The Travelpro Platinum Elite 29 Inch Expandable Spinner had a decidedly more premium feel than several of the more expensive options we tested for this guide. A top performer in our tests, this 143.5-liter suitcase boasts several well-thought-out features. It’s easily maneuverable, despite its size, and comes with desirable extras such as TSA-approved lock-compatible zippers and a garment bag.
One of the Platinum Elite’s best features is that access to its main compartment is gained by unzipping the front face of the suitcase rather than down the middle of the bag, which is more common. This means that the whole volume of the suitcase’s generous main storage space is available to use as one compartment, rather than being split down the middle into two. Most of the other suitcases in this guide split in half, once unzipped. This limits the number of large or bulky items that can fit into the main compartment, or lead to the suitcase’s contents spilling out, as you open it up. That said, the depth of Platinum Elite's cavernous main compartment could have you digging around to find items located at the bottom of the suitcase. However, by using packing cubes this becomes a non-issue.
The Platinum Elite’s main compartment comes packing multiple built-in organization aids, including a removable toiletry bag, to help you keep track of your belongings. At the end of your trip, should you find that you picked up more mementos of your journey than the suitcase can handle, Travelpro has your back: with the simple pull of a zipper, the Platinum Elite’s width can be expanded by two additional inches.
We were pleased with how maneuverable the Platinum Elite proved to be during testing. High-quality spinner wheels, paired with a sturdy handle, made navigating our obstacle course a breeze. Several of the other suitcases in this guide had poorly designed, wobbly handles that made navigation more difficult than necessary. With a wobbly handle, half of the energy used to push or pull a suitcase is spent shifting the handle into place before the luggage starts to move. Not so with the Platinum Elite, a sports car of a suitcase among lumbering station wagons. Ok, maybe not a sports car. How about a BMW station wagon in a parking lot full of Buicks?
The Osprey Transporter Wheeled Carry-On might be the ideal carry-on 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 than 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.
Constructed from your choice of either 1050 Ballistic Nylon or lightweight 400 Halcyon fabric and available in an assortment of colors, the Tom Bihn Western Flyer will fit under an airline seat with room to spare—a fact you’ll appreciate when you stretch out on your next cross-country flight. Its exterior front panel contains a stowaway water bottle holder and two large, zippered pockets: the first provides ample space for your car keys, passport, and other small essentials. The second pocket is large enough to store an eReader, 8-inch tablet, smartphone or paperback novel to read on your flight.
With 1600 cubic inches of interior space, the Western Flyer is large enough to use as a small suitcase for a weekend getaway with room to spare for a laptop, snacks, and magazines. The bag’s interior space is broken down into two large compartments: The first contains a fabric partition to help you stay organized, when needed, or zipped out of the way to allow for one large chunk of space that’s ideal for a laptop. The second pocket proved large enough during testing to contain a complete change of clothing, or if you prefer, multiple pairs of underwear, socks, and a couple of dress shirts.
In addition to all of this, the Western Flyer is incredibly versatile. It can be carried by its built-in handle like a briefcase, be paired with a shoulder strap (sold separately), or worn like a rucksack, thanks to a pair of backpack straps that stow away when not in use. What’s more, thanks to Tom Bihn’s selection of packing cubes, padded electronics cases, and their organization Freudian Slip insert, this bag can be customized to please most any traveler.
Out of all of the travel backpacks we tested, the Osprey Ozone Duplex 65 and Osprey Ozone Duplex 60 offered the best combination of durability, comfort, and intelligent design. The only significant differences between the two packs are their capacity—65 liter for men and 60 liters for women]—and the design of their shoulder straps (the straps on the Duplex 60 are curved to better accommodate the shape of a woman’s upper torso). Either size should fit around a week’s worth of garments, however, if you’re a minimalist packer like we are, you can pack enough clothing for a few days and have extra room to bring home a very respectable haul of souvenirs.
While the two Duplex packs are not the lightest packs we tested, at four pounds each, they won’t weigh you down, even once fully loaded. Thanks to well-padded hip belts, most of the heft of what you’re carrying is taken on by your hips. The load lifter straps, built into the Duplex’s ample shoulder straps help aid in cinching the pack closer to your back, keeping what you're carrying stable. During testing, we found that the Duplex did the best job of sparing our backs and shoulders from pain while walking long distances. The pack’s height and adjustable shoulder and sternum straps make it ideal for a wide variety of body types.
