Looking for the best carry-on luggage? We’ve been full-time travel bloggers for almost ten years and have tested many suitcases over the years. These are our favorites.
We love traveling light and have our minimalist packing down to an art. On longer trips, we each bring a carry-on and a backpack. On shorter trips, we carry our backpacks and sometimes share one carry-on.
In this post, we’re going to focus on carry-on luggage. If you prefer to travel with a backpack, check out our best travel backpack post.
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Last Updated: September 12, 2023
What to Look for in Carry-On Luggage
Before we get into our favorite suitcases, let’s talk about how to pick the best carry-on luggage for you.
Questions to Ask
What are your favorite airlines? The airlines you frequently travel with determine your bag’s size and weight limitations. Some are stricter than others, requiring everyone to measure their bags.
Do you have physical limitations? Spinners may be easier to move around than two-wheeled suitcases for some.
Where are you traveling? If you’re traveling domestically vs. internationally, there will be different size and weight limitations. It also matters if you’ll be in a big city, walking through cobblestone streets, or traveling to more remote destinations.
What will you be doing? The clothes and gear you pack can depend on your activities.
What is your travel style? Will you stay in one location or move from place to place? If you’re always on the go, consider a backpack instead.
Do you have specific gear you need to travel with? We always travel with camera gear and sometimes a tripod.
Features to Check
Dimensions: Most US airlines’ size limit is 22 x 14 x 9 inches, whereas international airlines’ limit is 12.7 x 15.7 x 9. Since they vary, consider which airlines you fly the most. We always opt for the smaller ones to fit on most planes. Measure your suitcase after you get it since the specs they show may be slightly off.
Weight: Most US airlines aren’t strict about weight (max is usually 40 lbs), but in Europe, they are more stringent with a limit of 17 lbs. Remember, the base weight will vary when you select your suitcase. You also want to be able to maneuver the bag and lift it into storage.
Hard Shell or Soft Shell: We used to love soft shell luggage but have switched over recently. Softshells are nice because they expand and can be stuffed into tighter spots, but we often see people overpack them to the point where they get stuck. Hard shell luggage is durable and more protective against the elements but is usually heavier.
Pockets and Organization: Do you want two wheels or spinners? Spinners are much smoother and easier to maneuver, but since wheels are considered in the dimensions, our million miler writer prefers the extra space you get with two-wheel suitcases for long trips.
Wheel Types: Do you want two wheels or spinners? Spinners are much smoother and easier to maneuver, but since wheels are considered in the dimensions, our million miler writer prefers the extra space you get with two wheels.
Color and Design: Even though we prioritize function, aesthetics matter too. Unique colors are easier to spot in a sea of black and navy luggage.
Best Carry On Luggage
We use a few suitcases regularly and reserve certain ones for specific activity-based trips.
Best Carry on Luggage 4 wheels
The Quince Carry-On is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a balance of lightweight and durability! They have a 20″ and 21″ version; we’ll focus on the 20″ here since that’s what we have. We love the simple, sleek design, and you can’t beat the price for the same quality.
Measurements: 22″ x 14.4″ x 9.1″
Weight: 6.2 lbs
Lightweight but durable
Hinimoto spinner wheels
TSA approved lock
Only two color options (other models have more color options)
Pro Tip: We also checked out Away suitcases since they are so trendy, but Quince is virtually the same in quality and costs 60% less. Our friends had a hard time telling the difference between the two.
The front of this carry-on has a pocket dedicated to give you easy access to your laptop, tablet, and travel documents. It’s a great option if you want to have your electronics in your suitcase but still have them easily accessible. They use quality components, and there is plenty of organization.
Measurements: 23″ x 15″ x 9.5″
Weight: 8 lbs
It fits up to a 15.6″ laptop and is well-protected
2″ expansion zipper
Lots of organization
Hinimoto spinner wheels
TSA approved lock
Front pocket makes the interior space smaller
On the heavier side
Only two color options
Aerotrunk Coupon Code: LCLADV10 for 10% off
Samsonite has been a trusted brand among travelers for high-quality travel bags. They’ve been making suitcases since 1910. They also own Tumi, another brand known for high-end, quality suitcases.
