How to Choose the Best Carry On Luggage

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our Disclosure Policy here

As the number of globetrotters has increased through the years, so has the innovations made in carry on luggage. Gone are the days of heavy bulky suitcases that are meant for that major lifetime trip overseas, and in are the lightweight easy to handle highly functional suitcases geared towards those who travel the world for work and pleasure.

That is why when choosing a carry on you may find yourself overwhelmed with options, not knowing where to begin. What size is correct? What is RFID protection? Should I get one with wheels or opt to carry? Luggage comes with backpack straps now? 

We are here to answer all of the questions and more as we guide you through how to choose the best carry on luggage for you. 

Top 5 Best Carry On Luggage

Best carry on luggageAmerican Tourister Carry-On
-21 inch Spinner Luggage
-Push Button locking handle
-Side and Top carrying handles
Check Price
Best carry on luggageAmazonBasics Hardside Carry On Spinner
-20 inch spinner
-Protective hard shell
-Fully lined interior with divider
-3 zippered interior pockets
Check Price
Best carry on luggageCOOLIFE Luggage Expandable Carry on
-20 inch spinner
-Aluminum telescoping handle
-Spacious interior
-Zippered divider
-TSA 3 dial combination lock
Check Price
Best carry on luggageTravelpro Luggage Platinum Elite
-22 inch Rollaboard
-Sealed ball bearing wheels
-Aluminum extension handle
-Interior tie down system
Check Price
Best carry on luggageTUMI-Alpha 3 Expandable Wheeled Carry-On
-22 inch roller bag
-Zipper expansion
-Split case zip
-U zip pockets
-Top, side and bottom grab handles
Check Price

Quick Answer: Best Luggage for Carry On

Things to Consider When Choosing Carry On Luggage

Carry On Luggage Size

Best Carry On Luggage

Size is the first and foremost factor you should consider in your carry-on luggage. It is what makes it a carry on after all! Unfortunately, not all airlines adhere to the same rules when it comes to determining what makes your luggage carry on approved.

However, in the U.S. most major airlines such as Delta, American and United all allow luggage that is no more than 22in long and 14in wide on their flights.

This may change overseas but finding luggage within these dimensions is a good standard to go by. Other airlines such as Southwest and JetBlue are much more forgiving with their space and give you a bit more wiggle room if you slightly overpack. 

Another thing to take note of regarding luggage size is that not all manufacturers treat their label dimensions equally. This means that some luggage will be measured from wheels to the top while others will only include the dimensions of the “compartment” itself.

For safety measures, always be sure that you stay in the 22inx14in parameters from any extruding components. So say, from the base of the wheels to the tip of the handle. 

Carry on Luggage Weight 

Best Carry On Luggage

Even though you have stayed within your parameters there will still be times while traveling that you are required to check your bag. Therefore, it is also so important to keep a close eye on the overall weight of your luggage.

A lower dry weight (the weight before filled with belongings) is what will allow you to pack more things while also avoiding extremely overpriced checked-bag costs.

Also, there are many airlines that adhere to weight restrictions, so even if you have the right dimensions for your carry on, choosing heavy luggage could still result in additional charges. Experts generally recommend that the dry weight of your wheeled luggage be no more than 7.5 lbs. 

Should I Get One With Wheels?

Best Carry On Luggage

Most luggage in the U.S. these days come with wheels. Wheels have even been integrated into travel backpacks and duffel bags to help lighten the load when needed.

However, there have been quite a few changes through the years from your standard 2 wheelers. Nowadays, 4-wheelers (also known as spinners) are becoming the standard.

That is because the additional wheels allow you to turn 360 degrees to help you navigate through tight spaces and quick turns. Another positive aspect of spinners is that they roll upright. That means there is no weight on your arm, and they follow along your side like a well-behaved toddler. 

That doesn’t mean that spinner wheels always win out over their roller (2 wheeled) counterparts. Naturally, the additional wheels will add to the overall weight of the luggage, so be sure to evaluate this before you purchase.

Also, spinners tend to extend into the inside compartment shortening your overall storage area as well as also adding length to the bottom. This generally causes them to be labeled at 21inches instead of the standard 20in required of a carry on. 

Packability: Carry On Luggage Configurations

Best Carry On Luggage

There are three main components that make up the pack-ability of carry on luggage: expansion, compression and compartments. Here is a breakdown of what each of these means for your bag and how they can add to the overall ease of use.

