The Best Carry-On Luggage Choices for travelers who don't like to check their luggage
The Best Carry-On Luggage Choices for travelers who don’t like to check their luggage

You’ve probably noticed that the overhead bin space has been filling up faster these days. It’s a race to get on board just so you have a place to stow your carry-on luggage.

I wish I could say it was because more people are attempting to pack light these days, but it can most likely be attributed to the lack of knowledge about what the best carry-on luggage choices. When too many ill-fitting suitcases get stuffed in the bins at odd angles, there’s less room for everyone.

You don’t want to be one of those people who can’t seem to get their luggage to fit no matter which way you stuff it. You want to travel with ease and be able to fit your suitcase in the overhead bin, no matter what airline you’re flying. Then you can enjoy the trip without suffering from the overhead bin luggage wars. Rest assured that each of these are great options for luggage that fits in the overhead bin.

If you choose good lightweight carry-on luggage, you won’t have to struggle to carry it up the stairs either. That’s why we’ve done the work for you and picked the top 4 best carry-on luggage choices out there, all which fall into the acceptable airline size range (see this chart on carry-on luggage size).  If you want to check the exact weight of any particular item of luggage, an easy way to do that is to check the specifications on the website of an online luggage retailer like Luggage Direct.

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Best Carry On Luggage for 2018

In case you don’t have a lot of time to read all of the reviews below and you’re just looking for a list of the top carry on luggage, we’ve put together a quick-pick table for you. Everyone’s needs vary, but you should be able to find a suitcase in this list that fits your needs. Looking for luggage sets? Check out our full luggage set reviews here.

We’ve tested these types of carry-on-luggage. Clicking the link will take you straight to that section:

If you’re looking for garment bags, check out this review.

Airline Luggage Restrictions

You may not think the regulations for carry-on luggage has changed much, if you’re one of those lucky few who haven’t faced the scrutiny of the luggage czar when checking in for a flight. But, if you’ve ever had to squeeze your suitcase into the sizer to prove its worthiness to fly in the cabin, you know – most carry-on suitcases are egregiously over the allowable size.

The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.

Yes, there are airlines that allow larger sizes than that and probably even a few that require something smaller. You should plan to fly with the lowest common size for carry-on luggage. And don’t forget that weight matters too!

Carry-on Luggage Buying Criteria

For frequent travelers, the same set of criteria for luggage always rises to the top. You want the lightest luggage possible, easy to manage, that you don’t have to worry about fitting within the regulations of the various airlines. So those are the criteria we used when determining the best carry-on luggage for 2018. Price is obviously also a major factor. Also how well it will stand up to the brutal beating it receives from baggage handlers.

  1. Light weight
  2. Easy to manage
  3. Fits within airline regulations
  4. Price (each option hovers around $100 or under)
  5. Durability

Luggage Style

Our choices for top luggage range from travel backpack to hard-sided suitcases and spinner suitcases. This is because it’s impossible to suit every traveler’s preference and needs with just one style of luggage.

We are typically backpack-only travelers and prefer to pack as light as possible, but there are times when a backpack is just a bit too small, or more often, when it’s too cumbersome to carry for a longer length of time. In those cases, we take a light weight suitcase. If you travel frequently, you may choose to purchase more than one type of carry-on luggage to suit multiple use cases. This list should satisfy all of those needs.

The best carry-on luggage for 2018

I don’t know about you, but I love the ease of purchasing on Amazon, so I set up our guide right in an Amazon viewing window to make it easy for you to click to read reviews or check out pricing.

Best Lightweight Carry On Luggage

If you’re looking for the best lightweight rolling carry on luggage, this is it. I’ve seen so many of these suitcases in airports lately. It’s definitely caught on! And there’s a reason for that. The best option for light carry on luggage is the “it luggage”. It weights only 3.63 pounds. In luggage weight, that’s really light. It’s almost as if there’s no weight to the luggage itself, and when you are trying to keep your luggage weight under 23lbs for most airlines, you will be very glad it’s so light.

The lightweight softsided version of the it luggage measures 21.5 x 13.5 x 9, so it meets our size parameters, and the price is definitely right. The thing that makes this suitcase unique is that the telescoping handle doesn’t run through the middle of the case. The handle is really slim and it runs along the outside of the case. This is important for two reasons. In typical suitcases, the large handle compartment takes up a lot of space in the interior and it makes the floor of the suitcase uneven, so it’s harder to pack things well. Also, since the handle is so slim, it isn’t bulky or heavy like most handles are. Overall, this gives you much more space to pack your things, and less weight to carry.

This suitcase can be bought in a set too, in case you need differing sizes. They have a set with a 32, 29 and 22 size case. Check out the set here.

See price on Amazon

Check prices and see more reviews for the it luggage 21.5 Carry On

Best Soft-Sided Carry-On Spinner

Travelpro Luggage Maxlite4 International Carry-On Spinner

This TravelPro Spinner suitcase is one of the easiest pieces of luggage to travel with. The 21-inch size will fit in almost every overhead bin. It measures 21 x 14 x 9, and it is one of the lightest carry-on luggage sets you’ll find.

It has a couple of convenient zipper pockets for tucking things away, plus a lid compartment for pressed items to keep them wrinkle free. The criss-cross, adjustable straps will hold everything else in place. It has quite a bit of internal space, plus it’s expandable for times when you’re not flying in tight restrictions and want to put more in it.

It has spinner wheels that glide in all directions, so you don’t have to always be pulling the suitcase along behind. The gliding mechanism eases stress on the arms and shoulders, which you’ll definitely notice after a few miles trekking through an airport. The aluminum handle locks in two positions for a better grip, no matter how tall you are. And it has a comfort grip handle to ease stress on your hands as you pull.

