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SwissGear Sion Softside Expandable 21-inch Review

An accessible price point and a slew of useful features make this carry-on a good option for those who want a solid performer without breaking the bank
swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review
Credit: SwissGear
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $120 List
Manufacturer:   SwissGear
By Myrha Colt ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 26, 2022
76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 9
  • Ease of Use - 35% 8.2
  • Design - 25% 6.1
  • Packability - 25% 8.7
  • Durability - 15% 7.0

Our Verdict

The SwissGear Sion boasts a durable base, a consistently reliable ground performance, and a host of smart organizational extras sure to thrill even the most calculated packers among us. And with its highly accessible price point – slightly more than our least expensive contenders but substantially less than any in the premium category – this case was a natural choice for our Best Buy pick among softshell carry-ons. Although it may be among the heaviest bags in our best carry on luggage review (and technically sized too large for domestic carry-on requirements), we still found it a versatile, 360-degree spinner offering everything most of us will ever need for a quick cross-country flight or a relaxed weekend away with friends.
REASONS TO BUY
Many useful extras
Impressive capacity
Accessible price
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy
Exceeds airline size requirements
Frontside bulk

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Best Buy Award Best Buy Award    
Price $120 List
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$88.58 at Amazon
$90 List
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Many useful extras, impressive capacity, accessible priceSmooth and stable, impressive capacity, variety of colors, lightweightSpacious, easy to use, budget-friendly, lots of colorsInexpensive, decent storage, expandableBudget-friendly, numerous color choices, lightweight
Cons Heavy, exceeds airline size requirements, frontside bulkDurability concerns, minimal organizational featuresDurability issues, rattly roller handleDurability concerns, rattly roller handle, finicky zippers, heavyDurability issues, rattly roller handle, finicky zippers, lower-quality interior materials
Bottom Line An accessible price point and a slew of useful features make this carry-on a good option for those who want a solid performer without breaking the bankA simple, lightweight yet solid hardshell spinner that outshines other bags at a similar price pointAn affordable roller with enough utility to suit light packers and infrequent travelers and plenty of colors to keep it funA well-priced and reasonably spacious hardshell carry-on with limited organizational features and dubious long-term viabilityAn inexpensive roller of dubious durability but enough utility to suit light packers and infrequent travelers and plenty of colors to keep it fun
Rating Categories SwissGear Sion Soft... Samsonite Omni PC H... Rockland Melbourne 20 Amazon Basics 21-in... Kenneth Cole Reacti...
Ease of Use (35%)
8.2
7.5
5.4
5.6
4.3
Design (25%)
6.1
8.0
6.6
5.1
6.9
Packability (25%)
8.7
7.0
7.1
6.0
4.0
Durability (15%)
7.0
5.2
4.0
4.0
3.6
Specs SwissGear Sion Soft... Samsonite Omni PC H... Rockland Melbourne 20 Amazon Basics 21-in... Kenneth Cole Reacti...
Measured Dimensions 23" x 14.1" x 10" 21.5" x 14" x 9.5" 23" x 14" x 9" 22" x 14.8" x 10" 21.1" x 14.6" x 8.5"
Handle Height Options (where it locks) 3 (28", 34.5", 43") 5 (25", 30.5", 33", 36", 41.5") 3 (26", 33", 41") 2 (33", 41") 3 (30.5", 33", 41")
Number of Wheels 4 4 4 4 4
Number of Exterior Pockets 2 0 0 0 0
Interior Opening Style Top lid Half shell Half shell Half shell Half shell
Locking? No Yes No No Main compartment zipper has a loop for a lock but does not come with lock
Exterior Material Polyester Micro-diamond polycarbonate ABS hardshell ABS hardshell ABS hardshell
Colors 8 - black, blue, burgandy, dark gray, navy lime, pewter, purple, teal 11 - black, carribean blue, red, white, silver, teal, navy, purple, bronze, burnt orange, radiant pink 26 - black, blue, brown, champagne, charcoal, gray, green, lime, magenta, navy, orange, pink, purple, quilt, red, silver, turquoise, two tone blue, two tone green, two tone navy, black wave, gold wave, mint, carbon, two tone magenta (with 3 additional colors available as part of a 2 piece set) 4 - black, navy blue, blue, orange 15 - charcoal, cobalt blue, kelly green, light silver, magenta, black, navy, rose gold, smokey purple, teal, barn red, deep purple, naval, white, purple

Our Analysis and Test Results

Our Best Buy pick among softshell carry-ons, the SwissGear Sion Softside Expandable 21-inch is a solid mid-range carry-on suitcase set to do it all. It can store and organize everything well, resist wandering hands, and keep an easy pace alongside you through all kinds of adventures. It also comes housed in a casual unassuming design just as well-suited to weekend getaways as it is for cross-country business travel.

