With the trend these days being toward four-wheeled luggage (Eagle Creek calls it “AWD” for “all-wheel drive,” tapping into that adventure je ne sais quoi), we decided to give one of the company’s four-wheel “spinner” bags, the Gear Warrior AWD, a whirl on several trips, both on domestic trips by car and train, and on international travel by plane, train and bus.
Despite the many pieces of travel luggage we have tested, we remain addicted to the two-wheeled Load Warrior suitcases by Eagle Creek, which we reviewed way back in 2013. We normally schlepp luggage (and ourselves) on foot over hill and dale, up and down cobblestone streets, gravel roads, back trails, through metro and train stations, and up and down stairs too. And our suitcases, including four-wheel ones, have to be up to the task.
Gear Warrior AWD key features
All in all, the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior AWD 26 that we opted for (as in, 26 inches, so a bag that is too large to be a carryon) survived the abuse we dished out. This version, out in early 2016, is geared toward adventure travel. It has oversized super durable wheels (nothing wimpy about these guys), as well as seamless construction for sleekness and robust wear, plus reinforcements in high-stress and max impact areas. You do want your luggage to survive the baggage handlers, right? Plus, it has beefy handles just about everywhere you may need them – top, one side and bottom front – one exterior compression strap, two front outside pockets (one shallower for a quick sweater or newspaper or map stash), one large mesh pocket on the inside of the flap, and lockable zippers (bring your own lock). Plus, they are water repellent – a gift when the skies open up just as you need to make your way to the train or bus.
We like the interior compression straps for compressing your gear. And we do love the expandability – always a great option to gain that smidgen of extra room to stuff a big coat or a few souvenirs in the bag for the way home. And the so-called “Equipment Keeper” strap stores inside a pocket next to the handle, i.e. under the zip flap covering the handle. (This short, stretch Eagle Creek-trademarked strap pulls out of its cubby so you can lash a bulkier item underneath it—think big coat or other gear you aren’t stowing in the bag. But since it is under the handle cover, you can of course only use it when you extend the handle.) Honestly, we think this strap comes in really handy for quick exterior carrying. (P.S. the “hook” at the end of the strap also serves as a bottle opener…. Yeah, really.)
The outer fabric however does attract dirt and grime like a magnet (we did get the tan suitcase, but anything but black will likely look like this). One flight later, and there were big black smears and smudges all over it. Now, it’s a suitcase, right? I.e. utilitarian, but if you like your stuff clean, you may want to consider a suitcase cover or the black version. Of course, this nit would apply to just about every lighter-colored suitcase and not just the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior.
One thing we did not like so much: There is no small interior pocket for those little things, like jewelry, receipts, business cards, or even Band-Aids, as was in our old Load Warrior luggage. I personally really found I missed this small zip mesh interior pocket for that little stuff. And there is no small side exterior stash pocket as on the old Load Warrior (great for a small water bottle, a snack, or tickets when on the go).
Now about two wheels vs. four wheels: The good thing about a four-wheel bag like this Eagle Creek Gear Warrior AWD, is you can either tilt it over to schlepp behind on just two wheels, or you can roll it along beside you on all four wheels. When schlepping on two wheels, the wheels took the cobblestones, bumped over stairs and curbs well. Never creaked or flinched. So kudos there.
The bad thing about four “spinner” wheels (i.e. they rotate freely in all directions) would be true of all four-wheeled suitcases we suspect: They really do have a mind of their own sometimes. I was sitting on a train with the suitcase pulled up beside my seat where there was extra room. I was quietly reading when suddenly the woman one aisle up and over, turned to me and said, “Excuse me, is this yours?” Seems my suitcase had decided to take a little wander down the aisle to visit her. Same thing on buses or anyplace the ground isn’t perfectly flat. No locks on wheels so you must always be on the alert.
This four-wheeled bag rolls along beside you with a little push from your little finger anytime you are on smooth, level surfaces – think airports or four-star hotel lobbies. Utterly no effort. Nice. But wait til you are on a surface that isn’t perfectly smooth – and we mean even a sidewalk with grooves between the cement slabs. The wheels catch freely, forcing you to grab and push forcefully or just schlepp on two wheels. Our gut reaction is, four wheels are more for those who do a little less adventure, take taxis and don’t walk, let valets tote bags, and just do a little more four- and five-star travel.
Compare this Eagle Creek Gear Warrior AWD 26 with the current two-wheeled Load Warrior 26 (two very similar bags other than the wheels, single vs. double-pole handles, and type of grab handle) and you’ll find you are basically paying $40 more for four wheels. Plus, the AWD bag at 7 pounds (3.19 kg) weighs 1 pound 10 ounces more than the 5 pound 6 ounce (2.46 kg) Load Warrior (for the current version – our older one was is only 7 ounces lighter). Yes, both are pretty lightweight in the grand scheme of things, but 26 ounces is a lot of weight for nearly the same capacity and features. So you have to really want the situational ease of four wheels. (FYI, the Load Warrior also has more of an “outdoor aesthetic” with looks that are a duffle-suitcase hybrid.)
The bag does have Eagle Creek’s amazing “No Matter What” warranty that is lifetime coverage for repair or replacement due to damage “regardless of the cause” (excluding contents). That is pretty cool.
The Eagle Creek Gear Warrior AWD series comes in three additional sizes: carryon ($269), international carryon ($259), and 29 inch ($329).