Photo: Tom Stoddart Archive/Getty Images
I (Jason) resisted rolling luggage for as long as I possibly could — it always reminded me of pharmaceutical reps, or the dorkiest kid in middle school. But the Ghurka-knockoff weekend duffel bag I’d been carrying around for three years was doing a number on my posture, and quite frankly it didn’t fit very much either. So when I read about 102-year-old British luggage-maker Antler while traveling in Europe five years ago, I decided to order one as soon as I got home.
I’m a fan, but one person’s go-to suitcase could be another’s nightmare — regular travelers tend to be obsessive and particular about their luggage — and price points for these things vary drastically. So we called upon frequent fliers and asked them about their version of the best rolling luggage. (And if you’re looking for even more affordable, well-reviewed Amazon options, we found those, too.)
The carry-on suitcase that started it all
Antler Juno II Cabin Suitcase
The Juno B1 Cabin Suitcase glides on four precision-made Hinomoto wheels (a company which, according to obsessive fliers, is a standard-bearer of quality caster-making). The thing is extraordinarily light at 5.3 pounds (the Rimowa analogue tips the scales at 7.1), but feels shockingly sturdy; its speckled polypropylene shell is built to combat and conceal obvious (but inevitable) scratches. The suitcase also has a handy built-in lock, and indestructible hard casing. But what I really love about it is how much I can fit. Despite its tiny dimensions, which always fit into an overhead, I’ve been able to cram in a week’s worth of clothes for a winter trip in Asia (thanks to clever folding), or enough for ten summery days in L.A. It’s really the clown car of carry-on luggage.
The carry-on suitcase with the popular vote
Away Bigger Carry-On
at Away Travel
The Away team lent me a rolling suitcase, and before trying the Bigger Carry-On, I was skeptical. Does a person really need or want a piece of luggage that doubles as a USB charger? I liked the interior of the hard-shelled suitcase, which features a full-length zip compartment on one side (for smelly clothes and shoes) and an empty free-form compartment on the other. The hard case didn’t have the same stretchy give as my Antler, though, even though Away touts the shell’s flexibility; I found that it didn’t really accommodate much more than I could fit into it before zipping (whereas I could sit on my Antler and make it work). That said, it’s big enough that a week’s worth of clothes fit without issue.
Since then, the travel ban on smart luggage has forced brands like Away to make their batteries removable. Still, I was a fool for ever doubting the gimmicky external USB ports. When passengers at the airport circled outlets like buzzards, I comfortably snacked on Cibo Express almonds. At our shared eight-person house in Palm Springs, I never once had to borrow or break out a charger.
Other frequent travelers tend to agree that Away is one of the best bets these days. After a three-week, seven-city business trip abroad with only her Away Bigger Carry-On, Kelly Farber, founder of KF Literary Scouting says, “I am basically a walking advertisement for it. That thing just would not quit.” Clémence Polès, founder of the style recommendations site Passerbuys was also initially skeptical of the brand’s trendiness, the Carry-On’s durability, capacity, and streamlined style won her over. “There is a sensibility to its design,” she said, “which is something I always seek in all the things I buy.”
More carry-on suitcases loved by frequent fliers
Brookstone Dash 4-Wheeled Expandable Carry-On
“I saw a chartreuse version (they call it ‘Asparagus,’ but ugh) in a Brookstone store window once, and that color is my weakness, so I went in to check it out. The salesperson threw the suitcase across the room to demonstrate how indestructible it was. That made the sale. I took that suitcase twice a year to the men’s collections in Milan when I was fashion editor at Departures and The Wall Street Journal, and it was able to accommodate many an outfit plus shoes for those trips. Now that I live in Portland, I’m still able to get a lot of mileage out of it, with trips back to the East Coast to see family and friends. It’s great when picking up your luggage at baggage claim to recognize it immediately (chartreuse!) in a sea of black nylon. The size is Goldilocks-perfect — not too big, not too small. And the expandable aspect helps fit things I’ve bought for the return trip, too.” —Tasha Green Spice, fashion stylist
Incase EO Travel Hardshell Roller
“I first heard about the EO Hardshell Roller when I worked as an editor at a business magazine and I put it into a gift guide. I then bought one myself, and it quickly became my carry-on of choice. The most genius part is the polycarbonate hardshell; you tuck your laptop into its sleeve and unzip the top of the bag. It allows you to pass the laptop through TSA machines without having to separate it into a bin (this video explains it). The suitcase fits more than my regulation-grade TUMI, and because only one side of the InCase has any structure — the rest is made from handsome, lightweight, wool-y fabric — it remains light and easy to lift into an overheard compartment. I also love that it only has two wheels (unpopular opinion, I know) because I’d much rather drag luggage in my wake rather than walk it like a dog beside me.” —Kurt Soller, articles editor, T magazine
Tumi Alpha 2 Short Trip Expandable 4 Wheel Packing Case
at Saks Fifth Avenue
“For most of my trips, I’ll use this. The last Tumi I had I used for over ten years for shoots, bringing it with me on every shoot — that one was so old, it only had two wheels! It’s just super-durable. Of course, no baggage carousel treats luggage well, but this has always held up and fits everywhere. When I was traveling on shoots a lot for Elle, I’d bring books for reference, which now of course I can just look up on my phone. I find that I still need the big bag, though, for all of my personal stuff. I travel with a lot of tech: two laptops and the iPad, and I have chargers for everything, and portable chargers in case they run out of juice on the go. The interior of the bag is really easy too: It just has a separate compartment for dirty laundry, and there are clips for a garment bag on the interior. The only thing is that it’s such a basic color. When I was buying it, I kept being like, ‘Are there any other colors?’ Unfortunately not.” —Joe Zee, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Style and co-host of FABLife
T. Anthony 21-inch Carry-On
