If you’re not checking in your baggage, a lot weighs on choosing the best carry-on luggage. Unlike check-in bags, carry-on luggage directly accompanies you across the airport, onto the plane, and into your new destination.
As a result, check-in luggage must be robust enough to withstand any blows, knocks and rattling it may encounter from the airport to the overhead compartment. At the same time, it needs to be light, easy to maneuver and spacious enough to fit all your non-negotiable holiday or workcation items.
Nikhil Vaid, a Senior Captain for IndiGo (opens in new tab) airline, explained that selecting the best carry-on luggage isn’t just a matter of style, but also airline rules and durability.
“Choosing the right carry-on luggage is so important because your luggage must be the right size. All airlines only allow a maximum size to be carried on board. That's as per the space in the overhead cabin,” said Vaid.
“Many times, you might need to check in your carry-on bag too, especially if the flight is full and there is no space in the cabin. At such times, your bag might be mishandled and needs to be strong,” Vaid added.
“Many times, you might need to check in your carry-on bag too, especially if the flight is full and there is no space in the cabin. At such times, your bag might be mishandled and needs to be strong,” Nikhil Vaid, Senior Captain at IndiGo Airlines (opens in new tab).
That might leave you with plenty of questions. Is it possible to find carry-on luggage that’s both stylish and robust? What features should you look out for?
We’ve carefully selected the best carry-on luggage to find suitcases that strike the right balance between durability, maneuverability, style and safety. You might notice that we’ve exclusively covered almost exclusively hard shell luggage, and this is down to the fact that hard shell suitcases provide greater protection against impact than soft shell carry-ons, whether blows are caused accidentally or inflicted by turbulence.
Features such as 360-degree spinner wheels and TSA-approved locks are very valuable too. The same goes for easy-to-access pockets, as you’ll need to quickly access travel documents in the airport.
Best carry-on luggage
1. American Tourister Airconic: The best overall carry-on luggage
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As our best overall carry-on luggage, the American Tourister Airconic has an impressive set of credentials. The first is its polypropylene hard shell, a rigid and durable material that is built to withstand any accidental blows or knocks that the suitcase might face in the overhead compartment or airport. The second is its four single spinner wheels, which move seamlessly in all directions.
As a result, the American Airconic Tourister is fairly easy to maneuver. Weighing in at 131.2 oz, it’s not exactly the lightest suitcase to lift into the airhead cabin, but the typical person shouldn’t have a problem. Either way, the weight is seriously impressive for a polypropylene shell suitcase.
If your suitcase does take a beating, the scratch-resistant surface should offer some resistance against visible wear and tear, a huge benefit if you want your luggage to look good for as long as possible. On that note, the shell’s design is both stylish and minimalistic; there are subtle diagonal grooves on the surface and there’s a TSA-approved lock to ward off thieves.
When it comes to organization, the American Tourister Airconic has plenty of handy storage features too. There are cross-straps and storage pockets to strap down your belongings and an outer pocket in case you need easy access to tech or travel documents. However, the outer pocket isn’t exactly roomy. It’s so slim, in fact, that it would be tricky to fit more than a magazine or tablet. That’s a disappointment for laptop users, who will need to bring a separate bag.
2. Samsonite Elevation Plus Carry-On Spinner: The best for business travelers
There’s a reason why Samsonite has made a name for itself in the luggage world, and the Samsonite Elevation Plus Carry-On Spinner is a prime example of why. The carry-on suitcase is ideal for those who travel with a laptop, such as business travelers. The larger outer pocket fits small laptops, books and tablets, and even has its own pockets for easy access to tech like chargers and earphones. There’s also a TSA-approved combination lock, so you can have peace of mind that any valuables are protected from prying hands.
In its favor, the Samsonite Elevation Plus Carry-On Spinner has a huge range of organization features, including a divider for your clothes, which doubles up as a compression panel to prevent wrinkles and stop your clothes from getting disarrayed in any turbulence. Toiletries can go into the zippered Wetpack pockets, giving your clothes some protection from any liquids spillages during transit.
Expect to have the Samsonite Elevation Plus Carry-On Spinner for the long-run, as the shell is crafted from durable polypropylene material. The interior lining, which can afford to be softer, is made 100% from recycled plastic bottles. The Nylon 360-degree spinners glide in all directions too, and your hand should be quite comfortable resting on the ergonomic grip. The biggest downside? The suitcase weighs 150.4 oz, but we reckon it’s worth the features for business travelers and those traveling with valuables who value comfort, convenience and safety.
