What to Look for
What makes good luggage. . . good?
Luggage may not be the most glamorous part of travel. But after lugging a truly terrible suitcase (jammed wheels, half-collapsed handle), across stadium-sized airport terminals, or rummaging for a phone charger in the dark abyss of a backpack, you realize it’s not something to overlook. Taking the time to choose the best piece of luggage for your needs can help you pack better and quicker, take care of your stuff, and move around with ease.
At AFAR, our travel editors have tested dozens of suitcases, backpacks, duffels, and weekenders to find the best. Although there’s no “one bag to rule them all,” we always consider the following before adding a new piece of luggage to our collections:
Durability: Is it made well enough to survive the stress of travel—aggressive baggage handlers, trunk bumps—and use for years to come?
Organization: Are there shoe compartments? Water bottle pocket? Laptop sleeve? All of the above? Give us the features that make it easier to pack and keep track of our stuff.
Comfort: Does that backpack fit your torso and distribute weight well? Will your suitcase roll easily? We spend a lot of time walking with our luggage, and want to do so without a struggle.
Material: Adventurous travelers may look for a bag with a lightweight waterproof (or at least water-resistant) material, while those who always check will want a tough hardshell suitcase.
Size and weight: Whether you’re #teamcarryon only or prefer to check, airlines have size and weight restrictions for both. Carry-on only travelers will want to stick to a lightweight bag smaller than 22 x 14 x 9 inches. With checked luggage, you can go a bit larger, generally up to 29 x 20.5 x 12.5 inches.
Sustainability: We consider not only what’s best for our travels, but also for the environment and the teams making our bags. A wide range of brands, from the stylish suitcases of Paravel to outdoor-ready Patagonia, follow environmentally friendly practices, like using recycled water bottles to create fabric. They’re also committed to creating a safe, fair workplace for their employees. No matter what type of luggage you want, there’s a sustainable brand that makes it.
The Best Luggage Brands
While all of us at AFAR are frequent travelers, we don’t share the same style or luggage preference. Some of us prefer to always carry-on, while others invest in a checked bag with plenty of extra room for souvenirs, extra shoes, and all. that. baby. gear. Even different trips call for different luggage: A small, hard-shell suitcase might be perfect in Tokyo, while a travel backpack works better in far-flung, rugged corners of the globe—like gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
Still, some luggage brands stand out from the rest: ones we return to again and again for well-made, reliable luggage designed to meet the needs of the travelers who carry them.
In no particular order, these are the best luggage brands our crew of frequent travelers have tried and loved:
1. Paravel: Sustainably-made luggage that’s also super stylish
2. Roam: Fully customizable hard-shell suitcases that are made in the USA
3. Lo & Sons: Durable canvas and nylon weekend bags from a family-owned brand
4. Rimowa: Luxury German brand known for its aluminum suitcases
5. Patagonia: Adventure-ready duffel bags made sustainably
6. Baboon to the Moon: Tough duffels with fun colors and patterns
7. Calpak: Affordable hard-shell luggage in fun patterns and colors
8. Herschel Supply Co.: Classic canvas backpacks and duffels with smart leather details
9. Travelpro: Reliable soft-shell spinners beloved by flight attendants
10. Away: Hard-shell spinners in a rainbow of limited-edition colors
11. Fjällräven: Adventure-ready bags that don’t look out of place in a city
12. Delsey: Chic French luggage that won’t break the bank
13. Tumi: Luxury luggage that is board-room ready
14. Steamline: Vintage-inspired luggage that will look great on Instagram
15. Piquadro: High-quality Italian leather bags
For the full story, read The 15 Best High-Quality Luggage Brands We Love.
Best Bags to Buy
While size and weight restrictions for carry-on luggage vary by airline, a bag that’s 22 x 14 x 9 inches or smaller will fit in the overhead bin of most planes flown by domestic carriers. (Tip: Get a full breakdown in our guide to carry-on luggage restrictions.) If you plan to use a carry-on in addition to a checked bag, small duffels and backpacks are the easiest to carry alongside a roller bag.
But for those who use their carry-on as their only piece of luggage, space, organization, and ease of carry are all important considerations. Also: It doesn’t hurt to consider checked-bag friendly features (TSA locks, hard exterior), just in case you’re asked to check your bag at the gate.
Whether this is your main piece of luggage or something you plan to use alongside a checked bag, here are our top picks for carry-on bags:
Best overall: Jaunt Carry-On by Roam
Buy now: $495, roamluggage.com
Runner up: The Frame Carry-On by Arlo Skye
Buy now: $450, arloskye.com
Best investment piece: Latitude International Carry-On by Tumi
Buy now: $1,150, tumi.com
Best ecofriendly option: Aviator Carry-On by Paravel
Buy now: $255, tourparavel.com
For more details about these bags and other options, read The Best Carry-On Luggage.
The Best Carry-On Luggage for 2021
Sometimes, backpacks are just a better bag for the adventure. Perhaps you’re traveling far afield, hopping bush planes with restrictive luggage limits and walking dirt roads on the way to your hotel. Or, you’re exploring small European towns where an elevator to your third-floor Airbnb is not guaranteed, and a roller bag is sure to wake up the neighborhood on those quaint (but oh-so-loud) cobblestone streets.
