Between hidden fees and lost-luggage horror stories, checking a bag can seem more trouble than it’s worth. So consider a carry-on. You don’t need to spend hundreds on a leather weekender or a heavy Samsonite. I’ve tested several quality carry-ons for as little as $100 — the toughest part is knowing where to look. Luckily, we’ve done the work for you. I tested four carry-ons, my colleagues at the Strategist tested another two, and we also asked 18 experts about the ones that they travel with. So, if you’re looking for a hard-shell carry-on to pack a weekend’s worth of clothes (and then some), or a deceptively svelte backpack to stow under the seat in front of you, read on for our expert-picked and Strategist-tested recommendations.
What we’re looking for
Most major U.S. airlines agree on the limits of a carry-on’s size (22 inches long x 14 inches wide x 9 inches high, to be exact). All the luggage on our list meets those requirements, so we’ve instead specified liter capacity.
Hard-sided or soft-sided
Sometimes a carry-on is a miniature suitcase. Sometimes a carry-on is quite literally a bag you’ll carry on. Both have their benefits, so the choice really comes down to personal preference. All the cases featured here have spinner wheels, making them easier to maneuver, and most of them are hard-sided. With bags (which on this list, are all soft-sided), we’ve specified which kinds of straps and padding they have, as you’ll need to think about how they distribute the weight of your stuff.
Again, this comes down to personal preference, and you may have your own system to keep your essentials organized. But if you’re anything like me and you need to frantically check for your passport every five minutes, various pockets are really handy. They’ll also help you easily grab your laptop and liquids when heading through security.
We’ve highlighted the warranty on each carry-on and the kinds of damage it covers. Most companies we’ve listed will fix faults that are due to manufacturing defects, but general wear and tear isn’t covered.
Best overall carry-on
Dimensions: 39.8 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided | Compartments: Organizational compartments, laundry bag | Warranty: Lifetime warranty
The Away carry-on has been recommended to us time and time (and time) again, prompting me to try it for myself. I already knew it had 360-degree spinner wheels, a polycarbonate shell, built-in dividers, an integrated USB charger, and it matched the airline guidance for a carry-on-size case, but I was interested in how it actually felt to lug around. On a recent trip home to my parents, I put it to the test with my weekender packing list: On the one side, I rolled and packed three tops, a pair of jeans, a skirt, a dress, two bikinis, underwear, socks, and pajamas. On the other, I put a bulkier sweater, a weekend’s worth of toiletries (including my entire skin-care routine), some trainers, and my AirWrap. Not only did it all slot in with plenty of space, but I also appreciated the built-in laundry bag for my dirty clothes (often, I’ll pop them in my hamper at my parents’ house and forget to pack them again when it’s time to go home).
As my street in London is cobblestoned, I usually dread lugging a suitcase along it. But the sturdy wheels meant the Away didn’t rattle as much as I’d anticipated. Flat surfaces are where the wheels work the best, though — just a flick from my finger sent the case gliding along the train platform. After a few trips, my case is still new and scuff free, but Strategist editor Maxine Builder says that buffing her own Away case clean — a white one that she’s owned since 2017 — just takes a little dish soap, a sponge, and elbow grease. When I’m not traveling, the case is convenient to store, too: I simply unzip and slot it underneath my bed, where it acts as storage for a few bulkier bits of clothing. It’s worth mentioning that Away’s warranty is also robust. Builder says her “internal zipper broke in March 2019” and she emailed Away to ask if this damage was covered by the lifetime warranty. “There was a fair bit of back-and-forth over the next four months, but I ended up with a replacement suitcase in exactly the same limited-edition colorway with the same hand-painted monogram, all for free.”
Best less expensive carry-on case
Capacity: 37 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided | Compartments: Compressed compartments | Warranty: Three-year warranty
This budget-friendly case is a favorite of writer Robin Reetz. It’s cheaper than many polycarbonate options because it’s made from ABS, which is a less durable plastic. But when I first received a sample to test in the mail, I was struck by how durable the shell felt (and even punched it a few times for good measure, to a satisfying thud sound).
