Where to begin? We evaluated over 75 models and purchased the top 13 suitcases so you can focus on what to take and where to go on your next adventure. With so many experiences to have and plan, we sometimes forget about the details of getting there. And when that entails packing all your gear into one piece of luggage for a flight, sometimes a carry-on doesn't provide the storage capacity you need. For those adventure seekers for which a duffel bag or 65-liter backpack filled to the gills just won't do — this review is for you. We are confident that our one-stop shop will help you assess top-performing models side-by-side, complete with a range of metrics that are key to choosing the best of the best.
A Search for the Best Suitcases of 2018
New to OutdoorGearLab, suitcases are making their debut. We've included 13 of the top contenders, awarding the Timbuk2 Copilot the coveted Editors' Choice award. For the budget-conscious shoppers, the Travelpro Maxlite 4 steals the show, while the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 will make any business traveler rejoice. Finally, for the urban globetrotters, we absolutely love the Osprey Sojourn 28" Convertible. Take a load off and let us help you find the best suitcase.
Best Overall Suitcase
Timbuk2 Copilot 28"
The largest the Timbuk2 luggage line, the Copilot brings you thoughtful and sensible design in an affordable package. This durable bag has a clam-shell design with a hardened back and a clean nylon front. With dual clamshell compartments on in the inside, the Copilot lets you pack to your heart's desire, whether for a multi-day trip across the country or a multi-week trip around the globe. We particularly love this feature for its ability to separate his from hers, or one set of gear from the rest. The go-anywhere smooth rolling skateboard wheels laugh at rough surfaces en route to the airport, and the unique exterior access flap to get inside your bag without rummaging around was another perk of our favorite suitcase of this review — not to mention a price point that will blow your mind.
Read review: Timbuk2 Copilot 28"
Best Bang for the Buck
Travelpro Maxlite 4 25"
The TravelPro MaxLite 4 reminded us that for a product to be functional and worth purchasing, it didn't have to have all the bells and whistles of the top-tier. Sometimes the standard fare is plenty, especially if your excursions requiring checked luggage are few and far between. Sharing some design cues of the TravelPro Platinum Magna 2 — it's better looking, and feature-rich sibling — the Maxlite impressed us with easy gliding spinner wheels for smoother surfaces and smart refinements to standard features. Coming close to the middle of the pack with its bargain basement pricing, it's plain to see how the Maxlite earned the Best Bang for the Buck award in this competition. If you are looking for a bag for the one-off trip, no need to buy a throwaway bag with the Maxlite around.
Read review: TravelPro MaxLite 4 25"
Top Pick for Business Travel
Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 26"
With both the TravelPro Platinum Magna 2 and its little brother, the Maxlite 4, receiving accolades in our performance review, TravelPro is doing something right. The smart and sleek classic styling with a modern take, the Magna blends fashion and function in an all-around package. Durable build, sleek looks, great transportability — and not to mention storage options. The Magna is an all-around performer who would have stolen the show had it not been for the Timbuk2 Copilot. Aside from the styling, the reason we believe this bag to excel with business travelers is the suit folder feature. The Briggs and Riley Baseline, which scored a point and a half higher, also has a suit-folder. However, the Baseline costs nearly twice as much as the Magna.
Read review: TravelPro Platinum Magna 2 26"
Top Pick for Backpacking Urban Adventurers
Osprey Sojourn 28" Convertible
When it came to the context of this review, the Osprey Sojourn certainly was not a top contender. But we believe that was more a function of the review than the bag. The Sojourn attempts a feat unique to any bag currently available: on-the-fly conversion of roller luggage to a full suspension backpack. In most cases, this is entirely unnecessary. However, if you've made a habit of traveling abroad with a backpack, you understand that sometimes you simply don't want to carry a backpack. You wish you could pull it behind you and give your back a break from the miles of urban hiking. And for that reason, we think it's obvious that the Sojourn is our Top Pick for Backpacking Urban Adventurers.
Read review: Osprey Sojourn 28"
Analysis and Test Results
Some buy checked luggage for the intended purpose of use for a particular trip, while others buy it with the hope of needing to use it. Regardless, when you need a piece of checked luggage, it has to work. We looked for the piece of checked luggage that you could fill to your heart's desire and wheel around without breaking your back — or the bank. We ran our test scenarios on each candidate developing a comprehensive and overall objective comparison. Each suitcase was subjected to identical testing scenarios paying close attention to subtle differences. Each rating metric was assessed on a 1–10 rating scale before applying weighting to determine a 1–100 overall performance assessment.
Since you have to trust a piece of checked luggage to fit a lot of your stuff and take a beating through the nightmarish world of baggage handling, Storage and Durability made up 45% of the overall tally with Ease of Transport, Features, Weight, and Style rounding out the rest.
These scores represent each candidate's performance compared to the rest. We did our best in segregating the categories as best we could, but when the durability of a cool feature is called into question, it is easy to see how it can bolster the Feature score while hurting the Durability score.
