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Too roll or not to roll...

...that is the question: Do you lug your luggage --with your hand, shoulder, or back-- or roll it? The benefits of wheeled luggage are obvious. For those with physical limitations or for those whose travels involve lots of flat, smooth surfaces, wheels are appropriate. The demerits of wheeled luggage are less obvious but are very real. Airplane aisles, stairs, cobblestones, curbs, escalators, and fellow travelers' toes are all unfriendly to wheels. And, there's nothing like losing control of a wheeled case on a ramp. They tend to flop and twist and can wrench a wrist. Wheels are also prone to break or jam; ditto the telescoping handles. And finally, the mechanisms themselves add weight and bulk to carry-on luggage. Weight and bulk are the traveler's enemy. Most wheeled bags are semi-rigid as well. This can present a problem when the overhead compartment or taxi trunk is almost full. Forsaking wheels may be the right move for the onebagger. There is one caveat though: Make sure the shoulder strap or backpack strap system your bag uses is a good one. Otherwise you may rue the decision to travel sans wheels.

Reader Comments (6)

No offense but I find arguments like this against wheels tend to be biased. I can't argue that if faced with cobblestones the wheels will be inferior to a shoulder bag but let's look at some of your other reasons. Airplane aisles? Why is a bag behind or in front of you worse than one hanging to your side? Stairs? Sure the extra weight of the wheeled bag is now a disadvantage but isn't that at least a wash when compared to all the flat areas where a sholder bag is constantly pulling you down? Added weight and bulk? This one really confuses me because I would assume a comparison would involve equal sized luggage. Sure a soft sided shoulder bag will conform better but if you get bags of equal dimenions then the bulk effect is basically the same. A soft sided shoulder bag that is packed to the same size of wheeled bag does not magically shrink by a significant amount to make it fit in an overhead - bags of similar bulk will both has issues when there isn't enough room for them. The only drawback to the wheeled bag is again weight which should only come into play at in rare cases. And speaking of weight, it seems wrong to say a benefit of wheeled bags is they are good for those with physical limitations, and at the same time count weight as a drawback to wheeled bags. Either the wheels counter the issue of weight or they do not. Counting the wheels as benefit against weight but also a drawback for their added weight seems like double counting. This doesn't even get into how you can stack other bags on the wheeled bags to further decrease your traveling weight. The only way I can see count weight as being a drawback is if you are taking the view of the airline who has to burn the extra fuel for all the extra weight from wheeled bags.

Sorry for the rant but it just seems to me that the arguments I see against wheeled bags start with the assumption that travelers will face stairs and cobblestones frequently. While this may be true for some I find it hard to believe it's the majority. Instead I think most will be facing airport floors, escalators, and short bits of pavements before transitioning to transportation of some kind. From ground transportation door, to air transport door, to accomodation door, I would think the majority of people will face so many even surfaces that the times the wheels are a burden will hardly even register at the end of the day. Whereas the traveler with a shoulder bag will always have the bag on their shoulder and will most likely feel the effects at the end of the day.

August 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Doug Dyment has a good discussion of this with examples on Onebag. Basically it boils down to:

A bag with wheels weighs more. Surprisingly, ALOT more. This isn't the first site I've seen point out that many wheeled cases weigh as much empty as shoulder bags do full.

In the bulk department, you lose either capacity (bulk on the inside) or stowability (the bulk is on the outside). Again, it's more than you think. Since such cases are rigid also, you have the added problem that you can't squeeze them into overheads on small planes.

I use wheeled luggage now but I'm ready to make the switch. Most of my travel is wheel-friendly, but never the less I've had enough gate checks, stairs and cars to really appreciate the value of a shoulder bag.

September 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWellspring

practicality issues aside, since i have moved to a wheeless bag (MEI Voyageur), i have had more fun watching people fight with their luggage than ever before. i think i didn't notice it before because i was always fighting with mine. those wheeled bags hit everything and everyone. the smaller ones almost seem more prone to trouble. pavement or no they are a nuisance. my favorite moments are when they hit some crack in the pavement or bit of grass and fall out of the owners hands. or the smaller shoulder bag they have perched on top of the roller, falls off the side, and twists, wwf style, the larger bag off it's wheels to the ground. oh, and watching them go through a pull open door, good times. in sharp contrast to all this wheeled pandemonium around me, i feel like i glide through an obstacle course on my way to to carry-on only express check-in kiosk.

October 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterNoah M Kern

And don't you love the sound of a 40-pound roller clomping down the stairs of an old hotel. Rollers are also brutal in the fine gravel or crushed stone parking lots you find in many small rural hotels in the UK. The leave awful trails and have to be dragged like a sled with no snow. Wave when you see me in the fast lane!

October 3, 2007 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW

Rolling bags also perform poorly on the beach. That's why I leave mine in the hotel before heading down to the shore.

There's no doubt that a bag with wheels weighs more and carries less than an identical bag without wheels. However, those who cite Doug Dyment's arguments against wheeled luggage rarely point out that Mr Dyment himself acknowledges bringing a separate wheeled cart to haul his luggage when it is heavy. If you add the weight and bulk of the separate cart into the equation, then suddenly wheeled luggage makes more sense. So the decision seems to come down to how often is your luggage "heavy".

Some business travellers (such as me!) have a certain amount of non-discretional weight we are required to take on a trip-- the purpose of the trip being business. For me, that comes to about 22 lbs. My bag weighs about 7.5 pounds, and my discretional weight is about 5 pounds (things like running shoes, casual clothes, and advil). Getting the total to about 35lbs. Not as much fun in a Red Oxx air boss slung over the shoulder, even though it would be about 3.5 pounds lighter.

And let me concede this horrible weakness, I do have some occasional back pain-- much like many people. The more I wheel, the less I carry, and the better for my back. The notion that wheeled bags can only benefit the most infirm and elderly among us is not accurate. I'm 32 years old, six feet tall, and run 3 miles five times each week.

Aside from the issues of space and weight, all of the other arguments against wheeled luggage seem silly to me. Reading the above posts gives the impression that our airports are mazes of cobblestones, stairs, and ladders, littered with those left wounded and dying from injuries suffered by being run over by a fellow traveller's wheeled carryon.

The next time you carry your shoulder bag to a flight, make sure it weighs at least 35 pounds, and count the number of steps you take on level, finished ground, and compare this to the number of steps you take on cobblestones and stairs.

Just to deal a few more blows to the cobblestone issue, on over 90% cobblestone roads I encounter, my bag rolls reasonably well, and I don't have to pick it up. Only the most harsh cobblestone roads require carrying.

March 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterThe High Roller

Excellent points made by the High Roller. I think the best idea, if you can afford it, is to have several bags and to choose the right bag for each purpose. That's what I try to do. I remember when I carried a big, fat photo equipment bag with a laptop and all kinds of tech goodies with me. That thing weighed in at over 25lbs. Changing planes from one terminal to another on short notice and standing in the immigration line for 90 minutes pushing my bag was literally a DRAG. I was drenched in sweat. I can more or less handle 16-20lbs given that my own weight is around 170 lbs. but more than 20-20-lbs are hard to schlepp.

So, yes, I do carry one or two classic carry-on bags with me on some trips but only if weight permits it or the nature of the trip requires it. As you say, for the ordinary asphalt jungle warrior, wheels are great as long as you can lift the thing into the overhead bin. The actual difference between a similarly structured wheeled and non-wheeled carry-on of equal dimensions and materials is indeed just 3.5-4.5 pounds. A luggage cart like the Samsonite Micromover which is among the very lightest out there is 2.2lbs.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTill

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