Reviews You Can Rely On

The 5 Best Carry On Luggage of 2022

We tested carry-on luggage from Travelpro, Briggs & Riley, Samsonite, and others to find the best models for your travel needs
Best Carry On Luggage of 2022
We tested a veritable mountain of luggage in our quest to uncover the very Best Carry On Luggage of 2022 and now we're ready to unveil our findings.
Credit: Abriah Wofford
By Myrha Colt, Maggie Nichols, & Genaveve Bradshaw
Monday September 26, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Searching for the best piece of carry-on luggage? Our travel experts have bought and tested 30 models over the past 7 years, with 9 suitcases in our current lineup. We tested each bag side-by-side, simulating the many rigors of travel by plane, bus, train, or car ride, as well as the unexpected demands of backyard getaways across bumpy country roads, bustling hotel lobbies, or chaotic city metro systems. From asphalt to gravel, we put some serious miles on all these little wheels. Our team jammed each bag full of a week's worth of gear and lobbed them into overhead bins, tossed them in trunks, and dropped them onto concrete just to see what would happen. Now, after rocketing over curbs and bouncing up and down stairs, here's our take on the best carry-on luggage out there no matter what your needs and budget may be.

We have many luggage reviews from the best suitcase and best travel backpacks to the duffel bags and backpacks. Whether you're traveling near or far, we'll help you get outfitted with all the best travel gear you'll need.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on September 26, 2022, to include 7 newly added products to our lineup in addition to revisiting 2 carry-ons from our previous testing.

Top 9 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 9
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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $699 List
$699.00 at Amazon
$370 List
$318.19 at Amazon
$275 List$120 List
$89.99 at Amazon
$170 List
$146.19 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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84
78
76
76
Star Rating
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Pros Sophisticated design, innovative compression, stable and durableWheels magnetically align, excellent organization, deceptively large capacity, stable and durablePolished, modern design, thoughtful organizational tools, easy to lift and maneuverMany useful extras, impressive capacity, accessible priceUltra lightweight, durable, good capacity
Cons Expensive, heavyDimensions exceed airline standards, heavyProne to tipping, scuffs easily, expensiveHeavy, exceeds airline size requirements, frontside bulkWobbles occasionally when full, few extra features
Bottom Line A high-end, super durable bag with plenty of smart features and a surprising amount of space with a premium price tag to matchA super versatile and functional bag that is durably built and makes travel easyA minimalist’s dream bag with a sleek modern appearance and commendable performance across all metricsAn 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 super lightweight and functional carry-on that doesn’t compromise on useful features or comfort in use
Rating Categories Briggs & Riley Base... Travelpro Platinum... Away The Carry-On SwissGear Sion Soft... Travelpro Maxlite 5...
Ease of Use (35%)
8.7
8.5
7.1
8.2
7.2
Design (25%)
7.0
7.8
8.9
6.1
7.2
Packability (25%)
9.7
8.3
8.1
8.7
8.0
Durability (15%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
8.4
Specs Briggs & Riley Base... Travelpro Platinum... Away The Carry-On SwissGear Sion Soft... Travelpro Maxlite 5...
Measured Dimensions 22.1" x 14.3" x 9.1" 23.5" x 14.3" x 9" 21.7" x 13.5" x 8.5" 23" x 14.1" x 10" 23.5" x 14" x 9"
Handle Height Options (where it locks) 5 (27", 29", 32", 34", 43") 5 (28", 36", 38", 40", 42.5") 4 (27", 34", 37.5", 41.5") 3 (28", 34.5", 43") 3 (27", 38", 42.5")
Number of Wheels 4 4 4 4 4
Number of Exterior Pockets 3 3 0 2 2
Interior Opening Style Top lid Top lid Half shell Top lid Top lid
Locking? Yes Main compartment zipper has a loop for a lock but does not come with lock Yes No Main compartment zipper has a loop for a lock but does not come with lock
Exterior Material Ballistic nylon with leather details High density nylon Polycarbonate hardshell with leather details Polyester Polyester fabric with Duraguard coating
Colors 3 - black, blue, brown 7 - vintage gray, shadow black, bordeaux, coastal blue, intrigue black, rich espresso, true navy 9 - black, navy, ocean, green, asphalt, petal, white, sand, lavender 8 - black, blue, burgandy, dark gray, navy lime, pewter, purple, teal 8 - azure blue, black, burgandy, imperial purple, mocha, sapphire blue, slate green, dusty rose


Best Overall Carry-On Luggage


Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Spinner


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 8.5
  • Design 7.8
  • Packability 8.3
  • Durability 9.0
Weight: 8.1 lbs | Dimensions: 23.5" x 14.3" x 9"
REASONS TO BUY
Magnetically aligned wheels
Excellent organization
Deceptively large capacity
Stable and durable
REASONS TO AVOID
Dimensions exceed airline standards
Heavy

