Packing is an art. It takes serious skill, along with the perfect bag, to fit everything you need in carry-on luggage. In this article, I walk you my top picks for the best carry on luggages out there!
Packing only in a carry-on or cabin luggage has huge benefits as it allows you to skip baggage claim when landing in a new place and avoid treacherous luggage handlers who throw your bag around.
To help you pack a little lighter and take advantage of carry-on bag allowances, here are our top picks for every kind of carry-on luggage. These cabin luggage can fit everything you need for a trip across the country or around the world!
- 1 Our Picks for Best Carry-on Luggage 2021
- 2 Which Type of Cabin Luggage Should You Buy?
- 3 What to Look for in Carry-on Luggage
- 4 Best Hard Shell Carry-on Luggage
- 5 Best Soft Shell Carry-on Luggage
- 6 Best Carry-on Backpacks
- 7 Must-Have Carry-on Accessories
- 8 Making Sure Your Cabin Luggage Works for You
Our Picks for Best Carry-on Luggage 2021
- Best Hard Shell Carry-on Luggage: DELSEY Helium Aero Hardside Luggage
- Best Soft Shell Carry-on Luggage: Briggs & Riley Baseline Upright Luggage
- Best Carry-on Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 40
- Best Budget Carry-on Bag: AmazonBasics Hardside Spinner Luggage
- Best Carry-on with Added Features: REYLEO Softside Spinner Luggage
- Best Roller Bag Alternative: Travelpro Luggage Maxlite Carry-on Rolling Duffel Suitcase
- Most Stylish Carry-on Bag: American Tourister Moonlight Expandable Hardside Luggage
- Most Versatile Carry-on Bag: Deuter Transit 40 Carry-on Travel Backpack
Which Type of Cabin Luggage Should You Buy?
With so many carry-on luggage options available, it can be confusing to figure out which type of bag is right for you.
Here are some basics on the different types of carry-on luggage and the benefits of each kind of bag.
Hard Shell Carry-on Luggage
First, we’ve got our hard shell luggage. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a bag with a hard shell.
Hard shell roller bags are a great option because they allow you to pack what you need and have it be protected by the tough exterior. These bags are durable, good-looking, and should hold everything you need for a quick vacation or business trip.
The downside to hard shell luggage is that the frame is rigid, so there’s no room for stuffing that extra dress in. What you see is what you get in terms of size, so you must pack accordingly. These bags also tend to be the heaviest option.
That said, hard shell luggage offers greater protection than most carry-ons because of the solid casing it provides.
Soft Shell Carry-on Luggage
The alternative to luggage with a hard exterior is a roller bag that’s soft on the outside. These bags are more malleable than hard shell luggage, and tend to be more lightweight as well.
Soft shell luggage is ideal for the overpacker because you’re able to stuff as much as you want in the bag, as long as it closes. The frame isn’t fixed the way it is in a hard shell so you’re able to push it with the maximum capacity.
Soft shell cabin luggage is not only limited to roller bags but can include duffels as well! So, if you’d rather throw your bag over your shoulder than drag it behind you, you’re sure to find a soft shell duffel bag that fits your need.
The only problem with soft shell luggage is it may not be as durable as a bag with a hard shell. That said, quality is the key to durability! If you choose a bag made of top-of-the-line materials, you should be just fine, no matter what kind of shell it has.
Finally, we’ve got the classic backpack. Using a backpack for a cabin luggage is practical and versatile.
For world travelers, packing in backpacks is one of the best options. Not only will you be able to navigate hands0free while carrying your luggage, you’ll be able to travel over rough terrain and up stairs more easily than those who are traveling with roller bags.
While there’s a time and place for everything, backpacks tend to be timeless. If you choose the right bag, you should be able to fit everything you need for your trip inside, as well as valuables and other items that are essential to your travels.
The only trick is you need to pack light!
Besides being limited in what you can take with you, using a backpack as a carry-on luggage can get old fast as you have to lug everything on your back through the airport and to your destination afterwards. No problem if you’re a light packer, but if the bag is stuffed full, you may end up with an aching back.
