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Red Oxx Air Boss bag - full user review

roabsmall.jpgRED OXX AIR BOSS: Review summary – Simple, adaptable shoulder bag for agile travel. Handmade in the USA, military spec materials & construction. High points: Looks great, three-compartment design, excellent strap, lifetime warranty, made in the USA.

RATING: 5 stars, a One Bag, One World top pick.

Ten days and several thousand miles have convinced me that the Red Oxx Air Boss lives up to its hype as one of the most functional and well-made carryon bags available. The Air Boss is probably not for everyone since it has no wheels. Then again, it was not designed for everyone, but for the serious one-bag leisure or business traveler who needs a highly functional shoulder bag which adapts to a variety of travel needs.

No wheels, no backpack straps

There are two ways to carry the Air Boss: with your hand or with your shoulder. This is actually the key to its mobility. A shoulder bag is much better for uneven terrain (like cobblestones, gravel parking lots, or dirt paths), and is preferable for stairs, escalators, or subway platforms. Darting through the airport throngs is also a breeze with nothing “in tow”. No wheels also means less weight and more interior room. Convertible bags with backpack straps (Red Oxx is developing one of these - stay tuned) are popular, but a backpack-style bag is a little out of place with my sportcoat, and I find a good shoulder strap to be at least as comfortable as one (or two) backpack straps. And Red Oxx has one of the finest shoulder straps I’ve tried. It’s called “The Claw” for good reason: it will not slip from your shoulder. As an old news photographer I know that a strap that is too wide or too cushy will not stay on the shoulder. A good strap like “The Claw” strikes a balance between “bite” and comfort, and above all, it stays put. The heavy chromed metal strap hardware is overbuilt like the rest of the bag. I’m pretty sure “The Claw” could double as towing strap for an automobile!

Versatile & simple

The Air Boss’s three-compartment design sets it apart from most carryons. The two outer compartments are 2.5 inches wide and the center compartment is 4 inches wide. Zippers for each compartment wrap around three sides of the bag, allowing any of the compartments to be opened fully when the bag is lying flat. This makes it easy to carefully place folded clothes in the compartments without stuffing - which means fewer wrinkles. The two outer compartments have two hold-down straps each. The outer compartments are where most of your clothing would go. I like to put normal clothing on one side and coats, outerwear, or sweaters on the other, so that some days I only have to open one side. With a one-compartment design you basically have to do a complete unpack and repack every day. Not so with the well-designed Air Boss.

The center compartment has no hold-downs. Both walls of the center compartment have light closed-cell foam padding which also serves to stiffen the bag slightly so that it holds its shape when it’s not full. This center compartment is ideal for hair dryers, thick books, larger electronics, shoes, shaving or cosmetic bag, or a laptop computer. Since only the walls are padded and bottom of the bag is not, it’s probably best to put a laptop in a sleeve or slim-line computer case. I used the center compartment for my unpadded briefcase which I use as a day bag while traveling (see photo). The ability to stow a laptop, briefcase, or daypack in this center compartment means the Air Boss is perfect for travel through the United Kingdom where new security regulations allow only one carryon and everything must fit in that one bag.

Most of my suggestions for improvements to the Air Boss involve the inner compartments. Padding the bottom of the center compartment would make it better for carrying a laptop. The hold-downs in the outer compartments are adequate, but having three instead of two would make them work even better. The center compartment might also benefit from hold-down straps on one wall for securing clothing, large printed material, or a laptop.

One of my favorite things about the Boss (which I’ll discuss below) is its simplicity, but I believe I’d prefer that at least one of the outer compartments have a zippered mesh pocket for storing dirty or damp clothes.

