To help you find the best carry on luggage, we researched over 100 models before buying ten of the most intriguing options available. From planes to buses, Ubers to parking lots, we put some mileage on these little wheels. We packed them with a week's worth of gear, rolled them through terminals, lobbed them into overhead bins, and even took them down a dirt path or two. They took on panicked stair-smashing dashes to the gate, navigated crowded commutes and bumped over curbs to the car. Some of them let you pack to the max, and others offer dexterous maneuverability. Check out the review to find the bag of your dreams that fits your clothes and your budget.
The Best Carry-On Luggage
|Price||$207.99 at Amazon||$230 List||$339.00 at Amazon||$569.00 at Amazon||$118.99 at Amazon|
|Pros||Extremely easy to maneuver, stylish design perfect for business trips, durable||Fair price, durable, easy to use, easy access outer pockets||Loaded with features, easy to travel with, large storage capacity.||Well-constructed, loaded with travel-friendly features, classic design||Lightweight, spacious, expandable.|
|Cons||Heavier model||May need to check if expander is used||"Technical" styling not for everyone.||Expensive, heavy, not as maneuverable as a four-wheeled bag||Has a very nondescript look, not the most durable.|
|Bottom Line||A high-end bag built to make travel easy and to last a lifetime.||This easy roller offers a little luxury at a nice price||A non-conventional carry-on for the outdoor enthusiast.||A high-end bag that will last a lifetime, and then some.||Inexpensive bag when purchased at the usual "street" price.|
|Rating Categories||Platinum Elite 21" Expandabl...||Crew 11 21" Expandable Spinn...||Tarmac AWD Carry-On||Briggs and Riley Baseline Do...||Maxlite 5 22 Expandable Roll...|
|Ease Of Transport (25%)|
|Specs||Platinum Elite 21"...||Crew 11 21"...||Tarmac AWD Carry-On||Briggs and Riley...||Maxlite 5 22...|
|Measured Weight||7.81lbs||7.20 lbs||8.13 lbs||9.19 lbs.||6.31 lbs.|
|Dimensions||22" x 14" x 9"||22" x 14" x 9"||22" x 13" x 9"||22" x 14" x 9"||22" x 14" x 9"|
|# of Wheels||4||4||4||2||2|
|Number of interior pockets||5||4||4||2||2|
|Number of exterior pockets||2||2||3||4||2|
|Compression system||Compression straps with integrated accessory pockets||Compression straps||Compression straps||CX expansion-compression system||Compression straps|
|Lock||No, but lockable||No, but lockable||No, but lockable||No, but lockable||No|
|Main Material||High-density nylon fabric with DuraGuard® coating resists stains and abrasions.||High-quality ballistic nylon fabric with DuraGuard® coating for stain and abrasion resistance||1000D Helix Poly Twill and Polycarbonate shell||95% Nylon||Polyester fabric with water and stain resistant coating|
|Unique features||Removable toiletry pouch and dedicated power bank pocket||Dedicated power bank pouch||Hybrid hard/soft-sided design, coat keeper strap, expandable zipper, add-a-bag strap||Built-in suiter, unique expansion-compression system, external handle stays for maximum internal storage, add-a-bag strap||Expandable zipper|
|Handle height (inches)||36”, 38”, 40” and 42.5”||38”, 40” and 42.5”||37", 39", and 41"||36", 39", 41" and 43"||38" and 42"|
|Other Versions||20", 25", 28"||19", 25", 28"||26"|
Best Overall Carry-On Luggage
Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Spinner
This is the first year that we've given our top award to the Travelpro Platinum Elite. It truly has it all: ample space, internal compression straps, is easy to maneuver, not too heavy, and possesses a multitude of other features that make us love this bag. With Travelpro's signature business style, this bag is perfect for weekend business travel, adventure tourism, family vacations, and everything in between. It is incredibly durable and can carry all that you need for a long weekend and beyond. There's a drop-in, fold-out suiter that keeps your business attire wrinkle-free during travel, an extendable zipper, easy pull tabs, easy-access front pockets to passport and electronics, compression strap with extra space, and so on. The bag is backed by Travelpro's Worry-free lifetime warranty and includes the cost of repair for damage caused by an airline for the first three years after you register your product. The Travelpro Platinum Elite is tough to beat with its impressive features, maneuverability, and durability; in our opinion, it is the best overall option. It is a mid-range priced bag and is often found on sale.
