Buyer’s Guide: Best carry-on luggage (hand baggage)

So you overpack… You’re not alone. Most people who travel tend to just throw everything they own into a large suitcase (or two) and hope for the best. The reality is that you REALLY don’t need all of that stuff. You’ve probably noticed that you don’t even use half of that stuff in your luggage. And its a big pain to lug around, whether you’re at a resort in the Caribbean or jet-setting around Europe or Asia.

Here’s the trick: Go carry-on only. If you limit yourself only to hand luggage that is brought onto the plane with you, you will naturally limit the amount of stuff you bring. Sounds easy right? Well, it is, but you need the best tools for the job. And obviously the most crucial piece here is the luggage itself. You need to pick something that is:  (1) durable, (2) spacious, (3) smartly designed and (4) maneuverable. If you nail these four elements you will be light years ahead of those disorganized schlubbs at the airport wheeling around all of their worldly belongings. Prepare to feel an overwhelming sense of freedom!

We have gone all over the internet and figured out our favorite carry-on luggage in several categories. First we have just our plain old favorite. The one to rule them all!  Then we go into specific categories like:  Best spinner, Best duffel style, Best backpack style, Best value, Best business carry-on and more!  So without further ado, here is our ultimate buyer’s guide: best carry-on luggage.

Best overall carry-on luggage

DOMESTIC CARRY-ON EXPANDABLE SPINNER

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Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic Carry-On Exp Spinner, Black, One Size

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Last update was in: December 9, 2017 9:12 pm

If we had to recommend one carry-on bag it would be this one. The Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic Carry-On is simply the most durable and well-designed carry-on we have come across. Briggs & Riley are legends in the luggage space and this is their Mona Lisa. Scratch that, this bag is much better than the Mona Lisa…

Design

With an innovative split design inside, this bag allows you to store you main clothing in the one side and your suit and other business attire in the garment carrier in the opposite side. They have managed to build a bag that has no bars or any other protrusions in the inside. This is a big deal because most carry-on luggage is taken up by the pull handle pushing into the packing space. An awesome expandable system allows you to expand the inside of the luggage by 25%. Now keep in mind that this might push you over the carry-on size limit. But it’s nice to know that if you go overboard on the duty-free that you could just check the luggage. There aren’t any crazy buckles or straps hanging off the side to get snagged on anything. This unassuming luggage is flat as the prairies and you’ll love it for that when you start packing it.

Durability

This is Briggs & Riley’s bread and butter. These are the types of bags that you pass on to your kids and grandkids. You simply can’t kill them. The Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic Carry-On is made of extremely durable ballistic nylon. This is the same material that was made to repel bullets…  So you won’t have to worry about rips in the fabric with this bag.  The four spinner wheels are top in class. We haven’t heard of any of these failing. And if anything on the bag fails, Briggs & Riley has one of (if not the best) warranty in the business with their “Simple as that” lifetime warranty.

Size, weight and internal space

Like we mentioned earlier, this luggage really maximizes its internal space. For a 22″ spinner we were really surprised with how spacious the inside was. In fact, you can get a whopping 43-55.6 litres of packing space out of it depending on whether you expand it or not. That’s a crazy amount of space for how small this thing looks and how maneuverable it is. At 9.3lbs, its not the lightest bag on the market, but that’s the price you pay for a bag that is better built than your house…

Our recommendation explained

Look, you can find cheaper options. You can find flashier options. But you really can’t find a more solidly and smartly built carry-on out there. If you’re looking for the best, you’ve found it. Period.

PROS:

  • Bombproof durable construction
  • Flat design with no unnecessary buckles or straps
  • Huge internal space
  • Amazing materials and warranty

CONS:

  • Pricey
  • A bit heavy


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Best budget carry-on (that is still awesome)

Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 carry-on luggage | Best budget pick

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Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 22 Inch Express Rollaboard Suitcase, Black, One Size

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Last update was in: December 9, 2017 9:12 pm

$184.87 $580.00

Well budget is a relative thing…  This is still a $250 suitcase. But dare we say the best possible suitcase you can buy for $250?  Yes, yes it is. Travelpro has absolutely nailed it with their Platinum Magna 2 roll-aboard. This is like the overachieving little brother to the Briggs & Riley. Seriously, it actually comes close to being just as good for the money.