3. Horizn Studios H5 Carry-On: The best premium suitcase
If you have a relaxed budget, the Horizn Studios H5 Carry-On is well worth your consideration. Priced at $465, it doesn’t come cheap. However, the quality is definitely up to scratch, with Japanese wheels, a durable shell and smart features. The bag has an aerospace-grade polycarbonate hard shell and a recycled polyester lining, which are both completely vegan.
It also includes Japanese spinner wheels, which are considered to be the crème de la crème of suitcase wheels. Some users have commented that the wheels are on the noisier side, but since they glide effortlessly and in all directions, we might let that pass.
With four height settings on the handle and a host of other premium features, there’s really not much to complain about the Horizn Studios H5 Carry-On except for its steep price point. One of the handiest features has to be the removable smart charger, which is cabin-approved and has two USB charging ports for your devices and can be removed with just one click. There’s also a dust protector, a built-in laundry bag and a compression pad to smooth out wrinkles in fresh clothes. In case you’re worried about any leaks ruining your holiday outfits, the compartments have water-resistant linings.
Transporting The H5 Carry-On Luggage shouldn’t be at all tricky. Despite having a polycarbonate hard shell, it only weighs 109.4 oz. There’s no need to be hunched over when you’re pushing the suitcase around either, as the telescopic handle has four different height settings to choose from.
4. Monos Carry-On Plus
We reckon that the Monos Carry-On Plus is a great choice if you’re prone to overpacking, but still want the convenience of a carry-on bag. Since the suitcase is 23 inches in height, you might be surprised to find a roomy 48 liters of space inside. That’s significantly more spacious than many of the other suitcases in our round-up. When it comes to carry-on luggage, this can often be a double-edged sword; you’re more prone to overpacking and exceeding your airline’s carry-on weight limits. However, the Monos Carry-On Plus only weighs 118.1 ounces organically, so you have a fair amount of wriggle room.
The suitcase doesn’t have quite as many storage features as some of its competitors, but what it does have is a built-in compression pad to press in your clothes, several pockets and a zippered mesh panel to separate shoes from clothes.
The Monos Carry-On Plus has high-quality Japanese Hinomoto Lisof Silent Run, which helps to keep squeaks to a minimum. Other handy features include a TSA-approved lock and a telescopic handle with four height settings, but perhaps the most interesting is the antimicrobial fabrics, which should help to keep your garments germ-free when you’re transiting through unfamiliar territory. This is a tough suitcase too, built to last. There’s an aerospace-grade German polycarbonate hard shell, but unfortunately, it’s a little prone to scuff marks. Some reviews complain of the compression panel getting in the way when they’re trying to access the bag’s contents quickly too.
5. Delsey Paris Helium Aero Carry-On
Being just 19 inches tall and 13 inches wide, the Delsey Paris Helium Aero Carry-On, 19-inch, is the most compact case we’ve covered, making it ideal for those who take short, regular trips or who don’t have as much kit to pack. Business travelers will like the convenient laptop sleeve, which is suitable for a 15.6-inch device, and has two zippered mesh pockets to fit any laptop accessories. For kids and teens, these are just as handy for toys, snacks, books, card games and other travel essentials.
Considering that it’s so compact, it’s a shame that the Delsey Paris Helium Aero Carry-On weighs 131.2 oz, the same weight as suitcases a few inches larger. However, in its favor, it has four 360-degree spinner wheels and a front pocket with zippered pockets which opens outwards like a flap. Those who want the option of extra packing space also have an expandable two inches to work with.
On the surface, the Delsey Paris Helium Aero Carry-On does appear to be a durable, long-term investment. There’s a polycarbonate hard shell, which should be able to cope with the pressure of regular travel. However, some users have reported that the telescopic handle has a tendency to get stuck and the zippers have been the first thing to give way during long-term use. Overall, however, the suitcase does tick a lot of boxes for those traveling light and often. There’s a TSA-approved lock, two height settings on the handle, and lots of pockets, straps and a zippered divider.
6. Amazon Basics 21-inch Hardside Spinner
It doesn’t get much more budget-friendly than the Amazon Basics 21-Inch Hardside Spinner. Weighing in at just 4.2 lbs, you should have little trouble lifting the suitcase into the overhead locker. It’s also one of the cheapest hard shell suitcases on the market. These two factors are mostly down to the fact that its hard shell is made from acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), rather than polycarbonate or polypropylene.
