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Luggage Innovations of 2012

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The Travel Goods Association recently held its annual industry showcase, so gadget and gear expert Phil Baker and managing editor Sarika Chawla checked out some of the latest and, presumably greatest, innovations in travel gear.

Just over 40 years ago, the first wheeled suitcase came onto the market, and 25 years ago TravelPro added a telescoping handle and two roller-skate wheels to a suitcase to create first Rollaboard luggage that’s been a huge boon to travelers every since.

Among the many gadgets and new luggage, the major trends are for gear to be compressible, space -saving, and lightweight.

The reason, according to most companies, is basic necessity: Ever since airlines discovered they could turn losses into profits by charging us for checked luggage, passengers have been challenged to see just how much can fit into a carry-on without the bag becoming cumbersomely heavy. And if when travelers do have to check bags, no one wants to pay the hefty overweight fee.

Here’s a sampling of what’s out there:

Briggs & Riley new Baseline CX

Briggs & Riley introduced a new line of luggage called the Baseline CX collection. Each suitcase in the collection can transform into to a range of sizes, depending upon how much you’re carrying. Instead of a zipper to expand your luggage, the CX uses a completely new mechanism.

How does it work? When packing, you expand the luggage to its maximum capacity by releasing a latch on the inside. You then pack your suitcase as you normally would with what you need for your trip, zip the top closed, and then push down on the bag. A ratcheting mechanism inside the bag compress the bag to just the size needed.

It’s the first luggage that once packed and zipped closed, compresses to fit around your belongings. This prevents your clothes from shifting in the suitcase and becoming wrinkled and lets you fit more inside. The design also gels nicely with Brigg & Riley’s mounting of the telescoping handle on the outside of the bag, keeping the inside bottom completely flat.

The CX range includes both carry-on and checked sizes from 18 inches to 27 inches for $399 to $549. I’ve been using their International wide-body size from their current Baseline luggage line for years and find it’s perfect for traveling on both domestic and international flights. The 20-inch length makes it more acceptable to international carry-on requirements and it fits into the bins on Southwest’s fleet of 737s with the wheels facing out. Yet it has the same capacity of normal 22-inch bags. That size in the new series is $449. The new CX line is expected to be available mid year. (briggs-riley.com)

Scottevest’s Transformer Jacket

Scottevest is known for making jackets and other clothing that have a huge number of pockets designed to hold just about everything, a godsend for techies who like to travel with their gadgets. This year the company has come up with what may be its best jacket yet, the Transformer.

The softly lined jacket can be transformed into a vest nearly instantly, even while you’re wearing it. Unlike other jackets with removable sleeves that are held in place with zippers, the Transformer’s sleeves attach to the jacket using magnets. That makes adding or removing a snap (or in this case a click, click, click), and gives you a vest with the same storage capacity. And what do you do after removing the sleeves? Stuff it into the pocket designed just for them.

It’s the latest model in a constantly evolving line of products for men and women, and popular with frequent travelers and the tech community. The 20 pockets – each uniquely sized – are designed to accommodate specific items. There’s a clear pocket for a smartphone that you can use without removing, and pockets for business cards, glasses, a camera and extra memory, travel documents, keys and a water bottle. There are pockets for a USB drive, a pen, and loose change. Lastly, there’s a pocket specifically made to hold an iPad.

Surprisingly, even when the pockets are full – yes I have enough gadgets to do that – the weight is well distributed and the jacket hangs neatly. It can hold almost the entire contents of a briefcase, allowing you to effectively break the two-bag limit that the airlines impose.

The Transformer is available in three colors for $160 on their website.

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