Design

The Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 is a really well-thought-out piece of luggage. It’s incredibly well-balanced. You see, many carry-on bags are prone to tipping once they are packed. And this sucks. Big time. This one will not. It has a similar split design to the Briggs & Riley with its integrated garment folder pocket (complete with a folding board!) The handle on this model is about as good as you’re going to find anywhere and wobble is nowhere to be seen. Mind you, the handle will take up a little space in the inside of the bag (unlike our overall winner above). But that is small price to pay for a bag that is basically half as much. The bag comes in a roll-aboard (aka 2 wheeler) or a full four-wheel spinner. We picked the roll-aboard… for no good reason. These are both awesome bags. You’ll lose some internal storage space with the spinner but will of course be able to glide through airports with the grace of some kind of Greek travel god. The choice is yours.

It is worth noting that the spinner version’s garment bag is actually removable for those of you that want that extra level of flexibility.

Durability

This sucker is made from similar ballistic nylon as the Briggs & Riley. So you can happily take this on a tour of a warzone. If you want…  It uses extremely high quality inline skate quality wheels that feel smooth as a baby’s bottom. The top and side handles that you’ll use to haul this out of the overhead bin while avoiding the heads of half-asleep flyers are awesome and made of leather. The zippers, made by SUPRA, are actually really great feeling and feel like they will last a long time. Overall, this is a great bag in terms of durability.

Size, weight and internal space

The internal space in this bag is really good. It is a pretty normal design on the outside but the way the pockets and the split design inside make very smart use of the space available. The bag can be expanded to give you some extra room, but again, this may push you over the carry-on size limit. Overall a very roomy bag for the physical outside size.

Our recommendation explained

This is widely known as the best deal in luggage. Sure, its not a bargain bin Samsonite, but it also will last you many, many years. It’s smart design and top of the line features almost seem like they shouldn’t be there at all in a $250 bag.

PROS:

  • Great, understated design
  • Awesome wheels
  • Ballistic nylon and water-resistant design
  • Great price

CONS:

  • A bit heavy
  • Doesn’t have a USB port (just joking, those are for dumb people).

 


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Best four wheel spinner carry-on

Briggs & Riley Torq Luggage International Carry-On Spinner

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Briggs & Riley Torq(tm) International Carry-On Spinner Carry On Graphite One Size

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Last update was in: December 9, 2017 9:12 pm

Holy Shnikies that’s a nice carry-on!  Right? Briggs & Riley have another winner in our list with their Torq Luggage International Carry-On Spinner. As far as small, lightweight four wheel spinners go, you won’t find a better one than the Torq. Keep in mind that this only comes in the “International Carry-on” size, which means that it is a little smaller than a normal carry-on made for US domestic airlines. But for someone that makes trips to Europe, on budget airlines, or just wants to slim down even more, this is the best option out there.

Design

This is the first hard-side luggage on our list, bit it’s a goodie. The polycarbonate shell makes a statement but also gives you that extra confidence that your 3 bottles of Cuban rum are safe inside… This is another split-style bag (noticing a trend) that gives a great space to store business garments on one side and the rest of your stuff on the other side. It uses an 80/20 style so you have 80% of your room in the main compartment and then 20% in the garment keeper. But the real magic happens with the awesome lockable front pocket where you can stash your (small) laptop or tablet (or boring top secret documents). It’s protected on the outside and padded on the inside so nothing will get damaged.

A TSA-friendly panel on the top of the bag houses an integrated combination lock tops off one of the most thoughtfully designed bags we have ever seen.

Durability

The polycarbonate on this sucker will make it virtually impossible to damage. The material is textured to resist scratching. YKK zippers are hearty and smooth as butter with lockable loops as well. The wheels are recessed and are top quality (as is expected from Briggs & Riley).

Size, weight and internal space

This bag uses what is called an “outside handle” which basically means that the handle for the bag does not protrude into the main pocket and take away space inside. The bage is 8.9lbs, but this is pretty light for a full hard-case. The 36.2 litres inside are just about right for a 2-3 day business trip for most people. So it’s not the biggest bag in the world.  But this is probably the most high quality international spinner we have seen.

Our recommendation explained

You can’t go wrong with Briggs & Riley and their Torq Luggage International Carry-On Spinner is an amazing little carry-on. If you’re looking for something compact, super durable and secure, this is your bag.