While ABS does provide some basic protection against small blows and other wear and tear, you’ll find that the shell just isn’t quite as durable as polycarbonate or polypropylene suitcases. This may not be an issue for infrequent travelers, but those who travel more often might want the extra reassurance of a more durable suitcase. There’s no built-in lock either, so this might not be the case for you if you’re planning to store valuables in your suitcase.
Nevertheless, for the price, the Amazon Basics 21-Inch Hardside Spinner does come with a nice selection of functional features, like four double spinner wheels which navigate in all directions and an interior lined with 150D polyester. The main compartment has three separate pockets, which gives you somewhere to keep smaller knickknacks secure with a zipper.
Choose between navigating the suitcase using the telescopic handle or lifting it with the short handle. If you do manage to catch the suitcase on something while you’re handling it, the surface claims to be scratch-resistant. The final bonus of this budget-friendly suitcase is that it expands by 15%.
7. Calpak Ambeur Carry-On
The Calpak Ambeur Carry-On is a great mid-price pick for those who want to complete their airport aesthetic with a chic but minimalist case. While it’s not made of pure polycarbonate or sturdy polypropylene, the hard shell is made up of a mix of polycarbonate and ABS. This gives it the lightweight feel of an ABS suitcase, along with the durability of polycarbonate.
Overall, the suitcase isn’t as sturdy as some of the other hard shell suitcases in our line-up, but it will do the job. Weighing just 6 lbs, it may be worth the trade-off on durability if you’re after a lighter case.
The Calpak Ambeur Carry-On lends itself well to organization too. On one side of the interior are compression straps to harness in your fresh laundry, along with a pocket for any accessories. On the other side, there’s a divider with pockets for all the little bits and pieces you might want to carry with you. There are plenty of pockets for any quick-grab items too.
The fact that it’s so stylish is just another added benefit. The suitcase comes in different colors including rose gold, black or gold. Each design has a TSA-approved lock, which is a relief when you need to stow your bag in a compartment out of your direct line of sight.
The spinner wheels are helpful too, as they make rolling the suitcase around the airport a breeze. It’s important to note, however, that if you accidentally scrape the suitcase against a passing chair or luggage rack, it might leave a visible mark, especially on the lighter-colored models.
8. Coolife Expandable 20-inch Suitcase
The Coolife Luggage Expandable 20-inch Suitcase isn’t the fanciest piece of luggage out there. However, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option that’s fairly lightweight and suitable for short, infrequent trips, this is it. There are no fancy laundry bags or other premium features, but that is to be expected considering the price.
Still, the 20-inch suitcase has a few handy features. There are three height settings on the aluminum telescoping handle and a TSA-approved lock, along with a bunch of organizational pockets designed for different-sized items. There are double spinner wheels too, meaning you’ll have greater freedom of movement throughout the airport and at your end destination
Inside the suitcase, you can keep your belongings firmly in place with tie-down straps. The main compartment has a mesh covering to keep out any dust or dirt particles, which is another thoughtful addition.
The thing is, judging by its reviews, the Coolife Luggage Expandable 20-inch Suitcase isn’t really designed for the frequent traveler. It has a fairly durable polycarbonate and ABS hard shell, but just don’t expect the durability to match that of a pure polycarbonate or polypropylene case. Many users have reported that the suitcase’s wheels have come loose after some use. Therefore, frequent travelers might want to pay more upfront for one of the more premium picks in our round-up.
There’s a two-year warranty to protect your purchase if you do encounter any issues, so all-in-all this is a good budget option for short trips.
What to look for in carry-on luggage
Wisely picking carry-on luggage is the key to a stress-free and comfortable flight. A lightweight bag will make sure that you don’t exceed your airline’s carry-on weight limits, enabling you to dodge additional check-in fees. Likewise, features such as 360-degree wheels will help you breeze through the airport, making your flight on time without working up a sweat in the process.
Durability isn’t just key for making sure your belongings make it to your destination unscathed. Suitcases, even carry-on ones, are an investment, so making sure you choose one that will last year on year is crucial.
After ensuring your bag is strong and sturdy, Senior Captain Vaid commented that you should look for other key features to find the perfect carry-on luggage. “It should have a TSA-approved lock. Side pockets are helpful for any items you need regular access to on flights”.
In terms of aesthetics, Vaid adds that it’s not just style you should consider, although that does play a part. “The bag should be strong, yet good looking. As airport looks are the 'in' thing, it's also important to have a smart, good-looking bag that makes a fashion statement,” said Vaid. “Your bag should also be easily identifiable. You should be able to recognize your bag easily,” he added.