Performance Comparison


swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review - with so many useful exterior (and interior) pockets, the swissgear...
With so many useful exterior (and interior) pockets, the SwissGear Sion is an easy choice for quick trips out of town.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Ease of Use


What stood out most to us during testing was just how well organized the SwissGear Sion is for day-to-day travel. It is just SO darn packable. And among a collection of several thoughtfully designed suitcases representing plenty of smart features, that's a pretty notable comparison. What stood out most? This travel-ready softshell is stacked from top to bottom with user-friendly features, including front-flip access, great storage capacity, and easy access compartments in varying — but all useful – sizes positioned both inside and out. Two generous pockets are found on the front of the case, with the top being a bit more shallow and just roomy enough for a phone, charger cords, and travel documents, while a lengthier sleeve sits below to accommodate a book or any extra layers you'll need for your flight. Inside, additional storage tools are available, including a large mesh zip pocket lining the opening lid, a smaller accessory pocket against the inside wall, two compression straps, and a removable toiletry bag that can snap into place when on the go. We made good use of each one of these features in our packing tests, noting the case compressed well and was a breeze to zip up under circumstances in which other bags in the collection had left us worried.


Although heavier to lift than many other cases in the current test collection, three well-padded fabric carry handles – top, side, and bottom – are placed around the exterior of the SwissGear case to enable comfortable hauls. Meanwhile, an extendable roller handle with varying lockable height options presents a highly comfortable and stable control mechanism from which to guide the bag in transit upon its four smooth-riding single-spinner wheels. In fact, when it comes to comfort, this case was better underhand than nearly all others in the test suite (matched or outperformed only by the most premium cases in our group). Top it off with an expansion zipper for flexibility when collecting souvenirs between destinations, and there is no question why the SwissGear Sion belongs in our award circle this year.

swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review - with so many comfortable and well-placed exterior handles to choose...
With so many comfortable and well-placed exterior handles to choose from, the SwissGear Sion is easy to grab and load.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Packability


This softshell is set up with awesome organizational components to ensure you can store and carry a whole heck of a lot without losing track of any of your most critical day-of incidentals. Of course, you can always choose to disregard any of these helpful assists and just toss your stuff into the generous main compartment and go. Either way, two compression straps inside the heart of the bag will alleviate concerns that your bulky items will dominate the storage area or get tossed about inside the suitcase while you're in motion.


If you do decide to separate a few things out before you zip up, a set of interior mesh pockets – one inside the main opening lid and another accessory-sized option embedded into the bag's midline structure – are a great place to capture everything from shoes to scarves, belts, or electronics. Plus, you'll find a handy removable (and waterproof) toiletry bag tucked inside the main compartment as well, with the option to fasten it to the side of the bag for transit. Two generous exterior pockets and an expendable zipper tool also add to the bag's overall capacity and provide great options for adding last-minute souvenirs or tracking incidentals you'll need to access while heading through airport security or getting checked in at your hotel.

swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review - will it all fit? that's the question we strove to answer during...
Will it all fit? That's the question we strove to answer during months of testing.
Credit: Abriah Wofford


Our 7-day Summertime Getaway packing test only confirmed what we'd already concluded from visual inspection: this bag can fit it all, and then some! All items in our test easily found a home within the SwissGear Sion, allowing us to utilize each of its many pockets and functional compression straps to lay out our belongings in a thoughtful and accessible manner. And all without having to tap into the expansion feature. The Bulky Gear packing test revealed pretty much the same thing: its cavernous center can hold an impressive amount even without expansion, and all items fit without great strain (and again, without the use of the extension zipper). We were particularly pleased to see high-quality mesh used in the construction of its internal pockets. After multiple rounds of pushing and pulling at cheaper fabric suitcase liners and expecting that material to give way at any moment, it was refreshing to spend time shuffling gear around in a bag that seemed designed to withstand such regular and consistent use.

swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review - every pocket in the sion is usable, and the fabric and mesh liners...
Every pocket in the Sion is usable, and the fabric and mesh liners are notably stronger than others we've seen, giving us a lot more confidence the bag can handle the strain of carrying our gear to the next destination.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Design


Thoughtful details and easy-to-use, well-constructed components are what define the SwissGear Sion. And although this case lands toward the top of the pile when it comes to weight, the trade-off is a whole lot of usable extras built into a solid spinner foundation that's ready to roll right alongside you into whatever adventures await. Slightly more casual and even a bit sporty in its style compared to some of the other carry-ons in the test collection, this case does not feel or look high-end. But if a luxury aesthetic is not your goal, you'll find plenty else to keep your attention.


