The Best Carry-On Luggage You Can Buy Right Now

updated Oct 21, 2021
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Many people are just starting to travel again after what feels like (or quite literally has been) years. If you’re like us, you’ve used that time at home to reorganize, redesign, and take stock of everything you’ve got. Maybe you’ve noticed just how old your hand-me-down duffel is. Perhaps, whether in an existential crisis or simply to declutter, you tossed anything that didn’t have to do with working from home. Regardless of why you’re looking to upgrade your carry-on luggage, we’re here for it — and we’re here to help.

As a former military kid and travel writer myself, I’ve had the privilege (and, at times, task) of trying nearly every travel bag brand there is. Without a doubt, the secret to seamless TSA experiences, preventing unpacking procrastination, or living comfortably out of a carry-on begins and ends with the carry-on itself. 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 today, 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 belonging. We recommend totes for carrying on 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 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

The best overall carry-on has to be reliable, durable, sturdy without being bulky, spacious without being heavy, and something you’d be proud to pluck from the baggage carousel. Meet the Platinum Elite Hardside Spinner from Travelpro, the founding brand behind rollaboard luggage. It includes portable USB charging, lets you pack more while somehow staying in regulation (it fits more than any other hardside carry-on we tried), and glides smoothly and quietly. The handle and zippers never get stuck (no matter what we put it through), and its appearance is classic — not too youthful, not too antiquated. Stickers peel off without residue, and scuffs buff away with just a cloth and some water. We’ve even used this carry-on as a step stool during pandemic lockdowns when we rearranged our apartments (okay, that was me), and now it’s zipping and rolling as smoothly as ever. Travelpro has our trust and we couldn’t recommend it more.


  • 100% polycarbonate hard shell, aluminum corner guards, and leather detailing
  • 23″ x 14.5″ x 9.5″
  • 8 lbs
  • Expandable
  • 4 telescope-handle height settings
  • Self-aligning, magnetic spinner wheels
  • Includes ejectable USB A & C port charger
  • TSA-approved combination lock
  • Available in 2 colors
  • 5-year limited warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who travel frequently and want a single carry-on to last years; those who want utility and style.

Good to Know: Usually around $650 to $750, this Travelpro suitcase is worth catching when it goes on sale, so keep your eyes on Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

Like most Amazon brand products, this Amazon Basics 21-inch carry-on hits all the marks: it’s expandable, has excellent rolling mobility, includes zipped pockets, and has the love and loyalty of over 25,000 Amazon reviewers. Its interior is made of 150D polyester, the same stuff used to make some of the highest quality, waterproof hammocks and tents on the market. The carry-on is available in a range of colors, so you can choose from a sleek black or an easily identifiable orange. Regardless, none of the exterior colors shows scuffing or discoloration easily, and after testing for over a year of travel, we can assure you this carry-on’s more functional parts show just as little wear and tear.


  • ABS exterior and 150D polyester interior
  • 22″ x 14″ x 10″
  • 7.3 lbs
  • Expandable
  • 2 telescope-handle height settings
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • Includes zipped interior pockets
  • Available in 4 colors

Who It’s Best For: Those who need a good carry-on fast; those who want to spend under $100.

Good to Know: You can get the whole Amazon Basics hardside luggage set, either 2- or 3-piece, and save even more.

If you’ve got the cash to spend and want something of undeniable quality, RIMOWA’s Original Cabin carry-on is the way to go. Designed from anodized aluminum, its exterior is virtually corrosion-proof, so it’ll stay shiny and new through a lifetime of travel wear and tear. Its patented flex dividers keep your belongings secure and are optimized to compress everything safely and efficiently, removing excess air and revealing more packing space. Oftentimes, a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean a better product, but if you value highly considered design, extreme durability, and want to invest in luggage that will last generations, this carry-on will deliver. Be prepared to be taken seriously when rolling this RIMOWA suitcase from place to place, as this is the carry-on for travel pros.


