Best Carry-On Luggage 2021 | Top Carry-On Suitcases

carry on luggage

Staff, Courtesy of Arlo Skye

Frequent fliers know the annoyances of checking a bag, especially for short flights. Aside from the extra fees, checking luggage involves waiting in additional lines, waiting for your suitcase at baggage claim once you’ve landed, and risking your bag ending up in London when you’re in Los Angeles. A good piece of carry-on luggage solves all that.

Although carry-on suitcases gives you less space, the best models have features that make the trade-off worthwhile, including compression straps to save space, backpack straps for easy portability, and USB chargers so you won’t find yourself with a dead tablet mid-flight.

What to Consider When Buying Carry-On Luggage

With more people traveling again, now could be the right time to upgrade your carry-on luggage. If you’re buying a new piece of carry-on luggage this year, you have several factors to consider, of which color is probably the least important.

First, you’ll want to make sure it’s carry-on size; after all, the whole point is to save time and hassle at the airport. In the U.S., the standard carry-on size is about 22 x 14 x 9 inches, which matches the bins in airports designed to measure your bag (though most airlines give you a good deal of wiggle room.)

But on some airlines or aircraft, the specs might be smaller. Planes like the Bombardier CRJ 700, which United Airlines uses for short-haul flights like those between Reno, Nevada, and San Francisco, have smaller overhead compartments. On those, your bag can be no wider than 10 to 12 inches.

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The next question comes down to hard-shell versus softshell. Hard-shell cases are more durable and provide better protection for delicate items. On the other hand, soft-sided carry-ons are easier to fit in overhead bins and easier to lift because they weigh less.

Also, consider whether you want two wheels or four (or none at all). Bags with four wheels are more maneuverable in tight spaces, but they also tend to weigh and cost more. Two-wheeled suitcases can only move forward and backward, but they’re usually more cost-efficient and sometimes fit better in tight overhead bins. Because their wheels are often larger, they can be more durable, too. Backpacks and small duffels—best for weekend trips—forgo wheels for more substantial and comfortable straps.

Lastly, think about the color and design. Luggage tags make it pretty unlikely that anyone will grab your bag accidentally, but having a uniquely colored bag can make it easier to spot your suitcase on conveyor belts and luggage carts.

How We Selected

As a travel writer who (pre-pandemic) traveled monthly and often overseas, I learned a thing or two about effectively packing and about the hassle of dealing with checked luggage across countries and airlines. Whether I’m going scuba diving in southeast Asia or hiking in Montana, I always try to go carry-on only. And since I’m also a gear tester, I’ve traveled with dozens of different carry-ons, learning along the way what features work well and what materials and brands don’t stand up to heavy usage.

The recommendations below are based on my personal experience and also factor in customer rating, each brand’s repair and warranty services, and research into what brands are high-quality enough to be worth the spend. Not every great carry-on suitcase has to be expensive, but cutting too many corners can result in broken zippers and clothes spilling everywhere in the middle of a train station (which happened to me once while traveling through Japan.)

Here is the best carry-on luggage to consider buying for your next flight.

Best Budget Carry-On

US Traveler Rio Expandable Carry-on Luggage Set

U.S. Traveler


Key Specs

• Dimensions: 21 x 13.5 x 8.5 in. (overhead), 14 x 10 x 6 in. (small bag)

• Capacity: 39.5 L (overhead), 14 L (small bag)

• Weight: 6.6. lbs (overhead), 1.3 lbs (small bag)

U.S. Traveler has a reputation for making affordable and durable luggage, and the Rio Expandable Set is no exception. This set includes two carry-on bags: an expandable soft-sided roller for the overhead bins and a smaller tote to tuck under the seat that still leaves plenty of space for your feet.

  • Tote bag is too small to use alone

Best Tote-Style

Fjällräven Totepack No. 2



Key Specs

• Dimensions: 16.5 x 13 x 4.7 in.

