Picking a go-to carry-on bag has become a science. With airlines continually upping the number of people and luggage on their planes, carry-on sizes have become smaller and more strictly enforced. And with the high price of checked luggage, you always want to make the most of that carry-on space with a great bag and smart packing.
When picking a carry-on bag, you have a few things to consider. The first is what you’ll be using the bag for, be it business, vacations, weekend trips, etc.
Second, be sure to pick a bag that works for both domestic and international flights if you plan on leaving the country. The TSA recommends keeping your carry-on under 22 x 14 x 9 inches for domestic flights, but international flights (and especially inter-European budget flights) have more strict carry-on rules. For those, something around 18-20 inches is a good idea. Here are the carry-on measurements for some of the most popular airlines, both domestic and international (as of May 2020):
- United Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
- Spirit Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
- Southwest Airlines: 24 x 16 x 10 inches
- American Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
- Frontier Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
- JetBlue Airway: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
- Qatar Airways: 20 x 15 x 10 inches
- Cathay Pacific: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
- RyanAir: 15.7 x 9.8 x 7.8 inches
- EasyJet: 22 x 17.7 x 9.8 inches
You also need to decide on a material (hardshell, softshell, leather, etc) and bag type (rollers, backpacks and duffels are the most popular options in 2020). Read on to learn more about the four distinct types of carry-on suitcases as well as their advantages and disadvantages.
Hardshell Carry-On Suitcases
Hardshell suitcases are the most popular type of carry-on at the moment. They are usually rolling luggage with a hard, plastic or metal exterior. Hardshell bags are great if you need some extra protection for your stuff, but they’re more restrictive if you want to squeeze some extra socks in.
Pros: Hardshell carry-ons look super sleek and offer protection to your travel gear in the overhead bin.
Cons: This type of suitcase offers little give, so you won’t be able to add an extra pair of pants to an already full bag.
Softshell Carry-On Suitcases
Softshell carry-on suitcases were more popular years ago. Instead of a hard, plastic exterior, softshell cases feature fabric on the sides. These suitcases can still boast wheels, but some may need to be carried by a handle. Softshell bags actually tend to last longer with more durable materials, but they can leave your belongings unprotected from drops.
Pros: Softshell cases are built to last thanks to their durable materials. They are also slightly expansive, allowing you to pack more when necessary.
Cons: These suitcases aren’t as protective as hardshell cases. They also don’t look quite as fashionable.
Duffel bags look something like a gym bag but bigger. These bags can be made out of a variety of materials, including fabric, plastic or leather, and they are usually carried over the shoulder. Because most don’t feature wheels, duffel bags are most useful for weekends away when you won’t be packing loads of clothes to haul from point A to point B.
Pros: Duffel bags are usually durable and flexible, allowing you to cram them into small spaces for the next several years.
Cons: These bags can be awkward to carry, and their soft sides won’t protect your stuff inside.
Backpacks designed to be airplane carry-ons feature a similar look to that of a school child’s bag but with features for adults. Some of these backpacks have built-in spaces for laptops, charging docks and a variety of pockets for easy packing. They sit comfortably on the wearer’s back, keeping hands free during the journey through the airport. However, most travel backpacks aren’t as big as a rolling carry on bag, meaning you’ll sacrifice packing space for comfort.
Pros: Backpacks free up your hands for the journey and also have a variety of pockets, including some built to protect laptops, tablets and other electronics.
Cons: Most backpacks aren’t as spacious as carry-on suitcases, and some users may feel the fact that they are top loading isn’t convenient for packing or unpacking.
To help with the carry-on bag search, we rounded up 15 of the very best bags for every taste, need and budget. Whatever your bag preference is, we’ve got it below.
1. Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside
Samsonite has been killing the luggage game for over 100 years. No matter where you’re going or what you’re taking, their Winfield hardshell is a great carry-on option. It features a durable polycarbonate build that will keep your belongings protected, four multi-directional wheels for easy navigation around the airport, and a lock to prevent theft. It comes highly-rated on Amazon with almost 4,000 reviews and 4.2 stars thanks to its lightweight build and a professional, high-quality appearance.
2. AmazonBasics Softside Carry-On
If you’re a light packer, or you just need a carry-on for overnight trips, grab this carry-on from AmazonBasics. At just 18 inches, it’s about the slimmest carry-on you’ll find, making your whole trip smoother if you normally lug around a suitcase that’s bigger than it has to be. Plus, if you ever need more space, the bag expands 25% to fit more stuff (i.e. those new shoes you bought on vacation).
3. Inateck 40L Travel Backpack
Many travelers are making the switch from roller carry-on bags to backpacks, and we think it’s definitely worth considering. They’re great for taking public transit to and from the airport, and they come in especially handy on suitcase-wrecking cobblestone. We suggest this one from Inateck because it’s spacious with 40L of storage, but a lightweight build and an ergonomic weight distribution make the load easier to carry all day. The pockets are set up for travel with a compartment on the strap for travel documents, a hidden back pocket and plenty of space for both clothes and gadgets.
