Whether you’re heading off on a weekend getaway, a business trip, a longer vacation, or a round-the-world trip, choosing the best carry-on luggage is essential. You need it to contain everything you want without being crammed so tightly it’s difficult to close, while also complying with flight regulations. Your carry-on luggage needs to be comfortable, and you don’t want something that is going to show signs of wear, or even fall apart, after just a few uses.
With so many different types of luggage to choose from, selecting the best carry-on luggage can be tricky. To make life easier, and save you lots of time on research, here are handy tips on how to choose the best carry-on luggage and what to consider before making a purchase.
Quick Answer: Best Carry-On Luggage
- Best Overall: Samsonite Omni PC
- Most Popular: Monos Hard-Shell Carry-On
- Best Luxury: Sterling Pacific Cabin Travel Case
- Best for Digital Nomads: Aerotrunk Pangolin
- Best Hard-sided: Delsey Luggage Helium Aero
- Best Soft-sided: Travelpro Maxlite 5
- Best Lightweight: Kenneth Cole Reaction
- Best Value: Samsonite Aspire DLX
- Best for Business Travel: Briggs & Riley Baseline
- Best for Adventure Travel: Eagle Creek Gear Warrior
- Best Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 40
Maximum Size of Carry-On Luggage
Every airline makes its own rules when it comes to the size and weight of bags that they will allow to be transported in the cabin. Carry-on luggage needs to either fit into the overhead locker or underneath the seat in front of you. Additionally, most airlines say that you should be able to lift it up into the locker without needing assistance.
Some airlines are more generous than others when it comes to carry-on baggage. Some allow an extra item, such as a laptop bag or small handbag, whereas others strictly enforce a one-piece rule. It is, therefore, essential that you check all requirements before booking your flights and turning up at the airport. If you are made to check your bag, it can be costly!
Of course, especially for long-term travelers, you’re highly unlikely to have already bought every single flight you’ll ever take before buying your luggage. To open up your flying choices, it’s better to buy your baggage based on some of the strictest airline requirements.
A common size restriction used by many airlines is 55 x 40 x 20 cm (21.5 x 15.5 x 7.8 inches). Buying a bag of this size, or smaller, should be compliant with many major airlines’ baggage policies.
Weight and Carry-On Luggage
Having the lightest possible luggage is strongly recommended for many reasons. It makes it easier to comply with airline weight restrictions (when applicable). Lighter bags are easier to handle. Having as light a bag as possible is better for climbing up stairs in accommodations and walking around.
What you pack will largely determine the overall weight, but why make life unnecessarily more difficult by starting out with luggage that is already substantially weighty before you put anything into it?
While some airlines concentrate mainly on the dimensions of cabin baggage, others do also enforce strict weight restrictions. Some carriers are fairly generous, allowing up to 12+ kg (17.5+ pounds), although many have a weight limit of 7-8 kg (15.4-17.6 pounds). The key takeaway points are to firstly buy the best lightweight carry-on luggage, and then check the allowance ahead of time and weigh your luggage with a portable luggage scale before going to the airport.
Brief Comparison of Several Airlines’ Carry-On Allowances
Knowing the baggage limits of commonly used airlines can be incredibly handy when it comes to choosing the best domestic and the best international carry-on luggage for your flights. Here’s what several major airlines allow, with a focus on budget carriers:
|Airline||Dimensions (cm)||Weight (kg)|
|Easyjet||56 x 45 x 25||10|
|Ryanair||55 x 40 x 20||8|
|Eurowings||55 x 44 x 23||10|
|Flybe||55 x 35 x 20||10|
|Jet 2||56 x 45 x 25||7|
|Air Asia||56 x 35 x 23||7|
|Jetstar||55 x 36 x 23||8|
|LATAM||55 x 35 x 25||Unrestricted|
|Spirit||56 x 46 x 25||Unrestricted|
|JetBlue||56 x 36 x 22||Unrestricted|
|Southwest||61 x 40 x 25||Unrestricted|
|Frontier||61 x 41 x 25||Unrestricted|
Different Types of Carry-On Luggage
There are many different items on the market that can be used as carry-on luggage. One warning though: just because a bag is labelled as being suitable for cabin baggage doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. It may meet the criteria for many airlines but fall short for others—do check each individual airline’s policies when booking!
