Field test of the Rimowa Original ‘Cabin’ 35L

Previously I talked about the monotony of packing/unpacking when traveling, and how the reciprocal task can lead to an almost meditative state. Part of the piece was about simplifying travel inventory and limiting the number of possessions. One of those possessions imperative to transporting your personal belongings reliably from place A to place B is the humble, old, suitcase.

Over my many years of travel, I’ve slowly accumulated (and retired) suitcases of manufacturers catering to every segment of the market, including: entry-level (no-name), mid-level (Samsonite, Crumpler, Away) and, now, premium (Rimowa).

Getting this out of the way: Rimowa suitcases aren’t cheap.

With consumer items, your propensity to purchase a good or service comes down to your perceived value for it. But (there’s always a but), for most consumers though, luggage might feel very much utilitarian — equipment for moving items from one place to another. However, with the proliferation of social media and the storytelling that comes with it, the “function over form” narrative has, thankfully, evolved and turned the humble suitcase into a design-object.

With the blink of a (red) eye, there’s now a bunch of direct-to-consumer (DTC) luggage startups, who’ve given the category a much needed refresh whilst creating their own lucrative, though saturated, middle-market. Of the bunch, I’ve only owned Away (the ‘Carry-On’ and ‘Large’ models). I don’t have anything particularly bad to say about them, other than each served their purpose, were still in good condition, and have now been passed on to my sister. However, as I’ve alluded to previously, my outlook on possessions, ownership, and what is excess, has shifted in recent years and the concept of essentialism — less but better — I’ve found to be rather liberating. So, nine-months ago I decided to upgrade.

After spending some time on travel and design websites, I narrowed my search to three brands: Samsonite, Tumi and Rimowa. I didn’t spend too long with Samsonite, quickly noticing their design and brand inconsistencies. Tumi, although well-made when experienced in-person (specifically ‘19-degree’ collection), I felt their backstory and identity was a little too corporate and bordering on afterthought for me. Despite not being a huge fan of heritage brands within, say, fashion, I was drawn to Rimowa’s panache and their popularity with creatives and seasoned travelers. And, after seeing a friend’s beautifully banged up, six year-old suitcase, complete with faded airline stickers — I made my choice.

My Rimowa Original ‘Cabin’ 35 litre carry-on in silver

Specifications

  • Model: Original ‘Cabin’
  • Price: $1,150 (USD)
  • Weight: 3.4kg
  • Capacity: 35L
  • Color: Silver
  • Material: Aluminium

Non-linear pricing

I went with the Original model (previously known as Topas), because of their iconic aluminium and groove design, and the suitcases you’ve likely seen gliding through airport concourses. As for size, I opted for a ‘Cabin’ 35 litre, because it was the smallest and lightest at 4.3kg (for comparison Away’s polycarbonate Carry-On is 3.4kg). Yes, meaning I’m left with just 2.7kg for personal belongings, though you’re unlikely to face issues if you avoid (ultra) budget airlines who might strictly enforce the 7 or 10kg limit — I haven’t yet.

The ‘Cabin’ model will fetch you more than $1,000 (USD), and each incremental size will cost you a premium on the size below it: +17% for the ‘Check-In M’ and +11% for the ‘Check-In L’. When I asked Rimowa’s very smiley staff at their Saint-Honoré flagship about the disproportionate increments in price, they (jokingly) acknowledged it was simply due to — more aluminium. Yes, true, but not my point.

Materials, hardware, and wheels that glide

Materials and hardware used in Rimowa suitcases are probably industry-leading in terms of build quality. Their ‘Original’ and ‘Classic’ models feature high-end anodized aluminum alloy bodies along with riveted high-gloss aluminum corners, to protect it from knocks, bangs, and stray kids.

TSA locks, weather sealing, & wheels made for airport concourses

Though, the feature which probably draws me the most is the lack of any zippers, which can be tampered with and lack waterproofing. Instead, Rimowa provides you with two programmable TSA locks (reminding me of James Bond briefcases) and a rubber weather-seal rim that locks in snuggly to protect your contents. As for their famous patented wheels, honestly, it’s true, they seriously just glide (as they should) even with nine-months of considerable usage.

Internally, I enjoy the 50/50 split between compartments meaning I separate one section for fragile and hard items, and the other for clothing and soft items. You’re also provided with a (plastic) dust cover to protect your suitcase (which I haven’t used) when not traveling.

As a design object

To the discerning eye, a Rimowa can be spotted from a terminal away, speaking to their iconic design and identity. Because I purchased my suitcase in Australia at the time, only superseded stock was (then) available, as the (2018) branding and design refresh meant the new models were in short supply. So, technically, I own a Rimowa Topas model.

I elected for the quintessential silver color, but they also come in stealth (a matte black), titanium (a light gold), as well as limited edition ombré options. With any hardcase suitcase they’re easily scuffed, but in Rimowa’s case they’re also easily dented too. Some people hate that, but I actually like the unique character the suitcase will develop in years to come.

The exterior update is minimally minimal, with Rimowa doing away with that small clip tie-thing to attach small grocery-like bags (anything more substantial dislodges), along with supposedly new wheels. Internally, the only changes I’m aware of is an update to the silk label bearing their new logo-mark, along with the lining color changing from bright-blue to a subtle dark-grey.

