A couple of weeks ago I headed to Denver to cover the Outdoor Retailers Summer Market and preview new gear. The trip’s just long enough to make packing one carry-on bag tough, so this time I took along Thule’s 3-in-1 Subterra system. It’s a checked-bag size piece that can also function as two carry-on friendly pieces.
The roller portion is about the size of a standard carry-on bag. The rock-solid telescoping handle’s framework is on the outside of the polycarbonate back panel, maximizing the volume inside, which is designed as one big opening. Since I use packing cubes, I prefer a big space rather than segmented compartments. Four straps let you cinch the zippered 800D nylon top tight, squeezing out any air.
The second part of the Subterra is a briefcase-style bag with a handle along one of its long sides. This bag is also mostly one large space, though there is a zippered pocket on top where you can stash a phone or sunglasses. Thule added a separate zippered compartment tucked into the bottom, which was large enough for a pair of size 14 boots (or dirty gear). This briefcase comes with a shoulder strap and the bag’s top has four clips that accept the straps on the roller portion.
The two bags become one pretty easily. Unzip the top of the roller, then zip-on the briefcase to create a clamshell bag that’s split into two halves. I packed both bags independently, putting clothing in the roller, and my tablet, headphones, boots, and toiletries in the briefcase bag.
The idea is when in transit you can put the briefcases on top of the roller, connect the two bags using four straps, wheel around the airport, then quickly break them apart when you board, stashing the roller in the overhead and the briefcase at your seat. The system works well but you do have to pay attention to weight distribution. If you don’t keep heavier items in the roller, once attached, the briefcase can pull the combined bags over. Still, the two bags are very tidy and minimalist. The wheels are smooth, and the nylon cover gives the bags a unique look. I can see using the roller solo for shorter trips.
My only gripe: the design of the briefcase. While Thule adds a shoulder strap to it, designers should really add a pair of foldaway backpack straps and a passthrough to accommodate the roller’s handle. That would make it easier to carry the pack and give you another option to move through the airport. The bag gets noticed in the airport because of its shape and looks rugged enough to take years of being tossed into the car trunk or overhead bins.