Different types of carry-on baggage include:
- Handbags – for essential items, such as passports, money, and materials needed during the flight. Used in addition to a checked bag.
- Holdalls – provide more space than a handbag to supplement checked baggage or may be used as a full luggage option for mini breaks and weekends away.
- Soft backpack – can be used without checked baggage and has greater flexibility when it comes to being squeezed into small and irregular spaces. Usually the lightest form of carry-on baggage.
- Backpack with a frame – can be used to transport all luggage. More rigid than a soft backpack, but often better suited for people who will be carrying their luggage a lot or hiking.
- Soft suitcase – sides can be pushed in slightly to fit into spaces, though not as flexible as a soft backpack. Packing can be more ordered and clothes can be kept relatively flat.
- Hard suitcase – more protection for items inside, but no flexibility regarding the shape. The best hard shell carry-on luggage is typically ideal for business travelers and people who have especially fragile items, but it is also generally the heaviest type of carry-on luggage.
- Rolling backpack – somewhere between a backpack and a case, a rolling backpack is a hybrid type of luggage that can be wheeled or carried on the back. The versatility often makes these bags among the best carry-on luggage with wheels.
- Camera backpack – specially designed for people who travel with a DSLR camera and several lenses, a professional camera backpack generally has enough space for a few small extra items, like your passport, phone, money, and a book. While you would need to have a separate checked bag with your clothes and other possessions, this is a good option in some situations. It keeps your equipment safe, is easy to store, and is easy to carry.
There are pros and cons for each type of cabin luggage. There’s definitely not one bag that suits all, and you’ll likely find that there isn’t one singular carry-on bag that is perfect for you on every trip that you take. It’s important to consider the features that are most important to you and think about whether you can tolerate the downsides.
Things to Consider When Buying Carry-On Bag
After the dimensions, which are a vital consideration, there are several other considerations that will impact your choice of cabin luggage.
Ask yourself is a particular bag efficient when it comes to space. Does it have useful pockets and pouches, and can you pack everything in a way that suits your travels?
Is there an option to expand your luggage, while still being within the limits imposed by airlines? This can be particularly useful for return journeys when you may have added extra items to your luggage.
Think about the comfort of a particular type of carry-on bag. For example, do backpacks have padded straps and is the weight evenly distributed? Can you easily lift a bag on wheels, or is it just too bulky and cumbersome for you to handle?
The destinations you visit are important too. It’s no use setting your heart on, for example, a beautiful rolling carry-on suitcase if you will be mainly wandering along cobbled streets and uneven walkways. Even the best rolling carry-on luggage would need to be carried in such a situation, and your arms really may not thank you for it!
It’s also useful to consider what you will be putting in your bag. The best business luggage carry-on, for example, will be very different to that chosen by a backpacker.
Practically, can you afford your choice? Budget backpackers will, of course, be looking for the best affordable carry-on luggage. The best carry-on bags aren’t always the cheapest. While cost will naturally be a consideration, you should balance the quality and cost equally. After all, having to replace your luggage in the middle of a trip really doesn’t make that cheap option so appealing in the long run.
Consider the quality of the item and the materials used. Look for strong stitching and sturdy zippers. Do check reviews before buying and keep in mind that the best selling carry-on luggage is popular for a reason!
And finally, although many cabin bags are unisex, you might want to choose something that’s specifically tailored to people of your gender.
Straps Versus Wheels: What is the Best Carry-On Luggage?
Taking a backpack or a suitcase as carry-on luggage often comes down to personal preference and traveling style.
Long-term travelers and people who plan on moving a lot between places typically prefer the convenience of backpacks. A 35- to 45-litre backpack can generally be taken as carry-on baggage and they are often large enough to fit in everything that you need for a trip. If you have a tendency to over-pack, a smaller bag can be ideal; it forces you to really think about your packing list and prevents you from carting stuff around with you unnecessarily. There are also top-loading and front-loading options to suit your preferences.
The best carry-on luggage for business travel is likely to be more rigid, to prevent clothes from becoming too creased in transit. It also looks more professional; no businessperson wants to be collected from the airport looking like they’re embarking on a gap year! Businessmen and women typically travel with cases.
