Best Carry-ons, Travel Tips

In the air

WHICH IS THE BEST CARRY-ON?

We put 4 top luggage brands to the test to find the best bag for the money.

Carry-On Luggage - Away

Photo courtesy: Away

Why test?

We have long been on the search for the elusive, perfect carry-on. As we have recommended to our readers, we never - never - check luggage. We won’t give airlines the satisfaction of collecting luggage fees or the opportunity to lose our bags. This means our carry-ons have to be highly functional, able to service the needs of both a weekend getaway and two-week vacation.

In our quest, we considered both hard-sided and combination-sided (hard and soft) luggage. We looked at bags with and without spinner wheels, though we strongly prefer the more versatile spinners. But here’s the big one - we only considered smaller carry-ons that meet the more strict regulations of international carriers. Yes, believe it or not, most international carriers are more restrictive than U.S. carriers when it comes to the size of your luggage.

Below, we make our recommendations with our most favored bags toward the end.

4/LOJEL Cubo Small

Lojel Cubo Small

We’ve always loved Japanese company LOJEL and its bold and unapologetic color choices. This hard-sided, mustard yellow Cubo Small carry-on certainly makes a statement when rolling through the terminal. In addition to the color, there are several other features that we like about this bag: the built-in, TSA-approved combination lock, the expandable body, the easy-glide 360° spinner wheels, and the convenient front pocket.

However, there are some downsides. To access the main packing compartment, you have to unzip the front pocket and then unzip a second zipper. It should be noted that the zippers feel as though they’d be likely to break after long-term use. But our biggest issue with this carry-on is the storage area itself. It’s only on one side instead of being split into two - meaning all of your clothes are together. While the space is deep, it’s difficult to access items at the bottom. And a big pet peeve of ours, you can’t separate your dirty laundry; the front pocket won’t accommodate anything much thicker than a laptop.

LOJEL has free shipping and a 10-year warranty. Color options: black, burgundy, gray, mustard yellow, navy blue, rose, and white.

Height: 20.9”/Width: 14”/Depth: 9.8”

Weight: 6.8 lbs.

Cost: $250

Photo courtesy: LOJEL

3/Genius Pack Aerial Hardside Carry-on Spinner

Genius Pack Aerial Hardside Carry-on Spinner

This hard-sided bag from Genius Pack made a big splash when it was first introduced because of its smart interior design. The bag is divided into two sides. On one side, you have a designated laundry compartment covered by a large flap. That flap has four integrated pockets, three of which are labeled for socks, undergarments, and charging cables. While we appreciate the effort here to build in organization, the pockets aren’t always ideally sized for what you want to pack. The bag also has a permanently embedded packing list on this side. On the other side of the bag, you’ll find an open packing area complete with compression straps to keep things in place. The exterior is chic with a built-in combination lock and 360° spinner wheels.

Honestly, our KidTripster dad liked this bag more than our KidTripster mom. It almost seems better suited to male packing habits than female. It just didn’t hold as much as we would have liked. However, it’s a sensation carry-on for a quick business or weekend trips and the least expensive among those that we reviewed.

KidTripster Tip: You also can get a version of this bag with an integrated, portable charger for an extra $45.

Genius Pack Aerial Hardside Carry-on Spinner

Genius Pack has free shipping and a 5-year warranty. Color options: black, brushed chrome, hunter green, and white.

Height: 21.5”/Width: 14”/Depth: 9”

Weight: 6.2 lbs.

Cost: $178

Photo courtesy: Genius Pack

2/Away The Carry-On with Ejectable Battery

Away The Carry-On with Ejectable Battery

If you’re looking for the “it” brand in luggage right now, it’s Away. In fact, Duchess Meghan gave guests at her royal baby shower Away luggage as gifts. Nice swag! And there’s much to like about The Carry-On. The durable, hard-sided luggage comes with a built-in, TSA-approved combination lock and leather luggage tag. Inside, you’ll find two sides for packing. One side is covered by a mesh flap to keep items in place. The other side has a large, stiff mesh pocket flap and compression straps. And in a genius move, the luggage has a small pocket that holds a detachable laundry bag. The 360° spinner wheels on this bag deliver a smooth, easy ride.

Our favorite feature is the exterior charging station to juice up your cell phone and laptop. You can charge two electronics at once. While you do need to remove the 37-watt lithium battery if you check the bag, it can remain intact if you’re carrying the bag on the plane. (Note that you can purchase this carry-on without the battery, if you wish.) The bag includes a battery charger and international converters plus a cleaning kit for the exterior.

KidTripster Tip: If you’re traveling in Asia, remove the battery from the bag before going through airport security. You can replace it once you’re in the terminal.

Away has free shipping and a limited lifetime year warranty. Color options: asphalt, black, blush, brick red, coast slate blue, green, navy blue, sand, sky blue, and white.

Away The Carry-On with Ejectable Battery

KidTripster Tip: This bag comes in a kid’s size, too.

Height: 21.7”/Width: 13.7”/Depth: 9”

Weight: 8.3 lbs.

Cost: $225

If you’re looking for a small, hard-sided carry-on, this bag gets our vote. However, keep reading…

Photo courtesy: Away

1/eBags TLS Mother Lode 21” Wheeled Carry-on Duffel

eBags TLS Mother Lode 21” Wheeled Carry-on Duffel

In terms of packability, the eBags TLS Mother Lode is our winner. It’s a combination bag with a hard-sided back and a soft-sided, expandable front. The outside pockets on this bag are thoughtfully designed. The top pocket is big enough for a phone, passport or any other item that you’d need to access quickly and easily. A small pocket below that one contains a hidden strap so that you can connect another small bag on top while wheeling. There’s an outside pocket for documents and then a larger pocket with a zippered mesh bag inside that grants access to the interior of the suitcase. This pocket can easily accommodate a laptop.

Inside, you’ll find one side (the pocket side) that can be dedicated to dirty laundry with a zippered flap that includes two large zippered, mesh pockets. The other side is open with an option divider which we found to be useful for keeping clothes neat and tidy. The bag is expandable with compression straps on the outside, though we’re not a fan of these straps as buckling and unbuckling adds an extra step to getting in and out of the bag.

Our biggest complaint about this bag? Unlike all the other bags reviewed, it doesn’t have 360° spinner wheels, so you’re forced to pull this bag behind you or push it ahead; you can’t roll it at your side. If not for that oversight, the eBags TLS Mother Lode would have been a near perfect piece of luggage.

eBags TLS Mother Lode 21” Wheeled Carry-on Duffel

eBags has free shipping for purchases over $49 and a limited lifetime year warranty. Color options: black, indigo, eggplant, graphite, navy blue, slate blue, red, and turquoise.

Height: 21.5”/Width: 15”/Depth: 9”

Weight: 8.7 lbs.

Cost: $198

Photo courtesy: eBags

Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah once packed for a 72-day trip around the world in a single backpack.

This writer received complimentary products for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely his own.

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Definitive guide to the best carry-on luggage