms of upgrading my appearance, the world of savvy travelers has quickly learned to dismiss mass-produced fake designer label bags, but keen eyes can spot good design, good materials, and good workmanship right away – that’s the only currency remaining.
The choices nowadays come down to some old luggage name now cheaply made for sale at discount department stores; fake designer bags; hipster doofus bags which had their heyday with adapted bike messenger bags; or niche manufacturers, like Red Oxx whose products are based on top quality, a clear mission statement, and ultimately are their own billboard.
Yes, like many before me have said, I got comments during the trip asking what kind of bag it was and how well-made it looks. When I checked into a nice hotel at the beach, I was glad the Gator was on my shoulder – it made up for run-of-the-mill luggage.
While there, I stayed at the Golden Palace Hotel, which has backpacker rates with air conditioning and beautifully remodeled bathrooms for only about $35 a night. I like this hotel because the Jiu Jitsu Academy is downstairs and it’s also a great value in the more expensive Sukhumvit area. Note that the Lonely Planet review is woefully out of date and inaccurate – as remodeled it’s much nicer than the review would indicate.Api and Webber
Foodland Supermarket on Soi 5, a short walk from the Golden Palace, has a food counter right where you walk in, that offers the authentic taste of street vendor food, at prices only slightly higher than street vendors, but with a much lower risk of “Bangkok belly.”
If you’re homesick for American food, an American bar scene, as opposed to a "bar girl" bar scene, and pool tables there’s Gulliver’s western style pub and restaurant located a few steps further down Soi 5.
MBK or Mah Boon Krong, the most popular shopping mall in Thailand, has a great "food court" on the 6th Floor, like a vastly expanded version of the Foodland food counter experience. MBK is an easy Skytrain ride from Sukumvit; you make one transfer to another line which shares the same platform.
7-11’s are everywhere, which have GREAT Thai ice coffee in dispensers, plus tasty Chinese style char siu bau "pork buns" which are good for a quick breakfast. More importantly, you can buy a new SIM card for the local phone. Finally, try the french fries at the McDonald’s in Thailand. I think they’re still using lard for their frying oil. Not good for you but mmmm, tasty.
I visited Koh Samet, a beautiful, small island a 45 minute ferry ride for 50 Baht, or under $2, from Ban Phe in Rayong. Ban Phe is a 3.5 hour bus ride from Ekkamai bus station, which is a stop on the Skytrain, or a 3.0 hour mini-van ride from the Victory Monument, also a stop on the Skytrain, but in the other direction. I didn’t stay at the Samed Villa this time, but I checked it out and it still looks great for accommodations on Koh Samet.
I’m used to using a day pack around home and work, but I could get spoiled by the Gator, thanks to its useful organization. Unlike a daypack, you never have to dig TOO deep to find what you are looking for, and there are built-in organizing features; two snap pouches on one side, two elastic end pockets, and a zipper slash pocket. PLUS the mesh organizer panel inside, so I don’t have to rummage around as much as with a day pack.
In fact, I’ve started using the Gator on the weekends to see how it feels at home, since I ended up feeling so comfortable taking it on day trips, to the gym, shopping, to the supermarket, and to restaurants in Thailand.
In summary: the Gator gets the job done; won’t get you busted by the too much bag police at the departure gate; handles a lot of weight comfortably, thanks to the claw shoulder strap as books and water get heavy quickly; and is right sized for staying seat-side with you on your flight. You can’t ask for much more than that!
Yes indeed, the Gator is perhaps my favorite carry anything bag. It’s so versatile that I too, find myself using it for many diverse occasions. My only question now is, who won the tournament?
Jim Markel, CEO