The Best Carry On Luggage
21 Bags Reviewed For 8 Travel Packing Personalities
JAMES EAGLEMAN | MARCH 2018
In Summary: We checked out 21 different carry on travel bags and identified the best carry on luggage for 8 types of traveler.
For Maximalists we selected the Ebags Mother Lode.
For Minimalists we liked the Timbuk2 Uptown Backpack.
For Frequent Fliers that needs to look sharp we selected the Briggs & Riley Baseline.
For fit, young, physically active Digital Nomads we picked out the Osprey Farpoint 40.
For Occasional Checkers we recommend a hard shell like the Delsey Helium.
For less fit World Cruisers that need durability but don't want to carry their bag we suggest the Eagle Creek Tarmac.
For Weekend Wanderers we recommend the stress-free experience of an under seat bag like this Delsey Underseat Tote.
And for Taxi Tourists we selected the Lipault Paris as a lightweight, maneuverable spinner.
What can seem like a simple question at first glance turned out to be one of the most nuanced posts written here at travelinglight.com
The best carry on luggage depends of how and where you travel, who you fly with, and your physical fitness. You also need to think about the number of bucks in your wallet and your inclination to part with them.
Finally, not only do we tell you which bags to think about buying. We wave the red flag for some models that are potentially too big. The ones to think very carefully before buying.
I won't keep you in suspense. Here is our top pick 2018.
How Did It All Begin...
Listen up kids! You won't remember this. But a long, long time ago... When you were just a glint in your daddy's eye.... Taking big bags with you on vacation was always free!
In the old days, we didn't need to worry about how big our suitcase was. In fact when we traveled we called our luggage a trunk... because it was big and huge like a tree trunk!
Then one day along came the carry on revolution. The big bad airlines wanted to charge us money just because we took big bags with us.
One airline declared... Your teeny-weeny little carry on suitcase must not be more than 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches deep!
That's the law! Because we said so!
The next Airline said... no! Your carry on bag must not be taller than a small bush, wider than 2 pumpkins and thicker than a dogs butt! Everyone was confused!
And since that day airlines around the world have used different size limits and cabin bags have come in all shapes and sizes.
SIZE LIMITS: In the US there is something like a consensus that carry on luggage should be no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
But around the world carry on luggage size limits vary tremendously.
Even within the US there is no standard carry on size and permitted sizes change regularly!
Some bags come with wheels, some without wheels. Some are multi directional some 2 directional. You can get nylon, polyester, leather. You can go for something stylish or functional. You can choose an extended warranty or risk it without one. You can choose something light or something heavy – there really is a lot to think about!
To top it all off . Some luggage manufacturers use magic measuring tapes that are different from normal ones. So you can never be sure what size your new suitcase will be in reality.
That's right... I don't know what they've been smoking but you can't always trust the luggage size measurements provided by shops and manufacturers.
And that kids... is why I... James Eagleman... became The Carry On Guy!
Now that you've heard the backstory, this page contains over 15000 words of in-depth luggage reviews as well as a bunch of doodles and silly jokes.
Carry On Guy stands for truth, justice and accurate luggage measurements!
If a bag is too big, too fat or too ugly don't worry I will call it out and put it in its place! There is a list at the end of this post of carry on luggage you should avoid because it is too large.
By the end of this post you will know exactly the type of cabin luggage you need.
And I know you like to skim read so I made it easy to do that too. You can even just look at the pictures if you want!
Buying Advice: What Factors Do You Need To Consider?
Buying a cabin bag can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
Most important Of All... remember they call it luggage for a reason
So technically luggage is that heavy of bulky bag that you carry or drag around with great effort.
Hmmm… sounds like a pain in the ass to me!
So let's first consider size and weight:
SIZE & WEIGHT
Some budget airlines have weight restrictions as well as size restrictions and it can help to have a lighter case.
Also these weight restrictions may be squeezed further in the future. Also there will be times when you need to carry your case and you may need to lift it into the overhead locker. Think about whether the weight of your case is important to you.
