The Best Editor-Tested Carry-On Luggage You Can Buy Right Now

updated Oct 25, 2023
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There’s nothing quite like a seamless airport experience, which is so satisfying because of how rare it is. As a frequent traveler myself, I’ve worked hard to reduce as much stress as possible when it comes to air travel, and eliminating the need for checked luggage wherever possible is a huge part of it. I’m constantly chasing the high of simply walking off the plane and skipping baggage claim altogether. 

But as someone who is also a compulsive overpacker, the idea of fitting everything into a carry-on is daunting. That’s why finding a bag that works with you rather than against you is so important. At Apartment Therapy, we’re experts at all things home, but we’re also versed in taking home on the road when need be. Since bad travel bags can really put a damper on an otherwise good trip, we’ve done the research and compiled this list of the best carry-on luggage to take with you on your next adventure.

The Best Carry-on Luggage

What to Consider Before Buying a Carry-on

The first thing to consider is your travel habits or aspirations. How often do you travel? Are you typically in planes, trains, cars, or all three? Do you travel to the same places routinely or somewhere new almost every time? Do you prefer to keep everything with you at all times or are you willing to gate-check your carry-on? For business travelers, utility and organization is key. Leisure travelers may benefit from the trackability of smart luggage or the option to overpack. Below are all the common types of carry-on luggage, along with who they suit best. If you’re seasoned and already know what you like, more power to you, but getting to know your options could present you with a better solution to any packing woes or travel tribulations.


Hardside: One of the most ubiquitous suitcase styles, hardside carry-ons are most of what you’ll see from direct-to-consumer travel brands. Their construction is usually inflexible, but their hard-shell exteriors offer more protection. They often come in a variety of colors, are designed to be attractive, and can even be customizable.

Softside: Soft suitcases are somewhat flexible and may allow you to pack more than you’d be able to in a hard-shell suitcase with the same dimensions. The exterior is less protective, so breakable belongings inside may benefit from additional padding. We suggest packing soft shell suitcases sandwich-style: put in half your clothes first; place waterproof-packaged toiletries, accessories, and hard items in the middle; add the rest of your clothes on top.

Duffel: Ideal for those traveling with mostly soft items, duffels are for travelers who don’t mind or even prefer carrying their luggage. They can be low maintenance with a totally open interior or include pockets and additional storage.

Backpack: If you prefer to stay hands-free while en route, backpacks are your best bet. They offer support via weight distribution and often include a multitude of pockets, so everything down to your pens can be organized.

Tote: Also referred to as carry-alls, totes have a wide-open interior with limited pocket storage. They are usually open at the top but can be found with zipper tops or small fastener closures. They work well for travelers who prefer having easy access to their belongings. We recommend totes for carrying grab-and-go items like books, sweaters, and water bottles or separate storage bags of small items like toiletries and medication.


The TSA now defaults to the regulations enforced by the specific airline you’re traveling with. That said, there usually isn’t a weight limit for carry-ons as long as you can get yours into any provided storage space yourself. Most major airlines, such as JetBlue, Delta, United, Virgin, American, and Alaska, approve carry-ons that are max 22″ in height, 14″ in length, and 9″ in width for overhead storage. If you’re flying on a small aircraft, regardless of the airline, the measurements can go down to around 16″ x 12″ x 6″. Other airlines like Southwest allow overhead carry-ons up to 24″ x 16″ x 10″. Under-seat storage should be reserved for bags 17″ x 13″ x 8″ or smaller, depending on your flight. Prevent the inconvenience that comes with not realizing your carry-on is too large until it’s too late and check with your airline to confirm size and weight specifics.

What We Look for in a Carry-on

We tested a wide range of carry-on luggage for our list, judging them on the following criteria:

  • Quality: How well is it constructed? How long does it last? Do the zippers run smoothly? What materials is it made from?
  • Appearance: How does it look? Is it attractive or purely functional? Is it available in multiple colors? Is it customizable?
  • Function: How much can it hold? Is it flexible or extendable? Does it have pockets or any removable storage? Does it roll smoothly? Are the straps comfortably weight-bearing?

The Best Carry-on Luggage

Best Overall: Away Bigger Carry-On

Away has taken the luggage world by storm, so it only makes sense that their bestselling Bigger Carry-On tops our list. This suitcase ensures that you can maximize packing space and still fit it into the overhead bin thanks to the interior compression system within its lightweight shell that holds everything in place. Simply tighten the double-buckle compression pad over your items to keep them extra safe and secure.

