Best Lightweight Luggage Sets

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

37 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
352 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best lightweight luggage sets

Last Updated October 2019

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, a lightweight luggage set can make your trip easier (and lighter). But exactly what type of luggage do you need? Hard? Soft? Four wheels or two? The options multiply as luggage manufacturers come up with new ways to enhance the travel experience. Finding the right lightweight luggage set for your needs can be complicated.

That’s where BestReviews comes in. If you’re ready to shop but not sure where to begin, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve put together this shopping guide to help you decide on the features you need. And when you’re ready to buy, take a look at our top picks for the lightweight luggage sets that we think stand out from the traveling crowd.

Everybody packs differently. Your packing style will dictate many of the features you need in your luggage set. Minimalists need fewer storage options and aren’t limited by a hard-shell case. Over-packers might need an expandable soft-shell set with many outer and inner pockets.

Key considerations

Pieces

Lightweight luggage sets have anywhere from two to five pieces, and some have even more. The size of each piece in a set varies by make and model. All the pieces in a set may have wheels and a handle while other sets may include one or two pieces that rely on a shoulder strap instead of wheels and a handle for transport. In general, each set has at least one piece that’s designed to meet airline regulations for carry-ons. However, each airline has its own specifications and regulations, so all sets won’t meet the standards for all airlines.

Capacity

The capacity depends on a number of factors, including the material used to make the shell, built-in storage and organization features, and the expandability of the design. For example, the capacity of a soft-shell suitcase may be much larger than a hard-shell suitcase of the same size because the soft shell model expands more. Keep in mind that hard-shell sets are limited to dimensions of the shell while soft-shell models can expand beyond their dimensions.

Weight

A complete lightweight luggage set can weigh anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds – empty. Certain features like wheels, handles, and built-in locks add weight, so carefully consider the value of each feature before buying a set.

Strength and looks

The hard polycarbonate shell on these three pieces looks incredible and resists scratches and dents. Cross straps and a zippered divider help make sure everything stays in place and organized. Gliding through the airport is a no-brainer with four spinner wheels on each piece. Finally, built-in TSA approved locks keep your belongings secure.

Lightweight luggage set features

You have some options when it comes to hard, soft, wheel type, durability, and other features of lightweight luggage.

Hard-shell luggage

Hard-shell luggage has many advantages: it resists water and rips, so it does an excellent job of protecting breakable items. The integrated locks can provide better security, too.

On the downside, the dimensions are fixed, so you won’t be able to cram more last-minute items inside the way you can with soft-shell luggage.  Hard cases show scuffs and scratches. And these cases take up more storage space than soft luggage.

Hard-shell suitcases are made of polycarbonate, ABS, or aluminum.

  • Polycarbonate: This synthetic resin isn’t the lightest option, but it’s incredibly durable.

  • ABS: If you want the lightest of lightweight luggage, a thermoplastic known as ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) is the material for you. However, it’s not quite as durable as polycarbonate or aluminum.

  • Aluminum: Aluminum provides the best protection and durability of any option. It’s also the heaviest, so you’ll have to decide if the extra weight is worth it.
     

Soft-shell luggage

Soft luggage expands for greater capacity than hard-shell luggage. It often has more interior and exterior storage options, too. It’s also easier to store both at home and while traveling.

On the downside, soft luggage  doesn’t provide as much protection or security for your belongings. It can rip and may not resist water as well as hard-shell luggage.

Soft-shell luggage is made of one of three types of nylon.

  • Cordura: This type of woven nylon produces a soft outer shell that’s fairly resistant to abrasion.

  • Ballistic: This is also a woven nylon, but it’s smoother than Cordura and shows wear and tear more easily. However, even if it gets scuffed, it maintains its strength and integrity.

  • Ripstop: Ripstop nylon is best known as the fabric used to make parachutes. In luggage, it’s most often used for unstructured bags and may be used for one or several pieces in a set.
     

