packing and gear

The 11 Very Best Pieces of Rolling Luggage

“It has survived being dragged across sand, dirt, and cobblestones.”

Best rolling luggage according to frequent travelers — The Strategist
Photo: Marcus McDonald
Best rolling luggage according to frequent travelers — The Strategist
Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

Whether I’m running frantically toward the gate or strolling through security at a more leisurely pace, my trusty spinner suitcase makes travel so much easier. It’s helpful for keeping me organized once I arrive at my destination, too. Unlike most backpacks or duffels, the best rolling luggage has storage compartments, sturdy handles, and plenty of space. There’s something so pleasing about packing your items neatly before a trip, especially if your suit case has built-in compression storage.

To find rolling luggage for every kind of traveler, fellow Strategist travel writer Rachael Griffiths and I tested a dozen or so different pieces, from stretchy nylon cases with warranties that last a lifetime to bash-resistant plastic luggage. We tended to prefer hard-side cases over a soft-side, and especially those with the aforementioned compression dividers, which allow for a bit of overpacking. While some pieces may cost more than others, we’ve also learned that if you’re not fussy about the type of plastics used (ABS costs less than polycarbonate but can withstand some real rattling in transit), there are bargains to be found. While you’re here, you may want to check out my guides to the best Dopp kits and the best refillable toiletry bottles.

What we’re looking for

Hard-shell vs. soft-side

Most experts I spoke to prefer hard-shell luggage, and I agree. It’s durable and easy to clean, it protects your clothes if it rains, and it’s harder for bedbugs to penetrate if you encounter any on your trip. The hard-shells on this list are made from either ABS, an inexpensive but less durable plastic; polycarbonate, a more durable but also lightweight material; or aluminum, which is slightly heavier, but the most durable. Most on this list are polycarbonate, but there are a few soft-sided pieces too, for those who haven’t made the switch yet. While they aren’t as durable, “from a repair standpoint, we always feel that the canvas soft-sided luggage is better than the hard-side luggage because you can repair canvas,” Tony Pecorella, president and CEO of Modern Leather Goods, a repair shop in Manhattan, says. He’s an authorized repairman for many of the luggage brands below and says someone comes in with a cracked hard-shell every day and “there’s no repairing them at all.” So in addition to soft-side suitcases being fixable, they’re also overpacking-friendly because you can stuff more in them than a rigid polycarbonate case (and finesse a larger carry-on to fit in an overhead bin, too.)

Wheels

Our experts continuously raved about the wheels on their favorite suitcases, describing them as smooth and sturdy. Most were talking about their four spinner wheels, which make the suitcase much easier to push along as it can glide in all directions. For comfort and ease of use, four wheels is definitely the way to go and is our recommendation, but again, Pecorella says it’s not the best choice from a repair standpoint. “It is always stronger to have the case that has the two wheels on it,” he says. “Those wheels are encased, so the only thing that can really happen on those wheels is that they wear out eventually like tires on your car.” With the four spinners — which Pecorella fully admits to using personally — he says because they aren’t encased and just are attached to the bottom of the suitcase, you run the risk of them being banged off. “If you’re rolling off a curb or if you hit the escalator too hard, it’ll just snap the wheel right off,” he says. “That’s one of the biggest repairs we do here all day.” However, a good warranty should cover this (more on that below.)

Warranty

Almost none of the suitcases on this list go the easy-repair route of being soft-side and having two wheels, and that’s because most have pretty good warranties. The biggest phrase you want to avoid is “limited to manufacturer’s defects,” which Pecorella says means they basically cover nothing and will attribute damage to wear and tear, or say it’s your fault or the airline’s fault. “Lifetime warranty” is ideal.

Weight

If you’ve checked an overweight bag before, you’ll know how much those extra charges can sting. Lightweight suitcases are ideal for overpackers — including myself — so I’ve included each case’s weight when empty.

Best rolling luggage overall

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: From 7.4 pounds 

If you’re after a relatively affordable suitcase that doesn’t have to be babied on cobbled streets and will survive being dragged up several flights of stairs, I’m not sure you can do much better than Away. The brand’s sturdy spinner wheels can truly take a battering, and they’ll also glide joyfully across flat surfaces when given the opportunity. I’ve been testing the Bigger Carry-on, which has a 50-liter capacity yet still fits in most overhead bins, over the past couple of months. Griffiths, who lives in Europe (where airline luggage requirements are much stingier), tested the original, smaller size and was surprised by how much she could fit into it. All of the brand’s rolling-luggage pieces feature the same qualities essential to a modern suitcase and come highly praised by travel experts. Stephanie Be from travelbreak.net and Buena calls out the “TSA-approved lock, 360-degree wheels, tough hardware, and sleek design.” Kelly Farber, founder of KF Literary Scouting, took only the larger size on a three-week, seven-city business trip, and says, “That thing just would not quit.” Strategist editor Maxine Builder also has experience with the Away warranty after her internal zipper broke in 2019: “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.” Five years later, she’s still traveling with it.