“I use the T. Anthony roller in both the carry-on and checked sizes. I’m always going to Europe or Morocco or Africa, so I generally bring a lot and usually do have to check a bag. I have found that no suitcase really takes the beating of airport baggage-handling well — even the steel one — so I appreciate that, with my T. Anthony, if the wheel falls off or the zipper breaks, the company will repair it for free. My attachment to the brand is also really aesthetic. They’re elegant and chic, especially the black-with-tan-trim versions I own. The contrast makes them easy to spot on the carousel, too. My mother introduced me to the brand, so I like the tradition and history, too.” —Madeline Weinrib, carpet and furniture designer
T. Anthony 31-inch Packing Case
Burton Wheelie Flight Deck Travel Bag
“I’ve been using the rolling luggage from Burton for years now. I actually have a few different sizes (carry-on and checked), and I’ve been using Burton travel bags for over a decade. A friend made the recommendation, and I’ve literally crisscrossed the globe using them. Love the skateboard wheels — smooth roll and very durable. Lots of other helpful features, especially the wet/dry pocket. Never know when you’ll find yourself at the beach or by the pool. The bags are great for my annual snowboard trip (which is obvious, being Burton and all), but I actually just took mine to Florida this past weekend. The wet/dry section came in handy for some preflight pool activities.” —Jeff Halmos, co-founder of Monogram
Rimowa Topas Silver Cabin Multiwheel IATA
“My favorite piece of rolling luggage is without question the Rimowa Classic, and it’s accompanied me on many a journey. As travel is a constant in my life, my luggage needs durability, function, and an understated design. Rimowa’s look is timeless, and while its design has evolved, its legacy and history remind me of journeys past. It’s classic and elegant, waterproof — a critical factor when traveling — and can be stored overhead, as it’s lightweight. My Rimowa has seen quite a few things around the world, including a tumble off the roof rack of a tiny car while winding down roads in Greece (miraculously intact). Its construction lends itself well for stashing beautiful objects from my travels — a welcome addition when traveling with my wife, as we are able to [pack] special items inside and not worry about them breaking on the return flight home. Finally, as I split my time between New York and L.A., this has become a staple of my life on the go and, I do believe, a lucky talisman of the adventures to come.” —Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato
Rimowa Salsa Air – Ultralight Cabin Multiwheel
“I invested in the Rimowa Salsa Air the year that I launched Fathom with my business partner, Pavia Rosati. That was 2011, before I truly understood the long-lasting benefits of aluminum and polycarbonate — the deal with aluminum and polycarbonate is that it holds its shape, is lightweight, durable, and waterproof. It’s a great example of quality materials, workmanship, and peace of mind coming together in one beautifully engineered product. As for the wheels, they turn in every direction, so you can roll it alongside or pull it behind you. You cannot mess with German engineering. We’ve since been to about 30 countries together, including Myanmar, French Polynesia, Brazil, Mexico, and most recently, the Republic of Georgia. Whether I’m traveling for a weekend or six weeks, it’s the only suitcase I need. It is super lightweight and rolls like a dream. As a carry-on, it has a more slender silhouette than most — meaning you won’t get any side-eye from the flight attendants.” —Jeralyn Gerba, co-founder and editorial director of Fathom
Briggs & Riley Cabin Spinner Carry-On
“I love my Briggs & Riley bag. It’s lasted me at least 15 years and has followed me all over the world! Just replaced one wheel, our first repair, before heading to Greece and Bali last summer. My son, Joaquin, just turned 13, and started joining me on my travels at three months old. He’s seen Italy many, many times, Spain, France, London, Copenhagen, Argentina, Uruguay, Thailand, Greece, Turkey, Bali, as well as the Caribbean and many U.S. destinations. We love to travel together and this bag holds everything we need to make traveling easy. We load in our electronics, cameras, books, goodies for the plane, throw mom’s heavy purse on top so that her shoulders are free and off we go!” —Donna Lennard, founder and owner of il Buco, il Buco Alimentari, and il Buco Vita.
Calpak Ambeur Carry On Suitcase
“My favorite rolling travel piece is the Calpak Ambeur carry-on. I love the aesthetic of this bag: clean minimal lines, Über-chic, and easy to use. It comes in three colors. The compartments are very convenient, and I love the center dividers. Functional and fashionable — and a find at $135 — so you won’t feel guilty.” —Caroline Maguire, fashion director at Shopbop.
Excellent suitcases you’ll have to check
Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel 40L
“I travel pretty much monthly between the East Coast and LA, Austin, and Seattle, or internationally to London and Paris. I had a previous generation of the slightly smaller model for 12 years, until it was finally beyond repair. This bag has to be checked, which is fine with me because it’s super-weather-resistant, has smooth, strong wheels, and a great handle. What I love is that it’s just a huge volume of space, without lots of useless pockets and compartments. What’s also great is it has a zipped bottom lining that I can shove stinky, dirty clothes under during a trip.” —Damien Nunes, global director, men’s trend and concept, Gap
Rimowa Topas Silver 32-inch Multiwheel
at Neiman Marcus
“My absolute favorite bag is the Rimowa aluminum Topas. I discovered them three years ago through my husband, a perfectionist German architect who swears by their design and practicality. I’ve been a convert ever since. I actually don’t own my own yet, I just steal his every time I can. I love how light they are, how when they open the weight is evenly divided down the middle, and these very handy blue dividers that hold your clothing down so nothing moves, wrinkles, or unfolds when you open and close your bag. You can tighten and loosen them, so everything stays in its place. The bag also rolls so smoothly, it feels like it can walk on its own. I love the built-in lock system for security too, so you don’t need to worry about losing the key.”
—Eugenia Gonzalez de Henn, contributing editor, Condé Nast Traveler
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