Photo: Tim Wenger

This Soft-Shell Roller Bag Is The Ideal Long-Haul Carry-On

Technology + Gear
by Tim Wenger Nov 21, 2023

The outdoor industry’s rumor mill constantly churns on unsubstantiated claims and speculation. Now and then, a tidbit hits my inbox that, whether or not I believe it straightaway, is too juicy to pass up. Such was the case last fall when I read that Travis Campbell, former president of emerging brands at VF Corporation, planned to buy the iconic outdoor brand Eagle Creek and save it from the shelves of obsolescence.

Fortunately for us all, this proved to be factoid rather than furphy. Eagle Creek received a second life in late 2022, and earlier this year, the opportunity came to test the company’s new luggage sets (and, much to my delight, this also meant a chance to update my beloved but aging set of Eagle Creek packing cubes).

I opted for the Expanse 4-wheel 21.5″ International Carry-on because while I tend to carry a decent amount of stuff with me, I avoid checking a bag at all costs unless it’s absolutely necessary. Since I acquired this soft-sided roller, it’s been all over the place with me. The Expanse comes with attachments for Eagle Creek’s packing cubes, and separate packing areas for the cubes, work stuff, and other necessities.

We hope you love the Eagle Creek Expanse 4-wheel 21.5″ International Carry-on! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to make a purchase.

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First impressions of the Eagle Creek Expanse 4-wheel 21.5″ International Carry-on

Photo: Tim Wenger
Photo: Tim Wenger

I first took the Eagle Creek Expanse 4-wheel 21.5” International Carry-on with me to a conference in Denver. I loaded it up with packing cubes and a garment bag stuffed with button-down shirts, a couple of pairs of nice pants, and other essentials for a four-day trip to the city.

When the brand says 35L, it means 35L – the roller is not rife with extra pockets that add storage space for miscellanea. To optimize this roller case I was forced to pack efficiently and eliminate the “maybes.” This forces quick decisions when packing, but it also makes you a better traveler. That’s because when you bring enough to fill a large carry-on and nothing more, you learn to identify what you need versus what you want, and you get better at packing only what’s optimized for your specific trip.

That is exactly what happened in this case. After loading up my toiletry bag, packing cubes, garment bag, two pairs of shoes, and a book, there wasn’t much room left.

That said, what the suitcase holds, it holds tightly. There’s no need to worry about being questioned at TSA or the gate about its size. The roller features two wheels and an expandable telescoping handle for easy towing. It’s lean enough for the overhead bin even on smaller regional jets, and in a pinch, could certainly fit underneath the seat in front of you (provided you collapse the handle and stash that side forward facing, so it looks more like a bag or briefcase under the seat and doesn’t call attention to itself).

Unpacking the Expanse 4-wheel 21.5″ International Carry-on

eagle creek expanse with garment bag

Photo: Tim Wenger

It was upon reaching my accommodations in Denver that I really came to love this roller case. The best thing about it is that it lays flat and opens like a clamshell. This allows for easy access to everything when reaching in from the top, and prevents any unnecessary unpacking just to get to something tucked down at the bottom. When placed on the baggage holder in a hotel room, you can easily get to everything. The zippers connect at a central point for easy locking and the inside of the Expanse features adjustable compression to reduce jingling and jangling during bumpy flights.

The suitcase has backpack straps in the back compartment, meaning it can work as a backpack if you adhere to the “though shalt not roll” policy. It was here that I also stored a book to read on my travels once the main compartment was sufficiently stuffed.

As a remote worker, I appreciate that the Expanse has a front compartment for work gear, including room for a laptop, charger, cables, a notebook, and other necessities. The one thing I don’t like about the bag is its lack of four wheels. This prevents it from rolling beside you like an eager travel pall, instead the bag lags behind in the old-school way.

How the Expanse 4-wheel 21.5″ International Carry-on compares to other 2-wheel roller cases

Photo: Tim Wenger
Photo: Tim Wenger

When compared to hardshell roller cases, the Eagle Creek Expanse 4-wheel 21.5” International Carry-on excels in that it is precisely not that – it’s soft-shelled, and therefore more malleable during packing, zipping, and when stuffing it into an overhead bin or the trunk of a car. It’s even thin enough to fit into cargo panniers on an e-bike. In that sense, the Expanse is comparable to hardshell options like that from Away or Paravel, only more agile and nimble.

When checking a bag is unavoidable, I use the July Checked Plus, the difference being that the larger option can fit clothes and stuff for my three-person family, while the Expanse is only suited for myself, or me and my young daughter if I pack very light.

A sustainable option from a responsible brand

eagle creek expanse sustainability tag

Photo: Tim Wenger

Eagle Creek’s eco-friendly mantra has repeatedly drawn me to the brand’s products. The Expanse is no different. It’s made from 100% recycled polyester and manufactured in a facility committed to eco-friendly practices whenever possible. The Expanse features durable construction and Eagle Creek’s No Matter What® Warranty ensure a long lifespan, reducing waste and making it an environmentally conscious choice for travelers.

The only issue I’ve had with the Expanse so far is that my wife consistently swipes it for her own work trips – I may need to look into a second.

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