As more travelers opt to avoid checking suitcases by traveling lighter, carry-on luggage becomes an increasingly important part of a traveler’s toolkit. After decades of design stagnancy, suitcase manufacturers are once again bringing new life to carry-ons, adding organizational details, ergonomic touches, and tech-forward features. We’ve put a fresh crop of suitcases through extensive testing to rank and rate our editors’ choice best carry-on luggage of 2018.
In our best new carry-ons for 2018 category we tested new-this-year bags that were 22 inches or shorter and cost less than $600. Through extensive testing, we assessed durability, strengths, and weaknesses. We also compared notable features, size/weight, price, ease of packing, and style, culminating in reviews of the nine finalist suitcases. From this pool we selected a gold, silver, and bronze winner. Since each of the suitcases had winning qualities, we’ve given you details of how each performed in our tests.
Editor’s note: For the latest version of this story, see The Best New Carry-on Luggage 2019.
Gold: Samsonite: Armage 19″ Spinner
The Armage 19-Inch Spinner from Samsonite scores top marks for dependable functionality, attractive detailing, and plenty of useful extras.
Because it has one deep compartment (plus zippered lid compartments), it feels roomier than a suitcase that splits the packing sections into two. Zippered compartments (three on the lid, one along the long side of the body, plus a snap-in waterproof pouch large enough for a swimsuit or two) add to the organizational options without getting too fussy.
When tipped onto two wheels, it takes corners well, handles stairs like a champ, and bounces over uneven surfaces easily. As a four-wheeled suitcase, it glides easily on smooth surfaces. The handle system can be adjusted to eight different heights, and when combined with the padded handle, makes for a comfortable carrying experience.
Though it’s billed as a 19-inch suitcase, that measurement refers to the interior packing dimensions; the full height with wheels (what the airlines care about) is 21.7 inches. However, since most U.S. airlines allow carry-ons up to 22 inches, it remains a useful carry-on option–and one that’s actually large enough to accommodate packing for up to a week or even longer.
Small enough to be a carry-on, but structurally sound enough to withstand being checked, this adaptable carry-on has useful additional features like exterior USB ports (you stow your own charger inside the lining of the main compartment) and a TSA-approved cable lock that seems to miraculously disappear into the lining of the suitcase when not in use.
Silver: Away The Carry-On with Pocket
The much-hyped Away Carry-On with Pocket is worth the fanfare. With a built-in laundry bag, battery pack, inner laptop pouch, and TSA lock, this bag has a lot of worthwhile features. It fits a lot of stuff and isn’t difficult to close when overfilled. The inner pouch serves a dual purpose: To carry electronics and to squish down your clothes. While the front pocket holds a lot, it’s not wide enough to comfortably reach into. The bag’s understated design is sleek and stylish, but inconspicuous enough not to turn heads.
The exterior of the bag gets scuffed easily but is fairly flexible and durable. The lock takes a bit of time to start working. Airline employees quickly recognize the Away bag’s signature battery pack, even though the battery is concealed underneath the handle. You might be asked to remove the battery pack even if you put this bag in the overhead compartment. However, the battery pack is easy to eject and carry in your personal item.
The bag is a bit heavy, but not bulky or difficult to lift, and it fits the dimensions of most major U.S. airlines.
Bronze: North Face Stratoliner-M
Gimmick-free and sleek, the 20-inch Stratoliner-M from North Face is a minimalist carry-on dream. It trades four spinner wheels for two unidirectional wheels and utilizes that extra few inches to maximize interior packing space. What it lacks in bells and whistles it more than makes up for in packing volume and excellent construction. And really, isn’t that the very foundation of a great carry-on suitcase?
The exterior is far more modern and elegant—think recessed zippers and slightly tapered corners—than one might expect from an outdoors-focused brand. The Stratoliner-M has a zippered clamshell interior, two exterior zippered pockets, a two-point-adjustable telescoping handle, and the unusual addition of carrying handles on all four sides of the bag. Its classic lines and durable exterior will make it a trusted travel favorite for many years to come.
Finalist: Delsey Turenne International Carry-On Spinner
At 4.8 pounds, Delsey’s Turenne weighs in as the lightest of this crop of new-for-2018 carry-ons. But it hasn’t sacrificed functionality or style in pursuit of its lightweight structure. The Turenne doesn’t have the unbending rigidity of traditional hardside suitcases; instead, it shaves weight while maintaining strength with a thin but durable virgin polycarbonate shell. The exterior is mostly matte, with a subtle monochrome pattern that adds a bit of gloss; additional detailing keeps this French brand’s latest suitcase looking elegant.
The Turenne’s telescoping handle is fairly simple, with no handle padding or added structure for strength, but it does have two locking heights. Nimble double-spinner wheels take on corners, stairs, and uneven surfaces without issue. And the internal clamshell design with zippers offers a measure of built-in organization.
The suitcase holds enough for several days—or more if you’re willing to pack strategically. Its zippers—which have a double layer of zip—are advertised as being significantly stronger than regular zippers; in our tests, they required a firm hand to zip, but held up well to repetitive opening and closing. The built-in, TSA-approved lock sits flush with the bag’s exterior, and tucked away in the back is each bag’s unique identification code, which—when registered—allows anyone who finds the bag to report it to Delsey, which will alert you. It also comes with unattached laundry and shoe bags.
The Turenne is an attractive, lightweight, hardsided carry-on with enough features to keep it modern but not so many that it feels gimmicky.