The suitcase also features 360-degree wheels, a laundry bag, and a TSA-approved combination lock. You’ll also appreciate the underside handle, which makes hoisting the carry-on into the car or airport shuttle hassle-free.

“I love this carry-on and use it as my go-to piece when traveling domestically,” says AT brand strategy and innovation associate director Susan. “It’s sturdy but doesn’t feel too heavy, and the wheels are great on it.”


  • Polycarbonate shell
  • 22.7″ x 15.4″ x 9.6″; 7.9 lbs
  • 47.9-liter capacity
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • Features underside grab handle and TSA lock
  • Includes water-resistant laundry bag and leather luggage tag
  • Available in 9 colors
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who like to maximize packing space while still carrying on luggage; those who prefer a hard-shell suitcase.

Good to Know: This suitcase easily nests into any larger suitcase size that Away offers. 

*Honorable Mention: If you love all the features of the Bigger Carry-On but don’t need as much space, the original Away Carry-On is a great alternative. This carry-on measures 21.7″ x 14.4″ x 9″ and weighs just 7.5 pounds. “I know they make a bigger carry-on size, but I wanted something that would reliably fit on international flights,” says culinary producer Rachel. “One of the sides has an interior compression panel, which makes all the difference traveling with bulky sweaters or general overpacking. Plus, it looks very chic.”

The Quince Carry-On Hard Shell Suitcase definitely offers the most bang for your buck when it comes to high-quality carry-on luggage. This super lightweight hard-shell luggage weighs in at only 6.7 pounds, and its interior compression system ensures you’ll be able to fit between 6-9 outfits. It also features a TSA-approved combination lock, a removable laundry bag, YKK zippers, and an aluminum telescopic trolley handle.

Executive commerce director Mark tested this Quince on two separate journeys and was pleased with the performance of the suitcase. “I can’t wait to take it on more adventures,” he says. “So far it’s turned out to be a sturdy, reliable travel companion that I’d highly recommend to anyone who is looking for a cheap carry-on that looks expensive, holds a lot of items, and packs quite a punch!”

Read our full review of the Quince Carry-On Hard Shell Suitcase.


  • Polycarbonate hard shell
  • 22.8″ x 15.6″ x 9.8″; 6.7 lbs
  • 48-liter capacity
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • Features interior compression system and TSA lock
  • Includes a removable laundry bag
  • Available in 5 colors

Who It’s Best For: Those who prefer hard-shell luggage; those who prefer internal compression organizers.

Good to Know: Quince also sells packing cubes that will fit perfectly with your luggage and further maximize your packing space. 

The Solgaard Carry-on Closet takes space maximization to a whole new level. Unlike its internal compression system competitors, this bag features an entire built-in shelving system for smart packing, and a compression strap to hold it all in place. The shelves expand, making everything inside accessible, so you don’t have to worry about unpacking to ensure that your clothes are neat and organized.

“Along with the shelving system, I found the zipper compartment of the Carry-On Closet to be wonderfully spacious,” says Best List editor Britt. “I was able to fit a large packing cube that was stuffed with three caftans and two belts along with my CHI handheld steamer into the space, and there was still room for a few small items. Best of all, I didn’t have to force it closed!” In addition to the amazing shelving system, this bag also features a built-in USB charging port, a TSA-approved three-digit lock, and frictionless wheels. 

Read our full review of the Solgaard Carry-On Closet.


  • Polycarbonate shell and aluminum frame
  • 22.4” x 14.6” x 9.6” 
  • 43-liter capacity
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • Features built-in USB charging port and TSA lock
  • Includes removable closet system
  • Available in 2 sizes and 8 colors
  • Lifetime warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who want a lot of packing space in their carry-ons; those willing to spend a little more on a luxury piece of carry-on luggage.

Good to Know: If you do end up needing to check this bag, the outer shell holds up extremely well and proves to be very durable in all modes of travel.

This aptly named Travelpro Maxlite 5 Softside Carry-On is the go-to suitcase for flight attendants, which is a stamp of approval we can get behind. “I bought this roll-on suitcase over 10 years ago, and I still use it on every trip,” says AT creative studios editorial director Matt. “I went into a luggage shop and told the salesman I wanted a suitcase that would always fit in every overhead. He immediately grabbed this bag and said it’s the one flight attendants use. Over 10 years later — and with confirmation from several flight attendants over the years — he’s still right.”

