Whether you’re planning a month-long trip around Southeast Asia or headed for a weekend in Napa and want plenty of room to bring back souvenirs, the last thing you want is to lose your bag in a sea of sameness at the baggage carousel. If you check your luggage at the airport, you need a suitcase that goes above and beyond simple function or good looks.
In addition to quality materials and clever design, you’ll also want a bag that’s spacious enough to pack what you need for a week or more, but isn’t so large or heavy you get stuck with additional fees.
Tips for choosing checked luggage
Before you purchase new luggage, you’ll also want to consider the type of trip you’re taking. Will you be wheeling it around a city or lugging it through the great outdoors after picking it up from the baggage carousel? And even though you don’t have to worry about it fitting into the overhead bin on the plane, size still matters. Above all, you’ll need one that is durable enough to survive getting tossed around by baggage handlers. These are the features to consider before buying your next piece of checked luggage:
Style. Wheels or no wheels? That is the question. Four-wheeled spinners glide easily to the check-in stand and through hotels, but backpacks and duffel bags that can be carried on your shoulders are easier to haul up stairs or along dirt paths in more remote destinations. Color choice is also important for checked luggage: Dark hues hide scuffs better, but bright ones are less likely to be confused for someone else’s at the baggage carousel.
Size and weight. In addition to the initial checked bag fee, airlines can also charge you additional fees if your suitcase exceeds the weight or size restrictions for checked luggage. It varies from carrier to carrier, but in general, the largest luggage size for check-in bags generally maxes out at 62 inches when you add the length, width, and height of the suitcase together. Most airlines also impose overweight fees for bags over 50 pounds, so consider lightweight materials if you plan on packing a lot.
Material. Nowadays, luggage is typically made with hard polycarbonate or aluminum shells, or soft nylon or canvas materials. Expandable soft-shell options made with thick nylon are good for those who want to stuff as many clothes into a bag as possible. If you’re bringing home fragile items like wine, hard-shell bags are more likely to keep your belongings in one piece. Keep in mind that polycarbonate luggage can crack and soft-shell bags may rip. Whichever your preference, pick a brand that is known for its quality materials and a reliable warranty.
Warranties. You might not realize it, but most high-quality luggage brands include anywhere from a one-year to a lifetime warranty policy when you purchase a new bag from them. However, most warranty policies don’t cover damage that happens when it’s being handled by an airline (you’ll have to file a claim with the carrier for that). Before you click check out online, be sure to read the warranty policy closely to see what is and isn’t covered.
Sustainability. The most sustainable option is buying secondhand (websites like eBay, Poshmark, and REI’s used gear section are a good place to start your search online). But most warranty policies are void once the bag switches owners. If you’d like to purchase new, there are several luggage brands that use recycled materials in their bags, while others take it a step further and offset the carbon emissions from manufacturing and shipping.
And now . . . our top 9 checked bags
Luckily, when it comes to the best luggage for checking, these days we are spoiled for choice. We reviewed nine bags to help find your new favorite, whether you are looking for a rugged duffel or backpack or a sleek four-wheeled spinner.
1. Aviator Grand by Paravel
- Buy now: $425, tourparavel.com
- Style: Spinner luggage
- Capacity: 105.9 liters
- Dimensions: 28 x 18.25 x 11 inches
- Weight: 11.8 lbs.
After launching its first line of hard-shell carry-on luggage, Paravel debuted its first checked suitcase in late 2020. The Aviator Grand (pictured at top) is spacious enough to fit approximately 8 to 10 days’ worth of clothing, yet weighs less than 12 pounds. This stylish bag is also one of the most sustainably made suitcases on the market today. You’ll find recycled materials in its zippers, polycarbonate shells, and aluminum handles. The interior nylon lining? That’s made from 21 plastic water bottles. Paravel also offsets the carbon emissions generated from the bag’s production and shipping to make it carbon neutral.
But the ecofriendly details aren’t the only reasons we love this bag. Its 360-degree rotating wheels with carbon steel bearings mean it’ll roll smoothly, and its scuff-hiding textured finish comes in five different colors that coordinate with the rest of Paravel’s luggage collection. Considering checked luggage from most other luxury brands starts at $500, the $425 cost of the Aviator Grand is a steal.