Our review team's favorite piece of carry-on luggage is undeniably the Travelpro Platinum Elite. This Best-in-Class carry-on comes with plenty of exterior pockets to keep items orderly and easily accessible, matched by several clever interior organizational tools to help maximize space and reduce wrinkled fabric or misplaced items. A detached suit/dress organizer, four interior pockets, a removable TSA-compliant toiletry case, a discreet power bank pocket with a USB port, and a hidden ID tag are among the handy extras any seasoned traveler will appreciate. But it's the highly effective internal compression system (delivering a substantial increase in capacity, well before external expansion is employed) that is likely to excite experienced packers most. As will the set of innovative easy-glide spinner wheels that magnetically lock into alignment to produce a consistently silent, easily controlled roll no matter what distance you have to cover.

The Platinum Elite's streamlined yet professionally sharp exterior, built of Duraguard-coated ballistic nylon, is also designed for lasting durability in the face of unexpected hotel, airline, or roadside abuse. And in testing, it held tough just as promised, showcasing a unique combination of versatility and core foundational strength. Although it ranked among the heavier bags in our test group, with dimensions that just slightly exceed airline compliance standards, we still found it an easy choice when doling out top honors. For anyone seeking a single piece of handsome, well-priced, thoughtfully organized carry-on luggage that will transition effortlessly from high-profile business trips to relaxed international vacations, this is the case we'd point you toward first.

Read more: Travelpro Platinum Elite review

best overall carry-on luggage
Our favorite carry-on suitcase from our test lineup is the Travelpro Platinum Elite.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Bang for the Buck – Softshell Carry-On


SwissGear Sion Softside Expandable 21-inch


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 8.2
  • Design 6.1
  • Packability 8.7
  • Durability 7.0
Weight: 7.8 lbs | Dimensions: 23" x 14.1" x 10"
REASONS TO BUY
Many useful features
Impressive capacity
Accessible price
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy
Dimensions exceeds airline standards
Frontside bulk

Although slightly sportier and more casual in appearance than other favorites in our test suite, the well-priced SwissGear Sion Softside earned recognition for both performance and value due to its impressive capacity, comfortable ride, and an array of extra organizational amenities. One of the first things we noticed was just how easy it was to pack, zip, and roll, whether we were hauling a week-long summer adventure wardrobe or a climbing trip's worth of bulky gear. A laundry list of useful interior pockets and features, including a removable toiletry pouch, adjustable compression straps, and a bag-length expansion zipper, ensure there's plenty of space and tools to work with inside. Meanwhile, two sizeable front-side pockets add further capacity and flexibility to the exterior. And finally, several well-padded carry grips, a solid telescoping handle, and a set of surprisingly efficient 360-degree single-wheel spinners combine to support easy maneuverability between streets and stairwells, even when fully packed.

Made from durable, scuff-resistant polyester, the SwissGear Sion held up relatively well throughout testing, developing just a few minor scratches, some rattling in the handle, and a clicking noise within one wheel well (which interestingly self-corrected shortly thereafter). Where this case starts to stumble is in its weight and size. Among the heaviest bags in the group and built just slightly larger than airline compliance standards allow, these are details to consider if you're a regular flyer. But when budget and performance rank equally among your top priorities, the SwissGear Sion is worth adding to your shortlist for consideration, just as it did ours.

Read more: SwissGear Sion Softside Expandable 21 review

carry-on luggage - best bang for the buck – softshell carry-on
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

Great Value for a Hardshell Carry-On


Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable Spinner 20-inch


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 7.5
  • Design 8.0
  • Packability 7.0
  • Durability 5.2
Weight: 6.6 lbs | Dimensions: 21.5" x 14" x 9.5"
REASONS TO BUY
Smooth and stable
Impressive capacity
Variety of colors
Lightweight
REASONS TO AVOID
Durability concerns
Minimal organization features

Small in stature but surprisingly big on storage space and low in price, the tough micro-diamond polycarbonate Samsonite Omni PC Spinner is built to haul with stability and ease and comes in a broad range of eye-catching colors to suit both bold and subdued tastes. Just don't count on a plethora of special organizational tools to aid you in packing. Instead, you will find the basics: a standard open-layout clamshell design with simple cross-straps, a strong mesh panel enclosure, and a single small hanging accessory pocket. You will also discover a couple of nice extras, like a side-mounted TSA-approved lock for added security and a two-inch expansion zipper to increase flexibility in capacity. And it will all come wrapped in a simple, lightweight yet surprisingly durable and scratch-resistant shell.

