How To Choose the Right Ski Bag

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You've just spent over a grand on new ski equipment, booked a condo for the season at Sugarbush and even made reservations for a ski week in January in Aspen. How then, should you carry, and more importantly protect, your precious cargo? We always thought people chose ski bags and boot bags because of the color or the name that was silk screened across the side. For many, that's probably true. After all, when you spend $1000 on a pair of skis you should be proud to advertise just how smart you were in your purchase. First, a few basic points:

  • All ski bags can handle air travel. No matter what type of bag, we always recommend packing extra clothing and gear around the skis to protect the skis and the bag.
  • That said, not all ski bags are created equal. A ski sleeve offers the least protection and is typically made of a lighter material than a traditional ski bag. It is best suited for road travel (roof rack, trunk, bus, etc) but, with the proper packing, it can be used in air travel.
  • A ski bag will come with no padding, padding around the binding area or full padding. All three can be used for air travel. We recommend providing additional padding with gear to help protect the skis from any rough handling but also to protect the bag for any sharp points on the skis/bindings/poles from poking through. We recommend this REGARDLESS of how much padding the bag has.
  • Price differences of bags will reflect the materials used, the quality of the stitching and zippers, the amount of padding and the branding.

DETAILS:

But because we offer the largest selection of bags on the Internet, we decided that we should dig a little and find out just what makes a good bag. We spent some time with Mike Herrmann, Rossigno's Accessory Product Manager and asked a few quick questions. Needless to say, we learned there's a lot more to a ski bag than color or the name on the side. Here are Mike's answers to our questions.

SnowShack (SS): Mike, You've been designing bags for Rossignol for the past 4 years. What's the most important thing to look for when selecting a bag?

Mike Herrmann (MH): Well, the first thing you need to determine is how you plan on using the bag(s). Will you be using the bags every weekend? Will the skis and boots get thrown into the back of a car or on top? Do you plan on taking trips involving airlines? Will you be carrying one pair of skis or two? These are just a couple of critical questions you should try to answer before making your purchase. You can buy a $20 ski bag at shops everywhere but needless to say; you get what you pay for. The answers to these questions will help you in selecting the right bag. Once you know how you're going to use your bag, you can then start looking at the design of the bags. Bag material, zippers, padding, straps and handles, stitching, durability, wheels, and more all come into play.

SS: All right, let's take this one at a time. Tell us about the material bags are made of.

MH: The most noise you will hear about fabric is the weight, which is normally expressed in Denier. This is a fairly dubious term that refers to the weight of the yarn woven into the fabric. You should look for a high Denier Count (at least 420D with nylon fabrics and 600D in polyester) combined with a very tight weave. For example, you can often take two bags that claim to have the same weight of fabric; the one with the tighter weave will be more abrasion resistant. In general, nylon is stronger that polyester. Stay away from travel bags made of Cotton Duck, Ramie or Ramie Polyester blends. These are what we call disposables, normally found in non-ski stores like a Sports Authority or Kmart. Finally, regardless of whether you choose Polyester or Nylon, make sure you choose a luggage fabric which has a PVC laminate backing and not a liquid coating. This will be easy to spot as the fabric will be much stiffer and normally have a shiny black backing on the inside of the bag. Liquid coated fabric is much more floppy and you will be able to see the weave through the coating. PVC laminated fabric gives the fabric a richer hand (it feels stronger and stiffer to the touch), it makes for luggage that has much stronger seams, and it is completely waterproof. If you are tempted to buy a bag that has no coating, say a prayer and then keep shopping.

SS: The most frequent problem we see relates to zippers. It's probably because everybody tries to jam so much in the bag and the zipper becomes the weak point. What's important to note about the zipper?

MH: There are two basic types of zippers: tooth and coils. Generally, I recommend that you stay away from tooth zippers in luggage. They are easier to snag and harder to un-snag than coils. Also, most coil zippers made today are known as "self-repairing". This means that if you do run into a messy snag, you can yank out whatever is stuck without having to worry about breaking the zipper. To repair, just clear the debris and then slide the zipper pull as gently as possible the full length of the zipper a few times to realign the coils. If you snag a tooth zipper, the chances of un-snagging it are very low. If you break a tooth. throw the bag away. It will likely cost more to repair the zipper than the bag is worth. Luggage coil zippers usually come in three sizes: #5, # 8, and #10; bigger is usually better - the bigger the zipper the easier it is to un-snag and repair. At Rossignol we use #8 for our less expensive bags and #10 for our better bags. Also, make sure to look closely at the stitching that holds the zipper to the fabric. A good piece of luggage will have two rows of stitching.

SS: Most manufacturers offer two versions of their bags,? padded and non-padded. What's the difference and why would you choose one over the other?

MH: Padding (usually 5mm to 10mm closed cell polypropylene foam) is used in certain areas of certain types of bags to add durability. In some ski or snowboard bags there is padding added to make sure that the ski/snowboard bindings don't punch through when they are dropped on the pavement by your friendly baggage handler. In many two pair ski bags there is a padded divider in the middle that prevents the two pairs of skis from smashing together. Also, better boot or cargo bags will have some padding to keep hard shell ski boots or metal step in snowboard binding hard wear from punching through when the same guy at the airport is training for discus at the next Olympics. Padding is a personal preference. If you're traveling through airports, padding certainly won't hurt. However, if you're strapping your skis on the roof of the car, many padded bags won't fit into the rooftop ski racks.

SS: So now we've packed a week's worth of gear into our bags and we're ready to begin our journey to the mountains. These bags get pretty heavy. What do we look for in straps and handles?

MH: In the luggage business we call this webbing. Look for webbing that is wide with a tight weave. It should look like the seat belts in you car. Lots of bags will have decoration in the webbing. This adds to the cost of the bag and does nothing for the durability. The handle wrap has two functions: First it holds the carry handles together and second, it keeps straps from cutting into your hands when carrying a loaded bag. Usually, the handle wrap is held closed with metal snaps or Velcro. I recommend Velcro for its reliability and ease of use. Handle wraps themselves are often made of the same material as the Bag; leather or neoprene (same stuff as a wetsuit). We are beginning to change all of the Rossi bags over to neoprene with Velcro. Neoprene adds some extra padding for your hand. You might also want to consider a bag with wheels. At Rossi we stayed away from wheels on our bags for a long time. This was because in the early days, wheels almost never made it through the airline baggage system. Today wheels are a great thing to have on your luggage. Look for the same wheels that are on your in-line skates. These are the smoothest rolling and most durable. The other thing to look for is how the wheels are attached to the bag. They should be part of what we call in the business, a "wheel set". That means they will be a part of an internal or external metal and plastic frame. Don't buy a bag that has wheels attached to the bag with rivets - the first time you fly with these wheels you'll be adding them to the airline baggage guy's collection. Some old time baggage handlers have had to rent storage space for their luggage wheel collections.

SS: How can the airline loose a bag this big?

MH: Who isn't scared of arriving at their destination only to find their luggage didn't arrive? A nice touch provided by many manufacturers is luggage tags. The last thing you think of when you get ready to fly to ski is marking your bags. Then you have to fill out those silly paper tags at the counter while the people in the huge line behind you get TA (travel anxiety). At Rossi, we use a clear vinyl window that closes with a Velcro tab. That way instead of getting TA when the guy in front of you is filling out those silly paper airline supplied name tags, you can discreetly slide one of your business cards into the window and save your dignity. And hey, here's a tip, take a permanent marker and write you name and address on the bag itself. Tags can and have fallen off but El Marko isn't likely to wear off anytime soon.

SS: Alright Mike, time to sum it up. Anything else we should know?

MH: If you have found all of the components we recommend above in a bag you are about to buy, you will have yourself a durable piece of luggage. However, there are some other things to look for: Piping-this is the round rope shape stuff that sticks out at the seams. Piping actually adds strength to the seams of a bag. Uncovered piping is fine but is looks cheap. Normally, we cover it either with the same fabric as the bag (industry term for this is "self-piping") or with some other material that adds to the aesthetic appeal of the bag. Reinforcements at high wear points- look for end caps on ski bags that also extend 3 to 6 inches down the sides of the ski bag. Look for reinforcements on the bottom of boot and cargo bags that are about 3 inches up the sides. Our pick of material for reinforcements is black Cordura®, this is a nylon fabric that has a super high resistance to abrasion and the black color helps hide dirt. Seam Thread-make sure that the store will stand behind your purchase before you perform the following seam test: Get the biggest, burliest guy you know. Have him grab a handful of fabric on either side of a seam and pull the seam apart as hard as he can. If the maker used good seam thread your bully friend should feel like a wimp.

SS: Any luggage or travel tips?

MH: One basic boot bag for each skier/rider is a great way to keep everybody's stuff in the right place. This scheme also helps protect the carpeting in your expensive SUV. Do you load the SUV and head to mountains for a few days? One cargo shaped bag (large duffel with boot pockets on either end) per person should do the trick. If your mother in law doesn't ski or ride but is just coming along to shop, have her to bring two. Do you fly to ski? Look for a monster size with wheels. The airlines are going to charge big if you check more than two pieces of luggage. Also, the airlines are now cracking down on how many pairs of skis your try to stuff into one bag, more than two will cost you. 70 pounds per bag is the airline limit even if you are a stockholder (theis used to be. see the review below. It is now 50 lbs for most airlines.). Rossi makes a double sized bag that will hold a pair of skis, poles, a deck (snowboard) with a pair of step-in bindings, your snowboard boots, and all of your riding togs. That should get you to just over 60 pounds. Put the rest of the street clothes in the big wheely bag along with your ski boots and you should have enough room to bring home some extra fudge for your grandparents. One final airline tip, take half of your ski clothing and use it to 'pad' your ski bag. Even if you have a padded bag I recommend this. Not only will your skis be pampered in comfort throughout the journey but if by chance they arrive a day or two later than when you do (or disappear to the same place where all your missing socks have gone!) you'll still have some ski clothing you can use when hitting the slopes with the high end rentals provided to you by the airline. And on the return trip, use your dirty laundry as padding. SnowShack has the Internet's largest selection of ski and boot bags.