  • Expansion: expandable carry on luggage generally comes in the form of a zipper around the top that when used will expand the storage area of your carry on by and inch or two. This is a great utility for those that are expecting to come back home with more than they left with and without taking on the bulk of a huge unnecessary suitcase. 
  • Compression: Some of the higher-end carry on luggage comes with a compression bracket. These plastic brackets allow you to pull up the inside of the bag before you start packing. Once you are done, you simply push down on the top and it returns the bag to its original size. This will not only keep you TSA approved, but also to allow you to pack more into a smaller space. No more sitting on top of your bag in hopes of zipping it up!
  • Compartments: The number of compartments within your carry on and how they are organized is always something to consider. Make sure you have a laptop sleeve compartment that is padded with shot absorbing foam, as well as a quick access compartment at the front or side where you can keep your tickets, passports etc. Additional external compartments are also great for organizing belongings that you want to keep away from your clothes and be able to get to without exposing your entire suitcase to everyone in the security line.   

Hardshell vs. Softshell 

Best Carry On Luggage

There will always be a debate based on preference between hardshell and softshell luggage. They both have advantages in their own right and just depends on what you need most out of your bag.

For instance, hardshell luggage is made to be abused. You won’t have to worry about your valuable being smashed or getting rips in the fabric. Hardshell bags will have you covered.

Also, due to their non-porous plastic components, they are highly waterproof and can even float. We can’t say the same for softshell luggage.

However, where softshell bags reign supreme is the weight. Even with the lightest plastics, hardshell luggage cannot compete with the inherent lightweight nature of the fabric.

Softshells bags also generally come with more external pockets and have a larger variety of styles and colors to choose from. They are also much more forgiving for the habitual over-packer. The flex in the fabric allows you to stuff more into the same amount of space.  

Theft Protection

Best Carry On Luggage

While you never want to assume the worst, you definitely want to prepare for it, especially while traveling. There are all kinds of people that will come in contact with your belongings and not all of them may have the best intentions.

That is why you should always take a few extra precautions when choosing your carry on luggage. Just a few extra features will keep a good man honest and give you a little more peace of mind in your travels. Here are some of the safety features to look for. 

  • Lockable zippers: This is probably the most important and easy to find anti-theft feature you can find in a carry on. This simply means that when closed there are double zippers that can be placed together and closed within a TSA approved lock. Not only does this prevent would-be thieves from running away with your things, but it also prevents the zippers from accidentally opening if they do happen to be thrown around in the belly of the plane. 
  • RFID pocket: the debate still rages whether the RFID scare is an urban legend or a legitimate threat. However, when traveling overseas, the last thing you want is a stolen identity so why not take a little extra precaution. An RFID pocket in your carry on will allow you to place your scan-able items like your passport and credit cards inside keeping them safe from potential hackers walking by. 
  • Slash proof materials: if you are opting for a softshell carry on it would be beneficial to look for one made from slash-proof materials. Not only does this prevent someone from cutting through your luggage, but it also protects it from abrasions, cuts and tears that can easily happen over extended use.  

Other Carry On Luggage Options

Best Carry On Luggage

When looking for the best carry on luggage, there are a ton of other options besides your standard clam shelled luggage. Many you want something with fewer access points.

Maybe you want something that is a little more hands-free or easier to carry up stairs. Here is a look at two of the most popular alternatives based on their pros and cons. 

Carry-on Backpack 


  • Hands free
  • Great for cobbled streets and stairs
  • Weight distribution
  • Lightweight


  • Smaller storage compartment
  • Less organized
  • Usually top loading 

Duffel Bag


  • Can always be changed to size restrictions based on what you pack
  • Lighter
  • Easier to stuff in overhead bins


  • Lack of organization
  • No laptop compartments
  • Usually only 2-3 external pockets

Best Carry On Luggage Recommendations

American Tourister Softside Carry On

Best Carry On Luggage

Packing and traveling are sure to be a little bit easier when you’ve got this three-piece spinner set by your side. The American Tourister  Expandable Spinner Luggage is made from durable polyester and features three upright cases.

The interior of each case is fully lined and detailed with tie-down straps and a zippered mesh pocket underneath the lid, while the exterior boasts two front zipper pockets for extra storage.

With a push-button locking handle system and single airflow spinner wheels, this luggage set is designed to move through any airport or hotel with ease.


  • 21″ Spinner Luggage
  • Push Button locking handle
  • Expandable
  • Tie-down interior
  • Side and Top carrying handles

Check American Tourister Carry-On price at Amazon

AmazonBasics Hardside Carry On Spinner

Best Carry On Luggage

A great choice for international travel, this AmazonBasics hard side spinner luggage measures 20 inches in size and that’s accepted as a carry-on for most international flights.

