Real world test of Business Mate and Zip-off Laptop bag by Gate8 luggage
I recently attended a travel conference where I met Alistair, a representative of GATE8 luggage, a UK based company.
I am a professional pilot for a major American air carrier and I'm always looking for hard-wearing, funtional gear to use to make my job a little bit easier.
As a pilot, our gear is subjected to a lot of abuse from loading and unloading in crew vans, storage in luggage racks at flight operations, and the elements. I have destroyed many pieces of luggage over the past 26 years in my search for a quality bag. My main piece of luggage I use for my clothing and personal effects is a Briggs and Riley Baseline. I use this bag as my standard of measurement when comparing other bags. Over the past 10 years, this bag has held up quite well to multiple cases of abuse. When something did fail, it was repaired under their lifetime warranty quickly and efficiently. The best part of that bag is B&R is always striving to improve it based on the failures and repairs that come into the shop.
Apparently, this is the philosophy of GATE8 as well.
When I approached Alistair at the conference, I was mostly curious as to what his product was and if it was worthy of a look-see. I have to say that I was initially attracted to the bag by its bold use of the colour yellow in certain accent features of the bag. Zipper pulls and monograms give the bag a bit of a pop which would make it easy to spot on a luggage conveyor among the hundreds of black pieces of luggage that pass by on the belt. After introducing myself, I took a gander at the range of GATE8 cabin bags, in particular the Business MATE. I was impressed with its features. After discussing the merits of the bag, Alistair offered me the opportunity to take the bag for a test trial and report back so that they could get some input on real-world use.
What follows is my report of my testing of a sample bag. In keeping with full disclosure, I was allowed to keep the bag as compensation for submitting an honest appraisal. What follows are my words alone with no input from any member of GATE8 Luggage.
The Business MATE bag is a small carry-on bag that will meet all carry-on restrictions that I am aware of here in the United States. As previously mentioned, the bag is black in colour with yellow accent pieces consisting of monograms and zipper pulls. From the first appearance, you can tell that a lot of thought went into the design and manufacturing of this bag. The bag is manufactured from a waterproof nylon shell like many other high-end bags. I'm going to guess but cannot be certain that it is made from Cordura with self-repairing zippers. Not certain but I bet they are.
The front corners of the bag are reinforced with what appears to be simulated black leather to prevent blowouts due to inner contents rubbing on the nylon. The bottom back of the bag has plastic wheel supports to reinforce the bottom of the bag and prevent damage due to running into aeroplane seat rails and sidewalk kerbs. In addition, the centre bottom of the bag is reinforced with a curved piece of plastic to protect the bag's nylon shell from kerbs.
The bag itself is very lightweight and uses lightweight but strong components to ensure longevity. The handle is very long for a carry on roll aboard and telescopes into 4 sections. As a tall person (6'2") I find that very appealing as I hate getting run over by my own bag. Tall people will understand. If you are a bit on the shorter side, you may find that the bag trails behind you a bit. It isn't overly long. It measures approximately 42" from floor to full extension. I suggest you check your handle height for comparison. The only issue with this is if you stick another bag over the handle, you may find it a bit heavier to carry/roll as you are past the point of equilibrium to support the weight. Again, this will probably only be an issue for height-challenged people.
Without a bag on the handle, you should have no problem. The handle will only remain extended at its full most position and stores very easily into its own compartment inside the piece of luggage, giving you a smooth back side. The handle practically glides into its storage area by pushing on the grip mounted release . The handle does take up some space inside of the bag similar to the Briggs bag mentioned earlier. I prefer this style as opposed to the outside mounted handle. I pack underwear and socks around the handle in the bottom of the bag and then build up from there.
Not an issue.
The outside of the bag has a small permanently attached luggage tag which you can fill out. A nice feature that most people will overlook but again, nice, in case your paper tag gets ripped off by baggage handlers. On the top side of the bag are two loop handles of loose nylon with faux leather grips. Very comfortable to hold and handle and take up practically no space when shoving into the overhead compartment. Very easy to grab in a jiffy.
