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When traveling by plane, carry-on suitcases come in two basic types: hard shell with a durable exterior or soft shell suitcases made of fabric. Hard shell suitcases provide added protection for valuables, but are less malleable than soft side (fabric) cases. Travelers who prefer the hard shell for their carry-on bag have a variety options that come with TSA approved locks, unique designs and spacious interiors. Our list of the eight best hard shell carry-on suitcases will help find the right one for you.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Delsey Luggage Helium Aero International Carry-On
Made of 100 percent polycarbonate, the "Delsey Luggage Helium Aero International Carry-On" has a durable build and a sleek compact look with a glossy metallic finish. One of the best features on this case is the roomy front compartment that has a built-in padded sleeve for up to 15.6-inch laptops (which is easily accessible when going through security), as well as two zippered mesh pockets for toiletries, phone chargers and other small items. The interior of the suitcase is lined with fabric and has two compartments, as well as elastic straps and a buckle for making sure clothes stay in place. Keeping all your valuables safe are self-repairing zippers and a three-dial TSA-approved combination lock, while the double spinner wheels make navigating the airport easy. Colors come in black, brick red, brushed charcoal, cobalt blue, pink, teal and titanium.
Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best Delsey luggage.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Kenneth Cole Reaction 20-inch ABS
For a quality carry-on that looks great, has plenty of space, ample organizational features and a reasonable price, the “Kenneth Cole Reaction” is an excellent purchase. While the main compartments of most luggage have standard crisscrossed straps to secure items, the Kenneth Cole Reaction has the added benefit of two winged pouches attached to the sides of the straps, so smaller items can rest atop of clothing without sliding around – a thoughtful touch. The top flap also has two pouches for shoes and toiletry items. The Reaction weighs 7.5 pounds and measures 22.44 x 15.16 x 8.5 inches (with wheels) and has added structural features such as reinforced corners and expandable sides, plus incredibly smooth-gliding spinner wheels.
Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best Kenneth Cole Reaction luggage.
Best Budget: Goplus Globalway Expandable
If you just need a cheap carry-on that will get the job done, the “Goplus Globalway Expandable 20-Inch" option is a safe choice. Although the bag lacks the bells and whistles that some of the pricier options come with (like security locks or hand grips), it is a sturdy suitcase with spinner wheels that meets carry-on requirements. The GoPlus comes in eight different colors ranging from bright pinks, turquoise or blue to more traditional grey or black. Measuring 20 x 14 x 9 inches and weighing 6.6 pounds, the Globus is easy to tote around the airport. It also has a clothing compartment with straps to secure belongings and a mesh pouch for electronics and other small items.
Need some more help finding what you're looking for? Read through our best luggage under $100 article.
Best Value: Dori 21-Inch Hardside Luggage
Budget-savvy travelers should opt for the Elite 21" Dori Expandable Carry On Suitcase, whose affordable price tag is just one of its many standout features. The suitcase’s impact-resistant hardshell exterior is both tough and lightweight, and its multiple-stage handle adjustment system (made of aluminum) offers maximum comfort and stress-free maneuvering, making it a breeze to guide through the airport. Not to mention, Elite’s Dori Expandable Carry On has plenty of packing space, with its two fully-lined interior components and an expandable feature for extra capacity. There’s even a built-in three-dial combo lock for additional security. The Elite Dori weighs just 6.3 pounds and can hold up to 22 pounds; it measures are 21” x 14.5” x 9.75”. If you’re shopping for luggage on a budget, go ahead and put the money you’ll save on this reasonably priced suitcase toward your next travel adventure.
Runner-Up, Best Value: Nautica Ahoy 21 Inch Hardside Spinner
While mainly known for their clothing, Nautica also makes quality luggage and the company’s “Ahoy 21-Inch Hardside Spinner” is a reasonably priced, well-built piece that is a cut above others in its price range. The bright yellow and orange exterior colors make a statement, but there are also silver and black bags for those who prefer the traditional route. The spacious interior has two individual mesh pouches and a zipped compartment, as well as a main storage area with straps for securing clothes. The bag measures 9 x 21 x 14 inches, has spinner wheels and weighs just 7.4 pounds. One drawback is that there is no side handle, so going up and down stairs takes a little more maneuvering.
