The Best Carry-On Luggage

We chose 11 of the industry's top-performing pieces of carry-on luggage and put them through the ringer. We rolled them through airports across the country, shoved them into car trunks, and schlepped them onto buses and trains. We compared two-wheeled convertible luggage with four-wheeled, hard-sided models, examining every detail of each piece. Once our team of dedicated testers had each flown with several different bags, we gathered up their feedback (and their luggage) and went to work compiling the results. Throughout this review, we will discuss the pros and cons of each bag using a set of six metrics that range from Ease of Transport to Durability. Read on to learn more!

Read the full review below >

Review by: Amanda Fenn ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab October 23, 2013

Top Ranked Carry-on Luggage Displaying 1 - 5 of 11 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Travelpro Luggage Maxlite 2 22” Expandable Rollaboard
Travelpro Luggage Maxlite 2 22” Expandable Rollaboard
Read the Review
Video video review
Samsonite Luggage Winfield 2 20” Spinner Bag
Samsonite Luggage Winfield 2 20” Spinner Bag
Read the Review
Video video review
Osprey Ozone Wheeled Convertible Luggage - 22”
Osprey Ozone Wheeled Convertible Luggage - 22”
Read the Review
Video video review
Delsey Luggage Helium Shadow 2.0 21” Carry-on Trolley
Delsey Luggage Helium Shadow 2.0 21” Carry-on Trolley
Read the Review
REI Wheely Beast Wheeled Duffel - 21"
REI Wheely Beast Wheeled Duffel - 21"
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award 
Street Price $82
Compare at 1 sellers
$126
Compare at 1 sellers
$300
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $110 - $133
Compare at 2 sellers
$149
Compare at 1 sellers
Overall Score 
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Lightweight, Spacious, ExpandableAwesome rolling action, Sleek design, Useful internal dividerLightweight, Well-designed backpack option and day packLarge internal capacity, Textured exterior hides scratchesLarge internal capacity, Inexpensive, Sturdy
Cons Has a very nondescript look, Not the most durableScratches easily, A bit more expensiveTips easily, Smaller internal capacityHandle started sticking, Wheels a little wonkyFewer features, Not very professional looking
Best Uses General airline travelCity-to-city airline travelMore geared toward adventure travel, Better for lighter packersCity-to-city travel on “polished” surfacesGeneral airline travel
Date Reviewed Oct 21, 2013Oct 21, 2013Oct 21, 2013Oct 21, 2013Oct 21, 2013
Weighted Scores Travelpro Luggage Maxlite 2 22” Expandable Rollaboard Samsonite Luggage Winfield 2 20” Spinner Bag Osprey Ozone Wheeled Convertible Luggage - 22” Delsey Luggage Helium Shadow 2.0 21” Carry-on Trolley REI Wheely Beast Wheeled Duffel - 21"
Ease Of Transport - 25%
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Storage - 25%
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Features - 20%
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6
Durability - 10%
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Weight - 10%
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Looks - 10%
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Product Specs Travelpro Luggage Maxlite 2 22” Expandable Rollaboard Samsonite Luggage Winfield 2 20” Spinner Bag Osprey Ozone Wheeled Convertible Luggage - 22” Delsey Luggage Helium Shadow 2.0 21” Carry-on Trolley REI Wheely Beast Wheeled Duffel - 21"
Weight 5 lbs 12 oz 5 lbs 15 oz 4 lbs 12 oz (main only); 5 lbs 12 oz (main + day) 6 lbs 5 oz 6 lbs 8 oz
Dimensions (excluding day packs) 22 x 14 x 9; expands to 22 x 14 x 11 20 x 13 x 9 22 x 14 x 9 21 x 10 x 14 21.5 x 14 x 9.5
Day pack dimensions n/a n/a 17 x 11 x 8/15 L n/a n/a
Volume of main bag 43 L; expands to 50.3 L 38 L 35 L not available 43 L
Number of interior pockets 3 3 3 (main) 5 (day) 2 3
Number of exterior pockets 1 0 1 (main) 3 (day) 0 2
Internal compression straps? Yes =, non elastic webbing Yes X, non elastic webbing Yes =, non elastic webbing Yes X, non elastic webbing Yes =, non elastic webbing
Lock Main compartment zippers lock compatible Integrated combo lock Main compartment zippers lock compatible Integrated combo lock Main compartment zippers lock compatible
Backpack Option? No No Yes No No
# of Wheels 2 4 2 4 2
Main Material 400Dx400D Jacquard Polyester and 800Dx400D Polyester with water repellent coating 100% Polycarbonate Shell 210D Nylon Shadow, 210D Nylon Velocity 100% Polycarbonate Shell 100x210D Nylon/1680D Ballistic Nylon
Unique features Expands 1.5 for extra stuff Internal flap zips shut to separate the two sides T-bar handle, detachable day pack Attractive interior lining Less structured so it's easier to store/collapse
Colors Available Black, Navy Black, Blue Slate, Purple, Silver, Teal, Solar Rose Blue, Light Green Black, Purple, Gray, Blue Navy, Black
Warranty available? Yes: Lifetime Yes: 10 years Yes: Lifetime Yes: 10-year Yes: 1 year
Other versions? 20, 25, 28, four-wheeled versions in 20 and 25 24 and 28 28/70L 25, 29, Expandable versions; versions with exterior pockets 28, 34
Handle height 38, 42 31, 41 31.5, 39.5 34.5, 37, 42.5 41
Prop 65 warning Yes Yes No Yes No

