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 bags 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: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Displaying 1 - 5 of 11 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Travelpro Maxlite 2 22
Travelpro Maxlite 2 22
Read the Review
Video video review
Samsonite Winfield 2 20
Samsonite Winfield 2 20
Read the Review
Video video review
Osprey Ozone Convertible 22
Osprey Ozone Convertible 22
Read the Review
Video video review
Delsey Helium Shadow 2 21
Delsey Helium Shadow 2 21
Read the Review
REI Wheely Beast 21
REI Wheely Beast 21
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award 
Street Price $102
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$126
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Varies $165 - $300
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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 Maxlite 2 22 Samsonite Winfield 2 20 Osprey Ozone Convertible 22 Delsey Helium Shadow 2 21 REI Wheely Beast 21
Ease Of Transport - 25%
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Storage - 25%
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Features - 20%
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Durability - 10%
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Weight - 10%
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Looks - 10%
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Product Specs Travelpro Maxlite 2 22 Samsonite Winfield 2 20 Osprey Ozone Convertible 22 Delsey Helium Shadow 2 21 REI Wheely Beast 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


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Whether you fly twice a month for work, have five weddings to attend this summer, or are just in the market for a quality bag that will hold all your stuff and fit in the overhead bin, we're here to offer you some key advice on what to look for in your next piece of carry-on luggage.

Although there are many factors to consider when purchasing a carry-on luggage bag, throughout our testing process, we began to realize that the best bags are the bags that you don't notice. Your trip should be solely about your trip, not about locked up wheels or digging through disorganized compartments or uncomfortable backpack straps. When any product under performs, we tend to notice it more, whereas high performing products allow us to focus more fully on the experience at hand, be it a visit home for Christmas, a vacation to Hawaii, or a professional conference.

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The Travelpro Maxlite 2 Expandable Rollaboard makes air travel a total breeze. This basic, lightweight bag is easy to roll, holds many items, and has a useful external pocket. We liked it so much that we gave it our Editor's Choice Award!
Credit: Amanda Fenn

History of Carry On Luggage
Until the beginning of the 20th century the most popular form of luggage was the trunk. Trunks were made of wood and steel, were extremely burly, and weighed a ton. They did a fantastic job of protecting the belongings stored within from the abuse of long steamship rides or trips across the plains in covered wagons, and their weight was rarely an inconvenience to their owners, who were more often than not wealthy upper-class tourists who had no problem paying attendants or porters to move these behemoths about.

But in the beginning of the 20th century things began to change. In Europe many more people could afford to travel purely for travel’s sake, while in the United States common folk were more likely to make long migrations across the country. As people began roaming the world aboard cars and trains, the suitcase quickly gained in popularity simply because it was relatively easier for a person to transport by themselves without the need for hired hands.

Despite still being rather awkward and difficult to carry, the suitcase seemed to serve people fine until airline travel literally took off. While cars and trains most often deposited a person right where they needed to go, traveling by plane requires lots of walking through large terminals, making it a strenuous endeavor with heavy bags. In 1970, Bernard Sadow patented a rolling suitcase that had four wheels on the bottom and a strap attached to the side that was used to drag the bag.

Although dragging one of these rolling suitcases was as awkward as taking a cat for a walk on a leash, nothing better came along until 1987 when Bob Plath, a pilot for Northwest Airlines, addressed his luggage frustrations by inventing the original Rollaboard suitcase. It was rectangular, stood upright, had only two wheels, and was pulled along by a retractable plastic handle. Additionally, Plath made these suitcases small enough that they could be considered a “carry-on,” and in the process revolutionized how we travel on airplanes. Within two years he had quit flying planes and was making millions on his invention. The ensuing explosion in popularity caused the FAA to mandate carry-on size restrictions for the first time, while airline companies had to modify their overhead bins to better fit the new style of bags. With the now ubiquitous checked baggage fees imposed by almost every airline, carry-on baggage is the current choice of most travelers; small roll-able variations of Plath’s original Rollaboard dominate the market.

Before we get to our review and how we test, we would first like to offer this buying advice section. We will discuss the different types of carry-on bags that we reviewed and how they may or may not make traveling easier. We will also outline how important factors like internal capacity, durability, and style should play into your decision.