What to Look for in Carry-on Luggage
No matter which type of carry-on bag you choose, here are some key things to look for.
On most airlines, the standard carry-on bag can’t exceed 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches, including the handle and wheels. Now, not all airlines have the same carry-on bag size restrictions, but these are pretty good dimensions to use as a basis if you’re not sure where to start.
Size is probably the most important factor.
If your bag is too small, you won’t be able to fit what you need — but too big and it won’t qualify as a carry-on. When purchasing a bag for carry-on purposes, it’s imperative to check the size and check it again to be sure you’ll be able to take it on the plane with you.
Weight is another main concern. Besides size, airlines also have restrictions on how heavy your cabin luggage can be. Be sure to check with the specific airline you’re flying to know their specific weight limits.
Having a lightweight carry-on bag is ideal because you’re able to take more along with you. If your bag is particularly heavy, you’re going to run into trouble when it’s full and weighs a ton. Plus, having a lighter bag means less hassle when moving from place to place or storing your luggage in overhead bins.
In terms of the luggage itself, it’s important to take the interior of the bag into account. Some of the best roller bags (in my opinion) have more than one compartment for packing, rather than forcing you to stuff everything into the empty shell.
Consider opting for luggage that allows you to pack in both halves of the bag, and has a mechanism to secure your belongings so they don’t shuffle around while in transit. This mechanism can vary greatly but the most common ones are an elastic belt secured with clips to hold your clothes in place or a zippered flap that turns one of the sides of the bag into a large pocket.
If you choose to use a backpack as your cabin luggage, you should choose one with lots of pockets and compartments so that you’re able to stay organized while on the go. It’s also useful to have a laptop sleeve!
You should also look for carry-on luggage that has various handles throughout the bag.
For roller bags, the most obvious is the extendable handle that allows you to move around with the bag with ease. A good telescopic handle is best as it will extend to allow you to pull or push your bag easily but also collapse to be half the height.
Besides the main handle, having a grab handle on top and on the side of the bag is nice for when you have to lift it into the overhead bin or into the trunk of a taxi.
Four Wheels vs. Two Wheels
Finally, for rolling luggage, you should decide whether you want a bag that has four wheels or two.
Having a bag with four wheels is more and more common these days, as well as wildly convenient when moving from place to place. Because there are two extra wheels, you’re able to decide whether you want to push or pull your bag along. It also creates a more agile bag as you’re able to maneuver much more easily than you are with a bag that has two wheels.
But what’s the downside to having extra wheels? The internal space in your bag takes a hit, as there’s extra room needed for the additional wheels.
If space really is your biggest concern and you don’t mind pulling your luggage along behind you, you can go for a bag that has two wheels. Besides having some extra space inside these bags, they also tend to be a bit less expensive than those with four wheels.
Best Hard Shell Carry-on Luggage
Hard shell carry-ons are a super solid option because the tough outside will protect the contents in your luggage, as well as contribute to long lasting durability of the bag itself. Packing in luggage with a hard shell is extra convenient because most bags of this type open like a book, giving you two sides to pack on rather than a single deep interior.
While these bags may be a little heavier, they’re totally worth it if you’re looking for cabin luggage that’s going to last for several years down the road.
Here are some of our favorite hard-sided bags that you’re able to use as a carry-on!
Hard Shell Carry-on Suitcase: Comparison Table
Samsonite Omni Expandable Hardside Luggage $$ 20 x 14.5 x 9.8 inches 6.81 lbs AmazonBasics Hardside Spinner Luggage $ 21.6 x 14.4 x 9.2 inches 9.13 lbs DELSEY Helium Aero Hardside Luggage $$$ 21 x 14.5 x 10 inches 8.4 lbs American Tourister Moonlight Expandable Hardside Luggage $$ 22 x 15 x 9.5 inches 8.2 lbs
Starting off our hard-shell reviews is luggage powerhouse Samsonite, which is well-known for making unbeatable roller bags. This bag is no exception. It’s a real fan favorite with over 1,500 5-star reviews on Amazon!