Best Style: Enkloze X1 Carbon Fiber Carry-On
The Enkloze is a classy, chic suitcase that is still functional and a popular choice for business travelers. Measuring 14.6 x 9.4 x 21.3 inches, the bag has a polycarbonate body with reinforced corners, an aluminum frame to protect items and two TSA-approved locks. The interior has fashionable red lining, a clamshell design with adjustable straps on the top and bottom of the case and mesh compartments that can be tucked away when not in use. A quick-access front compartment is perfect for laptops, phone chargers and other must-have items. The exterior has sleek, geometric shapes and comes in white or black.
Best for Securing Items: The Samsonite Cruisair DLX Hardside Spinner 21
With a sleek, metallic finish that gives it an industrial feel, the aluminum-framed “Samsonite Cruiseair” luggage is an extremely sturdy carry-on made of polycarbonate. The bag includes a TSA locking system with clasps that easily snap open like a briefcase. And at 9.4 pounds it is durable enough to protect your valuables (although a bit heavier than some other choices). Clothes can be secured using an adjustable strap in the roomy main compartment and the top side of the interior has a zippered pouch that can also be adjusted for smaller items. The spinner wheels allow it to glide with ease. Although the bag falls within carry-on limits without the wheels included, if your airline measures the wheels it puts it a tad over. Be sure to check before flying.
Best for Versatility: The Olympia Apache Carry On Spinner
The Olympia Apache Carry-On Spinner has a slightly different design than the standard hardshell bags with added features that make it a more versatile travel bag. The center of the bag has a hidden compartment that allows travelers to tuck away items such as laptop computers, briefcases and other business necessities (as well as headphones or a neck pillow) while the bag is upright. The lined interior has two zipped pouches for organizing, and the exterior is constructed from sturdy ABS with four spinner wheels. The expandable bag measures 9 x 14 x 21 inches and comes in solid black with lime, orange, red, blue or purple straps, stitching and wheels.
Best for Kids: Fairfax Pink Rainbow Stripe Hard Sided Spinner Luggage
Bursting with color, the Fairfax Pink Rainbow Stripe Hard-Sided Spinner Luggage is tough to miss — even in the chaos of a busy airport. It’s perfect for kiddos traveling on a long journey, thanks to its durable hard shell, hardy nylon zippers, and weather- and water-resistant exterior and interior. Children will have no problem toting the Fairfax bag through terminal since it has both heavy-duty metal handles and extremely smooth-moving wheels. Plus, the Fairfax Pink Rainbow Stripe luggage can be easily spot cleaned (a crucial component of child-friendly travel bags) with a damp cloth. This child’s suitcase is crafted from water-resistant ABS and features a 150-denier polyester lining. It’s the ideal size for kiddos, at just five pounds and 13” x 8.5” x 16”, while the adjustable handle has three settings, with a 17”-long maximum size.
Best Scratch Resistant: Samsonite Inova 20
The Samsonite Inova 20 is a great option if you’re looking for a hardshell carry-on that stays looking new after many uses. Made of high-tech, Makrolon polycarbonate, the bag is a worthwhile splurge, thanks to its high-impact resistance material and textured finish that reduces the visibility of scratches. The sleek-looking, metallic carry-on measures 15 x 7.5 x 20 inches and weighs just over six pounds, allowing it to travel with ease on spinner wheels with little effort. The bag features a built-in, TSA-approved lock, and a spilt-interior design that’s fully lined with straps on one side and a large zippered compartment on the other, however, there are no small pockets for cell phones or other quick-grab items.
Check out our other reviews of the best Samsonite luggage available on the market today.
Best for Business: Heritage Travelware Lincoln Park 20" Hardside Spinner
For business travelers who often find themselves dashing through airports and foreign cities, finding luggage that’s as stylish as it is functional is crucial. Boasting multidirectional four-wheel spinners and truly lightweight construction, the Heritage Travelware Lincoln Park 20 “ Hardside 4-Wheel Spinner allows for ultra-smooth movement, making it the ideal piece of business luggage. With its tear-resistant interior, sturdy ABS exterior, and retractable handle system, this Heritage Travelware suitcase can withstand years of use and, not to mention, easily navigate tight spaces in airports. It’s also sleek and roomy, with a U-shaped zipper pocket for double-sided packing, garment restraints, and a sizeable interior zipper pocket. The Heritage Travelware Lincoln Park 20" Hardside 4-Wheel Spinner weighs 6.4 pounds, measures 22” x 14” x 9”, and is available in cobalt blue, black, rose gold, charcoal, and light silver.