Home / Blog / The 6 Best Carry

The 6 Best Carry

Jun 08, 2024Jun 08, 2024

As the skies get busier, the smartest travel move may be keeping your suitcase with you when you fly.

If you do so, you’ll need a good carry-on bag.

We’ve tested 47 bags over the past nine years and are convinced that the Travelpro Platinum Elite is the best carry-on luggage for most travelers.

Four wheels or “spinners” are easier to maneuver down tight airplane aisles, but two wheel bags will always be more durable.

Hard sided looks better to most people, but soft sided luggage should withstand the bumps and knocks of travel for longer.

There are plenty of reputable brands with lifetime warranties; it’s generally worth paying a little extra for the peace of mind.

If you travel mostly internationally, within Europe, or within America, it’s worth looking for specialty luggage sizes.

It packs five days’ worth of clothes into standard US carry-on dimensions1 and has premium build-quality touches you’d expect from a $600 bag at about half the price. It’s a bag that you can rely on for life, even if it’s damaged by airlines—a rarity at any price.

This spinner carry-on offers the best balance of size, value, reliability, and durability, with high-end details. It’s backed by a lifetime warranty.

This two-wheeled carry-on bag isn’t as maneuverable, but it offers slightly more space, a garment folder, and larger, more durable wheels.

Travelpro’s Platinum line of luggage has held our top pick for almost every iteration of this carry-on luggage review because it addresses the concerns of most travelers at an affordable price: It features smooth-rolling, user-replaceable wheels; solid and comfortable, telescoping handles; and a hard-wearing nylon exterior propped up by a solid internal chassis, all backed by a lifetime warranty that covers airline damage and shipping to the repair facility (as long as you register the luggage within 120 days of purchase, which is easy to do on any smartphone), along with a full catalog of other user-replaceable parts. The Elite only improves on past iterations in the Platinum line by reducing the size of the stowed handle (which used to jut out about an inch) and adding a second zippered, exterior pocket for easy access on the go and a USB pass-through extension that lets you insert your own battery pack for charging your phone. And at 7.8 pounds when empty, this carry-on bag is about half a pound lighter than its predecessor.

The spinner luggage configuration stands out in particular because of its MagnaTrac wheels, which magnetically snap into a forward position when the bag is moved. The small tracking assistance makes a large difference when you’re navigating the Elite through a crowded airport or down a busy street. It also has an easy-to-use, removable garment bag. If you prefer more packing capacity (the equivalent of squeezing in two more sweatshirts), larger wheels that run more smoothly over rough terrain, and a more protective built-in garment folder,2 we also like the two-wheeled 22-inch version, especially for longer trips. But after several years of testing experience, we think the superior maneuverability of spinner luggage, along with improvements in manufacturing processes, make four-wheel bags a better choice for most people.

Measuring 23 by 13.5 by 9 inches, the Elite carry-on bag (in either wheel configuration) hits the upper margins of actual carry-on size limits and could get you gate-checked by an overzealous agent. However, it fits into most standard-size baggage caddies at check-in, including American’s and United’s. I’ve personally traveled with a Platinum line bag this size for more than 45,000 miles spread across 50 flights, from regional to long-haul to international routes, and never had an issue fitting within gate-side luggage sizers. If you’re nervous about getting caught at the gate or often fly in very small regional planes, Travelpro also makes a slightly smaller, 20-inch Platinum Elite as well as a slimmer International configuration, but these hold less (naturally) and lack a suiter insert.


This carry-on bag offers superlative build quality, plenty of expandable room, and a uniquely effective compression system. It’s a buy-it-for life suitcase.

If you’re willing to give up maneuverability for more space and bigger wheels, this is also a great option.

If you are a frequent flyer and willing to invest in a higher-quality product for your home away from home, we recommend the Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential 22" Carry-On Expandable Spinner (also available in a two-wheeled version with more capacity). Every detail of this top-rated bag, from the zippers to the wheels to the wrinkle-resistant suit compartment, is made to the highest standards, and we found it has a higher proportion of usable space than any other spinner bag we tested. This is further boosted by the uniquely effective ratcheting CX compression system that allows travelers to fit an entire extra outfit into the same external dimensions as most other carry-ons. The Baseline Essential is also the only spinner luggage model we tested with a built-in garment folder, which helps shirts and pants stay wrinkle-free if you pack them well. And although the wheels don’t snap into alignment, they are exceptionally smooth rolling and easy to maneuver.

