Best Carry-on Luggage Options – 2018 Buyers Guide

Best Carry-on Luggage

With the ever-increasing surcharges, airlines impose for putting luggage in the hold, more and more people are deciding to travel with carry-on luggage than ever before. The days of cramming huge amounts of luggage into large old suitcases are firmly in the past and these days keeping things compact to cut down costs is the way many people like to roll.

There are many issues to be aware of if you’re traveling with only carry-on luggage. When you arrive at your destination you’re going to have to buy any liquids, razor blades, and other objects that won’t get past airport security. But on the flipside, you don’t have to wait for your baggage, and most importantly, you don’t have to pay the surcharges.

With the sudden popularity of traveling only with a carry-on, luggage manufacturers have been quick to capitalize on the trend. There are now many custom designed bags and backpacks that are made to be as large and as convenient as possible (while staying within the sizing restrictions of most airlines).

With that in mind, today we are going to take a look at what we think are the best carry-on luggage options on the market in 2018. We’re going to provide you with a brief buyer’s guide, tell you a few things to look out for, and provide you with some impartial recommendations.

Let’s get started.

5 Popular Options for Carry-on Luggage

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular variations of carry-on luggage that are on the market.

Rolling Suitcase – As the name suggests, a rolling suitcase is very similar to a normal suitcase that you would traditionally put in the hold. The main difference is that it’s much smaller and designed to be within the size limits that most major airlines put on hand luggage.

They are defined by their roller wheels which allow you to drag them behind you throughout the airport with ease. They’re one of the most popular carry-on luggage types for people that are looking for a dedicated carry-on bag, as they often reach the limits of airline size restrictions (without ever crossing the line).

Travel Laptop Case – As the name suggests, a travel laptop case is designed to carry a laptop and its associated leads and accessories safely. They are almost always found in shoulder strap varieties, but the strap can often be removed and the case can be hand-held if desired.

They often contain several protective layers of padding to protect against damage caused by turbulence in flight. Some travel laptop cases have a firm solid outer case to add further protection. Dependent upon the airline, these cases can be used as a “personal item” similar to a handbag alongside a carry-on bag.

Messenger Bag – A messenger bag is very similar to a travel laptop bag in terms of design, it’s just usually a little bigger. It’s a shoulder strap bag that usually has several pockets and compartments for organizational convenience. Their limited size means that you’re not going to be able to fit that much inside of them. As such, they’re only suitable for short trips (or as a complement to luggage that you’re storing in the hold).

Rolling Duffel Bag – Rolling duffel bags are one of the more recent inventions in the world of carry-on luggage and they are becoming increasingly popular as time goes on. They are a variation of a classic duffel bag that contains a handle and wheels (similar to a rolling suitcase). This means that they can be easily rolled around the airport, but they can also be converted into a handheld bag once you leave.

They are usually soft-shelled (as opposed to hard-shelled rolling suitcases) and are again often sized to be just within the limits of what airlines will accept as carry-on luggage. This means they are suitable for use as a replacement to hold luggage.

The Backpack – The humble backpack is the grandfather of carry-on luggage. People have been arguing with airline attendants for decades about the size of their backpack, well before surcharges for hold luggage became commonplace. These days that’s thankfully a thing of the past (providing you get a dedicated carry-on backpack).

Like the rolling suitcase and the rolling duffel bag, they are often designed to be precisely at the limit of what airlines will allow you to take on as carry-on luggage. As such, they are also large enough to be a viable replacement to hold luggage if you’re going on a carry-on only trip.

Best Travel Luggage Recommendations

We’re going to provide you with a buyer’s guide with more information on what to look out for in a good carry-on below. But if you’re in a hurry – here are our two overall top recommendations for men and women.

Best Travel Luggage For Men – Duffle Multifunctional Duffel with Weekend Overlight

In our opinion, this duffel bag is the ultimate carry-on luggage for men. It’s a stylish product that has a variety of different features that make it perfect for the traveling man. It’s not a roller duffel, so it doesn’t have a handle and wheels – instead you’re going to have to use the shoulder strap to carry it. Which, let’s be honest, is kind of a good thing because everyone looks cool with a duffel bag strapped over their shoulder.

It’s perfectly sized to be just within the limits of what airlines allow you to take on as carry-on luggage and it looks great too. It’s made from a stylish combination of beige waterproof cotton canvas which complements the brown leather handles and satchel top beautifully. There are 2 side pockets and 1 front pocket that can be used to store small items and things you’ll need to access quickly during the flight. They are all secured with strong and stable zippers that will allow you to pack the bag to the seams without them failing on you.

In our opinion, this is one of the best male carry-on travel bags on the market at the moment, and it’s more than worthy of your consideration.

