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Hands-on Gear Review

Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On Review

The Tarmac AWD Carry-On
Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $339 List | $271.20 at Amazon
Compare prices at 5 resellers
Pros:  Loaded with features, easy to travel with, large storage capacity.
Cons:  "Technical" styling not for everyone.
Bottom line:  A non-conventional carry-on for the outdoor enthusiast.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Eagle Creek

Our Verdict

We love the consistent excellence of the Tarmac AWD. It scored at or near the top of the field in each performance metric, except style, and earned our appreciation and Editors' Choice Award. This bag rolls easily on a variety of surfaces, can handle a week's worth of clothes and expand to fit more, and is loaded with handy features. This bag is built to last, with quality construction and durable materials. There is no internal suiter or really any way to keep your fancy clothes wrinkle free, so we'd opt for the Briggs and Riley Baseline over this model for business travelers. And it does have a more relaxed look to it — it's somewhere between a rolling duffel and a traditional carry-on. But if you like to show your outdoorsy side in your luggage and want something that has a place for everything, the Tarmac is the way to go. For a more affordable option, the Swiss Gear Meyrin 20, our Best Buy winner, is also a great choice.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Carry-On Luggage of 2017


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Cam McKenzie Ring
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Wednesday
May 17, 2017

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The Tarmac AWD is a unique hybrid hard-sided/soft-sided bag. It has a polycarbonate shell on the back to protect the handle and add durability and structure to the bag, while the front coated polyester gives you more options for storage and packing. This bag weighs 8 lbs 2 oz and is 22 x 13 x 9 inches. Current color options are Asphalt Black, Highland Green and Slate Blue.

No problems getting our Editors' Choice winner into the sizer.
No problems getting our Editors' Choice winner into the sizer.

Performance Comparison


The chart below clearly shows how we favored the Tarmac AWD over the rest!


Ease of Transport


This ranked at the top of the luggage pile for Ease of Transport. This was often a difficult metric to score, because what made one bag more maneuverable on polished surfaces (namely four spinner wheels), often made it more difficult to handle on rough terrain. Conversely, a bag with large wheels like the Osprey Ozone Wheeled 22 worked great in a gravel parking lot, but had a large turning radius and was more challenging to navigate down tight airplane aisles. The Tarmac straddled the middle of these two lines, and offered great maneuverability in most conditions. The four-spinner wheels are highly maneuverable through tight airports and plane aisles, and never locked up on us. When switching to rough surfaces and dragging it behind us, it pulled well and was not prone to tipping over like the Ozone. This bag is also available in a two-wheeled version if you still prefer that style, and from previous testing we can assure you that it is still easy to travel with. If you want to know more about the differences between two and four-wheeled bags and the pros and cons of each, head over to our Buying Advice article where we break that down for you.


The extra features on this bag also make this model a breeze to travel with. The "Coat-Keeper" attachment keeps your arms less cluttered when you're already juggling your phone and ID through long security lines, and the extra pockets on the outside are great for stashing your tablet or boarding passes. The bag itself is also not too heavy, and there are several carrying handles for those occasions where you need to haul it up or down a flight of stairs.

The "coat keeper" bungee cord secures your jacket or sweater  keeping your hands free for checking in.
The "coat keeper" bungee cord secures your jacket or sweater, keeping your hands free for checking in.

Storage


The following chart illustrates how the Tarmac AWD ranked in our lineup for the Storage metric.


You can pack a lot of clothes into the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On, even though it is slightly smaller than some of the two-wheeled bags in our review. It held everything in our "Pack for a Week in Winter" challenge, including four pairs of pants, ten shirts, workout clothes, running shoes, fancy shoes, a sweater, toiletries, and socks/underwear. Then you can unzip the expander, which adds an additional 2 inches to the width of the bag, allowing you to squeeze even more things in there. With the bag expander unzipped you might not be able to carry it on the plane anymore, as that takes it over the legal carry-on dimensions, but it's a good option for people who like to acquire a lot of souvenirs on their travels. Carry your bag on the plane on the way there (just in case it gets lost), and then check it on the way home.

This bag will hold a lot of clothes  and it also includes a padded laptop sleeve.
This bag will hold a lot of clothes, and it also includes a padded laptop sleeve.

There is an interior pocket that runs the length of the bag that you could fold up a suit or nice clothes to wear to a wedding in, but that section is on the fabric side of the bag as opposed to the shell side. It doesn't have the same structure to it overall as a thick nylon bag or a hard-sided bag, so don't be too surprised if they end up a little wrinkled. For business travel, something like the Briggs and Riley Baseline Domestic or the Platinum Magna 2, with their integrated suiters, are the way to go.

Features


This bag ranked a perfect 10 in our Features category! Check out the chart below to see where the other bags in our review ranked in comparison to this feature-packed carry-on.


The pull tabs on the zippers are a great touch. They're also lockable  and distinctly different from the expandable zipper  which means you're less likely to open that one by accident.
 

