The right piece of carry-on luggage offers enough space for a multi-day excursion and saves the hassle (and expense) of checking bags. In short, it’s a must-have for serious travelers. Unfortunately, if your carry-on bag pops a zipper, breaks a wheel, or snaps a handle while you’re en route, you’re in for a difficult trip.
There’s nothing worse than navigating a foreign country with a broken suitcase. We looked through the most popular luggage options available to find affordable options that are durable enough for regular use. Here’s what we found; we’ve also included a brief buying guide at the end of this piece with other considerations that travelers should keep in mind when purchasing carry-ons.
The Best Carry On Luggage
This luggage set has plenty of luxury features (but without a luxury-level price tag). The larger bag has a comfort-grip retractable handle, three organizational pockets, and in-line skate wheels with stability bars for smooth movement. The carry-on tote has a full-interior lining, a detachable non-slip shoulder strap, and heavy-duty hardware.
It’s available in a variety of colors and patterns, many of which are brightly colored for easy identification at a distance (useful if you end up checking a bag on a packed flight). Given that similarly equipped luggage sets often cost hundreds of dollars, this is an outstanding deal for flyers on a budget.
- Affordable luggage set with quality construction
- Telescoping handle and wheels allow for easy movement
- Carry-on tote has several compartments and seems durable
- Tote is slightly small and might not fit some laptops
- Upright isn’t well balanced and will fall forward when tote is placed on top
- More than a dozen color/pattern options
- Telescoping handle, inline skate wheels, and a fully lined interior
- Upright bad expandable by 2 inches
- Manufactured with heavy-duty 600-denier fabric
- Includes locks and keys
- Brand: Fox Luggage
- Dimensions (upright): 19 x 13 x 7.5 inches
- Dimensions (tote): 14 x 11 x 5.5 inches
First things first: For a designer carry-on suitcase, the Out of Bounds from Kenneth Cole is remarkably affordable. You’ll pay a little more than you would for, say, an AmazonBasics model (which we’ll cover in a moment), but this is still an outstanding bargain.
We looked at the 20-inch model, which is perfectly sized for a carry-on piece. (Larger models and two- and three-piece sets are also available). The sleek design helps to keep the weight down to a little over 6 pounds, and molded corner guards prevent common dings and dents. Overall, the Out of Bounds is a handsome, convenient piece of luggage at a fair price.
- Thin (but sturdy) hard shell with reinforced corners
- Sleek, attractive design from a well-known brand
- Spinner wheels navigate easily in tight spaces
- Won’t expand for luggage stuffing
- Not a lot of built-in internal organization
- Four multi-directional wheels allow for 360-degree movement
- Separated interior compartments for easier packing
- Garment restraint straps
- Molded corner guard reinforcements for impact resistance
- Sturdy telescoping handle operates with a simple push button
- Lightweight, water-resistant hard shell surface
- Manufacturer offers a 10-year limited warranty
- Brand: Heritage-Kenneth Cole Luggage
- Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.5 x 8.5 inches; 6.25 pounds
AmazonBasics is known for affordable, effective products that get the job done without flashy branding. In that sense, the Hardside Spinner carry-on luggage is par for the (con) course. At 21.6 inches tall (including wheels), this case fits neatly into the carry-on limits of most domestic U.S. and international flights.
The manufacturer assures us that this product has been fully tested to ensure that the handle holds up, the wheels roll smoothly, and the zipper will last. There are a few reviews that mention broken handles or wheels, but for the most part, consumer response has been overwhelmingly positive.
- Great ratio of affordability and effectiveness
- Spinner wheels turn on a dime
- Organized interior with expandable capacity
- ABS plastic isn’t as durable as materials in some competing models
- Generic design isn’t for the fashion-conscious
- Extra-thick ABS plastic shell
- Interior capacity of up to 39 liters
- Four double-spinner wheels
- Slightly expandable for extra 15 percent capacity
- Telescoping handle
- Larger sizes and 2- and 3-piece sets also available
- Brand: AmazonBasics
- Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.9 x 10 inches; 7.34 pounds
If you're a frequent traveler, it is worth the extra money to invest in a superior piece of luggage, and Travelpro offers exceptional quality ready for every adventure you plan. Their Maxlite 5 carry on only weights 5.4 pounds, leaving plenty of the remaining TSA weight restriction open for actual belongings and souvenirs. The ergonomic PowerScope handle, four 360-degree spinner wheels, and low profile top and side handles ensures fluid, easy handling from leaving your bedroom to being tucked away into the plane's overhead bin.
While not hard shelled, the duraguard coated high density nylon is both water and stain resistant, and the softsided design allows for two exterior compartments and side accessory pocket, making accessing necessities at the airport a breeze. For international travelers, a 19 inch carry on is also available.
- Lightweight design with plenty of exterior organization
- Quality materials and durable construction
- One year promise to cover repair costs from airline damage
- Might not pass size restrictions on some domestic flights (or moody gate agents)
- Heftier price tag than other items on list
- Aluminum PowerScope handle with rubberized contour grip
- Duraguard coated high density nylon exterior
- Two exterior compartments with side accessory pocket
- Tapered expansion for up to 2 inches more packing room without making bag top heavy
- Multiple color options
- Limited Lifetime Warranty with trusted companion promise
- Brand: Travelpro
- Dimensions: 23 x 14.5 x 9 inches; 5.4 pounds
Hardshell suitcases give you peace of mind while traveling, and this TSA-ready locking suitcase from Coolife is no exception. It features a two-year warranty, quiet spinner wheels, and a three-level telescoping handle made from lightweight aluminum.
