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, travelling 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. We combed through a number of new models around and picked some of what we think are the cream of the crop in terms of carry-on luggage today. Some of them have matching sets too.
Our top 3 picks
Your cabbing baggage needs to first and foremost be functional, durable and versatile. Some of the models on our list help you transport even camera equipment in a safe and compact manner. Compactness is the name of the game when trying to travel light so we have outlined some softside, hardside and even rolling duffle bag options to choose from, depending upon the frequency and nature of your travel.
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 best options on our list will comfortably allow you to pack for even 3-4 day trips. All the ones on our list are wheeled luggage options. You can check out the factors you need to consider along with the criteria we have used for selecting these suitcases below the list.
Top 10 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 luggage for international travel as well as domestic.
1. Delsey - Helium Aero International Carry On 19”
- Marginally small if packing for longer trips
Size: 19” x 13” x 9.5”
The Delsey Helium Aero 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.
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.
2. Briggs & Riley - Baseline International
Size: 15” x 9” x 21”
Weight: 9.3 lbs
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.
The positive traits that this model has 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. 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
Size: 21 x 14 x 9 inches (body)
Weight: 5.9 lbs
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.
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.
4. it luggage Megalite 21.9" Spinner
- The interior is basic with no suiter
Size: 21.9 x 14 x 8.1 (Exterior)
Polyester (high density)
The IT luggage is one of our favorites simply because of how light it is. Weighing in at just 4 pounds the Mega light 21.9 spinner is extremely easy to place in the overhead locker even when full. It also accommodates quite a fair amount of things.
The build quality of the wheels is good however the overall feel is slightly on the flimsier side due to its weight constitution. For its price range, it’s a solid option that expands by about 25% too. The handle and the zippers are well made and it features one basic front pocket for storing travel documents and other items that need to be accessed quickly.
The downside is that it lacks some of the bells and whistles that higher end models have like a TSA lock, self-repairing zippers and even a suiter. The interior is quite standard and will suit the minimalist better. If you are looking for a 4 wheeled carry on that will last is economical and ideally suited for 2-3 day trips then the it luggage is definitely the one to opt for.
5. Travelpro - Platinum Magna 2 22"
- Some users reported issues with the handle
- Not a 4 wheel spinner
Size: 21” x 14” x 9”
Weight: 7.7 lbs
If you are a frequent flyer looking for a luggage that has a lifetime warranty that covers airline damage but is not as expensive as the Briggs & Riley then the Travel Pro Magna 2 will suit you perfectly.
The Magna 2 is priced lesser than the Baseline series by B&R without compromising on the build quality. The Magna 2 is not as light as the Maxlite 4 but is definitely light enough to make it a formidable luggage option. The exterior is water repellent and not quite waterproof. The interior is quite spacious allowing you to pack many things in an organized fashion. The suitcase has a suiter that helps you carry on 1 or 2 suits on business trips easily.
The Magna 2 is not a 4 wheel spinner but it does not have any tipping issues even when packed completely. The front is quite simplistic with a zippered compartment for storing quick access items. The inside exudes quality with the Deluxe interior containing pockets for just about anything and everything. The nylon lining is stain resistant too which definitely helps. All in all, the Magna 2 is perfect for those who like to travel without worrying too much about their luggage
6. 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.
7. Samsonite - DK3 Spinner 21"
- Zippers can get damaged through frequent use
Size: 20.5” x 14.8” x 7.5” (body)
Weight: 9 lbs
85% polyester & 15% Nylon
Next up is the DK3 Spinner by Samsonite. Samsonite is an extremely well-known brand in the world of suitcases and the DK3 isn’t an exception with respect to the quality on hand. One of the roomier options on our list will leave you very satisfied.
The zippers work well on the DK3 and the exterior pockets are its main selling point. You can store multiple items which are extremely easy to access as a result with front as well as side zippers. This luggage rolls well on multiple surfaces. The luggage also boasts a suiter and expansion capabilities too. This luggage is also more suited to domestic carry on requirements within the United States.
A downside is that the DK3 can be slightly on the heavier side for a carry on negating from the amount you can carry. Some users also reported issues with the zippers as well. The DK3 isnt as big as the famous Aspire Xlite series from Samsonite and unlike the 20” Xlite this suitcase’s overall dimensions are slightly lesser which gives it a better chance of passing through without incurring any difficulty.
8. London Fog - Chelsea 21"
- Slightly heavy
- Can collect stains easily
Size: 21 x 14 x 8 inches
Weight: 9 lbs
The London Fog Chelsea 21 is one of the more spacious options for travelers on our list. If you are looking for an extremely classy/ stylish luggage then this is the one for you. The build quality of the zippers are quite good and the suiter can hold one suit comfortably.
This suitcase is a 4 wheel upright and the build quality of the wheels are top notch making it ready for any surface. There a couple of outer zippered pockets where you can store things you need to access quickly. This is quite basic in the sense it does not have any laptop padded pockets as such. The handle quality is excellent and is quite comfortable to use.
This model, thanks to its color can be prone to collecting stains if you decide to check in the baggage. Removing the stains, in this case, can prove to be a hassle. However, it functions quite well as a carry-on. Another con is that it’s slightly heavy and weighs a full 3 pounds more than the Megalite which is the lightest on our list.
9. Olympia Luggage - 22" Rolling Duffel Bag
- Can tip over easily when packed
Size: 22 x 12 x 12 inches
The Olympia is unlike any of the others on our list since it is a rolling duffle bag essentially. It has proven to be an effective carry-on in many circumstances. The construction is quite good despite the polyester being not too thick.
The self-repairing zippers were a plus. The other positive for us is the packing space. This carry-on will allow you to pack even a weeks’ worth of clothing. (Depending upon how you pack) Many other suitcases are roomy but this is also versatile since it is not a rigid structure. If you don’t have many things you can very easily just place it under your seat when you fly. This fact coupled with the 8 pockets makes it an attractive proposition. The handle is quite sturdy but not as long as other models.
There are some minor issues especially if you do decide to pack it completely full then it might too big for some international airlines. Many users reported no issues even in these circumstances though. Since it’s a 2 wheeled option it can tip over quite easily unlike the well-built Magna 2 for instance. So you probably have to constantly rest it against something. This is very subjective since some people are bothered by it and others not so much. Overall, a great alternative for a traditional carry on luggage option.
10. Rockland - Melbourne 20"
- More suited for the occasional traveler
- Build Quality is lacking
Size: 20" x 13" x 9"
Weight: 6.5 lbs
The Rockland 20 inch ABS luggage is quite a popular choice for folks looking for something inexpensive. This is as basic as it gets in terms of carry-on and will serve you well if you travel occasionally.
The Rockland can be directly compared to the Delsey or the Kenneth Cole as it’s another hard shell option on our list. This luggage looks great but it’s made from ABS instead of the Polycarbonate seen on the Delsey. This makes it a bit more prone to scratches. The upside is that it’s lighter making it one of the lighter options on our list. If you are used to travelling with your cabin luggage carefully then will work for you. The suitcase is quite roomy on the inside with the zippered compartment easily able to accommodate at least 2-5 days’ worth of clothing.
A downside is the build quality of the handles and wheels. In most cases, users reported no issues but there are some instances where the wheels can be susceptible to damage. The warranty on offer doesn’t cover normal usage unlike the Travel Pro Magna or the Briggs & Riley. Durability is quite decent despite it lacking an expensive feel. Overall, a very good and inexpensive option for budget travelers.
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 IT Megalite & 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 travelling 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 suit case 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 Magna 2 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.