Best Carry On Luggage of 2021
|Price||$280.49 at Amazon||$625.00 at Amazon||$230 List||$349 List||$119.99 at Amazon|
|Pros||Magnetically aligned wheels, great organization, excellent capacity, professional style||Exceptional compression, deceptively large capacity, professional design, smooth and simple||Wheels magnetically aligned, solid design and organization, fair price||Tons of organizational features, excellent bag add-on straps, durably built||Many colors, easy to use, comes with lock, four double wheels, inexpensive|
|Cons||Easy to over pack, few color options||Minimal features, only two wheels, expensive||Easy to over pack, uneven tapered shape||Loud wheels, extremely challenging zippers, "techy" look||Not very durable, lacks organizational features, patterned interior isn't our favorite look|
|Bottom Line||A super versatile and functional bag built to make travel easy and last a lifetime||A super durable bag that seems to be able to fit everything and then some||This easy roller offers a bit luxury at a nice price||A great organizational piece but with zippers that are hard to love||An affordable roller that has enough utility to suit light packers and infrequent travelers|
|Rating Categories||Platinum Elite 21"...||Briggs and Riley Ba...||Crew 11 21" Expanda...||Tarmac AWD Carry-On||Rockland Melbourne 20|
|Ease Of Use (35%)|
|Storage & Features (30%)|
|Specs||Platinum Elite 21"...||Briggs and Riley Ba...||Crew 11 21" Expanda...||Tarmac AWD Carry-On||Rockland Melbourne 20|
|External Dimensions (in) H x W x D||23" x 14" x 10"||22" x 14" x 9"||23" x 14" x 10"||22" x 14" x 9"||22" x 13" x 9"|
|Handle Height Options (in)||36”, 38”, 40” and 42.5”||36", 39", 41" and 43"||36", 38”, 40” and 42.5”||37", 39", and 41"||34" and 39"|
|Number of Wheels||4||2||4||4||4|
|Number of Interior Pockets||5||2||3||4||2|
|Number of Exterior Pockets||4||3||4||2||0|
|Main Compartment Opening Style||top flip-open||top flip-open||top flip-open||clamshell - half split||clamshell - half split|
|Measured Weight (lb)||8.5 lb||9.0 lb||7.8 lb||8.2 lb||6.9 lb|
|Compression System||Compression cross straps with full-coverage mesh panels and accessory pockets||Compression cross straps with full-coverage mesh panels and full-bag compression system||Compression cross straps||Compression X straps||Elastic X bands|
|Expandable||Yes - zipper||Yes - internal||Yes - zipper||Yes - zipper||Yes - zipper|
|Lock||No - lockable||Yes||No - lockable||No - lockable||Yes|
|Main Material||High-density nylon fabric with DuraGuard coating||95% Nylon||High-quality ballistic nylon fabric with DuraGuard coating||1000D Helix Poly Twill and Polycarbonate shell||100% ABS|
|Unique Features||Removable toiletry pouch, dedicated power bank pocket, removable hanger bag, magnets to keep wheels straight, included hidden name tag||Built-in suiter, unique internal expansion-compression system, external handle stays for maximum internal storage, add-a-bag strap, included hidden name tag||Dedicated power bank pocket, removable hanger bag, magnets to keep wheels straight, included hidden name tag||Hybrid hard/soft-sided design, coat keeper strap, expandable zipper, add-a-bag strap, internal laptop sleeve||Expands 1.5", included lock, hard shell design|
|Warranty||Lifetime||Lifetime||Lifetime||Lifetime||3 year limited|
Best Overall Carry-On Luggage
Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Spinner
Our review team's favorite piece of carry-on luggage is the Travelpro Platinum Elite, hands down. This bag checks all the boxes. It comes with plenty of pockets on the outside to keep items organized and easily accessible, and there are more pockets on the inside for further accessory organization that doesn't encroach on the main storage area. Additional accessories include a suit/dress organizer, a removable toiletry case, and a hidden ID tag. The integrated pockets keep loose items secure, and the included compression straps and mesh panels keep larger items from jostling around. The zippers are robust and glide smoothly, while the sleek exterior looks professional even after years of scuffs and TSA handling. The handle can be set to four different heights to suit a variety of travelers, and the four easy-glide wheels lock into alignment with magnets, rolling silently and offering clearance over most surfaces without issue. There is also a discreet pocket where you can stash a battery pack and plug in a USB cord if your electronics need a boost while you're on the move.