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Selecting the Right Product
When we began this review, we weren't entirely sure what our scoring metrics would turn out to be. We asked questions like: Should we have a category solely for rolly-ness? …and… Is style really that important? Ultimately, we ended up with a set of metrics that we think evaluates each piece of luggage fairly. These metrics include Ease of Transport, Internal Capacity, Features, Durability & Construction, Weight, and Style. Although we tested a variety of different types of bags (we'll get to that in just a minute), these metrics are designed to compare the luggage across the board and highlight the places where each bag shined and where it fell short. It's certainly no secret that a good piece of carry-on luggage can make navigating airport security far more enjoyable, and our goal is to give you all the information you need to choose the product that best suits your needs.

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Carry-on luggage take over! We compared these 11 bags head-to-head over a period of six months.
Credit: Hallie Adams

Types of Products
We tested four hard-sided bags with four wheels, one bag without wheels, and six soft-sided bags with two wheels. Of the two-wheeled bags, four were convertible luggage and of those four, three had detachable daypacks. After giving our Editor's Choice Award to the Travelpro Luggage Maxlite 2 22” Expandable Rollaboard (a soft-sided, two-wheeled bag), we decided to highlight the top performing four-wheeled bag and the number one convertible piece by giving them Top Pick Awards.
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Of the 11 bags in this review, the Timbuk2 Aviator was the only one without wheels. However, like four other bags that we tested, the Aviator has hide-away backpack straps.
Credit: Rebecca Fenn

For an exhaustive discussion of the pros and cons of each of these different types of bags and how they may or may not be right for you, check out How to Choose Carry-On Luggage.

Criteria for Evaluation
Ease of Transport
We think that one of the most important characteristics in a carry-on bag is how easily you can move your stuff from point A to point B. Among the rolling models, we evaluated the performance of each bag's wheels and whether they improved or hindered airport navigation. We took into consideration handle placement and comfort, as well as the sturdiness of the telescoping handle. Among the convertible bags (the pieces of luggage that transformed from rolling pieces into backpacks), we assessed how easy it was to unpack and use the backpack straps and how comfortable they were.

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Penny wheels the Osprey Meridian (with day pack quickly fastened on)through the airport. Several of the bags we tested, including this one, had big, burly wheels.
Credit: Tom Forestieri

We found that there was not much difference in rolly-ness among the two-wheeled bags, but that the four-wheeled bags varied greatly in rolling performance. With their swivel-mounted wheels, these bags seem to be either a blessing or a curse. While the Samsonite Luggage Winfield 2 20” Spinner Bag, one of our Top Picks, rolled beautifully through all our tests, the Traveler's Choice Cambridge 20” Hardsided Spinner continually pulled to one side and would at times lock up.

Within the convertible luggage category, we tested several different designs, including pieces with and without hip belts and bags with tuck-away and zip-away backpack straps. Although we found the non-hip belt designs to be easier to use, they were significantly less comfortable to carry, specifically in the case of the heavy REI Stratocruiser Wheeled Luggage - 22”. We also closely compared the Osprey Meridian Wheeled Convertible Luggage - 22” and Osprey Ozone Wheeled Convertible Luggage - 22” since both these bags had hip belts. Ultimately, we decided to give the Osprey Ozone our Top Pick for Convertible Luggage primarily because its shoulder straps are more packable and lightweight, making them easier to access and put to use.

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All the convertible packs in this review. L to R: Osprey Meridian, REI Stratocruiser, Timbuk2 Aviator, Osprey Ozone, Patagonia MLC Wheelie
Credit: Hallie Adams

You'll find our full opinions of convertible luggage in our buying advice article, and those opinions are not entirely favorable. We choose to highlight the top performing convertible piece with a Top Pick Award solely as a recommendation for those who already have their hearts set on a convertible bag; but frankly we don't feel that multifunctional bags provide a substantial benefit over competing bags since many travelers will already have a better backpack than those included with convertible bags.

