Durable polycarbonate shell. Equipped with TSA locks. Convenient flex divider is adjustable to secure belongings no matter the size. Easy to maneuver with ball-bearing mounted wheels, cushioned axles, and an ergonomic handle.
Expensive investment for a single piece of luggage. Only available in solid colors.
A 20-inch size suitcase made with ABS material that is available in many color options. Interior has a mesh pocket. Expandable up to 2 additional inches for added space. The chrome handle features a push button, and side and top carrying handles provide easy accessibility.
The shell of this carry-on is not the most durable material, according to a few reviews.
Polycarbonate outer shell protects contents better than soft polyester. High level of internal organization with a series of expandable compartments. Side-mounted TSA locks. This suitcase is backed by a 10-year warranty.
Pricey. The exterior shell scratches easily, and the zipper can be compromised.
Rugged but flexible ABS outer shell with reinforced corners. Spacious interior holds more clothing and personal items than expected. Zipped internal compartment makes it easy to separate footwear from clothing.
This suitcase does possess the external pockets some people desire for easy access to travel papers and electronics. The dimensions may not meet all airline requirements.
This product’s size is 22 inches, and it is expandable up to 2 inches. The fabric is made with stain-resistant and water-repellent polyester. The grip handle locks in 2 places. Additional features include a side pocket, several carrying handles, and a tapered shape for a stable base.
Although it is lightweight and easy to carry, the wheels make it difficult to push.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Whether you fly twice a year or twice a week, you undoubtedly want a carry-on bag with desirable features—a bag that offers durability, functionality, and compliance with all airline requirements and restrictions. Plenty of travel bags on today’s market fall into the category of “carry-on,” including travel backpacks, suitcases, and duffle bags—though the definition of the word “carry-on” is highly dependent upon the carry-on size restrictions of your preferred airline. The question is, which type of carry-on luggage would best fulfill your needs?
Perhaps the largest dilemma is whether you should purchase a softside carry-on or a hardside carry-on. Softside luggage expands to accommodate belongings, though it cannot offer the same level of protection as hard case models. That said, hardside suitcases are prone to scratches and other cosmetic damage, and they tend to weigh more.
In addition to deciding between softsided and hardsided luggage, you’ll need to think about pocket storage you desire, as the number of compartments varies from one carry-on to the next. This, in turn, impacts how convenient it is to sort and separate your belongings.
Finding the right carry-on luggage depends on how often you travel, what style bag you prefer, and how you carry your luggage.
Short trips require less packing space in a suitcase than long journeys, and if you’re a frequent traveler, you probably know how much space you need to pack an adequate amount of clothing. To get a rough idea of which carry-on size is right for you, gather the clothes you plan to bring, and arrange them in a rectangle. Measure the volume of this space to gain an idea of how well they would fit inside a suitcase—bearing in mind that you can compress your articles of clothing in your suitcase by packing them tightly.
Domestic carry-on items are limited to 22 inches in length, 14 inches in width, and 9 inches in height for most airlines, though there are some variations. International carry-on items are sometimes limited to 21 inches in length, but again, this varies from one airline to the next. In both cases, wheels are included in the total length measurement. Keeping this in mind, look for luggage pieces that adhere to these parameters, and also take note of the personal item allowance of your airline.
Another factor to keep in mind is the weight of the luggage you’re considering when it’s empty, as the combined weight of your suitcase and its contents is the figure that counts when you place your bag on the baggage scale. A heavy bag is likely to be more durable and may keep your items safe, but it will naturally have a lower maximum clothing capacity since its overall weight is higher. In addition, heavy bags are awkward to hoist overhead, into and out of the overhead compartment on a plane—and lugging a heavy bag across a busy airport is not an activity relished by most travelers.
The traditional “suitcase” is generally the easiest to carry because, in most cases, it comes complete with wheels and a telescoping handle, taking most of the weight off of you. This classic luggage style is boxy, resulting in a higher storage volume, but these pieces may push the limit of the carry-on size and weight permitted by an airline. If you tend to travel light, you may want something smaller and more compressible than a traditional boxy suitcase.
A duffel bag is a stylish tote for a ride on a plane, and it works just as well for air and train travel as it does for weekend getaways. Duffel bags are soft by design and sometimes lack a frame, though many models have a shaping frame on the bottom, and a few high-end duffel bags have wheels and extendable handles, making them airport friendly.
In air travel situations, a backpack may be considered a personal item or a carry-on, depending on the policy of the airline. Regardless, a backpack is a small, compact option that could probably even fit under the seat in front of you—though in order to fit, the bag should measure 18 inches in length, 14 inches in width, and 8 inches in height. As long as they’re not packed too heavily, a backpack is one of the easiest types of bags to transport through an airport. It lacks the packing space of a larger carry-on bag, but if you plan to check a bag anyway, a backpack is a suitable solution for your plane ride.