  • Anodized aluminum exterior and cotton interior
  • 22″ x 17″ x 10″
  • 10 lbs
  • Not expandable
  • Ball-bearing spinner wheels
  • TSA-approved locking zipper
  • 5-year manufacturer’s guarantee when registered online

Who It’s Best For: Those looking to invest in their carry-on luggage; those who want something virtually indestructible.

Good to Know: Nordstrom makes it easy to gift this carry-on by offering DIY gift kits, Nordstrom packaging services, gift messaging, and delivery and in-store pickup.

Best Duffel: Monos Metro Duffel

Wider than they are long, duffels are a traditional handheld or shoulder-strapped travel bag built for low-maintenance packing and easy access. Whether you prefer to travel just with a duffel or accompany your rolling suitcase with extra storage, our winner is perfect for both. The Monos Metro Duffel has all the bells and whistles of a good soft carry-on bag: a trolley sleeve that allows it to slip over your spinner for easy transport, easily cleanable interior and exterior materials, and lots of storage space or pockets. What makes this duffel unique is the magnetic Metro Classic Kit it comes with, which allows you to choose exactly how much storage you want for each trip. The kit includes two separate packing cubes of sorts, the insides of which have a clear toiletry bag and device and notebook storage, respectively. These simply (yet securely) snap onto the back of the Metro duffel, keeping liquids and devices easily accessible for you and the TSA, and completely separate from your clothing and other belongings. We’re suckers for organization, and this duffel helps to keep track of everything while still accommodating the classic toss-in-and-go style of duffel packing.


  • Vegan leather or nylon exterior with vegan leather accents
  • 17.5″ x 10.6″ x 9.6″
  • 3.5 lbs
  • Not expandable
  • 15″ felt-lined laptop pocket
  • Includes QuickSnap Metro Classic additional storage kit
  • Available in 7 colors and 2 materials (nylon tested)
  • 2-year limited warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who want a spacious, easy-to-pack, and easy-to-access travel bag; those who pack differently for each trip.

Good to Know: The Monos QuickSnap modular storage system that comes with the duffel also works on other Monos travel bags, including the backpack.

Best Tote: Lo & Sons O.G. 2

If you’ve already got your carry-on suitcase but want to optimize your personal item to fit everything you need at the ready and still slide under the seat in front of you, a zipped tote is a great option. If you want one compact bag to carry everything for an overnight stay or a brief business trip, a tote’s good for that, too. The Lo & Sons O.G. 2 tote is the chic, extremely durable (without looking utilitarian) travel bag to consider whether you need a carry-all for a quick trip or additional easy-access storage. I’ve tested it for over three years and have brought it on every trip I’ve taken. I’m consistently impressed with how much I can pack in it, how it always fits under the seat in front of me, how organized its compartments keep me (there’s even a corded key clip!), how easy it is to clean (and how little I actually have to clean it), how durable the closures are, and how comfortable the straps stay. No wonder I often get asked where it’s from! The tote’s laptop compartment is soft but protective and makes going through TSA checkpoints a breeze. It has a sleeve that lets it slip right over the handles of your rolling luggage, which brings actually carrying your carry-on to a minimum. Personally, I had no idea that I’d use my O.G. 2 as much as I have, but after all this time I might as well give it a name since it’s my No. 1 travel companion and even comes with me to the gym and to work.


  • Nylon interior and exterior
  • 14.25″ x 16.5″ x 6.75″
  • 3 lbs
  • Includes laptop compartment, shoe storage, large front pocket, key attachment, and zipped and unzipped interior pockets
  • Available in 10 colors and 2 sizes (large tested)
  • 1-year warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who want a personal item-sized carry-on; those who love organization.

Good to Know: It’s got a zipped shoe compartment on its side, so you can even throw a change of attire in there and keep it separate from your toiletries and other belongings.

