American Tourister Stratum XLT 28" Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
While the Stratum XLT is expandable, attractive, and won't break the bank, it's among our least favorite options.
Storage & Organization
The of the Stratum storage capacity and organization layout are fine. They are the most bare-bones version of what you need, with roomy storage spaces and restraints to keep your things in place long enough to unzip the bag. It also includes a small side stash for your toiletries. However, this suitcase doesn't hold as much as our favorite options, even when we expanded the extra fabric band. It will still hold plenty for your average weeklong vacation, though.
A full mesh flap zips up on one side to hold your items in place. That's handy since you're likely to lay the bag down on the handle of the suitcase, meaning the left side will be the one that you open. On the right side, two webbing straps meet in the middle to form an X, holding bulky or well-organized items in place. And that's about it. This is plenty if you just need the basics; it doesn't include any outer pockets for items you'll need on the day of travel, but it won't matter if you have a personal item for those things.
Ease of Transport
On airport floors or carpets, this bag rolls well enough. It will make it over gravel and rougher pavement or cobblestones as well, but it jumps around more than any other bag in our test. The wheels are smaller and shimmy more than we like, making the Stratum less stable in general, even tipping over when coming off curbs.
The Stratum also only offers two haul handles, one on the top and one on the side. The top handle telescopes to two different heights at the touch of a central button. It's easy to use and comfortable to hold. The handles are also easy to grab and give a bit when you haul on them, making them comfortable to use. Smooth rubber keeps them streamlined and out of the way when you don't need them. But we do wish there was one more handle on the bottom of the bag. Without one, this sleek shell is hard to grip, and when you're pulling bags in and out of vehicles all day, it's easy to forget to leave a handle exposed.
The smooth exterior of the Stratum sustained a few scuffs during our test period. It seems likely to accumulate quite a few on the leading bottom edge since there are no stiff rubber guards to fend off curbs or stairs. Despite this, it still looked fine at the end of our testing period.
However, we worry that the abrupt shift from a hard outer shell to the softer fabric of the zipper is a harsh transition that may wear the zipper out faster than is ideal. This is particularly concerning when you unzip the extra strip of fabric to expand the main compartment. Unless you stuff the suitcase well, creating rigidity with your belongings, the bag twists around the zippers, adding extra strain. Nothing gave way or even gave us real cause for concern during testing, but we still weren't impressed by this.
The telescoping handle feels less substantial than others and has some wiggle — but this is true of almost all suitcases. The Stratum is one of the few box-style suitcases we tested that doesn't include a TSA-approved lock. We miss the security but appreciate that the zippers don't have the awkward metal loop that the integrated locks seem to require.
The Stratum is one of the lighter options we tested, which we really appreciate. It's just under 10 pounds, which means you can pack in a lot more and still make the weight cut off for carry-on luggage. That's a huge benefit if you plan on flying with this bag.
There seemed to be a stark divide amongst our testers regarding hard-sided bags, and it generally stems from their function. Several of our testers have had bad experiences with similar bags ripping at the zipper due to the increased strain that rigidity can introduce and overall do not like the look. The rest of us think they look nice, with interesting detailing and nice colorways. The wheels on the Stratum look less than inspiring, though, and we don't like how it looks or feels with the stretchy expander fabric deployed.
This bag is among the lower-priced options in our review, but it's also one of our least favorite suitcases. There are options we like better and feel are a better overall value.
We appreciate how light, simple, and nice-looking the American Tourister Stratum XLT is. However, so many options roll better that we have a hard time recommending this one.
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