Carry-on luggage isn’t exciting but essential for any travel pro. It took me two years of travel around the world until I decided to ditch the backpack in exchange for a carry-on luggage designed for the overhead. When you travel as much as we do, you want the best bag you can find to carry your garments. A lot comes down to finding the perfect-sized piece of luggage that fits the maximum-allowed carry-on dimensions.
Since switching to hard shell luggage, we haven’t looked back.
The best carry-on luggage should easily pack up to a week’s worth of clothes and have solid build quality. There are three types of luggage styles regarding carry-on. Those are the suitcase, carry-on backpack, and duffel bag. We’ve scoured the internet and tried out several bags, suitcases, and backpacks to generate this list of the best carry-on-approved luggage. That way, you get the right piece of luggage and make your next trip a breeze.
The Best Carry-On Luggage
Away — The Carry On
You’ve probably seen this bag on social media and the internet, as they’ve marketed heavily over the last couple of years. We even ran an ad with the bag several years ago on @theworldpursuit. After years of use on our travels, we can now confirm the bags live up to the hype.
Away has designed a lightweight and sleek bag that feels modern yet robust. It even comes with a lifetime guarantee that we believe will last. Like the rest of the luggage on this list, they use a polycarbonate shell that should stand up to most airfare and the rigors of travel. The exterior uses a textured shell to avoid scratches, a sturdy telescopic handle, and a TSA-approved lock. It comes in 9 attractive colors, so you’ll find your own unique
The bag falls into a mid-level bag with luxury touches such as leather embellishment, leather luggage tag, compression system, multiple zippered compartments, and a hidden laundry bag. A laundry bag that detaches and unfolds when needed is one of our favorite features, as it separates dirty and clean clothes. (Laundry bags are one of our favorite packing hacks)
Above all, it’s a stylish bag that can deliver essential features for your everyday travels. If you’re okay with spending around $300 on a bag, this is a great choice, and you’ll be more than happy with your purchase (Away offers a 100-day return policy). My one complaint would be the small wheels that feel a little small for the bag on rough surfaces.
eBags EXO 2.0 Hardside Spinner
This is the exact carry-on suitcase I have, and I love it. It’s my go-to carry-on luggage for international travel, and when I’m not using it, Cam is. The hard shell outer case ensures all your valuables are well protected. We travel with many fragile electronics, so we love having a bag with a tough outer shell. The bag opens at the center to two separate sides of compartments. Once there, it is so easy to stay organized with this bag.
There are two compartments within the bag, one designed for clothes with a compression system and the other for shoes, toiletries, and where we store our electronics. A nylon dirty clothes bag is included to separate clean from dirty and keep your clothes looking fresh.
We also love the bag’s security with a built-in TSA-approved lock. It’s also extremely stylish, looks great when traveling, and easily fits into overhead luggage space. The best part is you can buy this with checked bag components, making it one of the best luggage sets by eBags!
The interior features a divided nylon mesh lining and a clothes strap to keep things organized. We recommend picking up the complimentary eBags packing cubes. It comes in four attractive color options and three luggage sizes. The sizes range from a carry-on to a 29″ luggage. If I had to ding the bag, it is the lack of style; however, you receive tremendous value for a bag that performs well.
Delsey Helium Aero Carry On
This carry-on suitcase from Delsey is 100% polycarbonate and has terrific features from one of the top bag companies, Delsey. We own several bags from Delsey and love them for their quality and style. Helium Aero is one of Delsey’s most popular checked luggage choices due to its price point with a rigid shell and a high-gloss finish in various colors.
The four wheels are substantial and roll with ease on most surfaces. An aluminum handle with an ergonomic grip and multiple levels feels comfortable. On the exterior are essential features like a TSA-approved lock, expandable side zip, and rubber side handle.
The zippered divider keeps your items inside organized as a clamshell, and elastic straps keep packing cubes in place. The Helium comes in nine colors and three sizes that range from carry-on to a large checked bag. On top of all this, Delsey delivers a ten-year warranty on all their products at a reasonable price.
Travelpro Platinum Magna 2
This bag checks off every criterion you could ask for in a flight-approved bag. It’s durable yet features soft sides that are weather-sealed. A telescopic handle that is strong and locks well is sure to save you any grief.
Travelpro offers a tremendous lifetime warranty on the bag and will fix many problems, including airline negligence. A feature that will be sure to win over many is the suit fold-out storage for business travelers, making this bag the best carry-on luggage for business travel.
Overall, the build is quality, with the bag having tough YKK zippers that interlock and a water-resistant lining. Other interior designs include a mesh lid and accessory pockets to help organize toiletries. The Travelpro also comes at an affordable price for a bag designed to last a lifetime.
