If you’re like us, you’ll put extra effort and care into getting everything you need into a single carry-on bag, in order to avoid the hassle and delay of checking bags, picking them up, and lugging them along with you at each stage of your travel itinerary.
It makes it easier to make tight connections at some airports, and you avoid the time spent finding your way to x-ray queues and carousels.
Quick and easy is the goal, and the right cabin luggage can be the key to achieving it.
Besides that, it’s simply less stressful to know where your belongings are throughout the flight, and to handle them with the care and attention they deserve.
If you can pack light enough to make this work, it takes a lot of the hassle out of travel, but it is key to choose the right bag for you.
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A sleek, stylish case with high-end features and the rock-solid Samsonite name.
- Dimensions: 40 x 20 x 55cm
- Capacity: 34l
- Weight: 3kg
There is no better-known name in luggage than Samsonite, and for good reason. This 34l, four-roller model looks great in a number of colour choices, and is well designed for both stowing in the overhead compartments, and for gliding along the concourse.
The pull handle is light-weight and has the right combination of flex and strength to hold up to the punishment of those last-minute rushes to the departure gate. It’s also stylish, with its chrome and black integrated design and inset unlock button.
In the battle to reduce weight yet maintain structural integrity, this model may have gone a little light. In some cases, the hardware and shell have failed in travel conditions, causing the failure of interior hooks or cracks in the exterior shell.
If you are a frequent business traveller, you’re better off going with something a bit heavier, with thicker walls.
The identification tag is set on the handle side of the bag so as not to interrupt the styling of the main face of the bag, and to keep your information more private from those standing behind you in a queue.
This case also includes a removable wet pocket – great for packing that wet swimsuit from the pre-checkout workout – and various pockets and dividers to keep your clothing and other personal belongings organised and as fresh-looking as possible.
The case features a TSA lock as well, to keep the contents secure from those with ill will, while still accessible to customs officials and security personnel.
It also utilises four caster wheels, to allow both tilted dragging, and all-direction, stable movement when level. It can also serve as a stable coffee rest when waiting out a flight delay.
A casual, reliable bag for flights and short hikes. Flexible and smart.
- Dimensions: 55 x 32 x (varies as packed) cm
- Capacity: 40l
- Weight: 1.5kg
If your travel needs are more casual, this travel backpack from Osprey is a great option.
Available in a variety of colours, it features a hip belt for comfort and spinal support, and comfortable straps – including a shoulder strap.
All straps and belts can be zipped away for overhead stowage, then pulled out when deplaning for easy, hands-free carrying.
The bag doesn’t come with locks, but there are loops on the main compartment zippers to allow a TSA lock to be used when flying – but left at home when hiking or moving around a secure area.
It is built primarily as a backpack, so the tapered design that makes it most comfortable, also takes a little away from the total capacity as a cabin bag.
If it were squarer, it could hold more and still be cabin-sized. In other words, it loses a little space in exchange for style and weight distribution.
This is a common problem of hybrid-purpose items; it isn’t the best it could be as a backpack, nor the best it could be as cabin luggage. It’s decent for either purpose.
The bag is durable and can put up with a beating. It is soft shell, though, so the items inside will share in the shock of any bumps or knocks it takes.
As cabin luggage though, these should be minimal, so it will still serve the purpose well.
As with any soft-shell bag, it will better flex and adapt to the space you put it in, but it is also possible to over-fill it, so be sure to compare its packed measurements to those allowed by the airline you choose.
A strong bag with a good warranty and great colour range.
- Dimensions: 55 x 35 x 20cm
- Capacity: 42l
- Weight: 3.2kg
This hard-shell cabin bag is a lower-cost version of the hard shell cabin bag, but still features decent construction and usability.
The bag features four caster wheels and an expandable shell. Though the expandability is a useful feature when travelling by land, it often no longer complies with cabin-luggage size regulations when expanded, so the extra weight and space taken up by the feature is a loss to most flyers.
