• April 13, 2024, 11:39 pm

The best carry-on luggage of 2023 SoftAIT

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Update : Tuesday, November 7, 2023

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A solid carry-on bag is the best traveling companion you could ask for. Checking bags has become increasingly costly and unreliable in recent years, which makes a spacious carry-on worth its weight in frequent flyer miles if it can encompass everything you need for a trip. At this time, travelers can find a wide array of models to choose from—in different sizes, with either soft- or hard-shell exteriors and with either two- or four-wheels on them. There’s also a tremendous range in sticker price: You can find carry-ons for less than $100 to those that cost more than $1,000. In many cases, those really expensive models aren’t really worth the price. But for most of you, who we believe are more pragmatic and practical, we’ve put together a guide of the best carry-on luggage.

How we selected the best carry-on luggage

The editors and writers at Pop Sci have put millions of miles traveling, which has provided ample insight into what makes a good bag.

The first factor we considered when recommending a carry-on was price. Yes, you can buy a carry-on for more than $1000, but it’s not necessary. You can get a sturdy, reliable case for less than half of that and keep it basically forever.  We also chose our best budget carry-on, which cost less than a two-person tab at the airport Chili’s Express. But for those who don’t have a budget limit, we also chose two excellent high-end models. 

The next factor we looked at was the type of carry-on exterior: Most models came in one of two types–either a hard-shell or soft-shell exterior. Then, we considered a variety of other factors: What type of wheel system did it have? How well did the handle work on the carry-on? Were the zippers likely to brake? We also looked to see if the model was easy to pack and if it included any special interior or exterior features. We also considered whether the carry-on manufacturer included a decent warranty for the product.  

The best carry-on luggage: Reviews & Recommendations

Best soft-shell carry-on: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Spinner

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 23.5 inches x 14.5 inches x 9 inches
  • Weight: 7.8 pounds
  • 4 wheels

Pros

  • Strong stain-resistant nylon fabric
  • Special self-aligning wheel system
  • Handle extension has four stops
  • Comes with nice extras, like a garment bag

Cons

  • Heavy for a soft-shell carry-on

There’s a lot to like about this carry-on, which is also available at a very reasonable price. For starters, the Magnatrac wheel system allows all four wheels to quickly self-align once you move the carry-on, which makes maneuvering with a suitcase a breeze. The PowerScope aluminum extension handle has four different stops (36 inches, 38 inches, 40 inches, and 42.5 inches) to accommodate users of different heights. It also comes with a garment bag, which is nice if you’re traveling with a formal dress or suit that you don’t want to get wrinkled.

There’s a nice front pocket where you can store a laptop that’s easy to get to, and it even includes an external USB port with a dedicated power bank pocket, to keep your gadgets charged. It’s built exceedingly tough so it should last decades if you treat it right. Just watch out for those Cinnabon stains. 

Best hard-shell carry-on: Samsonite Freeform Spinner

Samsonite is the best overall hard shell carry-on luggage.

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 21.25 inches x 15.25 inches x 10.0 inches
  • Weight: 6.5 lbs.
  • 4 wheels

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy exterior
  • Includes a TSA three-dial combination lock

Cons

  • Harder to fit into tight spaces

If you’re travelling with fragile items, hard-shell carry-ons, like this model from Samsonite, can offer better protection. It has four multi-directional, double-spinner wheels, which allows the Freeform Spinner carry-on to roll nicely over surfaces without stressing your arm or shoulder. It comes with a multi-stage, aluminum, push-button style handle, which is lightweight and has a comfortable grip. Moreover, it comes with a recessed TSA-compatible three-dial combination lock (which means you don’t need to keep track of keys).

Samsonite is one of the largest names in luggage on a whole, which has earned it some trust right off the bat. This particular line has been around for years and has improved over time. 

Upgrade soft-shell carry-on: Briggs & Riley Baseline-Softside CX Expandable Carry-On Spinner Luggage

Briggs & Riley is the best high-end soft-shell carry-on luggage.

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches
  • Weight: 9.24 pounds
  • 4 wheels

Pros

  • Expansion technology: 25 percent more packing space
  • Built-in garment bag
  • Free TSA lock

Cons

Although this Briggs & Riley expandable carry-on is quite pricey, we think it’s well worth the investment, particularly because of the extent to which the company stands behind the product. 

This model also includes some great features: It’s CX compression-expansion system gives this model the ability to expand the carry-on by as much as 25 percent more packing space. It’s made of ballistic nylon outer fabric that, the company says, “resists wear, moisture, dirt, and abrasion.” So, it’s durably constructed, inside and out. It also comes with a lockable double zipper pull, which keeps contents secure. There’s also a nice SpeedThru pocket, which allows you quick access to travel items at security checkpoints. There are some nice extras, too, including a built-in garment bag and a free TSA lock when you buy this Briggs & Riley model.

Upgrade hard-shell carry-on: Briggs & Riley Torq Hardside Carry-On 21-Inch

Briggs & Riley is the best high-end hard-shell carry-on luggage.

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 9.06 inches x 13.98 inches x 21.06 inches
  • Weight: 6.82 pounds
  • 4 wheels

Pros

  • Scratch-resistant exterior
  • Built-in garment bag
  • Free TSA lock
  • Compartments for gadgets
  • Exterior USB port for charging phone

Cons

This carry-on has the business traveler in mind: There’s a foam roll bar that neatly holds a suit or garment or 1-2 shirts and cinches them securely in place to prevent wrinkling. Plus, the garment panels have buckles that secures your clothes in place, minimizing wrinkles.

