Whether it’s wrongly taken off the baggage claim or loaded on an incorrect flight, losing a checked bag is an occupational hazard for frequent fliers, which is why most carry their personal effects on instead, especially during the holiday season, when a lost bag means lost gifts. For the seasoned traveler, carry-on luggage needs to hold a few changes of clothes and maybe an extra pair of shoes, have pockets for mid-journey access and meet the requirements for fitting in an overhead compartment.
What separates these from backpacks and duffles? Wheels and telescoping handles, because rolling always beats hauling a bag over your shoulder. However, simply having wheels and a handle is the bare minimum. There's plenty more that goes into getting carry-on luggage that's just right for you and the way and where you travel.
Best Carry-On Luggage: Our Top Picks
Best Overall Carry-On LuggageAway The Carry-On Read More
Best Upgrade Carry-On LuggageRimowa Original Cabin Carry-On Read More
Best Affordable Carry-On LuggageJuly Carry On Read More
Best Carry-On Luggage for OverpackersMonos Carry-On Pro Read More
Best Lightweight Carry-On LuggageZero Haliburton International Carry-On Case Read More
Best Overall Carry-On Luggage: Away The Carry-On
Pros: Lightweight polycarbonate design is still durable. Super spacious and easy to pack. Optional battery pack keeps you charged on the go.
Cons: Handle feels flimsy compared to the rest of the suitcase. Battery must come out to be checked.
Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
Weight: 7.1 pounds
Capacity: 39.8 liters
Price: $345 (with charger), $275 (no charger)
Away burst onto the scene in late 2015 with a plan to disrupt the stale luggage market. It was, as we call them now, a DTC disruptor — a brand that'd cut out the middlemen and approach prospective customers directly. (DTC = direct-to-consumer.) Its first product, The Carry-On, was perfectly plain, a product that first appear lame but would go on to be fairly ubiquitous because of its simplicity. It also introduced a feature that's now commonplace on trendy suitcases: an integrated lithium-ion battery for charging your phone.
Our tester's favorite aspect of the Away Carry-On is the integrated lithium-ion battery, which is capable of powering your phone or tablet as you travel. Outlets are hard to come by in the airport, and if you do work from your phone like our tester does, having a dead battery isn't an option. Being able to take my own power source with them, without having to carry yet another accessory like a portable charger around felt empowering, they say. The most noticeable thing they didn't like about Away's case was its handle, though — it feels very flimsy, and at odds with the rest of the construction.
Learn more about Away in our dedicated guide to the brand.
Best Upgrade Carry-On Luggage: Rimowa Original Cabin Carry-On
Pros: Aluminum shell dents but doesn't crack. Lifetime warranty with complimentary repairs offered at a number of locations (stores, hotels, etc.) around the world.
Cons: Handles feel insignificant in comparison.
Dimensions: 21.7 x 15.8 x 9.1 inches
Weight: 9.5 pounds
Capacity: 34.8 liters
This is the status suitcase. Recognizable by its ridged aluminum exterior, Rimowa's Original Cabin Carry-On is a go-to for first-class, full-time and famous travelers. (You've probably see plenty of touring musicians with theirs covered in stickers. It's the cool thing to do.) The German brand dates back the late 19th century and production still takes place in Cologne, where the company is headquartered. It is now, however, owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH.
What does that mean? Well, the quality hasn't changed, but the conversations around the suitcases have. LVMH elevated the brand, making it as much a cultural touchpoint as it is a celebrated titan of consumer product design. You'll appreciate it all-aluminum exterior, but the handles, which are hard plastic, feel lackluster in comparison, our tester says.
But Rimowa's aluminum suitcases are well-regarded for good reason. The shiny silver cases can take a beating, but they show their bruises boldly. This look's not for everyone, especially if they bought the $1,400 suitcase for how it looks mint, fresh out of the box upon delivery. Our tester appreciates these, though, just like many others.
