Our editors carefully select every product we recommend. We may earn a commission from these links. Learn more

The Best Carry-On Suitcases for Lighter Travel

Best Carry On Luggage 0 Hero

You’re already late for your flight and still have miles of security to walk through at the airport, weaving your way around those silly little ropes so that the TSA agent doesn’t scream at you. The last thing you need to do is wait in a line to check your bag behind the girl with the 700 lbs. worth of luggage. You want to keep things to a minimum, speed your process along, and ensure that your stuff doesn’t get busted up by an angry, underpaid baggage handler. The solution is thus: Stick to bags you can carry on.

When you want to pick a piece of equipment to tote around, you can just grab yourself a decent duffel or a natty knapsack, but that means throwing your back all out of alignment as you lug it around like a papoose. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, keep your cool and let your suitcase do the walking by choosing something that’s small enough to be modular, offers smooth rolling wheels for easy maneuvering, and has stiff sides that can take abuse. In short, ditch the backpack and select one of the best carry-on luggage options.

Best Carry-On Luggage for Travel

How Big Can Your Carry-On Be?

Unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for carry-on size, since this depends on your airline and/or country. For U.S. travelers, the average bag allowance is around 14″ x 9″ x 22″, with some slight variation. Make sure you double-check the standards of the airline you’ll be flying with. In terms of weight, most airlines won’t weigh your bags at all, unless, however, you’re paying extra per carry-on.

Carry-On Vs. Checked Bags

If you’re looking to save some time and even money, try to get all your travel gear into your carry-on since you won’t have to wait for baggage claim once you land or even risk the off chance that your bag(s) get lost. However, to do so, you may have to purchase certain items, like toiletries, at your destination.

There are few downsides to carry-on bags versus checked bags. That is, unless you prefer not to worry about keeping track of any luggage at the gate. However, if you want to stow any snacks, books, or your laptop, a carry-on is necessary.

Rolled Bags Vs. Backpacks

Unlike a backpack, rolled carry-ons are a solid option for ease of transport and a lessened burden (you still technically have to lift up a backpack to get it on your back). Also, with a rolled bag you don’t have to worry about adjustment straps and the occasional sweat stain on your back.

What to Look for in a Carry-On Bag

Materials: When looking for a new carry-on bag, you’ll have to first figure out if you want a hard-sided or soft-sided bag. Hard-sided options are typically made of either polycarbonate or aluminum and can protect your goods from damage much better than their soft-sided counterparts. On the other hand, a bag made of softer materials such as nylon or polyester can be lighter in weight and just as durable. However, they won’t protect more breakable items, like laptops, as well.

Wheels: The options here are four-wheel bags or two-wheel bags. For many people who are fine dragging their luggage behind them, a two-wheel unit will do just fine and eliminate the extra weight of two additional wheels. However, if you’re looking for some decreased labor in the terminal, a four-wheel bag may be a better option. Although, the wheels themselves in these units can be a bit more finicky.

Carrying Capacity: The capacity inside your carry-on bag will be up to your own personal requirements. If you’re a light packer, you may only need something as small as a tote. However, if you’re looking to supplement or even supplant a larger checked bag, you may want to go with a larger carry-on bag like the ones in this guide. As stated above, every airline has different size standards, and the internal capacity will be contingent on the outer dimensions.

Weight: The weight of your bag will be an important factor when it comes to all the lifting required of having a carry-on (into the car, onto the TSA security belt, into the overhead bins). And remember, the dry weight of these bags will only get heavier when you put items inside.

Organization: Organization options are key for many travelers, especially businessmen and those carrying smaller items like medicines, writing utensils, and tech accessories. Some bags even have dividers for clothing and laundry, so make sure you know what you want before making your purchase.

Level8 Road Runner Pro Carry On

Level8 Road Runner Pro Carry On
  • Has USB port (charger not included)
  • Quiet wheels
  • Clever push-button laptop compartment on the outside
  • Materials aren’t as high-end as others

Best for the Commuter: Many of you will only want a carry-on bag for bringing along your laptop and some key paperwork. However, many wheeled suitcases won’t be able to accommodate your needs. That’s where Level8’s Road Runner Pro Carry On steps in. Built with an aerospace-grade Bayer Makrolon hard shell, the bag is also equipped with a separated front pocket that’s padded to hold your laptop up to 15.6”. Instead of zippering shut, the compartment pops open with a push. Although the power bank is sold separately, the suitcase has dedicated space to hold one and a USB port for charging on the go. Weighing 9.3lbs and holding 35L of your most essential items, the Road Runner Pro is water-resistant and rolls effortlessly on its quiet 360-degree wheels.

Type: Hard-Sided
Capacity: 35L
Weight: 9.3lbs

Monos Carry-On

Monos Carry On
  • Virtually unbreakable
  • Very sturdy handle
  • Lightweight
  • N/A

Best Ultra-Durable Carry-On: Hard-sided bags are a fantastic choice for those who don’t want to run the risk of any of their most coveted items being crushed in transit (after all, that’s why many of us opt to carry certain items onboard to begin with). However, few suitcases are as durable as Monos’ flagship bag, a 39.9-liter carry-on made from aerospace-grade polycarbonate materials that make it dent-resistant and “virtually unbreakable.” The telescopic handle has four settings and feels much sturdier than the ones on other bags, the Ultra-microfibre vegan leather details add a touch of luxury inside, and the YKK zippers ensure this will last you for years to come.

