10 Best Carry-On Bags for Every Traveler

Dara Continenza, February 26, 2014
Fares from Washington DC:

    These days, everyone has a carry-on bag. After domestic airlines began raking in billions in checked-bag fees in 2008, the amount of passengers packing carry-ons soared, according to TSA statistics. This means the carry-on market has exploded. Every major luggage retailer now offers multiple carry-on models in multiple sizes, each with an exhaustive list of features and configurations. So which one is best for you? In-line vs. spinner wheels? Collapsible vs. hard-sided? Lightweight vs. ultralightweight? Buckles? Ballistic material?

    Don't get overwhelmed, travelers. We've narrowed down dozens of bags to come up with this list of 10 exemplary carry-on options. We schlepped these suitcases on public transportation and airplanes and through security and customs, packed them and lifted them over our heads, and careened with them at full-speed around sharp corners. Of course, luggage is not one-size-fits-all, so we took into account several criteria, including height, weight, maneuverability, and all the bells and whistles—from TSA-approved combination locks to high-performance materials—when devising this list.

    Best of all, each of these bags comes in at $300 or under (and some are way under; think $80 or less). Further markdowns can always be found via Amazon, eBags, and other discount retailers, so before you buy at full price, do some Internet sleuthing for the best possible deal.

    What's our recommendation for you? Click through for the 10 best carry-on bags for each type of traveler.

    (Photo: Delsey)

    Delsey Helium Breeze 4.0 Carry-on Expandable Spinner Suiter Trolley

    Best for: The organizational genius

    The Good: This bag, from iconic French brand Delsey, was one of our favorites for its organizational features. Somewhat lightweight but still remarkably durable, it gets its shape and sturdy stature from its tough ballistic material. A padded laptop sleeve on the front of the bag makes it easy to pack your gadgets (and remove them for inspection in the TSA security line). An easy-to-access compartment at the bottom of the bag seamlessly stores toiletries or dirty laundry, while the interior contains multiple mesh pockets: perfect for the hyperorganized.

    The Iffy: When in use, the laptop sleeve can make the bag front-heavy and liable to tip. Also, the bag's spinner wheels may stick out of the airplane's overhead compartment, so you'll need to stow this Delsey sideways (or risk it not fitting on a super-crowded flight).

    Weight: 8.75 lb.

    Dimensions: 20.5" x 14" x 9.5"

    List Price: $300 via Delsey.com

    (Photo: Briggs & Riley)

    Briggs & Riley Explore 19 Upright

    Best for: The sporty tourist

    The Good: One of the lighter models on our list, this upright bag by Briggs & Riley is durable beyond belief. The combination of high-grade ripstop and packcloth nylon and moisture-resistant mesh makes this featherweight fighter worthy in any weather, while an expandable slash pocket stores anything you might need in-flight, from books to a light jacket. The multiple top and side handles were a favorite feature and made the bag easy to lift from any angle. Briggs & Riley offers a lifetime warranty on all of its bags, even covering damage done by airlines.

    The Iffy: You won't make any "Best-Dressed Traveler" lists with this bag; in fact, at rest, this Briggs & Riley model looks like a sporty, utilitarian backpack (no thanks to its neon-orange interior). Also, this bag has in-line, not spinner, wheels, which limit its maneuverability.

    Weight: 6.8 lb.

    Dimensions: 19" x 14" x 9"

    List Price: $280 via Briggs-Riley.com

    (Photo: Antler)

    Antler Camden Town 2.0 22" Carry-on Wheeled Upright

    Best for: The kid in you

    The Good: This lightweight, hard-sided model from Antler reminded us of hard candy. A brightly colored polycarbonate shell encases a roomy interior with just the right number of mesh compartments for most travelers. At just under seven pounds and with some of the smoothest spinner wheels in the bunch, the Camden Town model is easy to maneuver. This bag is made for the fashionable weekend warrior who scoffs at dull utilitarianism: It comes in a high-gloss palette (lime, orange, pink, and slate) … with an equally bright 10-year warranty.

    The Iffy: The handle is not the best or sturdiest of the bunch, as it's made from very light aluminum. And the colors may be a bit perky for the subdued traveler.

    Weight: 6.8 lb.

    Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 9"

    List Price: Regularly $340, on sale for $169.99 on AntlerUSA.com and $119 on LordandTaylor.com

    (Photo: Biaggi)

    Biaggi Contempo 22" Foldable Spinner Carry-on

    Best for: The apartment dweller

    The Good: We've reviewed the Contempo bag before, and we love it still for its foldable design and scratch-resistant nylon material. This kicky collapsible and expandable bag from Biaggi folds down to 50 percent of its size for easy storage in tiny hotel rooms, cruise cabins, or city flats. The telescoping handle is sturdy, while the smooth-as-butter spinner wheels make this one of the most maneuverable bags on our list (and a joy to glide with through America's busiest airports). The interior is surprisingly spacious, with light, elastic straps that don't add a bit of bulk to your folded clothes.

    The Iffy: A little bit pricey with an MSRP of more than $200, this cool bag sits squarely in the "splurge-worthy" category. Also, despite its much-lauded foldable factor, it's not exactly lightweight.

    Weight: 8.4 lb.

    Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 11"

    List Price: Regularly $229.99, on sale for $149.49 on Biaggi.com

    (Photo: Samsonite)

    Samsonite Hyperspace 21.5" Carry-on Spinner

    Best for: The perennially late

    The Good: This Samsonite was far and away the easiest to operate in a crowded, chaotic space. Virtually tip-proof and with one of the most comfortable locking handles on our list, the Hyperspace's effortless mobility is a real boon on a tight connection (or if you're running out the door 30 minutes late). The fully lined interior is ample, owing to the bag's unique trapezoidal configuration, and two small exterior pockets are handy for last-minute items. Stain- and water-resistant fabric adds to its appeal, in case you're likely to spill your latte as you dash to your departure gate.

