In this year’s Editors’ Choice Award category for Best Carry-on Bag of 2017, we set out to determine the very best carry-on bag currently available for U.S. travelers. Our baseline criteria was that each of the nominees must weigh no more than 10 pounds, cost no more than $500, and be no taller than 22 inches. The competition was fierce.
Best Carry-on Bags of 2017: The Methodology
Starting with a field of nearly two dozen 2017-model carry-on bags that met our criteria, we subjected fully packed versions of each carry-on bag to a road test that included stairs, smooth surfaces, uneven pavement, steep hills, gravel, and dirt surfaces. Nominees in the Best Carry-on Bags of 2017 category were also tested for comfort and ease of use while being lifted into overhead compartments. Finally, these carry-on bags were tested for durability.
We determined our three finalists and six semi-finalists based upon overall performance, features, and value. Here are the Editors’ Choice and Readers’ Picks winners.
With so much variation in features, weight, and extras, perfection in carry-on form is highly individual. Each of these nine carry-on suitcases offers something that could make it the perfect bag for you.
Note: Because the threatened changes to domestic airline carry-on size appear unlikely to occur in the near future, and because many travelers value maximum space in a carry-on bag, we included carry-on bags up to 22 inches in our tests.
Editors’ Choice Winner: Eagle Creek Tarmac
Eagle Creek’s Tarmac carry-on is a rugged bag with a sleek look. It has plenty of pockets and organizational details like the coat-keeper strap and an integrated padded sleeve for electronics. Its two heavy-duty wheels roll well on uneven surfaces ranging from cobblestones to gravel, and the zippers and fabric hold up in rough conditions without showing much wear.
This carry-on bag also has useful touches like contrasting interior lining (to make it easier to find items), organizational pockets inside the larger exterior pocket, and reflective accents on the outside of the bag for nighttime safety. At 6 pounds, 12 ounces, this is the lightest of the finalists—a major benefit for anyone trying to maximize packing weight, or who has trouble hoisting heavier bags. The Tarmac costs just under $300.
Readers’ Pick Winner: TravelPro Crew 20-Inch Expandable Business Plus Rollaboard
TravelPro has long been a favorite among frequent travelers and flight crews, and this 20-inch, two-wheeled carry-on bag highlights some of brand’s best features.
Its no-nonsense interior has a deep single main compartment and a single zippered upper compartment. Its exterior pocket has padded and lined pockets for electronics and other items—including an RFID pocket—that make it easy to forgo the personal item and consolidate your in-flight luggage into a single carry-on bag. It glides easily and doesn’t tip. It has a USB port and easy-access pocket for a charger. At 8.2 pounds, it’s the heaviest of the finalists, but around $185, it’s also the least expensive.
Finalist: Genius Pack G3
Super-organized travelers love the built-in compartments of the Genius Pack G3 22-inch Carry-on Spinner. Its there’s-a-place-for-everything approach means there are exterior pockets for drinks, umbrellas, jackets, and phones (with a stow pocket for a charging pack). The interior has an integrated packing list; mesh pockets for electronics, underthings, and more; and the brand’s signature laundry-compression sack, keeps dirty clothes separate and compact. The four-wheeled spinner glides easily on smooth surfaces. The carry on weighs 7.8 pounds and costs just under $250.
Buy It: Genius Pack
Briggs & Riley International Carry-On
The 21-inch Briggs and Riley International Carry-On Expandable Wide-Body Upright carry-on bag was among our favorites, but ultimately missed the top three for two reasons—its higher price tag ($499) and heavier weight (9.3 pounds). But there’s so much that’s great about this bag that it’s certainly worth serious consideration.
This suitcase stands out with its CX compression technology, which allows you to make the bag larger, zip it closed, and then press down to compress once everything is safely stowed. It feels like a high-quality suitcase, with smooth-rolling zippers and abrasion-resistant ballistic nylon. Thanks to its two-wheeled wide body construction, it handles corners like a champ. It has just enough pockets, plus details like a place to tuck items on the outside of the bag.
