The 9 Best Carry-On Bags of 2021

A trusty carry-on is the best travel companion

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The Rundown

Best Overall: Away The Bigger Carry-On at Away Travel

"Enjoy all the great features of Away's beloved carry-on with a few more inches of room."

Best Spinner: Briggs & Riley Expandable Medium Checked Spinner at Amazon

"If you’re looking for an investment piece, this stylish, long-lasting hardside is a great pick."

Best Hardshell: Samsonite Winfield 2 at Amazon

"This sleek hardshell carry-on has a slick aesthetic and the Samsonite name behind it."

Best Lightweight: Herschel Little America Backpack at Amazon

"Light yet durable, this backpack will be your travel buddy for years to come."

Best Expandable: Travelpro Expandable Spinner Wheel Luggage at Amazon

"The 360-degree magnatrac spinner wheels make flying through the airport a breeze."

Best International: Victorinox Spectra 2.0 Hardside Spinner Suitcase at Amazon

"Sized to fit most global carry-on regulations, this carry-on makes crossing borders an ease."

Best for Business Travel: Arlo Skye The Frame Carry-On: Aluminum Edition at Arlo Skye

"Sleek and sophisticated, this carry-on is basically a power move in a suitcase."

Best Cult: Away The Carry-On at Away Travel

"From its looks to its durability, this luggage piece is a staple for travelers for good reason."

Best Backpack: Tortuga Setout Backpack at Amazon

"Available in fits tailored to the frames of both men and women, the Tortuga Setout backpack is a great pack to have on hand for city breaks and weekends away"

There are plenty of carry-ons out there to choose from, and with so many styles available, finding the right luggage for your trip, packing, style, and price point can be tricky (read up for more on luggage-buying tips here).

We’ve gone through some of the best suitcases out there, as well as interviewed a few of our expert jet-setting staffers, to round up the best carry-on luggage picks.

Best Overall: Away The Bigger Carry-On

Away The Bigger Carry On

Courtesy of Away

If your travel is centered mostly on major airlines, train, or car travel, this larger version of Away’s beloved The Carry-On is a great bag to have in your closet for shorter trips. It has all the great features you love, like a pocketed center divider, a battery pack, and durable zippers, with just a few more inches of room. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for special designs and colorways courtesy of collaborations from jet-setting stars like Serena Williams.

Best Spinner: Briggs & Riley Sympatico-Hardside CX Expandable Medium Checked Spinner Luggage

Yes, it’s a little bit pricey—but if you’re looking for an investment piece, this stylish, long-lasting Briggs & Riley hardside is a great pick. “I love Briggs & Riley hardside spinners because of their futuristic design,” says Astrid Taran, a senior editor at TripSavvy. “Every time I use mine, it feels like I'm rolling around a bag from the future. I also love how lightweight it is, and how durable it is—you never feel like it will get scratched or scuffed after being tossed down baggage claim.”

Best Hardshell: Samsonite Winfield 2

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This hardshell carry-on has a sleek aesthetic and the Samsonite name behind it—so you can bet it’s going to hold up (and, at 20 inches, fit in most overhead compartments). “It’s really great for the value,” says Taran. She loves how it’s organized on the interior, with multiple compartments for clothes and smaller ones for essentials like chargers and toiletries. The cross-straps also keep larger clothing items you pack in the lower compartment extra-secure, she says.

Best Lightweight: Herschel Little America Backpack

“My pick would be a Herschel Little America Backpack,” says Sherri Gardner, associate editor at TripSavvy. “I got one around 2014 and it’s accompanied me on every trip I’ve taken since then.” She says the 25-liter bag, which weighs in at just over 2 pounds, is enough to “fit around a week’s work of clothes, if I’m traveling light, as well as toiletries, a book, and a camera or laptop.” And you can bet the fact she’s had it almost seven years is testament to its durability: “The bag is soft enough to compress easily but sturdy enough to be frequently stuffed to its limits,” she says. “I've taken it around the world and the only wear and tear is a few stains and a missing grommet.” 