Briggs & Riley — TORQ Spinner
One look at this suitcase and you know that it was built to last. Brigs & Riley is known for their high quality and top-of-the-line suitcases that they deliver a lifetime guarantee to customers. TORQ offers a three-layer 100% Makrolon polycarbonate. The result is an exterior that supplies superior strength in a lightweight and futuristic package.
Its futuristic look sets apart from the rest of the wheeled checked luggage options. The shell serves more than just good looks, but supplies handholds that will keep your luggage safely in your hands or those of an airline employee, thus reducing risk of damage. A flared base is designed to keep the bag upright and resist the urge to tip over.
Other exterior features to note are a robust handle that can lift the suitcase, a TSA approved lock, sturdy wheels, and a rubber side handle. The interior operates differently than most bags on this list as it is not a strict clamshell. One side offers a massive interior with a compression strap and a small zippered compartment. On the reverse are a built-in garment bag, hanger for suits or blouses, and more organization.
Travelpro Maxlite Expandable Hardside Spinner
Looking for pink carry on luggage? This Travelpro bag is kind of cool (but still practical); it changes color in the light and depending on the viewing angle. If you do decide to check it rather than using it as a carry-on, it’ll be more easily identifiable. It’s also got a hard shell, and because of this, it’s incredibly lightweight. Its main compartment expands by two inches to cram just a little bit more into its already-roomy interior, and there’s an accompanying divider to maximize the use of space.
Spinner wheels and a side handle mean you can choose how you travel with this one. All the important features, like a secure lock and multiple interior compartments for the most sensible packing, are in place so you’ve got something super functional. Also it has so many organization compartments for little things making it a great contender for best carry on bag for a woman.
Tumi Osona Compact Carry-On
Compact is right; this little roller is definitely on the small side, but don’t be put off by its humble appearance. Though it’s much more compact, it’s ideal for shorter trips and is the perfect weekend luggage. The interior storage layout is optimized to make the most of the available space. The interior compartments can be zippered to be separate or opened up to create a single roomy interior.
Spinner wheels and an extendable handle make rushing around the airport a total breeze, and smaller means it’s definitely a little more lightweight. There are layers of storage on the exterior to keep smaller items like your laptop, wallet, keys, and things like documents secure but accessible.
There’s also a side-carry handle, because if you haven’t entirely filled this roller up, you might want to have the option to carry it by hand as opposed to dragging it along beside you. Tumi is a good luggage brand with a high price tag, so this bag is not for everyone.
Briggs & Riley Baseline-Softside Carry-On
By no means is this Briggs & Riley bag cheap carry on luggage, it is an awesome 2-in-1 carry-on and is approved for overhead compartment storage by all major US airlines. The reason for the high price point is the compression system. You can easily overstuff the bag, and then zip it up for compression making it the perfect carry on size again. It has a garment section and a more packing case-style section, so packing your clothing and your hardware (laptop, etc.) together is fully an option. The main compartment is also lockable, something any traveler will be grateful for when your bag is out of your sight.
The exterior fabric is abrasion and weather-resistant; thanks to this durability, dozens of reviewers have said that they’ve been using this bag for nearly a decade. This is definitely a buy-once-and-done kind of purchase. This is great because while it’s a bit on the pricier end of the spectrum, you can at least feel assured that you’re spending your money on something that will last for as long as you need it.
American Tourister — Moonlight
If you’re looking to save some money for your travels, then the American Tourister delivers one the cheapest suitcases on this list. The moonlight is a hard side suitcase that comes in a massive selection of colors and prints from $60 – $160. It all depends on the print and size, which ranges from 21″ to 28″.
It may be cheap luggage, but it still comes with some attractive features you can find in much higher priced pieces of luggage. The exterior is a hard case ABS plastic that should sustain most all but the hardest of impact. It has four single spinner wheels that roll well, but I do prefer the double wheels. The zipper comes with locking loops where you can use a third-party lock.
The suitcase has a polyester expandable interior with plenty of room for your clothes. A zippered divider with three pockets helps with the organization of your checked baggage. Don’t expect any fancy features like a guarantee, TSA Lock, polycarbonate exterior, or robust wheels. However, the moonlight has is reliable and comes in a wide variety of colors and prints.
Eagle Creek Tarmac Carry-On
This one is basically a backpack with all the fixings but turned into a rolling suitcase. That means extra exterior pockets with secure zips – super helpful for the bits and bobs you’d rather keep somewhere a little more accessible without the risk of theft. That’s not the only security feature, though; there’s a break-resistant lockable zipper to make sure nothing can be swiped when your bag is being handled.