The dents and dings, though, are a good thing, a constant reminder your case is actually working. These dents could've been cracks if you were rolling a polycarbonate option. As such, think of aluminum, despite its connotations, as the ultimate choice: a material meant to be put to the test, because it'll pass with flying colors.
Read our full Rimowa Original Cabin Carry-On Review.
Like the look of aluminum luggage? Find more our dedicated guide to aluminum suitcases.
Best Affordable Carry-On Luggage: July Carry On
Pros: Features double wheels for a smoother ride. Lightweight, which makes lifting it into bins easy.
Cons: So popular that certain colors are often out of stock.
Dimensions: 21.5 x 15 x 8.5 inches
Weight: 7.4 pounds
Capacity: 42 liters
So often in the luggage world, functionality equal drab design. July's sleek carry-on tries to buck the trend, melding first-class materials with looks to match. The crush-proof German polycarbonate shell protects 46 liters of storage including a hidden laundry bag, waterproof nylon lining and ejectable FastCharge USB-C battery. With two latch locks, the suitcase is a breeze to get into, our tester says. And it can move easily from airport to sidewalk, thanks to smooth double wheels and a multi-height telescopic handle.
It's common for luggage companies to offer customization, our tester adds. But while most brands stick to monograms, July gives you the option of whole words or phrases — albeit, short ones. The accessible price and lightweight build — it's 8.4 pounds when empty, which made it easy for our tester to lift it into the overhead bin — make this suitcase from a startup Australian brand quite desirable. So much so that certain colors are sometimes backordered during peak travel months.
Best Carry-On Luggage for Overpackers: Monos Carry-On Pro
Pros: Handle is heavy duty. Front pocket expands, giving you more room.
Cons: Laptop sleeve does not lock.
Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
Weight: 7.8 pounds
Capacity: 36 liters
Most carry-ons are matte plastic of some kind, but Monos's is much smoother and nice-looking than many in this price range (roughly $300), our tester says. This model comes with a big zip pocket on the front of the case, which has laptop sleeves and spots for books and passports galore. They also thought this case has a bit more "stretch" than other hard plastic shell carry-ons they've tried; that extra bit of give means they were able to force an extra pair of jeans in this case where they might not have been able to in another.
When you try your best to not check luggage, this is a very big deal. They're also someone who tends to drag the handle up and down constantly while skittering around the airport nervously, so this one was tested, well, thoroughly. This one feels more secure than most, which is a bit surprising because this case leans a bit more into the value realm than it does the high-end.
One negative, though: While they love the laptop sleeve, they really wish there was a TSA-approved lock to secure it like there is with the main compartment. Perhaps there are guidelines of what can and can't be locked up, but they didn't feel comfortable leaving the laptop in the non-locked zipper, even when it's stowed away.
Best Lightweight Carry-On Luggage: Zero Haliburton International Carry-On Case
Pros: Wheels are super durable, even on uneven terrain. Incredibly lightweight at just 7.7 pounds. Side nubs help keep the suitcase elevated.
Cons: Pricy for polycarbonate. Side nubs can get in the way in tight quarters (like an overhead bin).
Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
Weight: 7.7 pounds
Capacity: 35 liters
Warranty: 5 years
This is a polycarbonate case that feels premium, our tester says. While the plastic-shelled market is pretty saturated right now, Zero Halliburton manages to set itself apart with the details. It's got a handle that's far better than the competition, a scalloped grip handle near wheels for easy lifting, retractable rubberized side handles and an interior designed to help you organize your belongings. It's on the upper edge of the polycarbonate spectrum for good reason.
This was their first higher-end carry-on luggage, our tester explained. They tested it thinking it was unlikely to live up to its nearly $500 price tag. Outside the usual airport run-ins, the 'test' included about as rigorous a challenge a suitcase could endure: the nearly millenia-and-then-some-old streets of Seville, Spain.