We like the bag's expansion features, such as the multiple front pockets and the expansion zipper, but these can make the bag a bit larger than the typical carry-on size. Still, it can easily tuck into an overhead compartment if not overly packed and bulging out of the front pockets. If you want a lot of flair from a bright neon color or a distinctive animal print, the Platinum Elite's color options might be disappointing for you. However, if you're seeking a single piece of carry-on luggage that can handle it all, from typical business trips to foreign vacations, this is our go-to.
Read review: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Spinner
Best Bang for the Buck
Travelpro Crew 11 21" Expandable Spinner Suiter
Our expectations are high from the Travelpro brand, and those expectations were exceeded by the Crew 11. This four-wheeled suitcase boasts smooth, quiet wheels that magnetically align to keep you moving forward and features reliable, low resistance zippers for easy access to all your essentials. Though the Crew 11 offers fewer pockets than the Travelpro Platinum Elite, it still allows for a variety of organizing options like a non-removable toiletry bag, a hidden ID tag, and a removable suit/dress organizer. Even though it looks small, the inside compartment can hold a surprisingly substantial amount, thanks to the compression straps and an expanding zipper — and this bag will still meet carry-on restrictions even when stuffed to the gills. Its fabric exterior is both professional and durable, making this a bag you can confidently roll through a business conference or to a beachside bungalow.
Though the Crew isn't quite as streamlined or conveniently organized as its more expensive cousin, the Platinum Elite, it's still nicer to use and more versatile than most of the competition. We aren't fans of its integrated toiletry bag and its funny tapered shape that is heavier on the bottom. But in the face of so many less pleasant to use bags, these are mere trifles. Considering many bags cost two or three more than the Crew, we think it's well worth the price and is sure to last you through many adventures far from home.
Read review: Travelpro Crew 11 21" Expandable Spinner Suiter
Best on a Tight Budget
Rockland Melbourne 20
The Rockland Melbourne 20 is one of the most affordable models we tested, and it comes with a 3-digit clip lock to secure the zipper. Despite being on the smaller side of the bunch, it still managed to pass our pack-for-a-week test. In case you pack more than we do, it also features an expansion zipper that's easy to use and provides an extra 1.5" of space. Four double wheels add stability and tracking to this hard-sided case, while the telescoping handle offers two heights for easy use. The textured ABS plastic exterior helps to hide dings and scuffs from your travels while aiding in compressing your belongings and souvenirs for the return trip. And for fans of funky shades, this suitcase is available in over 20 different colors.
Up against some stiff competition, this no-frills box looks a little lackluster. Its clamshell design splits your belongings in half. One side is secured with a simple zipper across the entire space, while the other is loosely held in place with an overly stretchy x-shaped elastic band. All of the burden falls on the zippers to compress the contents. The telescoping handle is quite wobbly, and the on-body handles easily catch when pulled out, rather than retracting as they should. We've tested two colors of the Melbourne, both of which broke during our durability testing — one handle pulled off, and the other's shell cracked. However, we think if you're an infrequent traveler and treat your belongings carefully, the impressively low "sale" price of the Melbourne might be exactly what you need.
Read review: Rockland Melbourne 20
Best for Serious Space
Briggs and Riley Baseline Domestic
Although it appears simple on the outside, we love the impressive capacity and durability of the Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic. It features a unique expansion/compression system on the inside of the bag that results in much more carrying capacity than any other bag we tested, despite being the same size on the outside. Its compression straps have large mesh panels that help downsize and secure your load. The internal expansion system lets you compress your contents after you zip the bag closed, squeezing it down to a neat, TSA-approved carry-on rectangle, without the typical bulge of an overstuffed bag. We're seriously impressed with how much we can stuff into this bag and still easily slide it into an overhead bin. It's a professional-looking bag that is easy to roll and packs in some critical features like a suit and dress organizer and hidden ID tag. Its well-rounded design makes it an excellent choice for any style of travel.
