It doesn’t matter if you’re a busy traveler flying every week or take just one trip a year, your luggage should be the last thing to stress about. Many people want the ease of a carry-on suitcase to avoid checked baggage fees, delays at the luggage carousel, or the potential of having their luggage lost or damaged in transit.
We put eight carry-on bags through weeks of rigorous testing in an effort to find the very best. In the end, we found that the Osprey Transporter Wheeled Carry-On (available at Amazon) is the carry-on bag that most people should invest in. If you travel infrequently or don’t want to spend a lot of money, our Best Value pick, the American Tourister Triumph NX 20" Spinner (available at Amazon) is also a fine choice.
Osprey Transporter Wheeled Carry-On
The Osprey Transporter Wheeled Carry-On might be the ideal bag. It’s a durable, lightweight carry-on that you can pack a lot into.
Made using 6061 aluminum alloy tubing and 400 denier nylon double-coated PTU fabric, the Transporter Wheeled Carry-On is lightweight, tough, and offers some resistance to wet weather conditions. With its rugged 3.5” wheels and a very respectable amount of ground clearance, this carry-on can be pulled along over almost any terrain.
It’s worth noting that unlike most wheeled carry-on bags, which trundle along on four wheels, the Transporter Wheeled Carry-On only comes equipped with two. While this leaves it less maneuverable as a four-wheeled spinner, fewer wheels built into the bag means more space for your belongings. During testing, the Osprey rolled well over every surface we subjected it to. What’s more, at 5.07 pounds empty, it’s light enough, even fully loaded, to pick up briefly to surmount stairs or lift into an overhead compartment.
Rather than the double-barrelled extendable handle seen with most other wheeled suitcases, the Transporter Wheeled Carry-On uses a single, sturdy aluminum retractable handle. That means when retracted, it takes up somewhat less space and adds less weight. The retractable handle offers two different height settings, making it comfortable for most people to use. When using the retractable handle isn’t practical, grab handles on the top and sides of the bag provide several carrying options, and the aluminum frame forms a metal handle at the bottom to make lifting it with two hands easy.
Aside from its aluminum frame and retractable handle, the Transporter Wheeled Carry-On is completely soft-sided. So, there’s lots of room to expand it to its full 38 liters (2,319 cubic inches) if needed and, when empty, the carry-on compresses quite flat to take up minimal storage space. The bag has a large, slightly padded external pocket on the front that fits a laptop plus other miscellaneous stuff; it’s got a zippable RFID pocket too. On the top of the bag is an externally accessed water-resistant pouch ideal for shoes or liquids. On the back, there’s another pocket for a book or a magazine that includes an ID sleeve.
Inside, the main compartment is large, though the retractable handle rib does take up some space. You can zip a mesh divider closed to keep everything secure, plus there are two compression panels. The bag’s top flap has two interior mesh compartments.
One drawback of this bag is that the laptop compartment isn’t as theft-proof as it could be. While you can thread a TSA lock through the pocket’s tough plastic pulls, they’re attached to the zipper by thick fabric rather than metal, which a thief could cut through when you’re not watching. The main compartment is much more secure — its double zipper and pulls are 100% metal and you can close it securely with a lock.
Dimensions: 21.5 x 14 x 9 Our Bag Sizer Says: It fits!
The Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 was our pick for Best Soft-Sided Carry-On in the original iteration of this guide, and it retains its title this time around, as well. The Aeronaut 45 is a briefcase-shaped, soft-sided bag with a 45-liter (2,700 cubic inch) capacity. Available in a number of fabric options, the Aeronaut 45 is one of the lightest carry-ons we’ve tested. When constructed from the heaviest material Tom Bihn uses, it weighs in at just over three pounds. Using the company’s lightweight fabrics, the weight falls two pounds and seven ounces.
The Aeronaut 45 is designed to be carried in hand, on your shoulder, cross-body (when paired with Tom Bihn’s optional Absolute Shoulder Strap, or as a backpack (with padded zip-away straps so you can still look business-like when you check-in at your hotel). When the time comes to manhandle the bag in or out of an overhead bin or quickly snatch it up as you deboard a train, you’ll find the grab handles (built into each side of the bag) as well as its main carry handle (built into the top of the bag, extremely useful.