The wheels, which feel cheap but clearly are not, held fast. Frankly, few things give them more anxiety than their imagination, our tester says, and imagining a wheel popping off and having to drag my carry-on (which was packed to the brim to avoid having to check a bag) around an unfamiliar city. In an airport, they wish for nothing to touch the ground unless absolutely necessary, so they also appreciate the nubs, for lack of a better word, on the sides of the case. They're about an inch tall, and they make sure the suitcase can sit on the ground horizontally without touching the ground completely.
All things considered, $475 still feels like a lot of cash to spend on a suitcase, but, for frequent travelers, this is a small figure for peace of mind, our tester adds.
Best Two-Wheeled Carry-On Luggage: Sterling Pacific 35L Cabin Travel Case
Pros: It's easy to pack because of its one-chamber design. The entire thing is fully aluminum.
Cons: Two-wheel design takes a while to get used to. The suitcase is fairly loud.
Dimensions: 22.5 x 14 x 8.5 inches
Weight: 11.5 pounds
Capacity: 35 liters
With two wheels, not four, upstart brand Sterling Pacific's 35L Cabin Travel Case stands out. It's also an unusual shape: a slender lid offsets a deep trunk, where you can stow quite a lot. And what you do put inside will surely be protected. The whole case is 100 percent aluminum: an aerospace-grade aluminum body, reinforced aluminum corners, aluminum wheel housings and an aluminum trolley.
Sure, it's a little wonky-looking, but it was easy to adjust to after a few rolls, our tester says, plus the suitcase is less likely to snag on a cracked sidewalk or tile floor, like four-wheeled designs do.
In a sea of similar suitcases, both in material or design, Sterling Pacific's 35L Cabin Travel Case stands out — and for obvious reasons. But its deviations from the norm, if you will, aren't without reason. The two-wheel design reduces the number of possible failure points, and the rectangular shape makes it easier to pack.
The $1,495 suitcase may come sans the legacy of a suitcase like Rimowa, for example, but Sterling Pacific is a new brand carving its own lane, catering to elite travelers with high standards — and staying with them through the life of their suitcase, offering a lifetime warranty and endless complimentary repairs.
Read our full review of the Sterling Pacific 35L Cabin Travel Case.
Best Celeb-Founded Carry-On Luggage: Beis The Carry-On Roller
Pros: Clean, minimal aesthetic is nearly free from logos. Celeb-backed, but not obviously so (Shay Mitchell).
Cons: Construction leaves a lot to be desired, but the handle stood out as one of the best in its class.
Dimensions: 14.6 x 22.8 x 9.8 inches
Weight: 8.36 pounds
Capacity: 49-61 liters
Warranty: 2 years
Our tester says you can't fully appreciate the cushioned handle on this carry-on until you’ve gripped it gliding through a crowded terminal. Trust us when we tell you, they say, it’s a feature you never knew you needed.
Beis's The Carry-On Roller is pretty basic otherwise, but the handle impressed — and so did its price. For just over $200, you get a polycarbonate suitcase with faux leather trim and a PVC interior that's stain resistant. That helps keep the inside tidy even when you spill your packed lotion or sunscreen, and it's expandable, too, meaning you can fit a bit more in here than other, firmer suitcases.
Best Carry-On Luggage Under $200: Calpak Hue Carry-On Luggage
Pros: Interior offers plenty of space for even bigger shoes. Wheels roll incredibly well.
Cons: All colorways earn scuffs really easily — except black.
Dimensions: 21.5 x 13.75 x 9.25 inches
Weight: 7.8 pounds
Capacity: 44 liters
Warranty: 2 years
After years of lugging their possessions around on their back and shoulder during myriad business trips, the Hue Carry-On reminded our tester just how nice a roll-aboard bag can be when done well. All four wheels rotate 360 degrees, and they’ll work with the bag tilted at pretty much any angle from vertical to near-horizontal, providing excellent agility. Plus, they roll seamlessly; our tester started making a game out of releasing it ahead of them while striding through empty airports and seeing how many seconds it took for it to slow down.
