Green luggage from Calpak.
The Best Carry-On Luggage 2020
I bought my first luggage set in middle school.
It was a pink/purple Diane von Furstenburg set that faithfully stood me by for about 10 years. The distinctive color made it easy to spot on the luggage carousel and its sturdy construction withstood the pull, tug and throws of many international trips.
It wasn't until I started traveling extensively for personal vacations and for work business trips that I realized how advanced today's luggage sets have become…
and how tired I was of pulling a 2 wheeled suitcase, so I decided to upgrade!
In the time since, I've tried not just one or two but many, many different pieces of luggage – from classic brands to hot, new start up brands.
Here's my comprehensive guide to buying the best carry on luggage!
Best Carry On Suitcase Brands
Based on the suitcase criteria above, here are our favorite carry-on luggage brands for every category. Click on each product for an in-depth review.
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 transitions well from business trips to European vacations.
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 Lightweight Carry-on
Delsey Carry-On Spinner
Dimensions: 21.75 inches x 13.75 inches x 9.75 inches
Weight: 4.8 pounds
Delsey is a high quality French luggage brand that offers a 10 year worldwide warranty.
They stand behind their products and recently introduced their lightest hardside suitcase yet, at a miraculous 4.8 pounds!
The carry on comes with a 100% polycarbonate shell that resists cracks and breaks. I especially like the metallic finish, which looks sleek, shiny and much more expensive than it actually costs!
Inside, two packing bags for shoes and laundry are included, which is a nice touch. Of all the carry on luggage pieces listed here, Delsey luggage has the best wheels for easy mobility and comes with a TSA approved lock.
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.
Best Affordable Carry-on
Amazon Basics Carry On 20″
Dimensions: 21.6 inches x 14.4 inches x 9.2 inches
If you only travel a couple times a year, there's no need to spend a fortune on a suitcase. Amazon makes a solid hardshell suitcase that's perfect for weekend getaways or international vacations.
With over 12,000 rave 5-star reviews, the polycarbonate spinner has features that are on par with much more expensive luggage brands.
The interior is lined with 3 zippered pockets. On the outside, 4 spinner wheels, TSA locks, and a protective scratch resistant finish make this Amazon Basics suitcase more than just basic!
Most Stylish Carry-on
Calpak Carry On 20″
Dimensions: 20 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
Weight: 7.0 pounds
Calpak makes the perfect carry on piece for those looking for attractive hard shelled luggage options at an affordable price.
This is my top pick for gorgeous, affordable hard luggage that can take a beating. They offer lots of matching 2 piece and 3 piece sets, all with TSA approved locks and mesh pockets to divide the interior.
I recommend Calpak's packing cubes as well, which are perfectly sized to fit the interior and machine washable. The outer hard cases will get small nicks and scratches but have held up for me on trips all around the world! Check out their adorable hat boxes too.
Most Unique Carry-on Luggage
Roam Luggage The Jaunt
Dimensions: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
Weight: 6.6 pounds
Want unique luggage that no one else will have?
Enter Roam, a new suitcase brand that allows you to completely customize your luggage – from the zipper, wheel hubcaps, front and back shell and even the stitching. There are over 1 million possible color combinations!
You can even monogram your case for the ultimate custom touch.
But of course, Roam Luggage offers more than just looks – it's engineered with top-quality wheels, ergonomic handles and lightweight materials.
Best of all, Roam Luggage offers a 60 day trial, free shipping, free returns and a generous 5 year warranty.
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 Wheeled Duffel Carry-on
eBags Mother Lode Wheeled Duffel Bag 21
Dimensions: 21.5 inches x 15 inches x 9 inches
Weight: 8 pounds
This crowd favorite is tough, light weight and incredibly useful. With tons of compartments – 2 main packing sections, a divider, tie down straps and zippered side pockets – it's highly functional.
The eBags wheeled duffel would be perfect for weekend getaways, road trips and short vacations. It's two wheels are easy to maneuver and its 4 external compression straps keep everything secure.
In addition, the eBags Mother Lode includes a telescoping pull handle and lower compartment for even more room!
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.
Best Luxury Carry-on Luggage
Steve Madden Softside Carry-On
Dimensions: 21.5 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
Weight: 7.8 pounds
Because who doesn't like the finer things in life?
