Gear Review | Patagonia Headway MLC 45

Sized for carry-on travel, the Patagonia MLC (Maximum Legal Carry-on) 45 might be the perfect piece of luggage. ($132, patagonia.com)

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I travel quite a fair amount for work and pleasure, and because of this, I have gone through more pieces of luggage than I care to think about. When I first started traveling, I got a bright orange, hard-sided luggage set, thinking that the plastic outer shell would last longer than a fabric one. I was wrong. Lucky for me, my wife got me this bag for my birthday. In the short time I have had it, it has traveled nearly everywhere with me. It has been on short jaunts up to Northern Michigan, flown out to the Californian desert, and even made the trek to Antarctica. 

Let's start off with looks. Depending on what type of a person you are, this might matter the most or not at all. Since I am vain and care about what the bag I carry through airports looks like, this is important. Patagonia does not make a bad color of this bag. Mine is Oaks Brown, with red straps and handles, as well as a red lining. This color combination has the advantage of not drawing attention while still managing to stand out amongst the sea of navy and black roller bags that constantly spill out of baggage claim areas. The bag is currently available in 3 other colors, Big Sur Blue, Black, and Gorge Green, which I've ranked in order from favorite to least favorite. The only thing identifying this bag as a Patagonia bag is a small (2" x 1") patch.

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Open the front zipper of the MLC 45 and you'll find a simple pocket, void of any organizational system other than a keychain. I find that I rarely (read: never) use my keys when I travel, so I can clip them here and they are easily accessible once I'm in the airport parking lot on my way home. This pocket is large enough to fit a few pairs of socks and underwear, or more than a few issues of Wired or Backpacker, which should help fend off boredom in any international airport.

The second set of zippers open up a much larger compartment that is home to an array of pockets that are meant to house anything from pens and small cell phones (my iPhone 6S Plus doesn't fit, but a regular 7 would), to notepads and books. Two of the pockets are made of a see-through mesh with an elastic opening, while the others are made out of the same material as the liner. None of these interior pockets have zippers or seal completely, but some of them do offer velcro as a means of staying shut. 

Moving back in the bag we arrive at the largest compartment, which can be identified by the largest of the zippers. Open that up and three compartments are revealed. The first is a large but flat compartment that I use primarily for any button up shirts (or anything else I don't want to get wrinkled) I bring on the trip. The second compartment is made up of two large pockets, both of which zipper shut. The first, which I tend to use for toiletries, is made out of the see-through mesh that was mentioned previously, while the other, which usually houses a small first aid kit and over the counter drugs, is made out of the red liner material.

The third and largest compartment of the bag is where most of my clothes end up. It can easily hold a few pairs of pants and a dozen t-shirts, though your mileage may vary. It also has a large zippered see-through mesh cover so if accidentally opened, your clothes won't fly everywhere. 

The back of the bag is home to two more large pockets, each of which are fairly flat. The one with the shorter zipper is home to the backpack straps when they are not in use. In addition to the two pockets is a zippered opening that allows you to attach the bag to a roller bag's handles for easy transporting in and out of the airport. 

Each zipper on the bag is fitted with a tie, which makes zipping and unzipping simple. The MLC 45 is also equipped with both a detachable over the shoulder strap, and (somewhat) detachable backpack straps, so you can choose how you carry it.

Warning: If you pack this bag full to the seams, it will cease to be carry-on sized, which is to say it will still fit in an overhead compartment, but you may get stopped and forced to check your bag at the gate (on my trip to Antarctica I had an 80% success rate).

Priced at $189 (as of writing this the Brown Oaks color is on sale for $132 on Patagonia's site), it is far from the cheapest piece of luggage, but as I have found from experience, when it comes to a lot of items, luggage included, you get what you pay for. And the Headway MLC 45 happens to come with Patagonia's infamous lifetime warranty. 

Bottom Line: If you're in need of a carry on that will keep everything organized, and don't find that wheels are a necessity, pick one of these up quick.