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No extra fees here! 23 expert-recommended carry-ons for any kind of trip

Plus: How to pack without going over the weight limit, and when you should shop for new luggage.
Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

So congrats, you've finally marked that weekend getaway or summer trip on the calendar. If you eagerly dusted off your well-worn luggage only to find that the time has come to look for a new carry-on — this guide is for you.

For Shop TODAY's 2024 Travel Gear Awards, our team of traveling editors vetted over a dozen popular carry-on brands to see which ones are truly worth it. Needless to say, we couldn't be happier with our winners. Between a handy garment bag to a trendy Vera Bradley option, these carry-ons will get you and your belongings from point A to B not only in style but efficiently.

To make matters even easier, we also tapped some of our favorite experts to answer some specific questions and tips and tricks you should consider to make shopping less stressful. Happy travels!

Shop TODAY Travel Gear Awards 2024 winners | More award-winning carry-ons | Other carry-ons we recommend | What to look for in carry-on luggage | How we chose | Meet the experts | Has your product been featured?

2024 Travel Gear Awards winners

Shop TODAY Travel Gear Awards 2024 winners

Wrangler 20-Inch Rolling Carry-On

Award: Best budget carry-on | Value: 5/5 | Quality: 4/5 | Satisfaction: 4/5 | Overall score: 4.3/5

While Wrangler might be known for their iconic denim, their luggage brand definitely deserves more recognition and we’re here to give them all the roses. We especially loved the 360-degree spinner wheel system and its durable and easy zipper functions. Coming in at under $50 for a hardshell carry-on, you really can’t beat it.

Vera Bradley Weekender Travel Bag in Cotton

Award: Best overall carry-on | Value: 4.6/5 | Quality: 4.6/5 | Satisfaction: 5/5 | Overall score: 4.8/5

Associate commerce editor Shannon Garlin has had two versions of this bag over the course of a decade and says each one has lasted her years. “I used it as a carry-on/personal item when I moved to and from Asia and jammed it with things,” she shares.

She also praised its durability, the amount of inner mesh pockets it has to keep you organized (there are five), and its ability to fit underneath the seat on a plane even when packed to the brim. Plus, it includes six exterior pockets for any last-minute essentials. The bag also comes in 43 colors and is machine-washable (just make sure to remove the shoulder strap and zip everything closed!).

Halfday The Garment Duffel 

Award: Best innovative carry-on | Value: 5/5 | Quality: 4/5 | Satisfaction: 3/5 | Overall score: 4/5

Perfect for those traveling for work or other special occasions, small but mighty is the name of the game with this winner. Equipped with loops inside to hook hangers onto, this all-in-one garment bag and duffel will help you say goodbye to wrinkled suits or dresses. Not to mention, it also has handy shoe compartments which really blew us away.

Shop TODAY readers can also take advantage of a 25% discount off this duffel using the code TODAY through April 25.

Baggallini Gramercy Carry-On Duffel

Award: Best splurge carry-on | Value: 5/5 | Quality: 4/5 | Satisfaction: 4/5 | Overall score: 4.3/5

This winner from ever-so-loved Baggallini might be a splurge, but we were too impressed with its neverending storage options to not give it our golden stamp of approval. Not only can this bag be separated with a zipper to unveil a bottom shoe compartment, but you can also unzip it to have a deeper bag with more storage. Talk about endless storage options for us over-packers!

More award-winning carry-ons

SYCNB HYCOO Travel Duffel Bag

What we like
  • Portability
  • Functional
  • Great weekend bag
Something to note
  • May be smaller than expected

Award: Best budget carry-on bag

Both staffers that tried this bag flagged that it’s better suited for an overnight trip than a longer vacation. But that doesn’t mean it lacks the good stuff: Senior editor Jess Bender is a self-proclaimed “BIG fan” of the water-resistant compartment that keeps your wet or soiled items separate from everything else. Other features to note include a detachable shoulder strap and padded laptop sleeve for devices up to 15.6 inches.