The Samsonite Omni carry-on bag features a hard exterior, four spinner wheels and a built-in TSA lock for moments when your luggage is out of your eyesight. Not only will you be able to navigate freely with this roller bag, you’ll be amazed at the convenience it provides thanks to its incredibly lightweight build and thoughtfully-placed handles.
Packing in the spacious interior is a breeze with this bag.
One side is a zippered mesh compartment, allowing you to carefully tuck away clothes or personal items. The main perk of this compartment being covered by mesh is that it allows you to see your contents clearly while keeping them packed away. On the other side is an open panel secured with an elastic strap, keeping everything in place while rolling around.
Coming in nine showstopping colors, you’ll be sure to find one that’s suited to your personal style. Keeping everything inside safe and sound is a guarantee with this bag, and it’s sure to be your go-to the next time you pack in a carry-on only!
If you’re looking for a budget carry-on roller bag, this one made by AmazonBasics will get you from one place to another without breaking the bank.
Just because this bag is made by Amazon rather than a big brand name doesn’t mean that quality is sacrificed here. In fact, this bag is an extremely durable option that’s dependable and spacious — perfect for all of your traveling needs!
This bag comes fully equipped with spinner wheels for easy navigation of airplane aisles and city streets, and the telescoping handle is smooth and seamless to use.
There are two components of this bag that set it apart.
First, it’s expandable! You’re able to pack up to 15% more in this bag when it’s expanded to full capacity. Second, there are pockets. This is something rarely found in hard-sided luggage, and is a serious luxury when it comes to packing. There are three zippered pockets on the inside of the bag that allow you to organize everything just the way you like it.
While this bag is a rather small one, it’s a solid budget carry-on option, and even comes in 4 colors.
Frequent travelers absolutely rave about DELSEY’s line of luggage and the hardsided Helium Aero carry-on doesn’t fall short.
This hardside bag has all the basics like four spinner wheels that move silently while you roll the bag, a flat opening that makes packing quick and painless, and dual handles to allow you to lift your bag with ease. Beyond the basics, this bag is flawlessly designed with an external TSA lock, 2-inch expandable section, and a sleek design that’s sure to turn heads.
But the best part about the design of this bag is that it includes a large zippered front compartment to fit personal items that you may need to access quickly. There’s even a padded laptop sleeve that will fit a 15-inch computer! Seriously, you’d be hard pressed to find a better designed bag.
This hardside bag is spacious, stylish and highly sought after by travelers around the world. Take your pick from nine different colors and enjoy traveling just a little bit more!
If style is the name of the game, this bag takes the cake. Coming in vibrant patterns and colors, this is certainly the most attractive carry-on bag on this list!
The American Tourister carry-on is highly functional with its spinner wheels, locking handle, and complete opening. But it goes above and beyond with the extras incorporated into this gorgeous hardside bag.
This bag expands an inch and a half to give you that extra space for bringing home souvenirs or fitting in that extra pair of shoes. Besides that, the inside is fully lined and comes complete with a mesh compartment, as well as straps to keep your clothes in one place.
If that isn’t enough, American Tourister’s bags even come with a 10-year limited warranty when it comes to material defects and workmanship. You’ll never have to worry if something isn’t quite right with your bag!
Oh, and did we mention that this bag is GORGEOUS!?
Best Soft Shell Carry-on Luggage
Soft shell luggage is another great carry-on option as it offers a more flexible bag to work with, as well as a lightweight body and often more pockets than the hard shell alternative.
Unlike hard shell luggage, soft shell bags tend to feature a deeper packing space on one side of the bag instead of opening like a book and allowing you to pack on both sides. There are pros and cons to this, with the biggest upside being internal pockets on the back of the opening flap.
Here are some awesome soft shell carry-on bags for all of your lightweight travel needs.