Each metric's score accounts for a variety of factors that affect the overall performance of each bag. For example, the rating for Ease of Transport considers everything from handle comfort, navigating broken sidewalks, smooth floors, stairs and pavement for an overall transportability assessment. We also focused on our interaction with the bag, noticing handle usability when picking up an entirely laden bag, or seeing a collapsible handle that took a concerted effort to deploy. We each have our own factors which we find most important when choosing products. We determined a set of metrics and weighting based on what we believed to make objective sense. To find the right bag for you, focus on those metrics most important to your travel style to determine which model is right for you.
In any buying decision, it is often necessary to choose between what features mean the most to us, and make compromises in our final decision. We've compiled all of the features we believe are the most valuable in a suitcase, and created the chart below to help you get the most value out of your purchase. Hover over the dots to see where certain products fall, with overall value increasing as you move further to the right and lower on the chart.
Good luggage isn't cheap, so when you're spending hundreds of dollars on a suitcase, you expect it to last and be free of defects. And although placing breakable items into checked luggage is not typically recommended, you want your bag to keep your stuff in one piece. We believe it is important to get your belongings there safely; your suitcase should protect and transport your precious cargo. Durability is paramount to not only keep your belongings safe in transit — but also to keep your bag rolling and looking good.
Much unlike carry-on bags, you don't have any control over how your bag is handled once placed on the conveyor belt. From that moment until it drops onto the baggage carousel, you should expect that it will be tossed about in the most "expeditious" manner that a baggage handler may devise. A piece of luggage built to last requires a company's nod to a multitude of variables — material selection, components, assembly and abrasion/impact resistance. All these factors were considered as we picked through the lot. We relied on our assessment of construction details, materials, and overall craftsmanship, while other factors such as reputable warranty programs were considered as well.
While one person's definition of durability is different than the next, we believe that when paying hundreds for luggage — particularly for those that look good — preservation of those good looks is part of durability. For this reason, our glossy hard-sided bags didn't do very well in this metric. Of the bags we tested, two had zipper issues when closing the bag — the Rimowa Salsa and the Lipault Original Plume. All our spinner models had some level of lateral play in the casters, which is the nature of spinners. However, the Samsonite Omni PC, Samsonite Aspire XLite, and the Rimowa Salsa stood out as the worst casters.
When it comes to durable bags, however, there is a spinner amongst them. The Briggs & Riley Baseline had the tightest spinner wheels in addition to the most abrasion resistant weave of nylon we saw of any bag. Additionally, it was the only bag that had a lifetime warranty with free replacement parts, which is unheard of in the luggage industry.
The other highly durable bags were well-built, stout-bodied suitcases with oversized or skateboard wheels. The Timbuk2 CoPilot (our Editors' Choice Award winner) and the Burton Wheelie Double Deck each used soft durometer skateboard wheels with molded rear clam-shell and durable fabric front. It should be noted though, that the Burton lost a point due to some flimsy internal zippers. The Eagle Creek Tarmac also did well due to super-hefty zippers and oversized stout wheels, although the Tarmac might have done better with a slightly more abrasion resistant outer fabric.
Almost as important as Durability, Storage helps you get where you're going with one piece of luggage and less hassle. After all, if you can't pack for a week-long trip that requires a tuxedo, climbing gear, running gear, and fly-fishing gear in one piece of checked luggage — what's the point? Even the reviewer would have thought this an unrealistic assortment had it not been his actual packing list for a recent trip!
We gave preference to bags that could put away our ridiculous packing list. Although we liked the contenders that offer sensible expansion options, we also enjoyed the simplified models for which expandability wasn't even part of the equation.
The most significant storage capacity of any bag, without question, was the Samsonite Omni PC. This bag fit our entire packing list without any thought put to optimization, but for such a cavernous space, the limited internal restraints would leave us with a jumble of clothes and gear. And that was without the expansion zipper!
We preferred the more sensibly sized bags with proper internal compartmentalization. Our favorite bags for storage capability were the Briggs & Riley Baseline, the Timbuk2 CoPilot, the Eagle Creek Tarmac, and the TravelPro Platinum Magna 2.
The bags that had trouble putting away our packing list were the Osprey Ozone, the Osprey Sojourn, the Rimowa Salsa Air and the Lipault Original Plume. These bags ranged from having trouble closing completely (Sojourn) to having to leave a full set of gear behind (Salsa). Every other bag was able to pack away our packing list without question.
Ease of Transport
Any wheeled suitcase can navigate the polished concrete floors of the airport with 2-wheels or four. But these workhorses rarely see the pristine world of the inside of an airport. They move from home to the airport, plane to plane, and eventually to your destination whether it be by bus, train or car. Steps from your front door to the sidewalk, driveways, broken sidewalks, paved parking lots — these all come into play. Smooth floors? Perhaps a hotel lobby.