Etronik USB Duffel Bag

What we like
  • Stylish
  • Functional
  • Bottom compartment
Something to note
  • May be smaller than expected

Award: Best overall carry-on bag

“This has officially become my number one travel bag for EVERYTHING. I use it every day to travel to my workout classes as well as for weekend trips when traveling back home,” raves commerce coordinator Alexa Arent, who gave the Etronik a perfect 5 out of 5 in the Quality, Satisfaction and Value categories.

We can see why: It’s packed with features the frequent traveler is sure to appreciate, like a zippered shoe compartment on the bottom, a zippered wet bag and a USB interface to charge your devices on the go. Plus, it’s waterproof, comes in a whopping 13 colorways, and is available in a large version that can carry up to 55 liters.

Amazon Basics 21-Inch Hardside Spinner

What we like
  • Portability
  • Zippers work well
Something to note
  • Wheels may run down

Award: Best budget suitcase

Two of our staffers took this suitcase for a spin for our first-ever Travel Gear Awards and the consensus is that it's surprisingly hardy and spacious — if you don't mind some minor inconveniences.

"For its price, I’m impressed with how sturdy yet lightweight this suitcase is," notes associate social media editor Dani Musacchio, who wheeled this suitcase down about 1.5 miles of "not-so-smooth" sidewalk on the way home from Manhattan to South Brooklyn. "[It's] the perfect size for a weekend trip, [and] the zippered compartments on the inside are perfect for organizing smaller pieces of clothing or items."

Shop TODAY senior photo editor Becca Delman was also surprised at how smooth it wheeled over bumpy sidewalks. "The body is small but can fit a lot more shoes and clothes than I thought," she says.

Béis The Carry-On Roller

What we like
  • Super spacious
  • Sturdy handle
  • Rolls very well
Something to note
  • May be bulky

Award: Best overall suitcase

For a fashionable pick that is durable, spacious and surprisingly midrange in price, commerce writer Danielle Murphy highly recommends this "stunning" roller from Béis.

"It has a ton of storage. Each side has a zippered [compression] flat to help keep items as compact as possible and also adds more room to add additional garments on top. I also love how it has additional pockets for dirty clothes or smaller essentials. The material feels durable, so if I ever have to check it, I’m not worried about wear or tear," she says.

Other carry-ons we recommend

Calpak Hue Mini Carry-On

What we like
  • Very spacious for size
  • Easy to roll
  • Lightweight
Something to note
  • Handle may be flimsy

Dimensions: 16 x 14 x 8.5 in. | Interior dimensions: 14 x 13.75 x 8 in. | Weight: 6.4 lbs | Material: Polycarbonate hard shell | Capacity: 31.2 L | Lock: TSA combination | Extra features: Zipped inner divider, cross straps, bottom handle | Wheels: 4 360-degree spinners | Expandable? No | Warranty: 2-year limited warranty

If you can afford to pack a little less than what can go into an overhead suitcase (or if you need just a little more extra room than another personal item can offer), we recommend the very cute mini version of Calpak’s carry-on spinner, the Hue Mini Carry-On.

Designed to “fit beneath most airline seats,” according to the brand, the Hue Mini boasts the same durable hard-shell, sleek design and smooth-spinning wheels that makes its larger version one of our top picks. Plus, it comes with similar zipper compartments and pockets so you can maximize packing space and keep everything organized.

Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion Carry-On Spinner

What we like
  • Ample space inside
  • Netting with two pockets
Something to note
  • Not very shoe-friendly

Dimensions: 23 × 14.5 × 9.5 in. | Interior dimensions: 20 × 13.5 × 9.5 in. | Weight: 6.7 lbs | Material: Polycarbonate hard shell | Capacity: About 42 L | Lock: TSA combination | Extra features: Inner divider compartments, cross straps | Wheels: 4 multidirectional spinners | Expandable? No | Warranty: Limited 10-year global warranty

For shorter trips, try Samsonite’s fashionable spinner that dozens of reviewers call out as a great alternative to hand-carried weekender bags. Its sleekness makes it stand out from the crowd, but users say they also love it for how easy it is to handle, thanks to the multidirectional spinner wheels. It comes with packing cross-straps, interior dividers and zippered compartments.

