Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-Up carry on bag keeps family travel organized

I’ve mentioned my Rolo hanging carry-on bag in a few contexts (Amtrak travel, summer camp.) I discovered it—and the Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-Up luggage that I’m reviewing now—during the same internet search for a new piece of kit that would help keep my family organized on a long trip.

Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-up Rolo hanging bag

Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-Up ($285) next to Rolo bag ($50), both empty

My summer road trip proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this style of bag works really well for my family. DS1 stated that the Rolo made managing his things at summer camp easier. I appreciated the design at every brief overnight hotel stop.

Thus convinced, I bit the bullet and ordered the Red Oxx bag upon returning home. We’re going camping this summer, and I can definitely use a roll-it-out-and-see-it-all bag for each boy.

I got the Rolo bag first because it lists for $50 compared to the Big Bull Roll-Up’s $285 price. I could buy one Rolo bag for each family member (plus 1.7 extra) for the price of one Red Oxx Big Bull. But would I want to?

Experience proves these two related bags will best serve different needs.

Why Red Oxx?

A quick perusal of Red Oxx policies and their manufacturing process explains the high prices, but also why these bags remain a solid value proposition. All Red Oxx products come with a lifetime “No Bull” warranty.

Red Oxx shipping box - 1I thought the notice inside their shipping box was cute. I guess I’d better update my last will and testament now that I’ve splurged on some serious Red Oxx luggage!

Red Oxx makes all of their bags in Billings, Montana, USA. The company was founded by a veteran. They employ American workers and invest in training them to create heirloom quality products. They’ve also taken action to improve quality of life conditions further down their supply chain in Guatemala. I can feel good about purchasing their products.

I’ve reviewed Red Oxx items (Rock Hopper, Sky Train) before, and everything previously stated remains true. Red Oxx builds very sturdy, very functional, generally oversized, and fairly heavy bags. This has worked against my typical preferences for airline carry on luggage. I’ll handle my bag gently to reduce weight in that scenario every time.

That preference goes out the window when I’m shopping for gear that will hold up to my household, especially on camping and road trips.

Someone else can do most of the schlepping. Someone else will be digging around for clean socks, or a swimsuit, or item X. No one else is going to notice he’s putting the luggage down in a pool of pitch, or dragging it over rocks, or rubbing it with soot.

Different rules apply in rough and tumble scenarios, and Red Oxx has applied every one to their products. If I needed to improvise a stretcher (God forbid!) to drag my injured child from the woods to the ranger station, I’d trust my unfurled Big Bull Roll-Up to get him there. This bag is built like a tank.

Like most tanks, the Big Bull Roll-Up is heavy. Empty, it weighs 2139g (about 4.75 lbs.) Its shoulder strap alone weighs more than half (237g) of the Rolo bag’s total weight (423g.)

Unlike the more delicate Rolo bag, the Big Bull Roll-Up feels sturdy enough to stand on its own. I wouldn’t want to hand this style of bag over to the luggage handlers on a plane, but I would trust it to remain intact if I had to.

What fits inside?

Here’s what a weekend wardrobe for a young teen looks like packed in the Big Bull Roll-Up:

Pardon the mismatched garments, but I just grabbed the top items in the right styles of clothing from my recently folded laundry.

The second full-width pocket is completely empty. There’s room for quite a bit more in this bag. A pair of shoes would fit. A mid-weight sweatshirt, or many thin base layers would fit. I’m confident that everything needed for one person for a weekend could be packed in this one bag, assuming no individual item is too bulky for the relatively long, narrow, deep pockets.

For family travel to a shared accommodation, like a tent or one hotel room, it’s probable that I will pack socks, underwear, pajamas, and swimsuits for both boys in this one bag. Big kid will get the top three pockets because he’s taller; younger kid will get the lower three pockets which are easier for him to reach.

These are the garments that seem to be required by every family member at once, often when at least some of us are tired, in a hurry, or trying to be quiet because someone else is sleeping. The visible display of what’s inside each mesh pocket borders on revolutionary for this purpose.