Type: Hard-Sided
Capacity: 39.9L
Weight: 7lbs

July Carry-On

July Carry On
  • Lightweight for size
  • Easy to lift
  • Wheel design is smooth
  • Availability issues

Best for Maximizing Space: If you’re the type of person who wants to utilize every last square inch of your carry-on capacity, just get the July Carry-On, a 42-liter bag that’s designed for maximizing space. Made to look sleek while providing durability, the 7.4-pound hard-sided suitcase is constructed with a German polycarbonate shell and equipped with reinforced bumpers and tough YKK zippers. The nylon lining inside is water-resistant and stain-proof (as is the included laundry bag) and the nylon straps and hinge are finished with a luxe leather. 

Type: Hard-Sided
Capacity: 42L
Weight: 7.4lbs

Away The Carry-On

Away The Carry On
  • Durable and lightweight
  • Tons of storage space
  • Very attractive
  • Lots of color options
  • Battery pack option
  • Handle slightly less sturdy than some others

Best Overall: If you’re looking for the best carry-on for the price, check out Away’s eponymous option. Where other brands do both soft- and hard-sided luggage, the New York-basd outfit pretty much just does the latter — and does them really well at that. The Carry-On, as it’s so aptly called, is its smallest bag, capable of holding 39.8L of clothing, accessories, or anything else you want to take onboard with you. The outside is an impact-resistant polycarbonate shell with a gloss that comes in a variety of attractive colors with polyester interiors and luggage tags to match. The inside was recently updated with even more storage pockets to help you organize and an equipped water-resistant laundry bag. If you want something a bit larger, check out Away’s The Bigger Carry-On as well.

Type: Hard-Sided
Capacity: 39.8L
Weight: 7.5lbs

patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel Bag 40L

patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel Bag 40L
  • Incredibly tough construction
  • Internal compression straps help with organization
  • Also sports internal pouches
  • Wheels could be better

Best Duffel: A roller bag is a popular carry-on choice (and checked luggage choice) for a reason. There are the obvious conveniences of not having to actually carry the suitcase throughout the airport and also knowing that most of these options will be rather durable, with hard-sided options riddling the space. However, a duffel bag can be a meaningful option that goes beyond aesthetics. If you’re not traveling with anything too breakable, a duffel bag might be easier for the way it fits amongst other bags easily with its moldable shape. Patagonia’s Black Hole Duffel combines the best parts of a 40L duffel bag with the convenience of a wheeled bag. It’s made with TPU-laminated recycled 900D polyester ripstop and features a variety of organization pouches inside of its large compartment opening. The bag also benefits from internal compression straps and 200D polyester for its interior lining.

Type: Soft-Sided
Capacity: 40L
Weight: 7lbs

Zero Haliburton International Carry-On Case

Zero Haliburton International Carry On Case
  • Very durable
  • Attractive
  • Wheels are incredibly tough and adaptive
  • Pricey
  • Not as spacious as others

Best Upgrade: Zero Haliburton’s Edge Lightweight Collection is remarkable for its tough and rugged suitcases with lightweight frames. Available in three colors, this International Carry-On Case sports a sleek high-gloss double-ridge design and 35L of interior space for your every destination. Constructed of a polished polycarbonate hard-sided shell, the bag sports ZH Concave Edging for extra durability, handles and grips for easy lifting and dismount, and a two-sided interior design for separating clothing and gear. To top it off, literally, is a three-step telescopic handle with an ergonomic grip, as well as 360-degree wheels underneath.

Type: Hard-Sided
Capacity: 35L
Weight: 7.7lbs

Briggs & Riley Essential 22″ Carry-On Expandable Spinner

Briggs and Riley Essential 22 Carry On Expandable Spinner
  • Can convert from carry-on to larger check bag
  • Expands with a single touch
  • Ballistic nylon shell incredibly tough
  • Internal organization is fantastic and unique
  • Heavy for soft-sided

Best Expandable: The only thing better than a quality carry-on bag is one that can convert into a standard-sized suitcase for longer travel. From one of the leaders in high-end luggage options, Briggs & Riley’s Essential Carry-On Expandable Spinner gives you the option to convert a 37-liter bag into a 48-liter bag for the times when you want to accumulate more during your trip. Even better, the bag expands with a single touch thanks to the patented CX buttons. It also works well if you’re looking for a decent mid-sized bag for car travel without having to purchase an entirely new suitcase. The exterior fabric of the soft-sided bag is ballistic nylon while the inside comes with a garment folder for traveling with suits you don’t want to get wrinkled.

Type: Soft-Sided
Capacity: 37L to 48L
Weight: 10lbs

Rimowa Original Cabin

Rimowa Original Cabin
  • Rimowa has arguably the sleekest suitcase designs around
  • Lifetime warranty included
  • Nice interior lining as well
  • A bit heavy
  • Prone to dents

Best Luxurious Carry-On: With over 120 years of experience in the luggage world, Rimowa is one of the most revered names for a reason. Sporting the iconic ridged design on the hard-sided shell, the German brand’s Original Cabin bag is constructed with a beautiful high-end anodized aluminum shell on the outside with a polyester interior lining. It may be fairly basic, but you won’t regret making this purchase. Weighing just 9.5lbs, the 34.8-liter suitcase sits atop four wheels with an effortless roll on its cushioned axles, while the telescopic stage-free handle is perfect for any height.

Type: Soft-Sided
Capacity: 34.8L
Weight: 9.5lbs

The Best Hard-Sided Suitcases for Travel

Best Hard Sided Suitcases 00 Hero

If you want to explore more rugged luggage options, head over to our guide to the best hard-sided suitcases to buy for your next trip.