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I used to be proud of the fact that I didn't own a suitcase. In my younger, sillier years this seemed to help burnish my credentials as a dirtbag climber: even if I can't climb particularly hard, I could always look the part, toting my stuff about Europe in various old rucksacks of differing size. But everyone grows up and gets a job, and I seem to spend increasing amounts of my time in various European airports. It was at Brussels watching all those happy, shiny Eurocrats and business-types glide past me with their little wheeled suitcases, whilst I lugged my stuff in a decade-old, grubby Lowe Alpine pack that I decided it was about time I got something more sensible for the many times I travel to places where you don't need an ice axe.
Berghaus Optimus 40
I tried a cheap wheeled suitcase: excellent at airports and the like but as soon as you actually had to walk any distance, along bumpy city streets, it was hopeless – those silly little roller-blade wheels bumping and banging the bag all over the place – then I just wanted my old rucksack. So it was with great excitement I finally found a wheeled suitcase with hide-away rucksack straps. Three cheers for Berghaus for making an obvious idea available to the masses. But how does it work? Overall, quite well. Starting with packing, the 40 ltrs capacity allowed me to fit with no problems: a suit (this needs careful folding to fit), three shirts, a pair of trousers, a couple of t-shirts, undies for a week, two pairs of shoes, a toilet bag, rain jacket and various other odds and ends for a five day trip. There are various pop-out dividers that will keep shoes away from your clothes. There is a mesh pocket on the lid that will keep carefully folded shirts that way, and internal straps that will keep a folded suit flat. A large pocket on the outside of the lid will take a light shell jacket, and other smaller pockets can serve as a place to stuff all those receipts and used train tickets you need to claim your expenses back.
As a roller-suitcase it works fine. The handle length is just right for me (5'10”), anyone taller should check. The wheels seem good quality and soon you will be gliding as smoothly through Brussels airport as anyone. Now you can eye-up that pretty/handsome (delete as appropriate) and smartly-dressed Swedish or Portuguese Eurocrat without worrying that she or he will mistake you for an uncouth Aussie backpacker. Yet when you want to do the Aussie-backpacker-thing and hike all over town, it's no problem. Stow the handle away, pull out the rucksack straps, clip them on with the burly metal clips, hoist it up onto your back and off you go. There is pull down flap that will keep the dirty wheels away from your back. The back system is basic to say the least, and there is no waist belt, so this is not a true trekking sack, but I walked for about three hours around London carrying 10 kgs in it with no problems at all. One of the straps can be stowed away whilst the other cleverly converts into a shoulder strap, giving a third possible carrying method.
The bag claims to be maximum legal carry-on size, but is probably too big for the cabin with budget carriers and economy short-haul on all but the most quiet and relaxed days. I've used it only for a few trips so far and its holding up fine. Some stitching has become visible on one seam but hasn't actually broken yet. I've had this happen on rucksacks – its one of those annoying things that doesn't seem to be worth returning the bag over, but you wish manufacturers would put a bit more effort into this aspect of quality control and tightening the stitching.
So overall? A great suitcase for the business traveller who still has the soul of a dirtbag climber and sometimes just wants to pick up their bag and hike.
Manufacturer's website: berghaus.co.uk
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Toby Archer: