Technology Carries Luggage a Long Way

Luggage is stronger, lighter and more stylish than ever, and here are three brands that prove it.
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Papa's got a brand new bag. A whole bunch of them, actually.

Space-age polymers, ergonomic design and clever innovations are seeping into the world of luggage, with companies offering a wide variety of items that are not only practical, but durable and stylish, too. Bags are no longer in basic black --

Atlantic Luggage's

new Citrus line comes in blueberry, plum, lime and grapefruit -- and they're more than just empty boxes with a latch -- as

Tumi's

new T-3 product line proves.

Simply put, baggage has come a long way from the days of steamer trunks and 1970's

Samsonite

-- here's a look at three suitcases that are literally worth picking up.

The Next Wave

What the bulbous iMac did for the boxy world of personal computers, Tumi's new T-3 line of luggage could do for the suitcase.

The T-3 is a break from the mold, evoking current design trends in the automobile industry, like the circular spoiler and grille seen in

Audi's

TT coupe. While the 14-piece product line is only available in Tumi stores and won't hit the mass market until the fall, its swooping curves and ergonomic styling have already garnered the upscale bagmaker a lot of attention. This year, the T-3 won

i.D. Magazine's

"design distinction" award and was named one of

Fortune's

25 best new products.

"With the T-3, there's no hard lines and there's no sharp edges," said a company spokesperson. "We like to think of ourselves as a company that thinks outside of the box. Maybe luggage doesn't have to be a rectangle. That's where we take the most pride -- coming up with new forms."

Form is one thing, but the T-3 is remarkably functional as well. Unlike the traditional tube system used in other bags, the T-3's handle features a more comfortable rounded grip that is slightly off-center and swivels, so it can be pulled by left- or right-handed users. It's also longer, making the T-3 line ideal for taller users who often clip themselves on their bags or give their shoes "flat tires" when running to catch a plane. With a convenient pocket to hold passports, retractable handles and a removable garment bag, Tumi left no design stone unturned.

These high-quality features come at a premium -- the wheeled garment bag is $595, while the 24-inch wheeled packing case is $450 -- but as with other Tumi bags, you get what you pay for. All come with the company's exclusive tracing system, which can help recover bags that are lost or stolen, along with a guarantee against defects in materials or workmanship.

The Pilot's Pick

The rolling vertical suitcase is a veritable travel staple today, but 15 years ago, tourists were using leashes to jerk their lumpy luggage around the airport. While shifting a suitcase 90 degrees and adding sturdy wheels seems like an obvious idea now, no one had ever done it until

Northwest Airlines'

pilot Robert Plath made the first Rollaboard suitcase in 1989, which quickly became

the

luggage of choice for airline pilots and flight attendants.

What was true back then is still true today --

Travelpro's

Rollaboard suitcase is the industry leader, racking up endorsements from

Good Housekeeping

,

Consumer Reports

, and as the company notes, 425,000 aviation professionals worldwide. This spring, Travelpro rolled out the Rollabout Crew5, which is just 10 pounds and 22 inches long, but spacious and tough enough to withstand a beat-down at the baggage claim.

"Durability is a huge factor for us," said Marcy Schackne, spokesperson for the company. "We use high-end component parts, we have high manufacturing standards and because of our founder's connection to the industry, we're the luggage of choice for 100 airline carriers worldwide. We meet the rigors of daily travel."

The bag's one-of-a-kind lightweight plastic frame can take a 300-pound blow without yielding. Its tightly woven microballistic nylon covering cannot be torn, the wheels have passed grueling durability tests from an independent lab and every inch of the case is lined with Teflon-coated waterproof fabric.

The Crew5 bags come in a variety of sizes ranging from 29 to 17 inches, but the standard 22-inch model will run you $200 and is available at both specialty and retail outlets, including Macy's and Bloomingdale's. It comes in classic black, of course, but opt for navy or green so you don't end up with some pilot's bag.

The Suit Roll-Up

As an engineer with

Intel

during the Internet's heyday, Don Chernoff did his share of traveling and would often amuse himself in business class watching fellow travelers board the plane with gawky garment bags, struggling to navigate narrow aisles, bashing crisply starched suits into soggy piles of wrinkles. Then the proverbial light bulb went off and the

Skyroll

was born.

"There's a better way to do this," said Chernoff. "So I redesigned the garment bag so it wraps around a suitcase instead of folding in half. It creates a more efficient bag. You can fit more stuff in a smaller area and by rolling it up, you get fewer wrinkles -- a trick that people have been using with business shirts, but couldn't do with a suit, up until now."

Indeed, the

Skyroll is unlike any other garment bag on the market, storing items like shoes, socks and underwear in an inner suitcase, which is wrapped with a garment bag that can hold two suits comfortably, with room for a third, depending on the material. An easy-access pocket keeps airline tickets, keys and loose change handy while the 1200-denier black ballistic poly exterior keeps clothing safe from damage. At 25.5 inches tall, the Skyroll is small and lightweight, ideal for shorter sales jaunts but not weeklong convention getaways.

The Skyroll is only available in black and comes in two styles, the original over-the-shoulder version, which costs $99 and is sold at Men's Wearhouse and Brookstone; and a new wheeled version, which is 25% larger, costs $149 and can be

bought online.

Sure, boxy bags will continue to clog claim areas for the time being, but with garment bags that roll up, handles that switch-hit and unbreakable luggage on the horizon this new generation of luggage almost makes packing fun.