Read customer reviews

Best Travel Luggage for Women – U.S Traveler Rio Two Piece Expandable Carry-on Luggage

Our best travel luggage recommendation for women is a stylish and convenient rolling suitcase from Rio. It’s a two-piece product and you’ll receive one full-size suitcase section and a smaller personal item sized section that is completely detachable. Both of these bags are designed to push the airlines to their very limits, they are within millimeters of the permitted dimensions.

But don’t worry – they’ll fit in the size checkers at the airport easily.

Their huge size means that you’re going to be able to pack them full of clothes and they remove the need for hold luggage on shorter trips. This can make them quite heavy when full, but the super smooth wheels and ergonomic handle make it easy to roll them along the airport floor with ease.

It’s available in a wide range of different colors to suit your personal style. The rugged waterproof exterior combined with light padding will ensure that your belongings survive even the most extreme turbulence.

This is a great bag that does all you could want from a carry-on and more. It’s highly recommended.

Read customer reviews

What to look for when buying Carry-on Luggage

When you’re looking for good carry-on luggage there are many similarities to traditional suitcases that you should take into account when shopping around. We won’t bother mentioning them here as they are all fairly common sense. However, there are a few carry-on specific things you should be looking out for.

Size – Size is undoubtedly the most critical feature of a carry-on product that you need to be aware of. The aim of the game that we are playing with the airlines here is to get every inch of free storage space we can out of them (without going over the size limits).

Ensure that any bag is as close to 22” X 14” X 9” as possible. Different airlines have different size limits, some allow slightly more, others allow slightly less – but this is a good size to aim for. Bags bigger than this may be ok on some airlines, but they will be unacceptable on other airlines (which is much more hassle than the extra inch or two is worth).

The airlines that allow less than 22” X 14” X 9” will usually not make a fuss about the fraction of an inch that a bag of this size will be. And you can always squash it down slightly if they are being super fussy.

Rolling – Rolling is far from an essential feature for carry-on luggage, but it’s certainly nice to have. You’re probably going to be carrying your bag around the airport with you for several hours before you board your flight. If it’s packed full of clothing it’s going to be reasonably heavy.

If you’ve ever had a rolling suitcase and you’ve had to go back to carrying your luggage, you’ll already know just how much the wheels help. If you haven’t, take our word for it, they are a great addition. Don’t let this put you off luggage without wheels, carrying your bag is not the end of the world. But if you have the chance, we highly recommend you get a rolling product.

Protection – While flying may be the safest form of transportation for humans, it’s certainly not the safest form of transportation for luggage. Turbulence is an absolute nightmare for your belongings, and even carry-on luggage tucked away in the overhead compartment will be at risk of taking a good beating.

Hardcovers are more protective than soft covers and will give your stuff the best chance of surviving the flight. Waterproofing should be seen as an added bonus but it should not be overlooked. You never know what the weather is going to be like at your destination, and if all you’ve got with you is inside your carry-on, you really don’t want it to get wet.

Convenience – In-flight convenience is something that is less important these days than it once was. Back in the day carry-on luggage was only really used for items you would need during the flight. Convenience and ease of access for your in-flight items was a top priority. However, as carry-on luggage is now being used as a replacement for hold luggage it’s less of a concern for many people.

That being said, it’s always good to have an easy access compartment or two to ensure you can get the stuff you need when you need it.

Carry-on Luggage Reviews

Following on from our overall pick for men and women above, we have conducted research to provide you with more specific product recommendations below. We’ve found what we believe to be the best products in terms of price, quality, and functionality in each of the main categories of carry-on luggage. So regardless of the kind of bag you’re looking for, we’ve found a great product for you below.

Overall Pick for the Best Carry-on Luggage – Travelpro Maxlite 4 Expandable 21 Inch Spinner Suitcase

Our overall pick is a rolling suitcase from the well respected and much-loved brand Travelpro. They’ve created one of the best rolling carry-on products on the market with this case. As it’s 21 inches high, it’s going to be well within minimum size requirements.

It’s made from heavy-duty materials and is available in a wide range of colors to suit all tastes. The wheels have 360-degree rotation capabilities which provide incredible maneuverability. You can pull on the ergonomic handle in any direction and your case will follow you without any swiveling or maneuvering required at all.

Pros And Cons

  • Pro – 360 Degree rotation wheels
  • Pro – Ergonomic handles
  • Pro – Perfect carry-on size
  • Pro – Respected brand
  • Con – Water repellent but not waterproof

Read customer reviews

Travel Laptop Case – ProCase 14

This is the ultimate laptop travel case. It’s a stunning combination of security and style that’s going to keep your laptop or MacBook safe and sound (even through the roughest turbulence). The main laptop compartment is padded with thick shock absorbent foam to protect against drops, knocks, and bumps it may experience while in the air.

It’s got a water-resistant casing and can either be worn over the shoulder or it can be carried by hand by removing the strap. There’s ample storage for accessories and other devices and the easy access pockets will allow you to grab in-flight essentials with ease.

