Taking precautions while traveling is as essential as investing in reliable carry-on luggage. It’s not cool when you shove your clothes in a backpack or duffel bag, only to have the straps get torn before your plane takes off. Or you realize that your bag does not offer much protection against thieves. No traveler wants either to happen.
With hundreds of options from the best luggage brands, hunting for the “perfect” luggage for all your travel needs can be an arduous task — especially if you’re a newbie. To aid in your search, we gathered the best carry-on luggage for your cross-country journey or future overseas travel, including some tips about choosing the best luggage to replace your tired rollaboard or travel backpack.
Monos Carry-On Luggage
Best Overall Carry-On Luggage
We love luggage that can withstand the stress of air travel, including every part from the shell to the wheels to the handle. You should never take the latter for granted (or neglect it). Let’s take this sleek carry-on luggage from Monos as an example. Manufactured from high-strength aluminum, its telescopic handle is engineered for comfort, making you feel as if the luggage is a ghostly extension of your hand. This 39.9-liter carry-on also features a space-efficient interior thanks to a zippered panel and compression pad, offering ample space for up to five days’ worth of OOTDs. Available in ten colors (from standard white and black to limited edition terracotta), this carry-on luggage embodies beauty in simplicity and function.
Carl Friedrik The Carry-on Suitcase
Most Stylish Carry-On
Carl Friedrik's The Carry-on Suitcase strikes a perfect balance between elegance and function. The sleek space gray polycarbonate shell is wrapped with subtle Italian leather straps in one of three colors that together feel both retro and modern. The 40-liter interior is split between two open compartments, each with compression straps and a single removable compression pad (with a pocket) that are designed to wrangle your travel essentials with ease. A durable aluminum lock frame keeps your valuables safe in transit. We especially love the whisper-quiet Japanese spinner wheels that help you move effortlessly through airports and hotel lobbies.
Orvis Trekkage LT Adventure 40L Carry-On Roller Bag
Best Adventure Travel Rollaboard
Adventure travel demands serious luggage. But not everyone wants to bring a backpack or duffel. Sometimes you need something with a little more protection. Orvis' all-new Trekkage LT Adventure 40L Carry-On Roller Bag features a soft-sided design on three sides, plus a hardshell polycarbonate back that's built to take a beating. Available in jet black or Orvis 1971 Camo on the outside, the interior is an eye-popping safety orange that not only looks great but makes it easier to find your gear. It's all built with easily replaceable parts, so you won't have to worry about buying brand-new luggage in a few years. Just replace what needs replacing and get on with your travels.
Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential Carry-On Expandable Spinner
Best Soft-Sided Carry-On Luggage
We’ve previously lauded Briggs and Riley for having not just some of the most durable luggage on the market, but for boasting a phenomenal lifetime warranty to boot. Its Baseline Essential Carry-On Expandable Spinner is a classic carry-on bag with traditional looks and a tank-like design. At roughly $700, it’s pricey and heavy, but it also packs a ton of essential features for road warriors and frequent travelers. The exclusive “Outsider” handle is designed into the exterior of the bag, ensuring a flat interior for easier packing. The clever CX Compression-Expansion system also balloons by 25 percent should you wind up with more souvenirs than you planned on bringing home. Plus, the integrated garment folder is a must for business travelers looking to maintain a wrinkle-free look fresh off the plane.
Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler XT Wheeled Duffel
Best Wheeled Duffel Carry-On
Eagle Creek has long been known for crafting ultra-durable, go-anywhere gear designed for serious adventure-seekers. Packing days’ worth of outdoor gear into a carry-on might seem like an impossible task, but the brand’s aptly named Cargo Hauler XT is built to do just that. Its dimensions (13.75 x 21.5 x 7.75 inches) are maxed out specifically for international travel with a spacious 36-liter capacity. It weighs just under 5.5 pounds, but the combination of 1000D Helix Poly and 600D Poly TPU synthetics is far more durable than its weight should allow. Thoughtful touches — an impact-resistant handle system, lockable zippers with a Central Lock Point and Secure-Zip toggles, and multiple handles for easy get-up-and-go — are all welcome additions.
Samsonite Tru-Frame Carry-On Spinner
Best Spinner Carry-On Luggage
Samsonite’s Tru-Frame Carry-on Spinner is a lightweight rollaboard constructed from polycarbonate, a material known for its impact and temperature resistance. It's the best go-to material for travelers who want a sleek but hardy travel companion. This carry-on spinner also features a TSA combination lock and a sealed gasket closure to safeguard your precious belongings from nasty airport thieves, allowing you to achieve your #travelgoals in peace.
Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack
Most Versatile Carry-On Travel Backpack
The Farpoint 40L Travel Backpack's biggest selling point is its even weight distribution — something Osprey is known for. The LightWire frame suspension keeps the majority of the weight on your hips, not your shoulders, letting you travel for extended periods of time without fatigue. Mesh material on the back panel and straps also improves ventilation and reduces chafing, which is something travelers will be grateful for in hour 12, 13, 14 of their trek.
This bag is designed to meet most airline carry-on requirements, so you can confidently add it to your best travel backpack collection. It comes in several chic colors that fit in just as well on the Himalayan Alps as they do in a busy downtown core. If you're looking for a minimalist aesthetic with plenty of storage options, Osprey has you covered.
Kathmandu Hybrid 32L Trolley
Best 2-in-1 Travel Backpack Carry-On
At first glance, Kathmandu’s Hybrid 32L Carry-On Trolley may look like your typical school backpack or laptop backpack, but don’t let the appearance fool you. Durable and lightweight, this carry-on backpack can be quickly converted into a trolley and vice versa using its fold-out straps and handle. This maximizes flexibility and comfort during your travels, especially when you need to give your back and shoulders a break from all that heavy load. At 32L, Kathmandu’s Carry-On Trolley offers sufficient room for your belongings thanks to its front and mesh pockets.
How to choose the best carry-on luggage (for you)
Travel gear has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous century. Suitcases, in particular, are getting lighter, better, stronger, even smarter. You can get a bag that is zippered, rolling, soft-sided, or hard-shelled — the decision to pick just one has never been more difficult.
The kind of traveling you do will obviously affect the type of bag you choose. Think about how often you’ll be moving around, what kind of terrain you’ll be traversing and what you’ll be packing. When you’re traveling carry-on-only, having the right bag that can fit everything you need (plus a few souvenirs) is crucial.
Price, too, is an important factor. If you travel often, you don’t want a cheap bag falling apart on you when you only have 15 minutes to get from Terminal A to Terminal E. That's why we suggest buying the best carry-on bag you can realistically afford.
Choosing a piece of carry-on luggage versus a carry-on backpack comes with several perks. First, the structured shape mean you’ll never have to worry about it fitting into overhead bins. A rectangular carry-on is always relatively easy to keep organized and is designed so that you can make use of every inch of space inside. No pockets are going empty here. Perhaps the most significant advantage is comfort, however. These bags can be wheeled around, meaning you won’t get fatigued having to lug a heavy bag throughout your trip.
For travelers moving largely from airports to hotels and back again, wheeled carry-on luggage is perfect. However, if you find yourself often carrying your bag upstairs or dragging it over uneven cobblestones, for example, you’re going to have trouble. The bag’s wheels can get stuck in loose terrain, you’ll soon be over the idea of huffing a heavy bag up several flights using only the top handle for purchase. Plus, this isn’t a hands-free option: You’ll always need to dedicate one hand to pulling it, leaving your other hand to manage maps, doors, apps, and so forth.
What to look for in a carry-on bag
If the carry-on luggage life is the life for you, keep the following considerations in mind when choosing your bag. First, ensure the handle is comfortable and easy to grip, and that the bag can be easily picked up and carried for short distances. Second, consider the size of the bag. You’ll want to make sure it fits in most airlines’ overhead compartments. United’s maximum dimensions for a carry-on are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches, including handles and wheels, which is standard for most other companies, too. And finally, consider the quality of the wheels. These should be built to last, so look for metal fixtures over plastic. Nothing is worse than adventuring through Europe with a squeaky (or, worse, busted) wheel at your back.
How to find the best carry-on backpack
Perhaps obviously, the benefits of a carry-on backpack are in complete opposition to carry-on luggage. While carry-on luggage is often hard, backpacks are soft, making them easy to store away in tight spots. They also expand to allow more space for new treasures (or just a rushed packing day). Most importantly, carry-on backpacks keep your hands free and your bag off the ground — perfect for big hikes or extended backpacking trips.
The real disadvantage of carry-on backpacks is that they can become uncomfortable over time. Especially if your backpack doesn’t fit or provide proper support, you can tire quickly, turning your dream vacation into a nightmarish slog. Backpacks also tend to be smaller than carry-on luggage, so how much gear you want to bring could influence which type of luggage you invest in.
How to choose
The most important thing to consider when investing in a carry-on backpack is the fit. You can ask in-store experts to size you for a bag, then go online to shop for the best deals in that category. The right size bag will fit comfortably on your hips, taking the weight off your shoulders and back and distributing it across your body. When looking for the best backpack, consider those with comfortable shoulder straps, a waist strap, and some kind of ventilation system (be it an internal, external frame, or a padded strap that allows for airflow). Usual sizes include 40-liter, 50-liter and, 60-liter capacity backpacks, though you’re probably safest with a 40L bag if you want to make sure you can take it into a standard overhead compartment.
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