Ready for your next trip? Make sure everything runs smoothly, beginning with packing the best carry-on luggage for your needs. Whether you’re renting a beach house, taking a mother-daughter bucket list trip or embracing a travel trend such as impact travel, you’ll want to opt for a bag that fits in the overhead plane compartment and has all the features that will make your travel easier. We searched among the top suitcase makers to come up with the 16 best pieces of luggage you won’t need to check.
What to Consider
• Size: Each domestic carrier makes its own rules about exactly what dimensions they accept for on-board luggage, but generally, domestic carriers require that a bag’s dimensions be no more than 45 inches total—most commonly, 22 inches tall x 14 inches wide x 9 inches deep. (Though there are exceptions, including Frontier Airlines, which requires bags be under 40 inches combined.) Internationally, a number of major airlines such as Air France, for example, ask that luggage be no more than 21 inches tall, and total less than 45 inches combined (Air France’s combined measurements are 43 inches). Exceptions abound, so check with your airline before expecting that your bag will be allowed to board with you. And remember, expandable carry-on luggage pieces are great for convenience…until you realize that once you stuff all your shopping purchases in your bag, its dimensions no longer fit within airline parameters..
• Four Wheels or Two: Two-wheeled luggage pieces were long the gold standard in rolling luggage, since the two parallel wheels allowed you to pull the case behind you, yet the non-wheeled front corners of the bag let it stand obediently in place where you parked it. Four-wheeled suitcases, known as spinner luggage, allow the bag to be pushed alongside you. According to Travelpro, the luggage manufacturer founded by a former pilot who patented a two-wheeled suitcase in the early 1990s and now sells spinner luggage, deciding which type is for you depends on your needs. Two-wheeled luggage allows greater speed, since you can really make time running across a concourse with it gliding behind you; spinner luggage, on the other hand, gives users greater agility, since its four externally-mounted wheels have 360-degree motion and easily stop and start as you weave your way through a crowded commuter gate access area.
• Hard-Sided or Soft: Hard-sided luggage is typically made of injection-molded plastic in bright colors and finishes, while soft-sided cases by contrast are made of durable fabric with external pockets. Hard cases are usually designed as two clamshell halves that bind together using a zipper in the middle, while soft cases are generally a single chamber that’s opened using a zippered opening on one end. Are you a person who usually packs 20 percent over a bag’s capacity, then sits on the suitcase to get it to close? If so, you might want to opt for a soft case, since they have more “give” than a hard-shell case and are less likely to suffer a split zipper. Conversely, do you like the secure feeling of your suitcase contents being ding-proof under a hard surface? Then go for the molded plastic.
• Warranty: Do you want to invest in a bag that’s going to last you next-to-forever, or do you like to swap to a fresher model every few years? If you’re the former, then opt for one of the brands such as TravelPro that have lifetime warranties. They’re a little pricier, but you’ll know your investment is covered.
Best Carry-On Luggage At a Glance
Best All-Around Carry-On Luggage
Why We Love It: Ejectable battery, aluminum bumpers
This Australia-made bag is a durable, 100 percent Eurospace-grade polycarbonate that comes in a range of bright hues like marigold yellow and ocean blue. The spinner wheels are smooth, and there are top and side handles to help you hoist it into the overhead. And the extras include an integrated TSA-approved lock and a nylon stain-proof laundry bag. Not sure it’s for you? It comes with a 100-day trial period, so you’ve got time to give it a try.
Best International Carry-On
Why We Love It: Expandable pocket, great warranty
This ultra-lightweight case (5.3 pounds) is sized to roll right aboard most international carriers while still accommodating a respectable 39 liters of capacity. The handle locks into two lengths so it’s just right for talls and shorties alike, and we’re surprised that such a profesh bag (the line was founded by an airline pilot), has such cute touches, like the pretty colorways (azure blue, slate green) and gingham interior fabric. And Travelpro’s combo of a 100-day trial period and a limited lifetime guarantee are among the most consumer-friendly protections in the luggage industry.
Best USB-Enhanced Carry-On Luggage
Why We Love It: TSA-approved lock, 13-watt battery
Great colors and a sleek design have made Away a popular new entry in the online luggage market, and this is the line’s smallest bag. It’s got everything you need, and nothing you don’t: One compartment zips closed and the other straps down with a flexible panel, which helps keep clothes from spilling everywhere when you have to open it last minute to make sure you packed your swimsuit. There’s a separate nylon laundry bag, a TSA-approved lock and, as a nice touch, a leather luggage tag (which you can have monogrammed for $10 extra). While the lithium battery to charge your phone is nice, you can opt for a case without it for a $20 discount. And in what’s becoming an expected feature, Away lets you trial-travel with it for 100 days, and offers a limited lifetime warranty.
Best Expandable Carry-On Luggage
Why We Love it: Unzips two inches wider, bag attach strap
This eye-catching case made of 100 percent virgin polycarbonate (the makers say virgin materials dictate greater durability) has sturdy spinner wheels and a rubber-padded retractable handle. Inside, there’s a compression board on one side, mesh compartments and faux leather trim. And there are four-point compression straps—but even if you can’t crush everything to fit, there’s always the zipper closure, which lets you zip it tight (bringing it within on-board size regulations) or two inches looser (maybe for car trips or when you check your luggage). There’s a TSA-approved lock to keep it all safe, too, and a limited lifetime warranty.