A good number of reviewers also rave about its compactness, which is surprising considering that the Winfield has bigger external dimensions than other comparable picks in this story. If you’re traveling in a smaller plane or internationally, we recommend calling the airline to confirm whether this will fit overhead.

Away The Bigger Carry-On

What we like
  • Easy to carry
  • Super chic
  • Durable
Something to note
  • No front pocket for laptop
  • Heavy

Dimensions: 22.7 x 14.7 x 9.6 in. | Interior dimensions: 21 x 14.5 in. | Weight: 8.4 lbs | Material: Polycarbonate hard shell | Capacity: 47.9 L | Lock: TSA combination | Extra features: Interior compression system, USB port/battery with cable, laundry bag | Wheels: 4 360-degree spinners | Expandable? Yes | Warranty: Limited lifetime guarantee, 100-day return guarantee

Away's Bigger Carry-On is Summer Hull's, the Director of Content at travel advice website The Points Guy, best overall pick for domestic travelers who want to pack as many items as possible into their carry-on. "It comes in many colors, has a stylish look and is made of a hard, water-resistant shell," she says. But the crowning glory is its internal packing system — which includes a compression pad and straps, as well as a water-resistant laundry bag — that lets you pack more and still stay within carry-on size limits.

Other noteworthy features include leather detailing and a built-in USB port and battery. A small but helpful design detail is the extra handle underneath the suitcase, making it easy to stow overhead or lift from the baggage carousel.

The company also has an airline compatibility list so you can check which of the two carry-ons will fit certain airlines' overhead space.

Monos Carry-On Pro

What we like
  • Glides with ease
  • High quality pockets
Something to note
  • Scuffs easily

Dimensions: 22 × 14 × 9 in. | Interior dimensions: 20 × 13.5 x 9 in. | Weight: 7.8 lbs | Material: Polycarbonate hard shell | Capacity: 36 L | Lock: TSA combination | Extra features: Inner compression system, antimicrobial laundry bag, 2 shoe bags, luggage tag | Wheels: 360-degree spinners | Expandable? No | Warranty: 100-day trial, limited lifetime warranty

Unlike other, similar suitcases with laptop pockets, Fran Sale's was able to comfortably pack a considerable amount in The Monos Pro — without the laptop in the front sacrificing much of the bag's interior space. And by "amount," she mean about five days' worth of clothes, a toiletry bag, an extra pair of shoes, a book, a bag of resistance bands and a picture frame (a gift!). Plus, thanks to that front pocket, which held her 15-inch laptop as well as a few odds and ends in the small zip pockets.

The suitcase comes with an internal zippered compression pad with easy-to-use straps, which were extremely helpful in compressing her clothes and most of the items Sale's mentioned above (save the shoes and bands). This is one of the few bags that gave her that wonderful feeling of satisfaction after she packed, clasped and zipped everything in.

Roam Carry-On Suitcase

What we like
  • Sleek and chic
  • Durable
Something to note
  • Expensive

Dimensions: 22 x 14.25 x 9 in. | Interior dimensions: 20 x 13.75 x 8.5 in. | Weight: 7.3 lbs | Material: Polycarbonate hard shell | Capacity: 37 - 51 L | Lock: TSA combination | Extra features: Inner compression system, laundry pocket, water-repellent zippers | Wheels: 360-degree spinners | Expandable? Yes, for an additional $45 | Warranty: Lifetime warranty

"Roam entered the market with their previous industry know-how and have upped that ante by introducing completely customizable bags that combine travel with personal expression," says Misty Belles, vice president of Global PR for Virtuoso Travel.

Belles wasn't kidding when she describes this lightweight carry-on from Roam as customizable; you can choose the color of everything from the zipper to the binding to the interior lining. Plus, the bag as a whole is one of the most thoughtfully designed bags out there: The zippers are waterproof, it comes with a water-resistant and washable lining, two dual-sided compression pads, a roomy laundry pocket and two accessory pockets.

