The Eagle Creek Tarmac is a clamshell suitcase with a moderate capacity and chalked full of features. It's not the most professional in appearance but offers a lot to the organized traveler, including our favorite set of add-on baggage straps. It features large, heavily-treaded wheels and a hard backside. Over polished surfaces, however, these wheels are rather ungainly and loud. Importantly, the laptop sleeve is on the inside of the bag, making security checkpoints a bit of a hassle. And most annoyingly, the chunky, robust zippers are shockingly difficult to zip, particularly around the corners of the bag. Though we like the many features and solid build of this little suitcase, the zippers drastically take away from its overall performance.
Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Tons of organizational features, excellent bag add-on straps, durably built
Cons: Loud wheels, extremely challenging zippers, "techy" look
Manufacturer: Eagle Creek
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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, while the front coated polyester gives you more options for storage and packing.
Ease of Use
Large wheels thickly studded with tread and a high clearance make it a breeze to roll the Tarmac over surfaces much rougher than an actual tarmac. They hop doorways and even curbs with relative ease. The bag does require a bit more hands-on steering than some other models that practically roll themselves, and our only real complaint about how it rolls is that it's incredibly noisy on smooth surfaces.
A plethora of exterior pockets that are well-organized make it easy to find those small items when you need them. We don't love that the laptop sleeve is on the inside of the bag, but our real struggle is with getting there in the first place. The zippers are large and sturdy - and difficult to get to move. They're imbalanced, so every time you tug the pull strap, they tilt down into the zipper itself and practically refuse to move. There's a small amount of finagling that eases this slightly, but once you get to the corners, you've got a whole new set of problems as they stick easily trying to round the bends. The challenges we had with these zippers nearly ruined the altogether appeal of the bag for us - they're that difficult.
Storage & Features
Any half-shell designed luggage is slightly less versatile to various packing styles and sizes/shapes of belongings, and that's what you get with the Tarmac. If you like that style though, this one isn't too bad. It has several interior pockets that help you stay more organized - though the telescoping handle takes up an exceptional amount of space inside. There's on small zippered pocket right in the middle of that handle in the interior of the bag that seems to us to be mostly useless, as to access it, you have to remove everything from that half of the luggage. Odd.
The suitcase does have a moderate amount of space and can be expanded with a zipper - though it's quick to exceed airline regulation size when truly packed full. The compression strap across the back half of the bag crisscrosses the contents. Though you can really cinch it down tight, the X design leaves a lot of contents not compressed or even contained at all. While we were able to fit all the necessities for a week of warm-weather travel, it was a near thing. Its size is much better suited for a long weekend or minimalist packer.
Though style is subjective, we don't think this suitcase is quite up to par for a professional bag. For personal travel though, it works just fine. We do caution you to consider the size of items you plan to pack before purchasing though, as bulky winter clothes are a squeeze, as are fitting a couple of pairs of size 12 men's shoes.
However, we love the add-on bag attachments that the Tarmac AWD offers. The stretch bungee cord can be easily pulled over just about any sized/shape personal item, from tote bags to backpacks, and simply hooks onto the telescoping handle. This keeps the weight centered over the bag, making it easy to roll and easy to take your hands off of without it falling over. An additional front clip can also be used to attach a small bag or purse, or even that bulky coat you couldn't quite fit inside. No other bag we tested has such an excellent, versatile extra bag attachment system.
This suitcase is above average when it comes to durability, but isn't amazing. The hardened backside helps protect against bumps and scrapes. However, when those scuffs do occur, they stand out rather obviously both on the hard side and the soft front. The front material is pretty solid, but less so than some of the higher-scoring models we tested. And while the zippers are rather robust, the level of difficulty they are to actually use means you spend more muscle power yanking them across the teeth - and we're not sure that level of stress is sustainable.
The Tarmac isn't cheap and is significantly more expensive than several other options we tested that we like a lot more. If you love lots of little pocket features and can pack light - and can deal with some rather frustrating, temperamental zippers - perhaps this bag is right for you. However, for our money, we think there are much better, easier to use, more versatile bags out there.
The Eagle Creek Tarmac is a pretty tough, moderately-sized rollaboard with loads of features and organization. It has rugged wheels that handle "off-roading" well, albeit a bit noisily. The monstrous zippers, however, are absurdly difficult and frustrating to use. While we love a lot of little things about this bag, those zippers really detract from its overall performance.
— Cam McKenzie Ring