Where the Samsonite Omni PC will stand out is on the road. Even when fully packed, we found it notably easy to lift, roll, and haul across curbs, up stairwells, and into overhead bins. Similarly, we had no problem tracking over airport carpeting, bumpy sidewalks, or cracks in the road. Its light boxy structure and thick single-spinner wheels maneuvered fairly effortlessly given the bag's well-crafted telescoping handle and higher-than-average clearance. Only two gripes emerged in testing. One, there's no side carry handle (just a single topside grip is provided). And two, a single wheel was knocked out of alignment during drop testing, resulting in a jitteriness to the bag's roll immediately thereafter. But neither issue was a deal breaker. And all points considered, the respectable Omni PC still easily emerged as the best value option among hardshell carry-ons.

Read more: Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable Spinner 20 review

carry-on luggage - great value for a hardshell carry-on
Among all the hardshell cases we tested, the Samsonite Omni PC is our favorite value option for solid performance at a great price.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Premium Softshell Carry-On


Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential Spinner


86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 8.7
  • Design 7.0
  • Packability 9.7
  • Durability 9.0
Weight: 10 lbs | Dimensions: 21.1" x 14.3" x 9.1"
REASONS TO BUY
Sophisticated design
Innovative compression
Stable and durable
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Heavy

For those with a budget for premium products, look no further than the Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential Spinner. It checks all the right boxes across all metrics, and although expensive, was an easy choice for a top award as it's hands-down one of our favorite pieces in the suite. We love its flexibility and organizational features – particularly the multiple exterior pockets, built-in suiter, "Outsider" roller handle, and clever two-inch CX expansion system. We also appreciate how even when stuffed full, this carry-on still rolls effortlessly alongside us from hotel to airport and packs easily into trunks and overhead compartments en route. The case's ballistic nylon exterior with reinforced edging and robust easy-glide zippers delivers a durable, protective shell to keep all items safe within, while large shock-absorbing 360-degree spinner wheels and a multi-level telescoping handle provide quiet, effortless navigation and fluid mobility over most surfaces.

Added touches like the handy SmartLink strap, multiple low-profile load handles, a hidden ID tag, a TSA-approved lock, and an exterior power pack pocket solidify this spinner's spot at the top of our list. So, while the Baseline Essential Spinner may rank among the heavier carry-on luggage cases we've tested, we believe that weight is a worthy tradeoff for all you gain in durability, design, and features. Sophisticated in its styling and immensely versatile, for those who can afford it, this is a high-end carry-on bag set to carry you through your adventures in style.

Read more: Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential Spinner review

carry-on luggage - best premium softshell carry-on
Briggs & Riley has become synonymous with the highest quality in luggage, and we were not disappointed with the Baseline Essential Spinner, our choice for the best premium softshell bag.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Premium Hardshell Carry-On


Away The Carry-On


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 7.1
  • Design 8.9
  • Packability 8.1
  • Durability 7.0
Weight: 7.1 lbs | Dimensions: 21.7" x 13.5" x 8.5"
REASONS TO BUY
Polished, modern design
Thoughtful organizational tools
Easy to lift and maneuver
REASONS TO AVOID
Prone to tipping
Scuffs easily
Expensive

Our top choice among premium hardshell bags, the Away Carry-On is a classically elegant suitcase that seems as primed for a swanky weekend in Palm Springs as a business conference in NYC. But beyond its sleek mid-modern appearance and demonstratively solid construction, we love this clamshell because of its many smart features. Outside, large easy-roll double-spinner wheels, three sturdy handles (two loading and one telescoping), and an embedded TSA-approved lock come standard. For a small upgrade fee, an ejectable power source (complete with two USB ports) can also be added to the handle housing for boosting on the go. Inside, each half of the clamshell features a restraint system. One is a thick mesh panel that zips closed to contain your items. The other: a removable compression panel, particularly well-engineered to carve out additional capacity within the small compartment, plus two smaller pockets (a single mesh sleeve and a tiny zippered pouch hiding a reusable laundry bag) tucked just behind.

Crafted of thick polycarbonate with luxurious leather detailing, the Away is built small (well within most airline regulations) and strong while still playing the part of an attractive high-end accessory. And although it's one of few bags in the suite without any expansion tool, we had no trouble squeezing in all our gear at all stages of testing. So, while some minor complaints did crop up, such as its tendency to scuff from use or tip when fully packed, there was still no question: the Away Carry-On is comfortable underhand, easy to pack, and built to last.

Read more: Away The Carry-On review

carry-on luggage - luxury and function are paired perfectly in the away carry-on...
Luxury and function are paired perfectly in the Away Carry-On, making it our favorite premium hardshell bag.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
86
Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential Spinner
briggs & riley baseline essential spinner carry-on luggage review
$699
Top Pick Award
84
Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Spinner
travelpro platinum elite 21" expandable spinner carry-on luggage review
$370
Editors' Choice Award
78
Away The Carry-On
away the carry-on carry-on luggage review
$275
Top Pick Award
76
SwissGear Sion Softside Expandable 21-inch
swissgear sion softside expandable 21-inch carry-on luggage review
$120
Best Buy Award
76
Travelpro Maxlite 5 21-inch Softside Expandable Spinner
travelpro maxlite 5 21-inch softside expandable spinner carry-on luggage review
$170
72
Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable Spinner 20-inch
samsonite omni pc hardside expandable spinner 20-inch carry-on luggage review
$170
Best Buy Award
59
Rockland Melbourne 20
rockland melbourne 20 carry-on luggage review
$120
53
Amazon Basics 21-inch Hardside Spinner
amazon basics 21-inch hardside spinner carry-on luggage review
$90
48
Kenneth Cole Reaction Out Of Bounds 20-inch Hardside Spinner
kenneth cole reaction out of bounds 20-inch hardside spinner carry-on luggage review
$90