Best Expandable: Travelpro Platinum Elite-Softside Expandable Spinner Wheel Luggage

“A couple of years ago, I got my hands on a Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Spinner, the major upgrade I'd been in need of since I first started traveling internationally,” says TripSavvy associate editor Elizabeth Preske. “It has held up through trips to London, Spain, Oaxaca, Southeast Asia, and Dubai with nary a tear, and the 360-degree magnatrac spinner wheels make flying through the airport a breeze.” The organization is spot-on: “It comes with a few organizational pockets, including a fold-out suiter for wrinkle-free clothing, while the external USB port and power bank pocket are FAA-friendly,” she says. “Plus, I love its sleek, sophisticated look.”

Best International: Victorinox Spectra 2.0 Hardside Spinner Suitcase

Sized to fit most global carry-on regulations, this carry-on features eight super-smooth spinners, great interior organization, almost 1,900 cubic inches of space. A clever split-case design also separates packing into two compartments, so you can keep need-at-hand items like laptops (which can be housed in a removable sleep) easy to access, while your clothes stay below.

Best for Business Travel: Arlo Skye The Frame Carry-On Max: Aluminum Edition

Arlo Skye The Frame Carry-On: Aluminum Edition

Courtesy of Arlo Skye

Sleek, eye-catching, and sophisticated, this carry-on is basically a power move in a suitcase—feel free to stride right on into the boardroom or meeting after a flight with this bag in tow. Made from durable, super sleek aluminium, it fits in the overhead compartments of most airlines and has handles wrapped in full-grain leather for extra-luxe comfort.

Best Cult: Away The Carry-On

Away The Carry On

Courtesy of Away

4.2

This is my go-to for trips—it comes with me everywhere,” says Taran. “It's so sleek and easy to pack, and the compression pad is super helpful.” The brand was Instagram-famous when it launched, but the luggage has since grown into practically a staple for frequent travelers, thanks to its durability, incredibly organized interior, and minimalist good looks. The Carry-On’s dimensions are sized to fit almost all domestic and international  requirements (though it’s never a bad idea to check)—and keep an eye out for special editions, like frequent collabs with celebrities like Serena Williams.

Best Backpack: Tortuga Setout Backpack

Available in fits tailored to the frames of both men and women, the Tortuga Setout backpack is a great pack to have on hand for city breaks and weekends away. The bag is billed as packing like a suitcase but fitting like a backpack and comes in sizes that are in line with maximum restrictions for U.S. and international travel.

Final Verdict 

Of all the bags, Away’s The Bigger Carry-On (view at Away) takes the cake—though don’t discount its smaller sibling, The Carry-On, either. Both feature incredible organization, combined with stylish lines and durability that’ll stand up to the rough and tumble of travel for years to come. All this—plus smoothly gliding spinner wheels—at a price point that’ll work out advantageously in terms of cost per use? Count us in. 

What To Look For in a Carry-On 

Price

Depending on how often or how little you travel, you’re going to want to find the sweet spot between cost per use and quality when you’re looking for a carry-on. While you never want to compromise too much (at the risk of broken zippers or busted seams), there’s also no point in dropping a small fortune if you use the bag only three or four times a year. 

Style

Do you prefer a roller bag or a backpack? If you’re traveling domestically or with minimal lugging from point A to B, a roller bag will do you well. If, however, you’re heading abroad, you might want to consider a backpack: This author once lost two wheels in two days to Tuscan cobblestone with a rolling bag. 

Organization

Some people love the endless possibilities of an unstructured duffel bag interior; others prefer the compartmentalization that brands like Away offer. Find your preference and pick accordingly.

Why Trust TripSavvy? 

Krystin Arneson has been living in and traveling around Europe for the better part of a decade now, and thanks to charge-per-bag airline policies, she knows a little something about what makes a good carry-on. For this article, beyond her own research, she also relied on the expertise of TripSavvy editors, who have racked up thousands of their own frequent flier miles—and discovered what makes a great carry-on along the way.

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