Rachael’s fully packed Away suitcase. Photo: Rachel Griffiths

Best less expensive polycarbonate rolling luggage

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited ten year | Weight: 7.9 pounds

Usually, cheaper hardside suitcases are made from ABS, a less durable plastic than the polycarbonate more expensive brands use. That’s why this case is such a rarity: It costs less than $200 (and is often on sale), and it’s made from the more durable polycarbonate. It also includes all of the features I’d expect from more expensive brands, like four 365-degree spinner wheels, TSA-approved locks, and a built-in USB port to use with a power bank. Travel blogger Courtney Vondran says that “it’s a great option for budget travelers or first-timer carry-on travelers who want nice pieces for more affordable prices.” So far, Vondran has taken her case with her on “road trips throughout the Midwest, a work trip to Egypt, vacation to L.A., travel conference in Memphis, romantic getaway to Maine,” — and it’s all been protected by the case’s limited ten-year warranty, which covers any major damages beyond reasonable wear and tear.

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: None | Weight: From 6.2 pounds

Quince, the five-year-old start-up that seems to make a little bit of everything, recently added rolling luggage to its growing inventory. I’ve been testing out the brand’s carry-on-size suitcase as well as its larger, checked one, both made from the same durable polycarbonate that Away and Open Story use. In terms of weight and feel, Quince’s affordable suitcases are surprisingly similar to Away’s in particular. When I nudged an Away Bigger Carry-on and Quince Carry-on across my apartment floor side by side, their wheels carried them about the same distance, and their retractable handles are almost identical in form and function. Both brands use YKK zippers and TSA-approved combination locks. Inside, the compression compartments and removable laundry bag are also essentially the same. One key difference: Quince does not offer a warranty on its products. If you’re a very frequent traveler and know you’ll be putting your luggage through its paces, that’s definitely something to consider. If you’re vacationing for only a couple of weeks each year, though, it’s potentially less of a deal-breaker.

Best less-expensive ABS rolling luggage

From $63

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: ABS hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited warranty | Weight: 7.3 pounds

This Amazon Basics case is made from the less durable plastic ABS, but it’s still one of Griffiths’s favorites. “In my experience, it’s rare to find a case that costs under $100 that can compete with more expensive brands,” she says. “As it is made from a cheaper plastic, I was surprised by how thick and sturdy the suitcase feels — it has a nice thud when you knock against the exterior.” As well as being thick, the exterior is also scratch resistant, and the case also has a well-designed handle, smoothly rolling wheels, handles for comfort, and a built-in lock. The warranty is where this bag falls slightly short, though (and may explain the cheaper price tag): it’s only a three-year limited warranty that protects against defects in materials and workmanship — which Pecorella says is the type to avoid.

Best rolling luggage for frequent fliers

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Five-year manufacturer’s guarantee | Weight: 7.1 pounds

The Rimowa Essential line of suitcases is excellent; more than ten experts we spoke with recommended the brand, but its extravagant price prevents it from taking the top spot on this list. If you do have the money to spare, it comes in 11 colors and two finishes and works like a dream. Owners especially praise the wheels. “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,” Summer Hull, director of travel content at the Points Guy, says. Fellow travel writer Hillary Eaton also told me she had no problem lugging the case on a 48-hour journey from Vancouver to Machu Picchu by “tiny floatplane, three long-haul flights, a five-hour bus, and a two-hour train ride.” Several owners also pointed out how easy it is to get this suitcase repaired if anything goes wrong. However, while there’s a manufacturer’s guarantee of five years, it only applies if you remember to register your product when you purchase it. Otherwise, it lasts for only two.

Best rolling luggage for budget airlines

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: ABS hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: One-year limited | Weight: 6 pounds

I first learned about this teeny-tiny rolling case when researching the best personal-item-size luggage. It came recommended by Jasmine Anderson and Natasha Wilson, travel agents and co-hosts of the podcast Travel Fly Sexy, as well as packing expert Lauren Kelly. They all praise its snap-off spinner wheels that can slide miraculously into the cruelest of budget-airline baggage-sizers. (“Frontier lately is charging people for wheels and handles sticking out of the sizers,” says Kelly. “That means $100 extra for each leg of the trip.”) Measuring 18 by 14 by eight inches, the suitcase’s rectangular shape maximizes space and allows you to use packing cubes: “I have put a laptop and a week’s worth of clothes in the Take Off,” says Anderson. Kelly agrees that “it will give you the most packing space if your goal is a weeklong trip where you pack a personal item only.” The suitcase comes with a small bag to put its wheels in while your bag is being sized by airline staff; you can also just stash them in your pockets.

Best customizable rolling luggage

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 7.9 pounds

Strategist associate editor Jenna Milliner-Waddell calls July the “the Away of the Down Under.” And while the July Carry-on offers a lot of the same features as the Away, it has the added perk of a USB-C port so you can charge your iPhone or your laptop straight from the bag. July’s smallest carry-on weighs about half as much as Away’s, even though they both have similar liter capacities, and you can personalize it. This particular case sets itself apart with a removable fabric front pocket, which came in handy for Christine Wang, founder of TheSkiGirl who is generally a fan of soft-side luggage. If you’re traveling for work, everything you need is easily accessible, and instead of digging through your bag to remove your laptop at TSA, you can easily just snap this pouch off instead.

