Pilots, even more so than frequent business travelers, know a good suitcase when they see one. It's why, along with brands like Tumi and Rimowa, they trust Sterling Pacific, a relatively unknown, sort-of new brand headquartered in Reno, Nevada. Its silver suitcases are made almost entirely from aerospace-grade aluminum — no plastic parts whatsoever, save for the recessed wheels — and tanned Italian leather.
This material, as we've mentioned before, is meant to dent and ding, but withstand constant use. You see, aluminum suitcases don't crack like polycarbonate does, which is why you'll almost never see a pilot toting an Away suitcase — both because they're made from plastic and because the technicolor hues don't match their respective airline's dress codes, which call for solid-colored suitcases in either silver or black.
Sterling Pacific, well, piloted its cases with pilots to see how they really stood up, since pilots take way more trips than the average person — and in a shorter window, too. As such, they should be more than enough for the everyday traveler, who, on average, only takes one or two trips a year, according to Expedia.
Sterling Pacific 35L Cabin Travel Case: What We Think
In a sea of similar suitcases, both in material or design, Sterling Pacific's 35L Cabin Travel Case stands out — and for obvious reasons. But its deviations from the norm, if you will, aren't without reason. The two-wheel design reduces the number of possible failure points, and the rectangular shape makes it easier to pack.
Sure, you'll need to take a few trips to adjust to the wheel orientation, as well as how you'll have to hold and roll it, but these training sessions will be worth it in the end. The $1,495 suitcase may come sans the legacy of a suitcase like Rimowa, for example, but Sterling Pacific is a new brand carving its own lane, catering to elite travelers with high standards — and staying with them through the life of their suitcase, offering a lifetime warranty and endless complimentary repairs.
Sterling Pacific 35L Cabin Travel Case: Testing Notes
It offers old-school flair with modern improvements.
Laid down, Sterling Pacific's 35L Cabin Travel Case conjures classic travel trunks, which were flat and rectangular. Upright, it's equally as traditional, a deviation from the bulky, sometimes-bulbous suitcase designs of today. But its throwback vibe doesn't mean it isn't without modern updates.
Four impact-bearing ridges on the front deter fatal damage, while the inset wheel hubs help the wheels embrace being thrown down the luggage claim belt. The riveted reinforced aluminum corners help cushion falls, too.
The two-wheel design takes a while to get used to.
Nowadays, almost every single suitcase comes with four wheels. Known as spinners, they rotate on their own, allowing you to maneuver through tight crowds, security lines and the crammed corridors on an aircraft with ease. But Sterling Pacific opts for two wheels, not four, arranged so that the user rolls way suitcases used to be towed.
Truthfully, it's a refreshing deviation, both in design and actual user experience, but I found the setup distracting, especially since four wheels are now undoubtedly the norm. I'd feel more compelled to use this suitcase over, say, a Rimowa, another aluminum option, if it came with four wheels. Sure, that's not everyone's preference, but it's a worthwhile note nonetheless — this suitcase will feel significantly different if you're jumping to it from a four-wheeled option.
It's easier to pack.
Because only one side of Sterling Pacific's suitcases features an open chamber for clothes, shoes and other essentials, it's far easier to pack. Not following? Look below. When laid down with the lid open, the bottom section offers space for your clothes, while the other side only acts as a lid. While that might mean less total room — it's still a 35L suitcase — it makes for much less of a headache when it actually comes time to shut it. There's no dealing with combatting, bulging sides, stuff falling from the top chamber into the bottom one and so on and so forth.
The handles are a hell of a lot nicer.
On most suitcases with telescopic handles, these go first. Or, as you wheel it around an airport, fully packed, you realize it's bending or swaying a little, due to the weight. With Sterling Pacific's, I never ran into this problem, thanks to the telescopic handle's aluminum build.
Sure, the two-wheel set-up, which makes you adjust how you wheel it, lessening the tension on the handle itself, helps, but the handles feel far sturdier when you're lifting this suitcase into the overhead bin, off a conveyer belt or onto the scale for a check-in attendant to weight it.
It's a little bit loud.
Something I noticed while navigating back to my car through the airport's gravel parking lot, or maneuvering from my hotel to the train station, walking over grooved city sidewalks, is that this suitcase is fairly loud, especially if you haven't filled it all the way. The all-aluminum build doesn't feel terribly cushioned, either by quieter plastic parts or soft fabric elements, which means the whole thing clinks and clanks quite a bit.
Sure, this is a minor hiccup, and actually a sign the whole thing's made from serious materials, but it's a little distracting, especially in a dead-quiet lounge or at an empty gate.