Fortunately, many brands have recognized the need for a backpack specifically designed for travel (as opposed to hiking), creating a wealth of options for the suitcase-adverse. Multitudes of pockets, main compartments that open like suitcases, and stylish, urban-inspired designs all differentiate these backpacks from their outdoors counterparts. At the same time, you’ll still find features that work for both use cases: waterproof exteriors for rainy days, hip belts to help distribute weight, and comfortable, padded straps.
Do you prefer a backpack over a suitcase? Here are our top picks for travel backpacks:
Best overall: Allpa 35L Travel Pack by Cotopaxi
Buy now: $200, cotopaxi.com
Runner up: SEG30 Segmented Backpack by Matador
Buy now: $150, matadorup.com
Best budget buy: Migrate Duffel 40L by Eagle Creek
Buy now: $79, eaglecreek.com
Best investment piece: Travel Backpack 45L by Peak Design
Buy now: $300, peakdesign.com
Best ecofriendly option: Setout Backpack 35L by Tortuga
Buy now: $179, tortugabackpacks.com
For more details about these bags and other options, read The Best Travel Backpacks.
Large, checked luggage
Whether you need a little extra room or simply prefer to let the airlines lug your luggage to the plane, you’ll want a bag designed for checking. Look for features like locking zippers, tuck-away backpack straps, and sturdy external materials to keep your belongings intact.
Also consider size and weight. While airlines have larger size restrictions for checked luggage than carry-on, they still need to be under a certain size and weight to avoid paying a fee at the check-in counter. Most airlines will charge an excess baggage fee for anything over 50 pounds (fully packed) and/or 62 linear inches (to calculate your bag’s linear inches, add its dimensions. For example, a bag that’s 29 x 20.5 x 12.5 inches will be 29 + 20.5 + 12.5 = 62.)
According to AFAR editors, the best luggage for checking are:
Best overall: Aviator Grand by Paravel
Buy now: $315, tourparavel.com
Runner up: The Large by Away
Buy now: $295, awaytravel.com
Best budget buy: Ambeur Large Luggage by Calpak
Buy now: $195, calpaktravel.com
Best investment piece: Original Check-in L by Rimowa
Buy now: $1,400, rimowa.com
Best ecofriendly option: V4 Extended Trip Expandable Packing Case by Tumi
Buy now: $750, tumi.com
For more details about these bags and other options, read The Best Checked Luggage.
For quick trips and weekend getaways, there’s no need to pull out your wheeled suitcase. Instead, reach for something that has just enough room for a day or two of belongings, is comfortable to carry, and—of course—is full of organizational features (especially if you have no time to waste on unpacking).
Some of these can also double as a personal item on flights. The dimensions of the underseat space can vary depending on the kind of airplane you’re flying on and therefore, so do the size restrictions. For example, United allows personal items that are under 36 linear inches on domestic flights, whereas American Airlines has a limit of 40 linear inches. If you want your weekender to pull double duty, pay attention to the size.
For quick trips and weekend getaways, here are the best weekend bags and weekenders:
Best overall: The Catalina Deluxe Small by Lo & Sons
Buy now: From $129 (was $215), loandsons.com
Runner up: Arcane Duffel Pack by Osprey
Buy now: $130, osprey.com
Best budget buy: Novel Duffle Bag by Herschel
Buy now: $90, herschel.com
Best investment piece: Weekender by Paravel
Buy now: $295, tourparavel.com
Best ecofriendly option: Earth Bag Premium by Hamilton Perkins Collection
Buy now: $158, hamiltonperkins.com
For more details about these bags and other options, read The Best Weekend Bags.
Accessories and Tips
Tips for packing, organizing, and taking care of your luggage
Choosing the right piece of luggage is the first step to packing light, packing well, and being prepared for challenges en route—be it swiftly removing your laptop from your carry-on, or keeping your belongings safe while getting tossed from plane to baggage carousel.
Improve your packing even further with these tips and essential luggage accessories:
1. Keep things organized with packing cubes
While packing cubes won’t necessarily save you space, they do keep the contents of your bag organized and make it easy to find what you need quickly—a packing practice we know Marie Kondo would approve of.
>> Read:The Best Packing Cubes
2. Separate your shoes with a shoe bag
No one wants their dirty shoes nestled up against a clean, cashmere sweater. If your bag doesn’t come with a dedicated shoe compartment (like the Lo & Sons weekender bag), invest in a shoe bag to separate your footwear from the rest of your items.
>> Read: Why Shoe Bags Are Essential
3. Use a toiletry bag—or two
Toiletry bags help with organization, sure, but they also protect your clothes in the unfortunate case of an in-flight shampoo explosion (hello, air pressure) or a not-quite-tightly-closed makeup container. If you really want to get organized, though, the Home Edit team recommends “separating your hair products, skincare products, and cosmetics into different bags so you don’t have to dig through your makeup just to find your floss at night.”
>> Read: The Best Toiletry Bags and Dopp Kits
4. Clean your bags between trips
“Your most trusted travel companion deserves a thorough cleaning after every trip,” says AFAR contributor Maggie Fuller. Use her guide to give your suitcase, backpack, and other travel gear a good scrub-down.
>> Read: How to Clean a Suitcase
Additional reporting by Kyana Moghadam, Kelly Bastone, Katherine LaGrave, Brooke Vaughan, Maggie Fuller, and Sarah Buder.
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