The case with the cult following actually delivers on thoughtful design
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TripSavvy / Joy Merrifield
Ejectable battery for charging devices
360-degree spinner wheels
Concealed laundry bag
Large capacity, especially on The Bigger Carry-On
Overly flexible shell and zipper
Charging compartment very hard to open
The Away Carry-On (and the slightly larger Bigger Carry-On) is a cleverly designed, well-made suitcase that feels like a steal at a starter investment price.
We purchased the Away Carry-On so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
You probably already know that the Away Carry-On, the focus of this review, is the darling of the Millennial travel set. No matter which direction you surf on the Internet these days, you’re bound to run into an ad, blog entry, Instagram story, or shiny-haired influencer singing the praises of the brand’s chartbusting superstars: The Carry-On and The Bigger Carry-On, which we recently reviewed.
Launched by two alums of online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker, the Away approach to design seems to follow a similar slant: Create a new uniform that can be culturally ubiquitous, yet feel unique and special to each customer. Loyalists swear by the brand’s lightweight feel, minimalist look, convenient compartments, and ejectable battery. We wanted to see what the hardshell suitcase was all about, so we took it on a five-day trip. Could the product possibly live up to all the hype?
The suitcase arrived, as any item with a cult following should: in a heavily branded shipping box, flood-printed in Away’s signature navy and replete with cheeky or inspirational quotes. Like other buzzed-about brands Casper, Warby Parker, and Glossier, the Away purchase is a heavily curated experience, designed by people who know the power (and fun!) of an unboxing video. In lieu of a plastic polybag—which doesn’t recycle and doesn’t unbox well—this carry-on came nestled in a nice cotton muslin dust bag and gave us the feeling of unwrapping a gift.
While we doubt we’d store the suitcase in the bag when not in use (though Away suggests it and plenty of people do), it’s nice enough to repurpose as a laundry bag. The shipping box itself is nice and sturdy, too, and could easily be repurposed for storing seasonal decorations or clothing.
The design of this carry-on is, of course, very of the moment. Understated and a bit chunky, the grooved shell and zipper closure is, to us, the suitcase equivalent of high-rise, wide-leg pants. It’s well-groomed, yet adamantly casual.
Though you can now get versions of the Carry-On and Bigger Carry-On with a nylon pocket affixed to the front, the original version we have skips the conspicuous exterior details and shiny bits you frequently see on luggage in favor of ultra-modern, matte textures and materials. The polycarbonate shell is subtly grainy, the telescoping handle has a soft-to-the-touch rubber finish, and the trim boasts a black matte finish. That includes the metal of the telescopic handle, the carry handles, and even the zipper piping and TSA-friendly lock.
If you want something a little different, Away offers metallics and alternative finishes in limited edition runs, and the company debuts fresh new colorways and collabs frequently. Buyer beware, though: Once you have one, you’re probably going to want to collect them all. Very clever, Away.
Our favorite feature of the Away Carry-On’s interior is the removable panel that compresses the clothes.
And, as often happens with things that are trending hard, when you join the club, you’ll suddenly see the other members everywhere. Get this: The other members may even talk to you. Taking ours around the neighborhood, a stranger stopped us to discuss Away’s limited edition colorways and the merits of carrying The Carry-On size versus The Bigger Carry-On (more on that later).
Inside, this bag isn’t especially groundbreaking, but it has the basics covered, plus a few nice bonuses. One side of the shell has a zippered mesh compartment for awkward-shaped items like shoes and toiletries. The other has straps that hug our favorite feature of Away Carry-On’s interior: a removable panel that compresses the clothes. We found that it evened out the surface of our soft items, so the two shell halves come together smoothly.
The regular Away Carry-On has a capacity of 39.8 liters, while The Bigger Carry-On holds 47.9 liters. If you’re as enthusiastic about efficient packing as we are, you probably already know that that’s actually a lot of hauling space. With the help of some packing cubes and shrewd outfit planning, you should be able to stretch 47.9 liters out to a two-week trip in a warm climate.
For a five-day trip, we packed two pairs of shoes, two pairs of pants, two dresses, four shirts, a sweater, underwear, and a small dopp kit, and it all fit easily into The Bigger Carry-On. Other editors on our team who own the standard Carry-On size have no problem fitting a similar amount of clothes into their bag—though they usually have to stow the dopp kit inside their personal item instead. The more compact size means it’s more likely to fit in the overhead bin. Either way, flexible shell is even a little forgiving in case you accidentally over-pack or shop too much during your travels.
For a five-day trip, we packed two pairs of shoes, two pairs of pants, two dresses, four shirts, a sweater, underwear, and a small dopp kit, and it all fit easily.
The Carry-On’s sides are made of polycarbonate, a plastic known for being lightweight, dimensionally stable, and very durable. We sat on it, kneeled on it, and kicked it around enough to think it’s not going to crack or dent under normal (or abnormal) abuse. The sides are actually very flexible—more flexible than we’d expect, or maybe want, from hard-sided luggage. A flexible frame may be shock-absorbent and forgiving of over-packing (says Away), but we probably wouldn’t entrust this luggage with any delicate electronics or camera equipment.
One thing we wondered immediately about the suitcase when we unboxed it: “Why is this so wobbly?” The combination of the thin, surprisingly flexible shell and a half-inch of exposed zipper allows the halves to operate somewhat independently of each other. When we picked the suitcase up by one of the carry handles, the other half of the shell dropped a little, clinging to the zipper. The shell itself may be nigh indestructible, as Away claims, but a bag is only as strong as its weakest component. If the hanging side of the shell was packed very heavy, we worry it would put a lot of stress on that thin sew line connecting the zipper to the shells.