Best Plus-Size Carry-On Luggage
Why We Love It: Roomier, anti-microbial fabric
A tad larger than most carry-ons, this bag still fits in the overhead bins of most major domestic carriers. The telescoping handle has four settings to find any user’s comfort spot, and the wheels and zipper are sturdy and top-quality. We appreciate the wide straps over the interior compression board, as well as the 100-day trial period and limited lifetime warranty.
Best Hard-Sided Carry-On
Why We Love It: Distinctive vegan leather trim, recycled materials
We appreciate the gracious styling of Paravel, which makes sturdy, hard-sided cases that look like they are expensive designer cases (thanks to vegan leather accents on the sides and handle). In reality, each bag’s lining is made from 15 recycled water bottles, and the handle is fashioned of recycled aircraft-grade aluminum. It’s secured via a TSA-approved lock and the bag comes with a laundry bag and a small accessories pouch (because who doesn’t hate those uncoiled charger cables?). And there’s a five-year warranty to cover manufacturing defects as well as wear and tear.
Best Carry-On Luggage With Thoughtful Extras
Why We Love It: Stacks on larger cases, top-loading
This soft-sided bag has a lot of extras for the price—a wet bag that keeps your clothes from dampening everything you packed, a TSA port (you’ll need to attach your own battery) and best of all, two exterior packets that can be filled with the paperwork (i.e., magazines) you’ve been waiting until takeoff to catch up on. And if you’d like to consolidate this spinner with your larger checked luggage, there’s a strap on back of this case that lets you attach it to the bigger piece, so that you won’t need to rent one of those expensive trolleys at the baggage claim area.
Best Carry-On Luggage for Laptop Users
Why We Love It: Snap-on laptop sleeve, vivid color range
July has aced one of the toughest drawbacks of a hard-sided case: No exterior pockets to store a laptop in. Here, instead of a pocket, July has made a toughened poly fabric into a snap-on case that fits up to a 16-inch laptop. So you can just snap it on and off before hoisting your case into the overhead bin. Not sure it’s going to work for you? The company’s 100-day trial period, free shipping across the U.S. and Canada and beautiful hues are reason enough to try.
Best Compact Carry-On Luggage
Why We Love It: Fits under seat, lightweight
Our review gave this case top marks for its ability to fit even into the slender overhead compartments of a commuter aircraft, as well as its sleek styling. It’s got lots of interior zippered compartments to organize the pared-down weekend’s worth of gear you pack.
Best Backpack Design
Why We Love It: Lightweight (2.1 pounds), fits laptop and clothes
Not into the whole wheeled-suitcase experience? This ballistic nylon backpack is a durable alternative to a small roller case, since it has a compartment that fits up to a 15-inch laptop and another one with a wide opening to pack folded clothes and a spare pair of shoes. The dimensions of the backpack when full are 18 inches tall, 12 inches wide and 8.8 inches deep, so it’s got a lot of capacity. And the shoulder straps and back panel are lightly padded to make it comfortable.
Best Carry-On Luggage Duo
Why We Love It: Two-wheeled case, matching tote
There’s something crisp about matching luggage and this roller case and tote bag combo, in your choice of ten colors, checks all the boxes. The tote has a piggy-back strap that fits over the case’s retractable handle, and the square styling of both pieces assures no slipping off the sides—even when you’re putting the reinforced in-line wheels of the case to the test by racing to your gate.
Best Affordable Carry-On Luggage
Why We Love It: Smart styling, mesh interior pocket
This combination polycarbonate/ABS hard shell case has a mesh interior pocket, a TSA-approved lock and quiet, 360-degree spinner wheels. In your choice of five colors, this is a lot of durable case for the price.
Best Self-Unpacking Carry-On Suitcase
Why We Love It: Interior shelves, USB charging port
This ordinary-looking, albeit cute case that comes in colors like bright Balearic blue and Granada green, hides a secret: It’s made up of a series of nylon shelves that you hang to pack and unpack. And you don’t even need a closet—the six shelving slots hang off the retractable handle as the case stays upright thanks to a balancing leg. You’ll never be a messy packer again.
Best Lightweight Carry-On Luggage
Why We Love It: Mono handle, 5-pound weight
Weighing only five pounds with a 34-liter interior capacity, this strong case made of virgin polycarbonate is a great all-around option for someone who’s sick of asking for help pushing a heavy suitcase into the overhead. The mono-telescoping handle and large dual-caster wheels let you zip right through airport crowds, too. There’s a 10-year limited warranty.
Best Soft-Sided Carry-On Luggage
Why We Love It: Three exterior pockets 6.9-pound weight
Two front pockets and a side pocket allow you to cram lots of extras into this cute case from Euro brand Delsey. The microballistic nylon is easy to just wipe clean, and there’s the ability to expand the case if you’ve overpacked.
Best Carry-On Duffle
Why We Love It: Sturdy reinforced base, rugged base
The perfect carry-on to take to a ranch or other rugged getaway, this duffle keeps its shape with twin metal toboggan-shaped rails that support everything you need to tote along, from hiking boots to your toiletries kit. Padded grip handles make it easy to use like a traditional duffel when you get to your gravelly or dusty destination.
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