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June 01, 2007

Gear Review: Patagonia Freightliner

Freighlinermain_80days Before I thrill you with my review the Patagonia Freightliner (pictured at right), a quick note about bias. You're going to notice that most of these reviews veer towards the positive. This is not because I am taking kickbacks, or because I am generally a very enthusiastic person, or because I fear that by criticizing others, I am opening the door to criticism of myself. The reason is that I put a serious amount of research--days worth, all told--into determining which items would function best on the road. I'm pleased to report that just about everything performed well above expectations, which is either an endorsement of my research skill, or, more likely, a testament to the constantly improving quality of stuff.

Choosing luggage wasn't easy. The major question was: backpack or rolly bag? Then I discovered that there exists luggage that is both. Eagle Creek makes the Switchback, a rolly bag with back-pack straps that tuck away into a zipped compartment. Similarly, the North Face just came out with rolly bag/backpack called the Doubletrack.  This, I thought, was the answer to my dreams.

The Doubletrack turned out to be many things--spacious, bombproof, well designed, and handsome--but it was not the answer to my dreams. Its first drawback was that the attachable backpack wasn't big enough for all the technological crap--laptop, camera, Sony Reader, GPS, iPod, etc.--I wanted to carry in my backpack. A far graver flaw, however, was its mass. The Doubletrack weighs 12 pounds. Empty. I filled the Doubletrack with clothing, folded out the back-pack straps and heaved it onto my shoulders. The thing felt just awful. It was unbalanced, poorly contoured and awkward. A back-pack/rolly bag hybrid, I realized, is a fine idea, but not very practical.

That was the journey that brought me to Patagonia's Freightliner.  I had no experience with this bag. No one I know has ever owned a  Freightliner, and I had never seen one in person. But Patagonia is in the habit of making truly fine stuff. I have Patagonia fleeces and bathing suits from high school that are still perfectly wearable. As expected, the Freightliner turned out to be everything I hoped it would be: light and uncomplicated. For such a small bag, it holds a ton of stuff. Yes, it only has two main compartments. But the top hatch is so larch that it's easy enough to find whatever you need by opening it wide and digging your hands in.

Most importantly, the thing takes a licking. It was dropped off carts, buried under luggage heaps and jerked down countless flights of stairs. The bag seems so resilient to injury that I find myself almost overcome with a desire to try and destroy it.

I blame that goat in Mongolia

But the Freightliner is not perfect. If you really stuff the crap out if--which I did in France by adding four bottles of Burgundy to an already capacity loadthen the bottom bulges out, and if you try and stand it upright, it will tip over. They also should have put some kind of re-enforcement on the bottom because by the end of my trip, the nylon had abraded. But that may be a good thing thanks to Patagonia's "iron clad" guarantee. "If you are not satisfied with one of our products at the time you receive it, or if one of our products does not perform to your satisfaction, return it to the store you bought it from or to Patagonia for a repair, replacement or refund."  It all sounds too good to be true until you get to the part that says, "Damage due to wear and tear will be repaired at a reasonable charge." The bag is just over three months old, yet it's traveled more in that time than most bags do in a lifetime. I suppose as long as the charge is reasonable, I'll be happy to pay it.

The secret compartment...perfect for cramming your expensive Italian sports jacket

Finally, the Freighliner has one hidden attribute: the secret compartment. This is a flat, thin section at the very bottom where I stored the Borrelli sports jacket. Yes, the jacket got horribly wrinkled. I pulled it out in Ravello, Italy--not a hundred miles south of where the jacket was sewn, incidentally--and came out looking like crumpled tinfoil. (Beautifully tailored crumpled tinfoil, mind you.) But eventually, by experimenting with folding methods, I was able to store the jacket in a manner that would leave it quite wearable.

The point is this: you could put a suit in there. That means instead of taking one of those black, fold-in-half cheesy suit bags on your next business trip, you can take a Freightliner instead. Your journey may find you bored and condemned to some climate-controlled convention complex, but in your bag will exist the possibility of genuine adventure. You can't say that about most luggage.


Does this have a backpack feature?

how did you end up dealing with the tech gear on the road? separate bag?

AnnieOakle -- The Freightliner does not have a backpack feature, and I think that's a good thing. A duffel-style bag will never sit will on the shoulders, and the straps end up adding weight and taking up precious room.

ciaogina -- I kept tech gear in a backpack. I wanted to keep it near me at all times. I also devised a clever way of dealing with the multitude of usb and power cables, and I'll be blogging about that in a future post.

Mark, I have to tell you I am going through withdrawal. Since you have completed your 80 day treck, I don't know what to do every morning when I normally check to see where you are and how you're doing. So have a great summer with Laura and Greta, then you can get back on your way to another adventure. Laura can come and spend some time with me while you go on your next adventure

I am interested in hearing how you organize the cables. How much longer will you keep us in suspense?

Enjoyed reading your review of the Freightliner. I have a blog about Patagonia products. Would you mind if I posted a link to your article?

hi mark,

i'm glad you have a significant online presence... otherwise i would not have been able to contact you. i am still in possession of that painting which your friend bought from me some years ago. as you may have guessed, i moved. please conact me, or have laura contact me, at 416-516-2070/


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