Daniel and Markus Freitag have been making bags for 24 years. The founders of the Swiss brand Freitag have made messenger bags, handbags, laptop holders, backpacks, and wallets. But there’s one type of bag they could never get quite right. “We were never able to build a travel bag that was light enough,” says Daniel Freitag.
The company makes all of its products out of upcycled tarpaulin, a heavy duty material that’s often draped as a protective cover over large trucks. Tarpaulin, made from coating a fibrous sheet in polyurethane, is water resistant and sturdy. It’s also fairly heavy, which means adding wheels and a metal frame would result in luggage with too much heft.
For years, they let the idea of a wheely bag sit in the back of their minds, occasionally making a rough prototype only to realize that once again it didn’t quite work. Then in the spring of 2016, Nicola Staeubli, a designer at Freitag, came up with a solution: What if, instead of metal frames, they used inflated bicycle tubes to give the bag structure?
The Zippelin, now raising funds on Kickstarter, is a 22-gallon rolling suitcase made from the same tarpaulin as before. The bag lays flat and can be rolled into a spiral that’s compact enough to fit inside a shoebox. To create more volume, attach a bike pump to the valve on the front of the bag and pump until the 28-inch bike tube sewn into the bag’s lining begins to inflate.
Staeubli, who studied as an architect before joining Freitag, says inflatables are occasionally used to provide structural support in buildings and bridges. In the case of the Zippelin, it works the same way. A continuous inner tube lines the backside of the bag and inflates to around 30 psi, or about the same pressure as a car tire. Once inflated, the tube acts like a lightweight frame that gives the bag more rigidity.
Tarpaulin is a naturally flexible material; without some type of skeleton, the bag would collapse on itself. “The biggest challenge in the end was to design the volume in a way so it stood by itself when fully packed,” Staeubli says. The issue was that the bag couldn’t include a rigid base because it needed to be rollable. And its base couldn’t be perfectly rectangular, otherwise the bag would topple over when the wheels are attached. Staeubli landed on a design where the bottom of the Zippelin slants slightly downwards, from the detachable wheels to the front of the bag, creating a stable base.
Compared to other rolling suitcases, the Zippelin is decidedly low tech. You can roll it on two wheels,
sling its seatbelt strap around your back, and stash stuff in the handful of pockets. Pretty simple stuff. But unlike those other suitcases, after you’re done, you can deflate it, roll it up, and store it under your bed.