Soft Shell Carry-on Bags: Comparison Table
Briggs & Riley Baseline Upright Luggage $$$$ 22 x 14 x 9 inches 8.8 lbs REYLEO Softside Spinner Luggage $ 21.6 x 14.5 x 7.8 inches 5.7 lbs Travelpro Platinum Elite 21" Expandable Carry-on $$$ 23.5 x 14.5 x 9 inches 7.8 lbs Travelpro Luggage Maxlite Carry-on Rolling Duffel Suitcase $$ 20.5 x 13 x 10 inches 4.84 lbs
King of soft shell luggage, Biggs & Riley makes a totally kick-ass carry-on roller bag with some seriously unbeatable features.
Made of super strong nylon, the exterior of this bag is water-resistant, wicks away dirt, and will stop any tears from happening if the bag gets caught on something sharp. The internal frame is made of fiber glass which offers additional protection while helping to retain the bag’s shape.
Besides the main pocket, with this bag you’re getting a large front pocket and two stash pockets. These pockets give you quick access to essential items while traveling, like a boarding pass or passport. There are also more pockets inside the front flap of the main compartment for storing personal items.
If you’re traveling for business, this is a perfect bag because of the fold-out suit hanger. You’re able to pack your nicest clothes without fear of them wrinkling while in transit!
The handle of this bag is ultra durable and stops at four different heights, and the bag itself expands to offer 25% (!!!) more packing space! Finally, you get a lifetime performance warranty with this bag (which helps justify the hefty price tag) that even covers damage caused by an airline.
Pretty good deal, huh?
A roller bag for those traveling with lots of tech, the REYLEO softside spinner bag is the perfect vestibule for storing all of your gadgets safely.
The outside of this bag is crafted from nylon which is water-resistant and durable for long-time use. It also contributes to the bag being exceptionally lightweight, making it ideal for frequent travel.
This bag also has the basics like a telescoping handle that has three adjustable heights, as well as spinner wheels that move 360° and allow you to take your bag in any direction. There’s also a built-in TSA lock for extra protection!
Now, for the major perks that come with this killer roller bag.
First, you’ve got three pockets on the front of the bag for extra storage. Not only will they fit your travel documents, but they’ll hold a book, laptop or tablet as well.
When you open up the bag, there’s some internal organization behind the front flap. Here, you’ll find two zippered pockets, and two slip pockets that will fit a notebook, books or a tablet. The other side of the bag is ideal for storing clothes, with two elastic straps to hold everything in place.
One of the best parts of this bag is that it comes with two USB ports to keep your devices fully juiced up while on the go. You have to attach your own power bank, but there’s a designated side slot for holding it and connecting it to the suitcase.
Weighing less than 6 pounds and coming with the 3-year warranty, this soft shell bag will make traveling that much easier.
For business travelers and vacationers alike, this carry-on bag is a most practical choice when it comes to fitting in everything you need for a trip.
Travelpro really pulled out all the stops on their Platinum Elite bag, combining the best aspects of different pieces of luggage and morphing them into a superior carry-on bag.
Besides spinner wheels and a telescoping handle that stops at 4 heights, this bag is crafted with premium materials and has thoughtful touches throughout. This bag is completed with genuine leather details that give the bag a sleek and polished look, as well as durable zippers and well thought-out compartments.
The front of the bag has a large pocket that unzips all the way and then two smaller ones on top of this pocket, perfect for storing flat items of ones that you need to access at a moments notice. When you open the bag all the way, you have plenty of packing options as there are mesh pockets for organization throughout the interior as well as a removable pouch for toiletries.
This carry-on allows you to pack your clothes wrinkle-free as it comes fully equipped with a fold-out suiter that’s perfect for clothes that need to be hung. This is ideal for those traveling for business or special events.
A last perk of this bag is there’s a USB port and a fold-out pocket for attaching a power bank. Skip the search for crowded airport outlets, and stay plugged in as you roll along.
Not all soft-siders are made equal, or in traditional roller bag fashion. This Travelpro carry-on bag is a hybrid between a duffel and a rolling luggage, giving you versatility when it comes to toting a bag along.
Ideal for light packers, this duffel bag on wheels will fit everything you need for a quick weekend away or a summer trip (all you really need are bathing suits, right?). Carry-on compatible, this bag is treated to be not only durable but water and stain-resistant as well. This means it can accompany you on any adventure!