Although the case is made of cheaper materials, both Reetz and I found that the case performs very well. “It’s really perfect for a weekend or four-to-five-day trip,” she says. “I’ve traveled recently with friends who have Away and Delsey luggage, and all of them are now thinking about getting this bag.” It feels noticeably smaller, though, and as I was attempting to squeeze my boots inside, I did find myself longing for the extra few liters of my Away case. But with its compartments and 360-degree spinner wheels, the case offers a lot of the same features as ones costing twice as much — it does come with a shorter warranty of three years, though.
Best roomy polycarbonate carry-on case
Capacity: 46 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided | Compartments: Hidden laundry bag | Warranty: Lifetime warranty
Meanwhile, Strategist associate editor Jenna Milliner-Waddell favors this polycarbonate case from July. “I’ve never had an issue with mine fitting in an overhead cabin, and it’s been roomy enough to hold clothes for an outfit-change-heavy weekend in Miami and a weeklong trip to my parents’ house over the holidays,” she says. She’s also impressed by the bag’s silent wheels: “I used to only Uber to JFK because dragging my suitcase to the subway and getting stuck on every uneven patch of sidewalk in Brooklyn was infuriating. Now I have no problem rolling it wherever.” Even though it’s on the larger side — when I tested it, I had room for an extra pair of boots, as well as my regular packing list — the bag just about squeezes through airline carry-on restrictions. It also comes with an ejectable battery (which had more than enough juice to fully recharge my iPhone 13). Much like the Away, the July case is easy to wipe clean, but its color range has a little more to offer — particularly its seasonal shades, which right now include a dreamy sky blue and neon green.
Best polycarbonate carry-on case for domestic flights
Capacity: 47.9 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided | Compartments: Organizational compartments, laundry bag | Warranty: Lifetime warranty
Buoyant Travel founder Briona Lamback owns Away’s Bigger Carry-On. She says it “works best for trips on this side of the Atlantic; across the pond, it’s usually considered too big for European carry-on standards.” If you are traveling in Europe, then my advice would be to either stick to the Away Carry-On or graduate to a larger piece of checked luggage.
Best statusy polycarbonate carry-on case
Capacity: 37 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided | Compartments: Flexible compartments | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty
Summer Hull, director of travel content at the Points Guy, justifies the price of this Rimowa Essential case because she’s a frequent flier; her luggage is a “regular companion,” not an occasional thing. She says this case slots seamlessly into overhead bins. “I won’t pretend to understand all the physics behind the bearings and axles on Rimowa’s bags, but I do know they spin amazingly well through the airport,” she adds. Taymoor Atighetchi, the founder and CEO of Papier, puts it simply: “Nothing beats Rimowa’s smooth wheels.”
You also get the brand’s Multiwheel system, adjustable dividers, a sturdy telescopic handle, and TSA-approved locks. The Essential Cabin’s polycarbonate shell makes it much lighter than a classic aluminum Rimowa. Fashion content creator Isabel Tan appreciated this when squeezing 15 or so outfits into the case on a trip to Bali. Stylist Tina Leung also fills her case to the brim and told us it accompanies her truly everywhere she travels, from Montana one week to New York Fashion Week the next. Like Away, Rimowa offers a lifetime guarantee on its cases, and Leung told us that almost every destination she has traveled to has a place to pop in for repairs. “If the wheels break off or something, it’s so easy to just go and get it fixed,” she says. “There’s pretty much one in every major city.”
Best polycarbonate carry-on case for longer trips
Capacity: 39-liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided | Compartments: Compression shelving | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty
This case is an absolute revelation. I first heard about it from Kiki Reginato, New York Magazine’s senior director of e-commerce operations. “This case has space — and then some. I have the smallest one, and I’ve taken it on many ten-day trips,” she says. The case has a set of compression compartments that unfold to create a makeshift closet — eliminating the need to unpack into a real closet. The Solgaard had space for the weekend essentials that I packed in the July and the Away (to recap: three tops, jeans, a skirt, a dress, two bikinis, underwear, socks, pajamas, a bulkier jumper, toiletries, trainers, and a hair dryer). But it had an added bonus over the Away: I could clearly see where everything was with the closet decompressed, which meant I never had to rummage in search of a clean pair of socks. “The thing that I find very satisfying is that once you pack everything, you can pull the straps on the side and it presses everything into this compact mass of clothing,” says Reginato. “It’s kind of like a vacuum seal.” Most airlines worldwide accept her medium 39-liter bag, and you can take the large-size case on most U.S. airlines.