One of the things that make the Duplex such an amazing travel buddy is, as its name suggests, that it can be split into two: a 25 or 20-liter daypack and a 40-liter cargo bag. The day pack uses the Duplex’s excellent hip belt and shoulder straps comes with two water bottle pockets, a hidden pocket for small valuables, and an ample main compartment with organizational aids for a laptop or a tablet. It also offers a smaller pocket for pens, smartphones, and everything else in-between. It’s a lightweight companion that you’ll love tooting around town with while leaving your cargo bag at your hotel or hostel. That said, it's a little larger than the backpack most folks use on their day-to-day commute. So, don't be surprised if you find it's not well suited to that purpose.
When detached from the day pack, the Duplex’s cargo bag is designed to meet maximum carry-on sizes for most major airlines. Unzip the cargo bag’s main compartment and you’ll find that it opens up like a suitcase. The main compartment is equipped with compression panels to keep your clothing or packing cubes cinched down and a large, zippered mesh pocket on the inside of the lid, for storing additional clothing or sundries.
The cargo bag’s secondary exterior pocket is well-sized for stashing a lightweight rain jacket or a rain cover for the pack. The cargo bag can also be carried using a detachable shoulder strap. Both the cargo bag and the daypack come with lockable zippers that work with most TSA-approved locks.
During our 18-day trek across Morocco, we subjected the Duplex 65 and Duplex 60 to hours of flight time, overnight train rides, long bus excursions, daily urban hikes, and a dusty, sand-filled adventure into the Sahara desert, we found the packs to be comfortable, no matter which configuration we carried them. Additionally, they proved both durable and easy to clean: a wipe with a damp cloth was enough to remove gritty desert dust as well as the wet grime from being set down for a moment on a dark side street in the Fes Medina.
As much as we appreciated the Ozone Duplex packs, we did find a few things that bothered us about them during the course of our trip.
While we were happy to find that the daypack’s water bottle pockets were able to hold our 40-ounce Hydro Flask water bottles, having the bottles in the pockets ate up the amount of available interior space of the pack. We were also disappointed that, once the cargo pack is filled to capacity, it can be very difficult to attach its bottom clips to the daypack. That said, ensuring that bulkier items are packed into the lid of the bag goes a long way toward sorting this issue out.
We would have liked it if the pack’s shoulder straps and hip belt could be stowed away when on an airplane to make for more space under our seats. But honestly, this is a minor issue, at best.
Finally, we found that the cargo bag’s detachable strap was pretty uncomfortable if used for more than a few minutes at a time. A bit of padding would be deeply appreciated. Despite these small shortcomings, the Osprey Ozone Duplex is an outstanding choice for anyone looking to travel off the beaten path.
When it comes to getting carry-on luggage on a flight, size matters. To ensure that the carry-on suitcases and under seat carry-on bags that we called in for testing would be welcomed on the greatest number of airlines across North America, we researched the allowable bag sizes for each major airline, averaged the numbers, and then, in the name of caution, looked for bags that were slightly smaller than the measurements we came up with: 22 x 14 x 9 inches for carry-on bags and 8 x 18 x 14 inches for under seat-sized carry-on luggage. Full-sized suitcases, designed to hold a week’s worth of clothing and too large to be stowed anywhere but in an aircraft’s cargo hold aren’t held back by the same sort of sizing restrictions, in most cases. While researching which of these larger pieces of luggage to call in, we paid attention to a brand’s reputation for quality, price, and complaints/kudos that we saw online about a given model of suitcase time and time again.
To ensure that a set of wheels or a handle wouldn’t keep the carry-on luggage that we called in for testing from being allowed on a flight, we built our own versions of airport baggage sizing devices. Any bag that refused to fit was quickly disqualified from the competition.
For carry-on bags designed to fit into an airliner’s overhead bin and full-sized suitcases equipped with wheels we looked to mobility: each bag was tested by wheeling it over a quarter-mile of varying surfaces: tile, hardwood, concrete and cracked sidewalks. For every 20 steps taken with the bag, a 360-degree turn was performed to ensure that the suitcase’s wheels were still spinning freely and to make onlookers wonder exactly what we were up to. To simulate having to navigate an airport check-in line, each piece of wheeled luggage was rolled through an obstacle course of tables and chairs. We also tested how easily each suitcase was to use while ascending and descending a flight of stairs.