Internal Capacity
Equally as important as Ease of Transport, our Internal Capacity metric evaluated how much stuff each bag would actually hold. We picked out an array of items (see the photo below) and packed up each bag. In the individual reviews, you can view photos of how each bag fared and what items were left by the wayside. We found that the Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack and Patagonia MLC Wheelie had the smallest internal capacities and that the REI Stratocruiser and REI Wheely Beast Wheeled Duffel - 21” had the largest.

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Let the packing test begin! L to R: jacket, clutch, hanging bag with 2 dresses, heels, scarf, socks/undies, laptop, novel, bathroom bag, 2 jeans, 5 t-shirts, sweats, running shorts, and tennies.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

It's important to remember here that a smaller internal capacity is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are a light packer or often travel to warm places (where bulky clothes aren't required), then a small bag might be perfect for you. Additionally, many individuals still travel with a checked bag, so a smaller bag can be a great option. On the other hand, if you're a heavy packer, you may find yourself sitting on top of your bag wrestling with your zipper unless you purchase a spacious bag.

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The Travelpro Maxlite 2 Expandable Rollaboard passes the packing test! If you want to add extra items, simply unzip the expandable bit and check it instead of carrying it on.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

We also tested two pieces of luggage, the Travelpro Maxlite 2 Expandable Rollaboard and the Rockland Luggage Melbourne 20” Expandable Carry-on, that were expandable. These bags both expand 1.5” and offer 5-7 additional liters of space. Even though you have to check the bags once they are expanded, it's nice to have the option to go on a vacation shopping spree and not worry about how you'll transport your items home.

Features

From pocket configuration to telescoping handle height, we checked out and tested the functionality of each bag's special features. We came to love internal dividers that zipped shut and started to really appreciate integrated lock systems. We were also careful to consider the question “how much is too much?” We were surprised to find ourselves drawn to some of the most basic bags that we reviewed. For example, our Editor's Choice winner, the Travelpro Rollaboard, has one deep external pocket with a smaller internal mesh pocket for important items. Sometimes organizer pockets can be really helpful, but sometimes, less is more.

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We couldn't bear to finish a review without taking some gear outside! Testing out the REI Stratocruiser day pack in Eldorado Canyon.
Credit: Meg Benedik

The question of “when is less actually more?” also carried over into our evaluation of detachable daypacks. The Osprey Ozone, Osprey Meridian, and REI Stratocruiser are all comprised of main bags that are the maximum legal carry-on size and detachable daypacks that serve as your personal item. Some of our testers did like the detachable daypacks, but others would have preferred to travel with a purse or larger backpack. We also noted several major design flaws in the attachment and transport of the Meridian's and Stratocruiser's daypacks. For a full discussion of the pros and cons of detachable daypacks, see our corresponding buying advice article.

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We hiked with all the day packs and liked the Osprey Ozone's the best. It has super stretchy mesh water bottle pockets and plenty of space for jackets and other items.
Credit: Mark Smiley

Durability & Construction

Although we only tested these bags for a few months, we were able to draw some important conclusions about each one's durability and construction. We examined each bag's wheels, researched the materials they were made out of, and assessed their zippers. We pulled up all the handles and compared how rattly they were. We also loaded up bags with books and let them plop down concrete stairs just to make sure the wheels wouldn't crack under pressure.

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Comparing the Travelpro Rollaboard (L) and the REI Stratocruiser (R) side-by-side. We had a few questions about the Rollaboard's overall durability, but found the Stratocruiser to be very solid.
Credit: Neysa Bell

The least durable bags in our review were the Rockland Melbourne and the Traveler's Choice Cambridge. The most durable seemed to be the Osprey Meridian, which has beefy wheels, zippers, and handles, as well as thick nylon fabrics; however, the Meridian is quite heavy. We thought that our Best Buy Award winner, the REI Wheely Beast provided a good balance of weight and durability: it wasn't too heavy, but also seems like it will last over the long-term.

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The Traveler's Choice Cambridge was one of the least durable bags we tested. We did, however, like its convenient side carry handle.
Credit: Meg Benedik

Weight

Whether you opt for convertible, wheeled, or non-wheeled luggage, you will have to lift your bag multiple times over the course of your travel day: into the trunk, onto the security x-ray belt, and, of course, into the overhead bin. So, obviously, the lighter your bag is to begin with, the lighter it will be once you pack it full of all your stuff. We got out our digital luggage scale and measured the weight of each piece in this review and most of the weights we recorded ended up being lighter than the manufacturers' specifications.

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Thanks to its lightweight construction, the Travelpro Rollaboard is super easy to lift into the overhead bin. Other lightweight bags included our Top Pick winners: the Osprey Ozone and Samsonite Winfield 2.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

The lightest bags we tested were the Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack (which does not have wheels) and the Osprey Ozone, which is made of less durable materials. We were pleasantly surprised to feel how light the Ozone was (especially without its daypack attached). Its straps were significantly lighter than those on the Meridian or the Stratocruiser, which makes them less durable, but, considering that you probably won't use them all that often, we think it's an acceptable sacrifice. We did notice, however, that bags with lighter weight frames (like the Ozone and the Patagonia MLC Wheelie) both tipped more easily than other bags.