In luggage reviews, the most common complaint about Briggs & Riley suitcases is that the handle seems loose, but this is by design. Other than wheels, the handle is the component most likely to break on any bag, and looser handles have a little more tolerance to wiggle within their tubes, so they are less likely to bend and get stuck. While a tighter fit feels more reassuring, it takes just a couple of trips to get used to the handle. If things go awry, user-replaceable parts and a network of repair centers located around the world make quick fixes easy, and the reliable lifetime warranty covers repairs for airline damage.

This great-looking and relatively resilient piece of hard-sided luggage has top-of-the-line components—including wheels as smooth-rolling as any we’ve tested.

Soft-sided carry-ons last the longest and show the least wear, but if you prefer the look of a hard-sided bag, the Away Carry-On is our choice. Like our other picks, this bag stood out for its high-end components, such as sturdy zippers and wheels that moved as smoothly as those on our soft-sided top picks. Its strong yet flexible polycarbonate shell does show more wear than our soft-sided picks. But after six years of testing multiple models, our testers have found that the Away is capable of enduring most of the trials of travel with fewer scratches than the other polycarbonate models we’ve tested. Similar to our soft-sided top picks, Away bags are backed by a limited lifetime warranty.

In addition to our main picks, we’ve found the international versions of our picks, where available.

This spinner carry-on offers the best balance of size, value, reliability, and durability, with high-end details. It’s backed by a lifetime warranty.

This two-wheeled carry-on bag isn’t as maneuverable, but it offers slightly more space, a garment folder, and larger, more durable wheels.

This carry-on bag offers superlative build quality, plenty of expandable room, and a uniquely effective compression system. It’s a buy-it-for life suitcase.

If you’re willing to give up maneuverability for more space and bigger wheels, this is also a great option.

This great-looking and relatively resilient piece of hard-sided luggage has top-of-the-line components—including wheels as smooth-rolling as any we’ve tested.

More than 130 hours of research—including interviews with numerous luggage experts, frequent-flying friends, family vacationers, and occasional business travelers—along with dozens of hours of testing and tens of thousands of miles of flights went into making these picks. We even went through independent trials with professional flight attendants and high-mileage flyers at what was then Virgin America’s training center in a model cabin of an Airbus A320 as part of our test procedures.

In the nine years we’ve been covering this category, the products have evolved—and so has our thinking about what makes the best carry-on luggage for most people. Based on what’s available, and what different types of travelers need, we think the following bags are the best investment you can make.

This spinner carry-on offers the best balance of size, value, reliability, and durability, with high-end details. It’s backed by a lifetime warranty.

This two-wheeled carry-on bag isn’t as maneuverable, but it offers slightly more space, a garment folder, and larger, more durable wheels.

For the majority of travelers who fly less than 10 times a year, the Travelpro Platinum Elite offers the best balance of features, durability, and price, while still providing some elements missing from similar bags costing around $300, such as durable sealed-bearing wheels and a lifetime warranty that covers repairs (or replacement, at the company’s discretion) even in the case of airline damage. However, you need to register the luggage within 120 days of purchase to activate the coverage. Registering is an easy process: Take a picture of the registration code that’s shipped with the luggage, text the photo to a phone number that’s provided, and fill out the form in the response link. Best of all, the suitcase holds about five days’ worth of clothes, which should be plenty for a carry-on–sized bag.

Though we’ve come to prefer the maneuverability of the four-wheeled carry-on luggage design, some people may prefer the extra space (about 400 cubic inches or the size of two rolled-up sweatshirts) and wheel durability of the two-wheeled model. The handles of both Elite models are sturdy without feeling too rigid. After handling countless bags over the years, we have found that the tolerances of the Travelpro telescoping handle feel the most comfortable: It's not so loose that it feels flimsy, but not so stiff that it feels stubborn.

I’ve now personally flown more than 45,000 miles with both the two-wheeled and four-wheeled versions of Travelpro’s Platinum series. What’s the best carry-on luggage I’ve found? Despite the fact that I’ve tested 50-plus models of luggage, the Platinum remains my favorite choice when I need a bag. It is sturdy and unassuming, and does what it is meant to do without complaint.

The exterior is made of a hard-wearing nylon fabric, a key feature of all the bags we’ve tested. It hides scuffs and scratches, and is much more versatile than hard-shell–styled bags. An expansion zipper lets you increase storage by about 30 percent in a pinch—although the bag will no longer be carry-on compliant. We prefer to use the expansion zipper as something of an ad hoc compression system: We unzip the expansion zipper while packing the bag and then zip it at the end, tamping everything down tight. The Elite also has a variety of convenient exterior pockets: two in the front, suited for small miscellaneous items like a sleep mask and boarding passes; and one on the side for a battery, but it can fit a bit more if necessary. There is also an accordian pocket on the front, for magazines and electronic tablets.