Regular travelers and holidaymakers may like the convenience of a rolling backpack; offering the best of both worlds, it’s one of the best rolling carry-on luggage types.
Do remember when choosing your luggage that straps, wheels, and handles are generally included in the overall dimensions.
How Much Should a Carry-On Luggage Cost?
Depending on the type of bag, you can expect to pay between $100 and $200 USD for a durable, suitable, and long-lasting carry-on bag. When you consider how many times you are likely to use the bag, coupled with the fact that it’s an essential travel item, that’s really not such a high figure.
Finding the best inexpensive carry-on luggage needn’t be too difficult with all the choices on the market today. And, keep in mind, if you are paying more than around $300 USD for a carry-on bag, it’s likely that you are only paying for a well-known name.
Reviews of the Best Carry-On Luggage
Having compared numerous carry-on bags of all different types, here’s what we consider to be the best-rated carry-on luggage on the market today:
Best Luxury Carry-on Luggage
For a high-end carry-on suitcase that’s both stylish and durable, you can’t go wrong with this sleek aluminum case from Sterling Pacific. Lightweight and super sturdy, the aluminum body has impact-bearing ridges, and the entire suitcase weighs in at just about 5.2 kg. It’s also the maximum carry-on size allowed on American airlines, making it a safe bet to hold all of your items while stowing away seamlessly in an overhead compartment.
The Italian leather handles make the case super easy to pick up, and the dual thru-axle wheels allow it to glide smoothly across the airport floor. Inside you’ll find convenient buckle straps and a mesh pocket. The case even comes with a lifetime warranty and repair service as well as an amenity care kit.
Best Overall Carry-on Luggage
One of the best hard-shell carry-on luggage cases, the Samsonite Omni PC 20″ weighs just 3 kg, making it a reasonably lightweight luggage option. Measuring 55.9 x 38.1 x 24.1 cm, it is the biggest carry-on suitcase on our list. It’s a great option for people flying within the USA. It may, however, be too large for flights in other continents. The case is scratch resistant and it is fitted with TSA-approved locks. The spinner wheels move in the same direction as you, making it an easy case to wheel. Interior organization features include a mesh pocket and straps.
Most Popular Carry-on Luggage
Monos has really outdone itself with its award-winning, unbreakable, whisper-quiet rolling carry-on suitcase. For starters, it comes in a variety of pleasing colors like rose quartz, stellar white, terracotta, and blue haze plus classics like midnight black and storm gray. So, it’s impossible not to feel stylish from the start while carrying this sleek and trendy carry-on. It’s also ethically designed with premium, durable materials like polycarbonate plastic and vegan leather and smartly crafted with TSA-approved locks, a reliable telescopic handle, and thoughtful measurements to ensure it fits in almost any airline’s overhead storage. The spacious interior includes divine dividers like a zippered panel on one side and a compression pad with ballistic straps on the other, plus a zippered pocket for toiletries. Not only does this make it foolproof to divide your stuff, but you can rest assured nothing is moving from its intended place.
Best for Digital Nomads
The Pangolin carry-on luggage with a laptop pocket is the perfect travel companion for business travelers or digital nomads. This durable suitcase boasts a laptop front pocket that can fit laptops up to 15 inches and is protected by the bag’s aerospace-grade polycarbonate shell, meaning it’s well protected. This way, travelers don’t have to dig their laptops out at security! On the inside of the suitcase, there are three internal zippered bags for easy organization, along with an antibacterial fabric lining, vegan leather details, and an integrated compression pad with straps to hold belongings together. Other features of this fantastic suitcase include Japanese Hinomoto 360-degree spinner wheels for whisper-quiet transport, YKK lockable zippers, TSA-approved combination locks, and a telescoping handle with four height settings. A dust bag, scuff sponge, and vegan leather luggage tag are also included.
Best Hard-sided Carry-on Luggage
The Delsey Luggage Helium Aero International Carry On Expandable Spinner Trolley is a little heavier than other hard-shell cases, weighing in at 3.7 kg. It measures 54 x 35.6 x 22.9 cm, making it a reasonably “safe” option for many carriers. It can also be extended by 5 cm. It’s the best carry-on luggage with a laptop compartment on our list, with an integrated padded sleeve to keep devices safe. There are also two interior mesh pockets, a clothing divider with a zipper, and straps. The double-spinner wheels make it easy to roll too.