Another thing we noticed is that the telescoping handle rattles around in its shaft when extended. It feels like a quality issue, but Away says this wiggle room is a feature, not a flaw. It evidently generates a little shock absorption over bumpy ground. Okay! But we still think we’d prefer a less shaky hold on our possessions.
Fortunately, hypothetical concerns like the above can be road-tested by Away’s great 100-day try-out period. If you decide this carry-on is not for you, the company will take it back and refund you in full. If you decide to keep it after the 100 days, the brand backs its quality up with a lifetime warranty, pledging to either repair or replace any defective item.
At 7.6 pounds for the standard and 7.8 pounds for the larger one, both Away suitcases are a decent weight for a carry-on. Take note that some airlines have carry-on weight restrictions that won’t leave you much room after that, though. Lufthansa limits carry-on weight to 17 pounds, and the Emirates limit is 15, so if those are primary airlines you use, plan accordingly; you may end up wearing five outfits onto the plane instead of packing them.
While the regular Away Carry-On will pass nearly all regulations, the size of The Bigger Carry-On is also going to be an issue for some airlines. At 22.7 x 14.7 x 9.6 inches (compared to the standard’s 21.7 x 13.7 x 9 inches), the dimensions of The Bigger Carry-On exceed many airlines’ restrictions by just a hair. You’ll probably be fine, but just know that with airlines like JetBlue and Delta, there’s a chance you’ll have to gate-check.
With a telescopic handle that reaches to nearly three and a half feet, even taller travelers should be okay with this roller bag. For reference, if you’re 5 foot, 8 inches, that’s about to your waist. There are carry handles at the top and side for easy maneuvering on stairs and into overhead bins, and while some prefer another handle at the bottom, we’re glad Away skipped it to keep the weight down.
Away’s products have 360-degree double spinner wheels from Japanese brand Hinomoto. The luggage industry makes a big deal about the superiority of these, and while we honestly haven’t noticed a big difference between the Hinomotos and non-Hinomotos we’ve tested, the Away is definitely a smooth, quiet ride on most surfaces.
One of Away’s loudest marketing points since its launch in 2015 has been its smart bag status, with a lithium-ion battery charger incorporated into the design. The charging magic happens under the telescopic handle, where a flip-top compartment opens to reveal an ejectable 10,000mAh battery charger with two USB ports—one standard and one quick-charging.
Airlines cracked down on smart luggage in 2018, and most now insist that you remove the battery when checked or carried onboard. Though early Away models required opening the bag and removing the battery with a screwdriver, the company responded to new rules by revising the design so that the battery was easier to remove (and offering to update existing bags for customers free of charge). Now, the battery pops out from the top, so it is easier to comply with all current regulations.
For some reason, the flip-top cover on our battery port was impossible to open with bare hands.
Maybe this isn’t true of every bag that leaves the Away production line, but for some reason, the flip-top cover on our battery port was impossible to open with bare hands. We had to pry it open initially with a butter knife, and improvise with other tools once we left the house. It never loosened up. Since security probably won’t let you through with sharp tools, we hope this is just a quirk with ours.
Another bonus is a built-in laundry bag, tucked in its own pouch. While Away claims it can be used for wet things like bathing suits, we wouldn’t recommend pushing its limits. It’s made of water-resistant nylon, so it’s not exactly watertight. Damp should be okay, but once it’s under compression, any more water than that makes it to the bag’s surface.
Under a full charge, the 10,000mAh battery bank is powerful enough to charge an iPhone up to five times. Away says you can charge two devices at the same time, but accounts have varied on that point.
We simultaneously charged two iPhones to full power, and everything seemed fine. As a little bonus convenience, Away includes international prong adapters with the charging kit, allowing you to stay powered up in Europe, most of Asia, Australia, and North America.
Away includes an eraser sponge with instructions for how to easily buff out scuffs and dirt. We didn’t need to use it during our review period, but we’ve heard from fellow owners that it works great—that the scuffs buff right out.
At $225 and $245, respectively, the Away Carry-On and The Bigger Carry-On both boast decent price tags for starter luggage; comparable models we’ve seen can cost hundreds more and don’t carry the lifetime warranty. It’s not cheap, but you get a lot for your money, both in design and substance.
If you’re looking for something very similar to Away but a little more polished, Arlo Skye’s Bigger Polycarbonate Carry-On is a smart bag that shares the status of Away, but with a more luxurious, industrial edge.
If you’re looking for something very similar to Away but a little more fun, The Jaunt XL from Roam has a similar blocky shape and durable polycarbonate frame, but it lets you build your own customized colorway from the wheels up. With over a million potential colorway combinations, you’ll only have to blend in if you design it that way. The caveat to both the Roam and the Arlo Skye is their price tag: Both retail for $475, compared to Away’s cost of around $225.
If you’ve decided to go for it, one of the biggest questions, of course, is which model: the Away Carry-On or The Bigger Carry-On? As we already mentioned, The Bigger Carry-On will give you about 8 liters more capacity. If you tend to overpack (or just have bulkier items, or larger feet and therefore larger shoes), it may be wise to go with the larger version. However, keep in mind that the extra room also means larger dimensions; the standard Away Carry-On is more likely to pass airline carry-on regulations.
Both carry-ons are super lightweight and offer a sleek design, smooth ride, and charging abilities. In our minds, you can’t go wrong either way.
The Away Carry-On won us over. The design is charming, the features are solid, and the price point is terrific for what you get.
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