PROS:

  • Super durable polycarbonate design
  • Integrated TSA lock
  • Great outside, lockable pocket

CONS:

  • Not a massive volume
  • Not available in domestic carry-on size (just leave a few pairs of underwear behind)


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Best travel backpack style carry-on

Tortuga Travel Backpack carry-on size

 

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Tortuga Travel Backpack - 44 Liter Carry-On-Sized, Travel Backpack

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Last update was in: December 9, 2017 9:12 pm

$149.00 $199.00

Are wheels getting you down?  More of a throw-it-on-your-back kind of person? Well, that’s actually a really great idea. In many place in the world having a wheeled carry-on totally sucks. Cobble stones, unpaved roads, huge staircases, impromptu hikes… All of this shit is easier with a backpack. And nowadays bag makers have woken up to the fact that people want technical backpacks that can both carry all of their clothes, but also do it in an organzied way. Gone are the days when backpacks are just one giant dumb pocket. Enter our favorite, the Tortuga Travel Backpack carry-on size. Backpack people unite! Push your nose up at those dirty roller suitcase peasants. Your carry-on fits on your back!

Design

Torotuga really hit a sweet spot here with their design. They designed this bag with suitcases in mind actually. While most hiking packs (which generally suck for using as carry-on by the way) are top loading, Tortuga came to their senses and designed a front-loading carry-on backpack. Praise the lord! This means you can lay this guy flat on the floor and load things in logical manner. Throw some packing cubes in there and you’re to the races. Since its a backpack, Tortuga has included a full hip belt that transfers 80% of the weight of the bag to your hips.

Locking zippers are included as well as a great laptop pocket. This is rare in the backpack space (at least in this size). Tortuga markets this as a technical backpack that is good for digital nomads. So you won’t have to pick between bringing your essentials and your electronics.

Durability

Solid, beefy handles in all the right places, strong ballistic nylon, awesome zippers. It has it all. Tortuga hasn’t skimped at all in the durability department.

Size, weight and internal space

The Tortuga Travel Backpack is a “maximum size” carry-on, which means that it has a decent volume. At 22 x 14 x 9, this will rival the internal volume of pretty much any carry-on on this list. Because there is no handle or wheels to deal with, all of that weight is removed and no volume is taken up by that hardware. If you pack smart, this bag could easily be the only bag you take on an extended trip.

Our recommendation explained

This is one of the first “one bag” solutions in backpack form that we really love. This could truly be your one bag pick for your 3 year trip to Thailand. Or Norway. Or wherever.

PROS:

  • Great pocket design
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Front loader so you can organize your stuff

CONS:

  • Could get heavy if you overload it
  • For international flights you may need to underpack it to fit


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Best duffel bag style carry-on

Osprey Porter 46 convertible duffel bag carry-on

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Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack (Hoodoo Red)

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Last update was in: December 9, 2017 9:12 pm

Wait a second…  You said duffel bag and the image above is of a backpack!  What gives?  Well, we thought hard about the duffel bag category and decided that the best duffel is not really a duffel at all…  Actually the Osprey Porter 46 is a convertible duffel. Which is awesome.

Design

Osprey took everything they know about backpacks and duffel bags and then mashed them together into an unholy, yet surprisingly compelling, addition to their bag line-up. You see the Porter 46 is basically a duffel bag that can quickly convert into a backpack. We actually love this idea. Duffel bags can really do a number on your back. For short trips from the car into an airport they are fine. But if you’re spending 2 hours wandering Rome looking for your AirBNB, you’re sure as hell gonna want a couple straps to get that bag on your back! This is especially important when you consider bringing this bag onto a flight as carry-on. By stashing the backpack straps into the bag, you have basically transformed this bag into a sleek and durable duffel bag. With a padded front pocket for electronics or your 311 toiletry kit, and enough smartly designed pockets to choke a horse, this is a great bag to live out of for an extended period of time.

It’s also a panel loader! I HATE top loading bags. You can’t find anything and its a nightmare to unpack and repack. The panel loading fuctionality on the Porter 46 makes throwing a few packing cubes in there a breeze.

The whole bag can be compressed by an outer fabric that is sort of like a condom for your bag…  Osprey calls it a straight jacket system.  I guess that makes more sense actually… What’s important is that you can totally compress all of your stuff down to a manageable size before you step on the plane.