2. The Large by Away
- Buy now: $375, awaytravel.com
- Style: Spinner luggage
- Capacity: 99.2 liters
- Dimensions: 29 x 20.5 x 12.5 inches
- Weight: 11.6 lbs.
The biggest version of Away’s popular polycarbonate luggage features many of the same design details that made its Bigger Carry-On a best seller. It has 360-degree spinner wheels, tamper-proof zippers that slot into a TSA-friendly combination lock, and a buckle-down compression pad to maximize the space and squeeze in any additional things you bought on your travels. Two interior compartments allow you to separate dirty shoes and potential toiletry spills from the rest of your items, and a nylon laundry bag further separates your clean clothes from those that are wet or dirty. Available in nearly a dozen colors, the Large will be your go-to bag for longer trips for years to come.
3. Black Hole Duffel Bag 70L by Patagonia
Best checked duffel bag
- Buy now: $159, patagonia.com
- Style: Duffel bag
- Capacity: 70 liters
- Dimensions: 28 x 17.5 x 13 inches
- Weight: 3.17 lbs.
Any Patagonia enthusiast surely owns one (or two) of the ecofriendly brand’s Black Hole duffels. But for the uninitiated, these durable and lightweight duffels are made with 100 percent recycled polyester fabric, lining, and webbing that is also water repellent. Available in two smaller versions built for weekend getaways and a gigantic 100L size for gear-intensive trips, we find that the large 70L bag provides plenty of room to pack everything you’d need for a week away.
The large main compartment comes with a full-length zippered opening that lets you access all your belongings at once. Inside, mesh pockets organize small items such as toiletry bottles, charging chords, or socks, while a zippered exterior side pocket lets you stash items quickly on the go. The padded base provides extra protection against rough terrain and padded straps keep your shoulders from getting too sore. When you’re ready to check the bag, the shoulder straps can be detached so they don’t get damaged in transit.
4. Transporter Wheeled Duffel 90 by Osprey
Best wheeled duffel bag
- Buy now: $320, osprey.com
- Style: Wheeled duffel
- Capacity: 90 liters
- Dimensions: 31.5 x 17.3 x 13.8 inches
- Weight: 7.54 lbs.
When you need to haul a ton of gear without breaking your back, the Transporter Wheeled Duffel 90 is at your service. Made from strong, weather-resistant fabrics, the duffel uses a large U-zip opening for quick and easy access to the interior. The no-frills design features internal mesh pockets and dual compression straps to help you stay organized and keep everything in its place. A large, external end pocket can hold quick-access items like a book or—our personal favorite—isolate dirty laundry or shoes.
Once outside the terminal, the Transporter’s oversized wheels roll right over rough terrain, tackling cobblestones and rocky trails with ease, and a built-in kickstand on the wheel chassis keeps your duffel from falling over when not on the move. A variety of padded grab handles double as tie-down points, and there’s even a tuck-away tow strap that lets you connect bags in a train if you need to maneuver multiple ones through streets and airports.
5. Ambeur Large Luggage by Calpak
Best affordable checked luggage
- Buy now: $275, calpaktravel.com
- Style: Spinner luggage
- Capacity: n/a
- Dimensions: 29.5 x 19 x 12.5 inches (expands up to 2 more inches)
- Weight: 10.3 lbs.
This hard-shell spinner from Calpak does it all: It comes in fashionable colors like rose gold, glides smoothly on 360-degree wheels, keeps your stuff organized with compression straps and interior mesh pockets, and has reinforced aluminum corners. At just 10.3 pounds and $275, it won’t weigh you down or break the bank. Plus, if you order the matching carry-on or medium-size checked luggage as a two- or three-piece set, you’ll save even more.
6. Original Check-In L by Rimowa
Best investment piece
- Buy now: $1,500, rimowa.com
- Style: Spinner luggage
- Capacity: 86 liters
- Dimensions: 10.7 x 20.1 x 31.2 inches
- Weight: 13.7 lbs.