The Aeronaut 45 can hold considerably more than some of the wheeled bags we tested for this guide but, as with all soft-sided bags, you need to be careful of overpacking it into a shape too big for the airport bag sizer. Its main compartment, accessible through a U-shaped zippered opening on the front of the bag, proved large enough to easily fit all the items on my packing list, with room to spare. Built-in compression straps, as well as a series of integrated D-rings, ensure your contents stay where you want them. The D-rings can also be used to customize the Aeronaut 45’s interior with a wide variety of accessories. On each end of the bag, you’ll find a zippered compartment that’s big enough to pack a pair of men’s shoes into. Each of these end compartments features an external stash pocket for small or flat items. You can even unzip the interior zippers of the two end compartments to connect them into one big space if you want.
The Aeronaut 45’s lack of hard sides or an internal frame allows it to be compressed when being fitted into an airport sizer or overhead bin — provided you resist the urge to overpack. When not in use, this carry-on can be folded down flat or rolled up for storage.
Dimensions: 21.9 x 14 x 9.1 Our bag sizer says: It fits!
Made from high-quality materials
Multiple carry options and grab handles
Can be expanded to carry larger amounts of cargo
Price of customization accessories can add up quickly
The American Tourister Triumph NX 20-inch Spinner surprised me with how much stuff I could fit in it, despite its compact size. And, at 6.39 pounds, it was the lightest of all the spinners we tested for this guide.
The NX 20 is a hard-sided spinner, with a clamshell design. The exterior is made from 100% ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, lighter but not as durable as polycarbonate) material with a wavy honeycombed texture to resist dents and scratches. Our fork test left very faint scratch marks, but you’d have to know where to look to notice them. Once opened, the NX 20 offers two large compartments, though ribs from the retractable handle do take up a little bit of space on one half of the bag. You can store things flat in the other half. A mesh panel and one tie-down strap help keep things packed tight, and there’s one long pencil case-sized interior pocket to keep small items organized. The bag will supposedly expand in the zipper area an additional 1.5”, but it won’t fit the sizer if you overstuff it.
Like the other spinner carry-ons in this guide, the NX 20 comes equipped with an extendable handle, designed to retract into the bag when not in use. Its retractable handle wasn’t as smooth to operate as the ones on other bags I tested. However, it gets the job done — mostly. During testing, I found that when pushing the NX 20 along on rougher surfaces, the bag occasionally threatened to tip over. Additionally, I sometimes needed to give it a nudge to get it rolling on carpet — but some of the more expensive spinners I tested suffered from these same issues too.
When using the retractable handle is less than ideal, like when you’ve got a flight of stairs to climb, the NX 20 can be picked up and carried using the comfortable handle built into the top of the bag. You should know that this is the only carry handle built into the bag — that it’s on the top of the NX 20, instead of the side, is unusual. However, the suitcase’s compact size makes carrying it vertically, by the handle, easy.
Given its hard-sided clamshell design, the NX 20 has no external pockets. This could be a dealbreaker for those who want to travel with just a single bag but do want their laptop and reading material easily accessible. Additionally, while the bag’s performance didn’t degrade during our tests, the durability of this carry-on will likely become an issue over time. However, if you take fewer than a handful of trips each year, the NX 20 should serve you well for a long time.
Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 Our bag sizer says: It fits!
I’m Johanna Read, a freelance travel writer/photographer, and management consultant. Thanks to both jobs, I travel a couple of times a month (pre-pandemic). I might be on a tiny float plane somewhere in my home province of British Columbia, Canada, or jetting around the world for a research trip. Direct flights aren’t the norm for where I travel and I need to be on the go as soon as I land, so I almost always fly carry-on only. I’ve learned how to make travel as easy and stress-free as possible and know which gear helps and what isn’t worth the bother, price, or added weight.
Seamus Bellamy is a senior editor for Reviewed. He devised the testing methods for this guide and wrote the original iteration in 2019.