A lot of US travellers don’t think so much about luggage weight. US airlines have very liberal weight restrictions if they have any at all.
Then they fly internationally and find that their carry on bags above the weight limit. Say hello to checking fees and vacation frustration.
The lighter your bag is the better. You will always need to lift your bag sometimes even just to put it into the overhead bin.
And size is crucial. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to board a flight because the carry on police spot your bag is a 1/4 of an inch too wide.
Most of the bags I talk about this page are under 22 x 14 x 9 which means they are good for most american airlines and if they are not I highlight it and it usually means it's squeezable.
COST AND VALUE
I’ve dug into the sales data and it’s clear that most people are spending between $60 and $140 on their carry on suitcase.
Those numbers are fine. You don’t need to spend big on a carry on unless you you really want too and you've got money to burn.
Something like the Travelpro maxlite 4 will get the job done. It has a limited lifetime warranty and doesn't cost an arm and a leg, check on Amazon for the current price.
Cheaper cabin bags do tend to have more problems than more expensive varieties. But then they are cheaper so after a year or two you can buy a new one!
In many things in life you get what you pay for and with carry on luggage it’s no exception.
You can get designer label travel suitcases and you can waste your money paying only for a designer brand if you want to.
But with Carry On Luggage there is a law of diminishing returns. The jump from a $100 to $200 suitcase is much greater than the jump from a $250 to $500 bag.
At some point you are spending more and more dollars to see less and less improvements. Because... you know... it's a suitcase not a sports car or a rocket ship. There is only so much they can do to make the suitcase better. Don't be tricked by marketing hype.
Also a lot of luggage features simply add more weight and it's debatable whether they are really worthwhile or just a marketing gimmick. Don't lose your head you might not need the extra features.
My best advice is to spend in proportion to how frequently you travel. If you clock up serious air miles then sure get a serious carry on to go with you.
Here is a little formula that I use:
If your bag costs $200 and you fly 4 times per year and you expect the bag will last 5 years you will take 20 trips with this bag. Hence $200/20 = $10. Your bag will cost you $10 per trip.
My advice is to go no higher than $10 per trip. Don't buy a $500 carry on if you only travel once or twice per year, you just don't need it.
Don't plan to have a cabin bag that you will use for for life. The rules change too frequently. Something that is a good size today might not qualify in a year or two and your requirements might change.
MANEUVERABILITY AND MOBILITY
Should you get 2 wheels, 4 wheels or no wheels at all? Let's look at the pros and cons.
When you only have 2 wheel it’s not so easy to change the direction that you are travelling in so spinner bags have 4 wheels for increased maneuverability.
However 4 wheels do increase the weight and the extra functionality means that there is more to go wrong.
And since the protruding wheels count to your maximum length it means that the 4 wheel spinner carry on luggage is usually smaller.
And a cabin-sized backpack or duffle bag will offer even more freedom of movement. You just need to make sure that it is not too heavy to pick up.
Black cases are very common, perhaps this is because they hide scuffs and dirt better than other colors. If you are going to be in public places I find it's usually a good idea to blend in this can help with security. You probably don't want a bag that screams I am rich and I have lots of valuables in this bag.
In terms of materials leather, nylon, polyester cotton canvas are used for soft cases and polycarbonate or sometimes aluminium for hard cases.
It’s not as simple as one material is more durable than another because of thickness and quality of the weave can come into play.
Generally leather is the most durable softcase and hard cases are more durable than soft cases and offer better protection to your belongings.
Nylon is more durable and expensive than polyester.
However hard cases are inflexible which can sometimes make them more difficult to squeeze into small spaces and they also lack external pockets which can be handy when you are on the move.
The world of fashion extends to the best carry on luggage too. There are many designer brands and styles and when better to look good than when you are jet setting around the world.
What Is Your Travel Packing Personality?
Okay let's get serious now... carry-on luggage doesn’t only need to fit into the overhead locker… it needs to fit your needs and it needs to fit your budget.