Why You Should Trust Us


carry-on luggage - we&#039;ve spent years examining over 30 pieces of carry-on luggage with...
We've spent years examining over 30 pieces of carry-on luggage with every possible size, style, and color of luggage under the rainbow.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Since tackling our first carry-on luggage reviews over a half-decade ago, we have developed a long history of putting together an energized crew of travel experts to poke, prod, roll, and throw our cases from each and every angle. To test these carry-on bags, we packed them to the gills to see how much they can hold and how well they handle the strain when fully loaded. We rolled them over soft carpeting and loose gravel, bumped them up and down curbs and stairs, and threw them on the ground to see how well they still held up. Since 2015, we've analyzed carry-on luggage from every possible angle, identifying 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.

Our carry-on luggage testing is divided across four rating metrics:

• Ease of Use (35% of overall score weighting)
• Packability (25% weighting)
• Design (25% weighting)

• Durability (15% weighting)

Our team of experts is accustomed to traveling near and far, be it logging serious road time or racking up portfolios of hotel points and frequent flyer miles. From treks through Sierra Nevada peaks to business meetings among the cobbled city streets of the Andes and cross-continental road trips back here at home, our testing team is built of practiced packers who know how to appreciate a great piece of luggage and can recognize the signs when a case sometimes falls short.

This year's testing was headed up by lead luggage-beater Genaveve Bradshaw, who was tasked with simulating the various hotel room demands, roadside beatings, and tarmac traumas that carry-on luggage might encounter on any given travel day. As a classically trained musician, rock climber, and dog mom whose adventures have carried her from the ski runs of New Mexico to the trails of Patagonia and now onto the granite walls of Lake Tahoe, Gena is well familiar with living a life in motion and is no stranger to preparing a perfectly curated bag. Partnering with Gena on this round of reviews is long-time adventure travel professional and outdoor enthusiast Myrha Colt, a veritable expert in hitting roads unknown and master of hauling luggage big and small into the far-off abyss, be it the depths of an airline cargo hold bound for New York, a rugged 4x4 journey into the jungles of Papua New Guinea, or the salty crew cabin of a Caribbean dive boat. Together, these road-trained powerhouses know what gear can make a great trip even better, and they are pumped to channel that knowledge into honing in on the best carry-on luggage available.

Tired travelers will appreciate the many details that make...
Tired travelers will appreciate the many details that make maneuvering the Baseline Essential Spinner so pleasant, like its soft cushioned grab handle at the top.
We run each of our carry-on contenders through rigorous testing to...
We run each of our carry-on contenders through rigorous testing to establish the winners and losers among them, including tossing them from various heights onto concrete floors.
Each bag goes through an in-depth packability test so that we can...
Each bag goes through an in-depth packability test so that we can see how well they'll fit clothing and gear to suit different types of travel, and how they stack up against one another.

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 it is to the luggage's overall performance. First on the list is a bag's Ease of Use, followed by its Packability. These two metrics combined make up 60% of the score. We also considered each model's unique Design 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.


Value


When it comes to options for packing for any trip, there are a ton of choices covering a wide range of prices. And when selecting from among rolling carry-on bags specifically, we noticed a correlation between price and performance. Paying more for your luggage tends to get you smarter packing tools, better rolling performance, and higher durability. However, there are a few models that impress us with their functionality and assets, despite relatively lower price points.

For budget-conscious travelers, the affordable Samsonite Omni PC delivers a strong performance for a simple yet well-designed, hard-sided case, as does the SwissGear Sion among the soft-sided contenders. But if you are in constant motion and your travels include regular flights, it's worth investing more into a bag that is designed to last through greater abuse when hauled around the world. When it comes to balancing professional good looks with ease of use and strength in construction, the Travelpro Platinum Elite outshines all the rest in our test suite. Best of all, it's far from the most expensive case in the test group, fast securing it a place of honor as the most high-value carry-on case on our list.

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 all sorts of weird stuff (like rock climbing gear and ski helmets) to test each one to its limits. We tugged on their telescoping handles and yanked each loading grip, prepped laptops for TSA security checkpoints, and weighed each bag in all its various packed and unpacked stages. Some stand out among the crowd, while others fall short.