With two wheels and a collapsible handle, you can pull this bag along behind you or use the stationary straps to carry it like a traditional duffel bag.
The interior of this bag is roomy. and comes with zippered pockets for extra organization. Meanwhile, the outside also has additional padded compartments for storing anything else you may need.
This duffel bag hybrid is super sleek-looking, lightweight and the ideal carry-on size. It even comes with a one-year warranty that will cover the cost of repair from any damage caused by an airline!
This is an awesome option if you’re not into the traditional roller bags. Certainly a sound investment in our books.
Best Carry-on Backpacks
A last option for carry-on bags is a backpack.
Traveling with a carry-on backpack is a super convenient option because you’ll have your hands free when you need them. They also stow a little easier than rolling luggage (i.e. stick ’em under the seat in front of you instead of the overhead bin), and often have a variety of options for carrying.
When choosing a backpack, it’s important to make sure it’s a durable option. This way, you can stuff it full if you need to and not worry about it falling apart on you.
Here are our favorite carry-on backpacks that will fit all of your stuff! These aren’t your typical backpacks, but instead are ideal for traveling without any additional luggage.
Carry-on Backpacks: Comparison Table
If you’ve read our other gear articles, you know how much we love Osprey bags at Adventure in You. They’re super high quality, dependable, long lasting and accompany us on all of our adventures.
Out of all of Osprey’s backpacks, the Farpoint 40 is the best for carry-on use. Packing is completely hassle-free with this bag! Instead of being top-loading like most traditional backpacks, it actually opens up like a suitcase to allow you to see what you’re working with all at once.
There are tons of other pockets and compartments throughout this backpack that make it extra practical when it comes to organizing. There’s even a padded laptop sleeve to keep your computer safe and sound.
Besides the backpack and hip straps (which fold into a back panel when you want them hidden), there are also carry handles on the top and side of this bag, giving you options when it comes to lugging it around.
Choose from red or black and be amazed at how practical the Farpoint 40 is for carry-on use! For a more in-depth look at this bag, check out our Osprey Farpoint 40L review.
While we’re riding the Osprey wave, another great carry-on backpack option from them is the Meridian 60L which is not only a backpack but a backpack on wheels!
Similar to the Farpoint, this backpack opens like a standard piece of luggage, giving you quick access to the entire interior without having to dig around. On the inside of the front flap, there are two zippered mesh pockets for storing smaller items and one on the side of the interior as well.
The spacious packing compartment has tie-down straps to keep your belongings in place, whether you’re rolling the bag or carrying it on your back.
When using this bag as a piece of rolling luggage, you can tuck the backpack harness into a zippered compartment on the back of the bag. Thus, the straps stay hidden and out of the way. They’re easily accessible for slinging the bag over your shoulder, but you can also carry the Meridian by the side or top carry handles as well.
One of the best parts about this bag is that it comes with a detachable daypack for packing valuables or carrying separately. The daypack has a 15-inch padded laptop sleeve and tons of extra organization for keeping personal items separate from your clothing.
If you’re looking for durability, convenience and versatility, this is the ideal carry-on backpack for you! To learn more about the Meridian 60L, read our in-depth review.
If you’re worried about weight but still need that extra bit of room to pack, this travel backpack is an awesome choice. With an extremely spacious interior, lots of pockets and weighing only 2.6 pounds, the Hynes Eagle Travel Backpack is a solid pick for a carry-on bag.
This 40-liter backpack opens like a suitcase, and has a deep main internal compartment for packing clothes. You can hold everything in place (and stuff a few extra items) with the built-in compression straps which are long enough to wrap around anything you toss in the backpack.
Besides the main compartment, there’s a middle organizer pocket which has two padded sleeves. One fits a 15-inch laptop, and one fits a tablet. In this pocket, you can also fit books or a notebook, or whatever else you’ll want to grab quickly.
There’s also a front organizer pocket on this backpack with a D-shaped zipper so that you don’t have to dig around from the top to find what you’re looking for inside. This pocket has slots that are perfect for storing your passport, power bank, cellphone and other small items.