Telescoping handles can be a common failure point on luggage, but the Elite’s aluminum handle is solidly built and has a great track record—we’ve yet to encounter a sticking or bending problem with any of the Platinum bags we’ve tested over the years. It’s comfortable to hold while also being less bulky than past Platinum handles. And it extends to three heights (38 inches, 40 inches, and 42½ inches) to accommodate a variety of body types.

Travelpro’s wheels are similarly impressive. The spinner model of the Platinum Elite has a unique magnetic locking system, which helps align the wheels along parallel axes. It’s not a full locking position. Instead it feels more like a nudge or subtle push, but that’s enough for this bag to stand out from the competition as a top-rated carry-on bag. With the MagnaTrac wheels, the Platinum Elite is easier to maneuver than the other spinner models we tested. Spinner wheels have become more robust since they first appeared, but if for whatever reason your wheels do break, you can swap them out yourself with Travelpro’s replacements.

The Platinum Elite also does very well by the numbers. It weighs 7.8 pounds empty, which is an average-to-light weight among carry-ons, but a half pound lighter than the previous model, the Platinum Magna 2. It’s a pleasant surprise when you open the new Elite to find the same large 1,856-cubic-inch interior of the older Platinum Magna 2—which we estimated and measured using hundreds of Ping-Pong balls.3 That’s about 65 percent out of a total theoretical space limit of 2,772 cubic inches, based on its external dimensions. By comparison, the two-wheeled version holds 2,293 cubic inches or 80 percent of its total conceivable volume. Travelpro increased the diameter of the wheels on the Elite, making for a slightly smoother ride, and redesigned the top handle to lie flat, which cuts about an inch from the overall height of the bag relative to previous designs.

In real-world terms (the needs of Ping-Pong ball champions notwithstanding), the previous model of the nearly identical Platinum Elite, the Platinum Magna 2, swallowed up five days’ worth of clothes with no problem and had a good deal of room to spare—and that was without our resorting to the expansion zipper. We’ve found, over the years of traveling with suitcases with expanding zippers, that they’re better used as compression systems than an unexpected source of extra space.

The tie-down straps are made of two broad panels with pockets that cinch down, similar in design and function to what you’d find in much more expensive Briggs & Riley bags. Compared with simple tie-down straps you find in cheaper luggage, the panels do a great job of keeping things compacted without creasing clothes—a problem we’ve encountered in numerous other bags we’ve tested.

The spinner model of the Platinum Elite comes with a removable garment bag for optional use. It’s easy to pack: Just zip the suit in, fold it up, and you’re set. But we noticed more wrinkles resulting from the tighter confines of this model’s garment bag than we did from the two-wheeled version’s built-in garment folder.

Beyond that, the Platinum Elite’s internal organization system is about average. It will be familiar to anyone who has used a suitcase before, which means there’s no learning curve for optimizing the storage capacity. One long mesh pocket sits on one of the bag’s sides, and a smaller removable transparent plastic bag sits on the other side for easy TSA inspection of toiletries.

Should anything go wrong, you can take advantage of Travelpro’s generous lifetime warranty, which covers airline damage. The sole other company we’ve seen offering this extensive a warranty is Briggs & Riley, whose carry-on suitcases start at the $500 level. Travelpro bags have user-serviceable parts and multiple repair centers. To get repair service, you can either drop the bag off at a repair center or ship the bag to Travelpro, the cost of which the company will cover. Keep in mind that the warranty doesn’t cover cosmetic wear, and remember to tread carefully on stairs.

Though the Platinum Elite rolled pretty well in general, we are still a bit concerned when dragging the carry-on bag up stairs. Compared with some of the other bags we tested, which had long plastic bumper strips running most of the way up the length of the bag, this Travelpro model’s skid plate isn’t as big or as protective. That said, it’s a strong bag and Travelpro’s warranty is also strong. I’ve flown with this bag for more than 45,000 miles and haven’t had an issue, but if you’re particularly rough on your luggage or uncomfortable lifting the bag over curbs or up stairs it’s something to be aware of.

In luggage reviews, we have seen a number of complaints online that the previous version of the Platinum Elite, the Platinum Magna 2, was prone to tipping over when fully loaded. We’ve been unable to replicate that phenomenon in our own testing. In fact, the Travelpro is less prone to tipping over than many other bags we’ve tested. The one scenario in which we can get it to tip easily is by intentionally packing all the heaviest items near the top (when it’s lying flat) of the bag—laptops are a common culprit here. So long as you pack heavy things first (boots, camera lenses, souvenir wine bottles)—closer to the handle—you should be fine.

