Everyone needs at least one trusty carry-on. Why? Carry-on luggage is flexible and easy to use. Since you can wheel a carry-on suitcase through most situations, you won’t have to lug around a heavy bag. Plenty of compartments mean all your gear stays organized, unlike when you’re taking a duffel or backpack. We’ve rounded up the best carry-ons to help you find the perfect luggage for your next getaway.
Best Carry-On Luggage
1. CHESTER Minima Carry-On
If you’re looking for hard-sided luggage, Minima Carry-On is a top pick. The modern suitcase features spinner wheels, so it’s easy to transport and comes in a range of colors. The aerospace-grade polycarbonate shell is so durable, Minima will hold up for years to come. The CHESTER Minima Carry-on features include:
- Size: 21.5” x 13.5” x 8.5”
- Capacity: 38L
- Weight: 7 lbs
- TSA Approved Lock: Yes
2. Samsonite Aspire xLite Expandable 25″ Spinner
Samsonite Aspire xLite is a great soft-sided pick. It comes with spinner wheels for weightless transit and expandable sides—perfect for cramming in those souvenirs for the way home. The interior includes mesh pockets and a wetpack. Samsonite Aspire xLite Expandable 25″ Spinner features include:
- Size: 26.5″ x 16.25″ x 10.0″
- Capacity: Flexible
- Weight: 9.5 pounds
- TSA Approved Lock: No
3. Travelpro Maxlite 5 Rolling Underseat Carry-on Bag
This compact carry-on is perfect for the times when you don’t need a full suitcase, but want something easy to travel with. It fits under the seat or in the overhead bin. The upholstery is durable and treated for maximum stain and water resistance. Travelpro Maxlite 5 Rolling Underseat Carry-on Bag features include:
- Size: 17.5″ x 14.5″ x 8.5″
- Capacity: 26L
- Weight: 5.5 lbs
- TSA Approved Lock: No
4. Briggs & Riley Sympatico Expandable 21-inch International Spinner
If you prefer the durability of hard-sided carry-ons yet value expansion space, this might be your best pick. The Briggs & Riley Sympatico Expandable 21-inch International Spinner expands 22 percent and is crafted from makralon virgin polycarbonate. You will get a personalized combination lock for peace of mind. Briggs & Riley Sympatico Expandable 21-inch International Spinner features include:
- Size: 21″ x 14″x 9″
- Capacity: 39.2 – 47.9L
- Weight: 8 lbs
- TSA Approved Lock: Yes
5. Tumi Latitude International Carry-on
Tumi Latitude International Carry-on is lightweight, durable, and comes with a built-in 20-digit security code that can be traced if the bag is lost. Spinner wheels, a telescoping handle, and interior packing compartments make this one a luxury favorite. Tumi Latitude International Carry-on features include:
- Size: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
- Capacity: 35L
- Weight: 6.2 lbs.
- TSA Approved Lock: Yes
Advantages Of Carry-On Suitcases
There are many benefits to choosing a carry-on suitcase. If you’ve ever brought a backpack with you and had to carry it around all day, then you know how draining it can be to have to schlep all your stuff on your back. When you’re on vacation, you want to get a massage to relax and not as a medical necessity because you wore out your bag lugging your bag with you. So if you’re choosing between a backpack and a carry-on, remember that carry-ons will always be easier to pack (since you can organize them) and easier to carry.
You might be concerned about saving money on your flight, given that so many airlines are charging a checked bag fee these days. That is certainly one big reason to go with a carry-on, but efficiency is another. Consider how much time it takes to pick up a checked bag at the carousel—and that’s assuming that everything goes right and your bag is not lost in transit—and you’ll see that it’s smarter to fly with a carry-on.
You will save time, you will save money, and you will almost certainly save on stress: When everything is stored in your carry-on there is no chance of something being lost or stolen in transit.
That same efficiency translates over to packing, too. Knowing that you can only take what you can carry with you, you will be more likely to edit down your packing list. When you are checking a bag, it’s easy to just throw in everything you think you might need, even if realistically you know it’s silly to bring four pairs of shoes on a week-long trip.
When you take fewer things with you, it will be easier to stay organized on your vacation. You won’t be wasting time rifling through your suitcase looking for a coordinated outfit. You may also have more room in your bag for those ones of a kind souvenirs. Most carry-on suitcases have several interior storage options so you can easily keep things organized.
Carry-on suitcases with four wheels, also called spinner carry-on cases, are your best bet for mobility issues. Since these suitcases roll from any angle, you can pull them without straining your body. This can also make a spinner carry-on a great pick for kid-friendly luggage.
Disadvantages of Carry-on Suitcases
While carry-on suitcases work well for most trips, they are not always the best choice. Consider where you’re traveling and how you are getting there. If you are relying on public transportation or walking far distances on either end, then a backpack might be better as you can also put a travel umbrella in the side pocket. Since you can run with a backpack much easier than with a suitcase, it might mean the difference between making a train and needing to wait for the next one.
Carry-on suitcases work best when you can wheel them, so if you’re traveling somewhere with cobblestones, you might not be able to roll the suitcase. If you have to carry the suitcase over cobblestones, then you might want to rethink things. Here again, a backpack is more convenient because you carry everything on your back, so you save your arms the trouble of carrying your luggage up several flights of stairs or across several blocks.
