Factors when choosing Wheeled Carry On Luggage
How to make sense of all your different
A bag that seems simple on
the outside can offer a wonderful variety of added features
when you carefully inspect it.
Inside and outside pockets,
included suit carriers, and many other things make today's
best carry-on bags fully versatile.
.Part 2 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
first part of this series,
we considered some obvious issues such as the size of different
carry-on bags and the not so obvious implications of this, and
the cost of bags and what they actually offer in the form of
In this second part, we look at
more of the factors you need to consider when choosing luggage
that best matches your requirements.
What is the bag made out of?
Leather is expensive and
heavy, and also is more prone to show wear and tear.
Leather is a curious contradiction - it can be both robustly
long wearing, but is also fragile and prone to showing scratches and other
signs of wear.
Leather is also
ostentatious, and some people think baggage thieves are more
likely to open and/or steal bags that look expensive.
Woven nylon or polyester is the most common material in use. This can be
very resilient and resists being punctured or scratched.
If described as 'microfiber' then it is made of thinner finer
strands (usually polyester) than normal woven or 'ballistic'
nylon (which is also used in Kevlar bulletproof vests). It is usually water resistant rather than fully water proof.
Some manufacturers add a Teflon and/or water resistant coating
to the material.
Is the bag a 'squishy' bag?
By this we mean is it possible to squeeze it into a tight space,
or are the external dimensions fairly rigid and fixed, making it
harder to squeeze it into a space that is just a tad too tight?
Solid sided bags can be very
strong, but if/when they lose their strength, they then
transition to being very weak, and are rarely seen on carry-on
How is the general shape of
the suitcase formed? Is it by a thin sheet of plastic
material that is likely to soften and deform, or is it by a more
solid and thicker type of material that will help the bag
maintain its shape and provide a limited degree of protection
for its contents?
Can the bag be readily
repaired? Look for screws, not rivets, holding the bag
together as a good sign of it being able to be conveniently
Few carry-ons comprise
nothing more than an empty case with wheels and a handle.
Apart from the obvious - a divider between the upper and lower
halves, and/or a couple of straps to fasten across the contents,
here are some of the other things you might find inside (or
outside) your bag.
Of course one of the
standard fold-over-in-half suit carriers wouldn't fit inside a
carry-on suitcase, so the designers got clever and designed a
'fold in thirds' type suitcarrier that you can fit inside your
carry-on (usually within its folding lid part). You'll probably only squeeze one suit inside the
carrier, but it provides a convenient and easy way to fold and
carry one suit.
Some bags have a waterproof
pouch - maybe small in size, maybe larger - into which you can
put wet items. Of course, don't leave them there for too
long, or else they may go musty and mildewy.
This compartment can also be
used to store items that may potentially leak. Some sort
of waterproof compartment is an essential item to have in your
bag, either provided as part of the bag, or separately
This is a nice feature -
perhaps the bag includes a smaller bag that can be used for
toiletries - you pack it in place in the carry-on for traveling,
and then unsnap it and take it into the bathroom with you at the
Some bags have several
external pockets, others have one or none. External
pockets can be convenient for putting frequently accessed items
in, and if there are at least two, the small external pocket can
be used to hold your tickets.
Some external pockets work
so that when you put things in them, they expand out, making the
overall bag dimensions larger. Others work so they expand
into the interior of the case, keeping the external dimensions
the same and using up internal space instead.
You might prefer one style
or the other, depending on how often you have size problems with
your bag (or with all the things you're trying to squash into
The bigger your bag, the
heavier it will be (all other things being equal).
You might think that the
weight of the bag is unimportant, because, after all, it is on
wheels. And to a certain extent, it is unavoidable that a
well constructed robust bag will weigh more than a thin flimsy
But, wheels or not, you'll
still end up carrying the bag some of the time - perhaps up and
down flights of stairs - and also when you try and lift it above
your head and into the overhead storage bins on your flight.
There's another possible
problem with the heavier weight bags. Although domestic
flights generally allow you up to 35-40 lbs for your carry-on
piece (note that Hawaiian limits you to 25 lbs), international
airlines are massively less generous.