SwissGear Sion 21-Inch Softside Expandable Roller Luggage

What we like
  • Zippers are easy to use
  • Lightweight
Something to note
  • Handle may be flimsy

Dimensions: 22.75 x 14.25 x 10.25 in. | Interior dimensions: 21 x 12.75 x 10.25 in. | Weight: 8 lbs | Material: Polyester | Capacity: Not listed | Lock: None | Extra features: Side handle, removable zipped wet bag, tie-down straps | Wheels: 4 360-degree spinners | Expandable? Yes | Warranty: 10-year extended warranty (when purchased directly from brand)

This 21-inch spinner from SwissGear has a lot going for it: a scuff-resistant polyester exterior with two easy-access pockets, adjustable interior packing straps, a removable wet bag, a built-in ID tag and three handles (top, side and bottom).

While the brand doesn't list its capacity in liters, it's said to have up to three days' worth of room, and several reviewers say the fabric is durable enough that it can be packed to its maximum and still comply with TSA weight restrictions.

Briggs & Riley Essential 22-Inch Carry-On Expandable Spinner

What we like
  • Super durable
  • Functional
  • High quality
Something to note
  • Pricey

Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 in. | Interior dimensions: 20 x 14 x 7.9 in. | Weight: 10 lbs | Material: Ballistic nylon | Capacity: 37 - 48 L | Lock: TSA cable combination | Extra features: Built-in garment folder, monogram leather detailing, corner guards, leather tag, tech pocket | Wheels: 4 360-degree spinners | Expandable? Yes | Warranty: Lifetime guarantee

There's a reason why frequent jetsetters and business travelers have only praises to sing about Briggs & Riley's high-quality luggage. And their Essential Carry-On is no exception, according to Leah Ginsberg, a former travel editor turned managing editor at NBC Select who's covered a lot of miles with her rolling suitcase.

"Its handle, wheels and nylon material are really sturdy," she says of her older version of this model, which isn't expandable and has a slightly different handle design. Though Ginsberg says she mainly uses the suitcase for shorter trips, it's been to countless places: from international locations like Ecuador and Wales to domestic spots (where she mostly takes it now) like Maui and Saratoga Springs.

Plus, she adds, "it's really easy to maneuver (as a result of the solid handle and wheels) and it has a lifetime guarantee (but it's in such good shape I haven't had to fix anything)" — and users echo the same sentiments about the latest version of the carry-on (the brand has a handy guide on weight allowance by airline).

The current versions' upgrades include a ballistic nylon construction, an expandability to about 2 inches, an even sturdier and impact-resistant handle with several stops and shock-absorbing wheels.

Terra Thread Earth Backpack

What we like
  • Functional
  • Durable
Something to note
  • No trolley sleeve

Dimensions: 16 x 12 x 5 in. | Weight: Not listed | Material: Certified Fair Trade Organic 100% cotton canvas | Capacity: 16 L | Extra features: 2 water bottle pockets, internal laptop sleeve, zippered front pocket | Warranty: N/A

For an unassuming backpack that rings up at just $70, this pick by B Corp-certified company Terra Thread is surprisingly roomy and heavy-duty. In fact, the brand describes it as "the workhorse of our line." And it's true, at least in Sale's experience, having traveled with her Charcoal Gray Earth Backpack several times when flying domestically.

She was skeptical initially about how much this canvas pack could fit, because it looks so simple, not to mention kind of small. But during her first time packing things in it for a trip home for the holidays, she just kept finding more compartments. She was able to fit a 13-inch laptop in the dedicated compartment (with room to spare), two books, gigantic over-ear headphones, a reusable water bottle, tons of feminine products, two phones, and a few more accessories. Still, Sale's had zero trouble zipping the bag, and it didn't feel like it was going to burst. Plus, the straps are wide, comfortable and made of the same durable cotton as the rest of the bag.