    The Iffy: Despite its steerability, this Samsonite, at a little more than nine pounds, is the heaviest bag on our list, and aside from its shape, it's not particularly innovative. Like other spinner bags, it may be a tight squeeze in some overhead compartments.

    Weight: 9.3 lb.

    Dimensions: 21.5" x 14.75" x 8.0"

    List Price: Regularly $400, on sale for $99.99–$124.90 on Samsonite.com and $124.90 on Amazon

    (Photo: Victorinox)

    Victorinox CH 22 Expandable U.S. Carry-on

    Best for: The fearless adventurer

    The Good: Swiss outfitter Victorinox is known for high-performance adventure-travel goods, and few of its luxe uprights are priced under the $300 mark. Luckily, this expandable carry-on is one of the brand's more wallet-friendly options. Easily tucked into an overhead compartment, the slim, wheeled bag has pockets galore (we counted five inside and out) as well as exterior compression straps to secure the bag's contents (good for bumpy flights or Jeep rides to your campsite). Made from patented fabrics Teleolon and Versatek, this wheelie is as rugged as it is practical.

    The Iffy: Due to its lack of dedicated laptop storage, this bag is not for those traveling with lots of tech devices. Its unremarkable in-line wheels are also not likely to convert any spinner fans.

    Weight: 7.7 lb.

    Dimensions: 22" x 15" x 7.5"

    List Price: Regularly $500, on sale for $249.99 on SwissArmy.com

    (Photo: IT Language)

    IT Luggage World's Lightest 4-Wheel Carry-on

    Best for: The lightweight among us

    The Good: IT Luggage set out to design the world's lightest bags, and indeed, they've produced a winning line of ultralight, supremely mobile suitcases. Now in its second generation, the World's Lightest 4-Wheel Carry-On combines high-density polyester with a strong but lean fiberglass frame. (In a recent review, one of our editors said it was so weightless that her one-year-old could drag it around.) With in-line wheels, extra features are scarce on this inexpensive bag. But, at a paltry 3.5 pounds, this suitcase weighs less than most airport burritos.

    The Iffy: We'd be wary of checking this bag, as it lacks the structural integrity and pocket storage of a heavier suitcase. And, somewhat annoyingly, its wide handle means you may not be able to secure an additional purse or personal item on top.

    Weight: 3.5 lb.

    Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 8.7"

    List Price: Regularly $180, on sale for $59.99 on eBags.com

    (Photo: Lipault Paris)

    Lipault 22" 2-Wheeled Foldable Carry-on

    Best for: The traveler with tight space and a tighter budget

    The Good: This Lipault is a smart alternative to the Biaggi Contempo, clocking in at $40 cheaper, and, at just five pounds and change, it's a full three pounds lighter than its pricier alternative. Foldable, this carry-on easily fits into its PVC storage bag for out-of-sight, out-of-mind stowing. The high-grade nylon twill material is soft, pliable, and easy to wipe clean of dirt or grime. Surprisingly, the zippers and aircraft-grade aluminum handle were among the sturdiest we tried, despite the relatively lightweight nature of the bag's materials. And a cute color palette gives this bag a stylish flair.

    The Iffy: With its slightly tapered shape, there is less room at the top of the bag, so it requires careful packing. The interior isn’t sizeable, either, with minimal pockets, and the in-line wheels give the Biaggi an edge over this Lipault when it comes to maneuverability.

    Weight: 5.3 lb.

    Dimensions: 21.6'' x 14.2'' x 7.9''

    List Price: Regularly $189, on sale for $139.99 on Lipault-US.com

    (Photo: Osprey)

    Osprey Ozone 22"

    Best for: The utilitarian traveler

    The Good: This duffel wouldn't be caught dead with your gym bag. Ultralightweight at 4.5 pounds, the 22" Ozone by adventure outfitter Osprey is a sleek, resilient bag that features some of the smartest packing modules we've found: four external and three internal pockets perfect for stowing toiletries and small necessaries. The aluminum chassis is light and the ergonomic handle makes for a comfortable grip. While it lacks spinner wheels, the Osprey's polyurethane in-line wheels are smooth, low profile, and relatively easy to maneuver around tight corners.

    The Iffy: Despite its countless pockets, there's no laptop storage, keeping this bag decidedly analog. And $200 is a lot to pay for a duffel-style bag with not-so-fancy wheels.

    Weight: 4.5 lb.

    Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 9"

    List Price: $229 via REI.com

    (Photo: American Tourister)

    American Tourister Luggage Splash 21" Upright Suitcase

    Best for: The kid, the budget traveler, and the minimalist

    The Good: American Tourister, now under the Samsonite umbrella, has been designing inexpensive bags since 1933 and is by now a bit of a heritage brand. The experience shows. While the Splash line lacks some of the nifty innovations and chichi materials of the flashy new luggage brands, this 21-inch bargain bag had one of the most generous interiors that we tested, with an expandable main compartment that added to its depth. The polyester fabric comes in kid-friendly turquoise or magenta. Aside from that and Samsonite's 10-year warranty, the bells and whistles are pretty nil.

    The Iffy: The handle was frustratingly flimsy, although we loved its padding. This bag also tipped right over with one heavy item inside. We doubt the Splash holds up as long as pricier models, but for so little money, it's not a bad deal.

    Weight: 8.2 lb.

    Dimensions: 21" x 14.5" x 8"

    List Price: Regularly $140, on sale for $49.99 on eBags.com

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    This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Best Carry-on Bags for Every Traveler.

    Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

    (Lead Photo: Smarter Travel)