Best aluminum rolling luggage

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Aluminum hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 10.1 pounds

Aluminum cases are as tough as they come: unlike with plastic cases, you don’t need to worry about them cracking and spilling all your belongings. They often have the added security of a clamp rather than a zip, which again is less likely to burst. This case comes from Away and has all the same specs as my favorite case overall, though it’s slightly heavier, so you may have to pack a bit lighter if you’re checking it in. Despite this, travel writer Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon says there’s plenty of space for all the essentials she’d need for a three- or four-day trip. Swede White, who works for Amazon and has to travel monthly for his job, told me the only downside to this case is that he finds it scuffs easily. Away acknowledges that this will happen, alluding to it as developing a patina over time — if you prefer a pristine case, it all boils down to personal taste.

Best rolling luggage for overpackers

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 8.36 pounds

If, like me, you can’t travel without taking your entire closet, Béis’s luggage is for you. By unzipping an internal section, the bag expands by up to three inches — meaning you can shove that extra sweater inside. More stuff means a heavier bag, but Béis’s built-in weight-limit indicator ensures you don’t teeter over the 50-pound weight restriction for many checked bags. A red mark will appear if the luggage is over, which should save you some stress and money at the check-in counter. As well as a water-resistant zipper, travel blogger HeyCiara told me she appreciates how the case also has a TSA lock, a handle with ergonomic support, and a built-in laundry and shoe bag to prevent your clothes from getting soiled.

Best rolling-luggage set

Antler Clifton Set
$637
$637

Material: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Lifetime | Weight: Various

If you’re traveling as a family, a set of luggage can be the most efficient and economic way to go. This suitcase set has accompanied Strategist senior editor Ailbhe Malone’s family on trips for two years. Aside from having everything you would expect from a great quality suitcase — “smooth wheels, extremely comfortable handle, more than enough space,” Malone says — these cases are eminently easy to store. That’s because they slot inside one another, meaning you can stash a whole family’s worth of luggage in the space of a single suitcase. The polycarbonate cases come in a range of 11 pleasing colors, and thanks to their construction, any scratches or scuffs will appear as the same shade as the case, no matter how deep. For bigger concerns, the set comes with a lifetime warranty, which covers the wheels, handles, and shells.

Best soft-side rolling luggage

Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Nylon soft-side | Compression strap | Wheels: Encased wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 5.4 pounds

From a repair standpoint, this suitcase is a dream. It’s made from easy-to-repair nylon and has just two encased wheels that won’t snap off. It expands up to two inches and has multiple compartments. None of this is groundbreaking, but that’s why I like this bag: It’s simple, effective, and on the less expensive side at under $200. TripSavvy’s former general manager Molly Fergus told me she’s traveled with the bag across Miami, Cancun, and all over Europe: “It’s survived being dragged across sand, dirt, and cobblestones,” she says. Travelpro’s limited lifetime guarantee covers defects to the wheels, zippers, extension handles, and carrying handles, and this lasts for however long you own it. On top of that, for the first year, your product is backed by its Trusted Companion Promise, which covers the cost of repair for damage caused by an airline and covers the shipping cost for any product that needs to be shipped to one of its repair facilities.

Additional reporting by Rachael Griffiths

Some more rolling luggage we’ve written about

Our experts

• Jasmine Anderson, co-host, Travel Fly Sexy
• Alexandra Baackes, travel blogger and founder of Wander Woman Retreats
• Stephanie Be, founder of BUENA and blog Travel Break
Gabby Beckford, travel blogger
Kiana Brooks, luxury fashion buyer
Maxine Builder, Strategist editor
Hillary Eaton, food and travel writer
• Kelly Farber, founder of KF Literary Scouting
• Molly Fergus, former general manager of TripSavvy
• Jacqui Gifford, Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief
Nicholas Gill, writer and photographer
Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, travel writer
• Summer Hull, director of travel content at The Points Guy
Jessie Hyman, co-founder of Pruzan Running
• Ciara Johnson, travel blogger HeyCiara
• Brian Kelly, The Points Guy
Lauren Kelly, packing expert
Ailbhe Malone, Strategist senior editor
• Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel and lifestyle brand Black Tomato
• Tony Pecorella, president and CEO of Modern Leather Goods
Laura Ratliff, travel writer
• Robin Reetz, writer and VP of marketing at Rag & Bone
• Lauren Ro, Strategist writer
Alex Sanchez, consumer marketing manager at G Adventures
• Chris Schalkx, co-founder of Rice/Potato
Jane Stoller, author of Decluttering for Dummies
Courtney Vondran, travel writer
• Christine Wang, founder of TheSkiGirl
• Swede White, principal content strategist at Amazon Web Services
• Natasha Wilson, co-host, Travel Fly Sexy

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The 11 Very Best Pieces of Rolling Luggage