If you're searching for a four-wheeled bag, unfortunately, this isn't one. However, its two wheels are quiet and smooth and about as painless to operate as this type of suitcase can be. This bag offers notable features but is light on organizational amenities that make packing, unpacking, and general access easier. It's also one of the most expensive bags we tested. But if you're a chronic over-packer, a souvenir-collector, or a gifts-for-everyone kind of person, this bag is capable of holding far more than your average carry-on.
Read review: Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic
Why You Should Trust Us
We put together a team of travel bugs headed up by lead tester Maggie Brandenburg to test these bags in every possible way. Maggie is always traveling to places near and far, racking up serious frequent flyer miles. From ski trips in the Canadian Rockies and summer holidays in Italy to road trips across the continent and business trips around the US, she's a practiced packer who knows how to appreciate a great piece of luggage. She also lent these bags out to a veritable army of friends over holidays and for vacations to truly test what everyone loves — or hates — about a carry-on.
These bags flew all over with us as both carry-on and checked baggage. We packed them to the gills to see how much they can hold and how well they handle when fully loaded. We rolled them over soft carpet and loose gravel, bumped them up and down curbs and stairs, and threw them on the ground to see how well they held up. Over years of testing, we've identified which bags are best for different packing styles and which ones just aren't worth your money. As always, we buy all our gear at retail price and test it rigorously, side-by-side, for a truly unbiased and comprehensive review.
Analysis and Test Results
There are many important factors when searching for the perfect piece of carry-on luggage. We divided our testing and evaluations into four mutually exclusive metrics that make up everything we look for in a bag. We then weighed each metric appropriately, according to how important each is to a luggage's overall performance. First on the list is a bag's Ease of Use, followed by its Storage & Features. These two metrics combined make up 65% of the score. We also considered each model's Versatility and Durability to adequately examine the total picture of each suitcase. Here we'll break down each metric into which bags performed best — and which fell short — to help you identify your ideal travel companion.Related: Buying Advice for Carry-on Luggages
When it comes to options for packing your belongings for a trip, there are a ton of choices covering a wide range of prices. And when it comes to rolling carry-on bags, we definitely noticed a correlation between price and performance. Paying more for your luggage tends to get you more pockets, better rolling performance, and higher durability. However, there are a few models that impress us with their performance despite relatively lower price points.
The Travelpro Crew 11 manages to pack a smooth rolling experience, convenient organization, and a sturdy design into a reasonably priced bag. For the infrequent traveler, the even more affordable Rockland Melbourne 20 brings adequate performance to a simply designed, hard-sided case. If you're constantly traveling, it's worth investing more into a bag that can last through the abuse of being checked, running across parking lots, and cramming it to the brim. The Travelpro Platinum Elite outshines all the rest in our testing while being far from the most expensive option, making it a notably high-value item.
Ease of Use
One of the most important characteristics of a piece of carry-on luggage is how easy it is to use. This metric covers everything from rolling ability and handle functionality to zipper maneuverability, weight, and accessibility. We rolled bags over all kinds of uncomfortable terrain (like stairs and gravel) and stuffed them with the weirdest stuff (like ski boots and homemade cookies) to test each one to its limits. We used the telescoping handles and yanked on external handles, took laptops through TSA security checkpoints, and weighed each bag in all its various packed and unpacked stages. Some stand out while others fall short.
When it comes to wheels and rolling performance, we tested both two-wheeled and four-wheeled models. The two-wheeled models all rolled along rather predictably, transitioning well from polished floors to cracked pavement. The Briggs & Riley Baseline has small smooth-rolling wheels that can easily glide over bumps and cracks. Treaded wheels offer better performance over loose and rocky surfaces, while smooth wheels are much quieter, helping you to navigate the terminal without noisily drawing stares.
