Whether you’re going on a short hop over the state line for a meeting or you’re about to spend a few days in paradise, this should be obvious: carry-on luggage is absolutely essential. Regardless of choosing a backpack or a roller bag, having the right carry-on luggage is essential for an optimal airport experience. Sure, tossing some stuff in a duffel bag and checking it in might seem like a good idea at the time, but once you have that bag strap hung on your shoulder for an hour or two, you’ll realize you made a grave luggage mistake.
Travel gear has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous hundred. Suitcases, in particular, are getting lighter, better, stronger — even smarter (what we’re saying is they’ve clearly been listening to Daft Punk). 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.
Price, too, is an important factor, and one that should never be taken lightly. 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. Here, we narrow down the list to only the best carry-on luggage options, broken down by travel, style, and budget. Whatever you decide to stuff in that compartment when you travel, you should be confident with your TSA-approved overhead choice.
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Every Away suitcase offer multiple features that, in addition to the sleek design and appearance, has made Away a favorite of most of The Manual’s staff. Some of the features we love are the unbreakable polycarbonate shell (because we know baggage handlers aren’t the most gentle of airline professionals), the ejectable battery pack that has saved us more times than we can count, a TSA-approved combination lock that makes us feel a little more secure, 360-degree Hinomoto wheels for super streamlined and smooth airport maneuvering, an interior compression system (to fit those last few souvenirs in), and a hidden laundry bag to keep the foul-scented away from the fresh.
For the Gear Junkie
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 can seem like an impossible task. The brand’s aptly named Load Warrior Carry-On is built to do just that. Its dimensions (14 inches by 22 inches by 9 inches) are maxed out for both domestic and most international travel, and it boasts a 42-liter capacity that expands to 45.5 with a single zipper. It weighs less than five pounds, but the rip-stop nylon and poly exterior is far more durable than its weight should allow. Thoughtful touches — an Exo-Skeleton to protect the bag at strategic wear points, a lightweight, folding handle, and an equipment clip to tether helmets and jackets to the outside of these bags — are all welcome additions.
For the Weight-Obsessed
If your goal is lightweight and hard as nails, that’s Rimowa’s entire product catalog of well-built carry-ons and accessories. They make some of the lightest, sexiest, most durable hard-sided luggage on the market. With a 38-liter capacity main compartment, their Salsa Air Ultralight Cabin Multiwheel is generously sized with just enough built-in interior pockets to keep you reasonably organized. But, the real win for those seriously concerned with protecting their gear is the polycarbonate shell, which is far stronger for a compartment than aluminum. This fancy looking ball-bearing spinner is also sleek as hell and weighs just 4 pounds, 6 ounces.
When it comes to wheel luggage, you want something you can rely on. Whether you’re rolling onto the plane or sprinting to a gate, you need carry-on luggage that can keep up with you.
For the Design Buffs
Arlo Skye’s The Carry-On is still our go-to for travelers seeking the perfect balance of design, features, and price. The sleek, metallic exterior is sexy as hell — it’d feel right at home in the hands of a Bond villain smuggling nuclear launch codes. It features a removable backup battery (so you don’t run afoul of some airlines’ new hatred for such things), ultra-quiet wheels, and a zipper-less design. It’s all wrapped in a sleek, anodized aluminum-magnesium shell that feels almost bulletproof. Whether you’re looking to add a hard suitcase to your luggage set, or just need something to put toiletry items in, this is the ultimate wheel suitcase for you.
For the Frequent Flyer
We’ve previously lauded Briggs and Riley for having, not just some of the most durable luggage on the market, but also for boasting a phenomenal lifetime warranty to boot. Their Baseline Domestic Carry-On Expandable Upright is a classic carry-on bag with traditional looks and a tank-like design. It’s pricey and heavy, but it also packs a ton of essential features for road warriors and frequent travelers. The “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 bag is a must for business travelers looking to maintain a wrinkle-free look fresh off the plane.
For the Average Joe
If you’re looking for bang-for-your-buck factor, look no further than SwissGear luggage. The brand has quietly made a name for itself as a go-to among travelers for affordable, reasonably reliable luggage without a lot of pretense. Case in point: their Meyrin 20-inch Expandable Spinner. Sure, it lacks the fancier craftsmanship, pretty color options, or any swanky features at all. However, if you’re looking for an inexpensive, dependable carry-on spinner, this will do the trick.
With spinner wheels for advanced rolling and a bag strap, this carry-on luggage has everything you need to travel like a pro without having to pay the pro price.
The Best Affordable Luggage
This particular carry-on suitcase may not have a fancy compression system or an easy-access front pouch, but it’s actually a pretty high-quality travel bag for its price point. With a four-wheeled rolling system, hard outer shell, and scratch-resistant finish, this AmazonBasics hardshell suitcase is our top pick if you’re looking to spend as little money as possible on travel luggage. Oh, and this lightweight suitcase i, of course,e eligible for free shipping from Amazon if you’re a Prime Member.
A decent carry-on bag or suitcase should be wheeled, lightweight, and have a built-in compartment or two for all of your accessories. Well, this luggage from Amazon manages to check all of those boxes while still keeping the price at a minimum. Whether you’re looking to add to your luggage set, or just need an extra carry-on in a pinch, this Spinner is an excellent option to consider.
The Best Backpack
Not all carry-on bags need to be luggage, nor does it need to feel like baggage. While a good majority of traveling requires an extra little suitcase to cram everything into, sometimes it’s okay to just travel light with just a bag or duffel you can easily carry. This travel backpack comes with USB ports for charging, a headphone interface, a laptop sleeve, and an anti-theft lock to ensure nothing gets stolen. If you’re looking for an affordable carry-on bag that doesn’t skimp on features and can easily fit in that overhead bin, this backpack is exactly what you need.
Though there are a lot of bags that can cost upwards of $100, especially when it comes to travel, this particular bag will only cost you about three trips to the Cinnabon. Though it isn’t wheeled, expandable, or even really luggage for that matter, this lightweight bag is easy to carry and has a compartment for just about everything you need. If you want to avoid paying suitcase prices, strap up with a carry-on you can actually carry on.
Article originally published by Mike Richard on April 18, 2018. Last updated by Sam Slaughter in November 2018 to include deals info. The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.