It’s conveniently expandable, adding an extra two inches of width in a few seconds with the pull of a zipper, which comes in handy on those trips where you need all 44 liters of space — or when you start accumulating souvenirs when you get there. (That capacity, by the way, is enough for close to a week’s luggage, even when half of it goes to size-14 gym shoes.) Yet even at full size, they never came close to having an issue fitting it into the overhead bin on Delta.
That said, the finish is easily marred; their bag boasted black marks after its very first trip, and new ones have appeared with every voyage since. The test bag’s cream finish (dubbed “Linen”) no doubt exacerbated the issue, but blemishes seem liable to be noticeable with any of the available colorways other than black. And the added pockets may be handy for the hyper-organized, but for most of us, they’re just in the way. Luckily, they’re easily removed — or ignored.
Best Carry-On Luggage You Can Buy on Amazon: Level8 Carry-On Luggage
Pros: Incredibly lightweight for the size. Wheels are quiet and quite durable.
Cons: The exterior shell feels pretty cheap — and it is: it's only $159.
Dimensions: 22 x 15 x 8.5 inches
Weight: 7.7 pounds
Capacity: 40 liters
Our tester likes Level8's simple suitcase, especially in aluminum. The polycarbonate version, however, is less compelling, they say — but still worth it, considering the price tag. For only $159, you get a decent-sized carry-on that compares to several competitors that sell for way more. Be wary of checking it, though, especially fully-loaded, because the polycarbonate shell does feel thinner than Away's, for example.
The wheels, however, are a surprisingly solid upgrade, our tester says. They are awfully quiet, even on bumpy sidewalks or escalator ramps, which in theory doesn't matter until you're rolling a really loud one (like Sterling Pacific's). Best of all, you can find these suitcases on Amazon, and can order them via Prime — which means you can get it to your apartment in time for any emergency trip.
Best Soft-Sided Carry-On Luggage: Eastpak Trans4 CNNCT Medium Suitcase
Pros: Soft exterior is easier on the hands when lifting it into an overhead bin. Exterior straps help compress larger, softer items (i.e. sweaters).
Cons: Wheels are fairly unstable. Soft shell doesn't protect valuable (or fragile items).
Dimensions: 27.5 x 15 x 11 inches
Weight: 8.55 pounds
Capacity: 67 liters
Warranty: 2 years
Our tester rarely packs valuables in their carry-on. They'll tow a backpack to separate their laptop, headphones and passport from the rest of what they pack because they like knowing they can access them if they really need them. With Eastpak's Trans4 Carry-On, you'll need to, too. The soft-sided suitcase doesn't offer much in terms of protection, but it works well for clothing, shoes and toiletries. Straps on either side help compress the carry-on once fully packed, creating a compact, evenly distributed suitcase that easily glides through airports and airport security.
Our tester did find, however, that the wheels were not the most stable. The bag was easily tipped over if the weight inside was not distributed properly, or if something snagged it as it rolled along. That being said, the soft sides are a refreshing departure from hard-sided plastic or aluminum. Not only is it quieter, but it's softer on the hands when loading it into the overhead bin or pressing your knee on it to get it closed.
Best Carry-On Backpack: DB Journey The Hytta 50L Split Duffel
Pros: Boxy design helps fit oversized items (like a motorcycle helmet).
Cons: It is still a backpack, and it can be quite cumbersome completely filled.
Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.4 x 11 inches
Capacity: 50 liters
Our tester has not yet switched over to a rolling bag, and this incredibly versatile pack is a big reason why, they say. They've used it for everything from cross-country trips to delivering meals-on-wheels by bike around Brooklyn.