TravelPro Maxlite 5 Soft Tote

What we like
  • Very durable
  • Lightweight
Something to note
  • Zippers can stick

Dimensions: 11 x 18 x 8 in. | Weight: 1.6 lbs | Material: Water-resistant DuraGuard-coated polyester | Capacity: 28 L | Extra features: Waterproof inner lining, luggage strap, detachable shoulder strap | Warranty: 100-day trial, Limited lifetime warranty

If you’re looking for a true weekender bag (one that’ll fit just enough for a two-day weekend trip), this grab-and-go, lightweight tote bag by TravelPro should do the trick.

But just because it’s small and light doesn’t mean it won’t stand to the rigors of travel: Its exterior is made of durable polyester with a water-repellent coating, and its interior is lined with ECOFAB, a waterproof material made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

Fjallraven Splitpack Backpack Duffel Bag

What we like
  • Convenient size
  • Extremely functional
  • Super spacious
Something to note
  • No handle except back straps

Dimensions: 18.9 x 11 x 11 in. | Weight: 2.54 lbs | Material: 65% polyester, 35% cotton | Capacity: 35 L | Extra features: Padded shoulder straps with mesh lining, internal mesh dividers, padded back panel, 2 zippered outside pockets | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty (if purchased from authorized seller)

Fjallraven’s backpack-duffel hybrid, made from water-resistant and windproof material, is perfect for a weekend getaway or a short trip, and for anyone who considers function as important as form.

Instead of one inner chamber, the bag has two that are separated by mesh dividers (in a clamshell shape), making it easy to keep dirty items separate. Even if you pack this bag to the brim, the back panel is padded to prevent contents from pressing uncomfortably against your back.

Caraa Stratus

What we like
  • Lightweight
  • Super soft
  • Well-made
Something to note
  • Straps may be too small

Dimensions: 17 x 12 x 5 in. | Weight: 1 lb | Material: Italian nylon, vegan leather lining | Capacity: 16.7 L | Extra features: Luggage sleeve, hidden breathing vents, inner and outer bottle pockets, padded laptop compartment | Warranty: 1-year product guarantee

If you’re looking for a versatile and ultra-lightweight backpack that works equally well as a work bag, a weekender bag and a personal item to pair with your carry-on, look no further than this lightweight pick that Lauren Witonsky, Shop TODAY associate partnerships editor, swears by.

”My friends and I are always impressed that this backpack can fit my entire life in it. I can rely on it to comfortably fit two outfits, one pair of shoes, a makeup bag, a toiletries bag, my laptop and a water bottle. [It’s] so easy to pack things in, from the built-in laptop slot to the shoe pouch that clips in. The mesh pockets inside let you see everything easily too,” she says. She also highlighted the internal and external bottle holders, how back-friendly the straps are, and that she doesn't have to worry about her tech due to its water-resistance.

But Witonsky's favorite feature is the shoe/wet bag: "I use it even when I'm not using the backpack!"

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack

What we like
  • Great quality
  • Easily accessible
  • Hip belt
Something to note
  • No water bottle sleeve

Dimensions: 22 x 12 x 10 in. | Weight: 3.5 lbs | Material: TPU-coated 1000D polyester, ballistic nylon paneling | Capacity: 35 L | Extra features: Suitcase-style zippered compartment, padded laptop/tablet sleeve, carabiner loops, rain cover, removable waist belt | Warranty: Lifetime warranty

Cotopaxi is another go-to luggage brand for the active jetsetter, and one that our writer and frequent traveler Bridget Shirvell swears by.

The brand’s 35L Allpa Travel Pack, made of water-resistant fabric, is meant to last a lifetime. The biggest standout is the “clamshell” style opening, which lets you open and shut it much like a zippered suitcase. This, combined with the inner storage compartments on both sides of the bag, is designed for you to be able to pack in a more organized way.

Dagne Dover Large Dakota Neoprene Backpack

What we like
  • Practical
  • Super chic
  • Comfortable straps
Something to note
  • May be heavy when full

Dimensions: 11.5 x 17 x 1 in. | Weight: 2.6 lbs | Material: Neoprene, mesh laptop sleeve, 100% recycled polyester lining | Capacity: 20 L | Extra features: Luggage handle sleeve, shoe bag, back padded laptop panel | Warranty: 1-year limited warranty

Hull likes to pair her carry-on luggage with an equally solid travel backpack, one that can slide neatly onto the handle of a carry-on. Her preference: the Dagne Dover Large Dakota Neoprene Backpack.