Best easy-to-clean polycarbonate carry-on case
Capacity: 39.9 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided | Compartments: Laundry bag and compression bands | Warranty: 100-day trial and lifetime warranty
“I teach dance, so I’m constantly traveling. I try not to check a bag,” says actress and podcast producer and host Heather Morris. For her frequent trips, she turns to her Monos carry-on, which she says is remarkably easy to clean (both the case’s interior and exterior are made of easily wipeable materials). Morris has the limited-edition terracotta colorway, with the case available in an additional 12 shades and patterns. Monos offers a unique 100-day trial: If you use the case and aren’t completely satisfied with it, you can return it within the first 100 days for a refund. Following that, it’s still covered with a lifetime warranty in case any part of it breaks or malfunctions.
Best aluminum carry-on case
Capacity: 40.9 liter | CaseHard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided | Compartments: Laundry bag and compression bands | Warranty: Lifetime warranty
This aluminum case from Away is travel writer Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon’s “workhorse.” She mostly travels to the Caribbean for three- or four-night short stays and says the case fits everything she needs. “One side of the bag is practically always ready-to-go packed. It has my essentials in it: a shoe bag (with three pairs of shoes), another packing cube with stuff like glasses, exercise bands, and a Nike raincoat, and then my toiletries bag.” Zips always felt vulnerable, so Greaves-Gabbadon wanted a bag with clamps for extra security. Its wheels are smooth too: “I feel like I could just push it with my middle finger and it would glide along the concourse.”
Best soft-side carry-on case
Capacity: 39 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Soft sided | Compartments: Zip pockets and removable toiletry bag | Warranty: Ten years
“I swear by a soft-shell bag over a hard shell,” says Jessie Hyman, co-founder of Pruzan Running. “It takes up less space in the hotel room because you don’t need to lay it flat to access what’s inside.” Hyman travels with the Victorinox specifically because of its roomy capacity and squishy recycled polyester exterior. “I have always managed to squeeze in a vacation purchase inside this bag since it expands and compresses,” she says. “It’s actually converted me to be more of a carry-on gal than before.”
Best less-expensive soft-side carry-on case
Capacity: 39 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Soft sided | Compartments: Two exterior compartments lid pocket and device pocket | Warranty: Five years
TripSavvy’s former general manager Molly Fergus is a big fan of this “basic but effective” suitcase. Strategist readers are too: It’s one of the best sellers from our Travel 100 (a list of all the best travel items we’ve ever written about). As it’s a soft-side, Fergus is able to squeeze her clothes and essentials inside, and she says that the wheels are tough enough to be “dragged across sand, dirt, and cobblestones.” If the wheels aren’t up to scratch, though, they and the zips and handles are covered under the Travelpro five-year warranty.
Best mixed-material carry-on case
Capacity: 38 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Hard-sided shell with soft-sided pockets | Compartments: Dedicated laptop pocket | Warranty: Two-year warranty for manufacturing faults
This case’s shell and wheels are hardy, and the pocket is “great to quickly tuck in your laptop and get it out fast through security,” says Brittany Allyn, founder of Thirty Waves. It also rolls along quickly and smoothly. As Allyn puts it, “having a bag that can fit as much as possible (because I’m an overpacker and not afraid to say so) and can get me to my gate ASAP is most important.” The bag is also a tried and tested favorite of Strategist deals editor Sam Daly, who’s been traveling with it since 2019. Daly appreciates the steadfast lock and a small but mighty selection of colorways (the sage green looks similar to Rimowa’s Bamboo).
Best carry-on duffel bag
Capacity: 40 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Soft-sided with handles and shoulder straps | Compartments: Various handy pockets | Warranty: Lifetime warranty
We recently named the Black Hole by Patagonia the best overall weekend bag as praised by Strategist editors and frequent travelers. Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens loves the “zillion separate little pockets and perfectly sized compartments for things like chargers and night guards and passports and AirPods” on her larger, 55-liter version. To give you an idea of how much you can fit inside, Pruzan Running co-founder Lexy Copithorne told us she packed “everything for a two-week trip, including city and surfwear” inside her Black Hole. “That included two sweaters, several fitted tanks and running sets, two pairs of sneakers, boots, a few swimsuits, and my toiletry bag,” she says. While the bag is lightweight (at less than three pounds) and water resistant thanks to a waxy coating, the strap design is what makes it a thoughtful travel companion. If you’ll be trekking far, the over-the-shoulder strap can be switched out for backpack straps to give your shoulders a respite.