To start, the base is constructed of a durable, scuff-resistant polyester fabric that comes in a selection of classic or bold colorways to match your look. Next, a series of smart organizational features are layered throughout. This includes assets such as three well-padded carry-grips, a push-button locked telescoping handle, multiple internal and external pockets, an extension zipper, compression straps, and a removable waterproof toiletry bag, all of which proved particularly handy due to their size, location, and accessibility.

swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review - the removable toiletry bag on the swissgear sion is a real bonus...
The removable toiletry bag on the SwissGear Sion is a real bonus when it comes to packing, as it snaps in and out of the bag with ease and complies with TSA requirements as well.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Interestingly, the SwissGear Sion Softside Expandable 21 was also among the carry-on bags in our test group advertised at dimensions above U.S. domestic carrier requirements. It's listed as nearly one inch too long and too deep straight out of the box. This seems an odd choice when so many other usability details appear to have been considered with care. But based on a seeming lack of enforcement by airlines and the fact that this case actually fits into onboard compartments with ease, we don't foresee that discrepancy causing too many problems for travelers. But as always, it's worth mentioning for anyone who is risk-averse and wants to be sure they're in full compliance before stepping on the plane. We'd also caution against overstuffing the frontside pockets or employing the bag's expansion feature when traveling by plane, as you may find the overlarge dimensions guarantee the case will no longer be considered a carry-on item.

swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review - anytime you use a carry-on's expansion feature, you run the risk of...
Anytime you use a carry-on's expansion feature, you run the risk of overshooting the dimension requirements of U.S. airlines for overhead bin space. And in some cases, just stuffing the frontside pockets can create enough bulk to do the same.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Durability


Upon first impression, we thought the SwissGear seemed a bit bloated, as if the bag might be trying to distract from lower-grade materials and construction by adding a lot of extra organizational bling. But once we got our hands on the case, we were pleasantly surprised to discover how sturdy it felt underhand and in use. And with each use test performed, this casual soft-sided bag garnered greater appreciation. The thick polyester exterior proved stain and abrasion-resistant, each single-wheeled spinner rolled smoothly and sat well-protected in its housing, and a push-button locked telescopic handle offered stable control over our rolling movements when in action. Plus numerous pockets, an expansion panel, and large easy-glide zippers made packing and storage a breeze.


It wasn't until we dove into more intensive durability testing that some questions about the SwissGear Sion's durability came up. We found both drop tests (from three and six-foot distances) resulted in some minor but not inconsequential damage. First, the roller handle started to feel more rattly within its housing, and scratches appeared on the case's plastic exterior features. And after the three-foot drop, a clicking noise started to develop within one of the spinner wheels, creating intermittent and worrisome sounds when rolling the bag thereafter. Oddly, the clicking seemed to self-correct after the 6-foot toss. So it's hard to say if the potential wheel damage will have any long-term consequences. But the developments are worth noting.

The wheels on the Sion are a potential weak point, as at least one...
The wheels on the Sion are a potential weak point, as at least one of them developed a notable clicking sound upon testing.
The locking roller handle is also a worry, given it developed a much...
The locking roller handle is also a worry, given it developed a much more pronounced "rattle" after testing began.

Should You Buy the SwissGear Sion Carry-On?


We are impressed with all that the SwissGear Sion offers for such a reasonable price. Although not the most affordable bag in the bunch, it's still an inexpensive option compared to premium suitcases we've tested and a significant upgrade from bottom-of-the-barrel options we've seen. This means you will land a far more substantial and reliable carry-on with a slew of organizational features designed to make life easier on the go. In our minds, it's a simple equation that works out in your favor, netting you a decent bag even when you don't have the budget to pick up a top performer. We think it could be a good choice for those packing up for a family vacation or heading off on a school trip, or even those who travel on business but don't have the need to keep up a particularly polished or formal appearance.

swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review - so many pockets! and all of them useful.
So many pockets! And all of them useful.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

What Other Carry-On Should You Consider?


If you are looking for a carry-on that's relatively inexpensive but doesn't skimp on quality or functionality, the versatile SwissGear Sion Softside Expandable 21-inch should be top of your list for consideration. It's not likely to be the accessory of choice for any of your future photoshoots, nor is it going to blow you away with innovative features or bombproof construction, but what it will deliver is a solid, reliable, attractive soft-sided case with a host of features that simplify packing and improve the day-of travel experience—and all at a great, midrange price.

Are you a pocket lover but concerned this case is just a bit too unwieldy? Something a bit more streamlined would suit you better? Have a look at either of the two Travelpro carry-ons in our collection, the ultralight Travelpro Maxlite 5 or its pricer, higher-end cousin, the Travelpro Platinum Elite. Or, for a slimmed-down hardshell package without any organizational bling, the Samsonite Omni is an easy choice.

swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review - versatility and convenience are a winning combination, and that's...
Versatility and convenience are a winning combination, and that's much of what earns the SwissGear Sion honors for its excellent value and performance.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Myrha Colt
 
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