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Best Overall: TravelPro Crew 11 at Amazon "One of the lightest high-tech models around—and it manages to pack quite a few clever smart features."
Best Victorinox: Victorinox Lexicon Hardside Frequent Flyer at Amazon "It can take a hit and keep on going, thanks to the break-resistant 100 percent virgin polycarbonate."
Best Away Bag: The Bigger Carry On With Pocket at Away "Has a front pocket—a unique feature for a hardshell case but one we love for convenience."
Best Zipperless: Arlo Polycarbonate Carry On at Arlo Skye "You can even charge your MacBooks (as well as phones) quickly from the USB-C."
Best for Overpackers: Marlon Carry On at Marlon "The clever design yields a whopping 45 liters of available space."
Best Anti-Theft: XD Design Bobby Anti-theft Backpack at Amazon "You don’t have to worry about anyone doing a sleight of hand while you’re on the road."
Best Soft-Sided: Victorinox Werks Traveler 6.0 at Amazon "It’s still designed to be water resistant, so whatever you pack stays dry."
Best Backpack: HP 17-inch Laptop Canvas Backpack at Amazon "Provides a full charge to an HP laptop once, a tablet three times, and a phone 10 times."
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: TravelPro Crew 11
At just over seven pounds, three ounces, this carry-on bag is one of the lightest high-tech models around—and it manages to pack quite a few clever smart features into its footprint. There’s an exterior USB port so you can recharge your electronics during long layovers and a purpose-designed exterior USB port to hold the power pack that’s easily accessible when you have to take it out to board the plane. Navigating terrain with this bag is also a dream, thanks to handles with a cushy patented contour grip, and dual spinner wheels that self-align themselves for great steering and responsiveness. The compact size—the bag is 21 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches—also means that the bag will fit in most overhead bins, even when it’s a tight squeeze for space. Travelers report that the bag is extremely well made and expect it to last for many trips to come.
Best Victorinox: Victorinox Lexicon Hardside Frequent Flyer 8-wheel
Although we love the Swiss Army knife company’s soft-sided bag—it makes our list for the best soft-shell smart bag out there—the sleek, timeless aesthetics of the Lexicon Hardside Frequent Flyer carry on from Victorinox ultimately win our heart. For those who need to charge their phone after landing or while waiting during a layover, there’s one USB port with a pre-installed cable that connects to a battery pack (supplied by you) tucked inside a zippered pocket. It also has a SIM card pin so if you’re flying internationally, you can swap your numbers out once you land in country.
The bag’s durability is great—it can take a hit and keep on going, thanks to the break-resistant 100 percent virgin polycarbonate it’s made from (it’s also scratch-resistant, which is a nice touch). The large spinner wheels on the suitcase help it roll smoothly, thanks to their size and well-positioned recesses in the bottom of the bag.
Best Away Bag: The Bigger Carry On With Pocket, Away
Away’s bags aren’t as tech-savvy as some of the others on this list, though they are extremely well made, stylish, and durable—and clock in at a few hundred dollars cheaper than others on this list. The enhanced version of their classic “The Bigger Carry On” has a front pocket—a unique feature for a hardshell case but one we love for convenience: Being able to put your tablet, passport, and boarding pass right there eliminates the need for a large personal item just to fit those, should you be trying to travel extra-light.
Away’s bags come with two USB chargers, one of which is built to charge gadgets super-fast and the other of which is a regular port. That’s as much tech as you get, though: There’s no GPS-tracking system or luggage scale built in (though that ensures your battery remains full once you’re back on the ground).
Inside the suitcase, it’s divided into compartments, and they come with a compression system for compact packing and a laundry bag, too. There’s also a TSA-approved lock so would-be thieves can’t get in. To get you from check-in to the gate quickly, the bag is fitted with four Hinomoto double-wheel spinners that do their job quietly and smoothly.