Travelpro uses a self-repairing nylon coil along with Supra zipper heads throughout its bag, instead of zippers made by YKK. Though we generally prefer YKK zippers, which have a very good reputation, Travelpro’s zipper choice hasn’t been enough to change our recommendation. However, in 2019 we noticed a small uptick in Wirecutter reader complaints about zipper tabs breaking. We reached out to Travelpro, and a representative told us that a production error expanded the capacity of the front pocket of the Platinum Elite; this allowed travelers to overpack the pocket, which put excessive strain on the zipper. Travelpro told us that it has fixed the error in subsequent production runs of the Platinum Elite. We’re continuing to monitor reader feedback and online reviews to see if the issue recurs. Travelpro covers the Platinum Elite with its best warranty for return, repair, and replacement: If your bag suffers from this (or any other) problem, get in touch with Travelpro, and the company ought to resolve it promptly.

In 2018, Travelpro added a USB pass-through cable to the Platinum Elite, as a way to compete with “smart bags.” It seems to be the only significant change, beyond aesthetic, to the Elite from the previous Platinum Magna model, and we aren’t all that impressed. We like the battery pocket, but the built-in cable itself, which routes from the pocket to a USB port less than 6 inches away, is an unnecessary item, which at best adds a potential point of failure to the bag—USB cables do not last forever. Does it ruin the bag? No. Is it a feature? Not really.

This carry-on bag offers superlative build quality, plenty of expandable room, and a uniquely effective compression system. It’s a buy-it-for life suitcase.

If you’re willing to give up maneuverability for more space and bigger wheels, this is also a great option.

If you fly more than 25,000 miles per year, it’s worthwhile to invest in luggage that goes beyond merely being sturdy and will actually improve your overall travel experience. The Briggs & Riley Baseline 22″ Essential is that kind of bag. It costs more than our main pick, but after using all of these bags side by side, we can see what a difference that extra money buys: The Briggs & Riley garment folder is among the roomiest we’ve tested, the compression system is superior to anything else we’ve seen, and the bag has a huge amount of interior space—more than all the others in this guide. That’s why we’ve been recommending it since we first covered this topic in 2014. It’s one of the best carry-on luggage options available today.

It’s also available in a two-wheeled version, which we tested and recommended in previous years. Both models perform just as admirably as each other. The two-wheeled version has the same internal layout as the spinner model, but it offers a bit more usable space.

The most ingenious part of the Baseline Essential bag is its CX expansion and compression system. Pull upward on two plastic handles inside the bag, and you can extend its depth a full 2½ inches. Load the bag as full as you need to, and zip it closed. Then you push down on the bag, which compresses it as a clip mechanism secures it in place. Unlike other expansion systems, which are either open or closed, this one locks into incremental positions. It’s a unique design and very satisfying to use.

Another significant difference: The tracks for the handles are on the outside of the bag, which allows for a flat surface in the interior of the bag, with no small crevices to work around for simple packing. And in our tests, after packing 10 bags trying to figure out strategies for each nook and cranny, packing on a broad flat surface felt like a luxury. According to our measurements, the bag, unexpanded, offers 1,905 cubic inches of storage room (and that accounts for the space occupied by the wheel wells and such). Expanded, it can stow 2,110 cubic inches—or nearly 77 percent of its conceivable available space. That’s remarkably efficient for a bag that does so much. All of these features add up to a carry-on that is easier to pack than any other bag we tested.

The garment folder is similar to Travelpro’s, and that’s a good thing. It’s easy to pack and has an anchor point for hangers. It’s a trifold system, and each of the folds has a bit of padding that helps to keep a suit from pinching onto itself and creasing, though much of that depends on how well you pack. You can fit a week’s worth of clothes in the Baseline Essential, including some puffy gear for colder weather. A wide, wrinkle-free tie-down system completes the package.

“I love this bag. It carries so much. Sometimes I check it. Sometimes I carry it. It always fits.” —Brian Lam, Wirecutter founder

On the outside, the Baseline Essential is pretty unremarkable. There’s nothing eye-grabbing about the bag, which is good if you’re trying to avoid being gate-checked (or having it stolen). Its outer fabric is made of a nylon material that seems to be of a tighter weave than that used on the other bags we’ve tested. We also noticed a robust feel to the zippers, which are a self-repairing type made by YKK. Its external pockets, as with all the bags we tested, are nothing to write home about, but they do strike a nice balance between protecting and compressing small items (a shaving/sewing kit, say) without showing much extra bulk.

All of these features add up to a carry-on that is easier to pack than any other bag we tested.

