Everyone in aviation has an opinion of some kind on flight bags… Some pilots like aviation-specific bags, some like generic bags and some pilots don’t use a flight bag at all. What is the right choice? The real answer is…
The real answer is that, it depends on many factors for each of us and it is an individual choice. As a result, the right flight bag for me is probably not the right flight back for you! Many pilots struggle to find the perfect flight bag, and I believe this is because we each have our individual preferences and manufacturers can only produce so many variations of different flight bags. New pilots and students generally look at getting a flight bag as a way to indicate to others that they are pilots and prepared for their flying. The flight bag is a symbol of passage into the pilot fraternity.
It is easy to tell which student pilots ask their instructors for help from those who did not. The rule of thumb is that your flight bag should fit your mission, plain and simple. How do you define your mission? Ask yourself, what constitutes most of your flying activities? For example, flight instructors don’t carry all that much (compared to other pilots). Aircraft owners can leave their headsets in their airplane. Students generally carry their flying supplies plus some books for their lessons. Moreover, whether you are flying as a job or as a leisurely activity plays a role in determining your overall flying mission.
When a student asks me what type of bag they should purchase I tell them, it should make sense. I usually recommend the Sporty’s Crosswind bag. It is perfect for a student with the ability to carry all of the typical pilot tools including a headset, flashlight, water bottle, etc… as well as hold a couple of books that the student should have with them for reference during ground work and for studying. I also inform my students that once they have a license, carrying books such as the FAR/AIM is not a priority. As a result, they will likely “downsize” once he/she earns a pilot certificate.
The student pilots that ask for advice usually have a bag that may be large enough to carry their supplies and some books, but it won’t be too excessive. The students that don’t ask for advice will be the ones walking with a chronic hunch from carrying the generic, “Fit it all, plus the kitchen sink” flight bag.
Generally over time, flying trips to the nearest pilot shop, browsing the latest issue of Sporty’s and talking with other pilots may lead you to wonder if there is another flight bag that could serve you better. My advice here is to be careful. Eventually, you’ll end up with a basement full of very-lightly used flight bags if you search for too long. Since I started flying the number of flight bags I have “gone through,” tried out and/or used on-and-off is absurd. It is not a stretch to say that the number was closer to 100 than 50. For years I tried to imagine how a different flight bag would work for me.
But a funny thing has continued to happen since 2008 when I started flight instructing. I kept coming back to one particular bag. Every time I tried a different one it would work, but I’d realize it wasn’t “as good” as the CFI Bag from the old Sporty’s “Flightline” line up. For the first time in years I have settled on a bag and have not thought about trying something new for quite some time. I’ve sold or given away many of the bags I tried out over the years and have come to realize that for my present mission of flight instructing and the occasional pleasure flights, my current bag is right for me and my mission. I hope that other pilots can have as much success as I have when it comes to selecting a bag and being happy with the selection.
Over time what constitutes your normal flying can change. For example, if you purchase an airplane, you may find your flight bag is less for flight items (headsets, charts, etc… because they can remain in your aircraft) and more for items related to the airplane itself. The next time you are thinking of changing flight bags or wondering if the one you presently use fits the bill, remember your flight bag should match you mission, and you may need to change bags as your mission and circumstances change.
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9