Seeking the best carry on luggage in 2018? Check out our pros & cons, factors to consider and select the carry on suitcase that fits your needs best!
These days it’s more important than ever to have a not just good but great carry on luggage.
Ever since airlines charging more for baggage and even excess baggage fees, traveling with just your carry on, especially on smaller trips has become the smart thing to do.
Efficient packing methods and a high-quality carry-on bag can make sure you never have to check in baggage unnecessarily again.
For frequent travelers, things like a lifetime warranty that even covers airline damage can cost you more but save you a lot in the long run. Some of the options on our list will comfortably allow you to pack for even 3-4 day trips as well.
10 Best Carry-on luggage for travelers
Typical carry-ons are between 19 to 22” and we’ve combed through a whole bunch of them and picked out the best carry-on suitcase for international travel as well as domestic. Some of them have matching sets too!
1. Travelpro - Crew 11 21"
- Tie down straps are simple instead of a mesh design
- Corners are not as reinforced as the Magna 2 (Can be an issue if you happen to check this in quite a lot)
If you are after a phenomenal carry-on that will last you a very long time then the Crew 11 is definitely a great choice. Our top pick for carry-on luggage is quite light & packed with premium features too.
Weight: 7.2 lbs
Size: 21" x 14" x 9"
The overall construction quality if what really makes this suitcase our preferred choice. Yes, the Magna 2 does come with a better warranty & better-reinforced corners but we feel the lower price & weight on the Crew 11 is quite important. The crew 11 has self-aligning MagnaTrac wheels that makes rolling this suitcase on any surface a breeze. Where it doesn’t excel is on inclines. Some users do mention that the crew 11 has a tendency to roll away even on the slightest of inclines.
The telescopic handle is quite long and very sturdy with side handles having a leather profile. Aesthetically, this carry on is one of the better-looking ones too. There is a compartment for your laptop in front that fits anything up to a 15.6” laptop. The suitcase is also expandable & has a power bank pocket from where you can very easily charge your devices.
The interiors are something we liked as well as you get pretty much all the premium features & design quality that you find on the Magna 2 and this luggage costs less. The removable garment bag is very handy for transporting your suits and there are plenty of mesh pockets for staying organized.
If you are wondering what the differences are between the Crew 11 & the Magna 2 it’s more to do with how reinforced the corners are. So if you would like to check in the luggage then the latter might be a safer bet although we’ve seen the Crew 11 fare just fine in either situation. As for comparisons with the Maxlite 4, the crew 11 is stacked with a better abrasion resistant Ballistic Nylon surface and premium features making it about a pound heavier than the former. The Maxlite 4 also has plenty of upsides which you can see further down the list too.
2. Briggs & Riley - Baseline International 21"
If you are looking for the best carry-on luggage and are a frequent flyer then the Briggs & Riley Baseline is the one to go for. Quality-wise everything is top of the line from the Nylon exterior to the wheels to the zippers. It also comes with a lifetime warranty that covers airline damage.
Size: 15” x 9” x 21”
Weight: 9.3 lbs
The positive traits that the Briggs & Riley possesses are quite extensive. Many users who have traveled over 100K miles have reported the suitcase to hold up very well and does not wear very easily. Airline damage is unfortunately still existent today and accidents can happen, this is why the warranty that covers airline damage really makes it worth the price. The suiter that is present can comfortably hold 1 and maybe 2 suits so business travelers can really take to this. The baseline is ideally suited for 3-4 day trips.
The CX expansion & compression capability is a huge hit with us and other users alike. The luggage can expand to increase packing capacity and shrink down to the original size when stowing away into the overhead compartment. The wide-body has resulted in some users debating whether it passes airline measurement standards but we can report that the majority have had no issues. The only downside as such is the price but only if you are not a frequent flyer.