Different Types of Bags
The one thing that all the products that we reviewed had in common was that none of them exceeded 45 linear inches, which is the maximum size that most airlines allow. This means that the bag's length plus width plus height total no more than 45 inches. Some airlines also go so far as to say that each dimension can be no more than 22 x 14 x 9. A few of the bags in this review stretched these dimensions with a height of 9.5 inches, but cut the length to 21 or 21.5 inches to compensate.

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Seeing how the Travelpro measures up. Most airlines require that your carry-on be 22 x 14 x 9.
Credit: Neysa Bell

Once you know that a bag is within the maximum allowed size, you can begin to choose from hard- and soft-sided bags; pieces with two wheels, four wheels, and no wheels; and rolling bags that convert into backpacks. Throughout this process, you should also be thinking about how you plan to use your carry-on luggage and about your personal packing habits. Try asking yourself questions like: Am I a light packer? (If not, look into purchasing a bigger bag); Am I planning to use this bag in a professional capacity? (If so, a sophisticated hard-sided piece may suit your needs); Am I going to use this bag for adventure travel? (If so, maybe convertible backpack luggage is right for you); Am I always going to check a bag? (If so, then you can get away with a smaller bag that will only hold priority items). Read on as we discuss how different types of carry-on luggage suit different travelers and how to choose between them.

Two wheels vs. Four wheels vs. No wheels
A few of our testers had never actually used rolling carry-on luggage before. They usually traveled with backpacks or duffel-style bags, but they were pleasantly surprised to learn how awesome it was to travel with rolling luggage. Obviously, they are not the first ones to make this discovery, given the vast amount of fliers who use rolling luggage. All but one of the products in this review were wheeled, and of the rolling pieces, four had four wheels and six had two wheels. Overall, we recommend four-wheeled luggage more for individuals who are traveling from city-to-city and will be using their bag primarily on “polished” surfaces. Otherwise, two-wheeled or wheel-less is probably the way to go.

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Maneuvering the two-wheeled REI Wheely Beast through the airport was a total breeze.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

Two-wheeled carry-on luggage has long been the standard for rolling luggage. These bags are most often pulled, but can also sort of be pushed. Their wheels are generally larger than those on four-wheeled bags and they are more suited to “off-road” travel.

Four-wheeled carry-on luggage is newer on the travel scene and has been a bit of a game changer for many frequent fliers. Fitted with swivel wheels, this luggage can be pushed or pulled in all directions over hard surfaces. It is also easy to maneuver through security lines and airplane aisles. When you hit a rough surface or thicker carpet, though, you generally have to tip the bag up onto two wheels and pull it just like two-wheeled carry-on luggage. One other downside to four-wheeled luggage is that when it's on a slope, it will start rolling on its own unless you lay it on its side.

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The Timbuk2 Aviator was one of the smallest bags that we reviewed and the only wheel-less piece that we tested. Although they don't offer the convenience of rolling luggage, wheel-less bags make going "off-road" much easier.
Credit: Rebecca Fenn

Wheel-less pieces are often useful when you have fewer items to carry (your bag is lighter) and more obstacles to overcome (you are going to be going up and down stairs, you are taking the bus or subway once you arrive at your destination). Another benefit of wheel-less carry-on luggage is that you may be more likely to use it in your everyday life.

Hard-sided or Soft-sided
In this review, all the four-wheeled bags that we tested were hard-sided bags; however, it's important to note that these are not mutually exclusive traits. Manufacturers certainly make four-wheeled soft-sided bags and two-wheeled hard-sided bags, for example, our Editors' Choice winner, the Travelpro Maxlite 2 22, is a soft-sided, two-wheeled bag, but also comes in a four-wheeled version. We learned during our testing process that there are several pros and cons associated with each type of bag.

Hard-sided bags generally protect fragile items better than soft-sided bags (especially soft-sided bags without structured walls); however, hard-sided bags can easily be scratched and are subject to cracking or getting dents and dings. We found that bags with more square edges, like the Samsonite Winfield 2 20 were less likely to cave under pressure than those with rounder edges, like the Delsey Helium Shadow 2 21.

Soft-sided bags can more easily be squished into smaller spaces (be it an overhead bin, or the trunk of the car). They may also take up less space in storage, specifically if it is a duffel-style wheeled bag; however, these bags can be subject to rips, tears, and stains.