The ABS+PC plastic shell should stand up to serious abuse, and the three-digit combination lock keeps your valuables secure during your travels (the lock is openable by a TSA master key, so you shouldn’t have issues getting through checkpoints). The fully lined interior has mesh pockets and a zippered divider, allowing for easier organization.
Three size options are available, but note that the smallest option is the only piece that qualifies as a carry-on.
- TSA-approved lock keeps interior secure
- ABS and polycarbonate hard shell plastic won’t damage easily
- Quiet spinner wheels allow for tight maneuvering
- Not as many organizational pockets as other options
- Carry-on size is not expandable
- Strong ABS and polycarbonate hard plastic shell
- Fully-lined interior, with multiple organizational pockets
- Adjustable, pure aluminum telescoping handle
- Four spinner wheels allowing 360 degrees of motion
- Manufacturer offers a 2-year limited warranty
- Brand: Coolife
- Dimensions: 21 x 15 x 8.5 inches; 6.38 pounds
Ben Sherman is a classic name in men’s fashion. With the Nottingham luggage collection, this designer brand brings its unique style to an airline near you. Available in six dignified colors and decorated with a crosshatch plaid pattern, this is one suitcase you won’t lose among a bunch of look-alikes.
But how does it function? A two-point locking telescoping handle, 4-wheel spinners for effortless guiding, molded reinforced corners, and ABS constructed hard case checks off all the basic requirements. The lightweight design allows for a little extra packing weight, and the fully lined interior with u-shaped mesh zippered pocket and smaller side pocket aids in organization.
- Plaid shell design is easily recognizable
- Durable telescoping handle with two locking positions
- Wheels attach directly to the case rather than an external frame
- Interior design limits capacity compared to some models
- Flexible top and side handles make carrying comfortable
- Self-repairing zippers ensure longer zipper life
- Lightweight but durable design
- Simple but elegant design with variety of color options
- Manufacturer offers a 10-year limited warranty
- Brand: Ben Sherman
- Weight/Dimensions: 22 x 14.5 x 10 inches; 7.31 pounds
This carry-on bag from Steve Madden combines one of the toughest shells in the business with a fashion template that’s red-carpet ready. Of course, you’ll pay a little more for these benefits, but if you have a little extra in your luggage budget, this is a great choice.
Pick from three striking designs, each guaranteed to stand out in the overhead compartment. This is a fully enclosed, hard-side suitcase. That means it offers incredible protection for contents, but it also means you won’t be able to pack in more than it can comfortably handle. Spinner wheels and a comfortable telescoping handle make this bag easy to carry anywhere.
- Very stylish option with quality materials
- Hard shell case keeps your stuff secure
- Eight spinner wheels allow for great maneuverability
- One of the more expensive options on this list
- Designs might not appeal to all
- ABS and polycarbonate scratch-resistant hard plastic shell
- Ergonomic telescoping handle
- Eight spinner wheels allowing 360 degrees of motion
- Molded corner guards for additional impact resistance
- Manufacturer offers a 5-year limited warranty
- Brand: Steve Madden
- Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.5 x 9 inches; 7.1 pounds
Carry On Luggage Buying Guide
When buying any type of luggage, you’ll want to look closely at dimensions, materials, and other factors that could affect functionality. Trust us; we’ve tried to pack our things into a broken piece of luggage minutes before a 14-hour international flight, and it’s not exactly a fun process.
Here’s everything you need to know when choosing carry-on luggage.
Size Requirements for Carry-Ons
Generally speaking, for domestic flights, carry-on bags can be no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches. That includes handles and wheels. If your bag is slightly larger, nobody’s going to stop you with a tape measurer at the gate, but be aware of the requirements when booking your trip.
International flights often have stricter limitations, and you’ll need to check with your airline to see if your luggage qualifies. Note that many international airlines have luggage weight requirements (typically allowing a maximum weight of 15 pounds) in addition to size restrictions.
Personal items (totes, laptop bags, and the like) must fit under an airline seat, but again, exact dimensions vary greatly from one airline to the next. Generally speaking, if your personal item is less than 18 x 14 x 8 inches, you’re good to go, but check with your airline before embarking on your trip.
Carry-On Luggage Durability
Consumer Reports conducted a survey on luggage preferences, with nearly 60 percent of the respondents saying that durability was among the most important features they required for a carry-on case.
While hardshell exteriors are an important feature of overall durability, the pieces most likely to fail are those under stress: zippers, handles, and wheels.
- Decent-sized metal zippers are essential for luggage. Look for “self-repairing” or “self-healing” models. This design allows you to simply unzip and rezip to close teeth that have disengaged from each other.
- You want handles that don’t wiggle or shift when you grasp them. That’s a good indicator of stability. As for extended-length handles, telescoping models should retract smoothly and entirely into the interior of the bag. Non-telescoping long handles are more vulnerable to damage.
- Many travelers prefer four-wheeled, “spinner” arrangements for their 360-degree maneuverability. Unlike many two-wheel, non-swiveling models, though, spinner wheels must be mounted externally rather than recessed into the bag’s frame, exposing them to more stress in the cabin.
Of course, usage will affect a bag’s lifespan. To get the most out of your luggage, avoid over-stuffing to limit stress on zippers and other enclosures. Avoid treating the bag roughly. You might not have any control over luggage handlers tossing your checked bags, but with carry-ons, gentle use (and the resulting reliability) is up to you.