Patagonia’s Maximum Legal Carry-On (MLC):
This is my hands-down favorite travel pack. I shamelessly stole it from my kid because I think it functions best as mom’s pack. It’s great for kids, too, especially because of the size and organization features that make it easier for kids to control their own mess and take care of dirty and clean clothes on the road (it’s hard for all of us to stay neat, but at least I have the motivation to try. She doesn’t).
So we ended up with the MLC when I came to the realization that I needed a different carry-on than I did when I was staying at a hostel and needed locking zippers. I needed a different carry-on than when I was carrying infant formula around everywhere I went. And I definitely needed a different carry-on than I’d need if I were speaking and needed nice, wrinkle-free clothes that weren’t going to be checked and possibly lost. Patagonia serves up the most versatile pack for lots of kinds of families and trips and I felt could grow with us from here on out.
It could be my one-and-only bag, or my “junk drawer” of extra kid stuff to carry on
Airlines allow a carry-on and one personal (diaper/purse/laptop/briefcase/camera bag). Therefore you will want each kiddo carrying a small pack/purse with iPads, toys, books, camera, empty water bottle, and general goodies. For when we check luggage, this “carry-on” can serve as a fine “Oh crap they lost everything” stow-away backup. There’s even a slip up the back to carry it atop bigger luggage.
If you need EVERYTHING with you at all times (ahem, like me), you can’t go wrong with Patagonia.
That means that for families that are not checking luggage, this is the everything bag. It’s mine, and I took it deliberately, giving Alice our Timbuk2 Wingman. Why?
- Patagonia has more organizational features than most other bags including her Timbuk2 Wingman, which has lots less mesh and special places to stow stuff.
- Therefore it’s a better parent bag, since chances are, parents are carrying bigger stuff as well as the “family” gear, cameras, laptops, toiletries, etc. The outer organizational pocket is better for notebooks, small toys, and family gear than deep pockets that mom can’t find anything inside.
- It’s as hardy as a soft-sided bag will ever be.
- Timbuk2 is hipper. It’s vinyl-y-er. It’s got big pockets and compartments with little sub-organization. That’s better for kids, as I’m the one keeping track of all the little extras like camera batteries, tickets, cords, snacks, and tampons (although I’m hip, too. Swear.)
In case you’re considering similar bags, here is the picture of Al’s Wingman:
The MLC For Family Travel
Pros for Family Travel for All Families: Its sleekness can be an advantage for families: you can wear it like a backpack while carrying babies, and even wear it through the streets of foreign cities, on trains, etc., like you would your trusty old college travel pack. It can also be used as a messenger bag. It opens like a suitcase, and no giant compartments. This means no digging in the abyss and messing everything up to find what you need (bottle! binky! wipes!). There’s mesh and a rim making the suitcase pouch feel just more put-together than other packs. There’s a flat outer pocket as well as a medium-sized “organizational” pocket with pen holders and mesh pockets for stuff you’ll need to access in-flight. So when it’s stowed in the plane, you can easily slink inside to grab things from the top compartment without being that person who’s wrestling with a suitcase in the middle of the aisle.
45L is VERY big. As big as it can be. And while some argue you might be forced to check it, I never have. Before kids, you could go around the world on less than this little puppy holds. Make sure you can hoist it into the compartment above, or they might make you check it.
As mom’s bag, we are taking it to Europe in transitional weather with shorts and a down jacket. And everything in between. And it’s not packed tight.
Everyone is going to need their own accessible travel goody bag in addition to this extra bonus luggage you get to stow. The laptop compartment fits a big Macbook for in-flight movies that don’t need to be at your feet or on your lap at all times, but shouldn’t be checked. But then what happens when you get to Berlin and want to jaunt down the street to the internet cafe? Consider a briefcase or a small backpack within the backpack.
Patagonia has amazing service as well as construction, and your chances of winding up with a destroyed bag are slim even if it does need to be checked. Your chances of getting help in case of bag-disaster in a foreign land are also good. I like that insurance. I also like that I scoured the internet and found no one that had ever had to check it.
Cons for Family Travel: Depending on how much stuff you’re schlepping, you may want wheels and the MLC does not oblige (other Patagonia bags do, however). This is a pro for Eurail/backpackers/hikers/city vacations because wheels on cobblestone suck.
Second, I like everything right in at my feet with me, and this is definitely an overhead-compartment sort of carry-on. Patagonia says it meets *most* carriers’ carry-on guidelines. The threat of being called out and having my stuff taken away scares the bejesus out of the rule-follower in me! (However, I think this warning has to do with weight limits rather than dimensions — you can shove a lot more than you’re supposed to in there and airlines like Cathay in Asia only allow 15 pounds. To be honest: with a computer, that’s pretty hard to do here. Besides, it doesn’t wight more than our other carry-on soft pack, so unless you’re considering nylon backpacks, your weight here will be comparable).
For families with littles, the flat outer pocket seems more suited to passports and paperbacks than bottles and bulky toys. Finally, tablets, kindles, and iPads will have to double up with your laptop, as there’s just one padded compartment. However, obviously, if there’s padding on the outside of that compartment, the whole inside is covered.
How to Pack It
All in all, Patagonia delivers because they’ve engineered the Swiss Army Knife of carry-ons: it transforms you from a parent to a backpacker to a corporate hipster and still keeps everyone’s emergency outfits on board just in case. This is by far my favorite carry-on. And when you get where you’re going, it can be your trusty overnight backpack as well.
Packing it is easy with Packing Cubes. We have the eBags set, and you can get em with that link from our affiliates and be good to go, with everything rolled neatly in sections. Kids still grab handfuls of everything and make giant messes, but at least they can only ruin a third of your packing at a time.
If you have the means, get a few mediums and smalls. I have the main luggage compartment stuffed with:
Large cube: two jeans and a nice pant, a dress, three skirts, and short/medium/long leggings. Two pairs of shorts, though this should be the first thing to abandon on a fall Europe trip.
Medium cube: shirts! several tanks/camis, three t-shirts, 1 long-sleeved casual running-type shirt, a wrap sweater, and a “light” down winter coat which is all I wear in Oregon.
small cube: The underwear and sock drawer, including some shorts to sleep in, and the world’s largest wool socks (for sleeping, because it’s cold out there).
The large cube takes up a good part of the luggage basin on this pack, and everything else must stack around it, but can really double in height before you can’t close it up. Add a toiletry bag, a travel towel, things like the curling iron, plug adapters and converters, and hair dryer. (Pictures with decent hair are important).
There is room for two pair of shoes in the top shoe compartment, but I am wearing my sole pair and leaving space to pick up something wintry abroad. Otherwise wear your wintry on the plane to conserve space (and make it under the weight limit!).
On a long-term trip, I let Alice take her of her stuff in her own pack, but if this were her pack, she would add an iPad and a new Warrior Cat paperback, travel journal, pencils, pens to use on Eurail tickets, and a glue stick to put tickets and stuff in the travel journal as we go. So think of the organizational front pocket for kids that have lots of little things and are capable of keeping track of them.
This three-cube (and a bathroom bag) packing system works for kids, too, except they get to bring much, much more in the same space. I find they also have a GREATER need for the packing cubes to stay organized and not wrinkly, but LESS need for all those little spaces in the front pockets. Besides, I feel someone could steal from them much more easily and front organizer stuff is better left with me (especially if it’s important — passports or an iPad).