All Briggs & Riley bags come with a lifetime warranty that covers any damage to the “functional aspects” of the bag, even if caused by an airline (like Travelpro, Briggs & Riley does not cover cosmetic wear or cleaning). Although Briggs & Riley handles warranty-covered repairs at no extra cost, it does require you to pay to ship the bag to the company to carry out any repairs; it will ship your bag back to you for free. Or you can drop off the bag at one of the many repair centers. Briggs & Riley emphasizes that returning your bag to you in its original condition, even after repairs, is not always possible. Briggs & Riley bags are easy to service and repair, so you can also order the parts you need and replace them yourself at home.

One last long-term testing note for this luggage review: Over a five-year period before the pandemic, Wirecutter founder Brian Lam carried a two-wheeled Baseline while traveling 150,000 miles and farther. After considering all the bags in our test, and logging an additional 40,000 miles with a similarly priced bag by Tumi, he was convinced that this model is the best for anyone who’s always on the move. “I love this bag. It carries so much,” Lam said. “Sometimes I check it. Sometimes I carry it. It always fits.”

What’s not so great? Despite the plastic shielding, the exposed rails on the exterior could use some more protection. While dragging the bag up stairs (which we don’t advise doing), we felt more scraping than we’d like. And at first glance, the handle feels loose and shaky for a $700 bag. We spoke to Briggs & Riley representatives about the company’s designs, and they explained that this is a deliberate choice: The looser tolerances allow for the handle to retract by itself when you click its button, without your having to force it down. In practice, this is very helpful for scaling stairs and could save you some hassle in tight quarters, such as in the aisle of an airplane. We noticed, however, that even with this feature the handle sometimes requires gentle guiding to retract all the way. Given the trade-off, we’d prefer a sturdier feeling handle than one that feels loose. However, the Baseline series handle has held up well over nine years now with no jams.

This great-looking and relatively resilient piece of hard-sided luggage has top-of-the-line components—including wheels as smooth-rolling as any we’ve tested.

We still think most travelers are better off with one of our soft-sided picks than a hard-sided carry-on; soft-sided luggage shows less wear and typically lasts longer than hard-sided luggage. But if you prefer the look of hard-sided luggage or the security of knowing that you can’t “overpack” your suitcase, the Away Carry-On is the carry-on we recommend. Its wheels and zipper are as well made as those of our soft-sided picks, and its polycarbonate showed fewer scratches than that of hard-sided competitors.

We’ve tested the Away Carry-On for six years, traveling with it ourselves across the country and lending several units to testers and frequent travelers to see how they enjoyed using the bag. The Away’s polycarbonate feels similar to that used on more high-end (and significantly pricier) suitcases such as the Rimowa Essential Cabin, which is more than three times as expensive as the Away. The polycarbonate that Away uses is both strong and flexible. When we first started testing the Away in 2016, we found that flexibility to be a liability, especially on airport carpets: The first version of the Away I tested tended to flex into itself and jam up its own wheels when I pushed it in front of me. But I haven’t experienced the issue with any of the later models of this suitcase.

The bag itself feels good in the hands, and the wheels are noticeably better than those on any of the hard-sided competitors we tried. Away formerly used YKK zippers, outclassing our top pick in that regard (Travelpro moved to Supra zippers in 2015), but as of 2023, the company is sourcing its zippers from a number of suppliers. We’ll keep an eye on how the zippers of newer Away bags perform.

The Away has a modern and minimalist look, but the sleek style comes at a cost: Its polycarbonate shell is ultimately more likely to break than the nylon fabric of our other picks. It also lacks certain amenities, such as external pockets and a suiter, that our top picks have. The clamshell design, which splits down the middle and opens into two parts, can make it frustrating to pack and unpack. Packing cubes help, but after years of packing and unpacking soft-sided luggage with a single lid, I definitely find a clamshell design to be more finicky.

Away makes a similar model of suitcase with an expandable zipper, The Carry-On Flex. For all intents and purposes, the Flex is the same overall bag as the standard Carry-On except for the expanding center zipper and the price (it’s $50 more; also, the Carry-On original does go on sale more frequently). Personally, I’m not a fan of expanding zippers on suitcases. It feels like potentially just one more thing to break. But some people may prefer having the extra flexibility.

The Away costs about $40 less than the Travelpro Platinum Elite, and it too is backed by a limited lifetime warranty that protects against defects and parts breaking. It weighs a pound less than the Platinum Elite, and it has a similar amount of packing space. Which suitcase will work best for you depends on your taste and needs.