If you opt for a suitcase-style carry-on, you’ll have to choose between a hardside or softside suitcase. Softside suitcases are usually made mostly of polyester or nylon fabric over an aluminum frame for a combination of durability and flexibility. Their stretchy nature means you can cram them into an overloaded overhead compartment, if need be. However, if you opt for a softsided suitcase, you also have to pack your belongings carefully so that nothing breakable is near the walls of the suitcase.
Hardside suitcases are constructed of ABS plastic and protect your belongings from being crushed. They often incorporate clasps instead of zippers, making them more impermeable to thieves. Business travelers tend to favor hardside suitcases for their convenient and ample packing space. However, the plastic shell is prone to scratching and other cosmetic damage over time, and these suitcases tend to be quite heavy, which may limit the number of belongings you can pack. Additionally, the outer shell’s lack of flexibility prohibits “overstuffing” unless the suitcase is also expandable by design.
Carry-ons with two wheels
You may be wondering whether a carry-on with four wheels is preferable to a carry-on with two wheels. The answer depends on your preference. Two-wheel carry-ons cannot be pushed; instead, they must be pulled. Furthermore, they have a tendency to tip over when left unattended in an upright position. This is particularly true of unevenly loaded suitcases, so travelers should be mindful of where inside the bag they pack their heaviest items, such as a pair of shoes or a laptop. Two-wheel carry-ons are also known to wobble when you turn corners, which can pose a challenge when navigating a large, crowded airport. An advantage to a two-wheel carry-on is that it’s unlikely to roll away from you as you cross a ramp or ascend or descend an incline. What’s more, the wheels on these suitcases often have sockets, which reduces the overall length of the bag.
Carry-ons with four wheels
Four-wheel carry-on suitcases are often called “spinner suitcases.” A spinner suitcase allows increased maneuverability because the wheels rotate freely. Over-packing is unlikely to cause the bag to tip, and you needn’t to worry about keeping the suitcase balanced quite while packing. Notably, most spinner suitcases are hardside models, but softside models are also available.
Four-wheel bags offer plenty of advantages, but bear in mind that spinner wheels may be more vulnerable to damage than the inset wheels found on many two-wheel cases.
As with most travel accessories, carry-on luggage ranges from the ultra-minimalist to the comprehensive and flashy. Most carry-on suitcases have at least one outer pocket and an inner mesh pocket, but it doesn’t have to end there. Here are some of the types of pockets you can expect to see on your various choices.
The part of your carry-on bag with which you will interact with the most is its handles. Most bags have two handles: a side handle for hoisting your bag into and out of the overhead compartment, and an extending handle for rolling the bag behind you or by your side. Look for handles with padded or rubber designs rather than plastic to avoid discomfort when you’re trekking from one terminal to another.
When you’re on the go, your carry-on bag may act as your home base. Smart suitcases take this state of travel to the next level with features like device charging and luggage tracking—both of which can be very helpful in case your bag goes missing. These features may seem unnecessary, but if you’ve ever tried to find an available outlet in an airport or have lost a bag in the midst of your travels, you know how useful these features can be.
Unsurprisingly, smart suitcases come at an extra cost, and you of course have to remember to charge the bag before you leave home. If you go this route, we recommend opting for a model with a removable battery, as most airlines do not allow smart suitcases with built-in batteries on board.
If you are intrigued by the idea of a carry-on duffel bag but prefer something a little less bulky for your travels, consider investing in a travel tote.
Carry-on bags vary in price significantly depending on their materials, design, and extra features. Some softside suitcases can be found for $40 to $100, and a few hardside spinners fall in this range as well. While these bags may offer many of the features of more expensive options, they tend to be less durable in the long run.
Between $100 and $300 are many well-designed suitcases, often with additional features such as one or more USB ports and built-in TSA-compliant locks. These might be considered “midrange carry-on choices of an “average” price. High-end carry-ons, on the other hand, hail from luxury luggage brands and cost anywhere from $300 to $800. Typically, these suitcases are made of high-quality materials and sport sleek designs. Note that while these bags may look great, in some cases, the high price tag reflects the desirability of the brand name more than the quality of the luggage itself.
A. If you’re packing for a long trip, you may have to check one of your bags. However, a carry-on is less susceptible to theft, and because you have it with you, it cannot become lost in baggage handling. If preventing theft is your primary goal, carry-on luggage is generally the safer way to go.
A. Most of the time, luggage sets offer better prices by the piece. However, it may be difficult to find a set of bags with all of the features you need. Buying a carry-on by itself allows you to get picky about style, features, and quality.
A. If you make the unfortunate discovery at check-in that your bag exceeds the size or weight limit of your airline, you will have to check it — which usually results in you being assessed an additional fee. To avoid this, measure the size and weight of your bag after it has been packed. If its weight is over the limit, consider shifting some of your items to other bags or even leaving some of your items at home.