If I’m asleep or in the shower, it should be possible for anyone to find the required items to maintain modern hygiene standards. I don’t mind if my husband takes the boys to breakfast in yesterday’s lightly worn shorts and tees, but, in the spirit of concerned mothers everywhere, I want to know they are all wearing clean underwear beneath.

A similar use for the Big Bull Roll-Up would be conveniently arraying specialty use garments where the same oblivious family members can find them. On our summer trip to Alaska, it would’ve been great to stow hats and gloves in a small pocket, long johns in a medium pocket, and a set of merino woolies (pants and sweater) in the biggest for each boy.

Packing layers to mix and match makes it possible to travel light, but the rest of my family hasn’t quite figured out how to implement the system!

I’m also realizing how much less time I will feel compelled to spend unpacking upon arrival by using a high-visibility hanging bag. No one makes me do it, but I don’t relax and begin to enjoy my holiday until the work is done, partly because I know someone will be asking where something is before too long.

I’m getting giddy imagining myself boarding a cruise ship, hanging the Big Bull in the closet, and waltzing right out the door to explore with my duties dishcharged.

How to pack & carry the Big Bull Roll-Up

The Big Bull Roll-Up’s pockets have significantly greater depth, but smaller height and width, compared to the Rolo bag, so it is better suited for rolling larger garments.

Compare the following views that include the same wardrobe from the previous section, now packed in the Rolo bag, and both bags fully rolled with the clothes inside. Folded t-shirts fit straight off the shelf into Rolo; men’s pants might require a special fold to fit, but they can be accommodated. Rolo might be a better choice for you if you prefer to travel with folded clothes.

Rolo rolls to about half the diameter of the Big Bull holding the same load.

Colorful clothing is visible through the mesh at the end of Rolo, whereas the Big Bull uses solid Cordura to enclose the sides of its pockets. Our wardrobe is not visible (privacy) and less likely to pick up road dust in the Red Oxx bag, though neither is ideal for serious exposure to the elements. This is due to the nature of the rolled up bag design, not a poor choice of materials.

For the same reason, these bags are not very secure from theft. There’s no reasonable way to lock them.

It’s helpful to note that the Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-Up looks almost the same empty as it does packed. The 1050 weight urethane coated Ballistic nylon outer is thick, not floppy. There are some sections that include an interior stiffener to keep the bag’s shape without contents. The Rolo bag, in contrast, almost disappears when it is empty, rolling easily to about the size of a daily newspaper.

The Big Bull Roll-Up feels like luggage. The Rolo hanging bag feels thicker than most packing cubes, but more like a mid-weight toiletry kit than an actual suitcase.

Hanging it up

The Big Bull Roll-Up doesn’t have the traditional garment bag style hook for hanging. Instead, it relies upon a strap that buckles into the same receptacles used to latch the rolled bag closed while in transit. This strap can secure the bag around any sturdy attachment point.

I think this change will probably extend the bag’s useful life. When you overfill a bag, a weak piece of hardware is often the first point of failure. I’ve seen cheap coat hangers collapse due to stress on the hook.

I’m worried that I’m going to loose this small piece of loose webbing, though, thus rendering my expensive bag useless, at least for hanging. Once detached, I have to remember to store it in one of the zippered pockets. A strip of black nylon would be easy to misplace in a dark corner.

I wish the hanging strap were brightly colored, or had colored plastic buckles instead of black, and that there was an attachment point in or on the bag to store it when not in use. I do trust Red Oxx to make spare parts available if I ever lose it, but I would prefer it never come to that.

Another benefit of the buckling strap over an open hook can be deduced (if not seen clearly) from my blurry photo of the Big Bull Roll-Up suspended at the end of a Cam-O-Bunk XL bunk bed cot. A sleeper could dislodge a simple hanger and knock a lesser bag to the ground. Securely buckled over the bar at the end of the cot, this Red Oxx bag will stay put until you decide to remove it.

Remember, it’s a heavy bag. Even empty, I wouldn’t hang it from a bathroom cabinet knob, say, though a doorknob suffices if you don’t mind the bottom resting on the floor.