Readers often ask us for separate picks that are compliant with international carry-on requirements. While we would love to provide you with one, there is unfortunately no standard for what that means. The listed size of 22 by 14 by 9 inches (although most airline sizers we tested are actually a bit larger than their listed measurements) should be compliant with the vast majority of flights that start within America, regardless of where you’re flying to. If you want to play it safe, there is a non-insignificant number of airlines that restrict depth to less than 8 inches. You should be aware, if you’re flying with European or Asian carriers, that the biggest restriction is weight, which can be as low as 11 pounds on certain carriers—and makes this kind of luggage impractical. Thankfully, some—but not all—of our picks are available in slimmed-down and shorter versions for major international carriers:

If the best possible suit-packing experience is all you want, or if you regularly travel with two suits and money’s no object: The Vocier C38 is worth a look, despite a few flaws. The C38 takes a unique, fold-free approach to packing clothes. Rather than folding garments in on themselves to fit in the bag, it bends the suit around the outside of the luggage frame in a U shape. This packing method creates no creases, and therefore no wrinkles. The Vocier can carry a couple of suits, and its more refined styling should appeal to the luxury crowd. However, the unique shape of the Vocier means that the zipper of the luggage must travel a very specific S curve, which snagged almost every time we opened the case. The exterior is also quite thin, which leaves your crease-free suit vulnerable to sharp objects. And it’s backed by a limited lifetime warranty that doesn’t cover airline damage.

In the past, we were explicit in our recommendation of two-wheeled models over four-wheeled “spinner” luggage based on feedback from frequent flyers and interviews with luggage designers. However, after extensive testing and industry improvements in design and materials, we reversed our stance. It’s still true that two-wheeled luggage models have more internal space. It’s also true that they use larger, more durable wheels, which roll better over rough surfaces at least in one direction. And yet, after years of traveling with both types of bags through overcrowded planes and airports, we couldn’t deny the obvious: It’s far easier to travel with a four-wheeled piece of luggage than a two-wheeled one. The bulk of luggage brands and travelers have moved in this direction as well.

You can push a spinner bag ahead of you, run it along your side, or drag it behind you like a two-wheeled bag if you prefer; the point being, you get to choose what works best in a given situation, and this is often the difference between a stress-free day of travel and a stressed-out day of agitation, caught corners, and annoyed strangers. Besides, if a wheel breaks, it’s replaceable. Meanwhile, the only maneuverability benefits of two-wheeled luggage are better ground clearance over rough terrain, such as cobblestones, and easier rolling over carpets.

“Originally, spinner models tended to use weaker wheels that were mounted to a basic inner and outer housing at the base of the bag,” said Jason Gifford, who was the design manager for eBags when I spoke to him in 2018. “But now that companies have started building injection-molded pans for their wheel mounts, thickened the overall supports, and increased the diameter of the wheel spindles, the failure rate has reduced considerably. Whether you choose a two-wheeled model or a spinner model, it’s the handle or the zipper that’s going to break first.”

This isn’t to say that no one should ever get a two-wheeled bag. If you prefer extra space or wheel durability over maneuverability, then two-wheeled bags are perfect for you. Frequent flyers especially should place a premium on wheel durability and capacity. But we think most people who travel fewer than, say, six times a year will have an easier time navigating crowded terminals and narrow airplane aisles with a spinner suitcase.

Though hard-sided luggage continues to grow in popularity, we still suggest that most travelers opt for a soft-sided design over a hard-sided case. We appreciate the aesthetic appeal of hard-shell suitcases: Their sleek exteriors often come in a wider range of colors and prints than soft-case fabrics. But hard-sided luggage simply doesn’t perform as well as soft-sided luggage in nearly every other measure—soft-sided luggage lasts longer, accumulates fewer scuffs and marks along your travels, and includes extra features such as exterior pockets and suiters.

A soft-sided suitcase usually has a single compartment that you access through a single main zipper. But hard-sided cases have a clamshell design that splits in half, opening into two individual compartments, each with its own internal zippers and mesh linings; this means more bits to break or tear. And although 100 percent polycarbonate hard-shell luggage has come a long way compared with the crack-prone ABS-blended suitcases that used to plague moderately priced hard-shell luggage lines, a stronger shell doesn’t necessarily mean a stronger overall suitcase.

The main potential for failure is the zipper, which binds the two halves of hard-shell luggage together. Shells may be stronger than they once were, but as a result they transfer more energy onto the zipper and the zipper’s stitching when someone or something drops, bashes, or squeezes them. Put enough pressure on that zipper, and it could fail, possibly catastrophically. “Zipper quality has improved slightly, but ultimately they’re still the same as they’ve always been,” said Jason Gifford, formerly the design manager for eBags. “The metal gets worn down across the nose from the abrasion and inevitably that single piece will fail, more often than not.”