Finally, you’ve even got a side pocket for a water bottle.
Besides shoulder straps, this backpack also has a chest and waist belt for an enhanced carrying experience. But if you’d rather these straps be hidden, you can tuck them away into the back panel. There are side and top handles on this bag, so you have a fair share of options when it comes to moving around with this backpack.
Stick this bad boy under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin, and be amazed at all that it can hold!
Our final backpack option is the ever solid and extremely durable, Deuter Transit 40 liter.
Built with practicality and durability in mind, this backpack is able to accompany you on airplanes all across the globe. Crafted from super durable materials, the Deuter Transit 40L allows you to fit up to 35 pounds of stuff inside! With the large main compartment accessible by a U-shaped zipper, you’re able to fit everything you need for a short or long trip.
The separate zippered compartment on the bottom is the ideal place for stashing shoes or dirty laundry. Meanwhile, the front compartments are perfect for valuables and items you need to have on hand. This backpack comes complete with a laptop sleeve, so you won’t have to worry about keeping your computer safe while on the go.
Our favorite part about this backpack is the wide range of carrying options. When you opt to have it on your back, you’ll feel at ease as the shoulder straps are padded, as is the back of the backpack. There’s a chest and waist strap as well, further assisting in carrying heavy loads.
When you want to stow the backpack, hide the shoulder straps in the back panel and carry the bag with either the top or side carry handles. A last option is to attach the separate long strap and carry the backpack on a single shoulder or across your body like a duffel bag. How handy is that?
This is an incredibly dependable option that will be able to accompany you on the most rugged adventures!
Must-Have Carry-on Accessories
Besides the cabin luggage itself, there are a few essential carry-on accessories that will make traveling with a single bag infinitely easier.
The first (and probably most essential) item for packing in a carry-on bag: packing cubes!
Using cubes to pack is a serious game changer because they keep you organized and fit much more than just packing in the bag itself.
Packing cubes come in all shapes, styles and sizes and finding the perfect ones may be a little tricky. Generally, it’s ideal to get a lightweight set of different sizes that will compress your clothing and fit comfortably in whatever carry-on bag you choose.
For more on these handy items, read our complete guide to packing cubes.
Besides packing cubes, it’s also nice to have a toiletry bag so that your bathroom items aren’t loose in your carry-on. Plus, it’ll be much easier to pull out a single bag when going through security rather than rounding up all your items and throwing them in a bin.
I’m a huge fan of hanging toiletry bags because they tend to fit a decent amount, and are easy to use when you get to your destination.
When flying, most airlines will allow you one carry-on bag and one personal item.
A personal item can range from a backpack to a small tote bag or purse. The kind you choose depends on your personal preference, but I recommend using a lightweight collapsible backpack or tote. You can stuff this additional bag with travel essentials for easy access, but tuck away in your luggage when you don’t need it.
Making Sure Your Cabin Luggage Works for You
There are a couple things to consider when it comes to making sure you have the perfect carry-on bag for your travels.
The first is whether you’re mainly traveling domestically or internationally. The size and weight restrictions of carry-on bags vary based on whether you’re flying across the country or across the world. Thus, it’s important to make sure that you have a bag suitable for the kind of travel you’ll be doing.
And as always, be sure to check with the individual airline for their specific policies before flying.
Another important factor in making sure that you have the right bag is the unique aspects each provide. Do you need a laptop compartment? A place to pack a suit? Thinking about individual needs is important when it comes to making sure your carry-on bag is right for you.
Finally, having a bag that offers some versatility is best.
If you’re a frequent traveler going to far-flung places, you may want a bag that gives multiple carry options, like wheels, straps and handles. That way you’ll always be able to maneuver your bag with ease instead of struggling through different terrains.
One last tip: be sure to read our complete guide on how to pack a carry-on bag like a pro!
So there you have it — all of your carry-on luggage options for traveling far and wide! Hopefully you’ve found a bag on this list that will be your new travel companion.
Have a carry-on bag that wasn’t mentioned but you absolutely love? Drop a comment below to let us know.
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