By Jason Heaton
on 4.1.13
Photo by Gishani

I have terrible luck checking luggage. The list of destinations where I’ve arrived with only the clothes on my back spans the globe: Iceland, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Germany. I finally came to my senses and sought out a suitable carry-on bag that would release me from my lost luggage curse without requiring Spartan travel methods like sawing off my toothbrush handle or living in one pair of socks. Unfortunately, most carry-on bags are unwieldy, anonymous “roll-aboards” or lumpy backpacks that are better suited for campus or the trail than an airport. The TUMI Tegra-Lite ($595) bucks those trends and has quickly become my second favorite travel companion, behind my wife.

The Tegra-Lite comes in two sizes: Continental Carry-on and International Carry-on. If most of your travel is stateside, the Continental fits well, adhering to all domestic airlines’ carry-on restrictions. But if you find yourself heading across the pond frequently, the slightly smaller International Carry-on is the one to get. This is the one I’ve been piloting around airports lately. While the Continental’s extra few inches would certainly not be unwelcome, I’ve been able to pack up to five days worth of business and casual clothes in the International without too much austerity (it helps to know how to fold a suit). Both sizes are the same price, despite the slight size difference. And while $595 is a lot of money to spend on a carry-on suitcase, you won’t complain when you stylishly and silently breeze past baggage claim time after time.

TUMI is known for its bombproof construction, and the Tegra-Lite is no exception. In fact, the company claims that the Tegris thermoplastic material that makes up the case’s shell is the same used by NASCAR drivers and NFL players for protection. While we didn’t put it to that level of testing, it is incredibly resilient and resistant to the scratches and scuffs that are inherent with the jetway scrum. And it looks great, too — think high-tech Euro sleek reminiscent of carbon fiber and available in a few eye-popping colors, though I opted for the techie favorite, slate.

Quality extends beyond the shell. The telescoping double-bar handle, typically the bellwether of a poorly made bag, operates with reassuring clicks and doesn’t get loose after a few trips; it’s also comfortable and tall enough to pull all day long. Zippers work without jams or drama, even with a stuffed pack. The pulls can be latched into a TSA-approved combination lock that is easy to set and operate, should you choose to leave your bag unattended (not in the airport, please!). Four wheels mean the Tegra-Lite can be pulled, pushed or dragged depending on terrain, pace or preference. In any case, they’re incredibly smooth, making for stealthy gate approaches and childish ghost rides down tiled concourses.

Of course, a sturdy bag is all well and good, but it’s what’s inside that really counts. The Tegra-Lite opens flat, clamshell style. One side is an open tub, shallowly divided by the handle hump down the middle. This is where I put running shoes, my dopp kit, a jacket and small stuff like a belt, charging cables, socks and underwear. This pile is tamed by a nylon webbing strap and clasp. The opposite side is a large zippered area that’s well-suited for folded clothes, which are held firm and protected from any scuffs or dirt. A smaller, zipped pocket is ideal for little things like a cap and gloves or a couple of T-shirts. Don’t worry if you overfill the sides. The Tegra-Lite can be compressed to zip shut without a lot of cursing.

Throughout trips to Germany, Palm Beach and Switzerland (twice!), The Tegra-Lite proved its carry-on chops. It was good for all sorts of luggage, proving again and again that its portability, toughness and usable design were the real deal. For trips over four or five days, it might be time to risk baggage claim roulette. But for long weekends and business trips, I’ve found my go-to bag.

How We Tested: Over the past several months, the Tegra-Lite served carry-on duty on trips to Germany, Palm Beach and two trips to Switzerland, with clothes packed to cover Alpine hikes, beach lounging and formal cocktail events.
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