Hard-shell bags also miss out on a lot of features that are particularly important for a carry-on. They typically lack expansion zippers (and the few hard-sided bags that can expand usually feel too bulky). Very few offer external pockets for storing things like a spare battery pack or a sleep mask. There are some exceptions—for example, the Briggs & Riley Torq collection features an accessible outer panel that can carry a laptop, a tablet, and a few other gadgets for easy access. But this comes at the cost of a large amount of packing space for a small amount of convenience. This isn’t a problem with soft-sided luggage because the pockets simply tuck flat when not in use.

Hard-sided luggage also doesn’t age as well as soft-sided luggage. During testing, every hard-sided piece of luggage we’ve used has picked up more scuffs and marks in a few trips than some of our soft-sided suitcases have accumulated in years of long-term testing. We know that patina is in vogue these days and that every scrape and nick tells a story, but the overall effect here is more “wear and tear” than “vintage appeal.”

We found hundreds of roller carry-on bags out there—and that was even after we excluded models that didn’t meet our basic criteria. So we called up experts to help us narrow the field. Among them were:

We asked them what they use when traveling, what features they find vital, and what separates the junk from the quality bags they’ve used. Conversations with these experts helped us understand things such as the function behind nylon and polyester, the difference in wheel-bearing designs, why alloys in telescoping handles matter, and more. With the collected intelligence from these luggage reviewers, builders, and professional travelers, we zeroed in on some top brands.

Besides the suggestions from our experts, we researched editorial and user reviews of luggage, making sure to include popular brands like Samsonite and Tumi as well as esoteric names like Filson and Hideo Wakamatsu. In addition to the expert interviews, we spoke with assorted salespeople, brand engineers, and media-relations folks to make sure we found the best models from each brand.

We’ve been researching and testing carry-on luggage for years. Here’s how we put each new bag through its paces.

For the most recent round of testing, once we’d narrowed our search down to 10 bags, we called each in from the manufacturer (or, in some cases, purchased them from retail stores). After we had them all on hand, we weighed and measured the bags to see if they matched each company’s claims. We measured the external dimensions of the bag, but we also measured the internal dimensions, so that we could see which bag has the most usable packing space for the bag’s overall size. This procedure wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds, though, because bags aren’t perfect rectangles inside—the wheel wells and handle tracks encroach on the interior space. We measured these components and subtracted each from the total volume as well as we could.

From there, we analyzed the bags and put every data point into a spreadsheet. In addition to the measurements, we looked at features. Did the wheels have sealed bearings? How big were the wheels? How many pockets did the bag have? How good were the pockets? Was the garment bag big enough, or would it crumple finery? How many stages did the handle extend to? How comprehensive was the warranty? How user-repairable was the bag? We asked all of that and more.

We also tried to look at subjective and less-quantifiable factors. For example, did this bag appear bulkier and more likely to get a person gate-checked? Was it a good-looking bag, or an eyesore? How protected is the bag on the outside? How usable are the external pockets? What, if any, extras are included?

Then we loaded them down and beat them up. We decided that carry-on bags should be capable of holding enough clothes to last you five days with room to spare for miscellaneous necessities. Two testers, one male and one female, packed a bag individually as if headed to the same wedding. You can see the two packing lists in the footnotes below.4 What we included isn’t representative of a family traveling or a couple splitting a bag, but we did design this test load to err on the side of bulky, and we hope it will give you a clear idea of how much of your own stuff these bags could hold.

We looked at how each bag loaded. Was there an easy way to keep smaller items (such as socks and underwear) organized? Did it have compression straps that would keep things in place? Were the straps thick enough to avoid adding creases to the clothes? Just how much would the bag compress? How much room was left over? Once packed, was the bag easy to tip over?

Then it was time to see how each bag worked. We extended and retracted the handles on each one many times over the course of many days and felt for sticking points. We checked the smoothness of the zippers when they were under stress while packed tight. And then we wheeled each loaded bag around the neighborhood on the exact same route, looking at how well each bag rolled, and how well it handled broken sidewalks, uneven pavement, grass, bricks, dirt, and curbs. We also dragged them up and down two flights of concrete stairs, noting how easy this task was and how much damage the bags sustained. For our finalists, we repeated the torture test along a second, even rougher route.

We then double-checked the measurable packable space of our top picks against the manufacturers’ listed volumes, by filling each piece of luggage with hundreds of Ping-Pong balls: 144 Ping-Pong balls weigh exactly half a pound, and each Ping-Pong ball represents (PDF) approximately 2 cubic inches. After weighing each piece of luggage three times to establish an average empty weight, we filled the bags as full as we could with Ping-Pong balls and measured the change in weight. For every half-pound increase in weight we estimated 288 cubic inches of packable space.

Our former runner-up pick, the Travelpro Crew 11 21″ Expandable Spinner, has been discontinued.