Best Zipperless: Arlo Polycarbonate Carry On
Getting a zipper snagged or breaking it mid-trip—or, worse, at the airport—can plunge a day into panic quickly. Avoid the hassle altogether by going without: Arlo’s Skye Polycarbonate Carry On is totally zipperless, and you can even charge your MacBooks (as well as phones) quickly from the USB-C and A QuickCharge 3.0 charging ports. The charger’s removable, too, so you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll be able to take this smart bag on board. The 38-liter capacity bag has an antimicrobial lining to keep things fresh, and belongings inside are protected by an unbreakable polycarbonate shell reinforced by an aluminum frame and stylishly contrasting corner guards.
At just 8.5 pounds and 22 inches long, it’s designed for both domestic and international flights. The range of colors the suitcase comes in is gorgeous, too: There’s everything from black and navy to stylish rose gold and champagne—and your purchase even comes with two shoe bags and one for dirty laundry. Rest assured it’s quality, too: The geniuses behind Arlo come from Tumi and Louis Vuitton.
Best for Overpackers: Marlon Carry On
If overpacking is your Achilles’ heel, the Marlon Carry On might just be a lifesaver. The clever design—incorporating oversized wheels that free up 20 percent more volume and shift the center of gravity upwards—yields a whopping 45 liters of available space. If you expand it, the space increases by another 15 liters. But the real magic of the suitcase is in its assisted compression system, which helps condense your packing without making you sit on top of your bag to get everything zipped up. The included USB charging system has a removable battery, so you’re good to go when it’s time to board the plane (just remember to take it out if it gets checked at the gate!).
The bag also has a quick-access front pocket with a padded pocket where you can store your laptop and tablet, and the removable battery in the case makes the bag usable for all airlines. The only downside is that the bag isn’t a spinner case, so if you’re set on having 360-degree movement, this might not be the bag for you.
Best Anti-Theft: XD Design Bobby Anti-theft Backpack
Sure, you might keep your clothes and a few gifts in your carry-on when you travel, but the really important stuff—the expensive electronics, passport, and wallet—all need to be kept closer at hand than that, typically in a backpack. And if what’s in your backpack is what you’d least like to lose, it makes sense to give these important essentials that protection they deserve while you’re traveling. XD Design’s Bobby anti-theft backpack is a smart bag with extra-brilliant thief deterrents, so you don’t have to worry about anyone doing a sleight of hand while you’re on the road.
There’s a USB port built into the backpack to charge your phone, with hidden zippers and pockets that keep said phone and other valuables out of sight and hard for thieves to access (but not you, since you know right where those pockets are). There’s also a cut-proof protection board and other protective layers built into the backpack, so thieves won’t be able to cut the bag off you.
Best Soft-Sided: Victorinox Werks Traveler 6.0 Frequent Flyer
Victorinox is known for their hardy luggage, and the brand’s Werks Traveler 6.0 carry-on bag—made from durable, abrasion-resistant ballistic nylon—gets full marks as a soft-side bag that’s also well-equipped as a smart piece of luggage. The almost-22-inch-long bag also expands out an additional almost two inches in case you do some shopping while you’re away. It’s particularly good for international travelers: There’s a small SIM card-replacement tool so you can easily swap out mobile SIMs when you hit the ground after an international flight.
Wonderfully, even though the bag is soft-sided, it’s still designed to be water resistant, so whatever you pack stays dry. There are also two exterior front pockets great for keeping travel confirmations or passports in at the airport. The only downside is you’ll have to provide your own power pack for the suitcase, which can connect to the integrated USB cable system to externally charge phones on the ground.
Best Backpack: HP 17-inch Laptop Canvas Backpack
Perfect for students or commuters, this stylish canvas backpack from HP also has plenty of smarts built into it: The 22400 mAh battery provides a full charge to an HP laptop once, a tablet three times, and a phone 10 times—and if one thing’s at a critical level while the other just need a top up, you can set the power priority so that what charges first is the one that needs it most. When the battery’s dead, you can use the side-pocket plug-in to easily recharge it.
Brilliantly, the company has also designed the bag with a heat sensor so that your devices never get too hot while they’re charging. Just take note, Mac (and non-HP users): You’ll have to get an HP laptop power adapter if you want to use this with your computer. Handily, it’s treated to be rain-resistant and comes with a raincoat if the skies open up.