Durability

Osprey is known for their ridiculously durable bags. And this one is no different. Featuring super durable 420D ripstop nylon fabric, you won’t see rips form in this thing…  Unless you treat it like an idiot (see dragging you bag behind a car). Lockable YKK zippers make this thing a dream to open and close.

Size, weight and internal space

With 46 litres of internal volume, this bag can basically take whatever you can throw at it. This is about a big a bag as I would want to carry around anyway, so Osprey has nailed it in the size department. And at only 3.3lbs, this bag is amazingly light! If you’re trying to travel ultra light, you really should consider this bag.

Our recommendation explained

A clever convertible backpack design, legendary Osprey quality and an incredibly roomy and light design make this a real winner.

PROS:

  • Clever convertible backpack design
  • Light but also roomy
  • Legendary Osprey quality (and their lifetime warranty)

CONS:

  • No wheels for those of you that have weak backs…
  • Not super business-oriented (you don’t want to bring this to a meeting in the VPs office)

 


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Best business / work carry-on

Bluesmart Black Edition International Luggage carry-on for business

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Bluesmart Black Edition International Luggage

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Last update was in: December 9, 2017 9:12 pm

Ok. Ok…  I know I said that luggage with USB ports are for idiots.  I have 100% flip flopped on this one. Don’t hold it against me. This new breed of “smart luggage” is actually really awesome. And our favorite carry-on for business travelers is actually one of these. The Bluesmart Black Edition International Luggage carry-on is simply one of the best designed pieces of luggage I have ever seen. And it’s black!

Design

First off, this thing is unique looking. This is Bluesmart’s first black carry-on, which is a welcome addition to their line-up. It makes it look like just a run-of-the-mill carry-on, but there is so, so much more hiding under the hood. The star of the show is the integrated lithium ion battery that can be used to charge a smartphone up to six times! This is seriously useful feature for those business road warriors that are constantly on email and draining all of their juice continuously. Get ready for it though… This bag can actually be located if it is lost via 3G and GPS! And there is no subscription required to use this feature. Super awesome.

An integrated smart lock can be locked and unlocked with your phone (presumably charged up by the bag itself) using the Bluesmart app. If the bag ever gets separated from you in your travels it will automatically lock itself and alert you via the app. Necessary?  No. Awesome? You bet your ass it is!

But how does it work as just a bag?  Great actually. A weather-resistant front pouch is an excellent storage for your tablet or laptop (or papers?).  There’s an integrated garment storage pouch for storing a suit jacket or a couple shits and pants and the main compartment is roomy (for an international carry-on).

Durability

This is very durable carry-on bag. Bluesmart made the outer shell out of a substance called Class Makrolon. Long story short: This thing is really hard to damage. All of the fabric is reinforced ballistic nylon that is also weather resistant. We put this in the top 10% most durable bags on the market. Hubless wheels on this model are among the quietest and smoothest on the market.

Size, weight and internal space

With 34 literes of internal volume, you’re not going to travel around the world with this one. But for a business trip, it is absolutely perfect.

Our recommendation explained

This isn’t just a tech gimmick. Well, it is…  But these features are legitimately useful. And the bag itself is top notch.For a traveling business man or women we can’t think of a better piece of luggage. Well, except for our #1 overall pick (which would also be awesome.)

PROS:

  • Crazy useful tech features
  • Solidly built and ultra-druable
  • Black!
  • Sleek looking

CONS:

  • It’s small. Really only for a short business trip

The wrap up

 

There you have it. These are without a doubt some of the very tippy-top best carry-on bags on the market. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. But consider the type of trip you are going on (is it international? business? trekking?) How you answer these questions will push you in the right direction.

As always, keep packing light folks. Carry-on only travel will let you escape from the tyranny of giant bags. And you’ll be happier for it.

I’ve been your Carry-on Guru.


Bags mentioned in this post (and they are all awesome)

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Last updated on December 9, 2017 9:12 pm
1 Comment
  1. Reply
    ScootGaloot October 28, 2017 at 11:20 am

    This is HARDLY a ‘best’ list. It’s simply a commercial for highly overpriced luggage. Tortuga as the best backpack-style carryon…? You’ve obviously never used anything from Tom Bihn.

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