If you are a hunter or fisherman, and do much traveling, you know how difficult it can be to select the right travel equipment. I remember my first hunting trip that involved airline travel. It was for two weeks to a distant destination, and I had lots of gear. I had a large, heavy-duty duffel bag stuffed with everything from clothing to binoculars, my FAA approved double rifle case (built stout enough to withstand a direct nuclear hit), another smaller, hard case for camera equipment and finally a carry-on sized backpack.
When I arrived at the airport, luggage in tow, I was confronted with a three-wrap line at the check-in counter. I was thankful I had allowed plenty of time. I got in line and slowly inched forward, at a pace that would have even bored a snail. However, as I quickly discovered, time was not my main nemesis. I only had two hands for three pieces of luggage. This meant, that I had to move two pieces forward when the line moved, set them down and return for my rifle case. Not only was this a slow and cumbersome ordeal, I have to admit that even in the pre-9/11 days, carrying a rifle case through an airport line drew a fair amount of attention.
I have been on several distant hunting locations since that first experience, and all have been fraught with their own airline difficulties. Consequently this past spring, while planning for a black bear hunt in Alaska, I decided to try a different form of luggage. I read about the Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Freighter Duffel Bag, and it looked to be the perfect solution for my needs. A quick trip to the Cabela’s retail store and an even quicker swipe of plastic, and I was wheeling one out to my truck. That’s right, I said wheeling, unlike my old, time-worn duffel bag, this baby not only had a quality set of wheels, but an extendable handle to make pulling easier.
I have to admit I like bells and whistles, and when I got my purchase home and began playing with it, I found enough zippers, retaining straps, hidden compartments and mesh cubbyholes to make David Copperfield smile. To the uninitiated, all the features of this bag may not be appreciated, but as those who have traveled with large, single-compartment duffel bags can attest, finding things after they are packed, often becomes a problem. For example, it really doesn’t matter what you are looking for, socks, shirts or that extra box of ammo - the odds are it will be at the very bottom of the bag and you have to rifle through everything to find it. In the process, all of the other gear is left in a jumbled heap. This is where a multi-compartment bag shines - items can be found quickly and easily without disrupting the rest of the load.
Opening the 2-piece, main zipper (when the two zippers come together, they form a secure locking ring for a padlock), I discovered one of the most practical, carefully designed storage areas I have ever seen. The top portion of the bag has two separate, zippered, internal compartments, which can hold anything from folded shirts and pants, to long underwear and socks. In addition to the two zippered compartments, there are two zippered pouches on top of each compartment. I found these pouches worked extremely well for socks and underwear, and could even be used to separate dirty clothes as the trip progressed.
The bottom of the main compartment is separated from the top half by a zippered mesh divider. This allows easy viewing of the contents, but keeps them from falling out when the bag is opened. Inside of this main compartment, there are 1" wide, adjustable retention straps, designed to keep loads separate and free from shifting if the bag is tossed around (I say "if" because the possibility of your bags being mishandled by baggage handlers, as we all know, is slim to none). Inside this main compartment, I found a smaller, zippered, mesh compartment along the back wall that turned out to be a great place to store small items such as toiletries, papers, and car keys.
Along the front exterior edge of the bag, there is a small zippered opening that allows access to another compartment located inside the main lower compartment. This smaller, easily accessible holding area, is great for keeping items that you need to get to quickly or want to keep separate, like muddy boots, without having to open the main bag.
Since the lower compartment of the bag measures 38" x 18" x 8", a takedown gun case can also be stowed here, and secured with the built in straps. This idea really appeals to me for times when I am using a takedown gun, such as on a bird-hunting trip, as I don’t have to check a separate gun case. By putting your FAA approved gun case inside the Alaskan Guide Freighter Duffel Bag, it avoids the sometimes awkward situation of carrying a firearm case through an airport, not to mention the theft deterrent by keeping valuables from prying eyes. The case and firearm will still have to be inspected, per the airline requirements, but it can be discreetly stowed back inside the case after the inspection and approval is complete.
While all the internal functionality impressed me, a simple flap of Cordura really sold me on the entire package. At the wheeled end of the bag, there is a zipper, and when opened, a Cordura flap, about the length of the entire bag, rolls out. Along the length of the flap there are 1" adjustable, buckled, straps that clip into corresponding buckles on the bag. Designed for the traveling sportsman, this flap is for securing a full-sized rifle case on top of the bag, for easy transportation (obviously, the case must be checked separately, but for wheeling through the airport this function works great).
I stowed all of my gear for my week-long hunt, secured my rifle case on top and was on my way to Alaska. Rolling the bag through Denver International Airport was a breeze, and a great improvement over all of the other systems I have used in the past. In addition to the extendable handle for easy wheeling, there are numerous grab straps around the bag, which make putting it into a boat, plane, or car a hassle-free experience. Over the course of the trip, the bag went from Denver to Seattle, then from Seattle to Ketchikan. From there I traveled by boat to Prince of Wales Island. Once in camp, I used it as a portable dresser for a week in a wall tent, then returned home by the same route.
Back home, I inspected the bag and found it to be no worse for wear. Not only was it designed with the traveling sportsman in mind, it was also built to take a beating. The hard plastic runners, on the bottom, were scuffed up a bit as were the plastic corner protectors, but that’s what they were placed there for - to protect the main bag and the contents. The only complaint I found with the bag, is that if one is not careful, it may just have too much room. Most airlines have a maximum baggage weight limit before extra charges are invoked. The Alaskan Guide Freighter Bag can easily break this limit if heavy items are stored. Check with the individual airline for exact weight restrictions.
After a week of hard use and several different flights, I could find nothing wrong with the bag. It had performed flawlessly both in function and design, and held enough gear to accommodate any outdoor trip. In short, I believe from now on I will leave my old duffel bag in the back of the closet, and use it for transporting clothes to the washing machine. The Alaskan Guide Freighter Duffel is my exclusive choice for all of my future travel needs.
to purchase the Alaskan Guide Model Freighter Duffel.