Super comfortable, even with lots of cargo, and the boxy shape and un-zippable sections enable carrying even large awkward items like motorcycle helmets. As structured as it appears, it packs down accordion-style so it's pretty easy to stash when not in use. The daisy chains on the back are great for tying on additional gear too, they explain.
Not convinced? Here are 5 reasons why you should carry a backpack, not a suitcase, on your next trip.
Before You Buy
Should You Take Carry-On or Check a Bag?
For frequent travelers, this is a hotly contested debate. Busy business travelers prefer a carry-on bag because it lessens the likelihood it'll get lost, stolen, opened or rummaged through. Plus, a carry-on helps you get from your arrival gate to the airport's exit faster. For those that travel just a few times each year, checking a bag makes perfect sense, either because a credit card or loyalty program offers them for free or because they'd rather pay the extra for the peace of mind — and a few extra outfits.
To be honest, though, carry-on luggage is a must-buy no matter whether you travel with a bigger bag more often. What happens when you book a quick weekend getaway? Or, when you're whisked away on a one- or two-day business trip? While two backpacks and a duffle might do the job, it's easier to have a carry-on bag on standby. It's the one suitcase everyone should own.
How Big Can a Carry-On Be?
Unfortunately, there's no universal guide for carry-on luggage. Although it'd make sense for each airline to adhere to size restrictions set by the TSA, each one has its own set of rules. Most airlines' carry-on compartments can accommodate a bag or suitcase no bigger than 14 x 9 x 22 inches.
- American Airlines: 14 x 9 x 22 inches
- Delta Airlines: 14 x 9 x 22 inches
- Frontier Airlines: 16 x 10 x 24 inches
- JetBlue: 14 x 9 x 22 inches
- Southwest Airlines: 16 x 10 x 24 inches
- Spirit: 18 x 10 x 22 inches
- United Airlines: 14 x 9 x 22 inches
How Heavy Can a Carry-On Be?
Few domestic airlines set maximum weight limits on carry-on luggage. In fact, few will ever even check your bag unless it seems like you're struggling to wheel it through the airport, lift it onto the security belt or into the overhead bin. Frontier Airlines, for example, lists a maximum weight of 35 lbs, and since you have to pay for carry-on bags, you'll be asked to place it on a scale at checkout — which happens at the check-in counter.
What Is Allowed in a Carry-On?
The TSA has seen it all. As such, there's an ever-growing list of items the TSA has already approved for carrying on. You can access it here. (It's appropriately titled "What Can I Bring?") For any item that is not listed, you can easily message the TSA through Facebook or Twitter for a fast answer, the agency says.
It's important to remember the long-standing rules, though. You can't bring any liquids in bottles bigger than 3.4 ounces, and all of them must fit in a quart-sized bag. You can, however, bring e-cigarettes and vapes as long as they are not used in flight. In fact, you cannot pack these items in your checked bag. That being said, if these are marijuana products, you risk being referred to the local enforcement if found.
"TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer," the agency explains.
How to Pack Your Carry-On Luggage
Fold, Don't Roll: Rolling actually makes your clothes more wrinkled, it takes up more room, and if you’re using space-saving packing tools, rolling just isn’t a good technique.
Compartmentalize: Organizational tools — packing cubes, vacuum bags, even Ziploc bags — facilitate more thoughtful packing.
Think in Layers: People often make the mistake of packing bulky items instead of many smaller layers.
Do Laundry: It goes back to the concept of a vacation still being your reality — there are still places to do laundry.
Bad packer? Learn more in our guide to how to properly pack a suitcase.
How We Tested
Our testers took a number of carry-on suitcases on flights across the US and the Atlantic. Each one observed the suitcases' key features, like whether the wheels roll smoothly, the handle is truly telescopic or if the inside isn't forgiving to over-packers.
They stayed with them, too, so they could be observed outside the airport. As such, we also considered how it fit in the trunk of your car, onto a luggage trolley, inside your hotel room and even in your closet at home (when not on the road).