3. Delsey - Helium Aero International Carry On 19”
- Marginally small if packing for longer trips
The Helium Aero spinner by Delsey is an excellent choice for international travelers. This compact yet finely built 19” spinner suitcase exudes quality. The outer shell is pure polycarbonate and does not scratch as easily as some of the other hard shell suitcase out in the market.
Size: 19” x 13” x 9.5”
This luggage has all the typical bells and whistles one expects in a great carry-on like a TSA lock, straps for holding your clothes together etc. The feature that stood out the most for us and other users is the front zippered compartment for easy access items and a padded sleeve as well for 15.6-inch laptops or less. We quite liked this feature as it is a rarity, especially in hard sided models. The build quality of the zippers and wheels were quite good and it does roll on multiple surfaces smoothly.
A slight down side as reported by some ardent frequent flyers is that the sleeve is on the outer side so one needs to place the luggage on the ground on the side of the handle in order to avoid some items spilling out. Another point to note is that due to the polycarbonate shell and the handle being on the inside it’s a tad less roomy compared to other carry-on suitcases out there. If you are packing for shorter trips or are looking for a luggage to combine with your checked baggage then this is the one for you.
4. Travelpro Maxlite 4 - 21 Inch
- The overall size might be an issue when flying on some budget airlines in Europe
- The above usually only applies when fully expanded
For those looking for an ultralight carry-on option then the Maxlite 4 will serve you well. Travel Pro is another established brand known for providing high-quality carry on luggage. This luggage maximizes interior space by reducing outer pockets.
Size: 21 x 14 x 9 inches (body)
Weight: 5.9 lbs
Positive traits are numerous in number with the build quality being sturdy. The spinners rotate 360 degrees and roll quite well on all surfaces we tested it on. The Maxlite 4 is also water repellent and resists abrasion well. The size is quite alright for most domestic travel. With the wheels included it does tend to be slightly on the larger side coming in at just over 22inches overall. The zippers as well made along with padded handles and they tend to last for a longtime.
If you travel through Europe often utilizing Ryanair and other budget airlines then this might not suit you well since they are quite strict size wise. The suitcase has been sizer tested on a lot of the major airlines in the US and should have no problems. Its checked baggage counterpart which is a 25” is also a great option to pair this with.
5. Victorinox Werks Traveler 5.0 WT 22"
- Can tip over when another bag is placed above it
If you are not quite sure about opting for a TUMI or a B&R then the Victorinox might be the way to go. The Werks Traveler 5.0 is an exceptionally well-made suitcase with a host of premium features at a much lower price than the Baseline (our pick for business travelers), for instance.
Size: 14 x 22 x 10 inches (case)
Weight: 6.7 pounds
The WT 5.0 has a whole host of features to rave about including their Pack more system which helps you take advantage of the space on offer effectively. Before we carry on its important to note that the case size is 22” and the overall is 23.5” this was still completely okay on most airlines & is usually the case with many carry on options in the market. You can always opt for the 20” version which you can find here.
The interiors look impressive and have a removable suiter on the top cover. The packing room in the main compartment is slightly more limited when compared to some other designs but still does the job for us. There is a divider that helps you separate your clothing and keep yourself organized. The tie down straps are rather basic which is a bit disappointing for us but the divider can be used to make sure your clothes don’t wrinkle easily. Pricewise & other features puts the WT 22” in a similar bracket to the Magna 2 by Travelpro but the WT has a slightly different warranty & a less sturdy frame.
There are handles on 3 sides of the suitcase and the main handle can be locked into different positions ensuring you have a comfortable experience. The exterior is abrasion resistant and rarely gathers dirt. The dual wheel system on the WT 5.0 is one of the best in the market today. This carry on rolls effortlessly on pretty much any surface. Victorinox also claim that it’s easy to place bags on top of this one for consolidated travel but many users reported that the bag tends to tip over in this scenario.
