Reviews: Solo and Thule Convertible Duffles and Briefcases
Coming out of CES 2019 some big boxes arrived at the office. Those boxes weren’t carrying technology. They were holding some nice new bags from Thule and Solo designed to carry my technology.
Of the bags that arrived, three of the four were convertible duffles and briefcases. A briefcase becomes a shoulder bag, a shoulder bag becomes a backpack. A pair of duffle bags shift to shoulder and backpack as well.
All of them bring some advantage along with their quirks. The key finding: none of these bags are great backpacks. But for those seeking versatility and options, though, they may worth a below average backpacks experience for short stints because of they pretty good bags in their other configurations.
What we like
Cute. This bag is cute. Although the Solo New York description of The All-Star Hyrbird says “backpack transforms into a duffle,” it is clearly a duffle first and anything else second. Like so many duffles it includes the shoe compartment, so count on a lot of lost interior space when packing shows. Bigger feet, bigger issue. The All-Star also sports a compartment for a laptop, making it adaptable enough for short stints of work, though not as a primary work bag because it is missing many features like pockets and mesh areas for holding all of the auxiliary tech associated with notebooks, tablets, phones (and pen and paper) required during the workday.
That said, those who choose to store their accessories in accessory pouches like the Twelve South BookBook CaddySack or on a Cocoon GRID-IT! organizers for easy movement between bags would find the Solo All-Start adequate. A little pocket on top makes it easy to slip in a money clip or a wallet or a phone for easy access. The location just atop the handle strap offers a modicum of hiddeness for security purposes. Cute, BTW, also implies small. At only 22.6L the All-Star is a little less than half the size of the Thule bag reviewed in this post. While it may cover weekend essentials for those who travel light, it’s really more a day bag.
What we don’t like
The handles may not be as weak as they look and feel, but if I’m bringing it up, then at least I perceive them to be weaker. While the stitching may hold, the lighter weight material makes for less comfortable carrying. Overall the bag doesn’t appear to be in a class that wants to be checked on a plane or overly beaten up. This is a bag you sit on the seat next to you at the coffee shop, not on the flow.
Is this a great bag? Well, kind of, for size and purpose—but it may become a favorite for those who find it the right fit for their lifestyle and stuff carrying needs. Those who work from home and just need a bag for a bit of content creation or review at Starbucks followed by some gym time (or visa versa) with line up with the bags target audience. The lack of a strap to attach the All-Star to a roller may discourage use for longer trips, though its size makes it ideal for storage under a plane seat for those who don’t mind carrying it by hand, shoulder or back. A better duffle and shoulder bag than a backpack, but the options give it a versatility that can add value for those moments that require all hands on deck or on anything else.
What we like
The Solo Hyrbrid is a thoughtfully designed and well-constructed briefcase. The fabric exterior and styling look modern. Magnetic clasps on the handle and strong zipper pulls deliver nice finishing touches. The pockets on the front hold plenty of accessories, pens, and other goodies. The interior easily holds most ultrabooks and an accompanying tablet, along with papers, folders or books. This bag converts from briefcases to shoulder bag or to a backpack. I like the options, but not all of the execution. My favorite feature is the double-layered front pocket with the verticle slit that is perfect for a wallet (though not advised in backpack mode) or a battery and cable for quick access to a charge.
What we don’t like
I’m not sure I’d want all the zippers on the back exposed when in backpack mode. Sure, most backpacks have zippered pockets, but these seem particularly prone to spillage given they are really aimed at horizontal use. This is a backpack because it has straps. This Hybrid won’t do well in the long run on comfort or breathability when compared to bags designed to be worn on backs for extended periods of time. Good, enough, however, for wearing when holding the hand of your girlfriend or wife on the way to lunch when an awkward bag in hand would be, well, awkward. A key improvement: mesh or other organizing feature/s on the outside of the large front pocket.
A really nice urban companion. Fits under a plane seat and sized to hold the essentials. Not ideal for longer trips because of low function backpack—and many will miss the strap for the roller (a welcomed feature in is more expensive leather Solo cousin the Shorewood Leather Briefcase).
What we like
This bag has it all. It’s a duffle that holds 40 liters of stuff. That is a good amount of room unless…like other convertible duffles with the shoe inserts, the shoes eat into the general storage. Bigger the shoes, the more space taken away from other things. Consider using the shoe compartment for tech, not shoes. This makes the tech more accessible and allows the owner to control how much interior space the stuff gets displaced.
The best feature: a hidden briefcase accessed via a zipper along the “top” edge. The briefcase is functional, however, and I have carried it for several hours while leaving the duffle on a luggage rack back the DoubleTree. The best option for carrying the Subterra briefcase is the shoulder strap, which unlatches from the main bag and attaches to the briefcase on a pair of fabric hooks.
As a duffle, the bag performs well. The semi-rigid sides help keep the stuff in the bag from overstuffing the bag, but also make it difficult to crunch it down into another bag, which I did recently when I ended up with too much luggage. It required some edge squishing, but it seems to have recovered well following the trauma. A zippered mesh barrier keeps things in order on the ‘clothing side of the bag.”
A security pocket lies hidden beneath the roller bag strap.
Overall a nice mid-sized duffle. Superior workmanship and materials.
What we don’t like
I was most disappointed with the Thule Subterra, not because it didn’t do its job, but because the backpack feature was not only uncomfortable it attempted strangulation as the heavy contents pulled down and the sternum strap pulled up against my neck.
The hidden briefcase is nice, but it’s rigid design forces it flat without a lot of given for accessories. The handle also isn’t s great carrying experiences, as it is flat against the back and doesn’t offer padding of any kind. It does, however, fit over some roller bags. The briefcases shoulder credibility would be improved by matching the Subterra’s plastic loops for the backpack straps.
I am not a big fan of the hidden zippered pocket behind the roller bag strap. When filled to capacity, the gap between the bag and the strap shrinks. As the Subterra struggles down the roller bag handle, it creates friction against the zipper pull, making slipping it on-and-off a roller bag more arduous than necessary.
The bottom line
A great looking bag that converts in five different ways: duffle, shoulder, and backpack, along with a removable briefcase compatible with the included shoulder strap. Extremely well-made with very good materials. The backpack feature deserves a re-think but it does serve for short periods of time when necessary.
The Issue with Convertible Duffles and Briefcases
None of the backpack configurations offer good balance when the bags are fully loaded, but the other configurations prove serviceable. And that’s the issue. All of these bags try to be good in all configurations but, they ultimately fall short as backpacks. Improved organization options would also be appreciated all around. Good backpacks are good backpacks because they seek a balance in weight, offer backpack features like places to hang things, water pockets (or water repositories) and often, security features given people carry much of their hard-earned stuff on their backs.
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