As an alternative, some travellers carry it one way, fill it up to expanded capacity, and check it for the flight home. That’s a useful feature for loading up on gifts and souvenirs.
The bag includes a high-extending pull handle. When fully extended, the handle is quite flexible and won’t work well with a heavily-laden bag, but for most travellers it will hold up to the strain of pulling the bag on two wheels, and the extra length will keep it from knocking around at your heels as you navigate the crowds of the concourse – especially useful for taller travellers.
It uses a TSA combination lock with resettable code, so it keeps the bad guys out, while letting the good guys check your bag through security smoothly and easily.
The company stands behind these bags too, with a 5-year warranty (2 years for the wheels).
A great-looking, light bag with all the right features and a wide selection of finishes.
- Dimensions: 55 x 40 x 20cm
- Capacity: 31.5l
- Weight: 2.5kg
What stands out first for this bag is the style. The usual vertical lines and textures are replaced by a horizontal groove which increases strength and pleases the eye. The colour range is beautiful and extensive.
Whether you’re heading to a conservative business meeting, or wanting to wow a creative client, there is a version that will suit your purpose. It has a smaller capacity than many bags, at thirty-one litres, but just look at it in profile and you might not mind – this is a sleek and sexy piece of luggage.
It has the four caster wheels that keep it stable yet mobile when flat, but allow for angled dragging when more speed is called for. It’s rounded on the top, which makes secondary use as a coffee rest more difficult, but that’s a minor cost of the sleek styling.
Internally, this bag has the usual features: elasticated straps to keep your clothing in place, pockets for the loose items, and a pouch for grooming materials or sharp stationary.
A specialist bag that ticks all the boxes for same-day round trips.
- Dimensions: 43 x 37 x 19cm
- Capacity: unknown
- Weight: 2.31kg
If your needs are less for overnight business travel, and more for fly-in, fly-out day trips, then a regular carry-on bag is probably too much hardware for your needs.
If that’s the case, try this rolling laptop bag as a way to save back strain, while carrying the essentials of your fly-deal-fly business needs.
Each bag is designed to hold a single laptop up to 16”, and fits my 15” with a tablet tucked in with it quite nicely. The pocket is padded to add protection for the devices, and it can be fitted with a lock.
The whole bag will slide under your seat on most airplanes, keeping your valuable hardware and information close, safe, and accessible if you need it.
The external pocket can hold anything you might need quick access to, like travel documents or reading material, and there is plenty of additional space inside to add several personal items alongside your electronics – that fresh shirt and workout kit will fit with room to spare.
The bag is equipped with two wheels and two pegs. The wheels are fixed (rather than caster) and so the bag can wobble sometimes on uneven ground, tipping or twisting if the added pressures of your speed and rough terrain are too much for it.
In most airport situations, this is a minor issue though, and you can always collapse the handle and ‘suitcase’ it as you sprint for last-minute boarding, or to catch that lone cab.
The wheels are also pretty small, so if you plan to use it in areas with rougher, cobbled streets, you will find it can bump and catch from time to time.
This is a specialist item, even for cabin luggage, but if it suits your needs it’s a great choice. Best of all, you can use it when you’re not flying, with all the same benefits.
A durable two-wheeler, not flashy, but suited to do the job at a reasonable price.
- Dimensions: 50 x 37 x 20cm
- Capacity: 37l
- Weight: 3.3kg
This little two-wheeler is available in red, white or black and is a decent option for the semi-casual traveller.
The exterior is made of durable fabric that wears well. The cost of that durability is a drop in aesthetics – it’s more of a utility bag than statement.
That said, if you want something that will do the job it was purchased to do, and hold up reasonably well to the occasional checking and constant little knocks and scrapes that luggage goes through, then this is a good choice.
With a thirty-seven-litre capacity, it has good holding space, but when over-packed the extension mechanism for the drag handle can be disabled by the pressure, sometimes damaging it permanently.
As long as you use the generous volume for lighter items and keep the heavy stuff to a reasonable amount, the bag will be fine.