But there are a lot of compartments for consumer electronics, too: First, there’s an integrated padded laptop sleeve, for most 15-inch laptops. You also get a padded tablet slip pocket in front, for a 10.5″ tablet. Plus, access to another front pocket for storing a battery that you can connect to a USB port for charging your phone or other devices from the outside of the bag. And an RFID blocking pocket in the front compartment for holding credit cards, a wallet or passport, and protects your personal data from digital pickpockets.

The exterior has a scratch-resistant textured and also rolls on four, high quality double-spinner wheels. The aluminum telescoping handle has three stop heights. And it comes with a TSA-friendly combination lock.

Best budget: Rockland Melbourne Hardside Expandable Spinner Wheel Luggage

Rockland is the best budget carry-on luggage.

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 22 inches X 13.5 inches x 9 inches (with wheels)
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds
  • 4 wheels

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Style of luggage protects fragile items better
  • Lightweight

Cons

If you’re on a tight budget, this basic hard-shell carry-on should fit the bill. It’s a very inexpensive hard-shell carry-on that’s lightweight (under 8 pounds). The exterior is made out of ABS plastic, which is very lightweight (but it tends to be slightly less durable than polypropylene). It comes with four double spinner wheels and glides nicely over surfaces. Both the wheels and zippers are well designed, and the zipper system also allows you to expand the carry-on. You can also pull out the aluminum handle.

It’s great if you only travel infrequently or you travel by other means that don’t involve cramming it in and out of overhead bins all the time. 

What to consider when buying the best carry-on luggage

If you’re ready to start flying the friendly domestic or international skies, but you’re in need of a new carry-on, check below to see what factors you’ll want to consider before buying a piece of carry-on luggage. Here are some valuable points to consider when you’re looking to buy a new piece of luggage:

Size

Technically, for domestic U.S. flights, carry-on luggage should be 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches. However, travelers will tell you that most airport bins are actually a little bit larger than those dimensions. In other words, the bins will allow for a 23-inch tall carry-on, even though the limit is 22 inches. Additionally, most domestic flights mostly consider only the height of a carry-on. But if you’re nervous about the dimensions, most of our recommended brands offer smaller models. For international travel, you’ll need a slightly smaller carry-on—one that stands 21 inches or shorter.

Hard or soft sides?

By and large, most travelers tend to choose soft-shell carry-ons, in part, because it tends to fit more easily into overheads and when storing it. That little bit of flex might be the difference between closing the overhead and having to gate check your luggage. However, a hard-shell carry-on does have its merits, since it will often better protect the luggage, which can be important if you’re traveling with fragile items.

Weight

You should consider how heavy your carry-on will be, since that will actually add some weight to your overall luggage. In general, hard-shell luggage tends to be more lightweight than soft-shell. Most airlines have a weight limit around 40 pounds, so if your empty bag eats up too much of that allowance, you won’t have room for your essentials. 

Wheels

Most carry-on wheels come in one of two configurations: A four-wheel spinner carry-on or two-wheel roller. The upside of a carry-on with four wheels is it tends to be easier to push or pull, and it’s often easier on the arms. However, if you’re standing on an incline, you’ll need to hold on to it since it can roll away from you. Also, four-wheel models have wheels that extend, which take up space and can be easily damaged. A two-wheel model often has recessed wheels, which take up less space and avoid damage. The downside of using a two-wheel model is you’re forced to drag the bag behind you when rolling it.

Pockets and features

Be sure to look closely and examine all the other details on your bag. Make sure all the interior pocket and compartments are up to your expectations for your travel accessories. Also, examine the zippers and handles, and any other special features. You want lots of pockets, but not too many that you forget where you put things. It’s a balancing act. 

Style

Some pricey carry-ons almost look like they’re ready to take a walk on the catwalk, like a fashion model, although they might not be the one you need to take on your business trip or vacation. However, style is important. At the very least, consider if your carry-on comes in alternate colors. Additionally, make sure the handles and straps look solid and secure. 

FAQs

Q: What’s the size limit for domestic flights?

The size limit for carry-ons for most domestic flights in the U.S. is 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches. However, by and large, the size bins in domestic flights are a bit larger than those dimensions. In general, most domestic flights allow carry-ons that are 23 inches tall or shorter.

Q: What happens if your carry-on is considered too large?

When you’re at the gate and checking in, if your bag is shown to be too large (in the “sizer” at the gate), you’ll need to check it with the checked luggage, which is not stored in the airplane cabin. You’ll also most likely need to pay a fee.

Q: Which type is better—a soft-shell or hard-shell carry-on?

It really depends on personal preference: There are many soft-shell models available that come in many shapes, sizes, and styles. What’s nice about soft-shell models is that after your trip, they’re easier to store than hard-shell models, which don’t collapse or fold up. However, you can find some excellent hard-shell carry-ons that are lightweight and strong, and do a great job at protecting your personal items, clothes, and gear.

When you’re looking to buy a new carry-on piece of luggage for either your professional or personal traveling, remember that you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money for a model that’s durable and versatile. But be sure to find out what features are really important to you. Also, read through the user reviews on Amazon and elsewhere to get a sense of what people liked and disliked about the product you’re considering. Then, once you’ve found the right carry-on (and don’t feel bogged down with an annoying piece of luggage anymore), you’ll find that you’re better equipped to transform your trip into a more enjoyable, and perhaps adventurous excursion or jaunt.

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.



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