A cheapo, poorly-made carry-on travel bag is one big pain in the butt. We’ve all been there: a wheel falls off as you race to catch your connection. The bag swerves like a rogue supermarket cart as you make your way down the aisle. The zipper breaks.
As airlines continue to ratchet up baggage fees, finding a decent, hard-working carry-on bag is more essential than ever. No problem: The latest, high-performance carry-on luggage features some pretty cool stuff, including increased capacities, TSA-approved tech compartments, heavy-duty wheels with a 360-degree turning radius, lightweight, easy-hoisting materials, removable battery packs —
even built-in seats, laundry chutes, and personal tracking numbers hooked to a 24-hour customer service line. Here are some of our travel-tested favorites.
Note: If you want a carry-on that charges your devices with a lithium battery, be sure the battery is removable. For safety reasons, most major airlines now require that customers who travel with a smart bag must be able to remove the battery in case the bag has to be checked at some point in the journey.
The hard case Away Carry-On has a near-cult following, for good reason. This rugged bag is one of the best values on the market (the New York-based company sells direct to consumers, so it can keep prices down). It’s our go-to carry-on for most trips. It has an easy-to-remove battery that can charge your phone up to five times, a removable laundry bag, a tough polycarbonate exterior and 360-degree Hinomoto spinner wheels. Best of all: you can cram a lot of stuff in this baby! We’re light packers, so can easily fit everything we need for a week’s trip: rolled up clothes on one side, shoes and other hard stuff on the other. Then, you can crank it all down with the nifty compression system and fit in a little bit more. It’s smart; it’s stylish; it’s a bargain.
Specs: 38-liter capacity, 21.7 inches long by 13.7 inches wide by 9 inches deep, 7 pounds. Unbreakable exterior. Comes in navy, black, green, sand, asphalt, brick, white, and blush.
Pros: Lots of space, durable, lifetime warranty, great value
Cons: Handle is a little wobbly and sometimes gets stuck.
Do you crave organization, a place for everything, everything in its place? You’ll love the Genius Pack G3 22-inch Carry On Spinner, with tons of compartments and nifty features. There’s a separate, zip-out laundry bag, micro umbrella pop-out pocket, designated compartments for socks and undergarments, exterior pockets for a water bottle, passport, and magazines, and outside straps for your jacket and an additional personal item. And in case you’re the forgetful type, there’s an integrated packing checklist. The portable battery pack is TSA-friendly — easy to get at to remove if you have to. We could fit a week’s worth of stuff in it, and still hoist it in the overhead. It rolls nicely, too.
Specs: 44-liter capacity, 22 by 14 by 9 inches, 7.8 pounds. High strength nylon exterior. Comes in navy.
Pros: Lots of compartments, plenty of space
Cons: The battery and umbrella are sold separately, a little bulky
This well-established and well-regarded company has an expansive lineup of luggage. We tested the new Transcend Tall Carry-On Expandable Spinner, and boy did travel get easier. At first glance we doubted it would fit what we needed for a weeklong trip. No problem! And its clever, zipper-less expansion system (just pull on tabs to custom adjust the capacity) allowed us to pack in the stuff we bought along the way. The wheels are like greased lightning; the handle is soft and contoured, the zippers are smooth, and we like the interior compartments, including a cinched-in garment folder (shirts and skirts were wrinkle free), and the exterior pockets.
Specs: 36.8-46.6-liter capacity, 22 by 14 by 9 inches, 8.6 pounds. Fine weave nylon exterior. Comes in merlot, rain forest, and slate.
Pros: Smart and classy looking, adjustable space, high quality, lifetime warranty
Cons: No removable battery/charging station
It can be a backpack; it can be a roller; it can be one bag or it can morph into two. The new, patent-pending Morphus International Carry On is a brilliant system, billed as “the world’s largest carry on.” A separate, soft-sided backpack zips onto a standard roller suitcase, and is perfect for a traveler wanting lots of versatility. Say you’re traveling to Denver to meet friends in the city, and also planning to do a little hiking. Pack your city clothes and other stuff in the roller, and use the backpack to carry gear on your hiking days. Or, if you’re a shopper, you’ll need an extra bag to handle the goods on the return trip; this fits the bill. It’ll take a beating, too. We also tested the smaller, lightweight Expanse™ International Carry On (5.7 pounds, $189) and found it perfect for a quick outdoorsy weekend.
Specs: 35-liter backpack and 32-liter luggage piece, 20.5 by 13.75 by 9 inches, 7 pounds. Patented polycarbonate exterior. In asphalt black.
Pros: Versatile, great for outdoorsy types, large capacity, No Matter What™ Warranty
Cons: Takes a bit of maneuvering to separate the pieces, no removable battery/charging station
The aptly-named company is the choice for more than 90 airline companies and a slew of travel pros. We tested the popular Platinum® Magna™ 2 21-inch Expandable Spinner Suiter, a straightforward workhorse, built to last and designed for comfort. They’ve included all the things well-traveled folks will appreciate: a comfy, sturdy contoured handle, super easy-to-maneuver wheels that always roll straight, lots of accessory pockets, including a garment bag, and tough zippers. It also had the most space of the bags we tested. Pack smart (of course you do!) and with this trusted carry-on, you’ll never check a bag again.
Specs: 49.41-liter capacity, 23.75 by 14.75 by 9.5 inches, 7.9 pounds. High strength nylon exterior with patented stain- and abrasion-resistant coating. Comes in black, olive, charcoal gray and marsala red.
Pros: Rugged, high-quality components, lots of space, lifetime warranty
Cons: No removable battery/charging station
We loved the Smart Luggage 21-inch Carry-On. It’s easy to roll and easy to use, a lightweight (the lightest bag we tested), that we had no problem hoisting into the overhead bins. It has its own app, an integrated scale on the handle, TSA-approved lock that can be controlled remotely with a smartphone, and proximity alarms that alert you if you stroll too far away from the suitcase. Unlike other smart bags, this one is powered by two AAA batteries, so no worries at the gate about lithium battery safety and removal. There’s plenty of space inside, and it’s nice-looking too, with a sharp polycarbonate finish.
Specs: 42-liter capacity, 21 by 15 by 9 inches, 6.2 pounds. Tough polycarbonate exterior. Comes in black, silver, and burgundy.
Pros: Smart, spacious, and sleek
Cons: Minimal pockets and compartments
This longstanding German company, founded in 1898, was the first to introduce hard-sided aluminum luggage. Today, it offers a large array of models in both traditional aluminum and newer polycarbonate materials. We tested the polycarbonate Salsa 22-inch Cabin and it performed like a dream. If we smartly packed, we could load it with enough items to last about a week. The wheels glided, the zippers zipped. There’s a TSA-approved lock, but no added bells and whistles. A classic bag with quality workmanship.
Specs: 32-liter capacity, 21 by 15 by 10 inches, 10.1 pounds. Tough, high-quality polycarbonate exterior. Comes in multi-colors.
Pros: Durable, well-made
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.