One of the biggest issues surrounding the use of carry-on baggage is whether or not your bag will fit into an overhead compartment on an airplane, so we built our own 22 x 14 x 9-inch airport bag sizer to make sure all the bags we recommended weren't too big for it, both empty and packed for a one-week trip.
While there isn't a standard size that's used across all airlines, we discovered that most major air carriers like United, American and Delta use this size, while Jet Blue allows for something a bit larger. Also, upon evaluating carry-on size allotments for European, African, Asian, and Middle Eastern carriers, this is as close to a baggage sweet spot as you’re likely to get.
In addition to sizing each bag, I also considered the following:
Capacity: There’s no sense in investing in a carry-on if it won’t hold what you need it to. I packed as I would for a week’s stay in a big city in the autumn—bulkier clothes than I’d pack for a beach trip—as well as toiletries, one pair of compact shoes, my laptop, and a few essentials like chargers. To make it and more organized, I stuffed it all into packing cubes.
Weight and carry comfort: I carried each fully packed bag for about 40 feet to assess how comfortable its handles were to use. I also lifted each bag above my head and put it on a high shelf, to simulate putting it into an overhead bin plus popped each in and out of a car trunk to see how easy they were to maneuver.
Mobility: I maneuvered each, fully loaded, through a quarter-mile journey over a number of surfaces, including asphalt, elevator thresholds, tiled floors, industrial carpeting, interlocking brick, and paved sidewalks. I also took each bag up a 50-foot slope (the kind that replaces a flight of stairs). Additionally, every 20 steps, I did a full 360-degree turn with each bag to ensure that its wheels continued to work properly. For the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45, the one bag I tested that has no wheels, I did the circuit testing both its cross-body shoulder strap and its backpack straps to assess comfort.
Obstacle Course: Before and after the quarter-mile walk, I ran each fully packed bag through a 10-item obstacle course to simulate a crowded airport gate. This helped assess d the performance of the wheels and the telescoping handle built into each bag. For the Aeronaut 45, I evaluated how easy it was to dodge obstacles while wearing it.
Wear and tear: I banged the hard surfaces of each bag with a hammer and dragged the tines of a fork over the outside material a few times to assess how likely each bag would stand up to the dents and scratches that can occur while traveling.
Internal and external features: I looked at what each bag has to offer in terms of external pockets, internal organization, and compression systems.
Tips for Buying Carry-On Luggage
Outside of whether or not your carry-on bag will fit an airport sizer, how you travel and how you like to pack are the most important factors in figuring out which carry-on bag to buy. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for carry-on luggage:
External pockets: Lots of external pockets are great if you like to have a specific home for all your stuff. But that extra fabric thickens and weighs down your bag, and you risk making it too big for the sizer if you put much of anything in those pockets. You also risk having items stolen unless each pocket is capable of locking and you ensure a TSA lock is secured to each of them.
Hard-sided or soft-sided: Soft-sided bags’ expansion capacity means you can fit a lot more in them when you’re not worried about getting past the gate agent. Bags with less structure are also easier for storage. If you don’t want to worry about your bag being too big for the sizer, pick a hard-sided carry-on with a polycarbonate shell and without external pockets.
Wear and tear: A hard-sided bag will likely show wear and tear like scratches, dents, and cracks more easily than a soft-sided bag. Soft-sided bags made from ballistic nylon are likely to stand up to all sorts of abuse. However, if you’re carrying fragile items (even paper you don’t want wrinkled), hard-sided luggage offers stability and protection that soft-sided bags don’t.
Wheels or no wheels?: Consider where and how you plan on using your carry-on: if your trip includes taking a longtail boat to a tiny Thai island and then walking over sand and up steps through a garden to get to your bungalow, you’ll be longing for a lightweight bag you can carry easily on your shoulders. If your travel style is hopping from subway to airport to taxi to hotels with elevators, a heavier wheeled bag is the way to go.