For baggage that doesn’t come equipped with wheels—backpacks and duffle bags, for example—we looked to how comfortable their handles, backpack and shoulder straps proved to be while carrying each bag, fully loaded, with as many pieces of clothing and toiletries as possible.
In addition to these tests, we also considered the durability of each piece of luggage, whether its built-in storage options were more of a help than a hindrance, small but important touches such as whether or not the bag can be used with a TSA-approved luggage lock and whether it comes with any thoughtful extras such as a laundry bag and, finally, how stylish and adaptable each bag proved to be.
Where travel backpacks are concerned, we called in a number of the most popular options—for both men and women—and tested them, focusing on a number of criteria, including whether it would be allowed on a plane as a carry-on item, comfort, durability, utility and whether their interior space was set up to travelers, for at least a few weeks at a time, to live out of the backpack, comfortably. Once we found the best backpacks for men and women, we took them on a three-week trip to Morocco, where we subjected them to the hot sand and dust of the Sahara Desert and the tight, winding streets of the Fes Medina. We threw them into airplane overhead bins and wore them while riding on camelback. On one of our longer trips, our packs skidded around the floor of a train compartment for close to six hours. Through it all, we paid attention to how comfortable the backpacks were to wear and their overall durability. If they could survive the beating we gave them, we knew that they’d stand up to most things that you could throw at them, too.
What You Should Know About Luggage
Price: When it comes to luggage, we advise you to spend more if you travel more. High-end luggage tends to be more durable, so you’ll have to replace it less often. The same can’t always be said for personal carry-on-sized bags. Sometimes, as these smaller bags, purses, and backpacks can be used as fashion accessories as part of your daily commute, the price of a bag is commensurate with its brand’s recognition, rather than its durability or utility.
Wheels: if you prefer your luggage to glide through an airport concourse on wheels, four wheels are better than two. No matter whether you’re pushing or pulling your bag along, you’ll find it just as maneuverable. That said, two-wheeled bags are still a good get—they’re more portable and can often cost less. For shopping for bags designed to fit under an airline seat, avoid wheels if you can: they eat into the already limited amount of space bags sized to slip under an airplane seat offer.
-**Handles:** Retractable handles should slide in and out of position, smoothly, and offer at least a couple of height settings to accommodate different sized users. This style of handle, however, isn’t desirable in under seat carry-on luggage: the handle mechanism takes up a lot of space in such a small bag. Built-in fabric or leather handles should be wide and padded to make the weight of what’s inside of your bag feel like less of a strain on your hand. Handles located on multiple sides of a bag are a win, as they make it easy to grab it out of an overhead bin, no matter how you had to place it in there.
Organization: Bags that offer a number of easily accessible exterior pockets for small items like a passport, smartphone, or plane tickets are a smart buy. Look for bags with a large main compartment that can be used with packing cubes, or stuffed full of a number of loose items such as a water bottle, snacks, or a hoodie. If you plan on using your bag for work trips or having it double as a tote for your daily commute, be sure that any laptop compartment, tablet sleeve, or admin panels built into it will suit your needs.
Travel backpacks are kind of their own thing. When buying one, you should look for the following:
A main, inner compartment that opens up flat, like a suitcase, to aid in packing and unpacking.
The inner compartment should boast at least one zippered pocket for organizing your clothes, toiletries and other sundries.
A main compartment with compression panels and straps to compress your cargo and keep it from shifting during transport is a bonus that allows the pack to be used with or without packing cubes.
An area that military types often call an "admin panel," which can store a laptop or tablet, pens, maps, tickets, passports, you name it. It's most helpful in the detachable part of a daypack, so you can carry valuables while leaving the cargo bag at their hotel.
Speaking of daypacks, travel backpacks that feature one are very handy.
A travel pack should come with an internal frame to help protect your belongings and keep your stuff from shifting around on your back while you travel.
A padded hip belt is a must: they’re designed to transfer the weight of your pack from your shoulders to your hips, helping to save you from discomfort and injury.
Whenever possible, load straps should be integrated into the pack’s shoulder straps to pull the pack closer to the back, transferring more of its weight to the hips.
Zippers that can be used with a TSA-compatible lock are essential for slowing down thieves and ensuring that none of your gear is lost while in transit. Some packs come with fabric loops for this purpose. You don’t want that. Metal zipper locks are where it’s at.
While there are few bags out there that are truly waterproof, you should at least look for one that's weather-resistant. Lacking that, invest in a rain cover to ensure the contents of your bag don't get soaked in a downpour.
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