"It is made of a soft but water-resistant material and has so many useful nooks and crannies, such as a top phone pocket, a padded back laptop compartment, as well as a laptop sleeve," she says.

Hull also recommends the brand's equally chic Diaper Bag Backpack for those who can't get enough pockets — "even if you never thought you’d have a need for a diaper bag."

Rebecca Brown, Shop TODAY deals editor, agrees — she uses her Dagne Dover diaper bag for traveling now. "I've given new life to my Dagne diaper bag. ... I love how easily it sleeps over the handle of my suitcase."

Lo & Sons Catalina Deluxe

What we like
  • Stylish
  • Quality pockets
  • Nice shoulder pads
Something to note
  • May be heavy when full

Dimensions: 9 x 18.5 x 18 in. | Weight: 2.89 lbs | Material: Eco-friendly canvas (also available in water-resistant recycled polyester) | Capacity: Approx. 45 L | Extra features: Bottom zippered compartment, luggage handle sleeve, messenger strap | Warranty: 1-year warranty

“This bag is deceptively spacious!” raves Shop TODAY senior partnerships editor Francesca Cocchi Zabloudil of her favorite weekender duffel bag that is still in “amazing shape” after several years of use.

Her favorite part of the bag is the bottom shoe compartment: “[It] comfortably fits my favorite ankle boots and a second pair of flats, sandals or sneakers,” she says, adding that it retains its structure, so she can rest easy knowing her shoes aren’t getting crushed. She also highlighted the two regular carry handles in addition to the shoulder strap.

Zabloudil says the bag can easily accommodate two pairs of shoes, three outfits, a pair of pajamas, socks, underwear, her makeup and toiletry bag, and her hair tools.

Caraa Double Laptop Backpack

What we like
  • Stylish
  • Water-repellent
  • Comfortable straps
Something to note
  • Expensive

Dimensions: 17.5 x 12 x 5 in. | Weight: 3.8 lb | Material: Waterproof nylon with Italian leather detailing | Capacity: 17 L | Extra features: 2 lined laptop pockets, third iPad pocket, trolley sleeve, passport pocket, 2 adjustable side bottle pockets, see-through card pocket | Warranty: 1-year product guarantee

Yes, this pick is expensive, but there were just too many qualities that helped push this Caraa backpack to the top spot in this category.

For starters, there's a lot of thoughtfulness in its construction and design, evident in details like its water-resistant nylon fabric, two laptop sleeves, a third tech pocket, expandable side water bottle pockets, passport pocket and more. But beyond that, it's just so darn stylish for such a functional bag. One reviewer puts it best:

"This backpack received so many compliments on how attractive it is. But what I love more is how it can hold everything I need when traveling for work. I like the leather handles, which make it easy to carry when in meetings without looking like a backpack, yet the straps are there when running through airports."

What to look for in carry-on luggage

According to Summer Hull, “Generally speaking, the best luggage for you is going to be the bag that fits your budget, your priorities and [one] you are able to manage on your own (or with the assistance you know will be available),” she says.

Once you nail that down, it should be easier to determine whether you need a carry-on or a check-in bag, or one that fits overhead or under a seat, Hull adds. “No bag can do it all, which is why prioritizing what’s most important for you out of your bag matters.”

Hardside vs. softside luggage

Hard cases: If you’re in the market for a hard-shell carry-on, durability is No. 1, according to Mark Ellwood, co-host and creator of Bloomberg’s Travel Genius podcast. “Like a pair of sneakers that you’re going to wear 24/7 for the next month, [they] need to be really, really tough,” he says.

You can gauge “toughness” by looking two things: “A material that is unlikely to crack, and a very durable zipper,” says Australian-based travel bloggers Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem. “Hard cases get thrown around a lot, so you need something that can withstand the torture.”