Read review: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Spinner
Best Bang for the Buck
Travelpro Crew 11 21" Expandable Spinner Suiter
This year we are awarding the Best Bang for your Buck to the Travelpro Crew. It has many features that rival our Editors' Choice, but it comes at a more affordable price. It has plenty of space, internal compression straps, is easy to maneuver, and isn't too heavy. When we checked this bag, it came back with some marks, but nothing that couldn't be wiped off. It had smaller wheels, but they performed well over uneven surfaces and even made it through our one-mile test — over gravel, stairs, and pavement — with minimal signs of wear and tear. The price is very appealing, and if you are a frequent flyer, we believe this bag will stand up to the rigors of air travel. If you care for more features and even better wheels, we suggest you check out our Editors' Choice Award-winning bag above. Both bags are backed by Travelpro's Worry-free lifetime warranty, which will pay for repair from damage caused by an airline for the first three years after you register the bag.
The Travelpro Crew's sleek style makes it perfect for impressing the business crowd and casual travelers alike. It is tough to beat with all its impressive features, maneuverability, and durability, and in our opinion, this contender offers the best bang for your buck.
Read review: Travelpro Crew 11 21" Expandable Spinner Suiter
Top Pick for Personal Travel
Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On
We have some serious love for the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD and since it was outweighed this year for best overall bag, we decided to award it the Top Pick for Personal Travel. It continues to have the updates we love, including the internal compression straps for streamlined packing. With Eagle Creek's signature outdoorsy styling, this bag works for adventure tourism, family vacations, and everything in between. It is easy to maneuver and not too heavy, and can carry all that you'll need for a long weekend and beyond. What continues to impress us about this bag was all of the features. There's an add-a-bag strap, a "Coat-Keeper" strap that holds your jacket to the top of the bag, an expandable zipper, easy pulling zipper tabs, and so on. The bag is backed by Eagle Creek's No Matter What Warranty, which means they'll repair or replace your bag "no matter" the cause.
Its rugged styling makes it a little clunky if you're trying to impress the business crowd. Otherwise, however, the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD is tough to beat. Eagle Creek also makes a slightly less expensive Tarmac Carry-On, which is a two-wheeled version of this bag that has slightly more interior volume, but fewer features.
Read review: Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On
Why You Should Trust Us
With some serious frequent flyer miles, Cassandra Marin brings you this review. Our lead carry-on tester Cassandra loves to fly to far off-lands exploring different parts of the world. She was born and raised in South Lake Tahoe and has been enjoying the outdoors her entire life. Her favorite vacations take her to scuba diving destinations all over the world. Cassandra, in addition to many other people, make up our testing team to ensure that you find the best piece of carry-on luggage.
We've flown these bags all over North America, testing them over all sorts of terrain. We rolled them around in parking lots littered with gravel and looked at the features of each bag. Additionally, we examined their sturdiness and loaded them to the hilt to truly see which stand up. After years of testing, we've been able to identify which bags are the great and which ones don't hold up. In good ol' OutdoorGearLab fashion, we buy all our gear at retail price and test for an unbiased overview.
