I’m fortunate enough to travel for work constantly.
And throughout the 10 years that I’ve been travel blogging, I’ve tried a lot of luggage brands! Today’s carry on suitcases have become quite advanced, almost as if to make up for the increasingly torturous in-flight experience.
From classic luggage staples, to air hostess carry on brands.. to stylish start up luggage brands, I’ve tried so many out for a spin!
Today’s post is a comprehensive buying guide to the best carry on luggage – whatever your needs!
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Here are the top carry-on luggage brands in every category. Click on each product for an in-depth review!
Best Carry-On Luggage Brands
Flying in 2021
And before you hop on a plane, make sure to bring along a face mask!
Face masks are still required on all flights in the US, regardless of vaccination status. These Atoms everyday masks are a really comfortable option, especially on long haul flights, as they’re made from a lightweight and breathable polyester.
Best of all, they sit high up enough on the nose to tuck under glasses so you can breathe easier without fogging up your vision!
Best Carry-On Luggage (2021)
Best Softside Carry-on
Travelpro Expandable Spinner 21
Dimensions: 21 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
Weight: 5.9 pounds
An affordable soft-shell carry on for the old school traveler, who prefers lightness and 2 wheels.
This is a classic soft suitcase, with 2 wheels and a deep main compartment that can easily fit a week’s worth of clothes.
The front lid has lots of zipped compartments for organization and the hard wearing nylon exterior, solid handles and smooth wheels make this one of the best soft carry on options on the market .
The Travelpro is also incredibly light weight. It should transition smoothly from business trips to vacations in Europe!
Best Hard-shell Carry-on
Samsonite Hardside Spinner 20
Dimensions: 20 inches x 13.5 inches x 9.5 inches
Weight: 6.7 pounds
This is Amazon’s best selling carry-on luggage for travel – for good reason!
Lightweight with re-engineered spinner wheels, this suitcase offers easy mobility and comes with a TSA lock. It’s available in 10 colors and has spinner wheels for full mobility.
Plus, Samsonite backs its products with a 10 year warranty, so you know you’re getting quality.
The outer case features a micro diamond, brushed exterior that hides scratches and dings so it still looks pretty “new” after a couple long-haul trips!
Best International Carry-on
Briggs & Riley International Carry-On
Dimensions: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
Weight: 9.3 pounds
Want the biggest carry on that still fits US airline requirements?
The beautiful flat bag is it.
With an extra roomy interior and classic exterior, this is one suitcase that will stand the test of time.
We love how functional and light weight their luggage pieces are, as the exterior soft shell comes in handy for odds and ends.
We’re those people that over pack and struggle with carrying luggage up and down stairs, thus nicking the bottom half the time, but the Briggs & Riley still looks like new despite the beating.
While Briggs & Riley is pricey, we’ve had our bag for 8 years now and it still looks amazing – the quality is absolutely fantastic and they offer a lifetime guaranty – which is a true testament to the durability.
Most Durable Carry-on
Tumi Alpha 3 Carry-On
Dimensions: 22 inches x 16 inches x 9 inches
Weight: 11.1 pounds
When it comes to the best carry-on luggage (or any luggage for that matter), Tumi is always a classic choice.
The Tumi Alpha 3 carry-on comes with all the tech and features necessary for the weary wanderer, including a one-suit garment bag, super-durable ballistic nylon fabric, an integrated USB port, and main compartment accessibility via the front lid!
Overall, a solid carry on but definitely a little more expensive due to the Tumi brand.
Best Underseat Carry-on
Samsonite Underseat Carry-On Luggage
Dimensions: 13 inches x 13 inches x 6.5 inches
Weight: 5.0 pounds
The Samsonite Underseat Carry-On Luggage is a favorite with flight attendants – and for good reason.
The small size surprisingly holds a decent amount – this is the perfect bag for business trips where you just need clothes for a long weekend getaway.
It even comes with a Wetpak zippered compartment to store wet and damp clothing – ideal for that carry-on-only beach trip you’ve been waiting to plan!
Ultra light, with durable spinner wheels, a low profile and water repellent exterior, the Samsonite fits easily under airline seats and can also strap on to larger luggage pieces.
Best Carry-on Backpack
Osprey Packs Travel Backpack
Dimensions: 20 inches x 13 inches x 12 inches
Weight: 1 pound
Osprey is one of the most well known backpack brands, with a huge range of styles, colors and sizes.
The Porter 30 is great for lightweight packers who prefer to use a carry on backpack.
With straight jacket compression to protect your things, a shoulder harness and hip belt, the Osprey carry on backpack is comfortable to carry all day long.
At the rear, there’s a separate protected panel to easily stow your laptop or tablet for quick access during security screenings.
In the front, an organization pocket is handy for stowing small items!
What to Look For in Carry On Luggage
Luggage can be a pricey investment so you want to do some research to make sure you’re getting the best carry on for your needs. Here are some things to consider:
Every airline is different, but in general, passengers are typically allowed 1 personal bag (say, a laptop bag, backpack or purse) and 1 cabin bag. For U.S. airlines, carry-on bags can measure no more than 22″ x 14″ x 9″.
If you’re flying internationally, you may want to opt for a bag no more than 21″ inches, as some international airlines (in particular budget airlines) can be more strict. Double check on the airline website for the latest info.
Tip: Always make sure you can depart with your suitcase in its tightest form, fully zipped up. I have found that flight attendants will often do a visual check when it’s time to board the plane. If your carry-on is unzipped, they’ll often deny it and say it is over sized.
If you’re like me, you want the lightest carry-on bag possible.