Soft cases: The focus with softside carry-ons should start with compression and compartments, Bradford and Salem tell us. “A soft-case carry on that has compression straps is extremely handy for getting rid of any excess space and shrinking the size for fitting into small overhead compartments. Lots of external and internal zipper pockets, too, for storing quick-access items.”

But durability shouldn’t be discounted when it comes to soft-case options, according to Ginsberg. “One of the reasons I like my [Briggs & Riley] carry-on so much is that its handle, wheels and nylon material are really sturdy,” she says.

Size requirements

The maximum size of carry-on luggage allowed on a plane varies by airline, according to Germany-based travel expert Ali Garland. “There is no one size, but the most common size is 22 by 14 by 9 inches,” she says.

Still, always confirm the actual size limits with the specific airline before your flight, she urges, and don’t overlook your other carry-on options: “Most airlines also allow a personal item, which is smaller, like a purse or briefcase or a small backpack.”

You can even get a little creative with that personal item, as Bradford and Salem do: “We actually just use a silk carry bag that packs into itself (smaller than the palm of your hand), and we throw any small, loose items or things we need quick access to in there. Then when we’re off the plane, we can stuff it into the carry-on bag without taking up any extra space,” they say.


“Suitcases are so much heavier than backpacks when empty, [and this] eats into the weight allowance quickly,” Garland says.

Beyond airlines’ carry-on weight restrictions, this factor also matters because you’ll be lugging and handling your bag quite a lot. “You want something that’s lightweight [and] that you can lift over your head to put in the carry-on compartment,” says Dr. Nadeen White, creator of The Sophisticated Life travel blog.

If you have the tendency to overpack, Garland says there are a few things you can try: packing clothing made from lightweight fabrics, being prepared to rewear or launder your clothing as you travel or leaving out items that you can buy at your destination, for example. “Notice what you pack but never use, and start reducing what you bring along for the next trip,” she adds.


It should be common knowledge, but Garland still couldn’t stress enough to not pack liquids in containers that are bigger than 3.4 ounces (about 100 milliliters) in your carry-on bag.

“I can’t tell you how many times I see people ahead of me in the security line getting things confiscated because they thought they could get away with it or they simply didn’t know. Remember that some of your makeup is liquid, like mascara, and it needs to go in your liquids bag,” she says.

Instead, try packing solid versions of bath or skin care items, such as shampoo bars or body wash powder, to reduce the amount of liquid you carry on, Garland advises.

Outside and inside pockets

“It used to be that travelers wanted easy access to their phone, laptop and favorite magazine; now, travelers [also] want quick access to their sanitizing regimen,” Misty Belles, vice president of Global PR for Virtuoso Travel, tells us. For items you want easy access to, she recommends softside luggage, which often have outside pockets.

Inside pockets are also one of the key features Hull looks for in a carry-on. “I want an internal zipper pocket for dirty clothes and loose items,” she says.

Consider packing cubes

Several travel experts we spoke to highly recommend using packing cubes or cells when filling your carry-on. They’re useful for organizing various items, like toiletries, tech accessories and smaller items of clothing.

“We use separate cells for underwear, shirts, pants, cold-weather gear, etc., so that we know what is in each one; plus we throw an extra one in for dirty laundry. Not only do they keep things organized, it makes packing and unpacking in hotel rooms so much easier,” Salem and Bradford explain.

Garland agrees, adding that if you don’t have packing cubes on hand, you can makeshift one out of toiletry bags. “You put your liquids in a standard liquids bag and non-liquid items in a toiletry bag. They even work great if you have lots of cords,” she says.

How we chose the best carry-on luggage

We sorted through hundreds of new launches, editor recommendations, trending products flooding our social media pages and tried and true products to curate a list of must-have travel items worth reviewing for our awards. We then tried the products in our studios, putting them through practical experiments to see if they meet requirements when it comes to durability, function and quality for travel gear. Finally, our panel of experts reviewed some of our winners and gave feedback based on their expertise.

The Shop TODAY team rounded up the best carry-on luggage by enlisting the recommendations from a number of travel executives and experts. We also filtered our searches for top-rated products, read through numerous online shopper reviews and also included a few previous award winners, as well.

Meet the experts

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