We know the original “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan wasn’t initially intended to have anything to do with luggage, but we really do believe in skipping a checked bag whenever possible. With all of your belongings on board, you can take comfort in knowing everything you’ll need upon landing is with you — not headed to a different destination because it didn’t make the connection or lying alone on a tarmac somewhere, probably in the rain, which is how we tend to visualize our luggage when we’re feeling particularly anxious watching dozens of not-your-bags roll out onto the baggage claim carousel.
And less stress isn’t the only pro of going carry-on-only. A carry-on bag is also much easier to handle. Have you ever had to schlep a 50-lb. bag up four sets of broken escalators to catch a train that’s about to depart? Trust us, the extra three pairs of shoes won’t be worth it again. Though, if you’re a very clever packer and can squeeze quite a lot into a small space, you generally won’t have to worry about weight limits like you do with a checked bag. As long as you can compress that thing back to its original size dimensions and lift it above your head without throwing your back out, you can fill a carry-on with bricks and no one will call you out. Except maybe the TSA’s Instagram account.
- 1 Domestic v. International Carry-on Bag Sizes
- 2 Softside v. Hardside Carry-on Bags
- 3 Two-wheel v. Spinner Carry-on Luggage
- 4 How to Make Sure Your Carry-on Works for You
- 5 Best Softside Carry-on: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Spinner
- 6 Best Hardside Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Sympatico Expandable 21-inch International Spinner
- 7 Best Carry-on Spinner: Samsonite Spettro 20-inch Spinner
- 8 Best Two-wheel Rollaboard Carry-on: Victorinox Lexicon 2.0 Global Carry-on
- 9 Best Lightweight Carry-on: Delsey Turenne International Carry-on Hardside Spinner Suitcase
- 10 Best Large Carry-on: Roam The Jaunt XL Wheeled Carry-on Hard Case
- 11 Best International Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Baseline CX International Carry-on Spinner
Domestic v. International Carry-on Bag Sizes
While there are generally only a few inches of difference between carry-on luggage dimensions, you’ll want to pay attention to the carry-on size restrictions of the airlines you fly most often. A good rule of thumb for domestic U.S. flights is to adhere to suitcases sized 22″ x 14″ x 9″. If you’re often flying internationally, you may want to opt for a bag that stands at 21 inches instead, just to be sure you won’t run into any issues when boarding. I’ve found that international carry-on luggage rules tend to be a bit more strict, especially if you’re flying with a budget carrier.
Softside v. Hardside Carry-on Bags
If you always seem to be forced to gate check, you may want to opt for a soft-sided bag. They generally hold up best to wear and tear, though hard-shell bags are adopting more aesthetically durable materials as their popularity grows. Hardside luggage is generally a little more protective of what’s inside, while softside bags may allow you to squeeze in an extra bit of baggage for the way home because the fabric has that added give.
Two-wheel v. Spinner Carry-on Luggage
Spinner luggage has four wheels, usually multidirectional, that will allow you full control of the bag. This is helpful if you feel more comfortable wheeling your bag beside you when walking instead of hauling it behind you, and if navigating the bag down tight airplane aisles always seems to be a struggle. Do keep in mind, however, that two-wheeled suitcases don’t have to lend as many inches dimension-wise to the wheels — so you may be sacrificing already precious packing space if you opt for a spinner.
How to Make Sure Your Carry-on Works for You
Once you receive your bag, test it out before your trip. Did you just like the look of it or is it really functionally the best suitcase for how you travel? Stuff it full and wheel it around to see how it handles. Pick it up and lift it over your head to mimic putting it in the overhead bin. Familiarize yourself with all of the pockets and features. Even if you’ve read tons of luggage reviews and bought a bag from one of the best luggage brands, you’ll want to evaluate the quality before traveling with it, because if there’s one true law of luggage it’s that if your luggage is going to break, it will absolutely find the most inconvenient time during your trip to do so.
Check out our list of this year’s best luggage choices in every category and keep reading for even more details on each.