We first want to see how each bag rolls and assess what it's like to carry and load. Four-wheeled spinner bags tend to be more variable in their performances, with some tracking smoothly and quietly right alongside you as you walk, while others catch and drag or even tip over when faced with an occasional crack in the road or a shift of weight. Similarly, there are times when we need to manhandle bags up and down stairs or across awkward surfaces and into overhead bins, and this is where grab handles come in handy.

The Travelpro Platinum Elite has a very comfortable telescoping...
The Travelpro Platinum Elite has a very comfortable telescoping handle.
Premium comfort to match its top-in-class performance, the Travelpro...
Premium comfort to match its top-in-class performance, the Travelpro Platinum Elite incorporates added strength through its hefty metal fixtures and soft leather detailing, including top-side handles that contour easily into the hand.

The Travelpro Platinum Elite and Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential both delivered excellent results in this area. Built with large double wheels offering substantial clearance, each consistently rolled in a clean straight line, sticking to our sides with ease wherever we roamed and winning praise. And, while these two cases also ranked among the heaviest in our test collection, making them more difficult to lift and carry when fully packed, the thoughtful design and placement of well-crafted carry handles around both exteriors countered that burden of weight enough to retain their high scores.

carry-on luggage - integral to the performance of any carry-on is the base on which it...
Integral to the performance of any carry-on is the base on which it sits, and these 2.5-inch two-wheel spinners on the Briggs and Riley Baseline Essential Carry-On more than proved their worth.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Budget-friendly cases built with a high clearance, like the SwissGear Sion and the Samsonite Omni PC had an edge during road tests, as their extra height enabled them to keep up with relative ease and stability across most surfaces, without requiring any extra muscle to guide. In comparison, deluxe models built with lower clearance, like the Away and the ultralight Travelpro Maxlite 5, struggled a bit across mixed terrain and even tipped or got caught in spots where cracks, gravel, dirt, or pine needles appeared.

carry-on luggage - part of our road testing strategy involves taking each carry-on out...
Part of our road testing strategy involves taking each carry-on out onto different surfaces to compare how it rolls on all four spinners and on just two, and how that changes based on terrain.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

On the other side of the coin, the lightweight Kenneth Cole Reaction Spinner disappointed us from the get-go, consistently tipping over and proving itself unstable under average travel conditions. This, paired with a remarkably uncomfortable set of haul handles and a zipper that seemed designed to catch on itself from the start, left us underwhelmed. The similarly designed Rockland Melbourne 20 produced only marginally better results, and both bags scored poorly enough to end up among our least favorites to grab and go.

carry-on luggage - inexpensive in price and in feel, the kennth cole reaction out of...
Inexpensive in price and in feel, the Kennth Cole Reaction Out of Bound's carry handles were some of the most uncomfortable we sampled during testing.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

In general, four-wheeled bags are easier to roll through a crowded airport or tight airplane aisle. In our testing, even a four-year-old was able to roll his own four-wheeled bag through the terminal. However, not all wheels are created equal — we especially like the handy, automatic magnetic alignment of the Travelpro Platinum Elite bag.

Easy access to your belongings is another really important part of this metric. Quality zippers can be hugely important in how any suitcase serves your needs. And once again, three winners - the TravelPro Platinum Elite, the Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential, and the Away Carry-On - outperformed others in this area. Each has a hefty zipper with an exceptionally smooth glide that never stuck or hung up on itself during testing.

The premium Travelpro Platinum Elite features hefty, easy-glide...
The premium Travelpro Platinum Elite features hefty, easy-glide zippers with large pulls to seal the case and protect your belongings.
Softshell bags are far superior when it comes to extra features to...
Softshell bags are far superior when it comes to extra features to ease the pain of day-of travel, and few bags are set up quite so well as the Briggs &amp; Riley Baseline Essential Spinner.

The bags that wholly unimpressed us on the zipper front include the Kenneth Cole Reaction and the Amazon Basics, each of which possesses cheap-feeling zippers that repeatedly hung up and stuck in use. This added a degree of annoyance while packing that left us questioning the bag's core strength and long-term functionality.

carry-on luggage - zipping up the amazon basics 21-inch spinner was a true pain, and...
Zipping up the Amazon Basics 21-inch Spinner was a true pain, and made us much less eager to pick up this bag for our next trip.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Softshell bags are where it's at when it comes to external organizational assets, as most hardshells offer virtually nothing in the way of outside features except perhaps a security lock or an ID sleeve. The one exception to this rule is the Away Carry-On which presents an upgrade option to embed an external USB port. But generally speaking, it's no surprise to see all four of the soft-sided cases representing well for this metric with a variety of exterior pockets and outside features scattered among them.

carry-on luggage - the powerpocket tucked away into the side of the travelpro platinum...
The powerpocket tucked away into the side of the Travelpro Platinum Elite is a brilliant addition, making this carry-on the accessory of choice when heading out to battle any airport.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