• Capacity: 16 L

• Weight: 1.7 lbs

Although tote-style carry-ons are less popular than wheeled luggage or backpacks, the Fjällräven Totepack offers more versatility than either. The tote can be worn like a backpack and is tall and narrow, ensuring that it keeps its shape and doesn’t bump into people or walls when you’re navigating through crowded spaces like antique markets. As a bonus, it’s made with sustainable materials, can be fixed via the brand’s impressive repair program, and comes with a lifetime guarantee on the zipper, buckles, stitching, and other high-wear areas.

  • Sustainable tote that holds its shape
  • Casual look might not appeal to business travelers

Best USB Carry-On

Samsonite Centric 2 Hardside Expandable Luggage



$138.99 (23% off)

Key Specs
• Dimensions:
22.5 x 15.5 x 9.5 in.
Capacity: 44 L
Weight: 7.5 lbs

After hours of airport layovers and flights spent streaming movies, even the newest smartphones will need a recharge. Some airlines have USB ports at seats, but many reserve them just for first-class, making the built-in USB charging port on the Samsonite Centric 2 even more useful. Just note, the luggage doesn’t come with a power bank (it has a pocket to insert your own). A final note on the cost: You’re usually able to find this bag priced under $150—an excellent price for a hard-shell Samsonite.

  • Maneuverable spinner wheels
  • Good value

Durable Construction

Filson Dryden 2



$199.99 (38% off)

Key Specs
Dimensions: 21.75 x 14 x 9.25 in.
Capacity: 36 L
Weight: 6.6 lbs

The Dryden 2 comes in various dark shades of tear-resistant fabric and has two compression straps on each side to ensure even over-packers can meet the carry-on size requirements. Filson also has an excellent repair and warranty program. It should last for decades.

  • High-end materials
  • Side compression straps

Best Premium Carry-On

Arlo Skye Zipper Carry On

Arlo Skye


Key Specs
• Dimensions:
23 x 10.3 x 15 in.
Capacity: 47 L
Weight: 8.1 lbs

Frequent travelers know that premium carry-on luggage needs more than a designer logo and pretty patterns. It’s all about quality materials, minimalist design, and bulletproof protection against drops and falls. Fortunately, buyers get all that in the Arlo Skye Zipper Carry On. This smartly designed bag even has a hard-shell front pocket that makes it easy to access your laptop, e-reader, and anything else that would otherwise require a full unzip of the clamshell-style suitcase.

  • Easy-access front pocket
  • Four wheels
  • Includes a USB-charger

Best Active Travel Carry-On

Granite Gear Cross-Trek 22-Inch Wheeled Duffel

Granite Gear


Key Specs
• Dimensions: 22 x 9 x 14 in.
• Capacity: 53 L
• Weight: 7.9 lbs

Is the Cross-Trek a roller bag? A duffel? A backpack? Actually, it’s all of the above, which comes in handy for travelers who need a suitcase that can both roll through airports and stay dry when climbing into boats or exploring new cities in the rain. Expect waterproof materials, durable wheels, padded straps, and reinforced stitching to support a bag full of hiking gear or ski boots.

  • A roller, backpack, and duffel in one
  • Too larger for smaller planes

Best Under-the-Seat Carry-On

Travelpro Crew Versapack Deluxe Tote Bag

Key Specs
Dimensions: 11 x 17 x 9 in.
Capacity: 23 L
Weight: 1.6 lbs

This under-seat carry-on bag is revered by flight attendants and travel pros. It has substantial storage space, but its small enough to leave you some foot room when you stow it under your seat. Generous and well-placed exterior pockets make it easy to access what you need, even with your tray table down in the middle seat of basic economy.

  • Too small to use for longer trips

Best Carry-on for Photographers

Wandrd PRVKE 41L



Key Specs

• Dimensions: 21 x 12 x 9 in.

• Capacity: 46 L

• Weight: 3.7 lbs

Photographers who need to protect their expensive camera gear and carry a few days of clothing will appreciate the PRVKE series from Wandrd. In addition to offering secure padding compartments for cameras and lenses, it’s wearable as a backpack and has a built-in tech sleeve, a lifetime guarantee, and a quick-access zipper in case you need to access your camera in a hurry.

  • Made for cameras and electronic gear

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