Four wheels or two?: The benefits of four-wheeled spinners include maneuverability in small spaces (including the aisle of your plane), the flexibility of being able to either drag it on two wheels or push it beside you on four, and taking up less space in crowds. However, spinner wheels perform best on smooth surfaces. You might end up dragging a spinner on two wheels over hotel carpets, interlocking brick, cobblestones, or uphill slopes. Two-wheeled bags usually weigh less and are often easier to compress and store when not in use.
Handles: You will have to carry your bag at some point, even if it’s just to lift it into an overhead bin. Carry handles should be wide, padded, and comfortable to make use of, no matter how heavily you’ve packed. Some carry-ons come furnished with handles in multiple locations, making it easier to grab from the trunk of a car or an overhead bin. If you’re interested in a carry-on bag that is designed to carry, instead of wheel around, look for ones with comfortable backpack straps, as well as a strap that can be worn either cross-body or on the shoulder.
Retractable handle: Almost all wheeled bags have a retractable handle. The handle should be sturdy, easy to slide in and out of position, and, ideally, offer a few different length options to account for users of varying heights. Better-designed bags ensure that the ribs of the retractable handle take up a minimal amount of internal packing space. This translates into more space for your stuff.
Organization: Some kind of a compression system — at least tie-down straps or compression straps — is essential for allowing you to pack more stuff into a small space. One or two internal pockets are great, but too many likely means not enough room in the bag’s main compartment for bulky items or packing cubes.
Color and style: If you’re worried about suitcase theft, opt for a bag that looks different from everyone else’s. If someone walks by with a small, black, soft-sided spinner, are you really going to notice if it’s yours?
The Briggs and Riley Domestic Carry-On offers plenty of packing space (35.4 liters and up to 46.4 when expanded). This, along with its durable construction featuring a hybrid fiberglass frame, reinforced corners, and a 1680D ballistic nylon fabric exterior, make it a great choice for frequent travelers.
Of all the bags we tested for this guide, the Domestic Carry-On performed best on our obstacle course and quarter-mile walking tests. Whether pushing the bag on its four double swivel wheels or dragging it on two, it rolled extremely smoothly — even on carpet, the most challenging of our test surfaces. Unlike other bags, the Domestic Carry On’s three-height retractable handle’s hardware is placed almost entirely on the outside of the bag, which ensures that it doesn’t take up valuable packing space. When the time comes that the bag must be carried, the Domestic Carry-On’s comfortable handles, located on the top and side of the bag, make it easy to do so.
The bulk of the Domestic Carry-On’s storage capacity is found in its cavernous main compartment, which is accessed by unzipping the bag’s lid. The inside of the main compartment’s lid is equipped with two nearly full-length zippered pockets, stacked on top of one another. The main compartment boasts compression straps to help you fit more into the suitcase. For those who need to travel with clothes that look fresh out of the closet even after they’ve been pulled out of a suitcase, the Domestic Carry-On boasts a ‘suiter’ bar, designed to help keep garments wrinkle-free. Finally, if you packed too much to allow you to bring home any mementos from your travels with you, this carry-on has an internal mechanism that makes it possible to expand the thickness of the bag from nine inches to 11.5 inches. Should you take advantage of this expandability, don’t be surprised if the suitcase no longer fits into an airport sizer.
To help you whisk through airport security, the Domestic Carry-On’s exterior pocket is large enough to fit a laptop and your quart-sized bag of liquids. There’s an additional (unlockable) pocket for smaller items too. At the back of the bag, beneath the discrete luggage tag receptacle, there’s another pocket between the ribs of the retractable handle which would fit a water bottle or perhaps a collapsible umbrella. The main compartment and laptop pocket can be secured with lockable zippers.
While the high-quality materials that the Domestic Carry-On is made out of ensure that it provides most people with a lifetime of use (absolutely no damage was left by our fork or hammer tests), this suitcase’s excellent build quality comes at a cost: out of all of the carry-on bags we’ve tested over the years, the Briggs and Riley Domestic Carry-On is the heaviest, at 9.3 pounds.
Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 Our bag sizer says: It fits!