Pushing, heaving and forcing an overweight bag into the overhead bins is painful and a safety risk. I try to look for carry on suitcases that weigh no more than 10 pounds when empty, and ideally, weigh between 6 to 8 pounds.
Most airlines have a maximum weight of 40 pounds for a carry-on bag.
It depends on the airline, but many international carriers will weigh both your checked bag and your carry-on so it’s important to stay within the limit.
Not sure how much your luggage weighs?
Grab this inexpensive luggage scale so you know before you show up at the airline!
4 Wheels vs. 2 Wheels
The standard 2 wheel suitcase is for those who don’t mind pulling a suitcase behind them.
This type of carry-on bag tends to be cheaper and often has more internal space.
Personally, we think 4 wheeled suitcases are the new standard.
Four wheel bags, sometimes called “spinner” suitcases, have the flexibility to push the luggage upright as the wheels are multi-directional and give you full control to turn in any direction.
Ideally, the best carry-on will have a short top handle, a side handle for lifting, as well as an extra sturdy telescopic handle that can both push and pull the luggage with ease.
The best telescopic handles are tall enough to allow you to pull your luggage at a comfortable arm length while also contracting mid-way.
Nowadays, you have 2 choices for carry on luggage interiors.
One type has a deep compartment with an outer flap.
The second type is called a ‘sandwich’ or ‘clamshell’ construction where the suitcase is split into 2 equal halves.
It’s a personal choice as far as which you prefer.
While I like about sandwich construction luggage is that it allows me to stay better organized (for example, clothes on one half, shoes + toiletries on the other).
However, most hotel room luggage racks are built for the original, 1 compartment suitcase. The racks are generally not wide enough to support both halves, so it can lead to a messier travel experience. Of course, you can always fully unpack!
Hard Luggage vs. Soft Luggage
This is more a matter of personal preference.
Soft carry-on luggage allows you to really maximize storage and squeeze in that extra inch of room. Typically there’s an outer pocket where I store papers and odds and ends. Soft suitcases tend to be heavier but hold up better to wear and tear.
Hard carry on luggage is sleeker and has a more distinctive, luxurious look. Thin polycarbonate hardcases can often be lighter, but in my experience, scratch easily.
Whichever you choose, make sure there are plenty of internal pockets for organization!
Carry-on Backpack vs. Duffel vs. Carry-on Suitcase
Personally, I tend to over-pack, so I prefer a carry-on suitcase, which is larger and has more room for all my camera gear, clothes and extra shoes.
But, as US airlines have started to introduce Basic Economy fares, where the chance of grabbing overhead bin space is becoming scarce, carry-on backpacks have become an attractive option!
Almost every gadget nowadays, from lights to kitchen appliances, comes in a ‘smart’ option.
Smart luggage typically has fancy extras like, power banks to charge your phone, GPS tracking, TSA approved locks and electronic baggage tags.
Typically, you’ll pay a bit more for these features but it can give you peace of mind to locate lost luggage and keep your belongings safe.
What is the standard carry-on luggage size?
Always check with your flight company first as every airline lists their maximum allowed carry on size limits.
In the US, the universally accepted dimensions for American airlines are 22″ x 14″ x 9″. This is supposed to include the handles and wheels.
International carriers, especially international low cost carriers, can be even stricter. So often you’ll see a manufacturer makes a “carry on” size for the US market that’s 22″ and an “international carry on” that’s 21″.
In reality, I’ve traveled all over the world with my 21″ carry on and never had an issue, but your mileage may vary.
What seems most important is the weight of the bag (most international airlines will weigh carry ons whereas they don’t really do that in the US) and the ‘look’ of the bag.
Gate attendants will look at an expanded bag and mark it as oversized, so make sure everything fits with the suitcase fully zipped at its smallest state.
What to pack in a carry-on bag?
Think of your carry-on as your most important luggage piece and store everything that you need in your hand luggage!
I’m happy to check clothes, but important items go in my cabin bag – medication, electronics, jewelry and toiletries.
I usually also bring a change of clothes, just in case my checked luggage gets delayed (which happens often on long haul flights with layovers).
What NOT to pack in your carry-on bag?
There’s a long list of items that you’re not allowed to pack in your carry-on suitcase.
Most of these are obvious, and include: sharp objects, guns, firearms, flammable items, explosive materials, and large sporting equipment.
Liquids are subject to the 3-1-1 rule. All liquids must be less than 3.4 ounces (100 ml), must be placed inside one clear quarter-sized bag and only one liquids bag is allowed per passenger.
Are smart carry-on bags allowed on flights?
Starting in 2019, many airlines (including Delta, American, Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines) issued a ban on the lithium-ion batteries found in smart luggage.
Smart suitcases are no longer allowed to be checked at all, and can only be carried in the cabin if the battery is removable.
We recommend avoiding smart luggage and getting an external battery charger for your phone instead.
Read More in my travel packing checklist series:
Best Travel Luggage
The Best Carry on Luggage for 2021
The Best Packing Cubes for a Perfectly Organized Bag
The Best Lightweight Luggage for Overpackers
The Best Hard Luggage Sets for Stylish Travelers
The Best Underseat Luggage for Minimalists
The Best Carry On Bags for Men - Rugged + Durable!
The Essential Business Packing List
The Best Laptop Cases for Working Women
The Best Laptop Bags for Men
The Best Travel Wallets for All Your Vacation Essentials
The Best Jewelry Cases Never Untangle a Necklace Again!
The Best Toiletry Bags to Clean Up Quick
Travel Packing Lists
The Best Travel Jackets for All Types of Weather
The Best Duffel Bags for Your Next Weekend Trip
The Best Travel Backpacks to Hold Everything You Need
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