4. Kenneth Cole Reaction Out Of Bounds Carry-On
The Kenneth Cole Reaction Out Of Bounds Carry-On sure does stand out from the crowd thanks to its eye-catching colors. The suitcase was designed to help you carry as much as possible in its two fully lined compartments for an organized approach to packing. At only 6.25 pounds, this hardshell carry-on is lightweight and boasts a telescopic handle, four 360-degree wheels and side and top carry handles for easy retrieval of your bag from the overhead bins. Speaking of which, this bag is carry-on approved by almost all major domestic and international airlines.
5. Rockland Luggage Carry-On Set
Shopping for a carry-on with a tight budget? At $28 this Rockland luggage set is the best deal you’ll find — even if it didn’t include a separate tote bag. It’s quite small at 19 inches, but that’s enough space if you’re just bringing a few outfits. Plus, even though the bag is incredibly inexpensive, you don’t have to worry about quality. The bag has over 5,700 reviews and a four-star average, with users noting the bags’ durable, lasting construction.
6. DELSEY Paris Helium Aero Hardside Luggage
BEST DUAL COMPARTMENT
DELSEY Paris is quickly becoming known for producing incredibly durable cases that can withstand years of use. Their carry-on features an innovative design with two packable compartments. The bigger of the two sits at the back to hold the majority of your gear, while the smaller, front-loading pocket could carry additional clothing or your books, tablet and travel essentials. The bigger compartment boasts a TSA-approved combination lock, and the double spinner wheels ensure you’ll feel no weight in your wrists when pulling the bag behind you.
7. American Tourister Moonlight Luggage
American Tourister has been making luggage since 1933, and you can tell all of that experience and knowledge has gone to work designing the Moonlight Hardside Expandable Luggage. At 21 inches, it fits within most airlines’ carry-on restrictions, and it boasts four spinner wheels as well as a telescopic handle. But, the best part is that this case is expandable by 1.5 inches. If you’re a habitual over-packer, this may be the right choice of carry-on luggage for you.
8. Rockland Luggage Melbourne Carry On
MOST COLOR OPTIONS
Luggage doesn’t have to be a sea of black and navy. This highly-rated carry-on bag (also from Rockland) comes in 35 colors to match any personal style to help you stand out at the airport. It’s made of a durable, lightweight ABS, so it delivers utility-wise as well as stylistically.
9. LEVEL8 Luggage Hardside Carry-On
BEST FOR TRAVELING WITH A LAPTOP
Traveling carry-on only with a laptop can be problematic. If you have a rolling suitcase, you’ll have to put your laptop in its own bag or in a purse, unless you have the LEVEL8 Luggage Hardside Carry-On. This suitcase features an exterior, front-loading pocket designed to protect your laptop. It can hold devices up to 15.6 inches and also has space for all your computer accessories. The main compartment has plenty of space for all your clothes and is protected by TSA-approved locks. It’s also important to note that the suitcase is made from a lightweight yet durable PC+ABS material to protect all of its contents.
10. IT Luggage 2 Wheel Carry-On
Carry-on weight might not seem like a big deal, but when you’re lifting your bag up to that overhead compartment, every pound counts. If you want to be as light as possible, these rollers from IT Luggage are the way to go. They lead the industry in lightweight options, with the carry-on coming in at just 3.81 pounds. This makes the whole travel day much easier — from bussing to the airport to finding your Airbnb.
7. Viosi Genuine Leather Travel Duffel
If you don’t mind carrying a bag over your shoulder or via drop straps, pick up a duffel. They’re more stylish than rollers, and you can find high-quality options like this one from Viosi without breaking the bank. It features a classic, genuine leather construction that ages like a fine wine, and actually elevates your outfit. Plus, in addition to using the bag for air travel, you can use it as a road trip weekender, a gym bag or even a daily bag when carrying more stuff than usual.
12. Away The Carry-On
BEST BUILT-IN CHARGER
Anyone who likes to consume media on the go or is constantly checking their phone for business or pleasure needs to consider The Carry-On by Away. This innovative bag sports a built-in, ejectable battery that is capable of charging small electronics. It also boasts a TSA-approved combination lock, 360-degree spinner wheels and attractive leather details, including a luggage tag. Inside, you’ll find an interior compression system as well as a hidden laundry bag. Together, these features make a carry-on that’s hard to beat.
13. Victorinox Spectra Carry-On
GREAT FOR BUSINESS TRAVEL
Traveling for business means you’ll want a few things: plenty of space and a high-end, professional appearance. This Victorinox bag provides both, offering a brand-name bag that’s not too expensive. It also has a scratch-resistant finish that looks sleek in any setting, as well as a laptop sleeve.
14. Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 Carry-On
Constantly wrestling all your belongings into a carry-on? Go for this Travelpro roller. It boasts 49+ liters of space, ensuring enough room for several days worth of belongings. The inside is also well-organized with a lid pocket, a mesh and a wet pocket, and even a suiter for keeping your business attire crisp. And as any veteran packer knows, good organization means more room.
15. Rimowa Salsa
If you’ve got a bigger budget, Rimowa is the way to go. Their bags have always been the highest quality, and recent collaborations with Supreme and Off-White have brought the brand way up in status. They feature a super sleek look that’ll make you feel like a first-class traveler . . . even if you’re sitting in economy. This bag, the Salsa, is super lightweight too at just 4.19 pounds, proving that good form and function aren’t always mutually exclusive.