Where to pack when you lack a sturdy hook

I found it difficult to find a spot around my house to take well-lit photos of the Big Bull Roll-Up empty and hanging. At less than one pound (423g), Rolo is easier to safely hang high around the house, the way you might temporarily park a piece of dry cleaning on your way in the door.

I might find this a mild annoyance when packing. I tend to bring the bags down to our main living level to load them because it’s one less flight of stairs down which I’ll have to lug a heavy suitcase when we depart. I bring clothing from our various bedrooms to the waiting bags according to my packing list(s.)

To prevent potential bed bug infestations, I try to avoid putting any of my (used) luggage on upholstered surfaces, like the couch I used for these wardrobe photos, so I may end up packing the Big Bull Roll-Up on the floor. That’s less comfortable than hanging the bag at a convenient height.

If I were packing in my closet, I could just hang the Big Bull from an empty section of closet rod, but that isn’t how I prefer to pack when the whole family travels. If I’m packing for myself alone, this won’t matter as much.

I’m also fortunate to have a large closet with empty hanging space where I could comfortably hang my bag to pack it. That wouldn’t have been true at my old house, where I had a total of scarcely 36″ of waist high closet rod to share with my husband. I’m of the opinion that this bag will be most useful, and easiest to use, for situations where it can be hung up on both the packing and usage stages of travel.

Empowering the kids to help themselves

For my greatest convenience, I may install a heavy duty coat hook in the boys’ bedroom near their closets. With this bag, I could even give them the packing list and let them take responsibility for loading up the essentials. I’ll be able to tell at a glance through the mesh pockets if they’ve gotten everything on the list.

One of the most helpful features of the mesh pockets on the Rolo bag at camp was a simple instruction my son found easy to follow:

“You have exactly the right number of socks/underwear for each day at camp. If the number left in the bag differs from the number of days left at camp, it’s time to change them!”

The Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-Up is the right style of bag to empower a kid—or any of us who more often than not lose the organizational battle with entropy—to keep track of what he has and to use what he brought. It’s a straightforward design that optimizes access to what’s inside.

Like all Red Oxx products, it is also built to withstand all manner of travel. If it doesn’t, the warranty is for life. You can assign this bag for a kid’s rough use now, and expect it to take her through college and beyond.

If you can afford to invest in a Red Oxx bag, the only other potential con is carrying weight from its heavy-duty construction. The Big Bull Roll-Up isn’t too large, though, so it should remain a manageable choice for most of us through our dotage.

And, if you arrive at your destination and find it offers you more time to play with less spent on unpacking and finding lost items for your family, you’ll probably agree with me: it’s well worth the weight, and its $285 price tag.

2 thoughts on “Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-Up carry on bag keeps family travel organized

  1. These are so much better than digging through a huge rucksack, if all you’re doing is a few days away. If it wasn’t for packing a two-man tent to my back, these would have been perfect for when I’d climb the hills in the UK. I may even pick one up for our occasional weekends away in Canada… they look like they’d be just as at home in a hotel room as in a tent.

    Do you know what they’re like in the rain? In the UK, especially in Wales (the land of horizontal rain), it comes at you face-first like a riot hose; and I’m thinking of paying a return visit to the old homeland in the fall. And their aren’t that many places to hang out your clothes on the Black Hills of the Brecon Beacons.

    http://www.breconbeacons.org/black-mountain-range

    Mind you, we’ve been getting a lot more water than usual in Ontario these last few weeks.

    • I come from the temperate rain forest that is America’s Pacific NW, so I get where you’re coming from.

      If I expected constant (or heavy) rain, I would probably pack the Big Bull Roll-Up into a dry bag. Since it’s carried with a simple shoulder strap, that wouldn’t make it any fussier to handle. One with backpack straps could even make it easier to tote.

      At 20″ x 8″ (rough rolled dimensions), it might fit in a 20L and would almost definitely fit in a 30L dry bag.

      The material of the Big Bull itself should repel water just fine for, say, carrying it across a parking lot, but the partially open ends present the problem.

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