The Away Carry On is a hard-sided 39.8-liter suitcase with a clamshell design. Once unzipped, you’ll have access to two large compartments: one in each half of the suitcase. Zippered meshed covers ensure that the contents of each side of the bag stay put while the carry-on is being opened or closed. Amesh pocket, located on the flap that divides the bag — is large enough to accommodate a laptop. One side of the Away Carry-On’s interior features compression straps to help you to fit more clothing and sundries into the suitcase. As a bonus, this suitcase comes with a water-resistant laundry bag. It’s also worth noting that the Away Carry On comes with international plug adapters as well as a removable 10,000 mAh rechargeable battery.
The Away Carry-On’s built-in combination lock secures its zippers in place. The zippers themselves are designed so that you can add your own TSA lock too. It’s worth noting that, because of the size of the zipper pulls, you’ll need to make sure that when the bag is zipped up they aren’t located at the bottom of your bag or they’ll drag on the ground.
The Away Carry-On’s exterior shell is made using Makrolon polycarbonate. Away markets this material as unbreakable — a claim we’re unable to verify as it falls outside of the scope of our tests — but bendable under pressure. Unfortunately, as with all hard-shell suitcases that we’ve tested in the past, it was susceptible to scratches and scuffs. After running a fork over the shell, I was able to see faint scratches on the exterior of the bag, though they were only visible under some light conditions. An eraser is included with the Away Carry-On to help mitigate scuffs, plus it comes with a branded cloth storage bag to keep the dust off when not in use or — if the thought of scuffing up your bag gives you nightmares — to protect it while it’s in transit.
The bag has both a side and a top carry handle, comfortable though not padded. Note that the handles aren’t in the exact center of the bag (since that’s where the zipper is) so, depending on how you pack, that might make your bag feel a little off-balance when carrying it.
The retractable handle was similar to most other bags we tested, sturdy and smooth. During our mobility tests, the Away Carry-On excelled on sloped terrain. However, like most four-wheeled spinners, it had difficulties rolling along over carpeting when it would sometimes stop or prove a little difficult to turn — likely a problem with wheel alignment. Additionally, as is typical with a hardsided suitcase, the Away Carry-On has no external pockets.
Dimensions: 21.7 x 13.7 x 9 Our bag sizer says: It fits!
Tumi Merge International Front Lid 4 Wheeled Carry-On
The Tumi International Front Lid 4 Wheeled Carry-On is a well-built, high-end spinner bag with a structured frame covered in fabric made from post-consumer recycled bottles and post-industrial ballistic nylon. It’s aimed at the eco-conscious luxury traveler.
The majority of the International Front Lid’s 32-liter storage space is found in its deep main compartment, which takes up almost the entire depth of the bag. If this isn’t enough space for you, the suitcase can be expanded by three inches to make room for extra cargo. Expanding the bag, however, will mean it won’t fit in the sizer — in fact, empty and at its unexpanded size, it’s a tight fit. The underside of the suitcase’s lid has a large interior pocket made from a lightweight material, ideal for flatter items like a jewelry case or chargers. A second, large interior pocket attached to the bag’s side runs almost the entire height and width of the whole bag.
There are two pockets on the lid’s exterior that are large enough to hold an ultrabook or small laptop, along with any liquids that the TSA might be interested in having a look at. Given their inability to be locked, these exterior pockets are best used for temporary storage, such as while you’re going through airport security.
The International Front Lid’s retractable handle proved very sturdy during testing. We liked that it provides three different height options. During our maneuverability tests, the suitcase’s spinner wheels rolled extremely smoothly but did need occasional minor course corrections to keep it on track. In addition to its retractable handle, Tumi also equipped the bag with two leather grab handles plus a fabric flap sewn into the bottom of the suitcase’s exterior. The flap can be used to assist in pulling the suitcase out of the trunk of a car or an airplane’s overhead compartment.
Our bag sizer says: It fits! Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9
Travelpro Crew VersaPack Global Carry-On Expandable Rollaboard
The Travelpro Crew VersaPack Global Carry-On Expandable Rollaboard is a four-wheeled spinner that features a sturdy internal frame wrapped in a tough fabric shell. The Versapack Global Carry-On’s slightly padded lid offers three pockets, accessible from the outside of the bag. These are great for keeping items that you might need to show airport security, including a laptop, and for other items you want close at hand. However, putting too much into these compartments could prevent this carry-on from fitting into an airport sizing device.