The wheels are heavy-duty for more seamless rolling (no more struggles when you’re rolling down those cobbled streets in Europe!) and are resistant to abrasion and general wear and tear, so this carry on suitcase will last longer. This one also has quite a unique addition that a lot of bags don’t have: there’s an interior keyring that doubles as a bottle opener.
With so many features like a padded tablet sleeve, 3-ply polycarbonate back shell, zipper expansion capabilities, and Eagle Creek’s No Matter What™ Warranty, it’s one of the best carry on luggage for international travel.
The Best Carry On Backpacks
Osprey Farpoint/Fairview 40L
I’ve talked about the Farpoint/Fairview 55L before on this best travel backpacks post; however, the 55L is too big to be carry-on approved. In comes, the 40 liters sized version of the bag. It’s probably one of the best travel bags out there.
Extremely versatile and fully capable of being carried around on a back at length. The side handle on the bag is an added bonus, making it easy to grab out of an overhead bin and carry it off of a plane. Osprey is one of my favorite backpack companies because of their All Mighty Guarantee.
If you’re going on a backpacking trip we suggest you check out some of our favorite eco-friendly products for your next trip. The Osprey Farpoint is the men’s version of the bag, while the Fairview is the women’s version.
Peak Designs Travel Backpack
We just got this new backpack from Peak Design and so far I am in love! Peak Design makes some incredible products, but they have outdone themselves with this backpack.
The first thing I love is that the backpack is made from recycled plastic. It has plenty of interior and exterior organizational compartments, which is useful when traveling around Europe. There is an interior heavy-duty laptop compartment and plenty of space for rolled-up clothes. Unlike many other travel backpacks, Peak Design thankfully put a water bottle holder on the outside of this pack.
This bag has a weatherproof canvas shell, so none of your belongings should get wet if you get caught in a rainstorm. On top of that, it meets all international carry on size requirements, but expands to 45L and collapses to 35L. This beautiful, heavy-duty bag will be going with me on my next trip to Italy!
eBag TLS Mother Lode
This bag is described as spacious with plenty of organization to boot. It’s an easy contention for one of the best carry-on bags around if not for its comfortability. However, as I talked about previously there is no one solution fits all to finding a bag. This bag is tremendous for those looking to have a great bag to carry on the plane and then onto their hotel.
I wouldn’t plan on spending a few hours with the pack on because it may become uncomfortable. You can read more about our favorite carry on backpacks.
We’ve used eBags extensively for their awesome hard-side suitcases. They offer well thought out luggage that is of great quality. This carry on backpack is no exception with its multiple compartments, organization, laptop sleeve, and clamshell opening.
Topo Designs Travel Bag
Topo Designs launched their latest pack the Travel Bag and it’s a slam dunk for a carry on backpack and I used it on my last trip. The interior features double zipper U-entry, one large compartment, a medium-sized compartment, two small pockets, and two mesh pockets. The exterior features a rear laptop sleeve, a front compartment with organization and U-entry, a vertical pocket with organization, and exterior loops.
The exterior is heavy-duty nylon and the bag uses robust zippers that are the best we’ve seen on a travel backpack, albeit a bit clunky. When it comes to support, it has side handles on both sides of the backpack, a detachable shoulder strap, and backpack straps with a hip belt and chest strap. The support and straps are detachable and can be stored inside a zippered compartment for travel.
It’s a decent size at 40L and should be enough for minimalistic travelers in one season for multiple weeks. If you’re an adventure seeker and like to hike, the support system is lacking when compared to top-loading packs. The colors and style are also better suited for younger travelers, but it all depends on your style they offer a black if you prefer a more neutral bag we have the olive color pictured above.
Altogether this is would be my vote for the best carry on backpacks and I’ll be reaching for it on my next trip. It’s loaded with features, space, and has a lifetime guarantee.
The Best Carry On Duffel Bags
The North Face Base Camp Duffel
North Face has been making quality outdoor products for years. The Base Camp Duffel bag is practical and looks pretty freaking awesome. Made from super-tough material and soft-sided its “low-tech” in all the right ways. This bag is dead simple, made well, and tough as nails. This bag won’t let you down flying to London or climbing a mountain.
The opening is in the shape of a D and allows for easy access to the whole bag that way you don’t have to dig for your clothes. With two straps the bag can also be carried on your back making it quite the adventurers bag. It comes in a lot of sizes but makes sure to purchase the small if you’re looking for a carry on sized bag.
I love that the shoulder straps are plush and allow for the bag to be carried like a backpack. It’s made with a durable material that is both rugged and weather resistant. It’s everything I look for in a great duffel bag for travel. North Face also makes a version with wheels called the North Face Rolling Thunder.