Analysis and Test Results
After much thought and research, we determined the six most important things to consider when purchasing a piece of carry-on luggage and then rated each bag according to its performance in that category. We also weighed certain categories, like Ease of Transport and Storage, as being of greater importance than a more subjective category like Style. In fact, when combined, Ease of Transport and Storage make up 50% of our rating for each bag. We also evaluated each piece on its available Features, Weight, and Durability. These metrics are designed to compare the different models across the board and highlight the places where each bag shined and where it fell short. It's certainly no secret that a good suitcase can make navigating airport security far more enjoyable, and our goal is to give you all the information you need to choose the product that best suits your needs.Related: Buying Advice for Carry-on Luggages
We examined how each bag's overall score compares to its price. The Travelpro Crew offers the best value as it scores well and comes in at a reasonable price. The Travelpro Platinum Elite — our Editors' Choice winner — strikes a nice balance with a mid-range price tag and a top-of-the-line score.
Ease of Transport
One of the most important characteristics when choosing a suitcase is how quickly you can get your stuff from point A to point B. Your luggage needs to carry you through crowded tube rides, over carpets, slick tile, rough asphalt, and into the overhead bin. As a result, we paid a lot of attention to how well their wheels work, how comfortable the handle placement is, and how sturdy the bag is overall. We looked for carrying handles on the tops and sides of bags, which help with wrenching them out of tightly packed trunks or lofting them up and over a set of stairs.
When it came to rolling performance, we found that there was not much difference among the different two-wheeled bags that we tested. They pulled along in their predictable way, transitioning well from polished airport floors to broken cement sidewalks and gravel parking lots. One of the best performing two-wheeled bags on uneven surfaces is the The North Face Rolling Thunder 22. This bag has larger diameter wheels (3-inches or above) with ridges on them that provided traction when surfaces got rough. The other two-wheeled bags that we tested have smaller wheels with a smooth finish and don't fare as well.
Comparing the performance of two- vs. four-wheeled bags was enlightening. The four-wheeled bags that we tested varied considerably in rolling performance. The Travelpro Platinum Elite, Travelpro Crew, and Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD had the best-performing action of the lot, while the Rockland Melbourne 20 continually pulled to one side. When the four-wheeled models were working well, we preferred them for airport navigation over a two-wheeled option. Instead of dragging a heavy bag behind you, you can push it by your side with minimal effort.
Four-wheeled bags are also easier to take down the aisle of a plane. Push it in front of you and avoid banging it into arms rests as you go down the aisle. These wheels do tend to be smaller than the wheels on the traditional bags, ranging in diameter from 1.75 to 2 inches. This makes some harder to roll over rough surfaces, either when pushing them or tilting them up and dragging them like a two-wheeled bag. The Travelpro Platinum Elite and Travelpro Crew both stood up to the rough terrain on all four wheels.
Equally as important as Ease of Transport, our Storage metric evaluated how much stuff each bag can contain. We did a variety of tests to gauge the storage capability of each bag, including a "wintertime long weekend" test and a "pack for a week" test. While every bag passed a basic three-day pack test (two pairs of pants, four shirts and sweaters, undergarments, running shoes and workout gear, toiletry bag, and novel), there was a broad range in internal volumes between the different models. Some bags could hold the basics, but there was no room for a nice set of clothes and shoes. Others, like the Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic, had room for all of the above and some fancy duds or business attire as well.
Our "pack for a week test" (see the photo below), helped separate the roomy bags from the standard ones. The Eagle Creek Tarmac, Travelpro Crew, and Travelpro Platinum Elite could accommodate all the items without having to expand the bag. The Travelpro Maxlite 5 22 came close but had to be extended to fit everything.
A smaller internal capacity is not necessarily a bad thing. If you're a light packer or go to warm places (where bulky clothes aren't required), then a small bag might be perfect for you. Additionally, many individuals still travel with a checked bag, so using a smaller bag as your carry-on can be a great option. On the other hand, if you're a heavy packer, you may find yourself sitting on top of your bag wrestling with your zipper unless you purchase a spacious one.
We also tested several expandable bags, providing an additional 1 to 2 inches of width and 5-10 L of space. Even though you would probably have to check the bags once they are expanded, it's nice to have the option to go on a vacation shopping spree and not worry about how you'll transport your items home.