This suitcase comes with a limited lifetime warranty. Do keep in mind that this bag exceeds the size limit for European low-cost airlines, like Ryanair. You need to buy the International Maxlite4 for that, which measures 20 x 14.5 x 7.

See price on AmazonCheck prices and read reviews for the Travelpro Luggage Maxlite4 International Carry-On Spinner

Best Hard-Sided Carry-On Suitcase

Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Spinner 20

Samsonite is one of the top luggage brands on the market, so you know you’re getting a durable and reliable product for your money when you buy one. I’ve had some of my Samsonite suitcases for 8 years and after all the trips I’ve taken with it, it’s still one of the best suitcases I own. The Omni PC Hardside spinner suitcase will stay looking good, due to the 100% polycarbonate construction with scratch-resistant surface. It’s one of the best bets for hardsided suitcases.

The 360-spinner wheels take away the need to pull a heavy suitcase behind you. Push it is a breeze with the lightweight wheels. The zippered interior divider and cross-straps make organization on the inside easy. And the suitcase is fully expandable for when you need to fit in more. Just don’t add more when you’re flying, because the expansion makes the case too big for most airlines. The side-mounted, TSA-approved locks are an added bonus.

See price on AmazonCheck prices and read reviews for the Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Spinner

Best Luggage Set

Samsonite Omni PC 3 Piece Set Spinner 20 24 28

Choosing a set of luggage can be a very difficult decision. What’s best in a small carry-on suitcase, may not be best for a larger case. However, there are some luggage companies who just do it all very well, and you can trust the construction, quality and years of experience they’ve had building the best suitcases possible. For that reason, the Samsonite Omni PC Spinner set is the winner for us. We’ve tried many different suitcases over the years, and we’ve come to learn three firm truths about luggage: softsided suitcases get destroyed faster than hardsided, spinner wheels are superior to fixed wheels, and it’s always best to spend a bit more money for a trusted, proven brand name.

We often interchange our luggage based on the type of trip we’re taking. With the set, we can choose which piece to take – the 20″ carry on, the 24-inch for slightly longer trips, or the 28-inch for longer-term travel. The side-mounted tsa lock ensures security while traveling. For the price, this is one of the best values you can find for luggage. The durable construction and the sturdy zippers will take you on many trips without being damaged.

See price on AmazonCheck prices for the Samsonite Omni PC 3 Piece Set Spinner 20 24 28

See all of our luggage set recommendations.

Best Travel Backpack

AmazonBasics Carry-On Travel Backpack

When my favorite backpack became unavailable recently, I had to go in search of a new alternative. If a travel backpack is going to be useful for up to a 5-day trip, which is what I use it for most often, it has to be at least 33L in size. But when you put that much into a backpack, it can get heavy, so it also needs to have a sturdy back and good weight distribution. I found that in the AmazonBasics Carry-On Travel Backpack. Unlike regular backpacks, this pack opens like a suitcase, from the side. You pack it like you would a suitcase. So much fits into it in an organized and compact fashion, especially when using packing cubes (see below).

There is one large main compartment, a smaller front compartment for accessories, and a separate padded zipper pocket in the back for a laptop, which is a much loved feature when going through security at the airport. There’s one additional, though small, zippered pocket on the front to hold smaller items that you need to get to easily, plus a hide-away water-bottle pocket. The back is sturdy but not inflexible, so it is very comfortable to carry. There are removeable chest and stomach straps that help even the load. The other interesting feature of this backpack is that the straps can be hidden away so you can carry the bag as a shoulder bag, or just carry it like a suitcase. It’s very versatile.

If you like the ease of carrying your stuff in a backpack, rather than wheeled carry on luggage, this is our new go-to backpack. We never have a problem fitting it into the overhead, and when space is no longer available there, it’s no problem because the backpack fits easily under the seat.

See price on AmazonCheck prices for the AmazonBasics Carry-On Travel Backpack

 See other travel backpack options here.

Best Packing Cubes

These little packing cubes did wonders for my packing and I’ll never pack again with out them. Fitting a week or two’s worth of clothing into a carry-on sized luggage has never been easier or more organized. You can fit so much into these cubes and they keep everything nicely folded and stowed in the bag. Even if TSA has to perform a random bag check, you can be sure all of your unmentionables aren’t being flung around the screening room for everyone to see.

⇒ Read more about packing cubes in our full guide to finding the best packing cubes.


You really can’t go wrong with any of these carry on suitcases. They are all the best carry-on luggage choices 2017. All of them offer ease of packing and carrying. We switch between them depending on the situation and like having the flexibility.

What is your favorite carry-on luggage? Have you tried any of these choices?

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links to Amazon in this article. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We have no association with the companies of the products reviewed. These are our own opinions of the top travel products.

9 thoughts on “Beat the Overhead Bin Wars: Best Carry-On Luggage Choices

  1. Charles S. says:

    We go through carry-ons pretty quickly as we are transporting geodes, gems and minerals during our trips. These are great choices though for our non “rockhounding” trips.

  2. Stacey says:

    I’m very confused. Samsonite Omni on its website and also on Amazon says it may not meet airline’s carry on restrictions. Looking for recommendations for a carry on that will universally meet restrictions.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      The reason they say that is because all airlines have different restrictions, and they don’t want to be responsible if you fly a really small airline that won’t take it. I’ve never seen any of these suitcases I’ve listed here be rejected by the airlines. They are all within standard size. The only time you may have an issue is on smaller European discount airlines, but even then, I’ve seen all of these suitcases pass on those airlines, too. If you want to be 100% safe, the iT luggage is absolutely universal.

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