Costco Kirkland Signature Softside 22″ 2 Wheel Carry-On: A former budget pick, and the best-performing bag we found in the $100 price range, this Kirkland model is a great affordable carry-on. Unfortunately, it has been having stock issues, so we have removed its section from this guide. We still think it’s a great option if you can find it.

Away Expandable Bigger Carry-On: Away’s soft-sided luggage entry was sturdy and good looking. However, the design mimicked the clamshell opening of Away’s original hard-sided luggage. Instead of designing a soft-sided suitcase with one large compartment to pack, Away splits the Expandable Carry-On into two smaller, difficult-to-pack halves. (Update: Away discontinued the line.)

eBags Mother Lode Carry-On Rolling Duffel: We like eBags’s packing cubes, and the company’s wheel-less carry-on bag is a good budget buy, but this Mother Lode was easy to dismiss right away. Its wheels chattered over every surface except deep carpet. Flanking it are four outside buckle straps that block the zipper, which makes it difficult to get things in and out of the bag. Before you can pack the bag, there are two fiberglass rods that you need to install yourself. And it has no garment bag. (It also appears to have been discontinued.)

Genius Pack G3 Carry-On: It’s a very specific kind of traveler who will value the hyper-organization and chambered packing system built into the Genius Pack. We do like the similar approach, but at this price we think you’re better off with one of our top picks and buying a set of packing cubes. (Genius Pack has introduced the next generation, the G4, but it appears to have many of the same problems as the G3; the company has since announced that it’s going to focus on hard-shelled bags.)

Timbuk2 Copilot: We had high hopes for this one because Timbuk2 has a great reputation for making backpacks and messenger bags. The balance on this bag was decent, and it stood up well unloaded or loaded. The wheels still had that cheap ball-bearing rhythmic chatter to them. However, the biggest problem with this bag was the abundance of zippers and internal compartments. Opening the bag reveals two mesh compartments that you then have to open in turn just to begin packing. It was a tedious process and not one we would want to repeat every leg of a trip.

Incase EO Roller: At full price, this stylish bag is $250. Although Incase makes decent laptop sleeves, it’s hard to see how an exterior made of 60 percent cotton, 30 percent polyester, and 10 percent thermoplastic rubber will be as tough as a dense woven nylon. We’d skip this choice and put the money into something that’s built to last. (It has also, apparently, been discontinued.)

Thule Subterra 22″: Unlike most of the other bags in our test, this opens like a clam, with the zipper cutting along the middle of the side walls. Most of the bags we tested unzip so that only the top opens, allowing you the full depth of the bag to stack your belongings inside along the walls. The clamshell design, in contrast, makes this bag difficult to close if you’re trying to use it to its full capacity—it just isn’t as easy to use as the basic opening style of our picks.

Arlo Skye The Frame Carry-On: The Arlo Skye is a decent piece of luggage, but it’s hard to square the bag with its cost: $200 more than the Away.

Lojel Cubo Medium: Although we liked the uncommon top-loading design, the internal organization of the lid made packing this carry-on difficult. We also weren’t impressed by the zippered expansion system on the Lojel, which made the suitcase feel bulkier than our picks.

Calpak Ambeur Carry-On: We preferred the sturdier polycarbonate shells over Calpak’s blended ABS polycarbonate shell. We also thought the Calpak bag’s handling felt jittery against normal airport floor surfaces.

AmazonBasics Hardside Spinner: This AmazonBasics bag is a surprisingly good carry-on for costing just over $100. However, as on Calpak’s bag, this model’s weaker ABS plastic shell is just not as tough as a polycarbonate shell. We think it’s worthwhile to invest a little more into your luggage—the bag you choose will last longer and work better.

Briggs & Riley Torq, Sympatico: While both of these Briggs & Riley lines seek to solve a different problem, neither are as impressive as the Baseline series.

Kit Dillon

Kit Dillon is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter. He was previously an app developer, oil derrick inspector, public-radio archivist, and sandwich shop owner. He has written for Popular Science, The Awl, and the New York Observer, among others. When called on, he can still make a mean sandwich.

by Wirecutter Staff

These 100 useful things were the most-purchased Wirecutter picks in September 2022.

by Geoffrey Morrison

We chose five luggage tags that will help you identify your belongings in a sea of similar suitcases.

by Kit Dillon

Travelpro Platinum Elite is our most loyal travel companion.

by Kit Dillon

After five years of testing carry-on luggage, we’ve learned what makes a good suitcase, which parts break first, and what you should look for when buying a bag.

If the best possible suit-packing experience is all you want, or if you regularly travel with two suits and money’s no object: