TRIED & TESTED / Carry on travelling: Weekend cases need to be light, roomy and easy to transport - but which is the best buy? Our seasoned packers tried out seven

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The Independent Culture
Travellers can be divided into two kinds: those who always have their tickets at the ready, know where to lay their hands on everything, and whose bags look elegant and stylish. And the rest of us. If you are a member of the plastic carrier-bag and frayed shoulder-strap brigade, you're a candidate for a new weekend bag. We asked three people whose jobs mean they are always packing to put a selection to the test. They packed and unpacked the bags, cramming in their own particular weekend essentials including a hair dryer, travel iron, laptop computer, camcorder, Walkman and hefty guidebook. We couldn't test how long-lasting the bags are or how much rough treatment they could stand up to - some of the more expensive bags might have been rated better if we could have.

THE PANEL

Simon Calder, travel correspondent, the Independent; Gloria Lasso, sales representative; Guy Downes, travel agent, STA Travel.

THE TEST

The panel gave each bag marks for looks and style, how robust they seemed, their capacity and practical features, and for their comfort and convenience of carrying and value for money. The marks were then converted into a star rating.

*NAF NAF BY ALPA POCKET

COLLECTION HOLDALL

pounds 23.99

A lightweight bag that you can pack away into a pouch. 'Ideal for those weekends when you decide to come back with your full quota of wine and Camembert,' said Simon Calder. Although you can get lots into the bag, the panel thought that it might not stand up to hard wear, and that it wasn't as comfortable to carry or had as many useful features as the others. 'Flimsy outer material, and the handles felt strained once there was some weight in the bag. Good for cabin luggage or a quick weekend - but how would it fare in cargo? Getting it back into the pocket was a challenge,' said Guy Downes.

***EQUATOR RADICAL

SPACE

pounds 25

An ingenious design that takes a different approach to the problem of packing. Three separate compartments fold up, each one forming one side of a triangular bag - so you could, for example, keep damp clothes, sandy shoes or leaking shampoo bottles separate from the rest of your things. 'Good-looking and unusual, inventive use of space,' said Guy Downes. It could also double up as a sports bag, 'Compartments are well designed for pre- and post-match requirements,' said Gloria Lasso. Not one of the most capacious but good to look at and excellent value.

***SKYFLITE CLASSIC

COLLECTION CARRY-ON BAG

pounds 19.99

This bag was good value for money; it's practical, with useful pockets, and seemed tough. It's probably not for style freaks though - the bag definitely wasn't one of the most elegant and also wouldn't suit someone who needs to take an outfit for every possible occasion. The panel thought it had least capacity of the lot. 'It must be aimed at people travelling light. The interior is small and would sway me against buying it,' said Guy Downes, although Simon Calder thought it was perfectly adequate for his needs. As its name suggests, it's another bag that would be useful for hand luggage on a plane.

*MULBERRY SMALL CLIPPER

pounds 175

'At pounds 175, the bag would cost as much as the weekend away,' said Guy Downes. None of our practical- minded panel, who are obviously immune to the lure of prestige labels, could swallow the price of this bag. They didn't even rate it the most stylish, spurning it in favour of the Equator Radical Space and Antler. 'An astonishing price for a bag which scored no higher and often lower marks than the others,' said Gloria Lasso. 'Ignoring the price, it has good capacity, it's easy to carry and secure. The material is tough, making it good for repeated trips. The pocket inside is good for travel documents. Smelt weird]' said Guy Downes. 'I've been trying hard to envisage circumstances in which I might possibly want to use this, but I gave up,' said Simon Calder.

***ANTLER SPACEMASTER II

TRAVEL BAG

pounds 45

One of the two most popular bags and voted the best of all for looks and style, the Antler very nearly matched our top-rated bag, the Delsey. It is more expensive than the Delsey, however, and the panel, not surprisingly, didn't rate it as good value for money. 'Excellent capacity, strong, with a practical look. The outside pockets are a big plus point, although the handles were uncomfortable,' said Guy Downes. 'A stylish bag, easy to carry. The brown trim is fetching, but it's a little on the pricey side,' said Gloria Lasso.

**** DELSEY NEW MUSICA .TX.- DUFFLE BAG

pounds 31.50

Don't be misled by the name - this is nothing like the general concept of a duffle bag. This was the bag our seasoned travellers plumped for, giving it good marks all round, except for its looks, which were rated as less than average. But if function is more important than fashion, this will fit the bill. 'Excellent value for money. Its capacity and features are good and it is very well made,' said Gloria Lasso. 'Absolutely fine - does just the right job,' said Simon Calder. Guy Downes picked out as possible disadvantages uncomfortable handles and zips that looked less than robust.

**SAMSONITE ULTRALITE

HIGHLIGHT

pounds 56.25

'A sturdy, stylish bag with a good carrying strap and handle grip. The zip pocket on the inside flap is a good idea. Holds plenty. Would be suitable for a weekend away, for business travel or for sport,' said Gloria Lasso. But although this bag is robust, has plenty of room, and is comfortable to carry, it is pricey. 'Virtually a clone of the Antler and Delsey bags, and a decidedly more expensive one at that,' commented Simon Calder.

(Photographs omitted)

Next Week: Wine coolers

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