This soft-sided suitcase boasts storage galore, including two quick-access exterior front pockets, a full-length interior lid pocket, and a side accessory pocket with adjustable hold-down straps. Plus, the inside lining is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles to help reduce environmental waste. 

Read our full review of the Travelpro Maxlite 5 Softside Carry-On.


  • High-density nylon with DuraGuard coating
  • 23″ x 14.5″ x 9″; 5.4 lbs
  • 46-liter capacity
  • Expandable
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • Water- and stain-resistant
  • Available in 3 sizes and up to 12 colors 
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who prefer soft-sided luggage; those who prefer lightweight luggage.

Good to Know: If you do choose to use the extender feature on this bag, keep in mind that it might not comply with all overhead luggage bin sizes.

Best Hard Shell: Hue Carry-On Luggage

The Hue Carry-On Luggage’s polycarbonate shell not only provides a chic and modern look, but it also ensures your luggage will be uber durable. “I love the look of this carry-on bag; I have it in the hazel color, and it’s chic and neutral, yet easier to spot than basic black,” says AT shopping writer Nikol. “It did sustain some minor scratches after a couple of airport trips, but I guess that’s to be expected. Overall, though, I have no complaints.”

Like most hard-shell pieces, it includes dual storage compartments, which are separated by a zippered divider. The suitcase also features dual spinner wheels, as well as a built-in TSA-approved lock. Despite its compact frame, this airport essential can fit a ton of stuff; Nikol was able to fit six pairs of shoes, a bundle of books and magazines, and other personal items on one of her trips. Of course, if you still need more interior space, you can make use of the suitcase’s expandable closure. Gain an additional two inches of storage all around, and forget that overpacking was ever an issue.

Read our full review of the Hue Carry-On Luggage.


  • Polycarbonate shell
  • 21” x 13.75” x 9”; 7.5 lbs
  • 44-liter capacity
  • Expandable
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • Features TSA lock
  • Available in 5 colors
  • 2-year limited warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who prefer hard-shell luggage; those whose priority is a sleek and modern luggage design.

Good to Know: If you’re looking to add to your Hue set, they also carry a Mini Carry-On that fits below most airline seats as well as a Front Pocket Carry-On that features a hard-sided front compartment designed to fit tablets and laptops up to 16”.

If hard-shell suitcases aren’t your thing, the Samsonite Bartlett Carry-on Spinner is our top choice for a soft-shell offering. This bag comes with a 10-year warranty and the promise of long-term durability, proven by the many travels our senior commerce editor Alicia has taken with it. “I really thought it seemed like a more expensive suitcase, especially considering it doesn’t have any scratches on it after several years of pretty heavy use,” she says.

Its simple design includes multidirectional spinner wheels, rubberized corner protectors that guard against wear and tear, and inside pockets for shoes, toiletries, and more. “When I originally unwrapped this suitcase on Christmas morning, I thought it was a $250 suitcase,” Alicia says. “It just looked sleek, had plenty of handles, and was the lightest suitcase I had ever lifted up before.”

Read our full review of the Samsonite Bartlett Carry-On Spinner.


  • Polyester
  • 22” x 14” x 9.3”; 9.1 lbs
  • Expandable
  • Multi-directional spinner wheels
  • Features corner protectors
  • Available in 2 colors 
  • Limited 10-year warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who prefer a soft-shell suitcase; those who like suitcases with specific pockets for shoe storage .

Good to Know: You can complete the set with the Bartlett Large Spinner.

If you’re a super light packer or just want to maximize your under-the-seat bag storage, then the Catalina Deluxe Tote is the way to go. This bag slots nicely over the handle of a rolling suitcase and should fit perfectly under your seat. “The first time I used this bag, I was shocked at how much fit inside,” says AT commerce SEO editor Sarah.

This bag was designed for organization, with deep side pockets, and multiple interior pockets — including a bottom compartment to keep shoes or dirty clothes separate from the rest of your belongings. Plus, this bag’s compartments are adjustable, so if you don’t need the separate bottom one, you can simply unzip the dividing panel. “Everything seemed to fit effortlessly into this spacious bag and its many compartments,” says Sarah. “By the time I was done packing, I was a bona fide Mary Poppins, ready to hit the road with her magical bottomless bag in tow.” 

Read our full review of the Catalina Deluxe Tote.