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Please excuse the mess! The Travelpro Maxlite 2 Expandable Rollaboard is a soft-sided bag with structured walls. Soft-sided bags are easier to unpack since you can lean the front panel against objects instead of laying the whole bag flat on the ground.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

In our review, none of the hard-sided bags had exterior pockets, so if this a feature that is important for you, be sure that your needs are met. We also found that it helps to have more space when unpacking a hard-sided bag since each half contains items. Most soft-sided bags have a front panel that unzips and can simply lean against a nearby item; however, when opening a hard-sided bag you basically have to lay the whole bag flat on the floor. Finally, hard and soft-sided carry-on luggage differ quite drastically in style. We thought that most of the hard-sided bags in our review looked more professional and sophisticated. If you have a specific look in mind for your luggage, it is important to keep this factor in mind.

Convertible Carry-On Luggage
In this review, we tested four pieces that converted from rolling carry-on luggage into backpacks; of those, two had integrated hip belts (the Osprey bags) and two did not (REI Stratocruiser 22 and Patagonia MLC Wheelie). After testing out these bags, we're not sure how useful it really is to be able to convert a rolling carry-on bag into a backpack. It's definitely cool and techy, but when you think about the space you give up for backpack straps on a rolling bag or the weight that wheels add onto a backpack, there's a part of us that just kind of thinks it's better to choose one or the other and not waffle in between.

We tried to think through a variety of different scenarios where convertible carry-on luggage would really be essential. It would be useful if you are more of an adventure traveler and want to be able to take your bag off-road, but still be able to roll it once you're in the airport. …but if you're an adventure traveler, you're probably more likely to have a travel pack like the Osprey Farpoint 55 or a backpacking backpack. Convertible luggage might also be useful if you are using multiple travel mediums in one day: walking from your house to the bus (rolling), bus to train (backpack), train to plane (rolling), plane to …boat? (backpack). But even then, some of the convertible backpack designs are more difficult to undo and use on the fly and we think it might just be easier to have one or the other.

One other time it may be useful to use a backpack design is if you have a large rolling checked bag. It can certainly be awkward to try to roll two two-wheeled bags at once; however, in this case, you may want to consider a four-wheeled bag that you can roll in front of you or look into a checked bag that has a piggy-back strap for your carry-on luggage.

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Both Osprey packs (Meridian: L, Ozone: R) are convertible wheeled carry-ons with shoulder straps and hip belts. The Meridian's straps are bulkier and harder to use, while the Ozone's are slimmer and more packable.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

If you are thoroughly convinced that convertible carry-on luggage is going to meet your needs, then we recommend the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22, one of our Top Pick winners. This bag has less bulky backpack straps than the REI Stratocruiser or the Osprey Meridian 22. These slender, breathable straps take up less space in the pack and are easier to pull out and actually use than those on the Meridian. Convertible backpacks without hip belts are easier to use, but they are also less comfortable to carry. If you opt for a convertible backpack without a hip belt, we think the Patagonia MLC Wheelie is the way to go. This bag has a much smaller internal capacity than the Stratocruiser, but is much lighter and will be more comfortable to carry.

Detachable Day Pack Pros and Cons
Three of the convertible bags we tested also came with detachable day packs. As with convertible luggage, we aren't sure that the detachable day pack is necessarily a huge benefit, but we can see where it could help streamline travel.

Here's how the detachable day pack works: you can cruise through the airport with the day pack either on your back or clipped securely onto the main pack, which is the maximum allowed size without the day pack. Once you're ready to board, the day pack clips off and goes under your seat as your personal item and then you can use it as a conveniently sized backpack for trips once you arrive at your destination.

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Here, Jessica uses the Meridian day pack as her personal bag and the Meridian main bag as her carry-on.
Credit: Jeff Allen

To us, the biggest detractor to this method is that many people travel with a purse, brief case, or laptop bag as their personal item already, so it begs the question “Do you really want/need a detachable day pack to serve as your personal item?” If the answer is yes, then we strongly recommend the Osprey Ozone. The Ozone's day pack is the most comfortable and useful, but more importantly you can kangaroo clip it to the front of the shoulder straps when carrying the luggage backpack style. When using the Stratocruiser and the Meridian in backpack mode, you are left with the crummy decision of whether to uncomfortably carry the day pack in front of you (wrapping shoulder straps over shoulder straps) or leaving important items clipped onto the back of the pack where they are difficult to access and more prone to theft.