Four-wheeled bags are much more variable in their performance. All the Travelpro bags we tested do a great job of rolling in a straight line because their wheels snap into alignment magnetically to make your life easier. The Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD and Rockland Melbourne aren't magnetically aligned but still do a pretty good job of rolling fairly straight. On the other side of the coin, the AmazonBasics Oxford pulls heavily to one side and is much more difficult to maneuver. In addition, the Oxford's telescoping handle is so loose and wiggly that it contributes even more to the challenge of getting this suitcase anywhere. These bags were actually such a pain to keep rolling straight that we frequently found ourselves dragging them behind us as if they only had two wheels, just to make the job easier.
Strong and easy-to-use handles make rolling, storing, and unloading the bag noticeably easier. Every carry-on we tested has a telescoping handle, and at least one side or top handle for maneuvering in close quarters. The Travelpro Platinum Elite and Crew 11 as well as the Briggs & Riley Baseline all have four possible heights for their telescoping handles, which gives you a "custom fit" for your height and preference. All of the other bags we tested have fewer multiple handle height options.
Ease of access to your belongings is another really important part of this metric. The zippers and exterior pockets are hugely important in this regard. The TravelPro Platinum Elite and Briggs & Riley Baseline both have exceptionally smooth gliding zippers that have yet to get stuck in our testing. The Eagle Creek Tarmac has a very robust zipper that we were excited about; however, it quickly became apparent that it is challenging to slide around the four corners of the bag. We enjoyed the added levels of organization provided by the exterior pockets to keep your passport, wallet, and pens organized. It also has a dedicated laptop sleeve — though this is inside the bag, which is only convenient if you have TSA Pre-Check and don't need to remove your computer to get through security.
True to form, the Platinum Elite has four exterior pockets that range from small enough to find coins and pens easily to large enough to hold your laptop or winter jacket. We enjoy all the options for staying hands-free through the airport, but they tend to make the bag extraordinarily bulky when packed full. On the flip side, the Baseline Domestic offers a configuration of exterior pockets that are useful and versatile but prevent you from overstuffing the bag to the point that you can no longer fit it in an overhead bin. It also has a handy pocket on the back that's perfect for sticking small objects you might want to keep separate, like keys, a phone, or even a small wallet.
Storage & Features
Nearly as key as a bag's Ease of Use is its ability to store, accommodate, and organize your belongings. We measured each bag's capacity and tested all pockets and organizational features. We pushed the limits of their expansion systems and asked our friends with various needs and packing strategies to test them out. The ability to expand isn't enough if it's tricky to do or leaves your bag larger than carry-on restrictions allow. Having tons of pockets doesn't automatically make a bag great if those organizing features force you to pack a certain way, regardless of your preferences.
The way a piece of luggage opens also has fairly large implications for how you can pack it and how accommodating it is to various traveler strategies. A suitcase-style bag opens either by splitting in half, leaving each side with half of the main compartment's capacity, or by the top flipping up to access the entire compartment as just one space. By splitting belongings in half, the Eagle Creek Tarmac and AmazonBasics Oxford force you to pack at least one side securely enough to flip upside down to close the luggage. These "half-shell" models have a zippered flap to allow you to do that. However, this style of carry-on restricts the size, shape, and overall bulk of the possible items. For trips where you need larger items, like a winter jacket or two pairs of size 13 shoes, this configuration is challenging to use. Even with a suitcase full of summer clothes, fitting everything and staying organized in a half-shell case is a larger challenge. For this reason, we prefer the ease and openness of top flip suitcases.
No matter how they open or what organizational scheme the bags offered, we put them all through our "pack for a week" capacity test. In this test, we crammed everything required for a week's worth of temperate weather travel into each bag. The Travelpro Platinum Elite has a deceptively large capacity inside. Its five interior pockets are very useful for those who love features and help keep you organized even if you're place-hopping to a different spot every night. At the same time, the internal pockets are flat enough to press out of the way if multitudes of pockets aren't your thing and you'd prefer just one large cavity. We love the huge variety of packing styles — and the sheer amount of stuff — that this bag can accommodate. It also has one of our favorite sets of compression straps. By incorporating mesh panel pockets between the straps, this system provides much better coverage of your belongings, making it easier to cinch down everything you've packed, not just what fits under two thin straps.
