The Red Oxx Lil Roy

Recently Jim Markel, the CEO of Red Oxx (and son of the founder), contacted me to ask if I’d like to review something from his company’s line of heavy-duty luggage.

I was already familiar with their fine, U.S.-made Sherpa duffels, which, unlike many competitors, employ a rectangular box design that maximizes every cubic inch of space in the back of a vehicle or the cargo compartment of a bush plane. I asked what he might have that I hadn’t seen, and he mentioned a small tote called the Lil Roy. It sounded useful, so I asked him to send one.

He sent five. And after casting about to find uses for them, I’m glad he did. 

Think of all the small items you typically carry in a vehicle that could use extra protection, organization, or just visibility. A quick glance around our FJ60 before a recent trip to Mexico’s Sierra Madre, where we’re surveying mammal populations using automatic trail cameras, revealed a bunch of potential applications. There was a pair of handheld two-meter radios we use to stay in touch on the area’s mountainous trails; Roseann’s Swarovski and my Leica binoculars—both armored and tough, but worth about a zillion dollars each and thus nice to keep cased when possible—several field guides; the remote for the winch (kept in the center console and always tangling in other stuff); the trail cameras themselves, and several other odds and ends.

Like all Red Oxx products, the Lil Roy is made in Billings, Montana. You won’t find any fatuous tags reading, “Designed with pride in America.” (Translation: “Assembled by small children in an Asian sweatshop.”) The only items the company has made outside the U.S. are the clever little “monkey fist” zipper pulls, which are tied in a small village in Guatemala, where Red Oxx built a workshop with a bathroom, shower, and cooking facilities, and recently granted a microloan to build a corn-grinding mill. Fair enough.

Although the Lil Roy is a compact nine by three by six inches (175 cubic inches), it’s sewn from the same 1,000-denier Cordura as their largest duffels. The #10 YKK toothed zipper looks comically large on a bag this small, but it’s stronger than an equivalently sized coil zipper, and more resistant to jamming from debris. Inside, there’s not an exposed fabric edge in sight—everything is taped and double-stitched. Flat mesh pockets on each side are useful for incidentals. For example, we have a 911SC with a compact spare you have to inflate in the event of a flat; I’m using one Lil Roy to hold the small compressor I carry for the purpose, plus the non-marring socket designed to prevent scratching the black paint on the Porsche’s fancy aluminum lug nuts. (Aluminum? Yes, really.)

Outside, the Lil Roy’s web handles wrap under the bag and, given the modest volume of this thing, would probably support it filled with material from the core of a neutron star. The self-locking zipper pulls are unlikely to come undone accidentally, but just in case, Red Oxx supplies a little steel cable with a screw fastener to keep them together. The metal dog tag on it, stamped with the company name and product information, could easily be replaced with another tag stamped with personal information. If not needed to lock the zippers it simply hangs off one of the handles.

Criticisms? Frankly, none that I could come up with. I don’t think the bag gains anything by having the zipper wrap so far down the sides, but that’s inconsequential. It’s not remotely waterproof, but it wasn’t intended to be. I’d like to see the Lil Roy offered in an additional version (Big Roy?) the same length and height, but twice the width—I’m thinking tire chains, jumper cables, like that.  

The biggest surprise of the Lil Roy is its $25 price. I don’t know how they can produce something of this quality in the U.S. for so little. The Lil Roy is available in 12 colors; I think most of us could find a use for every one.

The Red Oxx website is here