And the search for the right carry on does not begin in the luggage shop... it begins within yourself.
Let's Get Personal...
What type of carry on traveler are you? How do you like to pack?
Do you travel light?
Do you travel often?
Do you like to have 1 bag for life?
Do you go on business trips?
Do you travel full time?
Do you want to take as many things as possible?
DO YOU TRAVEL RARELY?
Or do you like to change your bag every few years?
Do you go on weekend breaks?
To help you we identified 8 distinct travel packing personalities and made some recommendations for each character and explained why.
At A Glance: Our Choices
Rolling Hard Shell Carry On's
The plus side of hard shell luggage is that it protects your belongings.
It's especially important to be careful with your sizes when it comes to hard sided bags because they don't have the squeezability that you get with softsiders.
Pretty much all hard sided cabin bags come as 4 wheel spinners.
This means sacrificing size because those sticky out wheels count towards the carry on size limits. So spinner bags are either shorter to accommodate the wheels or over the size limit because the wheels stick out. They also often don't have a handy outer pocket to keep your boarding pass.
It's very difficult to find a hard sided carry on that is smaller than 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
I'll repeat that... it's very difficult to find a hard shell spinner carry on is actually smaller than the most common size limit. Most hardside carry on's exceed 21 x 14 x 9 inches somewhere.
So as you can guess... I'm not a big fan of hard-sided luggage unless you are transporting something breakable and valuable.
Rockland Melbourne 20-Inch Review
The Rockland Melbourne is a very popular and strong selling hard sided bag.
You need to be very careful ordering the Rockland because not all color variations are the same size. Looking carefully at review feedback on various sites show a lot of people that are not happy with the size descriptions.
I don't recommend ordering this bag if you are flying soon because it's hard to say what size you'll get.
Some variations seem to be more 15.25 inches wide. That's 1.25 inches too wide for a lot of airlines. Some people report that the depth is as much as 10 inches, and again that's 1 inch too much for a lot of airlines.
That said, I have included it here because hard side carry on bags that fit are hard to find and some variations seem to be well sized. Just try to research as best you can and be prepared that you might need to return it.
If you are someone that like colorful suitcases then you will like the range that Rockland offer. This can help if you check your case since it's easy to spot a bright pink case on the conveyor belt.
- Good value
- Very popular
- Huge variety of colors
- Confusing sizing
Nautica Ahoy 21 Inch Hardside Spinner Review
The Nautica Ahoy is advertised as 21 x 14 x 9 inches but that does not include the wheels.
The wheels add an extra inch making it 22 inches high and the handle is also not included in the measurements.
The result of this is that it's taller than 22 inches when you include the wheels and handle. This means that there might be some potential problems if the carry on police and being very strict. Anecdotally though most people seem to get away with it.
Like most spinners the wheels are going to perform best on smooth surfaces. It's not a great bag for cobbles or uneven sidewalks.
It's main plus points are it's styling. Nautica is known primarily as a fashion brand rather than a luggage brand.
As a suitcase it's not the most well made that I've seen but I must admit it does look pretty snazzy. There are 4 color options so you can really stand out from the crowd and if you do check the bag you'll find it easy to spot on the luggage carousel.
It weighs 7lbs. That's not bad for a hard sided case but you will find lighter soft sided cases. Do you really need the protection from a hard side?
It would have been nice if they had included a side handle.
- Nice styling
- No side handle
Delsey Luggage Helium Aero Review
The Delsey Helium is advertised as a 19 inch carry on but that doesn't count the wheels and the handle. The real height is closer to 21 inches.
That's still a good height for many airlines. The depth of 9.5 inches is half an inch too much for a lot of flights but I would expect that you will get away with it.
I didn't find any reports of people being challenged with the Delsey Helium on it's size. Visually it looks like quite a small bag. If you are the type of person that likes to take as much as they possible can in their carry on you might be better looking elsewhere.
- Size: 21 x 14 x 9.5 inches
- Nice looking and a range of colors
- Too small for heavy packers
Rolling Softside Luggage
Luggage with 2 wheels tends to be more durable and can take more of a beating.