As mentioned, this is a two-wheel bag, which means it doesn’t roll as freely as the four-caster models, and tends to fall over if not packed to balance.
Nonetheless, if you are looking for a well-priced, durable bag that can be stowed overhead or checked below, this is a viable candidate.
The best volume ad weight, but at the cost of extra effort.
- Dimensions: 29 x 52 x 28cm
- Capacity: 42l
- Weight: 0.839kg
There is a lot to be said for simplicity, and if you want a reliable cabin bag and don’t need the bells and whistles, it’s worth considering the humble – but long-proven – duffel bag.
This MIER bag is designed to fit in a standard overhead compartment and, because it is a soft-shell design, can flex and fit in a variety of spaces that are less standard.
The black or grey exterior finish is resistant to impact and scuff-marks, and will keep its look for a good duration, depending on how hard the use is of course.
The interior is lined in a stylish fabric, and uncomplicated by anything more than a single, zip-able pocket for small items. The bottom of the bag is padded, too, to prevent contents from damage due to sharp or hard surfaces.
If you like to travel in a trainer, but need something a bit posh too, you can take advantage of the separate shoe compartment, keeping the smell and moisture of freshly-worn footwear from tainting the rest of your clothing.
The bag also comes with a shaving kit to keep your toiletries contained and ready for inspection at the security stations.
Its basic shape means that it holds a whopping forty-two litres of interior capacity, while weighing in at less than a kilogram. That means not only increased size and weight for you to use, but also that you can use it in a greater range of aircraft and other stowage situations.
The drawback, of course, is that you lose the option to pull the bag behind you.
This goes over your shoulder or into your hand, and if you have a heavy load, this extra burden can add stress and fatigue to a journey that may already be stressful and tiring.
It’s not the bag for everyone, but if the flexibility and space call to you, and the need to heft it through the terminal doesn’t throw you off, then it could be the bag for you.
A hybrid bag, that leans heavily toward the roller board advantages.
- Dimensions: 54 x 35 x 19cm
- Capacity: 42
- Weight: 1.65kg
The 5 Cities Trolley Backpack is a hybrid roller-bag backpack only in the sense that it has shoulder straps. It is basically a roller board with an additional means of carrying it. This isn’t a bad thing though.
The problem with most hybrid items is that they are not spectacular at either job, settling into the middle ground of being passable at either.
This item could actually make this list without the inclusion of the straps, as a simple piece rolling cabin luggage. The shoulder straps are a bonus and, for some situations, might well be worth the extra weight.
This is a two-wheel model, which you know is not our favourite, but this may well have been a design strategy to compensate for the added weight of the straps, as this bag weighs in well below two kilograms – quite a feat for a hybrid roller backpack.
When the straps are stowed in the handy zipper pocket, it looks like a regular roller board, and when worn as a backpack it looks like… a roller board strapped to your back!
But even so, it doesn’t look or feel awkward when worn, and does the job nicely for going to and from hotels, taxis, shuttles or when using mass transit.
A low-cost bag of medium durability and rock bottom price.
- Dimensions: 44 x 31 x 20cm
- Capacity: est. 20l
- Weight: 0.699kg
If you’re one who travels light, doesn’t mind carrying your luggage – rather than dragging it – and want a simple, versatile bag that will suit any cabin requirements, then consider this simple design from Hi-Tec.
It is about half the capacity of a cabin-sized roller board, but presents no barriers to the use of that space. It is a simple elongated cube with three internal compartments allowing the traveller to stow gear in a simple folded stack; no wheel mounts or handle compartments sticking out into the bag or getting in the way.
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What to look for in with Cabin Luggage
Let’s start by looking at some of the key features.
In all honesty, most cabin luggage is largely the same. There is a very specific purpose and set of conditions that dictate a lot of the shape and design characteristics, leaving fewer areas in which individuality and distinctiveness can be expressed. It mainly comes down to the colour, finish, and branding.