Finalist: Eagle Creek Morphus International Carry-on
It’s not every day you meet a carry-on that forces you to rethink the entire suitcase concept. But the Morphus International Carry-on does just that. It’s a three-in-one bag: a rolling carry-on, a carry-on backpack, and, most surprisingly, a twofer: a 32-liter carry-on and a 35-liter backpack that can be separated to more than double your storage capacity during your journey.
It’s a great bag, but it’s not for everyone, and it definitely takes getting used to—starting with forcing you to think through the packing stages of a trip. Will you be bringing more stuff on the way over or the way back? At what point do you want to split your options? Once you decide on your game plan, there’s also some complicated zippering that requires patience to master.
The backpack is comfortable enough to be a daypack during the trip, which offers another way of making the most of your options. And that’s the thing: You could pretty much always use them as two separate units and have gotten two for one in the suitcase-buying process.
Travelers who adjust their thinking and embrace this suitcase are likely to become huge fans.
Additional features like a super organized front tech pocket, kickstand for greater rolling carry-on stability, and padded laptop storage up the functionality of this carry-on suitcase. And it’s light: At 5.4 pounds, it’s the second lightest of the bunch—a bonus for hauling, lifting, and staying under airline weight limits.
Finalist: eBags Fortis Pro Traveler Hardside Spinner Carry-On
At about $200, the 22-inch Fortis Pro Traveler spinner is the least expensive of the finalists—but a lower price tag doesn’t mean settling for less. The high-gloss hardside exterior has a ribbed pattern, which gives it a sleek look and disguises little bumps or bruises that happen during travel. It also offers something that many hardsided suitcases can’t: the ability to expand to fit more stuff via a zip-out accordion section that offers an additional 1.5 inches. It has a TSA-approved lock built into the body and a neatly tucked-away external USB port. Inside, a netted zippered pouch stows the USB wire and offers a place to stash your battery pack.
The Fortis Pro’s interior offers a standard clamshell design with a twist: one side of the clamshell is zippered, while the other has a divided interior and compression straps to keep items in place—but the compression straps aren’t straps at all. Instead, they’re two shallow zippered compartments (one netted, one water-resistant) that can be packed as an additional layer on top of items stored below, and then secured with a buckle to keep items from shifting. The suitcase also comes with a separate, unattached laundry bag.
The Fortis handles well, and takes corners without tipping. It’s roomy (and it offers the chance to be roomier, though you’ll want to keep carry-on size restrictions in mind if you’re expanding the bag).
Finalist: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21” Expandable Carry-On Spinner
The attractive Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Carry-on Spinner offers plenty of space as well as some appealing extras—such as a matching garment bag, a zip-out clear toiletry bag, and a side compartment with a built-in USB cord where you can store your own external power pack for charging devices. The two small accessory pouches that intrude into the main compartment of the bag are a nice idea, but should be detachable for travelers who don’t find them useful.
As you’d expect of a bag at this price point, the suitcase is made of durable, high-quality materials. The wheels generally roll smoothly, though on uneven surfaces it works better to roll the suitcase behind you rather than alongside or in front. The bag has numerous compartments to help keep you organized.
This bag is at the larger end of the carry-on scale, so you can easily fit a week’s worth of clothing into it. However, that means it may not always be suitable as a carry-on. Although the company claims the bag has been “carry-on sizer tested” and “will fit most carry-on criteria,” it’s 23.5 inches tall, and most major U.S. airlines—including American, United, Delta, and JetBlue—accept carry-ons up to 22 inches. If you fill the bag to the max, it will exceed the depth maximum as well. For travelers willing to check a bag on occasion, this suitcase is a fine addition to your travel collection.
Finalist: Heys Smart Luggage 21″ Carry-on
The Heys Smart Luggage 21-inch Carry-on takes the smart-device concept and customizes it for the modern traveler. This hardshell suitcase offers a roomy interior and 360-degree wheels that make it easy to navigate on smooth surfaces. This 21-inch spinner has a sleek design that looks elegant but doesn’t draw attention to itself, and comes in three colors (black, burgundy, and silver).
Strong zippers, steady handling, and pleasing design earn the Heys good marks on the basics, but what sets it apart is its TSA-approved Bluetooth-access remote lock and a battery-operated alarm that lets you know if your suitcase has strayed. It also features a scale built into the handle. The app was buggy when we tested it, but once the company works the kinks out, this bag will be a serious contender for tech-savvy travelers looking to upgrade their carry-on luggage. And it’s an intriguing option for any traveler looking to protect their luggage contents with an extra layer of security.
Finalist: Victorinox Werks 6.0 Softside Global Carry-on
As you’d expect from the makers of the Swiss Army Knife, the Victorinox Werks Traveler 6.0 Softside Global Carry-on is both functional and cleverly designed. Included with the bag are a laptop sleeve that can be converted into a packing cube and a garment suiter that can also serve as a suitcase divider. Other features include a TSA-approved lock, compression straps, and an integrated USB port. The suitcase easily fits several days’ worth of clothing and shoes.
The bag rolls smoothly and is made of durable materials, though some travelers might prefer a color option besides basic black. Unfortunately, the bag is prone to toppling forward if you put something heavy—like, say, a laptop in the provided sleeve—either in the large front pocket or toward the top of the main compartment. Considering the fact that many travelers need their laptops to be easily accessible, this is a problematic design flaw.
American travelers should be aware that while the bag fits within the carry-on size limits of some European airlines, it’s too wide and slightly too deep (especially when stuffed full) to meet the size restrictions of most major U.S. carriers. As its name suggests, the bag is best used on international flights operated by carriers with less stringent size requirements. Otherwise, you may be asked to gate-check this bag—which could be a problem if you’re using it to carry your laptop.
More from SmarterTravel:
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- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Backpack
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