The luggage also works well for weekend getaways or one to two-day business trips, offering enough packing space to hold a few changes of clothes, toiletries, and a pair of shoes.

The 20-inch spinner luggage provides a durable zipper for reliable closure, and its expandable design creates up to 15% more packing space for extra room when you need it (and less when you don’t).


  • 20″ spinner
  • Protective hard shell
  • Telescoping handle
  • Fully lined interior with divider
  • 3 zippered interior pockets

Check AmazonBasics Hardside Carry On Spinner price at Amazon

COOLIFE Luggage Expandable Carry On

Best Carry On Luggage

Designed to provide travelers comfort, functionality, reliability, and peace of mind, our 20 inch suitcase is suitable for carrying onto airplanes. Perfect for business and leisure travelers, fashionable traveler and for those who love traveling.

The suitcase benefits hugely from its ABS+PC hard plastic shell. It is highly suited to the rigorous of modern transportation and rough treatment from baggage handlers. We’re dedicated to helping millions of travelers worldwide enjoy more of their happy traveling experience.


  • 20″ spinner
  • Aluminum telescoping handle
  • Spacious interior
  • Zippered divider
  • TSA 3 dial combination lock

Check COOLIFE Luggage Expandable Carry on price at Amazon

Travelpro Luggage Platinum Elite Carry On

Best Carry On Luggage

This bag is designed for the traveler who expects top performance without sacrificing style, the 22″ expandable carry-on.

Intelligent function comes in a tip-resistant tapered expansion design and deluxe tie-down system with easy-access accessory pockets, along with a removable, quart-size wet pocket that is TSA compliant and perfect for toiletries.

On its exterior, premium fabrics, genuine leather accents, and chrome zippers deliver effortless sophistication, while an adjustable PowerScope extension handle minimizes wobble and keeps you rolling smoothly on two wheels.

The built-in USB port lets you power up on the go, while a dedicated power bank pocket for your back-up battery adheres to FAA regulations. 


  • 22″ Rollaboard
  • Expandable
  • Sealed ball-bearing wheels
  • Aluminum extension handle
  • Interior tie-down system

Check Travelpro Luggage Platinum Elite Carry On price at Amazon

TUMI-Alpha 3 Expandable Wheeled Carry On

Best Carry On Luggage

Ideal for everything from weekend getaways to international travel, this compact carry-on is equipped with a built-in USB port to keep you connected on the go.

Zipper expansion allows for up to 2” of additional space in the main compartment, and a built-in garment sleeve accommodates one suit. Power bank sold separately.

Part of our Alpha 3 Collection, made from TUMI’s patented, ultra-durable FXT ballistic nylon. Our iconic business and travel pieces bring together innovative design, superior performance, and best in class functionality.


  • 22″ roller bag
  • Zipper expansion
  • Split case zip
  • U zip pockets
  • Top, side and bottom grab handles

Check TUMI-Alpha 3 Expandable Wheeled Carry On price at Amazon

Best Carry On Luggage

Not finding what you are looking for? Check out our favorite places to go shopping for travel gear.

  • Shop Columbia: The industry leader in outdoor apparel and products; You can find anything from great jackets, gloves, hats, shirts and travel pants.
  • Shop REI: They offer some of the best outdoor gear around. We love REI since they have a year Love it or hate it no questions guarantee.
  • Shop Moosejaw: Has a huge selection of outdoor gear at killer prices.

More on Travel Gear:

Did you like this story? Share it!


Looking to get started on your trip planning process? Let us help!

Travel Gear & Packing: Check out our packing lists and travel gear guide to ensure you're bringing the right items on your trip.

Book Your Flight: Ready to fly? Check out our tips for finding cheap flights.

Find A Car Rental:We use Discover Cars to compare car prices, find deals and book rentals.

Book Your Hotel: Compare prices and book with our recommended hotel search engine. You should also check out our tips for finding cheap accommodation.

Find Vacation Rentals: Search vacation rentals & apartments on VRBO for the best prices and options.

Protect Your Trip:Don’t forget your travel insurance! Protect your investment and yourself. Read Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

If you need more help planning your trip, be sure to check out our Step by Step Trip Planning Guide where we break down our process for getting the trip planning process right every single time.

About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. We are also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read our disclosure page

Leave a Comment

Divergent Travelers- Adventure Travel Blog