The Best Carry-On Luggage
Best Overall Carry-On Luggage
Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Spinner
For the second time in a row, the Platinum Elite is our Editors' Choice award winner. This bag really has it all. A plethora of outer pockets keep your belongings stowed, organized, and accessible. The interior pockets offer great organization for those who like options without cramping the style of packers who crave one big space. A removable toiletry case, a suit/dress organizer, and a hidden ID tag mean you'll have to purchase fewer extras before your vacation. Compression straps with mesh panels and integrated pockets help keep everything covered and securely in place no matter how bumpy the journey. Sturdy, gliding zippers and a sleek exterior make it a joy to use and ensure a professional look even after years of scuffs and TSA handling. Four options for handle height and four pairs of smooth wheels supply quiet performance and solid clearance so you can roll over just about anything with ease. Magnets help lock the wheels into alignment for near-effortless rolling around the terminal. And if you're fond of charging your electronics on the go, a secret side pocket lets you to insert your own battery pack and plug a USB cord directly into the back of the bag.
Though we appreciate the expandable zipper option for those overpacked trips, along with the numerous front pockets, it does make the bag rather thick for carry-on size restrictions. If you can avoid putting too much all in front, however, it can fit in a standard overhead bin with ease. For those looking for a suitcase in a flashy neon shade or wild print, the limited color options of the Platinum Elite are sure to be a let down. But if you're on the hunt for the one carry-on luggage to rule them all - from business trips to international vacations - this is it.
Read review: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Spinner
Best Bang for the Buck
Travelpro Crew 11 21" Expandable Spinner Suiter
We've come to expect a lot from the varied line of Travelpro bags, and the Crew 11 exceeds these lofty expectations. This four-wheeled suitcase boasts smooth, quiet wheels that magnetically align to keep you moving forward and sturdy gliding zippers for easy access to all your packed goods. Although it's not as chalked full of pockets and options as the Platinum Elite model, it still offers some solid organization amenities, including a non-removable toiletry bag, a removable suit/dress organizer, and a hidden ID tag. Despite its small appearance, it still boasts an impressive capacity with simple compression straps and an expandable main compartment to help accommodate as many extra outfits or souvenirs as you're willing to cram inside while still meeting carry-on size requirements. Its fabric exterior is both professional and durable, making this a bag you can confidently roll through a business conference 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 don't love that its toiletry bag is integrated into the interior, or that it's shaped into an odd taper that's heavier bottom. But in the face of so many less-pleasant-to-use bags, those are mere trifles. Considering many bags cost two or three times what the Crew does, we think it's very 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 Buy on a Tight Budget
Rockland Melbourne 20
This hard-sided luggage seems to be on a perpetual online sale, making it one of the least expensive carry-ons we tested. It managed to fit more than we expected into its slightly smaller interior and has an easy zipper expansion that provides an additional 1.5" of packing room. The telescoping handle can be used in two different heights to roll this 4-wheeled box to your gate. The hard, textured exterior helps to hide dings you're sure to pick up in your travels and aids in compressing your belongings into a compact shape that's sure to fit in most overhead bins. And if you're a fan of fun colors, this rolling suitcase comes in over 20 different hues.
Compared to some seriously feature-filled competitors, the Melbourne doesn't knock our socks off. Like nearly all hardshell models, this one has no external pockets and very limited organizational options inside. The interior elastic band compression straps also aren't particularly useful for compressing anything. And to boot, we have a number of durability complaints about this bag, from its rickety telescoping handle to its wobbly wheels to the top handle attachment tab that broke off the first time we used it. The zipper pulls also can't be locked if you're hoping to check this bag. But if you're an infrequent traveler who just needs a reasonable option that costs less, the Melbourne may be just what you're looking for.
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 just how much we're able to fit into this bag and still be able to easily slide it into an overhead bin. It's also smooth and easy to roll and features a professional look with some key features - like a suit or dress organizer and hidden ID tag - that make it a great choice for any type 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. And while we love the features it does have, it's fairly sparse when it comes to included organizational options and requires you to be independently organized. 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 carry-on luggage is a champion at holding far more than a typical 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 to the Pacific Northwest 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, 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 actually threw them on the ground to see how well they held up. Over years of testing, we've identified which bags are best for whatever your packing style, 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, quickly 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
The price of any piece of gear never factors into our performance ratings of it, but we realize it's an important factor for most people choosing their gear - after all, we're not all billionaires. After testing each model, we evaluate how its performance compares to its price.
Although some models are on the expensive side, they perform very well and could a great investment. Others, like our Best Buy award winners, the Travelpro Crew 11 and Rockland Melbourne, offer some of the highest values of the bunch. The Travelpro Crew offers excellent performance at a lower cost than many others. The Rockland Melbourne is a decent choice for certain types of travelers and is frequently available on mega-sale, increasing its value. You know your budget and needs best, and we hope that our honest evaluation of each model's value makes your decision that much simpler.
Ease of Use
One of the most important characteristics of a suitcase 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 really test each one to its limits. We considered telescoping handles and yanked on top and side handles, took laptops through TSA security checkpoints, and weighed each bag in all its various stages of packed and unpacked. 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 very smooth, smaller wheels, yet glides easily over bumps and cracks. While bumpy, treaded wheels performed better over loose and rocky surfaces, 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 aren't magnetically aligned but still do a pretty good job of rolling fairly straight. On the other side of the coin, the Rockland Melbourne 20 and AmazonBasics Oxford both pull heavily to one side and are 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.
Part of wheeling a bag and getting in and out of the trunk or overhead compartment comes down to the usability of the handles. Every bag 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 seem to never get stuck. The Eagle Creek Tarmac has a very robust zipper that we were excited about from a durability standpoint, but quickly became a horrible headache when we discovered how challenging it is to slide around the bag's four corners. It does, however, have excellent exterior pocket organization, which helps eliminate the need for an extra bag to keep your pens, wallet, and passport 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 extremely useful and versatile but prevent you from being able to easily overstuff the whole thing 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 a variety of neds 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. 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. While these "half-shell" models put a zippered flap across one side to allow you to do just that, this style of packing greatly limits the bulk, size, and shape of the possible contents. 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 small, 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. It's five interior pockets are very useful for those who love features and are very helpful for keeping 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 luggage is hands-down our favorite for over-packing and is our Top Pick for Serious Space. By attaching the telescoping handle to the outside of the bag, the inside remains a clean rectangular box, without the standard awkward handle shape to pack around.
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 sides, the entire package compresses, leaving you with a clean rectangular piece of luggage that doesn't resemble an overstuffed duffel bag as most others do. 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.
Considering the cost of most of these bags on top of the cost of travel itself, it's nice to have a bag that can really do everything. 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 as well.
Once again the TravelPro 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 as well as an integrated, hidden ID tag on the back of all three bags. The Platinum Elite is also, in our opinions, the most professional-looking bag we tested. It looks just as natural being rolled while you wear a three-piece suit or a pencil skirt and heels as it does in sweatpants and flip flops. Though it doesn't come with a cupholder or seat cushion (we wish!) considering the whole package all together, 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 fairly 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. It, along with the Eagle Creek Tarmac both come 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 of course, 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 awhile. 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. From basically bombproof wheels and smooth, consistent zippers to solid handles and strong structural integrities, these two bags are impressively durable. 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 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, its 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 guarantee 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