Repair service holds up

Another well-known trait to Rimowa’s brand is their post-purchase repair service (which I’ve actually experienced already, sigh, and more on that shortly). Prior to the 2018 Alexandre Arnault led strategy overhaul (consolidating wholesale to prioritize e-commerce/DTC), Rimowa opted for a network of “pop-up” service centres around the world, utilizing hotel lobbies and wholesalers, so esteemed customers could come to fix their broken suitcases with authentic parts. My understanding, however, is that Rimowa has brought servicing in-house, and thus rationalized their global network in the process — unfortunately. On top of their repair service, there’s also a 5-year warranty, though many luggage upstarts have adopted lifetime warranties which is kind of nice but probably just marketing copy more than anything.

My Original ‘Check-In L’, damaged at MUC this February

Ironically — but weirdly too — just three flights into the use of my Original ‘Check-In L’ (not my carry-on), a wayward baggage handler at Munich Airport (MUC) thought it would be nice for me to test Rimowa’s repair service by damaging a wheel. The end to the story is after many back-and-forth emails and calls, with both Rimowa and the airline, I was successfully able to have my suitcase repaired (by Rimowa) and refunded by the airline. I think I was incredibly lucky here because that normally doesn’t happen for me.

Final thoughts

I really like my Rimowa carry-on and it’s become a trusted companion in the past nine-months of travel. Do I recommend you upgrade? Possibly, but perhaps only if you’ve transitioned through the tiers and understand what each offers.

What I like about Rimowa is they’re beginning to tell their heritage story and become vocal across other creative industries — like fashion or beauty — through collaborations and partnerships. I understand traditional existing (possibly older) owners of the brand might balk at Rimowa’s recent collaborations with people like Virgil Abloh or Lebron James, but I think this sort of thing is important to help maintain relevance and financial stability for the next 121 years.

If you’re on the fence, don’t want to spend as much or perhaps put off by the 4.3kg it weighs, you can go for the more bank-balance friendly polycarbonate option in the ‘Essential’ (3.2kg; $700). Or, you can definitely try the Away suitcase which starts at $295, is sturdily built, has an interesting founder story, and ships to Australia, Canada, most of Europe, and of course the United States.

Mindful packing/unpacking

When traveling, does the idea of packing your possessions into a transportable case to then later unpack conjure feelings of burden or anxiety? Do you hold off the task because it feels like a chore, or perhaps get triggered with impending queues and security checks at airports? Well, it needn’t be this way.

If you approach the repetitive task with practical sensibility, reduction, and some mindfulness — there’s an inherent calm it can offer. And with unknowns along a journey surely guaranteed, sometimes this calm could be an anchor in a trip marred by unexpected twists.

Having traveled extensively over the past decade, both through work and for leisure, I’ve noticed in that time I actually need less. Therefore, simply packing less has been the key for me to reduce stress that comes with travel. Whether it’s a quick overnight business trip to a nearby outpost or an extended pilgrimage to a far-flung corner, each itinerary offers you an opportunity to think about possessions, ownership, and what is excess.

The fact that you cannot logistically take every item you own with you calls for a routine audit of your possessions, reassessing their intrinsic value, and evaluating their relevance to the whole. With the whole referring to your identity (more on that later). But for all the possibilities travel bestows, you’ll likely fall back to a finite set of possessions which covers your basic needs. These finite possessions are something you should intimately get to know, so that you don’t need to rely on memory, packing lists, or even apps.

My finite set of possessions — or travel field kit — is one I can depend upon for almost two-to-three weeks at a time, before I’ll need access to proper facilities like washing or to make replenishments. They’re more or less my life essentials distilled further into the most functional and compact. As an aside though, if you don’t leave room or pack an item or two for the serendipity or unexpected that comes with travel you may not be accounting for the whole. So, for me that’s bringing an additional camera lens (85mm) and a (casual) suit — you never know. Lastly the final possession, and in my opinion an investment, should be a travel case* (wheeled or not) befitting of the stories it will adorn over the years through scuffs, tears and dents — almost wabi-sabi like.

Life essentials stowed in my carry-on

My travel field kit inventory looks a little like this (excluding items worn) currently:

  • Clothing – staples, jacket, suit, shoes (2x), laundry kit
  • Connection – laptop, phone, global sim, watch, peripherals
  • Curiosity – camera, lenses (2x), books or magazines
  • Digital – podcasts, apps, music, books
  • Prerequisites – passport, visas, currency, notepad, pen, herbs, vitamins, spare tote
  • Well-being – toiletries, skincare, running gear and shoes

Having traveled extensively over the past decade or so, I no longer need to think about my inventory, plus or minus an item or two, as it’s usually always the same set of items I pack and replenish (I haven’t strayed away from too many brands I like). Once you’ve fine-tuned your inventory, packing starts to become monotonous thus serving as a gentle meditation each time you prepare your kit for an upcoming itinerary or decompress having arrived from one.

30

I turned thirty this year, and weirdly I’m not that terrified about the prospect of leaving this coming-of-age — as they say — decade. Hindsight is 20/20. I did a lot in my twenties, definitely made mistakes, but learned a lot about me — my passions, my values, and my weaknesses. I entered the decade as a junior at university (I studied mechanical engineering and finance), and ended the decade living in New York City having worked for several startups. In between, I did random things like launch a fashion brand, or travel to cities across three continents (Europe, Asia, and North America). Though, looking back, it’s the lifelong friends I made during each year of my twenties that I look forward to carrying with me into the next decade.