Check what your
allowance for carry-on items will be on airlines you're likely
to fly, using our page that summarizes this information.
If you're considering flying Alitalia, Finnair, Malaysian or
Varig, your weight limit is only 11lbs. If you fly British
Airways, Icelandair or Virgin, your weight limit is only 13lbs.
Most other airlines will limit you to between 15 - 22lbs.
It is not uncommon to find
carry-on suitcases that weigh more than 11lbs empty, and even
with a more generous 22lb allowance, if your suitcase already
weighs more than half that weight, you're sure to go over your
allowance and find yourself being forced to check the bag you'd
hoped to carry onto the plane with you.
International airlines are
more strict about enforcing these limits than the domestic
airlines. If they see a maximum sized carry-on, bulging at
the seams, and you straining to carry it, they're very likely to
insist on weighing it and then refuse to let you take it on
If you travel
internationally a lot, you might want to have a lighter weight
piece for these flights.
Note that if you're willing
to retreat back to a simple duffle bag type carryon, these can
be found weighing as little as 3lbs.
Fragile External Bits
Look at the outside of your
bag, and ask yourself if any of the parts of it run the risk of
being damaged by rough handling. Are the wheels partially
recessed/guarded, or do they stand well clear of the bag?
Are there any catches or
other pieces that might get caught?
Nearly all zips these days
are of the self-repairing kind (ie nylon rather than metal).
Check also that the zipper pulls are strongly made - when these
break off, the zips can become impossible to use (especially if
they have the self-locking feature that only releases when the
pull handle is tugged).
Costco have a fascinating
feature on their carry-on. Replaceable zipper pulls - and
they provide two replacement pulls with the bag. This is a
very desirable bonus.
Check for reinforcing around
the corners so that the material won't wear through and the zips
Towing Handle Design
Look at the handle you'll
use to pull the case behind you.
Is it solid, or does it
wiggle from side to side? If it already wiggles loosely in
the store, it will only get worse as you use it, and the more it
wiggles, the less stable your bag will be, so that it starts to
get 'speed wobbles' as you pull it behind you.
How high does the handle go?
You want a handle that is long enough so you can have the bag
sloped away from you on a comfortable angle as you walk along -
what looks to be a high enough handle when the bag is stationary
next to you is invariably too short when it is heavy and being
I've measured handle heights
ranging from 37½" to 42½".
For me (fairly tall) the shorter handle heights are too short
bag handles have two positions, making them more convenient
for all members of your family to use.
the handle at the top of the twin poles constructed and attached
to the poles? If this should break, all of a sudden, your
bag ceases to be a towable wheeled bag and instead becomes a
heavy bag you have to carry everywhere.
handle should open easily with one hand, lock in place, and then
retract back to a recessed position where it again locks in
place and is protected
from accidental opening and external damage.
Internal handle assemblies give you the most efficient use of
the maximum amount of bag size. External ones may be
slightly more vulnerable to damage.
manufacturers (such as Travelpro with their Platinum 3 ProGrip
handle) are now offering apparently more ergonomic designs for
their towing handles. If you find a regular cross-bar
awkward to grasp then these other styles might be appealing to
you've looked at the top of the bag, have a look at the bottom -
at its wheels. Those two small wheels, and the axles
they're mounted on, will end up carrying the entire weight of
the bag and its contents.
'cheat' and pull it down stairs or over curbs, the wheels will
be subjected to strong impact forces, and if they are not very
solidly made, they are likely to become the first thing that
fails on your bag. And, just like a broken handle, when
you lose a wheel, your piece of luggage changes from something
you can conveniently tow along behind you to something you'll
have to carry.
manufacturers have easily repairable/replaceable wheels. I
always travel with a spare wheel for my large Delsey hardsided
suitcase, so that should it ever fail again, I can quickly and
conveniently replace the broken wheel in a couple of minutes.
a feature which you probably don't want to see on your bag.