Bags with 2 wheels tend to be much better for cobbles or uneven surfaces.
Designs with 2 wheels usually give you more space because they don't protruding wheels that count against carry on luggage size limits.
I much prefer soft sided cases for carry on luggage. Hard sided cases are great for checked luggage because checked bags can take a beating from baggage handlers.
But you are the one taking care of your carry on. Unless you are carrying delicate equipment then a soft sided case will be lighter and more versatile.
If for some reason you sometimes check your carry on then perhaps a hard side is a good idea. But for most people I suggest looking carefully at soft sided options.
You can squeeze soft sided cases to make them fit, there are lots more options for soft-sides than hard sides.
In this section we take a look at some of the best soft-sided 2 wheeled carry ons.
Eagle Creek Tarmac 22 Inch Review
The Eaglecreek Tarmac 22 is a soft sided rolling bag. It looks more like it gets its styling from the outdoor backpacking world. It's rugged and tough looking rather than smooth and sophisticated. Although the plain black wouldn't look out of place wheeled by a gent in a suit.
It's 22 inches tall and 14 inches wide and weighs 7 lbs 4 oz
The depth with depend on how much you pack in it. Be careful not to pack too much into this bag. If it is bulging it might not pass the size check. You usually need to be under 9 inches which is as thin as this bag will go.
When fully-packed and expanded this bag is 11 inches deep. That's too deep so you might not be able to take advantage of everything it has to offer.
Fully packed and bulging it holds 44 liters. If not expanded it holds 40 liters.
It's well made and should be durable. The material is water resistant balistic nylon.
An unusual feature is the detachable clothes compression system. You can attach it to the outside to allow you to carry accessories.
The handle is around 19 inches long when extended and it makes a good size for walking with comfortably.
The Eagle Creek has a padded pocket on the front that can hold a 15inch laptop. There is also a smaller pocket that would suit a tablet or a kindle.
One of the features liked was the stretchy coat keeper. It's great for attaching your coat or jacket to your bag without opening it up and packing it inside.
The Tarmac also has many pockets and compartments to organise your things.
In the lid there is a large pocket that great for socks and underwear. It might also be a good place to keep dirty laundry separate.
There is even a fob to hook your keys on to and a bottle opener!
Wheels are large and rugged and there is a kick plate on the bottom. While wheeled luggage is never great over cobbles or bumps the Tarmac shouldn't be too bad.
Eagle Creek have a "No Matter What™" warranty that gives you great peace of mind. It means that they will repair or replace the bag regardless of why you damaged it. It's nice to see a company that's prepared to back it's products in this way and it inspires confidence.
If you can find it, I would recommend getting the 20 inch verson. It's 20 x 14 x 8 inches and this means that you can use it on many airlines worldwide without problems.
I love all the features of this bag. They do add to the weight though and you can find bags that don't weigh so much.
I think i'd rather lose the bottle opener etc and keep the weight down. At 7 lbs 4 oz it's 3 and a half 2lb bags of sugar before you even put anything in it.
- Rugged and Durable
- If you pack it tight and expand it to 11 inches you'll need to check it.
Baseline Domestic Expandable Review
There is some debate over whether the Briggs & Riley Baseline qualifies as carry on size.
So I measured it.
And while Briggs & Riley say it's 22 x 14 x 9 inches in reality it's larger than that.
When you take the handle into account it's 23.6 inches tall.
And I make it 14.17 inches wide. And 10.2 inches in depth.
So in all dimensions this bag is larger than 22 x 14 x 9.
So why is there no uproar about this popular bag with fliers encountering problems?
There are 2 reasons. First, Airlines usually don't check every bag size so bags that are slightly too large can sneak past.
Second, the real airlines size limits for US airlines are larger than advertised.
That's why people are using this "illegal" carry on and getting away with it.
However, not all airlines might be so permittting.
This bag is great for business travellers that know who they fly with and know what they can and can't get away with.
