Best of the Test

The Carry-Ons You Need If You’re Traveling This Summer

Wheels up in 20.

July 19, 2022
Photo by James Ransom

If there’s one travel rule I have, it’s to only use a carry-on—yep, even for international travel. Whether I’m going to Colorado or Canada, I’ll reach for a carry-on to avoid checked bag fees, lost time at luggage claim, and lost baggage (which, in case you were wondering, is at an all-time high) this year).

Now that we’re starting to travel more regularly again, I’m spending every minute that I can anywhere but where I actually live. And just in time too, as testing carry-on luggage comes with the job.

How we tested the best carry-on luggage

I had a pretty good idea of what’s popular based on years of people-watching at airports, but I still went about developing the testing pool as I normally do with other Best of the Test guides. I researched what carry-ons industry competitors and frequent fliers considered to be among the best, browsed the top sellers at our community’s favorite brands, and filtered through positive and negative reviews.

From there, I set up certain testing parameters to keep things realistic: the carry-ons had to fit most airline regulations (it’s best to check your specific airline, but generally, carry-on luggage for domestic and international flights are 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches, had to have a hard shell (they’re better at protecting breakable items than soft-sided ones, and prevents you from overpacking to the point where the bag no longer fits in the overhead compartments), had to have four wheels (also more convenient when running rolling around airports and tight aisles), and had to have a minimum one-year warranty on parts.

Once I whittled the list down to five carry-ons, I tested each one for a month in a series of stress tests, and traveled with two during a three-day trip with my husband. I plan on testing the others during my next trip since well, you can only have one carry-on per person.

Here’s how we tested and evaluated the best carry-ons:

Capacity: I packed three days’ worth of clothes, shoes, accessories, and camera gear for a hiking trip into each suitcase with compression bags, and evaluated how full the clamshell sides were, and how easily the carry-ons zipped. I also considered the weight of each empty carry-on.

Durability: Here’s where the stress tests came in. I zipped and unzipped each suitcase for five minutes until my hands and wrists were sore, and pushed each one over gravel and concrete five times. Normally, I’d be happy to drop something from 10 feet in the air, but realistically, you’re more likely to knock over your suitcase while traveling. I also rolled each suitcase over yards of gravel and concrete, and—in the case of the ones that I took to the airport—smooth carpet, shiny tiled floors, and tricky escalators.

Useful features: I tested each carry-on’s suite of features including removable battery packs, telescoping handles, laptop sleeves, compression sleeves, TSA-approved locks, and more.

Warranty: Each carry-on had to have at least a one-year warranty on parts.

Four of the five carry-ons I tested made it into the guide (a sticky zipper was the deciding factor), and I’ll continue to test them over the next few months to see how they hold up. In the meantime, check out the handy chart below for the quick hits. For the full results, keep reading.

Photo by Garrett McDonnell

1. Best carry-on luggage for overpackers: Away The Carry-On Flex

Photo by Away

Price: $325
Overall dimensions: 21.7 inches x 13.7 inches x 9 inches (+2.25 inches when expanded)
Expandable: Yes

As a habitual overpacker, testing Away’s Carry-On Flex gave me a slight sense of relief. When it’s not expanded, the Carry-on Flex can hold up to 39.8 liters—which was the smallest capacity among the carry-ons I’d tested and held just barely enough for three days. But when you expand the suitcase, you get another 2.25 inches of room and a larger 46.7 liter capacity. Depending on the airline, this might be fine, so be sure to check your airline’s carry-on measurements first. Otherwise, you risk playing the fun game of rearranging your bag at the gate, which is going to be more stressful if you forget the combo on the TSA lock, or (even worse) checking in your carry-on.

To maximize the capacity, there’s a compression sleeve with a large mesh pocket and a laundry bag conveniently tucked out of the way. Overpackers will also find the recessed handle at the bottom of the carry-on extra useful; the handle helps lifting the bag in and out of the overhead compartment a bit easier and safer. And your hands won’t have to touch the gross wheels if you place the suitcase handle-first. No matter how much I packed overpacked, the zippers never stretched out and the wheels never groaned—both features were among the smoothest of the bunch.

It’s an investment piece for sure, but the 100-day trial means you can try it out on an upcoming trip before deciding if it’s right for you. Plus, the limited lifetime warranty on parts means that Away will fix or replace parts if they’re broken.