Similarly, the Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic has an excellent compression system. It lacks the pockets between straps and instead has just two large mesh panels that cover a huge amount of your bag's contents to really press a lot of clothes down into a little package. This piece of carry-on luggage is hands-down our favorite for overpacking. The telescoping handle is attached to the outside of the bag, which keeps the inside a large clean rectangle. This is great for rigid items that are notoriously hard to pack around the handle casing.
It also has one of the coolest, most unique compression systems we've ever seen. Instead of the traditional zipper expansion that tends to make your bag poofy and front heavy, the Baseline incorporates an interior system that lifts the top section of the bag to create an extra several inches of depth as you pack. Once you've put everything in and cinched down your load, the bag zips closed, and by pressing on the top and bottom, the entire package compresses, leaving you with a clean rectangular piece of luggage with limited bulging. If that's not enough, a small exterior pocket on top reveals two straps that allow you to clip a second and third bag to the front and top of the suitcase. Doing this can make it difficult to let go of the bag because it will tip forward with such a front-heavy load, but for long walks through distant terminals, it's a relief to wheel everything and save your shoulders the ache.
Also noteworthy is the Travelpro Crew 11. Though it lacks the compression panels and removable toiletry bag of the Platinum Elite, it still has a hidden ID tag and removable suit/dress organizer. It also has three internal pockets that can help you stay organized if you prefer a bag with pockets. It appears small, but we found this little suitcase can still hold a good amount of stuff, so it's a great choice for a long weekend. It also has a simple zippered expansion section that lets you come home with more than you left with.
Although it's not our favorite bag, due to a difficult zipper and loud, clunky wheels, the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On is notable for having an extremely handy set of extra bag attachment straps. The strap designed to hold another bag on top of the suitcase employs a dual elastic strap that easily stretches over another bag and hooks onto the telescoping handle to hold it in place. It works just as well for laptop bags as it does large, overstuffed totes or even standard backpacks. A small hook and strap let you hang an additional small bag or a bulky coat or sweater on the front of the suitcase. For truly hands-free travel, it's hard to beat a bag like this that can accommodate whatever else you're bringing.
Many of the award-winning bags cost as much as your plane ticket. With the elevated price tags, many will desire a well-rounded bag instead of a master of one. We evaluated many aspects of versatility, including additional features and add-ons — and their actual usefulness. Although style is subjective, our entire team of testers investigated the look of each model and gave their input as to its suitability to professional, adventure, casual, and fast-paced travel settings. After using these pieces of luggage for months on end, we've determined the best use for each one.
Once again, the TravelPro Platinum Elite stands out from the crowd for having truly useful add-ons. The removable toiletry bag is not only convenient to use, but it's also transparent for easier passage through security checkpoints. It, along with the Crew 11 and Briggs & Riley, also has a removable suit or dress keeper and an integrated, hidden ID tag on the back of all three bags. The Platinum Elite is also, in our opinion, the most professional-looking bag we tested. This carry-on looks natural, whether you are wearing business attire or sweatpants and flip-flops. Though it doesn't come with a cupholder or seat cushion (we wish!), considering the whole package altogether, this is the most versatile carry-on luggage we tested.
The Briggs & Riley Baseline and Travelpro Crew 11 are also both fairly versatile. In addition to their commonalities with the Platinum Elite, they're also both relatively professional-looking and include convenient extra features. The Crew 11 and the Platinum Elite have a dedicated power bank pocket with a USB port on the back for charging your phone as you hoof it to the next gate. The Baseline Domestic remains versatile in a sleek and simple design that's extremely functional. This bag, along with the Eagle Creek Tarmac, comes with TSA-approved locks.