Throughout this review, we tested bags with some serious bells and whistles. From pocket configuration to telescoping handle height, we checked out and tested the functionality of each bag's special features. We were also careful to consider the question "How much is too much?". Our bag that took awards this year were all loaded with features that we ended up loving, but that may not be for everyone.
The bags with the most liked features were, not surprisingly, our Editors' Choice, Best Bang for the Buck, and Top Pick winners. Both the Travelpro Platinum Elite and Travelpro Crew came with similar features like compression straps and a fold-in suiter to keep your business attire wrinkle-free. The Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD also comes with a host of cool features, like a strap to secure your coat or neck pillow, and lots of slots for organization.
The Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic's compression straps are almost the same width as the bag, so your belongings stay secure. The handle tubes are on the outside of the bag, providing a flat interior packing surface (no funny ridges and wasted space to deal with). There's also a built-in garment bag with a tri-folding suiter, and part of it can unzip and detach if you prefer to use the space for something else.
We also really liked the features on the AmazonBasics Oxford Luggage, which included the integrated TSA lock and the ability to separate the two sides of the bag with a zippered divider, which provides useful separation for dirty and clean clothes.
It's interesting to note that none of the significant luggage manufacturers have jumped on the "smart" carry-on luggage train yet. They're likely waiting to see if this is a viable market or just the latest trend that won't last long. In a way, that's a shame, because the biggest complaints that we've seen online and in our field testing so far is that the quality of the bags themselves is poor. If more companies were putting this technology in their lines, we'd probably be more excited, but instead, we're more disappointed than anything that the models we tried were so poorly made.
As for the technology itself, we're a little mixed on whether or not it's even useful. A battery charger is nice, but you won't be able to access it in-flight while your bag is in the overhead bin. Also, so many airports have been updated with readily available charging outlets at the gates that it seems like an unnecessary feature, or one that is more easily replaced with a portable external battery, won't set you back much and can be used in flight. Also, a battery pack that is built-in to a suitcase has a bunch of wires coming out of it, which can look suspiciously like a bomb in an x-ray machine.
A built-in scale is a great feature as well, but one that is more useful in a larger checked bag that is going to get weighed at check-in. It's hard to pack more than the allotted weight in a smaller carry-on to begin with, so that even if you do end up checking it at some point in your travels, you're unlikely to be over the 40-50 pound maximum.
The ability to track your bag is also a handy feature if you check it, but the precision is not quite there with every model. Some of them will only tell you a general location, such as the city, and not precisely what part of an airport you might find it in. And again, because you are carrying this bag with you, there is less need for a tracker on a carry-on than with checked luggage. All in all, we have to say that we're less than impressed with these "smart" bags. But we're still hoping to find one that we can heartily recommend, and we'll let you know when we do.
After throwing down a few hundred dollars for a piece of luggage, you want it to last a while, on the order of years, not months. This is particularly important if you're a frequent flyer. Although we only tested these bags for a few months, we weren't gentle, and we drew some important conclusions about each one's durability and construction.
Material greatly affects durability. The Briggs and Riley Baseline Domestic is made from ballistic nylon and scored high in this metric. It won't stop a bullet from going through your bag, but it will resist scratches and dirt, and it was the only bag to come through our review process without a scratch on it. One reason travelers prefer to use carry-on luggage over checked bags is that you tend to be easier on your gear than airport employees, as according to one baggage handler, they never "do anything with finesse." Carrying your bags on a plane also avoids them being carted over belts, in carts, and in and out of holds on planes, though they will get scratched and dirty eventually.
The sturdily designed handles of The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 and the Eagle Creek Tarmac encouraged confidence in the bags' durability. In contrast, the Travelpro Maxlite was dented after checking in for only one flight.