And it's very popular with the frequent fliers and the business crowd. It's built to last a lifetime.
It's expandable and makes a pretty decent bag for checking when it's expanded fully. But you would really be pushing it as a cabin bag expanded.
Whatever you do please don't buy the olive one. When I see it in airport lobbies it makes me sick )) The black design is much more professional and classy.
The bag has a suiter compartment that might help to keep you clothes wrinkle free.
If you prefer 4 wheels then it comes in a spinner version. But it's even wider at 15 inches! So be careful about sizes.
Aside from size the other problem with this bag is the weight. It's 8.9 lbs when it's empty. My entire carry on bag usually weight less than 10 lbs.
If you fly internationally, especially in asia, you will come across weight limits for carry ons.
Also, you always need to lift or carry luggage at some point. Almost 9 lbs is heavy and I really would not recommend this bag to anyone infirm or elderly. It will be a struggle to lift it into the overhead bins when it's fully loaded.
Maximalist heavy packers that love take as much stuff as possible will love this bag!
The main reason is the compression and packing system. You can load the bag in expanded mode and then push to compress everything down. It will lock into the smaller size.
It's a great bag for taking it to the max... just so long as you have checked the airlines you are flying with and are comforable with the risk.
If you don't fly very often you don't need to spend so much on a bag. The B&R's main strength is it's quality, durability and lifetime warranty.
But if you only fly once or twice per year this bag is overkill.
This bag is for frequent fliers. This bag is for the businessman that wants to make a statement with his suitcase.
- Extremely well made and durable
- Lifetime Warranty
- Too big
- Too heavy
Ebags Mother Lode Wheeled Duffel Review
The Ebags Mother Lode Wheeled Duffel isn't a duffel bag. I don't know why they used that name.
It's a large 2-wheeled soft-sided rolling suitcase. The case is split into and upper compartment and a larger lower compartment.
The fact that it is expandable is a nice feature but since it's already a large bag expanding the zippers will mean it's probably to large to use as a carry on.
At 9lbs when empty it's a little heavy for my liking.
The Mother Lode is rugged and well made. The large wheels are great for dragging over cobbles, kerbs or bumbs.
The Mother Lode comes in 8 color variations. I would choose the black since I prefer to blend in at the airport rather than stand out.
The 15 inch width is a potential problem since many airlines have a maximum width of 14 inches. As always you might be lucky and get away with it but I don't like to take chances so I wouldn't use this as my main carry on.
- Size: 21.5 x 15 x 9 inches
- Lifetime Warranty
- No side handle
Travelpro Maxlite 4 Expandable Rollaboard Review
The Travelpro Maxlite 4 is a great bag for moderate travelers — people that take 2 or 3 trips per year.
The Travelpro website lists the dimensions as 22 x 14 x 9 inches but in reality the bag is more like 23 x 15 x 9 inches when you include the wheels and the handles.
You should probably be okay since Travelpro claim that have tested the bag in airline sizers during development. However I think there is a small risk with this bag that you might get challenged.
- Size: 23 x 15 x 9 inches
- 5.6 lbs
- Might fall over
With spinners you can go in all directions. You can roll your carry on down the aisle sideways.
Because you've got 4 wheels you can roll it in the upright position. This takes some the the weight off your arm.
When you are waiting in line at check in or for boarding you can roll your luggage beside you with just a gentle push of your finger.
The main downside is that with more wheels there is more chance something will break and you lose room inside your case.
SwissGear Travel Gear 21" Spinner Review
The SwissGear Carry On Spinner is listed as 20 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches.
Once you take wheels and handles into account it's actually more like 21.75 x 14 x 8.5 inches.
Actually this makes it a great size of bag for people that want to stay under the common advertised limit of 22 x 14 x 9 and not try to cheat those extra inches.
On the other hand those that are used to using slightly over-sized bags might find the SwissGear smaller than they'd like.
What I liked:
The SwissGear drives very smoothly on even floors, it's very easy to control.