- Best Softside Carry-on: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Spinner
- Best Hardside Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Sympatico 21-inch Expandable Spinner
- Best Carry-on Spinner: Samsonite Spettro 20-inch Spinner
- Best Two-wheel Rollaboard Carry-on: Victorinox Lexicon 2.0 Global Carry-on
- Best Lightweight Carry-on: Delsey Turenne Hardside Spinner Suitcase
- Best Large Carry-on: Roam Jaunt XL Wheeled Carry-on Hard Case
- Best International Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Baseline CX Carry-on Spinner
- Best Underseat Carry-on: Travelpro Maxlite 5 Rolling Underseat Carry-on Bag
- Best Affordable Carry-on: AmazonBasics 20-inch Hardside Spinner Luggage
- Best Zipperless Carry-on: Arlo Skye The Frame Carry-on Max
- Best Leather Carry-on: Hook & Albert Men’s Leather Garment Weekender Bag
- Best Luxury Carry-on: Rimowa Original Cabin Spinner Luggage
- Most Durable Carry-on: Tumi Latitude International Carry-on
- Best Wheeled Duffel: eBags TLS Mother Lode Mini 21-inch Wheeled Carry-on
- Best Carry-on Backpack: Tortuga Setout Backpack
Best Softside Carry-on: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Spinner
Best Hardside Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Sympatico Expandable 21-inch International Spinner
This glistening suitcase really is the full package. The Sympatico carry-on is one of Briggs and Riley’s top sellers. It’s equipped with double swivel wheels, an impact-resistant polycarbonate shell, and a pretty incredible compression system that you can simply snap back down to regulation size after packing 25 percent more inside. With the lifetime warranty — the best in the business — to boot, it’s absolutely worth the investment.
Best Carry-on Spinner: Samsonite Spettro 20-inch Spinner
Samsonite is a household luggage name for a reason; it’s been crafting quality travel bags for more than a century. The just-released Spettro, however, is decidedly modern. Its four multidirectional spinner wheels allow for 360 degrees of easy wheeling, meaning no struggles as you navigate your way down narrow plane aisles. Inside, there are two built-in packing cubes and and three additional zippered pockets to make sure everything is securely packed and organized. And outside, the honeycomb texture atop the polycarbonate shell makes it resistant to scratches.
Best Two-wheel Rollaboard Carry-on: Victorinox Lexicon 2.0 Global Carry-on
Organized travelers will be delighted to pack up this roller. Aside from the spacious, expandable main compartment, there is a removable garment sleeve, zippered external pockets, and a U-shaped front pocket with padded sleeves for both a laptop sized up to 17 inches and a tablet. The robust wheels are worth noting, too. Bring on that cobblestone.
Best Lightweight Carry-on: Delsey Turenne International Carry-on Hardside Spinner Suitcase
French luggage company Delsey released its lightest hardside suitcase yet earlier this year. The elegant Turenne weighs in at only 4.8 pounds and is made of 100 percent virgin polycarbonate to withstand the wear and tear of a gate check, if needed. Two packing bags, intended for shoes and laundry, are included.
Best Large Carry-on: Roam The Jaunt XL Wheeled Carry-on Hard Case
Roam Luggage is completely customizable, so you can design your suitcase exactly the way you want it. From zipper pulls to stitching, you can make a Roam suitcase entirely your own. Plus, the innovative brand was founded by two former Tumi executives, so you know that quality is key. The hardside suitcases are made from 100% virgin polycarbonate that’s designed to hide scratches. The brand offers four different sizes of luggage, including two carry-ons, including the Jaunt XL (measuring 22” x 15.75” x 9”), which is accepted as a carry-on on almost all domestic flights in the US.
Best International Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Baseline CX International Carry-on Spinner
If you want to be able to comply with international carry-on luggage requirements, this is your bag. Another excellent pick from Briggs & Riley, this Baseline model also incorporates the brand’s revolutionary zipperless CX compression-expansion tech. The ballistic nylon fabric is designed to resist abrasion, wear, moisture, and dirt, so it’ll stay this sharp-looking over years of travel. Plus, there’s a quick-access pocket between the handle bars on the back which, if you ask us, is the perfect place to store your passport and boarding pass while you’re between security and boarding.
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