A friend of mine got me a tiny suitcase from Europe years ago that I love. I’m 4’11, so even average carry-ons look gigantic next to me, and there was a period when flight attendants would question the size. I never had issues with the SXK Spinner, though. It’s made to be an under-seater bag if needed. Since my clothes are also generally smaller, I wanted to show that if I can pack into an under-seater, you should be able to pack everything you need in a standard carry-on.
Measurements: 17.3″ x 14.3″ x 8.5″
Weight: 6.8 lbs
Fabric reinforced with Kevlar for durability.
Smooth spinner wheels
Built-in USB port inside pocket
Laptop sleeve for up to 14.1″
Interior RFID data vault
I can’t fit all my bulky winter items.
Much more limited space.
This is our newest and prettiest suitcase. Roam Luggage does the best job in terms of customization since they build each piece to order. Although they have design inspirations, the fun part is picking colors for each bag element. They have both a standard suitcase and one with a front pocket, so we decided to go with the front pocket to use on trips we want to store our laptop in our luggage.
So far, we love all the features, but we’ll update this post after we take it on the road next month.
Measurements: 22″ x 14.25″ x 9.75″
Weight: 8.3 lbs
Customize the color of each piece of your bag
Lose some space with the front pocket
Roam Luggage Coupon Code: LOCALADVENTURER for $50 off (min $125 purchase)
Nomatic focuses on making travel gear, and after checking out their camera bags, the luggage seemed very promising. The Nomatic Carry-on Classic is made for 3-5 travel days and has a clean design. If you prefer to travel with only one bag (no backpack), the Pro version has a tech-dedicated section with a removable bag for your laptop.
Measurements: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
Weight: 7.46 lbs
Super strong material
TSA ready zippers
Folding compression panel
It only comes in one color.
Less capacity than the average carry-on
This is our most rugged suitcase with a durable aluminum alloy hardshell exterior. Although we almost always carry on, we don’t have to worry about baggage handlers tossing it around if the overhead space is all taken. If you find zippers annoying, this is a good option if you want latches instead. The interior has standard features with some organization and compression.
Measurements: 21.7″ x 14.8″ x 8.7″
Weight: 9.6 lbs
Unbreakable alloy shell
Dual TSA-approved combination locks
Smooth 360 spinner wheels
It comes with a clear protective cover.
It is harder to cram things in a bag with no zippers.
Heaviest bag on this list.
Best Carry On Luggage 2 wheels
When we lived in NYC, we had no storage in our apartment. The ROLLINK Flex Aura is a fully collapsible suitcase, making it easy to store away whenever you’re not using it. When entirely collapsed, it’s only 2 inches thick. It also has a laptop sleeve on the front, but since it’s not hard-covered, I used it for documents instead. My backpack felt more safe for my laptop.
They also have a four-wheel spinner version.
Measurements: 21.6″ x 15.7″ x 9″
Weight: 5.5 lbs
Lightest on this list
Collapses to 2″ thick
Softshell impact-resistant material
Lots of color options
More space with a two-wheel design.
Since it’s collapsible, it doesn’t hold its form while packing.
The two-wheel design is harder to maneuver.
More Carry-On Suitcases to Check Out
These are some other popular carry-on luggage we still need to check out.
Make a list of your travel essentials to look for a suitcase based on your gear.
Check out the interiors of the suitcases to see if there are any awkward spots to pack. Sometimes, the handles take work to pack around.
Different suitcases may suit different types of travel. We use different gear depending on what we’re packing (i.e. laptops, cameras, rock climbing gear, etc.).
Get comprehensive insurance for your trip.
Download these helpful language apps.
Arrange a rental car for your trip.
Are there any others we need to add to our best carry-on luggage post? What do you currently use? What features do you look for?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.