6. Samsonite - Freeform 21"
- Can accumulate scuff marks but are not easily visible
- Handles aren’t present on all sides
- Pretty basic interior
It’s not often we associate Samsonite with stylish luggage but the Freeform is certainly one exception. The sleek aesthetics & lightweight design make this one excellent carry-on for travelers to consider.
Size: 21.25” x 15.25” x 10”
Weight: 6.5 lbs
Molded Polypropylene (plastic)
The Freeform hardside is an impressive offering from Samsonite. Coming in at 6.5 lbs it’s one of the lighter carry on suitcases in the market. The dual wheel system seen on brands like Travelpro is used here and the freeform’s wheels are a lot more durable as a result. It also comes with a neat little ID tag so you can skip buying a luggage tag altogether.
The modern is a refreshing change to the more functional designs employed by Samsonite. Like the Delsey this model is also expandable which is a positive for us. The luggage has plenty of packing capacity regardless and the lightweight nature can only encourage buyers to take advantage of the space. The interiors are pretty basic though which we were slightly disappointed by. There are mesh pockets for organization but the tie-down straps to keep your clothes in place is extremely basic. The handles are well built although they are not present on all sides so it can be annoying in some situations to place & remove this from cars.
Some buyers did mention being confused about opening the suitcase initially as the TSA locks are preset to 000. Clear instructions about this would definitely be better. This wasn’t a concern of us however. The only downside are more to do with the scuff marks these can accumulate when handles in a rough manner. The white color we’ve picked isn’t particularly more susceptible to scratches relative to the other colors. If you travel casually then this offering by Samsonite is definitely worth considering.
7. Osprey - Ozone 22"
- The handle takes up a fair bit of room in the main packing compartment
- The main handle isn’t as comfortable as those on regular suitcases (when packed with heavy items only)
The Osprey Ozone along with the load warrior (which we will touch on as well) is ideal for those who simply love the outdoors. The Ozone’s versatility is perfect if your trip involves road trips, train rides, air travel & the likes. There is ample packing space that will suit even business travelers who like to do some sport as they move around.
Size: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
Weight: 4.3~ pounds
The organizational features are what really makes the Ozone 22” stand out. There are plenty of easy access mesh pockets at the front and the back of the bag to store quick access items like your phones, wallets, keys, passports & the likes. There is also a top pocket for quick access to your toiletries too. There are compression straps on the inside and the outside to make sure your clothes really stays in place.
Note: This is not a backpack or convertible.
The main issue with these kinds of bags is that they tend to tip over a lot but the Ozone has a metal foot that prevents that from happening even when packed completely. This is a bit different than the rubber foot that we see on most models including the Load Warrior which we touched on too. The durability of the Ozone is what really impressed us and its many users. It can very easily handle demanding trips and display little to no wear at all. Osprey’s construction quality is exemplary.
The wheels are built for handling even the roughest of terrain as well. The handle extends to a comfortable length which makes it easier to move around. The handle/ frame of the bag does take up a lot of packing space since the handle is internal & not on the outside. One thing we didn’t like about the handle was that when it’s packed completely & is heavy, the bag was actually harder to turn without putting enormous strain on the handle. Overall, the Osprey is quite a super light & stylish alternative to a regular suitcase that is certainly built to last.
8. Eagle Creek - Expanse 21.5”
- Packing capacity a bit less
- Tips over a lot
The Eagle Creek Expanse is a neat little carry on that is made for the outdoor enthusiast. Unlike the Osprey, this has lesser packing capacity but is a lot easier to maneuver & pack for shorter trips.
Size: 8” x 13.75” x 21.5”
Weight: 5 lbs 11oz
420D Two tone Poly, 300D Ripstop Poly, 500D Oxford Poly
Despite the name, we feel the Expanse is ideally suited to the minimalist who likes to explore the world. For digital nomads who like to travel just with carry-ons, the Expanse is a cool option that should have no issues even on budget airlines like Ryan Air in Europe. The interiors are extremely simple with a mesh pocket and tie down straps. The only highlight is the padded pocket for a tablet. The Expanse is a bit easier to maneuver cause of the handle design with the single frame design on the Osprey making it hard to turn when it’s heavy.