If you really like the idea of having a day pack once you arrive at your destination, but still want to carry a purse or other bag as your personal item, remember that you can purchase a piece like the REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22. We tested this bag during our travel pack review and liked it so much that we gave it our Top Pick Award.

Other Factors to Consider
Once you've decided on what type of bag you want to purchase, you can begin narrowing down specific products. In The Best Carry-On Luggage Review, we report on 11 top-of-the-line bags that range from four-wheeled, hard-sided bags to wheel-less backpacks. Some of these bags served as perfect travel companions, while others definitely underperformed. Read on as we discuss some of the most important things to consider when purchasing.

Thinking about Ease of Transport, Internal Capacity, and Features
Two of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a carry-on luggage bag are Ease of Transport (How well does it roll? Is it light enough to lift? Does it have useful handles? Does it convert into a backpack? Is the backpack easy to use?) and Internal Capacity (How much will it *really* fit?). When we calculated our scores, both of these metrics were weighted to 25 percent. Additionally, the category “Features” accounted for 20 percent of each bag's final score. This metric included such aspects as pocket design, integrated lock systems, handle placement, and detachable day pack design (for a full discussion of this feature, please see above). While some features can help make travel much easier, it's also important to remember that sometimes simple, basic bags are more helpful in streamlining travel.

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All the items in our packing test fit into our Top Pick Award winner, the Samsonite Winfield 2. The X-shaped straps hold items on the bottom securely in place while the zippered divider panel separates the halves.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

When considering internal capacity, it is important to think about how you will use your bag and what your packing habits are. If it is going to be your only piece of carry-on luggage, then it should probably have maximum internal capacity; however, if you plan to use it as a supplement to a checked bag, a smaller internal capacity will do. On the other hand, expandable bags like the Travelpro Maxlite 2 Expandable Rollaboard offer the ultimate versatility, as they can transform into larger checked luggage. Be sure to look into how much space the handle encasement takes up or whether the backpack frame compromises too much space in the main compartment. Also take note of the pockets: while they are certainly convenient for organization, they can negatively affect the amount of items you are able to fit into your bag. This is especially notable on the Patagonia MLC Wheelie.

How Materials Affect Durability
Whether the carry-on bag you're thinking about purchasing is a soft or hard-sided piece, materials make a huge difference in long-term durability. The soft-sided carry-on bags that we reviewed were made primarily of nylon or polyester and had a variety of different D or denier ratings. Within one fabric type, the higher the D rating, the stronger the fabric; however, generally speaking, nylon is stronger than polyester. On the other hand, polyester is more abrasion resistant than nylon. In addition to researching fabric types, be sure to examine the seams: smaller, tighter stitches are more likely to resist snagging and hold up over the long term.

Of the hard-sided carry-on luggage that we reviewed, two pieces (the Samsonite Winfield 2 and Delsey Helium Shadow) had 100 percent polycarbonate shells and the other two less expensive bags used acrylonitrile butadiene styrene or ABS. Polycarbonate is used in everything from bulletproof glass to CDs; it is more durable than ABS, but is generally also a bit heavier. Interestingly, despite its polycarbonate shell, the Samsonite bag was still lighter than either of the ABS bags.

It's also important to note here that all four of the hard-sided bags that we reviewed (as well as the Travelpro piece) had warnings related to California Proposition 65, which is a “right to know” measure that informs consumers when a substance that is known to cause cancer or birth defects was used to make a product. We contacted each of these manufacturers and none could tell us exactly which substance from the list was used in the making of their product. Ultimately, since a piece of luggage is not something that you will be eating or drinking out of, we didn't discount the pieces that had the warning. However, if this is of great concern for you, it may be best to steer clear of the hard-sided bags and the Travelpro Maxlite 2 Expandable Rollaboard.

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The Travelpro performed well in a number of our metrics, but it did not have the most solid wheels or most durable fabrics in comparison to other bags in this review.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

Ultimately, whether you choose hard or soft-sided carry-on luggage, good quality materials are paramount to long-term durability. With poorly constructed luggage, fabrics can rip and hard shells can crack, giving the phrase “stranded in the airport” a whole new meaning.