But, while such exterior additions can be great for keeping you organized on the go, it can also mean your carry-on becomes extraordinarily bulky once fully packed or the expansion features are engaged. This can push the luggage dimensions well beyond domestic airline requirements for overhead bins and end with a required check-in. The one bag that doesn't seem to have this problem is the Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential, since the pocket configuration and innovative CX compression design are meant to help prevent you from such levels of overstuffing.

carry-on luggage - you can fit a lot into the baseline essential spinner from the...
You can fit a lot into the Baseline Essential Spinner from the get-go, without the need for overstuffing.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Packability


We measured each bag's capacity and tested all pockets and organizational features against one another to test its ability to store, accommodate, and organize your belongings. We pushed the limits of each bag's storage space and expansion systems against packing strategies applicable to all kinds of travel — business, vacation, and gear-heavy outdoor adventuring. And we compared tools and features to see which add true value and which others just get in the way.


All hardshell suitcases in our test group open in half, like a clamshell, split wide down the middle along a midline hinge. This means each half of the main compartment will be fully exposed upon opening, and any items left unsecured to either side may come tumbling out. For this reason, all hard-sided models in this collection are built with a zippered panel enclosure to one side and a set of restraint or compression straps on the other (in addition to any other internal pockets or organizational features you may find).

Another style, as seen in all our soft-sided contenders, involves a panel "lid" that flips open from the front side of the bag to provide access to the entire main compartment as just one core storage space.

carry-on luggage - the travelpro maxlite is a sift-sided bag with a panel &quot;lid&quot; that...
The Travelpro Maxlite is a sift-sided bag with a panel "lid" that flips open to expose the main storage compartment.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The hard-sided Away does a particularly great job maximizing its space, using a thick mesh enclosure plus a smart, space-saving compression panel to lock bulky items into place and squeeze additional storage out of this otherwise compact, airline-approved carry-on bag. You'll find most other cases in the clamshell style cannot compete, with cheap fabric liners and simple cross-straps that provide no strength or true option to tighten for compression, limiting their value in practice.

carry-on luggage - a handy mesh pocket along one side of the compression panel adds to...
A handy mesh pocket along one side of the compression panel adds to the convenience of packing the Away.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

For trips that require larger items or gear in unconventional shapes — like a winter jacket, a ski helmet, or a pair of size 13 shoes — the simpler layout of a flip-lid suitcase may be a preferable choice. In a bag like the SwissGear Sion, you can layout and compress your packable items however you see fit, knowing that no matter how much you compress, cram, or squish, you will ultimately always be re-accessing that same space through the single topside lid (meaning far less chance of launching and losing items upon reopening).

carry-on luggage - the compression straps in the sion come in very handy to ensure...
The compression straps in the Sion come in very handy to ensure you're maximizing the space available in the main compartment and that the bag remains stable once filled.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

No matter which organizational scheme a case offers, we still put each bag through a series of two controlled "packability" tests. First, a standard capacity test, cramming everything required for a week's worth of temperate weather travel into each bag. The second test is just a ramped-up version of the first, this time including bulkier, oddly shaped, or even fragile items along the lines of what one might take with them for a ski vacation or a climbing trip. For our purposes, this packing list included such things as a harness, helmet, rope, quickdraws, and a selection of clothing, toiletries, books, and shoes.

carry-on luggage - an open-layout clam-shell design can be a real boon when packing...
An open-layout clam-shell design can be a real boon when packing oddly shaped items and unusual gear in a standardized case.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Yet again, the Travelpro Platinum Elite proved itself a winner, showing up with a deceptively large capacity and versatile design hidden beneath a streamlined exterior. All items in our weeklong summertime packing test fit without expansion, with all pockets and compression panels proving useful and only the slightest amount of extra muscle required to seal the master zipper closed. In turn, the bulky items test produced similar results once any unnecessary organizational tools were removed from the bag (like the detached toiletry bag and suiter) and the bag's tapered expansion feature was put into play.

carry-on luggage - the travelpro platinum elite stood out in both our &quot;summer vacation&quot;...
The Travelpro Platinum Elite stood out in both our "summer vacation" and our "bulky item" packing tests.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential is our favorite option for overpacking and really cannot be topped when it comes to capacity. To start, by moving its telescoping handle to the backside of the bag, all obstacles are removed from the main storage compartment, leaving a truly flat surface for packing. Next, a tri-fold garment envelope is incorporated discreetly into the bag's opening lid, creating the perfect tool for laying out a suit or dress to minimize wrinkles in transit. And finally, instead of a traditional zipper expansion, here you'll find an innovative "one-touch" compression/expansion tool that lifts the walls of the case to provide an extra couple of inches of storage depth within. Just add in your belongings and cinch down the internal compression panels over your load before zipping the bag back up. Simple pressure applied to the outer edges will then compress the entire suitcase down and you end with a clean rectangular piece of luggage free from bulging. And if that's not enough space, use the included SmartLink strap to easily attach a purse or laptop bag to the top of your case as well.

carry-on luggage - the briggs &amp;amp; riley baseline essential spinner has far more...
The Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential Spinner has far more capacity than meets the eye, and an innovative compression system to allow you to pack in even more without overstuffing and exceeding its original dimensions.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

It is possible to take advantage of smart organizational tools at a lower price point as well. We particularly appreciate the SwissGear Sion and the Travelpro Maxlite 5 which come with several exterior and interior pockets, expansion options, and functional compression straps. The SwissGear even includes a bonus toiletry "wet bag" for extra bragging points.

