The travel gear industry lost a heavy hitter yesterday, as Eagle Creek announced that it will shut down operations by the end of this year. Its parent company, VF Corporation, the Colorado-based conglomerate that owns other big outdoor names like the North Face and Altra, offered scant details about the factors that led to the brand’s demise, simply saying that keeping the label running “no longer makes strategic or financial sense.” As a frequent traveler and owner of many Eagle Creek-stamped bags, I’m left to mourn the 100-liter-sized gap in high-quality, rugged travel gear.
During its almost 50 years in business, Eagle Creek, which was started by Steve and Nona Barker in San Jacinto, California, in 1975, became renowned in the rough-riding adventure travel community for the durability and innovative design of its luggage, backpacks, and accessories. During my time as a travel editor and gear reviewer, I’ve tested more than half a dozen Eagle Creek offerings, including the bombproof Cargo Hauler duffel, the versatile Switchback carry-on, and the smart Wayfinder backpack. I was always impressed by the thoughtful design details: unlike some other travel brands, whose products include bells and whistles that offer little practical value, it’s clear that the minds behind Eagle Creek’s creations are travelers themselves and that they thought hard about what would actually work best on the road. For example, the Wayfinder’s hidden tech pocket has a cord pass-through between the shoulder strap and laptop compartment for charging your phone on the go from a powerbank. I’ve edited plenty of writers who swear by the brand’s hardiness, including one whose luggage has held up for over a decade. The brand’s Caldera International Carry-On, an update of the Switchback, even nabbed one of Outside’s coveted Gear of the Year awards.
Away from my desk and out on the road, I’d often find myself inventing items in my head that I wished existed (such as a wheeled carry-on with backpack straps and a zip-out personal item), only to find that Eagle Creek already made it. My favorite example of this phenomenon is the Pack-It Isolate packing cube. Long plagued by my two arch nemeses—overpacking and a lack of organization—I dreamt of a cube that didn’t take up precious bag space, could compress items down to half their size, and showed what was inside. Eagle Creek, of course, made this too.
No other product in my years of testing and globetrotting has changed the way I traveled as much as this packing cube. At around two ounces each, the Pack-Its punch well above their weight when it comes to functionality—I wish I had them when I was living out of a backpack in Asia and Australia for more than three years. The compression zippers allowed me to squeeze a week’s worth of clothes into a suitcase normally meant for a few days, saving me more than a few checked bag fees. Their stand-out feature, though, is so obvious I can’t believe it’s not standard everywhere: they’re translucent, so I can know what’s in the cube without opening it. That, combined with the variety of sizes and styles that allows me to organize clothing by day or use, has saved me countless minutes of unpacking and repacking as I move from place to place. Practically speaking, this meant that while my mom rushed to squeeze everything back into her suitcase as we hopped hotels in Italy, I was enjoying my third espresso down in the café. Hearing the news about Eagle Creek’s downfall had me wondering how many Pack-Its I could buy in bulk before they disappear forever.
Long before they perfected the packing cube, Eagle Creek started out making custom backpacks. In 2007, the company was acquired by VF Corporation, with the goal of turning humble beginnings into a $100 million brand. It’s unclear whether the COVID-19 pandemic’s decimation of the global travel industry had a hand in the brand’s sudden disintegration. While some jobs will be eliminated, VF Corporation says many Eagle Creek staffers will be shifted to sister brands like Jansport and Eastpak.
I, for one, will be sad to see Eagle Creek’s logo disappear from shelves; it’s one of the few luggage companies that virtually guaranteed a one-time purchase. The brand’s “No Matter What” warranty—which included replacement or repair of many products, regardless of the cause of failure—was one of the few left in the business after L.L. Bean and REI announced that they were ending similar return programs in recent years. It’s not clear if or how VF Corporation will honor that warranty now (the company did not respond to a request for comment). Regardless, I hope that Eagle Creek’s staff will carry on the spirit of the brand’s simple-yet-significant innovations and buy-it-for-life quality at other labels in the industry.