TravelPro has equipped this bag with an external luggage tag compartment and an external side pocket designed to hold a portable power pack. We were disappointed, given the cost of some USB power packs, that this pocket cannot be locked. In fact, only the bag’s main compartment and the lid’s largest exterior pocket boast zippers designed to be locked together.
The VersaPack Global Carry-On’s 39-liter main compartment is divided into two sections by a removable zip-in “garment organizer” — a flat section of the bag that has room to expand a few inches. The bag also has compression flaps to help you fit in more clothes.
In addition to the garment organizer, this spinner carry-on comes packing a water-resistant, plastic toiletry bag marked as TSA compliant. For a deeper level of internal organization, the VersaPack Global Carry-on can be paired with a number of TravelPro accessories, including a laundry organizer, a fold-out suiter organizer, a packing cube organizer, and an all-in-one organizer. Of course, any packing cubes you may already own will work too.
The VersaPack Global Carry-On’s four-position retractable handle is sturdy and features a contoured plastic grip. The bag has both a top and a side carry handle, both nicely padded though not super wide. It also has a handle grip on the bottom to make grabbing the bag with two hands easier.
During mobility testing, the carry-on’s four sets of spinner wheels worked well enough. They rolled well over tiled and smooth surfaces. But, as with most of the spinner bags in this guide, it was easier to drag the carry-on along on two wheels, rather than push it on four wheels by its retractable handle over carpet. On pavement, I noticed that the wheels sometimes felt a little sticky rather than perfectly smooth in how they moved.
The retractable handles of most of the bags in this guide take up some space in the interior of the bag. The VersaPack Global Carry-On is no exception. The bars inside the bag make it impossible to pack anything flat in the main compartment.
Dimensions: 21.5 x 14 x 9 Our bag sizer says: It fits!
Excellent build quality
Using outside pockets may make it too large to fit sizer
Despite the fact that Herschel Trade Luggage Carry-On just barely fit our bag sizer, I found it tough to fit the packing cubes I used during testing into this suitcase’s 34-liter interior. As such, it might be better suited for weekend getaways than for use on a week-long trip. One of the main reasons that the carry-on’s interior is so cramped is the amount of space taken up by the ribs of the suitcase’s retractable handle.
The Herschel is a clamshell-style hard-sided suitcase, typically difficult to overpack. However, the design of its zipper allows for some expandability but would make the bag too thick to pass the sizer test. This small amount of expandability that the Herschel offers could make the difference between bringing your luggage onboard your flight with you or having to leave it at the gate to be stored in your airplane’s cargo hold. The Carry-on’s external zipper is locked by a built-in TSA-approved combination lock. However, for extra security, it’s also possible to secure the zipper pulls using an additional lock.
Once unzipped, both sides of the suitcase’s clamshell can easily be packed. The smaller side (the lid) has about four inches of packing space and can be closed off with a zippered mesh panel. You can keep the items you pack in the bigger side of the bag in place with the compression strap. Note that the compartment for the retractable handle takes up some of the packing space.
The Herschel’s retractable handle has three height options, allowing it to comfortably be pushed or pulled by a wide variety of travelers. Unlike most of the other bags in this guide, this suitcase only comes with a single grab handle, located on the top of the bag (meaning the bag must be carried in hand vertically). That said, it’s a great handle: wide, nicely squishy, and designed to distribute the weight of the bag over the whole of your hand. If you have very small hands, however, the handle might prove too wide for you to use comfortably.
Like all hardshell suitcases, the Herschel is prone to scratches and scuffs. Our fork test left behind faint scratches on the suitcase’s ABS shell. However, they were hardly noticeable.
During mobility testing, the Herschel proved a middle-of-the-road performer.
Dimensions: 21.5 x 14 x 9 Our bag sizer says: It fits!
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