This bag has almost too many features to list, and if you've thought of it at some point, it's probably on this bag. Some way to stash your coat or neck pillow so you are not walking through the airport with it on your neck? Check. Padded laptop sleeve? Check. Lockable zippers with easy pull tabs, and add-a-bag strap, and a key ring? Check, check, and check! They must have a team of hard-core travelers at Eagle Creek who were tasked with thinking about any and every little thing that could make traveling easier, and then they put it on this bag. Is it too much? We don't think so. Instead, it's like a little surprise every time you use this bag — you'll find yourself repeatedly saying, "Oooh, I didn't know it could do this!"

The main front pocket has handy organizing slots for your travel documents and electronics.
The main front pocket has handy organizing slots for your travel documents and electronics.

Durability


Our testers were really impressed with the solid construction on the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On. The handle pulls out smoothly every time and doesn't feel too wobbly, unlike some lower-end bags like the Rockland Melbourne 20. The polycarbonate back provides extra structure and durability, and the wheels are solidly built. The "Bi-Tech Armor" fabric is a coated polyester for abrasion and weather resistance. While not completely waterproof, water will bead up and roll off it, which is great for rainy environments. There's also a skid plate on the bottom for extra protection.


This bag rated similarly to The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 for durability, as we felt that both bags were built to last. A thorough review of online user reviews also revealed few complaints for durability, unlike the Delsey Shadow 3.0 21, which has given us, and others, problems in the past. If something does go wrong, this bag is covered by Eagle Creek's "No Matter What" guarantee, which covers "repair and replacement due to product failure during the product lifetime, regardless of the cause."

The spinner wheels are sturdy and well-built  and protected by Eagle Creek's lifetime guarantee.
The spinner wheels are sturdy and well-built, and protected by Eagle Creek's lifetime guarantee.

Weight


While not as lightweight as the Osprey Ozone Wheeled 22 (4 lbs 10 oz), at just a little over 8 lbs the Tarmac is still lighter than the 9 lbs 3 oz Briggs and Riley Baseline Domestic. That makes hauling it up a flight of stairs or lifting it into the overhead bin a little easier. Also, the spinner wheels help take some of the load off your arms, as it is easier on your shoulders to push a heavy bag rather than pull it.


This is not the lightest bag  but because you can push it beside you it helps take some of the weight off your shoulders.
This is not the lightest bag, but because you can push it beside you it helps take some of the weight off your shoulders.

Style


While we weren't the biggest fan of the look of the older version of this bag, the never one has some improved style elements which make it a little chicer. The updated fabric is more matter instead of glossy, and the hard-sided back makes it look less light a rolling duffel bag.


Eagle Creek is known for their functional and outdoorsy-styled luggage, and they delivered more of the same with this bag. Does it look like every other rollaboard coming off the conveyor belt? No, and that's a good thing. But, the styling and the color choices are a little on the plain side. This bag doesn't look like something you'd take on a business trip to Europe — more like an eco-tourism vacation in Costa Rica. We preferred the sleek look of the Samsonite Inova 20, with its brushed hardshell surface and minimalist design. Once you start attaching coats and bags to the Tarmac AWD it starts to look like a Christmas tree, which is handy but not too chic.

This bag straddles the line between casual and professional. We like the updated style and fabric.
This bag straddles the line between casual and professional. We like the updated style and fabric.

Best Applications


As we just mentioned, we wouldn't hesitate to pick this bag for adventure travelling, heading on safari, or even just going back home for the holidays. It can hold a lot clothes, and expand to hold even more when needed. The only thing we wouldn't recommend it for is business travel due to the casual styling and lack of an integrated suiter.

Value


This bag retails for $339, which is more expensive than the many other quasi-rolling duffels in this review, like the Osprey Ozone Wheeled 22 ($230) and The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 ($250). We do see the extra expense as worth it though, as you get many traveler-friendly features with this bag that you don't with the other two. If you are looking to save a few dollars though and still want a quality piece of luggage, then something like the SwissGear Meyrin 20 ($120) is a great option.

Conclusion


The Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On won our Editors' Choice award for being one of the easiest to use and most versatile pieces of luggage that we tested. It comes loaded with handy features that make travelling that much easier, and it should withstand thousands of miles flown.

Other Versions


The Tarmac line includes a variety of other bags, including:

The updated Tarmac
Eagle Creek Tarmac Carry-On
  • Two-wheeled version of this bag
  • 2350 cu in / 38.5 L
  • 22 x 14 x 9
  • 6 lbs 12 oz
  • $299

Eagle Creek Tarmac 25
Eagle Creek Tarmac 25
  • 5125 cu in / 84 L
  • 25 x 17 x 12 in
  • 9 lbs 2 oz
  • $329

Eagle Creek Tarmac 28
Eagle Creek Tarmac 28
  • 6600 cu in / 108 L
  • 28 x 18 x 14 in
  • 10 lbs 8 oz
  • $359
Cam McKenzie Ring

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: May 17, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:     (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 100%  (1)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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