Best for Long-hauls: Away Carry-on With Pocket

Twelve-hour flights. Twenty-four-hour train rides. Back-to-back-to-back transportation. Whatever your long-haul trips look like, the same few things are essential: dependable device charging, easy access to essentials, and consolidation. Away’s Carry-on with a pocket includes a removable portable charger, so we can recharge while still keeping our phones on our person at all times. Its slim front pocket fits all our travel documents, our laptop, and even a book, which basically removes the need for any additional personal items. If you’re like us, though, and like to bring stuff home with you when you travel, there are also easily accessed interior pockets that are perfect for phones, passports, and sanitizer. While I can’t condone the consistent overstuffing of luggage (even the best stuff wears fast when mistreated), I’ve somehow managed to squeeze an entire sample-sized skin-care routine into these convenient spots.


  • Polycarbonate hard shell and pebbled leather pocket
  • 21.7″ x 13.7″ x 9″
  • 8.8 lbs
  • Not expandable
  • Includes ejectable USB charger
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • TSA-approved combination lock
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who want one roller carry-on to hold everything; those who need constant easy access to documents or devices; those who need to charge devices on the go.

Good to Know: Away offers a 100-day limited trial as well as free shipping.

Best Customizable: ROAM Jaunt Carry-on

There’s a certain *chef’s kiss* je ne sais quoi to the feeling that comes from getting to customize anything. ROAM, our winning brand for this category, allows you to customize your luggage’s hues down to the zipper, which is not only fun to do but also helpful for identifying and tracking your luggage. The Jaunt carry-on, which comes in a larger carry-on size as well, is a hard shell suitcase made of thin and lightweight virgin polycarbonate, so it’s got the protective benefits of a hard exterior without being unnecessarily bulky. The colors of the front and back panels as well as the trim are up to you, making it our winner of the best customizable carry-on. You can also add a monogrammed ID patch in your chosen color on the back. We can attest that the Jaunt makes an awesome gift, whether you customize it yourself or give your recipient the chance to design their own. My partner customized the Jaunt he was given in a shameless few hours of unadulterated giddiness, so I naturally asked him to customize mine the following year. I still think of him when I catch sight of my hot pink Jaunt rounding the corner of the baggage carousel.


  • 100% virgin polycarbonate shell
  • 22″ x 14″ x 9″
  • 6.6 lbs
  • Not expandable
  • 4 handle-height settings
  • TSA-approved combination lock
  • Available in up to 10 colors
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Who It’s Best For: Those who want to express their personal style through their travel gear; those shopping for a carry-on to give as a gift.

Good to Know: You can also choose a pre-made design from ROAM’s gallery.

Samsara, the winning brand behind our best smart carry-on, designed its Aluminum Smart Carry-on to be a problem-solver on wheels. Its highly considered construction begins with the bag itself, being of quality aluminum with a flat desktop surface, and extends to its most identifying feature: its smart tracking unit. More specifically, its removable, multiple device-charging, app-controlled, GPS-tracking smart unit. This is the carry-on you want when you’re traveling with valuables or are just looking to impress whomever you’re headed to see, but it’s surprisingly competitively priced for what it does (and how it looks). In testing the Samsara carry-on, we were able to put the tracker and its paired app to work…and we were impressed, to say the least. For those times when your first flight is delayed or a layover lands you in a wonderland of duty-free shopping and you miss your connecting flight, you’ll thank yourself for being so prepared with your trackable Samsara.


  • Aluminum exterior and nylon interior
  • 22″ x 13″ x 9″
  • 9 lbs
  • Includes GPS-tracking smart unit with built-in charger, 5 packing bags, and darkness-activated interior LED light
  • Pairs with Samsara app
  • TSA-approved locks
  • Part-specific 1- and 5-year limited warranties

Who It’s Best For: Those who never want to risk losing their luggage; those who work on the go.

Good to Know: Samsara also has a smart duffel for those who want something softer or more compact.