They also attach to outer hooks on other bags in case you want to piggy back the bag onto a larger suitcase. The bag comes with a shoulder strap which makes carrying the bag a pleasure.....until you load it up with everything. The shoulder strap is properly proportioned and is quite good for carrying your bag up a set of stairs or a set of aeroplane airstairs. This bag, however, is made to roll. I found that you can store the loose strap in the handle storage area but there is a good chance you will lose it when you pull the handle out. There are plenty of storage pockets on the inside of the bag for you to place it if you wish so that it doesn't get caught on bag sorting mechanisms if you do have to gate check it.
Beneath the shoulder strap lugs on the sides of the bag are two matching mesh/nylon covered zipper pockets. These are perfect for carrying water bottles or a thermos. They mention on the bag info tag that you can also store an umbrella or newspaper/magazine. I only tried a water bottle and it is very snug and strong. Perhaps the only problem is that if you have a water bottle on each side of the bag and you try to pull it down the aisle of some aircraft, the water bottles bang into the edges of the seats as the bag is now too wide to fit. Not really an inconvenience, but worthy of note if you happen to jam a bunch of stuff into those pockets, you might have an issue boarding.
The bag has two semi-pliable rubber , ball bearing mounted wheels. These wheels are similar to inline skate wheels. The bag rolls very easily and quietly. I cannot stand the "clackity clack " you hear from some bags as they are pulled through the airport. Very quiet and professional. The bag's wheels are mounted on the outside corners of the bag giving it better stability and strength if you overload it. I have destroyed many mid-mounted wheels with the heavy weight of external bags I have had mounted to my personal luggage. I did not use another bag on this one so I cannot state how well it will hold up but it appears to be well-engineered. The bag negotiates turns very easily and takes kerbs quite well.
Opening the bag reveals a lined compartment emblazoned with a subdued GATE8 logo. The compartment measures approximately 17" x 13". The aforementioned handle rails are hidden beneath the lining but can be easily felt through the thin fabric. The lining has a zipper in the middle I presume to allow for the replacement of the handle if it should break or need servicing.
I normally fly a 3-day trip and need a full-size piece of luggage to carry all of my personal effects. I used this bag on an overnight and was able to get quite a bit of clothing packed into it. I packed a pair of blue jeans, a t-shirt, a polo shirt, 2 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of socks, a pair of size 13 US tennis shoes and a pair of lightweight loafers. In addition, my toiletry kit, a pair of pyjama pants and a wind breaker. All fit quite handily with not too much rearrangement. I could have shoved a few more shirts and a swimsuit in there.
There is a small, clear zippered toiletry bag for liquids attached to the inside of the bag with Velcro for ease of access when going through security. A nice touch although I didn't use it. The lid of the bag is lined with a bit of foam to protect anything of value which might be inside the bag and for electronics which might be carried in the outer pocket of the bag. The lid is also attached to two side gussets or flaps which are attached by snaps.
If you should open your bag while it is upright, the lid will not flap open dumping your dirty laundry on the floor of the airport. Instead, it opens like an accordion file allowing you to grab the Velcro attached "liquids" bag to put on the scanner belt. Very nice. Nobody seeing my dirties. Undoing the snaps (2) allows you to open the bag fully for packing or inspection by the friendly TSA agents.
Moving to the top flap side of the bag there is something of a bit of surprise here. The is a separate bag attached to the side of the main bag by a healthy zipper with a bright yellow zipper. It is a separate, small laptop case which is padded on both sides.
Inside that bag is a large pocket for what I assume would be charging cables or perhaps a small size tablet. I was able to store my iPad2 inside a leather cover in there along with my Macbook Air in the main pocket at the same time . The actual outer bag itself held my Macbook Air with plenty of room. Lots. You could probably stick 3 Macbook Airs in there if you padded between them. The pocket could expand easily to about 3" without looking like it was bulging.