Less is more 

I have a convertible carryon bag that has so many zippers and pockets that I can never find anything. This is not a problem with the simple Air Boss design. It has the three main compartments mentioned above plus a snapped outer pocket and a narrow vertical zippered pocket (perfect for boarding passes) on one side and a full-width exterior zippered pocket on the other. That’s it: no confusion; no gimmicks. The snapped pocket is ideal for stowing your belt and TSA liquid baggie until you clear security, and of course it’s ideal for newspapers, magazines, or a full-size atlas. The zippered pockets are for stowing things that need to be more secure

Zippers, seams, fabric & monkey fists

Speaking of zippers, Red Oxx uses the best money can buy: YKK #10’s which are reliable and silky smooth. Cheap zippers always fail, sooner or later. These are not cheap zippers. I’m no sewing expert, but even I can tell that this bag is very well put together. The Red Oxx guys got their start as military parachute riggers, and the craftsmanship and attention to detail is obvious in their work. The bag fabric is 1000 weight urethane-coated, Dupont-certified Cordura nylon — the highest grade. Snaps and metal hardware are stainless steel. And I have to mention a small but not insignificant detail – the “monkey’s fist” knots. These are hand-tied in nylon cord to serve as unique, functional zipper pulls, and besides that, they’re just plain cool. 

Good genes

The Air Boss is the result of collaboration and consultation with onebag.com travel/packing guru Doug Dyment. His insight paired with the Montana-based Red Oxx company’s manufacturing skill and commitment to quality makes this bag unique. Learn more about Red Oxx here. The company website also has a packing diagram (developed by Dyment) just for this bag. This bundle packing plan works. I can attest that my clothing had fewer wrinkles when properly packed in the Air Boss than I’ve gotten with other bags and methods.


The Air Boss is slightly under maximum carryon dimensions at 21”x 13”x 9” but it’s hard to imagine a carryon with more capacity. The fact that the Air Boss has no wheels, pull handles, rigid internal frame, or lots of silly compartments means you can stuff a lot in the Air Boss. I use an ultra-light packing list. My load was only about 12-15 pounds worth which means the bag was not nearly full, and, in fact, the Air Boss is a little too large for me. The good news is that it’s perfect for most people who are going to pack twice as many clothes as I do plus a pair of shoes and hair dryer. I’m guessing most travelers will probably pack their Air Boss to 18-25 pounds. Many international carriers now limit carryons to 22 pounds. The Air Boss would be ideal for those trying to stay in that weight range. I’m quite sure though that it’s built well-enough to handle any load you can stuff in it. The soft-side design also means that the Air Boss should fit almost any aircraft overhead luggage compartment. It even fits the tiny Embraer 145 regional jet’s overhead compartments which cause most carryons to be gate-checked and thrown into the baggage hold. In larger jets the Air Boss will fit in the overhead compartments either way – parallel or perpendicular to the aircraft aisle. The Air Boss weighs under four pounds with strap. Some carryon bags weigh 12 pounds or more empty - almost as much as my Air Boss weighed fully packed.

Looks & style

The Air Boss comes in 12 color combinations. The colors are strong and deep – distinctive without being overly bright (except for the yellow which is pretty bright). This is a nice-looking bag which works for corporate or casual types.

Who it’s for

If you can’t carry a bag far and require wheels the Air Boss is not for you. If you’re looking for a bag that will handle almost any travel situation and terrain with aplomb, check out the Air Boss. For reasons stated above it is ideal for the present security situation that carryon travelers face. And its lifetime warranty means it should serve you for years to come - through whatever the future holds for savvy travelers.


At $225 its price is in line with other top-of-the line shoulder bags and is well below that of many wheeled carryons. It is available direct from redoxx.com

Suggested improvements

Aside from minor changes to the interior compartments which are mentioned above, I believe compression straps to cinch up the bag when it is under-packed would be helpful. These would make the bag more useful to me since I’m not likely to ever fill the Air Boss up. All soft-sided bags are liable to some bulging when over-packed and compression straps would help minimize this too.

PHOTOS - from top -  Revolving door in Glasgow hotel doesn’t slow down the Air Boss,  Ran into this happy Air Boss user as soon as I stepped off the 777 at Heathrow, “The Claw” shoulder strap, Beautiful detailing and “monkey’s fist” pulls, High-visibility red interior, Snapped pocket is great for TSA liquid baggie, Center compartment swallows my briefcase - beating the UK “no personal item rule”

Reader Comments (9)

Is that the Red Oxx slimline briefcase you show in the center section? If not, what would fit there?