The AmazonBasics Oxford Expandable 20" is worth discussing here as a bit of a letdown. We were initially excited to see what looks like an all-inclusive package for an absurdly low price. It has four wheels, an integrated TSA-approved lock that snaps the zippers right into the edge of the suitcase, internal holding straps, and a hardshell design. Upon inspection and actual use, however, each one of these features was a disappointment. We've already mentioned the tendency of the wheels to pull hard to one side, and the extremely loose telescoping handle that makes controlling it a difficult task. The holding straps inside this suitcase aren't compression straps at all, and instead are very loose elastic that does nearly nothing to keep your possessions organized, let alone compressed. The integrated lock is more annoying to use than we'd anticipated, as you have to line up the zippers just right to fit them in. And the hard shell design lacks any external pockets for organization or a laptop sleeve anywhere in the bag. The lock, along with several other elements of this bag, also proved to have significant durability issues, which we will discuss in the next section.
After throwing down potentially several hundred dollars for your new luggage, you want to be sure it will last a while. Ideally, this piece on wheels should last for years and through all kinds of adventures. We checked out the material each bag is made of, how well they're constructed, and their overall sturdiness. We did this through tons of travel over months of use, and also by purposely being hard on our luggage (through "accidental" drops and running into things).
Both the Briggs & Riley Baseline and Travelpro Platinum Elite are built well from durable, sturdy materials. These two bags are impressively durable with basically bombproof wheels and smooth, consistent zippers to solid handles and strong structural integrities. No matter how we threw them onto the cement or tumbled them down the stairs (all while packed full), they refused to be damaged. They're also designed to conceal the minor scuffs and scrapes they pick up along the way, so that nothing detracts from the bags' overall aesthetic.
The Travelpro Crew 11 is also pretty darn durable. It's made with noticeably lower quality materials and construction than the Platinum Elite, but still holds up very well to abuse. The sturdily designed handles of the Eagle Creek Tarmac encouraged confidence in the bag's durability.
While we like to focus on gear that performs well, two bags demonstrated such a lack of durability that we'd be remiss if we didn't mention them. The Rockland Melbourne 20 has an extremely rickety telescoping handle that makes this bag both difficult to control and inspires little confidence in its longevity. Additionally, we've tested two different colors of this wheeled box, and both broke during our testing. In one, the wheel crushed into the corner of the bag's body when dropped and left a large crack in the ABS plastic shell. In the other, the top handle broke during regular use, even before we performed any more rigorous durability tests on it.
The AmazonBasics Oxford is similarly flawed. It has an extremely wobbly handle that makes it much harder to use and control. It also broke during our durability testing. A "hubcap" from one of the wheels flew off when we dropped it, and enough tabs were broken off of it that we could barely reattach it. Additionally, after dropping it on the ground, the integrated lock stopped working. We couldn't get it to open up again no matter what we tried. In order to get to our belongings, we had to break into our own luggage using a pair of pliers - and this was concerningly easy. While a higher price doesn't always deliver better performance, these two are the least expensive we tested and by far the least impressive when it comes to durability.
One final consideration when it comes to gear durability is the warranty included with your new (expensive) bag. Most of the bags we tested come with some kind of warranty, though many of them only guarantee materials and workmanship — so if you check your bag and get it back missing a few pieces, you're out of luck. If you tend to be hard on your gear, you might consider one that covers wear and tear. Both Briggs & Riley and Eagle Creek claim they'll cover a lifetime of repairs no matter the cause. On the other hand, the ultra-cheap AmazonBasics Oxford doesn't come with any kind of warranty.
Any cursory glance around the web reveals that choices of carry-on luggage go on for days. Sifting through seemingly identical bags and finding the right suitcase for you is a challenging task. Whether you like to have a separate pocket for everything or you prefer one giant cavern that can handle anything you put in it, there are plenty of options for you. We rigorously tested each model to find which ones are best for personal and professional trips, and we hope our findings help you narrow down which one is the right fit for your travel.
— Maggie Brandenburg, Cassandra Marin, Cam McKenzie Ring