The quality/ toughness of the exterior is what really makes the Eagle Creek stand out. The abrasion resistance is one of the best and can withstand a lot of abuse. The wheels are treaded and the housing well designed so it can handle bad roads and other terrain without causing any headaches. The expanse is covered by Eagle Creek’s No matter what warranty which is essentially a lifetime warranty that has added insurance for product failure too.
There are external latch points in case you would like to place another bag above this one but this is virtually impossible given the bag tends to tip over a lot. Design & quality wise Eagle creek have excelled with the expanse but the tipping issue seems to dissuade many users. The bag more often than not will be top heavy and the rubber padding at the bottom isn’t sufficient to keep it upright at all times.
9. Pelican - 1510 Case With Foam
- A bit heavy
- Not a 4 wheel spinner
Size: 13.81” x 9” x 22” (Exterior)
Weight: 12 lbs
If you are looking for a carry on that offers the best protection then the Pelican 1510 Case is the one for you. If you are into the habit or regularly transporting camera equipment or are simply seeking something that is crush-proof, waterproof and dust proof then look no further.
When you are transporting expensive things such as camera gear, functionality is everything and this carry on/ case provides exactly this. It meets the maximum FAA standards and is quite spacious on the inside. This model is definitely not going to score many points on the aesthetics front but it does get the job done. The throw open latches and padlocks are quite easy to use and it comes with a limited lifetime guarantee as well.
The exterior as you probably figured can collect scratch marks but this is a minor issue when you consider the benefits on hand. Another con is that it’s slightly heavy and can add a couple more pounds when compared to say a Briggs & Riley. Overall, the perfect carry on case to transport fragile gear.
10. Samsonite - Aspire Xlite 20"
- Marginally on the heavier side
- Advertised as a 20” the overall size is slightly larger but DOES fit on most airlines
As far as budget carry on suitcases is concerned we think the Aspire Xlite by Samsonite is definitely worth considering. This simple yet functional carry on is one of the cheapest options on the list that fits into overhead bins easily.
Size: 23 x 13.5 x 9.5 (Overall)
Weight: 7.5 lbs
You can easily pair this with its larger counterpart the Xlite 25” for check-in purposes since the larger option is also reasonably durable. The Samsonite is quite simple in terms of build with a few internal & external pockets. It doesn’t have dual wheels like some of the other models but it rolls reasonably well but can be a bit tight when upright & fully packed.
The inside is pretty basic with tie down straps and the top has a mesh pocket and another for toiletries. The outside has an easy access compartment for clothing too. The handle is really well made and will last you a long time. There is a handle underneath too which is a bonus for us. Considering the price, we think the Aspire Xlite is an excellent budget carryon luggage for the casual traveler.
A couple of downsides is that it’s very slightly on the heavier side at 7 and a half pounds but is still much lesser than premium cases around. The frame is quite weak which means while it serves really well as a carry-on, its durability might not be the same if checked in. The major sticking point according to many users is the suitcase’s size. Advertised as a 20” its overall size is closer to 23” but it does fit on the sizer on most airlines and wasn’t too much of an issue for us.
Factors to consider when buying the best carry on luggage for international & domestic travel
Picking a carry on luggage is never easy since you have multiple types, sizes and traits to sift through. In order for us to give you an accurate review, we considered the following factors or criteria as such to ensure all the luggage we picked meets or exceeds certain standards. These criteria outlined below can formulate the benchmark for one’s decision-making process when buying the best carry on suitcases.
Size & Weight
The size and weight aspect are the ones where a lot of variance is experienced brand wise, even more so than practicality aspects. As we mentioned earlier generally these fall between 19” and ~22”. Depending on how you like to pack and how long the weight plays an important role. Generally, hard shells are heavier, duffle bags and some soft sided options like the Osprey Ozone & the Travel Pro Maxlite 4 are the ones to opt for if you like to pack a lot of things.
