Recently I was asked to test out Kulkea's Tandem boot duffel bag. As the mother of two young children who loves to ski herself, this item seemed right up my alley. In fact, a year ago when my 3 year old started to ski, I racked my brain for a more efficient way to get my gear, my husband’s gear, the 3 year old’s gear, and the baby’s non-skiing supplies to the mountain without looking like I was moving in for the winter. Some people used wagons, I noticed, and some hauled in enormous, awkward-looking Tupperware containers. Others, like us, just made several trips to and from the car with boot bags, backpacks, and children.
I’m no stranger to Kulkea bags: I have owned the Powder Trekker for two years now and for the most part really enjoy its solid construction and attention to detail. The Tandem takes it to another level. The base is made of heavy tarpaulin reinforcement that manages a load of wet and muddy gear. Most of the bag is made out of heavy-duty ripstop polyester, which allows it to stand up to the abuses of hauling kids’ gear around lodges. Carrying the bag is a cinch; you can use either the dual side handles to hold it in front of you or an adjustable shoulder strap to wear it across your body. I’m a pretty small lady, though, and while I can carry a big bag like this cross-body, it isn’t as easy as using a backpack. I found myself wishing there were backpack straps so I could keep my hands free for carrying children or more gear. I also yearned for some side gear straps to which I could clip kids’ skis. I suppose I could put little skis inside the bag on top of boots, but it seems that adding one or two clippable webbing straps would really add some versatility and enable you to use your hands to hold little hands in parking lots, carry crying babies, or wipe snotty noses in the middle of the stairs to the lodge.
The bag opens with what Kulkea calls a cooler top, which basically means that it opens all the way so you can dig around to find everyone’s gear. But you probably won’t need to, because the inside is split nicely into four good-sized compartments, each with its own drainage grommets to let out all the gunk your kids track in on their boots. These compartments easily fit kids' gear plus extra clothing and snacks if necessary, or you can fit an adult’s gear in two of the compartments and a child’s gear on the other side. On the inside of the lid are two mesh compartments for additional clothing, hand warmers, food, toys, or other necessaries. What it doesn’t seem to have is an internal zipper pocket for important items like passes or wallets, but this is probably because it is intended for carrying kids’ gear.
Even though it’s still summer, I gave this a test pack for ski season. (A girl can dream, right?) There was plenty of room left for more gear, plus the lid offers several inches of space so you can put ski pants and jackets on top of everything and it will still fit nicely.
Kulkea aims for the Tandem to be a four-season duffel, a task it performs fairly well. I received the bag just in time for a family camping trip to view the eclipse in Nebraska. Fitting gear for four in our Subaru Outback for a camping trip can be a bit like playing Tetris. Previously, instead of using a full-sized duffel bag (too big, awkward sizing), I had been using an IKEA bag stuffed with clothes, which made it challenging to find things. I used the Kulkea bag to pack everyone’s clothing and toiletries in their own compartments. This enabled me to dig out extra layers when it got cold and windy and keep underpants handy (yay potty training); the mesh top pockets were perfect for storing diapers and wipes. The durable bottom was perfect for the dusty pasture we camped in, too.
The bag is narrow and long in design, and it fit nearly perfectly into the fully packed trunk of our Outback. However, if Kulkea aims for the Tandem to be a true four-season bag, a feature that I missed was compression straps. It’s a fairly rigid rectangular shape, which is fine when stuffed full of ski boots and helmets, but if filled with soft goods, it doesn’t retain its shape well and can take up more room than necessary. Compression straps would enable you to really cinch it down and make it a little easier to pack in a car full of other items, although adding them would probably require changing materials on the thick foam cooler top.
Overall, the Tandem bag is extremely useful for anyone who has to carry gear for more than one person. I am really looking forward to using it during ski season to see if it is as handy as I think it will be — at least for the next few years until my kid can carry his own gear!
Featured Individual Review Long-Term Review: Kulkea Tandem Ski Boot Duffel