As a test, I grabbed an old HP laptop from the early '90's that had a 1.5-inch cardbus Wifi adapter sticking out of the side in the opening. Plenty of room. This thing is a monster. I don't carry it as it weighs a tonne. The laptop with the adapter measured 15.5" x 10" and slid in quite easily. I think you could fit just about any laptop in there that is manufactured nowadays along with some magazines or notebooks. The approximate dimensions are 16" x 13". The bottom edge of the pocket/bag is padded as well to protect your electronics from damage due to a hard impact. A pretty secure pocket for just about any laptop in my opinion.
The outside of the add-on bag has a zippered compartment that has an area for pens, pencils, calculators, business cards etc. Perhaps a chequebook or cell phone could slide in there as well. Above that area is a zippered pocket where I stored my cables vs. the previously mentioned inner pocket. The zip-off bag has its own separate lay flat nylon loop handle with the same faux leather comfort band in the middle.
Finally, if you want to be a true business traveller, you can slide this outer bag over the main bags handles so that you can lay it in your seat after boarding without having to unzip it from the main bag. That way you can quickly beat the other passengers to the overhead bins with the main bag.
What? they beat you to it?
No problem, this bag will fit under the seat in front of you IF you don't have it jammed full of stuff. It is small enough that while it will take up your foot space for take-off and landing, you can pull it toward you during flight and stick your feet over the bag in the now vacant space. One other nice feature is after you unzip the laptop bag, there is now an "outer" pocket exposed that holds a magazine or newspaper quite handily. Maybe even a boarding pass or sandwich.
By now you should have realised I really like this bag. Here are the few things summarised that I see as being "negatives", or better yet "nit-noys".
GATE8 luggage has their logo on the bag everywhere, to the point it is almost annoying. Not quite, but almost. The shoulder strap has a large logo on it. Every zipper pull, the lining, the outside of the bag etc is marked. There is no question as to who made the bag. That being said, if you will recall, it was the colour splash that attracted me in the first place. Perhaps it is just right. I don't know, the jury is still out on it.
I guess the one thing in their favour is you won't forget who made it so when somebody asks you "who made it?", you can see the logo and proudly state "GATE8". Again, some of you may love it.
One thing I didn't mention in my review is the "feet" that hold the bag level when you stop to light a cigarette or are waiting in line. While I had absolutely no problem with them on my trip, my concern is that due to their design they may get snapped off by a much larger and heavier bag if you are forced to check your bag. The feet are a web design to save on weight which is a sacrifice possibly in the strength department.
IF, the bag were dragged across the concrete or a gravel lot, I can see how the edge of the feet could possibly be worn down causing the bag to topple over. Again, I had no problems, but it is a concern of mine in the long term. I have only used the bag lightly as my job is not suited to use this bag on every trip. I have too much stuff. My wife, on the other hand, has identified that she loves the bag and she will be using it for her travels. Her use of the bag will put it to a true test.
Finally, in all honesty, this bag is made to be a roller. The bag empty weighs approximately 6.8 pounds. When you look at it, that is very light for "2" bags that have all the features this roll aboard does. However, if you think you are going to load it up and carry it on your shoulder, then you are a better man than I. This bag is ideal for the overnight business traveller who needs to move quickly through the airport. It is a well-designed, well-appointed bag that I wish came in a larger size. It would certainly give my Briggs a run for its money. Not really negatives per se, but things that made me go "hmmm".
My recommendation, buy this bag. Everyone I have communicated with at GATE8 has been extremely supportive, and friendly. They are knowledgeable and seem to have a passion for making the "perfect" bag. I even checked with our local airline luggage supplier to see if they might carry the bag for our crews. I know the flight attendants who fly the overnights would find this bag appealing. Two of the flight attendants on my trip actually asked me questions about it. I guess the small yellow splashes got their curiosity as well.
GATE8 says they have the best customer service in the business. I haven't had to use it yet for any kind of claim but know that they would be very responsive to my needs. In closing, a final reminder that the opinions expressed in this review are mine and mine alone. I'm glad I got to meet Alistair and try out this bag. I hope to provide a follow up after a few months of heavy use to see how it handles the rigours of being checked etc.
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
Pat Danis, Professional Pilot