The SwissGear Sion Carry-On has a whole lot of handy features all...
The SwissGear Sion Carry-On has a whole lot of handy features all rolled into one, like this waterproof toiletry bag that snaps into the inside for transit.
An interior pocket sized for accessories and other small items comes...
An interior pocket sized for accessories and other small items comes in super handy when packing the Travelpro Maxlite 5.

Design


Many of our award-winning bags cost as much as a plane ticket. And with such elevated price tags, most travelers will expect a well-rounded case rather than a master of one. We evaluated these suitcases based on several aspects of their construction and versatility, considering any additional features and add-ons, plus each bag's style and appearance. We also considered each bag's weight, overall dimensions, airline compatibility, the strength of materials, and the variety of color options available).


First, let's talk about size and weight. When you're dealing with carry-on luggage, these are two of the most critical items to consider, depending on your intentions for travel. U.S. domestic airlines often limit economy passengers to a single carry-on at no more than 22 x 14 x 9-inches, and all travelers must be able to lift their individual packed bag overhead into the storage compartment, even where weight restrictions aren't clearly specified. So if you are a frequent flyer, you'll likely want to put a bit of thought into the specs of a bag before making your purchase. If you tend to travel by land instead (or even if you are just comfortable ignoring the technicalities of airline guidelines, knowing enforcement is limited), you'll have a lot more wiggle room and more options.

carry-on luggage - if your bag doesn&#039;t fit, you&#039;re out of luck (at least with the...
If your bag doesn't fit, you're out of luck (at least with the airlines).
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Take our top performers in nearly every other metric across the board, the Travelpro Platinum Elite and Briggs & Riley. When it comes to weight, both are heavy. And in terms of overall size (without expansion), the Travelpro doesn't even meet dimension requirements straight out of the bag. So it would follow that these two bags might score poorly for the design metric. But in reality, both cases stand out from the crowd quite significantly in other highly valuable ways: demonstrating significant durability in materials, sophisticated aesthetics, and many smart extra features that raise them both well to the top of the list for this metric, despite the deficiencies noted upfront.

Meanwhile one of the smallest and the lightest bags in the group, the Kenneth Cole, had a different problem. It didn't incite enough confidence in its construction, functionality, or design extras to even compete, regardless of its admirably compact size and the fun range of colorful veneers one can select from.

The bag that unquestionably rose to the surface as a great choice during design testing was the Away Carry-On suitcase, which boasts alluring mid-modern good looks within a compact, road-ready, easy-to-maneuver hardshell. Other than its tendency to scratch and scuff, and the bag's slightly low clearance, we couldn't find much we didn't love about this carry-on. And with nine color options to choose from, you still have the option to stand out in the crowd at the luggage carousel.

carry-on luggage - the away carry-on stands photo-ready and armed with a slew of smart...
The Away Carry-On stands photo-ready and armed with a slew of smart features to make it a favorite among our testers.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Conversely, the Amazon Basics Spinner is well sized for airline travel (with the added benefit of expansion) and available in a wide range of colors. But somehow it manages to be among the heaviest bags in the group while simultaneously lacking any special organizational tools or upgraded construction materials that might explain the extra weight. Moreover, its uncomfortable handles, poor internal zippers, and inferior ABS hardshell construction leave much to be desired. Just another reminder, when it comes to quality of design, cheap is often just that: an inexpensive temporary fix.

carry-on luggage - unimpressive zippers on the amazon basics 21-inch hardside spinner...
Unimpressive zippers on the Amazon Basics 21-Inch Hardside Spinner worked poorly from the start.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Durability


When spending on new luggage, most of us want to make sure our purchase lasts more than a flight or two. The best luggage will hold up to the worst any airport or hotel personnel can throw at it and should last through all types of adventures. That's why we examined the material, construction, and overall sturdiness of each carry-on piece to better understand how a case might hold up when faced with average day-to-day travel activities (think opening and closing zippers and running wheels over cracks in heavy volume) or the eventualities of airline abuse.