More than 120 years ago, Rimowa created the very first aluminum travel trunk. Today, the brand’s Original suitcase line is modeled after that archetype and has itself become a timeless classic. Made in Germany from high-end anodized aluminum and featuring distinctive grooves, each Original suitcase is engineered to last for a lifetime of travel. Any dents and scratches acquired over time simply add character to the nearly indestructible aluminum.
The Check-In L has 86 liters of storage space and adheres to airline checked-size standards. There are no zippers to break here; instead, dual TSA-approved locks keep your belongings extra secure but can be opened by security without causing damage, and a flexible divider system keeps your belongings in place on either side of the suitcase so they don’t explode out when the bag is opened. An eight-wheel system lets you roll the Check-In L effortlessly in any direction for quick navigation through busy airports and tight spaces, and the telescoping handle extends to two lengths. Available in six metallic colors, the Original Check-In L begs to be personalized with stickers of all the places you travel, giving this classic style a retro flare.
7. Revolve Spinner 30” by Thule
Best virtually indestructible option
- Buy now: $550, thule.com; nordstrom.com
- Style: Spinner luggage
- Capacity: 97 liters
- Dimensions: 29.5 x 20.1 x 12.2 inches
- Weight: 14.1 lbs.
When you think of Thule, you probably think of rooftop cargo carriers for your car. But the Swedish brand uses the same high-quality engineering in its Revolve collection of hard-sided luggage. Made of 100 percent virgin polycarbonate with internal corner protectors, a rigid frame, and reinforced front panel, this bag can take a beating. Thule also devised an efficient eight-wheel system with oversized rear wheels that glide over any terrain, and small recessed front wheels that don’t take up much interior space. The combination allows you to roll the luggage both as an upright spinner and as a traditional pull-behind.
Inside, a custom-fitted felt liner holds your clothes in place and absorbs vibration, which helps muffle any roll rattle. The zippers secure into a TSA-compliant combination lock to keep your belongings safe wherever you go. The Revolve series includes three colorways and also comes in a medium-size version with 75 liters capacity.
8. Copilot Luggage Roller XL by Timbuk2
Best soft-shell checked luggage
- Buy now: $319, timbuk2.com
- Style: Soft-shell roller
- Capacity: 108 liters
- Dimensions: 14.8 x 15 x 28.3 inches
- Weight: 10 lbs.
A favorite of globetrotting hipsters, the Copilot from Timbuk2 is a sleek roller-bag style with two broad-base skateboard wheels and a handle grip inspired by those on many bikes. Available in two carry-on sizes and a slightly smaller checked version, the XL Copilot has room for several weeks’ worth of clothing. But at just 10 pounds, it won’t weigh you down.
The clamshell configuration makes the checked-size luggage easy to pack and keep organized when you’re on the road, while internal mesh-pocket dividers prevent contents from migrating during transit. An expandable top compartment enables you to quarantine muddy shoes or spillable toiletries away from the rest of your precious cargo.
9. 19 Degree Extended Trip Expandable 4 Wheeled Packing Case by Tumi
Best expandable checked luggage
- Buy now: $875, tumi.com
- Style: Spinner luggage
- Capacity: 99 liters
- Dimensions: 30.5 x 20 x 11 inches (expands up to 13 inches)
- Weight: 12.2 lbs.
Founded in 1975, Tumi knows a thing or two about global travel. In addition to launching capsule luggage collections with other luxury brands like McLaren supercars, Tumi has also doubled down on its commitment to sustainability. You can now find some of Tumi’s best sellers, including its 19 Degree Extended Trip Expandable Packing Case, made with recycled polycarbonate in two different colors: black and berry.
Inside you’ll find a zippered divider on one side and compression straps on the other to secure the contents and keep them from spilling out as you open your bag. The adjustable-height telescoping handle and four recessed wheels make for smooth rolling down city streets and through busy airports. This bag can also grow an extra two inches to fit all those souvenirs thanks to an integrated expansion zipper.
This article was originally published in 2018; it was updated with new information on July 12, 2022. Amy Jurries Contributed to the reporting of this story.