Unless the locks are conspicuously labeled as being the new TSA
compliant type (which the TSA have master keys for) you run
the risk of having the TSA destroy your lock (and perhaps your
bag too) if they choose to open it to check for explosives
(should you check the bag).
carry-on comes with locks, we suggest you throw them away
immediately and instead replace them with TSA compliant locks
such as the
SearchAlert combination locks.
recommend using combination locks on your travels so that
you don't have to worry about losing the keys.
are some other features and issues to look for on bags.
at Both Ends
bags have handles at both ends, to make it easier to shove the
bag into and pull it out of a tightly packed overhead.
Feet on a
Long Side Too
bags have feet on the long side opposite the side with the carry
handle. This is a small but nice extra convenience, so if
you're hand carrying rather than wheeling the bag, when you put
it down on wet/dirty ground, the bag is better protected.
bags are designed better than others for balance and are less
likely to fall over when fully packed.
that when packing your bag, it is a good idea to put your
heaviest items at what will be the bottom when it is standing on
its legs, and your lightest items at what will be the top.
This makes the bag both more stable and also gives it a lighter
perceived weight at the end of the handle.
Hook for briefcase
Some bags come with a sturdy
strap and hook onto which you can hang a briefcase or other bag.
Name and Address Tag
Some bags have a built in
holder as part of the outside of the case, into which you can
place a card with your name and contact details. Others
include a regular style tag holder that loops around one of the
bag's handles, and some bags provide neither.
Some bags have one or two
reinforced 'runners' on their back. When you're climbing a
set of stairs, you can (if you choose) simply pull the bag up
the stairs by the handle, with it sliding up the stairs on these
Some bags can be expanded by
unzipping a gusset, or by opening an internal expander.
This might make the bag go over the legal size limit, but worst
case scenario is that you then check it rather than carry it on.
One bag tested expanded by a
mere half inch - almost a waste of time. But another
expanded by 2¾" - providing a substantial
30% increase in packing space.
or six wheels
typical roll-aboard suitcase has two wheels, at two of the sides
of the wide dimension of the bag. This is only just narrow enough to pull down
the narrow aisle of a plane, and can sometimes be difficult to
bags are available with four wheels on the bottom, enabling them
to be propelled both with the wide side or the narrow side
spanning the width. This can be very helpful in narrow
spaces such as onboard a plane.
bags even have six wheels - two for normal use, and four for
pushing/pulling the bag in any direction at all.
purpose convertible pack/bags
bags can do double duty as either a backpack or a roll-aboard.
This obviously appeals to some people, but makes little obvious
sense, and would seem to result in an object that is both an overly heavy backpack
weirdly shaped carry-on that ill uses the dimensional
constraints available to it.
Combination carry bag/backpack and carry-on
variation on the preceding type of bag is a bag that has both a
traditional carry-on part and a second part which is either
zipped on as part of the carry-on unit, or which can be unzipped
and then used as a backpack.
you could use the backpack as a 'daypack' while traveling each
day. Or you can use it as another way to expand your total
luggage capacity - start off with one piece, then, when you need
more capacity, make it into two pieces that between them now
hold considerably more things than before.
The shorter life, limited
functionality, and probable inconvenience when a low priced bag
fails all encourage one to consider buying an upgraded quality
bag to start with.
Mid priced bags (around the
$200 - $400 price range) seem to be best value for money.
More expensive bags seldom give appreciably more features or
longer life, and less expensive bags often represent false
Most bag manufacturers will
not repair bags damaged by the airlines. But Briggs &
Riley have an unlimited lifetime warranty policy and will repair
your bag, anytime, for any reason, with no questions asked.
Decide the size and weight
limits you'll settle for, and remember that size measurements
may not accurately reflect the true external dimensions of each
Understand the full range of
features that are variously offered by the different bag
manufacturers and make your informed choice accordingly.
Read more in Parts 1 & 3
Part 1 we explain what
to consider when choosing carry-on luggage, including a
discussion of cost, size and capacity.
Part 3 we feature a
range of comments from Travel Insider readers who report on
their own experiences with carry-on luggage.
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3 Sep 2004, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.