  • Available in polyester or canvas
  • 15” x 14” x 7” ; 2.19 lbs
  • 24.1-liter capacity
  • Features suitcase handle sleeve and adjustable bottom pocket
  • Includes a key leash
  • Available in 14 colors between fabrics
  • 1-year warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who prefer to travel with totes; those looking for bags designed for organization; light packers.

Good to Know: The recycled polyester tote is machine washable, and the canvas tote is spot-clean only.

Best Duffel: CALPAK Luka Duffel

In addition to their modern-looking suitcases, CALPAK makes equally beautiful weekender bags. The stylish CALPAK Luka Duffel will convert you to the duffel bag side of travel with its chic design and ample storage space. With 13 different color options in various finishes, this duffel will not only carry your outfits but also complete them. The duffle bag boasts nine pockets, including one for your shoes. “I love this bag so much, mainly because it has so many different compartments — one for a laptop, one for trinkets, but my favorite is the dedicated shoe space!” says AT audience growth VP Rebecca.

The bag is perfect no matter what your needs are; bring it camping, to the gym, on a weekend trip — you name it. If you work long hours, it would also make a wonderful day-to-night piece. Pack everything you need for your 9-to-5, plus a change of clothes and shoes for your workout class or dinner reservations. The duffel’s trendy puffer design and modular silhouette will complement any look.


  • Polyester
  • 12″ x 16″ x 7″; 2.1 lbs
  • 22-liter capacity
  • Water- and scratch-resistant
  • Features luggage trolley sleeve and nine pockets, including shoe compartment
  • Available in 2 sizes and 13 colors
  • 1-year limited warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who prefer a duffel carry-on; those looking for additional under-seat storage. 

Good to Know: Not only does this duffel come in a larger size, but it’s also available as a matching belt bag, key pouch, and soft-sided mini carry-on in the same material and color.

For quick trips, a really great backpack like the Dagne Dover Dakota Neoprene Backpack is all you need. This backpack sports a ton of pockets, including two zipper side pockets in addition to other side pockets, three zipper pockets on the exterior front panel, and two interior mesh pockets. It also has a mesh tablet sleeve on the inside, as well as a detachable key leash. Despite these numerous features, the backpack still manages to maintain a sleek design overall.

“I’ve used this backpack as a work bag and a travel bag for four years now, and it’s great!” says AT brand innovation and strategy manager Ivy. “I love how it easily fits a lot of stuff and has lots of little compartments. It is washable since it’s neoprene, which is super helpful, too.” We agree that the backpack is ideal for your daily commute, as it’ll hold your laptop or tablet, water bottle, and other personal belongings without making you feel weighed down. Get from home to the train to the office (and back!) while keeping your hands free and all your items in one secure spot.


  • Available in premium neoprene or performance air mesh
  • 17″ x 11.5” x 5″ ; 2 lbs.
  • 16-liter capacity
  • Features interior tablet sleeve and luggage sleeve
  • Includes detachable key leash, pouch, and a shoe bag
  • Available in 3 sizes and 7 colors between fabrics
  • Hand wash with mild detergent, reshape when wet, and lay flat to dry

Who It’s Best For: Those who prefer backpack carry-ons; light packers; those looking for a compact luggage option for shorter trips. 

Good to Know: This bag is 100% vegan.

Traveling with kids can be tricky enough, but the STATE Bags Logan Suitcase makes it a little easier. This suitcase was designed with families in mind, with pockets and storage compartments for easy use. There are two main interior compartments: one with an elastic strap to keep things compressed and the other featuring a zip closure to keep things separate. The front pocket has a bunch of different organization compartments for pens, markers, notebooks, and other travel activities.

“Technically, this is a kids’ suitcase, but I love it!” says Britt. It can even work in your favor when you aren’t traveling with little ones. “It’s perfect for long weekends, and you can fit a ton of items into it, from clothing to souvenirs.” Plus, it comes in a variety of cool designs and colors to really let your personality show. 


  • Polyester
  • 37.4” x 13.4” x 9.45”; 6.44 lbs
  • 29-liter capacity
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • Features a side strap for water bottles and a front compartment with multiple slip pockets for organizing markers, notebooks, and more
  • Available in 2 sizes and 18 unique designs

Who It’s Best For: Those with children; those looking for carry-ons with unique organization options; those who prefer a standout design for their luggage.

Good to Know: Even if you don’t have kids, you can utilize the unique front pocket for storing books, pens, or souvenirs from your travels.