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Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On Review

A great organizational piece but with zippers that are hard to love.
The Tarmac AWD Carry-On
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Price:  $349 List | $249.63 at Amazon
Pros:  Tons of organizational features, excellent bag add-on straps, durably built
Cons:  Loud wheels, extremely challenging zippers, "techy" look
Manufacturer:   Eagle Creek
By Cam McKenzie Ring ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 12, 2020
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57
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 6
  • Ease of Use - 35% 4
  • Storage & Features - 30% 6
  • Versatility - 20% 7
  • Durability - 15% 7

Our Verdict

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.


Compare to Similar Products

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.

Performance Comparison


The Tarmac easily fits within carry-on guidelines.
The Tarmac easily fits within carry-on guidelines.

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.

Seriously beefy wheels help this bag keep moving over rough surfaces - and are very loud on smooth floors.
Seriously beefy wheels help this bag keep moving over rough surfaces - and are very loud on smooth floors.

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.

Though we like many features of the Tarmac  this zipper is so incredibly frustrating to use that it nearly put us off the whole bag.
Though we like many features of the Tarmac, this zipper is so incredibly frustrating to use that it nearly put us off the whole bag.

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.

This oddly placed pocket is  well  oddly placed. In order to access it  you have to move everything sitting on top of it  which essentially means you're emptying half your suitcase to reach a pocket that's not even that large.
This oddly placed pocket is, well, oddly placed. In order to access it, you have to move everything sitting on top of it, which essentially means you're emptying half your suitcase to reach a pocket that's not even that large.

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.


Versatility


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.

With a fairly small capacity and a limiting clamshell design  one whole half of this suitcase is taken up by just two pairs of men's size 12 shoes.
With a fairly small capacity and a limiting clamshell design, one whole half of this suitcase is taken up by just two pairs of men's size 12 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.

Probably our favorite feature of this bag is this sweet bungee strap that allows you to easily attach just about any personal item-sized bag on the top.
Probably our favorite feature of this bag is this sweet bungee strap that allows you to easily attach just about any personal item-sized bag on the top.

Durability


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.

A unique half-rigid  half-soft suitcase helps it be a bit more durable in the long run  even if it looks a bit odd.
A unique half-rigid, half-soft suitcase helps it be a bit more durable in the long run, even if it looks a bit odd.

Value


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.
If you like well-organized front pockets  the Eagle Creek Tarmac checks that box.
If you like well-organized front pockets, the Eagle Creek Tarmac checks that box.

Conclusion


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.

A touch on the small side  the Tarmac is full of features that are challenging to get to inside these difficult zippers.
A touch on the small side, the Tarmac is full of features that are challenging to get to inside these difficult zippers.


Cam McKenzie Ring