What I didn't like:
At 8 lbs this bag is heavier than it needs to be. It's size makes it a great international carry on but some Asian airlines have weight limits of 10 or 15 lbs. The case is using up a lot of those limits before you even put anything in it!
The handle could have been more sturdy and hopefully they will improve upon this in future versions.
- Size: 21.75 x 14 x 8.5 inches
- At 8 lbs it's heavier than it needs to be
IT Luggage Mega Lite Spinner Review
The IT Luggage Mega Lite has a special place in my heart because they understand the importance of reducing weight.
What I liked:
The weight! At only 4lbs. 3 oz IT Luggage have created one of the lightest carry ons on the market. And they don't seem to have sacrificed durability for this reduction in weight, it feels like a very well made bag.
The size. You should have no problems using this bag on a wide range of airlines. I travel light so that's perfect for me. Heavy packers might find this bag to be too small for their liking.
If you are traveling in Asia or Europe this bag will be great and help with tighter carry on luggage size limits.
Even when fully packed the Mega Lite doesn't tip over.
What I didn't like:
The protruding wheels. Those wheels count as part of your size allowance.
It's probably not the best cabin luggage for frequent fliers, I'm not sure if the wheels would stand up to regular use especially if like to smack them off kerbs, steps and bumps in the road.
However, as luggage to use on vacations 4 or 5 times per year I think it's a great option and the price doesn't break the bank.
- Size: 21.9 x 14 x 8.1 inches
- 4 lbs. 3 oz
- Protruding wheels
Lipault Luggage Original Plume 20" Spinner Review
The Lipaut Plume is my favorite size of bag.
It's 21 x 14 x 8 inches. Sweet!
8 inches an inch smaller than most US airlines permit. But it means that this bag becomes a great worldwide carry on.
It's 21 inches tall but the body is just around 18 inches. The wheels and handle are 3 inches.
It's also a soft-side with a lot of squeezeability. You should have not problems with this size unless you are flying with Frontier or Spirit.
The top and side handles are very comfortable and have tons of padding. You can even carry this like a duffel and there are 4 feet on the side for when you need to put it down.
The 4 spinner wheels mean it can go in whatever direction you want and you can walk keeping it close to your body. You can also easily walk this one down the aisle.
This is a bag that you are either going to love or hate.
For people that pack light or struggle with heavy luggage this might be love at first sight.
If you roll your clothes, use compression techniques, and pack light you will get a lot of milage out of the Liplaut.
But for maximalists they are going to feel that this bag is too small. You can fit more belongings in your cabin luggage with a different design for sure.
It's not one for people who travel week in week out. The durability isn't there in the wheels and the handles for long term heavy use. So road warriors and frequent travelers should look elsewhere.
As a spinner it performs best on flat surfaces. It will suit Taxi Tourists that won't walk large distances over cobbles stones. In the airport it drives well but it's not one for walking the city streets over long distances. Best to take a taxi or other transport from the airport to your hotel.
Style-wise it comes in a wide range of colors. It's clean and smart enough to be business luggage especially if you go with the traditional black.
At 4.7 lbs it's lighter than a lot of bags. I love this as well. Anyone that struggles to lift their case into the overhead bins will find the Lipault easier.
Also it's not a great one for attaching a smaller bag too. It's fine standing upright alone but when you start attaching a heavy purse it can lose its balance.
Samsonite own Lipault and their customer service well respected.
- Size: 22 x 14 x 8 inches
- Only 4.7 lbs
- A real beauty. One to bring home to meet the parents
- Size welcomed worldwide by many many airlines
- Might fall over
- Too small for maximalists
- Not one for taking offroad
Under seat Luggage
Using an under seat carry on is the most stress-free way to travel, you don't need to fight for space in the overhead bins.
The space under the seat is smaller but if you are taking a short break or a week end trip it might be they way to do it. Either that or learn how to pack light.
Choosing a window seat or the middle seat will give you the most room. The aisle seat usually has the smallest space under it.
Samsonite Wheeled Underseater Review
The Samsonite Under Seater is my favorite rolling suitcase for under seat use. Although if going for the under seat space I usually use a backpack.