The reality is that the external dimensions of a lot of the bags in the market slightly exceed the 22-inch mark but airlines generally ignore this as long as they fit in the overhead compartment. If you want to completely avoid the hassle of having to check your baggage in occasionally then try to pick one that adheres to the strictest rules out there. The Delsey is a good option for international travelers especially.
What is the maximum allowed dimensions for cabin baggage in the US?
Currently it is 22” (height) x 14” (width) x 9” (depth). This is subject to change so please check with your airline, especially if you fly infrequently.
Do the size limits vary regionally or airline by airline?
Yes! In our experience, budget airlines across Europe tend to be very strict with respect to sizing. Most US carriers are fairly generous and do accommodate a cm or two at times.
Does the weight vary too?
If you are into the habit of travel through Asian countries you will know that they allow much less for carry on. For example, if you are traveling through Thailand then your carry on cannot weigh more than 7kgs.
While this may seem rather simple at first the wheels & their quality are the most important factor. Cabin luggage doesn’t get tossed around as much as their checked counterparts. The part of the suitcase that is really put through its paces is the wheels. There’s usually nothing worse than when a wheel breaks off and your luggage’s functionality is effectively done for. Try to opt for a 4 wheeler if you are looking to reduce stress on your shoulder.
If maneuverability is of paramount importance to you then a two-wheeler holds the edge here. 4 wheelers are sometimes larger since their wheel mounts are fully external whereas the 2 wheelers are embedded into the bag a bit more. Gradients are another thing to factor in, whilst you can rest a suitcase with 2 wheels against the gradient a 4 wheeled option can roll away if not placed on its side.
Hard shell or soft?
Soft shell options are something we preferred in general on our list this is due to the fact that they last longer, have more quick access pockets and are significantly lighter. The material also yields which is an excellent trait to have especially if you don’t want your bag relegated to the check-in counter. The flexibility element is also useful when transporting your bag in the car. The downsides with these are that they don’t protect things from hard impacts.
Hard shell options are ideal if you are transporting breakable contents and are willing to trade off a few scratches here and there for a lasting experience. These also come with TSA locks and even latches in the case of our Pelican Case. These are great when you have a camera with you, they are heavier, however. The ABS ones are lighter than the polycarbonate but still not as much as the soft options or rolling duffle bags.
When we looked at the practicality, we were looking at things like the number of external pockets, quality of the zippers & handles, the length of the handles, Suiter availability, compartments etc. Whilst external pockets are good a limited number of them is ideal otherwise it becomes counterproductive since the expansion results in your bag not passing the sizer allowance. Self-repairing zippers which you can put back into place were highly valued.
The number of handles is also important. Ideally, there should be a handle at the top & the side and both should be easy to grip. Another feature to look for is handle length. Since these are much shorter than check-in items, your shoulder can feel a lot of discomfort if the handle does not extend to help you out. Suiters are an essential item for business folk it’s always handy to have them. Suitcases like the B&R excel at having a good balance of all the necessary features.
Most luggage come with a limited warranty that usually does not cover airline damage this will serve you well in most scenarios but if you are a frequent flyer, having a suitcase that does cover airline damage gives you greater peace of mind in the long run. If you cover some serious mileage then opt for the Victorinox or the Baseline to ensure you are not disappointed. It’s important to further read reviews on your purchase platforms to see how good manufacturers are when fulfilling their warranties. This is something we looked at closely.
Smart features & others
As far as luggage features go the latest fad is electronic capabilities. Things like in-built power banks, location tracking, digital locks, scale and more are becoming more popular. If features like these matter for you always ensure that the core functionality is not compromised. You can alternatively look at things like the TILE tags amongst others to augment your normal luggage to ensure it always stays safe.
Img: Bluesmart connected Carry on by Maurizio Pesce – cc by 2.0.