Frequent US travelers will appreciate the need to pack very light — from both a convenience and an economic standpoint. Sure, I occasionally need to go a bit bigger (shameless plug: on those occasions, I’m still a fan of eBags’ EXO Hardside Spinner which remains the best piece of checked luggage we’ve ever reviewed). But, in my case, it’s typically carry-on only.
Which is how we came to review eBags’ new Mother Lode TLS Mini 21″ Wheeled Duffel. Big name, compact bag. The entire TLS line (Tough, Lightweight, and Smart) is a fairly new venture for the company’s self-branded line of luggage with the goal being to “completely redesign our best selling wheeled duffels and add new features and innovative functionality and performance without added weight.”
The feature set of the new TLS series is quite lengthy. But in eBags’ own words, the elevator pitch for the Mother Lode 21″ Duffel is:
When we set out to design the new Mother Lode wheeled duffels, we first turned to the experts — our Customers. Combing through thousands of testimonials, our goals were to identify the most (and least) loved parts of the bag, what were the key missing features, and what was the over arching mood of our customer. After 12+ months of development, we’re confident the TLS collection will exceed your expectations.
We kept the best parts of the original Mother Lode: Moveable shelves, double/single cavity conversion, long handles, and a bag that will stand upright.
We added a number of new features: add-a-bag strap, expandability, compression straps, more zippered pockets, a flexible bottom compartment, an innovative patent-pending backbone for rigidity, and beautiful fabric.
The Traveler’s Take
Like other eBags products we’ve tested (notably here and here), the Mother Lode is extremely well-made with a solid, durable feel all around. The zippers are sturdy with a smooth, snag-free pull. The exterior is a highly quality twisted poly material that feels designed to take a real beating.
eBags was wise to include a few minor (but much appreciated design touches) as well. For example, the bold orange interior liner makes finding lost bits of gear, loose change, and other valuables a snap. The adjustable interior shelf (also available in other eBags luggage) is a smart design touch, allowing travelers to customize the central part of the bag as they see fit. To that end, the top zippered portion of the interior can also be used as expansion space to essentially convert the entire interior into one large space, rather than several smaller, separate compartments.
After recently traveling through six countries and countless security checkpoints in less than ten days, the layout of the Mother Lode’s compartments proved to be spot-on. The front of the bag provides easy organization of and access to routine airport “removables” such as a laptop and requisite plastic bag of liquids/aerosols. The other exterior pouches are perfect for briefly stashing one’s jewelry, wallet, passport, etc.
Things to Consider
As it’s my job to nit-pick, I can say that my quibbles and comments on what could be improved with the Mother Lode are minor.
Firstly, zero weight wheels would be a fantastic improvement over the standard, uni-directionals. The inclusion of stowaway backpack straps would also be ideal, as minimalist travelers will attest that switching between backpack and roll-aboard luggage is a must-have feature.
The flip-side is that these features add weight and bulk which is a difficult design challenge for such a small bag.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line test for me came on a recent five-week trip through Africa, where I tackled a variety of climates and terrain – cool mountain hikes, hot game drives through the savannah, and days spent relaxing on the beaches of Mozambique. Through it all, the Mother Lode proved to be a near-flawless piece of luggage. Coupled with my standard daypack, it was the only other piece of luggage that I traveled with and will continue to travel with for the foreseeable future. (To be sure, this is a carry-on sized bag so it is relatively small and will not necessarily work as the sole piece of luggage for some travelers. But: minimalists and expert packers, it’s definitely work a look!)
Pricing & Availability
Available now in six bold colors directly from eBags.com for around $150 (USD).
Disclosure: Vagabondish received one complimentary Mother Lode TLS Mini 21" Wheeled Duffel from eBags in advance of this review.