While some people are comfortable walking around with little more than sweatpants and a bindle (and more power to them, I wish I had that self-confidence), I always am hyper-sensitive about how I look – even in airports.
That's why the Steve Madden Softside Carry-On (which straight up looks like a Louis Vuitton bag!) is the perfect luxury carry-on luggage piece.
But don't be fooled. This baby doesn't just look pretty.
The Steve Madden features a wide spinner-wheel base, ergonomic handle, and unique case platform that adds extra strength, balance, and durability!
Best Spinner Carry-on Luggage
Coolife Spinner Carry-On Luggage
Dimensions: 21 inches x 15 inches x 8 inches
Weight: 8.1 pounds
While luxury is nice, sometimes the best carry-on luggage is the grinder. You know, the luggage that can withstand the jabs, take the hits on the chin, and still make it to work the next day.
Wait, am I still talking about luggage or my usual Thursday nights bar-hopping?
Enter the Coolife Spinner Carry-On Luggage, a modest-looking piece that features an industrial-strength plastic shell, aluminum telescoping handle, and certified TSA lock.
If you like what you see, Coolife also offers 2 larger, checked-luggage-sized pieces, including a 28″ expandable version!
Best Carry-on for Frequent Travelers
Travelers Club Chicago Spinner Carry-on Luggage
Dimensions: 20 inches x 13 inches x 11 inches
Weight: 5.6 pounds
There's nothing wrong with basics, and the Travelers Club Chicago Spinner Carry-on Luggage has plenty.
It's incredibly light for its size, has expandable capacity, features spinner wheels, and is durable.
All that is fine. Dandy, even. But allow me to cut to the chase with the Travelers Club.
It tackles a HUGE pet peeve of mine with carry-on luggage. Namely, most carry-on luggage pieces have such an annoyingly short handle, leading to back pain, airport frustration, and generally looking like you're Quasimodo while running (read: aching) around the airport.
Mercifully, the Travelers Club has an extra-long 22″ handle (more than the height of the entire 20″ carry-on), leading to an immense amount of ache-free jet-setting!
Best Two-Wheeler Carry-on
Rockland Softside Upright Luggage Set
Dimensions: 19 inches x 13 inches x 7.5 inches
Weight: 6 pounds
When I worked in an office, bonus time was my favorite time of the year. And things are no different when it comes to the best carry-on luggage.
The sleek and lightweight Rockland Softside Upright Luggage Set features a lightweight 19″ 2-spinner-wheel carry-on that is perfect for a long weekend's amount of clothes and sundries.
At a competitive value, Rockland also throws in an adorable 14″ tote that is the perfect size for a camera bag, electronics hull, or wet pack!
Must Have Accessories for Carry On Luggage
Attachable Luggage Tote
Nothing beats the ease of traveling with shoulders free. Whether you're a woman looking to put down your handbag or a man traveling with a business briefcase, you need a travel tote that will beautifully attach to a carry on roller's long handle.
Lipault makes my favorite travel tote bag. The sleek black exterior resists stains and looks sharp while the interior can comfortably fit a 15″ laptop, DSLR camera, notebooks, a change of clothes and other basic necessities.
My favorite feature is the large zippered pocket on the exterior which slides right over your carry on luggage handle so that you can wheel both together with ease!
Once you get a packing cube set, you'll never go back to free range luggage. Packing cubes help maximize space inside your luggage by neatly organizing clothing and separating your dirty worn clothes from freshly laundered ones.
Amazon carries a wide range of packing cube sets and brands at different price points. Personally I use Calpak's set which are made to perfectly fit their luggage. They're durable, even after I've thrown them in the wash over and over!
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?
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 for now.
Best Carry On Luggage 2020 – Summary Comparison Chart
To summarize, here's a handy chart to compare each of the different luggage brands so you can easily identify which carry on luggage option is best for you! I've grouped my 10 luggage picks by hard shell and then soft shell.
What's your favorite luggage brand?
Read More in my travel packing checklist series:
Best Travel Luggage
The Best Carry on Luggage for 2020
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 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
Favorite Shoes for Travel
Best Travel Shoes for Women (Don't Sacrifice Comfort or Style!)
The Best White Sneakers that Go with EVERYTHING
OluKai Shoes: Sneaker & Sandal Review
Travel Packing Lists
The Best Travel Jackets for All Types of Weather
The Best Duffel Bags for Your Next Weekend Trip
NYC in Winter: What You Need
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