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All Packed And Ready To Roll

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kids carry the darnedest things. For mini-travelers, adult-size backpacks often fit like giant tortoise shells, and big upright bags can overwhelm tiny arms. But kid-size carry-ons have to be more than cute: Space is of the utmost importance, with enough room for favorite blankets, books and stuffed animals. Young travelers should be responsible for their own bags, but not crushed by them. We tested seven child-friendly models with a group of kids who wheeled, carried, zipped and even rode the pieces around the house and driveway.

-- Marty Barrick

* Like Dots Mine 21-Inch Rolling Carry-On Upright

(888-487-5453, http://www.likeluggage.com; $99.99)

KIDS SAY: "I like the dots and colors," Roxanna Voeller said. But upon lifting it, the 10-year-old grunted, "Oh, jeez, it's heavy! This would be for, like, a teenager." Fitting, since the company's slogan is, "Like . . . Totally Cool Luggage for Teens."

PARENTS SAY: This attractive bag is large enough to hold clothing for a week or more, and we were pleased with the two large outside pockets and the side and top handles. At eight pounds, the bag feels heavy but thankfully rolls easily.

OVERALL GRADE: B+ . . . for stylish looks and large capacity, but be prepared for heavy lifting.

* JanSport 19-inch Wheeled Superbreak

( http://www.jansport.com; $60 at BagKing, 888-655-2247, http://www.bagking.com)

KIDS SAY:"Wow! It's a backpack-suitcase!" said Zoe Childs, 7, of the 5-pound-12-ounce bag. "I would stick my toothbrush and toothpaste in a pocket so I would be organized." Its design received top marks as well. "I think the blue, brown and white polka dots look really cool," she said. Indeed, the pattern appealed to everyone, even before they learned its name: Chocolate Chip Bubbles. Roxanna liked its retractable three-stage handle and would put a CD player in the outside pocket. One tester packed five days' worth of clothes inside.

PARENTS SAY:"It's comfortable as a backpack," said Barbara Pitts of Sykesville, Md., who prefers to keep her hands free to carry a kid or pull other luggage. "The straps don't dig into your back." The mother of two's only concern is that the opening doesn't fully unzip, so it might be hard to see items on the bottom. On the other hand, she said, "Stuff won't unexpectedly spill out."

OVERALL GRADE: A+ . . . for design and multi-generational appeal.

* Sammies Funnyface 18-Inch Upright by Samsonite Dinky

(800-262-8282, http://samsonitecompanystores.com; $65 at Luggage Pros, 800-595-5456, www.luggagepros.com)

Note: Cute as it is, the penguin -- which is still in stock in some spots -- is being discontinued, but the luggage still comes in the turtle, ladybug and tiger shapes.

KIDS SAY:"I think boys, like 3 years old, would like honking the beak," said Roxanna, referring to the orange triangle atop the penguin that squeaks when squeezed. Zoe said, "It's cool. It looks like you're carrying a penguin," but she complained that "to open it, you have to lift up the penguin's armpits." Anna Reachmack, 9, was so over this bag: "Not for me -- too kidlike," adding that the four-pounder is "a little small for $75." She packed three days' worth of clothes in it. Two of the testers said it didn't roll as well as the other bags.

PARENTS SAY:"That's cute," said David Pitts, father of a 4-year-old and a 1 1/2 -year-old. "It would make traveling fun." But his wife, Barbara, warned that kids "will quickly outgrow the critter."

OVERALL GRADE: C . . . is for cute as a critter, but it may be banished to the attic in a few years.

* Miquelrius Agatha Ruiz de la Prada Cosima 21-Inch Trolley and Eight-Inch Vanity Case

(sold at eBags, 800-820-6126, http://www.ebags.com; retails for $80)

KIDS SAY:"I like it because pink is my favorite color," declared 5-year-old Phylicia Childs, who would use the vanity case to carry her lunch. "It's too pink," countered Anna, though she appreciated the clever way the vanity case slid over the extended retractable handle. The girl's "hair is orange," said Lauren Pitts, 4, referring to the Tokyo-inspired graphic on the six-pound two-piecer.

PARENTS SAY: A fun, reasonably priced case with kid-friendly, heart-shape zipper pulls and an interior buckle that doesn't pinch fingers. Our tester stuffed five days' worth of clothes inside and easily rolled the bag indoors and out.

OVERALL GRADE : A . . . for simple elegance and innovation.

* Timberland Timber Kids 16-Inch Upright

(888-802-9947, http://www.timberland.com; $119 on eBags, 800-820-6126, http://www.eBags.com)

KIDS SAY:"It's so easy to lift," said Grace Reachmack, 7, who loved the stitched tree design and the streamlined, orange retractable handle. Anna liked feel of the leather handles, the versatility of the top and side handles, and the practicality of the mesh interior pocket: "You can see what's inside without opening it." The buckles on the interior divider were hard to open, and she thought the bag was too small: "It's good for just one or two nights."

PARENTS SAY: The bold red color hides dirt, but the three-pound piece doesn't hold much. Timberland makes a slightly deeper version with more outside pockets that converts to a backpack and comes with a rain cover. It's more expensive ($130) but might be used by kids through their teenage years.

OVERALL GRADE: B - . . . for outdoorsy good looks, but best for light packers only.

* Mickey Brainpower 21-Inch Rolling Gear Bag

( http://www.skywayluggage.com; $69.99 at Traveler's Shoppes, 800-868-8444, http://www.travelersshoppes.com)

KIDS SAY: This bag was a favorite of Jake Griffin, 5, who enjoyed the Mickey design. "It's like a gym bag and a suitcase," Grace said. "Too gray. It doesn't pop," Anna said. Zoe thought she could "stuff a lot of things in it."

PARENTS SAY: Barbara said it rolls nicely, seems durable and would hold a week's worth of clothes. She noted that it lacks a shoulder strap but thinks it's a good value.

OVERALL GRADE: A . . . for price, practicality and pop iconography.

* Trunki

(888-TRENDY-K, http://www.trunki.net; $39.99)

KIDS SAY: Testers too young to quote couldn't keep their hands, bellies and bottoms off this 18-inch hard plastic case designed for 3- to 6-year-olds. Kids couldn't open the latches, but they certainly could entertain themselves on the rolling 3.8-pound piece. "I want to use it to watch TV," said Grace.

PARENTS SAY: "Stop pulling it around the house!" Its hard wheels are extremely loud on bare floors. Pediatrician Suzanne Levin had other concerns: "It's cute, lightweight and colorful, but it has no safety features. Riding a toy without head protection is unsafe. Pulling your child behind you means your eyes aren't on your child." Paul Griffin, dad of two, said it was the right size for a sleepover, but not a vacation.

OVERALL GRADE: D . . . for being more toy than suitcase.

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