Wheels

You’re going to love having luggage with wheels when you’re sprinting through the airport to your gate. When it comes to wheels, spinners and inline are your two options.

  • Spinners: A suitcase with spinner wheels has a wheel or set of wheels on each corner that can spin in any direction. Push, pull, left, right – it doesn’t matter. These wheels keep rolling in any direction. You have to keep a hand on a case with these wheels because it could roll away when you’re not looking.

  • Inline: A suitcase with inline wheels usually only has two, though some have three, and these wheels only work when the suitcase is tipped and being pulled or pushed. When the case is upright, a stopper prevents the wheels from rolling. These wheels tend to work better than spinners on rough and uneven surfaces.
     

Handles

Handles are almost a given with luggage sets, although some sets come with one or two soft-sided suitcases that have a shoulder strap rather than a handle and wheels. A suitcase handle can take a beating when traveling, so look for durable ones on each piece in the set.

Durability

You don’t want to think about baggage handlers throwing your luggage, but it happens. Durability can’t be an afterthought. Look for luggage that is reinforced at the zipper, corners, handle, and wheels, the most common weak spots. Thick, durable fabric or a tough outer shell will prevent tears or dents.

At you’ll want luggage with at least some water resistance in case it ends up in a rainstorm or a puddle on the tarmac. Hard-shell luggage resists water far better than soft luggage, so choose hard-shell if you frequently travel to wet climates. When purchasing luggage, be sure to check the zippers because that’s where water will likely sneak in.

For soft-shell, not all fabrics are water resistant, and of those that are, some are more water resistant than others. Nylon and nylon-blend fabrics have some natural water resistance, while other fabrics may be treated or coated to increase their water resistance. Again, be sure to check the zippers, too.

Organization and capacity

  • Organization: Soft-shell luggage often has far more options for storage and organization than hardshell. The more pockets you have, the better organized you can be, but pockets aren’t the only way to organize a suitcase. Dividers, built-in garment bags, and cross straps that keep clothes in place all serve to keep your clothes, shoes, and toiletries organized, too.

  • Capacity: Soft-shell luggage also outperforms hard-shell models when it comes to expandability. Fabric has more flexibility than rigid plastic or metal, so it can expand as you pack. However, both hard- and soft-shell sets may include expandable sides that can be extended or minimized with a zipper. When open, they add an inch or two to the sides and increase the interior square footage.
     

Locks

TSA-approved locks, a feature on more-expensive luggage, have a combination or key for you but can also be opened by a TSA master key. If you find the perfect lightweight luggage set but it doesn’t include built-in TSA-approved locks, you can buy them separately.

Smart features

Many of these features add convenience, and some also increase security:

  • GPS locators: If you’ve ever arrived at your destination without your luggage, you might want to consider this feature. Using an app, you can locate your luggage almost anywhere, even if it’s on the baggage claim conveyor belt right in front of you.

  • USB ports: Battery power flows like water when you travel. Built-in USB ports let you charge your favorite devices like a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, eliminating the need to find an outlet or wait for a charging station at your gate.

  • Solar-powered batteries: Solar-powered batteries keep the luggage battery charged so your devices won’t run out of power. If you want to use the suitcase as a carry-on, be sure the battery can be removed because security measures may require it.

  • Remote lock system: A remote lock system lets you check the status of your locks while your luggage is out of your sight. You can also open it for the TSA or other security agency from afar.
     

Warranty

Warranties vary a great deal, but a good one can increase the value of your purchase. Some manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty that includes free repair of the luggage. In that case, you may never need to buy luggage again. Others may offer a two- to five-year warranty that only covers material or workmanship defects. Check the warranty before you buy.

EXPERT TIP

Luggage sets with helper handles can save your back. These handles are attached to the sides and sometimes the bottom of suitcases so you can pick them up more easily.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Hard-shell luggage usually opens like a clamshell, with an equal amount of packing space on each side. However, cases with lid openings are becoming more common and can be easier to pack.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Some carrying bags have a strap that slides over the handle of a wheeled case, allowing you to keep and carry everything together while you travel.