Of all the bags that we tested, the least durable one — in our opinion — was the Rockland Melbourne 20. Not surprisingly, it was also one of the least expensive models in this review. The most durable seemed to be the Briggs and Riley Baseline Domestic, and the two Travelpro bags, with the The North Face Rolling Thunder 22, and the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD following closely behind. Also not surprisingly, these are some of the more expensive models available. While a high price doesn't always guarantee durability, as with the Travelpro Maxlite and its dented frame, there is often a close correlation.
A final note on Durability is the warranty that may (or may not) come with your bag. All of the bags that we tested came with some kind of warranty, though most of them are limited to manufacturing defects and do not cover damage caused by an airline carrier or normal wear and tear. So if one of your spinning wheels pops off, it would most likely be deemed wear and tear and thus not be covered. Briggs and Riley and Eagle Creek offer excellent warranties and say they'll cover any repairs that need to be made to a bag, for life and for free, whether the damage is caused by you, the airline or a defect.
On the other hand, bags with that kind of warranty come with a hefty price tag. Long story short, if you are hard on your gear or occasionally clumsy (like us!), then a model with a no-questions-asked warranty is a sound investment.
Whether you opt for convertible, wheeled, or non-wheeled models, you will have to lift your bag multiple times over the course of your travel day: into the trunk, onto the security x-ray belt, and, of course, into the overhead bin. The lighter your bag is to begin with, the lighter it will be once you pack it full of all your stuff. We got out our digital scale and measured the weight of each piece in this review. It was no surprise that some manufacturers understated the weight of their bags, so the weights we mention here are all ones we've measured on our calibrated scale.
One of the lightest bags that we tested is the Travelpro Maxlite. We were pleasantly surprised to feel how light the Maxlite was (6 lbs 5 oz), particularly compared to the Briggs and Riley Baseline Domestic (9 lbs 3 oz), which is almost 3 lbs heavier. There is a trade-off here though, as the Maxlite lacked in durability, and may not hold up as well in the long run as the thick ballistic nylon used in the Baseline. Other lightweight bags were the AmazonBasics Oxford and the Rockland Melbourne, both coming in under 7 lbs. One thing to keep in mind is that the weight of a bag is more noticeable in models that you drag behind you vs. ones that you push alongside.
As our final testing criterion, we considered style. Although this is not a category that everyone feels strongly about, many people fly for more formal occasions like weddings or business meetings, and some want a bag that reflects the purpose of their trip. As with any accessory, a carry-on provides the user with a certain look, be it techy or sophisticated or nondescript. This category is certainly more subjective than the others, so keep in mind that just because our review editors were not a fan of a certain look does not mean that it's not the right bag for you.
We reviewed several bags that look very professional, namely the Briggs and Riley Baseline Domestic and Travelpro's Crew and Platinum Elite. These bags are classic, plain, and also somewhat luxurious looking. You wouldn't be embarrassed by these bags if you had to take them to a meeting with a potential client. Some bags looked more techy or outdoorsy, like The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 and the Eagle Creek Tarmac. Those bags could fly one weekend and be used to go camping the next. We found the Travelpro Maxlite 4 22 to be a little bit nondescript. Finally, there was the Rockland Melbourne 20, which is also plain, but comes in over 25 different eye-popping color choices.
Trying to find a bag that fits all your travel needs can be frustrating, particularly if you want something that can bridge the gap between serious business and a stylish getaway. Our best advice is to pick the style that you like the most, and the one that you won't get sick of looking at after a year or two.
Any cursory glance around the web reveals that carry-on options go on for days. Narrowing down the field and finding the bag for you is a challenging task. Whether you're purchasing new luggage or a once-in-a-lifetime trip, daily travel, or want to be under a certain price point, there are great options for you. No matter what you're looking for, we recommend a sturdy bag made with quality materials. It's better for the planet (and your wallet!) to buy one well-made expensive bag that lasts for 20 years rather than a cheap one that you end up replacing every year.
— Cassandra Marin, Cam McKenzie Ring