Realistically, how well does that work, assuming that the briefcase is rigged for daily use, ie laptop+chargers+cables+etc....?

September 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

The reason to drop a slim briefcase in the center compartment is to comply with the UK one-bag/no personal item rule. It wouldn't be large enough - as you suspected - to hold a fully loaded computer bag. If you'd like to travel without a computer bag, there is plenty of room to drop a laptop in a sleeve or just the laptop into the center space. Be careful to pad the bottom though - the walls are padded, but not the bottom, top, or ends.You might want to e-mail Red Oxx and ask them about how well the slim briefcase works in the Air Boss - I'm sure they could tell you.

September 25, 2007 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW

While I agree that the strap on the Air Boss is very good, I wonder if all non-wheeled bags should be reviewed with a full load to better evaluate comfort. I think it would be great to at least try to hit the 22 lb limit so each bag has an equal test. I tried the Air Boss with a 23 lb load and it was just too much of a pain for me.

That isn't to say that this is a problem with the Air Boss though. I begin to think that almost all bags in the 22 lb range are going to be harsh on the traveler if they only include a shoulder strap. I weigh in at 170 lbs and I'm above average for fitness level and it was very uncomfortable just waiting in line. I don't think any strap can alter that fact. Putting 13% of your body weight on one shoulder is going to be tough. I would guess it gets even worse for anyone who is lighter or shorter. I can't imagine most women being able to handle this comfortably as a 110 lb woman would be 20% of their body weight.

But I do agree with Brad that if you're wearing a coat or suit that a shoulder bag is more professional than a backpack so that's a major consideration. And of course not everyone will pack to the 22 lb limit. Like everything it depends on the needs of the user. But I do think it would be nice to have part of the review contain information on how the bag performs at full load even if it's just a quick 10 minute test around the house.

I think Brad covered most of this in the review, I just had a thought on testing.

October 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

I know this is very late, but better late than never. I have an Air Boss and carry 20lbs-ish a few times a month. With the stock shoulder strap it is not very comfy, actually it can be a real pain after a few minutes. I ordered the Tom Bihn Abolute Shoulder Strap and now feel like I have the perfect onebag setup for my needs. The Bihn strap doesn't grip my shoulder as well as the Red Oxx strap, but it provides a lot more comfort when I have my Air Boss fully loaded.

May 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Don't worry about how old the post is - people read the old ones all the time. Your take on the strap exactly matches my own - the TB Absolute Strap is an instant upgrade for any bag.

May 14, 2008 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW

I use a Tumi slim briefcase (style: 26111) in the centre compartment for my laptop and docs. An Eagle Creek Packit Folder 18 for a suit goes in one side compartment and two Eagle Creek Packit cubes side by side in the other compartment.

May 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

I would absolutely love to see an article comparing the Red Oxx Air Boss and the Tom Bihn Aeronaut. (I believe those are the only two premium maxi/near-maxi bags that received 5-star reviews on this site?) I'm pulling my hair out trying to decide between the two! I think I prefer the design and packing cubes of the Aeronaut, but then it seems like the Air Boss is better suited for a laptop. And I definitely want only ONE bag. (I don't want to have to carry a "personal item" too.) Argh, the search for the perfect bag continues!

July 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike

For larger laptops you're correct - a traditional two or three compartment sliced-like-bread bag (Air Boss) is best - unless you have smaller laptop that will easily fit in the Aeronaut's main compartment. Laptops aside, the Aeronaut vs. Air Boss question comes down to clothing and folding styles. The Aeronaut has the edge for shoes; the Boss has the edge for an extra sportcoat... Both are terrific. I actually prefer the stiffer ballistic nylon of the "Naut because it holds its shape better, but if you must carry a 17" laptop instead of a a 10", the AB is your choice.

July 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrad - OBOW
great review, thanks. really appreciate the details.
July 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercraig

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