Luggage Style
One final decision to make when choosing your carry-on luggage, is style. If you're looking for a bag that you will primarily take on business trips, then something more professional and sophisticated like the Samsonite Winfield 2 would probably be most suitable. On the other hand, if you are a freelance travel writer, a techy-looking bag like the Osprey Ozone or the REI Wheely Beast 21 might be more up your alley. If you are simply looking for a versatile bag for general airline travel, then picking out a quality bag that catches your eye may be the way to go. Many of the bags that we reviewed come in an array of colors, ranging from black to fuscia. Color can also help you identify your bag in the overhead bin or on the carousel if you opt to check it.

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Four-wheeled luggage makes maneuvering through the airport super easy. Plus these hard-sided bags will add an element of style to your trip.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

Will the Overhead Bin Like My Carry-On Luggage Bag?
All US airlines say your carry-on bag can't be bigger than 22" x 14" x 9." All the bags we tested, and most that are currently sold, meet this requirement. However, bags that are 5-10+ years old might be too big. Most US airlines are fairly lenient about the dimensions, but you are taking a risk if your carry-on bag either starts out to big or becomes too big on your return trip. Weight is a more non-negiable option. Many non-US airlines restrict weight to 15 to 22 pounds. This can be very limiting and make it very important to make sure your bag is lightweight to begin with. Most in our test start at 5-6 pounds, which could be 30% of your allowable weight! Most United States airlines don't have a weight restriction but have a limit of 40 to 70 pounds. Forty-plus pounds is pretty hard to reach unless you're traveling with gold bars, in which case you probably are not flying commercial.

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 carry-on 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 carry-on 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

Criteria for Evaluation
Ease of Transport
We think that one of the most important characteristics in a carry-on luggage 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 Winfield 2 20, one of our Top Picks, rolled beautifully through all our tests, the Traveler's Choice Cambridge 20 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 - 22. We also closely compared the Osprey Meridian 22 and Osprey Ozone Convertible 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

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 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 Melbourne 20, 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 Editors' 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.
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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 Helium Shadow 2 21 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.

We tested four hard-sided carry-on luggage bags with four wheels, one bag without wheels, and six soft-sided bags with two wheels. Of the two-wheeled carry-on luggage bags, four were convertible luggage and of those four, three had detachable daypacks. After giving our Editors' Choice award to the Travelpro Maxlite 2 22 (a soft-sided, two-wheeled bag), we decided to highlight the top performing four-wheeled carry-on luggage 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

Editors' Choice Award: Travelpro Maxlite 2 22
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 Editors' Choice Award to the Travelpro Maxlite 2 22. 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 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 Winfield 2 20
Our first Top Pick award went to the top performing four-wheeled contender: the Samsonite Winfield 2 20. 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 Convertible 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 Helium Shadow 2 21
Best for rugged terrain: Osprey Meridian 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!

How we Test
For this review, we enlisted the help of testers from across the country. These bags flew to San Francisco, Louisville, Minneapolis, Seattle, New York, Las Vegas, and Austin, among many other destinations. Our testers rolled them a mile down the sidewalk to catch the airport bus and transported them on subways and rental cars.

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Jessica wheels the Osprey Meridian the final stretch onto the plane and backpacks the detachable day pack. To get here, she drove to her boyfriend's, walked to the bus, transferred to a train, and then started navigating the airport.
Credit: Jeff Allen

Once we had gathered them all back in Boulder, Colorado, we started comparing their features head-to-head. For our packing test, we chose clothing (casual and dressy) for about five days, including five t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, a jacket, a scarf, socks, undies, a sweat shirt and sweat pants, a laptop, a fat novel, tennis shoes, high heels, a bathroom bag, a clutch, and two dresses in a tri-fold hanging bag. Some bags held all these items with room to spare and others required some serious shoving (and still didn't hold everything).

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Through our packing test, we discovered that the Patagonia MLC Wheelie had one of the smallest internal capacities of any bag in this review.
Credit: Maggie Burns

We tested the four-wheeled bags by trying to make figure 8s on the hardwood floor. We wore the convertible luggage in backpack mode around the block and took the day packs out on hikes. Finally, we researched all the materials used, counted the pockets, measured the handles, and considered each bag's style. Through this review we became experts at rolling bags through the airport and slinging convertible packs over our shoulders.

Amanda Fenn
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