Filson Medium Rugged Twill Duffel Bag
Filson delivers some beautiful products that have clear attention to detail that make for a gorgeous safari bag. Its unparalleled build quality gives us assurance the bag should last a lifetime or at the very least a decade.
The twill is very robust and durable able to resist stains and abrasion. It’s 43L is enough for a savvy packer, or you can opt for the large version at 73L. Our only complaint would be for a better internal organization.
Patagonia Black Hole
Have we mentioned that we love Patagonia before? We’re avid fans of the company’s products, and anyone big into outdoor adventure sports likely loves them, too. The Patagonia Black Hole bag is one of the largest of the Patagonia brand and is perfect for extensive travel.
The bag can pack down small when empty so it’s great to stick in your bag. It was also easy to stuff and organize, thanks to the large U-shaped zipper and two mesh pockets on the top flap. It’s also super lightweight, an important aspect we look for in our travel gear.
Buffalo Jackson Denver Waxed Canvas Bag
We love this canvas bag from Buffalo Jackson for another stylish canvas bag. It has a classic style and makes for a great weekend bag of small safari bag for short jaunts or bush flights. The waxed canvas is paired nicely with full-grain leather for a great look.
Elements of the Perfect Piece of Carry On Luggage
There are two main measurements to look at in regards to size for best cabin luggage. That is the capacity for backpacks and duffel bags and size for the traditional suitcase. A great size for space capacity on travel luggage would be 40L. This is a standard size in many backpacks and duffel bags.
The best carry on suitcases have maxed out around 22 inches in length. Both of these sizes will ensure you have as much packing space as possible while fitting overhead requirements. For reference, the standard carry on bag should fit these measurements: 9 in x 14 in x 22 in (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm) including the wheels and handles.
There is a lot of nice design changes each type of luggage is seeing these days. Features I love on a traditional rolling suitcase are four wheels, reinforced padding, and divided storage. Four wheels instead of two are amazing useful because you can rotate the bag and roll down an airplane aisle. You also can conveniently walk with the carry on luggage upright instead of on a slant.
One feature that will make most business travelers drool is a large fold-out suit compartment offered by our favorite suitcases. We also love waterproof canvas materials in duffel bags and straps to throw on your back. Whfront-loading backpacks will make packing and unpacking a breeze.
Material – Hard Luggage vs Soft Luggage
You need to make your mind up on hard shell luggage or a soft-sided bag. Personally, I love to travel with hardside luggage because it looks sleeker and is super durable. It’s important that any piece of carry on luggage you choose should be decent quality material and ideally water resistant. Hard shell cases do tend to be more difficult to fit in overhead compartments though; however, they’re guaranteed to protect your valuables.
We’re also pretty big safari nuts and you can’t bring most hard case luggage on a small Cessna plane. Safari operators prefer duffel bags as they can be thrown around and squished any and which way.
Honestly, the material of our bags often depends on where in the world we’re going. For city jaunts and hopping around Europe we go with hard shells, but in developing nations and more adventurous trips, we go for soft-sided because the bags look less valuable and can be picked up and thrown around easier.
How you get your carry on bag from A to B matters. We like a suitcase with a telescopic handle and a side handle for lifting. These are also aspects to look for in a great backpack and duffel bag. Many travel orientated backpacks these days have a handle on the side that allows you to carry through the airport or throw in an overhead compartment.
4 Wheels vs. 2 Wheels
It’s important to look at the wheels before buying any carry on luggage. The standard 2 wheels are a bit outdated and are for people who want to pull their suitcase behind them. These bags are typically cheaper for the inconvenience.
4 wheels are called “spinners” because they can be spun in all directions and give you full control. I love spinners because I can easily walk upright with them and I don’t have to drag anything behind me. It honestly can get very heavy on your arm if you are pulling a bag behind you for too long!
Smart luggage is a bit of a new term and refers to all the fancy extras in a bag that aren’t needed but are a nice add on that makes traveling more convenient. Things like power banks and USB chargers for your phone, TSA approved locks, and electronic baggage tags are smart luggage. You’ll pay more for many of these features, so it’s up to you to determine if it is worth it.
Personally, I love the TSA approved lock – it gives me a great piece of mind knowing someone is not rummaging through my stuff. I have had bags with USB chargers, but have honestly never ever used them.
In addition, many American airlines have banned the USB chargers’ lithium-ion batteries. Many airlines will check and have you remove the battery and carry it on yourself. So if you do opt for a smart suitcase make sure the battery is removable.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get low.
- Book a Rental Car: We use Discover Car to book all our rental cars! You can also read our top tips for renting a car abroad here.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.
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