Gear Review: Eagle Creek Activate Wheeled Backpack 21

IMG_0442Ever since this website started some seven years ago, we have mostly discussed non-wheeled bags as that was the lightest form of  travel except for not having a bag at all.

But I’ve heard from many of you who want to travel light but prefer to use wheels. Not easy to do with the current  choice of wheeled bags on the market.

Last year, I decided to look for wheeled bags that weigh under six pounds. (Six pounds was an arbitrary number but I felt we had to have a cutoff somewhere.)

We started earlier this year with the Osprey Ozone 18. I wasn’t that impressed mostly due to its very lightweight materials and strange packing design. I returned the bag shortly after the review.

During the holidays last year, I bought an IT “World’s Lightest Luggage” 19″ wheeled bag. As soon as it arrived, I realized this was not even something I wanted to write about. No way would I attempt to take this on  a plane even if it did weigh under 4 lbs. (I now use it to store travel accessories.)

You can imagine my skepticism when I saw  the Eagle Creek Activate Wheeled Backpack 21.

The specs were unbelievable:  21″ x 14″ x 8.5″/54cm x 36cm x 22 cm, weight of 5.5 lbs/2.5kg and a capacity of 2500 cu in/41L.

Fortunately, we have a good relationship with the folks at Eagle Creek and I asked if the above specs were true assuming they didn’t include the wheels and handles. I was assured the specs given included everything. I asked for a sample.

A few days later, one arrived. Before even opening the box, I got my tape measure and luggage scale.

Measurements were spot on as described. My luggage scale confirmed the printed weight. And….it was made of the same material as my beloved Eagle Creek Adventure Weekender.

How is this possible? Let’s take a look at the bag…


IMG_0456The main compartment opens clamshell style and has two sets of tie down straps. The bag tapers toward the top so the actual main compartment packing dimensions are about 19.5″ long, between 13 and 14 inches wide, and between 6 and 7 inches deep.



IMG_0457An Eagle Creek Specter 18″ folder fits with no problem. The small raised area to the right of the folder is the compartment that holds the retracted handle. (More on this later.)




IMG_0459The space between the retractable handles is just wide enough to accommodate an Eagle Creek Tube cube. The channels on either side of this are less.




IMG_0455There are no internal pockets but the lid has its own external pocket that runs the length of the lid. No organizer included which helps to save weight.  The zipper to the lid only opens partially as you can see in the photo.





The retractable handle extends 22″ and has two locking positions. The handle releases via a button on the top of the handle.




IMG_0443The compartment zippers are lockable.





IMG_0445The bag has two external compression straps. To save weight, rather than having two clips, the strap connectors are more like gatekeeper clips where one end has a plastic connector that slides into a cloth loop sewed onto the bag.




IMG_0449There are two mesh backpack straps that hideaway in their own compartment when not in use.




IMG_0447In backpack mode, you can also pack away the retractable handle into its own compartment that zips closed.




IMG_0451There are two sturdy wheels with corner guards.





There is a padded handle on the top of the bag and two grab straps on the side and near the bottom to help get it in and out of overhead bins. The side and bottom handles are not padded to save weight. Since the bag won’t be carried by either one, the extra padding wasn’t necessary.

Please understand, this is not a backpack with wheels. It is a wheeled bag with  backpack straps. You wouldn’t want to walk long distances with this thing on your back. There is no cushioning between you and the back of the bag. It is bottom heavy due to the wheels and its housing. Once packed, with items shifting south, it can be a little uncomfortable. But, for a short distance, this is a nice option over most other rolling bags.

The 8.5 inch depth is the measurement of the frame holding the wheels. It is easy to pack the main compartment much thicker than this so you might use the bottom frame as a guide, as well as the external compression straps, to stay within carry-on limits for most airlines.

The front and sides of the bag are soft and frameless although the material is strong enough to keep its shape and not get floppy. The rear is made of a thin sheet of polycarbonate type material.  When I unzipped the internal lining to see the handle assembly and frame, I learned an additional secret on how they got this bag so light.


IMG_0460Rather than have a solid sheet of polycarbonate on the back of the bag, they drilled symmetrically placed holes throughout the entire sheet that reduced the weight but kept the strength.




So, what do I think of the bag?

Let me say this. I just turned “middle-aged” and I’m not exactly in top-top, Olympic athlete shape.  Carrying an extra 18 pounds on my back , especially in the hot, summer months, make me perspire just a little bit more than is comfortable.

Sometimes I look at my fellow travelers, the ones with wheeled bags,  and wonder if I shouldn’t consider traveling that way as well. Especially in the summer.

But I couldn’t find a bag that would fit my needs, withstand the rigors of travel and be lightweight.

Until now.

The Eagle Creek Activate Wheeled Backpack 21 is available in black, red and yellow.  Lifetime Warranty. Made in Vietnam. $220.

If this bag is not to your liking, Eagle Creek has a couple of others that are slightly bigger and weigh just a bit more but look more “traditional.” I’ve also been told that they will have another new lightweight wheeled bag this fall. I’ll keep you informed.

Disclaimer: Eagle Creek supplied the item for review. However, this has no effect on the review itself and the opinions are our own.

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8 Responses to Gear Review: Eagle Creek Activate Wheeled Backpack 21

  1. Pingback: 20" or 21" - personal experience - FlyerTalk Forums

  2. Maggie says:

    Appreciate you reviewing this.

    I have the EC Adventure Weekender and find it to be very practical. However, I’m getting to the stage where even the 7kg allowance is proving difficulties with my old back and dodgy knees. In order to continue to be a one-bagger, wheels are the next consideration and this one is a real contender. I wouldn’t have even known it was available without this post.

    I have a ton of Eagle Creek items and I love that they really seem to understand what travellers want, particularly those of us who want to one-bag it or generally want/need to save weight, and us international travellers who have smaller dimensions and lighter baggage allowance to contend with.


  3. Frank@OBOW says:

    Eagle Creek just showed me photos of a new concept in bags that are coming out in December. They are like nothing I’ve seen before. They have removable wheels, removable backpack straps and the carry-on size one weighs about 4 1/2 lbs. The bag material is not as strong as the Adventure Weekender or Activate.

    I may get one to look at for a few days but will have to return just so I can understand the concept. I’ll get one to keep for review when production starts in the fall.

    I promised not to say much else so I have to leave it at that. I’ll report more once I have the bag in hand.

  4. OzBarb1 says:

    I liked the look of a small wheelie from Caribee,, It’s 48cm long and 2.2kg

  5. Jody says:

    Do you have any update on the new bag coming out? I am in the market for a rolling backpack and wondering if I should wait a bit longer!

  6. Frank@OBOW says:

    Jody.,,I’m traveling with the new Eagle Creek wheeled bag and will have a review out in about a week.

    If you want to preview it, it’s the Eagle Creek No Matter What Flatbed 20. It’s not a wheeled backpack per se, but there is a way to turn the bag into a backpack. I’ll explain in the review.

    • Jody says:

      Thanks for the reply! It looks like it weighs about the same as the Activate. I look forward to your review! I’m guessing it will make sense to buy the Activate, but we’ll see!

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