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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.
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: Rockland 20 Inch Polycarbonate Carry On
For an affordable carry-on bag that stands out in the crowd, check out the “Rockland 20 Inch Polycarbonate Carry On," which comes in 11 colorful design patterns. The artistic, glossy luggage ranges from geometric shapes and animals to flowers, hearts and more, with eye-popping shades that make it easy to spot in the overhead bin. The bag glides smoothly on four spinner wheels, weighs just 7.7 pounds and measures 13 x 9 x 20 inches. The inside design is simple – yet functional – with a large compartment for clothes and a separate zipper area for toiletries. Amazon buyers thought it was a sturdy carry-on bag that is good for kids and adults.
See more reviews of our favorite Rockland luggage available for purchase.
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: Goplus Kids Carry-On Luggage Set
Kids will be excited to travel with the Goplus carry-on suitcase, specially designed with little ones in mind. The hard-shell bags have full-sized, three-dimensional cartoons painted on the exterior (think penguins, ladybugs, dinosaurs and bumble bees). The carry-on bag measures 19 x 14 x 9.5 inches and has in-line skate wheels and a curved handle to make it easy for kids to tote around. The bags are made of polycarbonate but are not rectangle shaped; instead, they are curved to look like the animals – meaning they are a little smaller than standard carry-on bags. The interior has clothing straps and a zippered pouch, plus, a small matching backpack is also included.
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: Ricardo Beverly Hills Roxbury 2.0 19" Spinner
Constructed from durable Makrolon polycarbonate, the Ricardo Beverly Hills Roxbury 2.0 bag is ideal for frequent business travelers who require a functional and long-lasting carry-on. Although the bag has a reinforced hard exterior, the front has a soft external pocket for grab-and-go items and a laptop sleeve with slots for office necessities that can be accessed while the bag is upright. There’s also a retractable exterior strap for attaching smaller bags to the outside during transport that tucks away when not in use. The interior has even more conveniences like a two-compartment packing system for separating clothes – a unique design that’s perfect for short getaways. It comes in silver and mulberry.