Staff  | BestReviews

Lightweight luggage set prices

Inexpensive

Lightweight luggage sets that come in under $100 may not be the most durable, but there are many that are built tough enough to last for years. At this price, most luggage sets are made of soft fabric and may include two or three pieces. Retractable and/or telescoping handles, exterior and interior pockets, and inline wheels round out the rest of the features you’re likely to find in this range.

Mid-range

Hard-shell and higher-quality soft-shell lightweight luggage sets start in the $100 to $200 range. Spinner wheels, tougher handle construction, and ABS shells add value to these sets. Some sets have three or four pieces that all have wheels, while others may include one piece that lacks wheels but has a shoulder strap.

Expensive

In the $200 to $300 range you’ll still find both hard- and soft-shell luggage sets. Four-piece soft-shell sets are typically made of water-resistant fabrics, with reinforced zippers and perhaps spinner wheels. Hard-shell models at this price may have built-in locks, expandable sides, and better interior organization.

Premium

You can find lightweight luggage sets that cost well over $300. This is where you’ll find large sets with five or six pieces that often include premium features like GPS locators, built-in TSA approved locks, USB ports, and solar-powered batteries.

Small bags, small price

On a budget and like to travel light? This set might be for you. American Tourister packs a lot into these small suitcases with incredible exterior and interior organization, including zippered pockets, straps, and open pockets. The non-wheeled bag has a strap for attaching it to either of the larger pieces for easy transport.

Tips

  • Know your travel style. Do you drive across your state or fly to other continents? Are monthly flights your norm, or do you take one or two family vacations a year? Frequent travelers might want to invest in premium features like USB ports and GPS locators, while the casual traveler might focus on a balance between value and durability.

  • Check luggage specs with your preferred airline. If you often fly with a certain airline, check its specifications and requirements for carry-on and checked baggage to be sure any luggage you buy fits its guidelines.

  • Avoid checked-bag fees. If you want to save money, pack everything in your carry-on. Every airline has its own requirements for carry-on size, but if you want a set that includes a carry-on that will work on any airline, go with smaller dimensions.

Other products we considered

We had a hard time narrowing down our top picks to only five. In fact, there are a couple sets we seriously considered that didn’t quite make the list. The American Tourister Fieldbrook II Luggage is incredibly lightweight, weighing only 15 pounds for all three pieces. We especially like the smart strap that holds the shoulder bag onto the handle of one of the larger suitcases. Another inexpensive option is the U.S. Traveler New Yorker Lightweight Luggage Set, which has four pieces with wheels, including a shoulder bag. They’ve got expandable sides and great interior organization, too.

If you’re short on storage space, choose a nesting luggage set. All the pieces fit inside the largest bag.

FAQ

Q. Do all lightweight luggage sets come with at least one piece that meets airline carry-on standards?

A. The smallest piece (and sometimes larger pieces in a set) is usually designed for use as a carry-on, but that doesn’t mean it will meet every airline’s requirements. Each airline has its own size and weight standards, which means some suitcases will work on one airline but not another.

Q. Are luggage wheels replaceable?

A. The wheels and handle are often the first parts to break, so replaceable wheels will prolong the life of your luggage set. All you need is a screwdriver to replace some wheels, but others don’t have replacement parts available. If you want a lightweight luggage set that will last a long time, opt or one that has readily available replacement parts.

Q. Do suitcases have weak points that I should watch for?

A. Corners take a heavy beating, making reinforced corners a feature worth splurging on. Hardware like handles, wheels, and zippers are other points of weakness where you’ll want extra durability. Manufacturers that offer replacement parts can help you extend the life of your set well beyond the warranty, so long as you’re willing to do the maintenance.

The team that worked on this review
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