The most transportable bag of this review wasn't a top finisher; it was a middle of the pack bag which didn't fit the criteria for this test. The Osprey Sojourn was the most transportable bag for some reasons. The large wheels with soft rubber indeed made for a go-anywhere smooth ride. But the suspension backpack conversion — once we figured it out — was downright impressive. The bag, when set up correctly, feels like a proper backpack.
As we found, if you load your suitcase to the gills — as many of us do when given the opportunity — we would opt away from a spinner bag. The exception to that rule was the Briggs & Riley Baseline. We were quite impressed with its performance. But keep in mind, that performance out of a spinner bag comes at a hefty price. Our other high performers for this metric all have skateboard or oversized wheels — the Timbuk2 CoPilot, TravelPro Platinum Magna 2, the Eagle Creek Tarmac and the Burton Wheelie Double Deck.
The bottom of the barrel was well populated with spinners under the heavy load in testing. The smaller the spinner, the worse the bag performed. The diminutive spinners of the Lipault Original Plume and the Samsonite Omni PC were laughable, particularly for the Omni. Imagine an NFL linebacker on a 7-year-old's roller skates — that's about the level of practicality we are talking about. Rounding out the rest of the bottom were also spinners. The Rimowa Salsa Air, the Samsonite Aspire XLite, and the Delsey Helium Titanium.
As gear junkies do, we all enjoy seeing the latest and greatest tech in whatever we purchase. Some gadgets improve user experience and usability over the lifetime of a product, while others distract and impress us in ways only intended to last long enough to get the best of our wallets. Although the siren's call of unique features was strong with some bags, we weren't distracted away from the practical and though-inspired design of others. Ultimately, the features were assessed not only on novelty but on utility and whether we believed it would improve user experience with the bag.
The most impressive feature-laden bag of our review was the top-priced Briggs & Riley Baseline. The convenient suit-folder, clever cinch-down panels for restraining the bag, and simple add-a-bag system were more than we could have asked for. But the ratcheting expandable suitcase system was just plain cool. Necessary? Likely not for checked luggage. The other feature-rich bags, with a dash of simplistic restraint, were the TravelPro Platinum Magna 2, and the Eagle Creek Tarmac.
Although a lack of fancy gadgets didn't score a bag low, neglecting to offer practical features — or poor execution of standard features — certainly did. For instance, the Samsonite Omni PC provided only a hulking cavity to place your belongings within. Although one side provided a zippered panel, the other side only had an elastic banded strap. Underperforming wheels and carry handles added to the dismal performance. The only reason the Omni did not score lower was the integrated lock. The other poor performers were the Rimowa Salsa Air and the Lipault Original Plume.
Always a factor in just about any product we review, weight is critical when it comes to air travel. Limited by the airlines, a checked-bag is often restricted to a maximum 50-pounds payload, including the bag itself. For every pound a bag weighs, that's another pound of gear you're leaving behind, so you're left lightening your load — or your wallet with hefty overweight baggage fees. We found that the sweet-spot for most bags was right around the 10-pound mark. Any lighter, and you're seeing the degradation of durability and/or storage capacity. Any heavier, and you're losing valuable payload capacity.
When it comes to pure weight metrics, however, the worst performers overall were some of those we found to have the best weight, such as the Lipault Original Plume (6.7 lbs), the Osprey Ozone (5.0 lbs) and the Rimowa Salsa Air (7.5 lbs).
As for the heavyweights? The worst offenders were the Briggs & Riley Baseline (12.3 lbs), the Burton Wheelie Double Deck (11.3 lbs), and our Editors' Choice Timbuk2 CoPilot (10.7 lbs).
First and foremost, we all want a suitcase that lasts, carries as much stuff as possible and makes getting from Point A to Point B as painless as possible. But we'd be lying if style weren't a factor. Albeit, the least weighted metric in our performance testing, it makes a huge difference in product perception.
It became apparent fairly quickly that some companies had focused their efforts on looks, and looks alone. On another end of the spectrum, some bags were all function with fashion introduced as an afterthought. However, one didn't seem even to try. We dubbed the Lipault Original Plume the ugly duckling of this review — and no, it does not turn into a swan in other metrics.
The best-looking suitcases were the TravelPro Platinum Magna which won the Top Pick for Business Travel award, the Delsey Helium Titanium, and the Rimowa Salsa Air. These were the bags that consistently caught the eye of those we requested feedback from.
Unfortunately, good looks didn't always equate to good performance. In general, a bag with high marks for styling establishes a form with well thought out lines, consistency in looks when packed or unpacked, and well-proportioned features.
Few people look forward to purchasing luggage. In a virtual marketplace, it is exceedingly difficult to properly assess what you're getting. Determine what is most important to you when scouting for luggage for an upcoming trip: perhaps you have your favorite style of travel, or you've established a set budget. If budget is the key, keep an open mind as sales seem to run rampant in the luggage industry. When you're ready, use the results and reviews we've provided to determine if any models here fit your needs. If you're hungry for more, be sure to scope our our buying advice article. Bon voyage!
— Dave Eyvazzadeh