A backpack won’t be as comfortable as a suitcase. But there may be times when it is your better option.
If you are traveling for business, for a wedding, or for something else when dress is extremely important, you might prefer to check a bag. You will be able to fit more in a checked bag, which is important with formal wear. Knowing you are checking your bag, you can take all the shoes and outfit changes you like.
Winter travel is another time when checking a bag makes sense for practical reasons. Consider how much bulkier winter clothing is than summer gear. You won’t get very far trying to shove sweaters and winter accessories in a carry-on, even if you use compression bags. Instead of getting frustrated trying to cram everything in your carry-on, check one bag and save yourself the stress.
Convenience may be another factor. Given that most airlines are charging for carry-ons these days, many passengers try to cram overstuffed bags into the overhead bins. Even if you have complied with the posted carry-on luggage size for your airline, you might not be able to find space for your bag. If space is available, it could be several rows past your seat on the plane. It’s irritating trying to fly with a carry-on in these circumstances, and if you don’t mind spending money or waiting to claim your bag, you might prefer to check your luggage and skip the drama.
How To Choose The Best Carry-On Luggage
The specifics of any trip aside, it’s important to have a great carry-on because you will need it. We’ve given our top 5 recommendations, but what exactly makes a carry-on great? Here’s how you can choose.
Hard or Soft?
Hard or soft is a matter of personal preference, and there are arguments for both options. A hard suitcase is more durable. This means that the suitcase is less likely to be damaged in transit, but additionally, that your items are less likely to be damaged. If you’ve ever had soft-sided luggage get damaged, then you know how irritating it can be to replace luggage that was in good working order before your trip.
The main advantage of soft luggage is the expandable nature. Most hard luggage can’t expand, so you are limited to its maximum carrying capacity. If you’re the sort of packer who is prone to overpacking, you might be partial to soft luggage for the peace of mind, since you can always squeeze a few more things in a carry-on.
Durability matters most for frequent travelers. If you’re living out of your suitcase, you’ll get farther with a hard-backed suitcase than a soft suitcase. Soft suitcases may also be ripped open, leaving you vulnerable to loss or theft. For durability, hard luggage gets the advantage.
Once you’ve decided hard vs. soft, consider material and qualities. Check the zippers, handles, and wheels of any luggage. All seams should be secure and well-made. Otherwise, your bag won’t last.
It’s not a matter of wheels vs. no luggage wheels but two wheels vs. spinner. Four wheels make your life so much easier that there is a clear winner here. It’s just smoother to push a spinner bag compared with a two-wheeler. Spinner carry-on luggage is less likely to be knocked off balance by curb cuts, escalators, and other changes to grade. This means a more pleasant journey with less strain (on you and your bag).
Yes, please! You’ll want more than one handle on your bag, because this way it’s easier to grab the bag from different angles. That makes a difference when you’re taking it out of the overhead compartment, grabbing it from the luggage carousel on a courtesy shuttle, or even putting it away at home.
Telescoping handles, which expand to different lengths, are a nice touch, but they’re not a need-to-have feature for most people. Rather than looking for a bag with an adjustable handle, always make sure your luggage has handles on different sides, so you can grab and go from any angle.
There are different sizing guides for domestic and international flights, but also for each airline. Most airlines limit carry-on size for domestic flights to 22” x 14” x 9″, which is inclusive of the handles and wheels. Southwest actually gives you an extra inch: your carry-on there can be 22″ x 14″ x 10″.
While you might be able to squeeze on a bag that’s a little bit larger, you might also find flight agents that strictly enforce the rules by measuring bags at the gate. It’s always best to check your airline’s baggage requirements so you don’t have an unexpected trip hassle.
For domestic flights, there’s no worry about the weight limit for bags unless you’re on a puddle jumper. Then, the plane may limit bag size for practical reasons. The common sense rule applies that you shouldn’t pack more than you can carry and lift, for safety’s sake.
With international flights, you actually get a bit less space, because carriers not based in the United States set smaller allowances for luggage. Again, the specific size will vary by airline, but most carriers let you take a bag that’s 22″ x 14″ x 9″. There’s usually a 50 lb. weight limit for carry-ons.
Let your budget and your travel itinerary inform the best bag for you. If you’re a global jetsetter, you might want a domestic carry-on and an international carry-on. If you rarely go overseas—and if you like to take advantage of the free checked bag for international flights—then go ahead and stick with the larger domestic carry-on.
Style is so personal, there’s no way we can give an answer. If you’re traveling for business, select a professional-looking case, usually in a neutral color. If you only travel for fun, the sky’s the limit!
Smart Luggage or Traditional
Smart luggage comes with features like a digital scale, USB port, and lost luggage detection. While these features sound awesome, the tech is still evolving. We think it’s better to wait for the technology to fully arrive before adopting a smart carry-on.
Value For The Money
After you take your personal preferences into account, verify the features and quality of the luggage compared to the price you’re paying for it. Good value for the money is when you feel awesome about your luggage and the price you paid for it.
Luggage is so personal that the right carry-on really comes down to what features matter to you, what style of luggage you like, and where and how you travel. CHESTER makes shopping for modern luggage simple with stylish options and two-day free shipping. Check out our products for all your travel needs!