The colour is a personal choice, and long gone are the days when the choices were black, grey, or tan. The full rainbow is on offer from most companies, and in combination with a variety of finishes, there is a look to match almost any purpose or preference.
Colour and finish choices are not just about fashion though; a bag that looks stunning on a display stand might not hold up well, even to careful handling by its owner. There is a balance to be struck between durability and statement.
When it comes to branding, we can consider it either added value, or inflated price, depending on the way we look at it – maybe even a bit of both. On the one hand, a recognised brand tends to stand behind their products in order to protect their reputation.
On the other, the same quality of product will cost more from a known brand than from a new or unknown company. Figuring out the balance between these two factors, and how valuable each might be, is largely a personal choice.
One thing to remember when choosing cabin luggage, is that it is cabin luggage. It is designed to look good, and to carry modest loads through relatively benign conditions.
If you are planning to pack it to weight capacity before lifting it up and down from the overheads, or you plan to check your bag sometimes when you travel, you’ll need to expect some degree of damage.
Some of this will be minor scratches or dings, but some of it will involve handle failure, wheel loss, or major damage to the finish. With hard cases, splitting can occur – or tears in softer fabrics. With almost any bag, the right amount of pressure at the wrong angle can pop a zipper or compromise a handle casing.
If you want a bag that stands up to that kind of abuse and looks more or less like it did when you bought it, then look at a heavy duffel bag, or a dark, very thick soft-shell suitcase with heavy-duty wheels – or none at all.
For standard carry-on needs though, there are still durability issues to consider. Your bag will have two main purposes: to carry your belongings, and to protect your belongings. In protecting the contents, the bag may take some damage itself.
That’s normal and should be accepted. A shiny finish will show scratches more easily.
A heavier bag will normally have stronger, more durable components. And finally, the simpler the bag, the more durable it is likely to be.
Every traveller is unique, but there are features that can make your life easier regardless of the reasons for and style of your travel.
If you’re flying, you’ll need to go through security. At the same time, you’ll want to protect your belongings from theft.
Though you can keep an eye on your bag most of the time, there are situations in which it may need to be moved to a different part of the plane, be unexpectedly checked into cargo, or simply left unwatched in the overhead while you catch up on some sleep.
For those times, you’ll want to keep it locked – but TSA may need access for additional security checks.
A TSA lock is a great solution to these opposing needs. It allows you to lock the bag away from the general public, while allowing TSA to use their specialised keys to open and check the contents.
Another great feature is the four-caster wheel design. This allows the bag to be moved easily in any direction, left sitting stable when not in motion, or dragged behind at an angle. Much more versatile than the original two-wheel, two peg design.
The pull handle is also an important feature to consider. It should be strong enough to hold the load when pulled at an angle, but long enough to avoid hitting the heels of the one carrying it.
The taller the traveller, the longer this will need to be. If you are a shorter traveller, you won’t need to worry about this, and can add it to the many benefits you have over your larger fellow-travellers. If you’re tall, make sure the length dimensions of the bag and handle suit your height.
Within each bag, you’ll find a variety of dividers, straps and pockets. Whether a particular configuration works or not is up to each traveller.
Most of us can adapt to what’s in offer, and since the experts in the field hone their designs according to feedback and experience, the fairly standard internal setup suits most travellers anyway.
You’ll likely see a four-point elastic strap with a clip fastener, to hold your folded items in place; a bag divider, to keep the lid and base section contents separate when opening and closing the bag; and an assortment of zippered pockets and pouches, sometimes with mesh sides, to hold smaller items such as toiletries or jewellery.
Most bags also have an external pocket, useful for carrying a magazine or something similar to keep you occupied while waiting. Since the advent of the Smart Phone, these pockets go largely unused, unless it’s to keep a power cable close at hand.
Without further ado, let’s look at our choice of the best cabin luggage, and then go over the various options reviewed and the pros and cons of each.
Cabin Luggage Reviewed
Last update on 2020-11-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API