Pros And Cons

  • Pro – Convenient size
  • Pro – Water resistant
  • Pro – Very secure padding
  • Pro – Accessory storage
  • Con – Only available in one color

Read customer reviews

Messenger Bag – Wowbox Messenger Satchel bag

In our opinion, this is the most stylish product on this list. It’s a stunning combination of navy blue canvas and beige genius leather that will look amazing carried by both men and women. Considering it’s a messenger bag it provides ample storage space and there are many compartments for easy in-flight access.

It can either be worn over the shoulder or carried by hand and the shockproof laptop compartment means you’re going to be able to transport your electronics safely. It’s a great looking product that should be at the top of your shortlist if you’re looking for a messenger bag.

Pros And Cons

  • Pro – Looks amazing
  • Pro – Reasonably priced
  • Pro – Contains a laptop compartment
  • Pro – Convenient pockets
  • Con – Messenger bags are not big enough to be used for carry-on only travel

Read customer reviews

Rolling Duffel Bag – Timberland Luggage Twin Mountain 22 Inch Wheeled Duffle

This product from the world famous Timberland brand is a perfect example of what the ideal rolling duffel bag should look like. It fits our recommended dimensions perfectly coming in at 22 inches and it’s going to provide you with the absolute maximum amount of storage that airlines are going to permit you to carry on board.

It’s got separate internal compartments inside that allow you to organize your belongings which is great if you’re not planning on unpacking when you arrive. The two large pockets on the front are good for in-flight access, but they may be a little bit big for smaller items that can be hard to reach when they settle at the bottom. The wheels are of an exceptional quality and will glide around the airport with ease as you pull the bag around. The ergonomic handle is completely retractable, so when you’re not rolling, you can carry it with ease.

Pros And Cons

  • Pro – Timberland brand
  • Pro – Maximum storage potential
  • Pro – Retractable ergonomic handle
  • Pro – Segregated internal storage
  • Con – Small items may be hard to reach in large external pockets

Read customer reviews

Backpack – LAPACKER 15.6 Anti Theft Slim Water Resistant Laptop Backpack Bag

This backpack is a stunning product that’s perfect for carry-on luggage. Its sleek grey design looks unassuming from the outside, but on the inside, there’s a world of storage space, protection, and functionality. The shockproof laptop compartment is the crown jewel here that will protect your device from bumps and knocks throughout the flight with ease.

It’s got a reasonable amount of storage space inside the main compartment, and while it won’t be enough for an extended trip – you’ll be able to easily pack enough for a long weekend away. With its anti-theft mechanisms to protect against undesirables stealing your belongings and its waterproof covering, it’s one of the most secure products on this list.

Pros And Cons

  • Pro – Laptop compartment
  • Pro – Anti-theft mechanisms
  • Pro – Waterproof
  • Pro – Looks great
  • Con – Storage space could be bigger

Read customer reviews

Best Lightweight – it luggage World’s Lightest 22″ 8 Wheel Lightweight Carry-On

If you’re looking for something ultra lightweight, then why settle for second best when you can have the world’s lightest rolling carry-on for a very reasonable price. Its 22-inch size will provide ample room for all the items you require, even on the longest of vacations. The 6 color combinations that it’s available in will ensure that you’re able to travel in style, regardless of your tastes.

The 360-degree swivel wheels combined with its ultra lightweight nature ensure you’ll glide around the airport with ease. It’s super stable too as you’re getting 8 wheels instead of 4. The handle is ergonomic but admittedly does feel a little flimsy due to its lightweight nature – but don’t worry it’s extremely robust.

Pros And Cons

  • Pro – Super lightweight
  • Pro – 8 Wheel Design
  • Pro – 360 Swivel maneuverability
  • Pro – Large storage capacity
  • Con – Handle feels flimsy

Read customer reviews

Some more Good Options

Here are a few runners-up that didn’t quite make our winners list above (but are more than worthy of your consideration).

SwissGear Sion 21″

This awesome roller carry-on is the pure embodiment of sophistication. It’s made by the same company who makes Swiss army knifes, and it’s amazing. It’s a little bit on the pricey side, but if you’re looking for a product that’s going to stand the test of time, we highly recommend you add it to your shortlist.

American Tourister Ilite Max Softside Spinner 21

This is another roller carry-on that’s a great option but was beaten to the top spots by the products we have recommended above. It’s a solid case that’s well made and its extremely maneuverable thanks to the 360 swivel action of the wheels.

Travelpro Maxlite 4 International Carry-On Spinner Suitcase

This awesome product from Travelpro is one of our favorites, it’s very similar to our overall top pick but it is available in a stunning navy blue color that we absolutely love. So if you liked our top pick, check this out too.


So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about carry-on luggage and some product recommendations that we’re happy to put our name to.

All of the products we have mentioned today are more than worthy of your consideration and represent the very best the market has to offer in 2018. We highly recommend you add any of them to the very top of your shortlist.

Have a safe flight!


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