Best Carry On Bag
Our recommended best choices
All manufacturers would
like you to believe their bag is best.
They can't all be right
about this claim!
After having reviewed over $2500 worth of carry-on bags, we
report our findings below.
What type of traveler are you?
What type of carry-on do you like to take with you?
Depending on your travel
patterns will depend on the type of bag that is best suited for
your needs. This page will help you choose the best
suitcase for your purposes.
Which bag is best?
Choosing the best carry-on
bag proved to be very difficult. Friends joked there were more
pieces of luggage on my living room floor than most luggage
stores have in their showrooms, but when it came to the ultimate
test - choosing which piece to take with me on the next flight,
it proved surprisingly difficult.
I found myself wanting to
'cheat' and rather than choose just one single piece, express
preferences for different pieces depending on the circumstances
And so, please consider
not just one but four winners.
1. Traveling when size and weight
For traveling when you know
your bag will be measured and probably weighed as well, there
is a clear winner - the Eagle Creek Pilot EXP.
This is by
far the lightest of all the bags tested, weighing only 6.25 lbs.
With an overall very 'squishy' design it is easy to squeeze and
shove it into tight spaces (not least of which is the airline
Heys Eco 19" bag
is a close second in weight, but is sold as part of a three bag
package rather than individually. Good value if you need
at least one other bag, too; not such good value if you just
want to add a single extra bag.
Mention must also be made of
the Briggs & Riley Transcend Transformable bag. Because
this can unzip into two bags, you have the option of splitting
your bag into two, and trying to bluff your way on the plane
saying 'this is my one piece of carry on and that is my one
personal item' or alternatively, giving in gracefully and
allowing one of the pieces to be checked while still carrying on
the other. Although it can be uniquely split into two
bags, it remains much heavier and larger than either the Eagle
Creek Pilot EXP or the Samsonite Sahora Spinners.
Lastly, if you're prepared
to do a bit of lateral thinking and do without the wheels and
hard sides, the Red Oxx Safari
Beano 5.5 is about as light, rugged, and capacious as is
2. Traveling when size and weight
If size and weight are no
concern at all, your best bag is the
Briggs & Riley 21" Expandable
Although it doesn't start
off life as the largest capacity piece, once you open up its huge
almost 3" expansion gusset, you have an enormous bag
capable of holding a massive amount of stuff.
The Travelpro Crew 5 Rollaboard
comes a very close second. It also has an expansion
gusset (and is also heavy). The Travelpro costs almost $150
less, is well made and likely to last for a long time, and
has more internal compartments and clever features than the
Briggs & Riley piece.
EZ-Swany 22" Quilted Walkin'
Bag is also a great bag, although very oversized in one
dimension, and with a very inferior warranty.
The lifetime no exceptions warranty of the Briggs & Riley
piece, and its general superiority, make it the overall winner, fairly
compensating for the more basic nature of the bag and its higher
3. Traveling for business in
I've often been traveling to
trade shows or in some other way needing to take a bunch of
boxes and other things with me, and find it impossibly difficult
to manage without a trolley or sky cap assistance in such cases.
No longer! The very
cleverly designed Porter Case PC II which converts to a carrying
trolley capable of accepting a 200lb load is ideal for such situations.
You can load the Porter Case with a display stand unit, boxes of brochures, and anything else, and conveniently make
way both through the airport and through the convention hall
without needing any extra assistance.
4. Traveling on a budget
Should you spend about $40
for a Walmart or other chain store
generic wheeled carry-on?
Or twice that ($90) for a Costco piece? Or three times
($120-130) for a Samsonite bag?
If you only travel once a
year, then perhaps the $40
Walmart bag by
American Tourister will be fine. It will
probably last you five, possibly ten years before breaking.
But if you're traveling much
more than once a year, you'll quickly find the extra value
and quality in a better made bag is well worth the small extra
cost. Think of it perhaps as a small premium added to each
ticket you buy, and soon you'll find you've covered the extra
cost of the Costco piece.
The Costco piece is perhaps
the best of the three lowest priced bags, but it is considerably
heavier and also substantially more expensive, and so you're
starting to move into the realm of diminishing value and weight
issues. But it is also most definitely the best made of
Torture Test Result
In the last almost two
months (Oct - Dec 04), I've been torture testing one of the
Briggs & Riley bags.
Rather than just carefully carry it on planes, I've
checked it and entrusted it to baggage handlers and machines, and in
total this bag has been on 14 flights, 32 car rides, in and out of 17
hotels, 2 trains and 1 ship in the course of 47,000 miles of travel. Plus it was lost once (by Alitalia) so who knows what else happened to
I've overloaded it with as much as 60lbs of packing, I've hung
a 20+lb bag off the top of it, I've bumped it up and down hundreds of
steps and curbs, rolled it over all sorts of uneven surfaces and
generally done all I can to destroy it.
The net result? Apart from
some scratches on the skid pads from dragging it up rough
concrete steps, the bag looks like new. There is no sign of
wear, and everything works perfectly. I'm astonished.
To make a positive story
even better, even if I had destroyed the bag, it wouldn't
matter, because Briggs & Riley's lifetime no-questions asked
warranty would repair/replace it for free. These truly are bags
you can buy with confidence.
Overall Grand Winner
In theory, it would be one
of the three Briggs & Riley bags
- very strong construction and lifetime no questions asked
warranties that tangibly prove the confidence that B&R have in
But all three are oversized and would not fit in an airline
sizing template, so they probably should be disqualified for
that reason. Briggs & Riley do make
smaller sized bags, but we did not test these.
Crew5 Rollaboard is a close second favorite of ours, but it too is oversized.
The reality is that
different people want different bags for different purposes, and
it is not appropriate to try and choose one only bag as the very
best for everyone for every purpose.
This is why manufacturers don't just offer
a single bag, but offer a
range of different bag sizes and styles, and for this reason,
we've decided not to award any bag as overall grand winner,
because no one bag works best for all people, all the time.
Choose your most common
travel need from the four scenarios above, and then consider the
nominated best of class accordingly.
Read more in this series
In the top right of the
page you'll see links to specific bag reviews and related
articles about choosing the best carry-on luggage for your
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17 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.