Best larger carry-on duffel bag
Capacity: 52 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Soft-sided with handles and shoulder strap | Compartments: Concealed ID and coin pocket | Warranty: 30-day return period if faulty
Austin-based brand Tecovas may be known for its cowboy boots, but it also makes this duffel that Andres Zuleta, travel expert and founder of Boutique Japan, grabs for short local trips. You can see Tecovas’s design pedigree in the waxed-canvas bag’s leather handles and rugged feel, but with interior and exterior pockets, a durable wax coating, and a long, detachable shoulder strap, it’s not just about aesthetics.
Best carry-on backpack for short trips
Capacity: 18 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Soft-sided with handles and shoulder strap | Compartments: Laptop pocket | Warranty: Lifetime warranty
“Most of my travel these days is for modeling jobs, which last only a few days and — here’s the kicker — for which I don’t need to bring many of my own clothes,” says Lauren Chan, the CEO and founder and CEO of Henning. This means she often opts for a backpack. “It’s so much easier to move around the airport with, and when the overhead compartment is small or full, I can just throw it under my seat.” If you too like to pack light, this backpack is ideal, and, like Kipsta’s Essential bag, it won’t incur any extra charges. “I’d say it’s big enough to fit all of my tech, toiletries, and about three outfits,” says Chan. “What more could you need?”
Best larger laptop backpack
Capacity: 24.5-liter, 27.5 liter expanded | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Soft-sided | Case vs. bag: Bag with shoulder straps | Compartments: Laptop pocket | Warranty: Lifetime warranty
I’ve been using this as my personal item for trips across Europe this summer. It was a squeeze, but for a seven-day trip to Marbella, Spain, I managed to pack all my essentials (listed above), as well as my laptop (and charger), two books (including the new, rather lengthy Hunger Games novel), and a notepad. It does have an expandable zip, but as that would have made it too large to count as a personal item, I kept mine firmly fastened. The dedicated padded laptop sleeve made airport security a doddle: Instead of having to rummage around for my essentials, I could simply slide it out and on to the tray. The padded straps were also a savior, so even though I was carrying seven days’ worth of clothes and toiletries on my back, my shoulders didn’t start pinching until I’d had the bag on my back for upwards of an hour.
Best carry-on backpack for staying organized
Capacity: 35 liter | Hard-sided or soft-sided: Soft-sided with shoulder straps | Case vs. bag: Bag with shoulder straps | Compartments: Mesh packing cubes | Warranty: One-year return period
If you like the sound of a backpack but want something a little roomier, writer Margaret Eby recommends this clamshell pack from Cotopaxi. “Unlike most backpacks that only zip at the top,” she says, this one unfolds into a butterfly formation, “allowing you to make better use of all the space.” And while we love how much space is inside, the built-in mesh packing cubes make it a dream for keeping everything in check. Eby used it to take a change of clothes, a laptop, snacks, a sun hat, a jewelry case, a day purse, and even a crochet project on a ten-day trip to Italy. And she says it fits comfortably under the seat in front of you — no squishing required.
• Brittany Allyn, digital creator behind Thirty Waves
• Taymoor Atighetchi, the CEO and founder of Papier
• Gabby Beckford, travel blogger
• Lexy Copithorne, co-founder of Pruzan Running
• Lauren Chan, the CEO and founder of Henning
• Margaret Eby, writer
• Molly Fergus, TripSavvy’s former general manager
• Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, travel writer also known as Jet Set Sarah
• Summer Hull, Points Guy travel content director
• Jessie Hyman, co-founder of Pruzan Running
• Simone Kitchens, Strategist senior editor
• Briona Lamback, Buoyant Travel founder
• Tina Leung, stylist
• Heather Morris, actress, producer, and host of podcaster The Bystanders
• Robin Reetz, Strategist contributor
• Kiki Reginato, New York Magazine senior director of e-commerce operations and strategy
• Isabel Tan, fashion content creator
• Jenna Milliner Waddell, Strategist associate editor
• Andres Zuleta, travel expert and founder of Boutique Japan
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