Style

Finally, we took style into consideration. Although this is not a category that everyone feels strongly about, many people fly for more formal occasions like weddings or business meetings and some want a bag that reflects the purpose of their trip. As with any accessory, a carry-on provides the user with a certain look, be it techy or sophisticated or totally nondescript.

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The competition for "most attractive bag" was tight, but in the end, we liked the look of the Delsey Helium Shadow the best.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

We reviewed several bags that looked very professional, including the Delsey Luggage Helium Shadow 2.0 21” Carry-on Trolley and the Samsonite Winfield 2, as well as a few that looked way more techy, including the REI Wheely Beast. We really liked the sleek look of the Patagonia MLC Wheelie, but found the Travelpro Rollaboard to be little bit nondescript.

Editor's Choice Award: Travelpro Luggage Maxlite 2 22” Expandable Rollaboard
We tested a whole range of bags, including a cool new release from Osprey and some sleek designs from world-class luggage manufacturers. However, in the end, we decided to present our Editor's Choice Award to the Travelpro Luggage Maxlite 2 22” Expandable Rollaboard. This basic two-wheeled bag isn't trying to reinvent the wheel and we think that's actually one of its greatest strengths. When Travelpro's experts made this bag, they stuck to a classic, tried-and-true design with a solid telescoping handle and a deep exterior pocket. This soft-sided option simply fulfills its purpose as a general use, air travel bag and we really appreciated that. We also loved how lightweight the Travelpro Maxlite 2 is, but had a few questions about its long-term durability. At $240, we think that this is a good value, especially since it has the added versatility of being expandable.

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The Travelpro Rollaboard waits to go to the airport as a bus stop in Boulder. We liked this bag's simple, yet effective design and were happy to give it our Editor's Choice Award.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

Best Buy Award: REI Wheely Beast Wheeled Duffel – 21”
One of the least expensive bags tested, the REI Wheely Beast Wheeled Duffel - 21” rings up at just $149. A soft-sided bag with non-structured walls, the Wheely Beast held all the items in our packing test and rolls easily on two wheels. Although its materials are not the most durable, this bag is relatively lightweight and we think that it will still withstand rugged use over a number of years. This bag has a fairly techy, masculine look to it, but for such an affordable price, the Wheely Beast is certainly hard to turn down.

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The REI Wheely Beast is little bit of a mind-blowing bargain. At only $149, this duffel-style wheeled carry-on was the second most affordable bag that we reviewed and it is quite well made.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

Top Pick for Four-Wheeled: Samsonite Luggage Winfield 2 20” Spinner Bag
Our first Top Pick Award went to the top performing four-wheeled contender: the Samsonite Luggage Winfield 2 20” Spinner Bag. Although it was on the pricier end of the spectrum at $280, this bag rolls flawlessly over hard polished surfaces and is easy to maneuver on concrete and thin carpet. As a hard-sided bag, the Winfield 2 has a distinctive, classy look and solid construction. It also held all the items in our packing test and has useful features like a zippered divider and integrated lock system. Our biggest complaints about this bag were that it lacked a side handle and that it scratched fairly easily.

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The Samsonite Winfield 2 unloads off a flight to Jackson, Wyoming. We loved this four-wheeled bag's amazing rolling action and its sophisticated look.
Credit: Tim Dittman

Top Pick for Convertible Luggage: Osprey Ozone Wheeled Convertible Luggage – 22”

In our buying advice article, we present a fairly thorough debate on the pros and cons of convertible luggage. Ultimately, we don't think that we would use the backpack feature often enough to warrant convertible luggage, but we aren't here to make up your mind for you. For that reason, we wanted to highlight the top performing convertible piece: the Osprey Ozone Wheeled Convertible Luggage - 22”. If you do want convertible luggage, the Ozone is lightweight and has backpack straps that are easy to access. This bag looks sleek and had the coolest detachable daypack. Additionally, the daypack can clip to the front shoulder straps of the main bag for easy kangaroo-style carrying.

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Our Top Pick for Convertible Luggage, the Osprey Ozone has lots of useful features and is super lightweight. This piece has a cool detachable day pack and easy access backpack straps.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

Best for Specific Applications

Best for a beach trip: Patagonia MLC Wheelie
Most attractive: Delsey Luggage Helium Shadow 2.0 21” Carry-on Trolley
Best for rugged terrain: Osprey Meridian Wheeled Convertible Luggage - 22”
Most versatile for everyday use: Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack

Interested in other types of luggage? Check out The Best Travel Duffel Bags and The Best Travel Backpack Review!

Amanda Fenn
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