Choosing the best carry-on bag proved to be very difficult. Friends joked there were more pieces of luggage on my living room floor than most luggage stores have in their showrooms, but when it came to the ultimate test - choosing which piece to take with me on the next flight, it proved surprisingly difficult.
I found myself wanting to 'cheat' and rather than choose just one single piece, express preferences for different pieces depending on the circumstances and need.
And so, please consider not just one but four winners.
For traveling when you know your bag will be measured and probably weighed as well, there is a clear winner - the Eagle Creek Pilot EXP.
This is by far the lightest of all the bags tested, weighing only 6.25 lbs. With an overall very 'squishy' design it is easy to squeeze and shove it into tight spaces (not least of which is the airline sizing template!).
The Heys Eco 19" bag is a close second in weight, but is sold as part of a three bag package rather than individually. Good value if you need at least one other bag, too; not such good value if you just want to add a single extra bag.
Mention must also be made of the Briggs & Riley Transcend Transformable bag. Because this can unzip into two bags, you have the option of splitting your bag into two, and trying to bluff your way on the plane saying 'this is my one piece of carry on and that is my one personal item' or alternatively, giving in gracefully and allowing one of the pieces to be checked while still carrying on the other. Although it can be uniquely split into two bags, it remains much heavier and larger than either the Eagle Creek Pilot EXP or the Samsonite Sahora Spinners.
Lastly, if you're prepared to do a bit of lateral thinking and do without the wheels and hard sides, the Red Oxx Safari Beano 5.5 is about as light, rugged, and capacious as is humanly possible.
If size and weight are no concern at all, your best bag is the Briggs & Riley 21" Expandable Upright.
Although it doesn't start off life as the largest capacity piece, once you open up its huge almost 3" expansion gusset, you have an enormous bag capable of holding a massive amount of stuff.
The Travelpro Crew 5 Rollaboard comes a very close second. It also has an expansion gusset (and is also heavy). The Travelpro costs almost $150 less, is well made and likely to last for a long time, and has more internal compartments and clever features than the Briggs & Riley piece.
The EZ-Swany 22" Quilted Walkin' Bag is also a great bag, although very oversized in one dimension, and with a very inferior warranty.
The lifetime no exceptions warranty of the Briggs & Riley piece, and its general superiority, make it the overall winner, fairly compensating for the more basic nature of the bag and its higher price.
I've often been traveling to
trade shows or in some other way needing to take a bunch of
boxes and other things with me, and find it impossibly difficult
to manage without a trolley or sky cap assistance in such cases.
No longer! The very cleverly designed Porter Case PC II which converts to a carrying trolley capable of accepting a 200lb load is ideal for such situations. You can load the Porter Case with a display stand unit, boxes of brochures, and anything else, and conveniently make your way both through the airport and through the convention hall without needing any extra assistance.
If you only travel once a year, then perhaps the $40 Walmart bag by American Tourister will be fine. It will probably last you five, possibly ten years before breaking.
But if you're traveling much more than once a year, you'll quickly find the extra value and quality in a better made bag is well worth the small extra cost. Think of it perhaps as a small premium added to each ticket you buy, and soon you'll find you've covered the extra cost of the Costco piece.
The Costco piece is perhaps the best of the three lowest priced bags, but it is considerably heavier and also substantially more expensive, and so you're starting to move into the realm of diminishing value and weight issues. But it is also most definitely the best made of the three.
In the last almost two months (Oct - Dec 04), I've been torture testing one of the Briggs & Riley bags.
Rather than just carefully carry it on planes, I've checked it and entrusted it to baggage handlers and machines, and in total this bag has been on 14 flights, 32 car rides, in and out of 17 hotels, 2 trains and 1 ship in the course of 47,000 miles of travel. Plus it was lost once (by Alitalia) so who knows what else happened to it.
I've overloaded it with as much as 60lbs of packing, I've hung a 20+lb bag off the top of it, I've bumped it up and down hundreds of steps and curbs, rolled it over all sorts of uneven surfaces and generally done all I can to destroy it.
The net result? Apart from some scratches on the skid pads from dragging it up rough concrete steps, the bag looks like new. There is no sign of wear, and everything works perfectly. I'm astonished.
To make a positive story even better, even if I had destroyed the bag, it wouldn't matter, because Briggs & Riley's lifetime no-questions asked warranty would repair/replace it for free. These truly are bags you can buy with confidence.
In theory, it would be one of the three Briggs & Riley bags - very strong construction and lifetime no questions asked warranties that tangibly prove the confidence that B&R have in their products.
But all three are oversized and would not fit in an airline sizing template, so they probably should be disqualified for that reason. Briggs & Riley do make smaller sized bags, but we did not test these.
Similarly the Travelpro Crew5 Rollaboard is a close second favorite of ours, but it too is oversized.
The reality is that different people want different bags for different purposes, and it is not appropriate to try and choose one only bag as the very best for everyone for every purpose.
This is why manufacturers don't just offer a single bag, but offer a range of different bag sizes and styles, and for this reason, we've decided not to award any bag as overall grand winner, because no one bag works best for all people, all the time.
Choose your most common travel need from the four scenarios above, and then consider the nominated best of class accordingly.
In the top right of the page you'll see links to specific bag reviews and related articles about choosing the best carry-on luggage for your travels.