Both the Briggs & Riley Baseline and the Travelpro Platinum Elite are built for serious hauls out of tough, long-lasting materials that have been thoughtfully combined to look and perform gracefully under pressure. So it's no surprise these two bags are impressively durable even under extreme circumstances, with basically bombproof wheels, smooth-glide zippers, numerous user-friendly handles, and a significant investment in structural integrity (including reinforced edging and protective bumpers along vulnerable corners and seams). No matter how often or severe a beating we served up — be it crashing onto concrete floors, tumbling down stairs, or bouncing into obstacles (while packed full, of course) — these two refused to show any real damage. Any minor scuffs or scrapes they did pick up along the way were easily concealed by their soft, yet rugged ballistic nylon exteriors. So none of the abuse ever detracted from each bag's polished aesthetic.

carry-on luggage - well-conceived and well-executed from start to finish, the travelpro...
Well-conceived and well-executed from start to finish, the Travelpro Platinum Elite is as durable as it is attractive, with a slew of useful features to make packing the easiest part of your travels.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The soft-sided ultralight Travelpro Maxlite 5 Spinner delivered similarly impressive results during road testing and garnered top scores as a result. While the hard-sided Away Carry-On received the highest marks given out in the hardshell subcategory, due to its solid polycarbonate exterior, thick mesh interior materials, substantial wheel housings, carefully engineered handles, and hefty nested zippers.

carry-on luggage - the travelpro maxlite is a great example of a carry-on that is both...
The Travelpro Maxlite is a great example of a carry-on that is both well-built and lightweight.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

According to numerous flight attendants, the main components that tend to wear out on carry-on luggage are exterior – handles and zippers – so we paid close attention to these areas. We examined and researched the construction materials of each bag. We also inspected the high-wear use features and areas, such as the wheels and corner edges.

While we like to focus on gear that performs well, three of the bags in the group — all of which are built out of ABS hardshell — demonstrated such a lack of durability that we'd be remiss if we didn't mention them at all in this context. The Kenneth Cole Reaction tops this list of poor performers, as every feature of the case seemed dubious in quality upon first look: unimpressive single caster wheels, a jiggly roller handle, cheap-feeling interior fabric, and small, unsubstantial zippers. And upon testing, our suspicions were only confirmed. The sub-par exterior zipper kept catching on itself (proving a serious annoyance). The interior fabric began to tear. The rattly handle got noisier with use and proved highly uncomfortable underhand. And finally, our drop tests left deep visible scratches on the exterior of the case.

carry-on luggage - a jiggly roller handle was among the many complaints we had with the...
A jiggly roller handle was among the many complaints we had with the Kenneth Cole Reaction Out of Bounds carry-on.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Rockland and Amazon Basics models each produced similar results, with some minor scratching (both), a rip to the interior fabric (Rockland), and a detached hubcap (Amazon) after drop testing. And both cases also ended up developing some "wonkiness" in their wheels (i.e. slight jitteriness and irregular pulling) as a result of the hard falls from two test heights. The lifespan of the Rockland, in particular, was called into question even before we got started, as exterior evidence pointed to a potential failure along one seam of the zipper expansion feature (sticky glue, used to attach the zipper expansion panel to the outer edge, seemed to be detaching, allowing the seam to come apart). A couple of extremely rickety telescoping handles also factored into the low scores these two low-cost bags received, as it made both difficult to control and inspired little confidence in their longevity.

carry-on luggage - preparing the rockland melbourne for its big drop test, mimicking...
Preparing the Rockland Melbourne for its big drop test, mimicking the kind of treatment any suitcase might receive behind the scenes at an airport.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Surprisingly, the Samsonite Omni also received mediocre results during durability testing. Despite the exterior's tough micro-diamond polycarbonate construction, sizeable zippers, and thick interior mesh paneling, vulnerabilities within its design materialized during drop testing. Specifically, its four caster-style spinner wheels — which are noticeably small in comparison to others, despite the bag's substantial clearance — seemed easily damaged when tossed onto concrete from above (with one snapping out of alignment to produce a jittery roll, even "shuddering" inside its housing with movement after the fact). Under continued use, the misaligned wheel did eventually seem to find its way back into the proper position and symptoms subsided. So, all was not lost and the bag remained useful. But durability points were docked from its score based on this uncertainty.

carry-on luggage - the samsonite omni pc received mediocre scores for durability...
The Samsonite Omni PC received mediocre scores for durability because at least one of its wheels snapped out of alignment in drop testing, creating a worrisome jitter (even a shudder sometimes) when rolled. Luckily it seemed to work itself out and disappeared, but we had to call it out as damage all the same.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Conclusion


Any cursory glance around the web reveals carry-on luggage choices for days. Sifting through the long lists of seemingly identical bags to find the right suitcase for you can be a challenging endeavor. Whether you like to have a separate pocket for everything, or you prefer one giant cavern that can handle a pile of gear tossed in without care, there are plenty of options to choose from. We rigorously tested each model to find which cases are best for personal and professional trips, and we hope our findings help you narrow down which one is the right fit for your own needs.

Myrha Colt, Maggie Nichols, & Genaveve Bradshaw


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