Best Soft-sided Carry-on Luggage
Measuring 53.8 x 35.6 x 20.3 cm and weighing 2.7 kg, the Travelpro Maxlite 5 is one of the lightest carry-on luggage cases. It can be extended by 5 cm if you need more space on the return journey. The 360-degree rotating wheels make maneuvering the case easy. The water repellent coating adds extra protection if you’re caught in a rain shower or if you spill anything. There’s an exterior pocket for keeping tickets safe, as well as interior straps and pockets. High quality, the case looks stylish and smart.
Best Lightweight Carry-on Luggage
This hard-shell case is made from ABS plastic; it can easily be wiped down and washed by hand to keep it in good-looking condition. Tough and built to last, the Kenneth Cole Reaction Out of Bounds 20″ 4 Wheel Upright weighs 2.8 kg. The measurements are 55.2 x 36.8 x 21.6 cm. The case can be stood on its side as well as upright, and there are also handles on the top and sides. The inside is fully lined and it has straps and pockets to organize your packing.
Best Value Carry-on Luggage
The Samsonite Aspire Xlite 20-Inch Expandable Spinner measures 58.4 x 34.3 x 24.1 cm and weighs 3.4 kg. The interior organization features, which include mesh pockets and an area for damp items, make this among the best carry-on luggage for suits; garments are well protected inside. It’s easy to roll, thanks to the smooth and multi-directional wheels, and the side and top handles make lifting and carrying the case easier too. The case is available in various colors.
Best for Business Travel
A top-of-the-line carry-on case, the Briggs & Riley Baseline measures 51 x 38 x 20.5 cm. It weighs 5.4 kg. Special technology means that the case can be extended by up to 34% and then compressed back to its original dimensions. Among the best carry-on luggage for women and men who are traveling for business, the case comes with a built-in suit compartment that can store up to two suits and keep them looking neat and wrinkle-free. Compression panels help to keep other items from moving and becoming creased in transit. Made from tough nylon, the fabric resists moisture, dirt, and wear and tear.
Best for Adventure Travel
The Eagle Creek Load Warrior is a sturdy and durable rolling bag that is ideal for adventurous travelers who generally plan lots of varied activities. You can attach gear to your luggage with the lash points and strap equipment to the top. Measuring 55.9 x 35.6 x 22.9 cm, the bag weighs just 2.2 kg. The bag can be extended. Although the bag has a fixed frame and wheels, its malleable form means that it is easier to squash into spaces than regular luggage with wheels. The design helps to stabilize heavy bags and the fabric has water repellent features.
Best Carry-on Backpack
The Osprey Farpoint 40 is by far one of the best carry-on backpack for casual weekend trips and backpacking adventures. The dimensions, when fully packed, are 55.9 x 35.6 x 22.9 cm. The harness system and hip belt can be zipped away during transit. Shoulder straps are padded for comfort and the mesh back panel encourages ventilation. The main compartment can be locked, and there’s a zip-closing front panel for greater organization. Additional equipment can be attached via the lash points. The backpack also has inner pockets. Available in different colors, this is one of the best carry-on luggage items for backpackers. For more backpack recommendations check out our article on the best travel backpacks.
Why You Should Trust Us
Choosing the right carry-on luggage is a pivotal decision for any traveler, and at Road Affair, we understand the weight of that choice. Our team, comprised of seasoned travelers and luggage aficionados, brings a wealth of experience to our reviews. We’ve been through the hustle of airports, the rigors of various travel scenarios, and we know that your carry-on is more than just a bag—it’s a travel companion.
Our commitment to unbiased expertise is evident in our rigorous research and hands-on testing. We delve into the latest industry trends, innovations, and customer feedback, ensuring that our recommendations are not just based on personal opinions but grounded in comprehensive analysis. By transparently sharing our evaluation criteria and avoiding sponsored biases, we aim to provide you with trustworthy insights, guiding you to the best carry-on luggage that seamlessly blends style, functionality, and durability. Your trust is our priority, and we’re here to make your travel experience smoother from the moment you choose your luggage.
Finding the best carry-on luggage for international travel or domestic trips isn’t so difficult now, is it?! Happy travels!