Samsonite makes 2 sizes of this underseater. I prefer the large size if you are using it as your main bag.
I love how it's styled just like a regular carry on but shorter. If you want under seat luggage that looks like a suitcase and not a duffel or a backpack then the Samsonite will be ideal. It's great for short business trips when a casual bag wouldn't look professional enough.
The bag is 16.5 x 13 x 9 inches. It will fit under the seat in most but not all airlines.
If you want to have a better chance of it fitting under the seat choose the window seat or the middle seat. Avoid the aisle seat it has less space.
- Size: 16.5 x 13 x 9 inches
- No compartment for a laptop
Briggs & Riley Baseline Rolling Cabin Bag Review
The Briggs & Riley is a premium smaller rolling carry on.
It's made from ballistic nylon so it's very durable. It's size if ideal for short trips of 1-3 days.
It can be stacked on top of a larger bag if you need to. There is a handy side pocket to keep your mobile phone.
- Size: 16.5 x 12.5 x 9
- Heavy for it's size
Delsey Quilted Rolling UnderSeat Tote Review
The Delsey Rolling Tote is a popular and stylish under seat tote. It's made of polyester so it's not built for life.
It weighs 5 lbs and 0 oz and it comes in a few color options that are more geared for ladies.
With an underseater like this you can avoid lifting your bag up into the overhead bins. So it's a great bag for anyone that might struggle lifting a heavy bag above their head.
- Size: 14.5 x 14 x 9 inches
- No shoulder strap
- No padded laptop compartment
The ultimate in carry on freedom. Backpacks are a great option to use as your cabin luggage.
They work best for people that are fit, strong and healthy.
There is much less that can go wrong with a backpack since they don't have wheels so they are ideal for longer term travel.
If you don't pack to heavily then a backpack will be the most mobile option for travel.
Backpacks are great for travelers that don't go straight from the airport to the hotel.
If you jump on and off trains if you like to walk the city streets then a backpack will give you more freedom and flexibility.
Backpacks don't suit people that like to stuff as much as possible into their luggage. In that case you'd probably be better with wheels. If you can keep your weight to a moderate level and you are fit and strong I recommend checking out travel backpacks.
Backpacks are also great for travelers with young kids since they keep your hands free.
Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack Review
The Osprey Farpoint 40 was my main carry on backpack for 2 years now.
It was only when I upgraded my computer setup and began carrying more weight that I started to consider wheeled options.
It's one of the more reasonably priced travel backpacks that is durable and great for long term travel.
I never had any doubts that the Farpoint 40 would fail me in any way. I had complete confidence in it's workmanship and that's something that I've never felt with wheeled luggage.
It opens up fully so it's very easy to pack. It also had ample padding and is very comforable to wear.
- Size: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
- 40 Liters
- You might not like the logos
Timbuk2 Uptown Travel Backpack Review
Choosing to go with a backpack means obviously that you will be taking the weight on your shoulders.
This is great for freedom of movement but the downside is that you need to be able to take the strain of the weight comfortably.
For this reason I don't recommend that people who want to take the maximum of things use a backpack method.
The Timbuk2 Uptown is a smaller backpack that is still designed to be a main travel backpack.
It's 19.5 x 11.2 x 6.5 inches and weighs only 2.4 lbs.
It has a capacity of around 1800 cubic inches and that means it's about 1 third smaller than a full size carry on.
If you can manage it this will help to ease the strain on your shoulders and make for much more enjoyable travel.
The bag requires a minimalist mindset but if you know how to pack light it can be a great travel backpack.
- Size: 19.5 x 11.2 x 6.5 inches
- 1800 cubic inches
- Too small for people that like to take everything and the kitchen sink
eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Review
The Mother Lode is a maximum legal carry on backpack.
It's designed to allow you to take the most stuff you are legally permitted to and to carry it on your back.
For this reason if you pack heavy it's not going to be a pleasant backpack to have on for long periods of time.