Though it got squeezed out of the top three spots in the final round of testing, the Osprey Ozone 22-inch is still one of our favorite of the carry-on bags we tested. Here’s why: For years, we’ve searched for an ultra-light-weight carry-on that was also incredibly durable. As more airlines start weighing carry-ons, it becomes increasingly important to make the most of every pound. And since carry-on travel requires hoisting the bag into overhead bins, for many people, lighter is better. Most of the time, you have to sacrifice one for the other, but the Osprey delivers both. At 4.4 pounds, it was by far the lightest weight bag of the group.
Osprey is best known for its backpacks—and its utterly devoted following—so it makes sense that in its materials and design, this two-wheeled carry-on would feel similar to a very well made pack. But this outdoorsy vibe may not appeal to all travelers. What will appeal, though, are the organizational pockets, the clever back pocket, its smooth ride and ability to handle uneven surfaces in stride, and the $230 price tag.
Raden A22 Carry
The hard-sided Raden A22 Carry was named one of Oprah’s favorite things of 2016, and is an elegant and high-tech travel companion. With a built-in charger, a handle that measures the weight of the bag (really), and tracking capabilities, it’s by far the most technologically advanced bag in our 2017 Editors’ Choice Awards category for Best Carry-On Bag.
This four-wheeler glides/pulls smoothly on a variety of surfaces, though the height of the wheels makes it tricky if you’re the type of person who drags (instead of carries) your bag down flights of stairs. The carry-on bag’s zippers have a protective sheath, which protects well against dust, sand, and other zipper-clogging nuisances. The hard-sided exterior is made to be strong, and withstands impacts and drops well. But like all hard-sided bags, this one shows scratches and dust more than soft-sided luggage. At 8.4 pounds and around $300, this bag is middle of the pack for both weight and price.
EBags, which sells a variety of well-known brands in addition to its own line, knows a lot about carry-on bags. The company has harnessed its knowledge in its EBags line, which combines popular features with affordability. That’s certainly the case with its TLS 22-Inch Expandable Wheeled Carry-On. The $199 bag feels sturdy, has an impressive expanded-capacity option, and has enough pockets to feel useful—but not enough to lose your stuff in.
It can be dragged down stairs easily without flipping, handles uneven surfaces well, and has optional straps that can convert it from a carry-on bag into a backpack. It doesn’t feel fancy, but it does have many thoughtful touches like orange interior lining (so you can more easily find things) and a rugged, hard-sided back for added protection.
Samsonite Silhouette Spinner
Long a road-warrior standard, Samsonite is prized among frequent travelers for its reliability and touches that make long hours on the road comfortable and convenient. The Silhouette XV 21-Inch Spinner doesn’t have as many flashy, high-tech extras as some of the other bags in our Editors’ Choice Award category for Best Carry-on Bag of 2017, but it’s so well designed that you may not even notice.
Its telescoping handle is the best of the bunch by far, with seven settings for height and a curved, padded, ultra-comfortable handle. Its four wheels glide/pull easily across surfaces both smooth and rough. And while it doesn’t have padded pockets for electronics, it does offer enough pockets—including a snap-out waterproof pocket in the main compartment—to satisfy most travelers. With a price tag of about $150, it’s also on the more affordable side.
The 21.7-inch Away suitcase was designed to be a carry-on bag that has the same features as a luxury bag but at a more affordable price. The Away carry-on costs $225 and weighs in at a relatively light 7 pounds. It doesn’t feel like a luxury bag, but it does have functional versions of many of the fancier features you’d find on significantly higher-priced bags, including an embedded battery and charging cord and USB ports that can be covered when they’re not being used. Like other hard-sided bags, this one shows scratches where it has rubbed on concrete curbs and the like.
Buy It: Away
More from SmarterTravel:
- Best in Travel: The 2017 SmarterTravel Editors’ Choice and Readers’ Picks Winners
- Best Free Airline Amenity 2017
- Best Travel Products of 2017
- Best Oddball Products that Actually Work
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