So it's more suited to taxi tourists i.e. people that will take a taxi from the airport to their hotel and not walk around with this on their back.
It is much loved by its owners and if you want a backpack to take it to the max then be sure to check it out.
- Size: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
- 46 Liters
- Pack it to the max and you'll need to be very strong and fit
Rolling Travel Backpacks
Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? A rolling suitcase for when you want to roll and a backpack when you want to move fast.
Rolling backpacks generally make for neither good backpacks or good rollaboards.
With backpacks your are taking the strain on your shoulders. You don't want to add wheels and aluminium handles to that equation.
These were the best picks that we could find but generally I think it's usually best to go one way or the other.
Samsonite Wheeled Backpack Review
The Samsonite Wheeled Backpack is
The colored versions are smaller. If you want a good carry on size rolling backpack then get the black one which is 21 x 14 x 8 inches.
- Size: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
- 46 Liters
- Not as much padding as the Farpoint 40
Carry On Duffel Bags
The humble duffle bag can make a great carry on. In fact next time you are in the airport for a short flight check out the boarding queue and I'm sure you will see people with a assortment of duffel bags and holdalls.
You don't always need an dedicated travel bag.
Carry On Totes, Overnighters and Weekenders
Is it possible to have the best of both worlds?
Briefcases, Attache Cases and Man Bags
Perhaps my favorite way to travel carry on only are the times when I don't take luggage at all.
Often on short overnight trips even a carry on sized suitcase is too large. If I'm only away for 1 night just need an overnight bag.
Flying is much easier when you don't need to do battle for the space in the overhead bins.
Smaller bags can easily slide under the seat in front of you.
Saddleback Leather Classic Briefcase Review
The Saddleback Large Leather Briefcase is large enough to make a great carry on back for short trips.
While it might tempting to automatically reach for a rollaboard if you are only going for 1 or 2 nights it might not really be necessary.
I'm a huge fan of Saddleback briefcases. They are extremely well made and will last a lifetime.
The large briefcase is 16 x 12 x 9 and has a capacity of 1500 cubic inches. This means that it has about 55% of the capacity of a standard size carry on suitcase.
It comes in 5 different colors. My personal favorite is the dark coffee variation.
It will fit under your airline seat so you won't need to do battle for space in the overhead bins.
The Saddleback has no wheels that will break, no zips that will burst. It's not going to let you down.
The great thing is that once you are at your destination you can still use the briefcase and look smart for your meetings.
- Size: 16 x 12 x 9 inches
- 100 year warranty
- Already 7.6 lbs when empty
A Short History Of Airline Carry On Baggage
So kids we are coming to near the end of our tale of carry on luggage. When I was a young whippersnapper it was the wheel that was the hot technology.
Nowadays they are making luggage that follows you down the street tracking you by your bluetooth phone.
And who knows... maybe next it will be flying luggage. We'll just tell it where we are going and it will meet us there!
Luggage is changing and evolving all the time. It was an airline pilot that invented the suitcase on wheels. A guy called Bob Plath. What is perhaps surprising is that carry on bags as we know them today with wheels and a telescopic handle were only invented as recently as 1987.
All the walking around airports carrying his suitcase day in day out must have got tiring for Bob Plath so he set about designing a solution to the problem.
Bob went into his garage and came out with a bag on rolling wheels with an extendable handle. Shortly after Bob would be effortlessly walking through airport terminals and people would ask him about his unique bag.
He began selling the bags to fellow airline professionals and work quickly spread.
Carry on luggage is changing all the time. The technology is changing and the rules are changing. Budget airlines like Spirit keep cutting size limits. It's a trend that I expect to continue over the next 10 years. I think more airlines will follow suit and only allow very small bags for free.
You will be forced to make a choice. Pay to take your carry on or learn to pack lighter and make do with less. It wouldn't be wise to try to buy a carry on bag for life because in 5 years or 10 years you might travel differently.
If you're still reading right here at the end thank you. I hope you have enjoyed reading this buyers guide as much as I had creating it.