2. Best carry-on luggage for work trips: July Carry On Pro

Photo by July

Price: $345
Overall dimensions: 21.5 inches x 15 inches x 8.5 inches
Expandable: No

There’s nothing more stressful than cracking open your carry-on to fish out your laptop or tablet in front of 20 other weary travelers in the security line, or trying to grab your laptop before shoving your bag into the overhead compartment as someone tries to weave around you in the aisle while boarding. For travelers on work trips, or even travelers who plan their next trip while in the air, July’s Carry On Pro has a convenient removable sleeve for laptops or tablets up to 16 inches.

There are two pockets: one that fits a laptop up to 16 inches and another for smaller documents like a passport or physical boarding pass. You snap the sleeve onto the exterior of the carry-on, and when you need it, unzip the sleeve and pull up on the interior handle—this step gave me a sense of comfort and security that someone wouldn’t be able to steal my laptop in the airport. I’d be hesitant to put too much in the sleeve, though. It fell off once because I overstuffed it (no surprise here) and the sleeve couldn’t get a secure fit on the suitcase.

There’s also a TSA-friendly lock and a handy ejectable battery pack right by the telescoping handle for convenience. With smooth wheels, a useful compression sleeve with a mesh pocket, and a hard shell, July’s carry-on was sleek and easy to travel with. Unfortunately, it doesn't expand like Away’s Carry-On Flex, but with 42 liters of capacity—the second largest I tested—it could fit three days’ worth of clothes, accessories, and gear with no major problems. Similar to Away though, July also comes with a 100-day trial and limited lifetime warranty on manufacturing defects.

3. Best eco-friendly carry-on: Aviator Carry-On

Photo by Paravel

Price: $350
Overall dimensions: 21.7 inches x 13.7 inches x 9 inches
Expandable: No

Flying isn’t an eco-friendly activity; there’s carbon emission with every flight and so much single-use plastic on the plane for hygiene reasons. But with Paravel’s Aviator Carry-On, almost every piece is made from upcycled materials: the shell from recycled polycarbonate, the handle from recycled aircraft-grade aluminum, the zippers from recycled materials, and the interior lining from recycled plastic bottles. Paravel also offsets the carbon emissions from sourcing, assembling, shipping, and delivery of each suitcase.

The carry-on was a breeze to test, and I almost didn’t want to knock it all over my driveway because it’s so pretty. While I love the sleekness of Away and July, Paravel’s contrasting leather accents and metal reinforced corners are surprisingly chic for luggage (almost making up for the awkward placement of the TSA lock). The wheels are smooth and the interior pockets offer the same compression as others I tested. I actually prefer Paravel’s compression sleeve to the rest—it’s not made of mesh like the others so it offers more privacy and is less likely to snag, too.

At a little over eight pounds when empty, this was the heaviest suitcase I tested, so avoid overpacking if you’re not going to be able to lift it into the overhead compartment. Or if you’re traveling with someone, just ask them to help so you can squeeze in a few extra things to maximize the 43.7 liter interior (the largest of the carry-ons I tested). The five-year limited warranty covers manufacturing defects, wear and tear on parts through normal use, and structural damage, which is more generous than other warranties that only cover manufacturing defects.

Photo by Amazon

4. Best affordable carry-on luggage: Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable Luggage

Price: $157
Overall dimensions: 22 inches x 15 inches x 9.5 inches
Expandable: Yes

Durable luggage is usually expensive, but Samsonite’s Omni PC Hardside is an exception. While $157 is not cheap, it’s a reasonable price for travelers who might hop on a plane a few times a year and don’t want to strain their shoulders under a large tote.

The hardshell case has a tiny crosshatch pattern that hid the most scuffs during testing. The rugged exterior doesn’t look as sleek as Away’s or as pretty as Paravel’s, but when you’re hustling through a crowded airport, it’s likely the last thing on your mind—you’ll just appreciate the hard shell and seamless 360° wheels even more.

However, the Samsonite’s TSA lock is on the side, which is awkward when you need to quickly access the interior, and lacks a compression sleeve and an interior pocket, which all the others I tested had. There are straps to prevent items from tumbling out if you open the carry-on when it’s upright, but nothing that’ll help get you more space. These shouldn’t be deal breakers for most travelers though, especially those who rely on packing cubes.

Samsonite has the longest warranty at 10 years, which covers manufacturing defects and workmanship, and makes this budget-friendly carry-on go the extra mile.

Photo by Away

5. Community Favorite: Away The Bigger Carry-On

Price: $295
Overall dimensions: 22.7 inches x 14.7 inches x 9.6 inches
Expandable: No

Our Instagram community overwhelmingly raved about Away’s The Bigger Carry-On, which I plan on testing next. It’s slightly larger than the The Carry-On Flex I tested, so be sure to compare the specs and see if the airlines you usually fly are compatible. If so, you may want to consider this because the capacity is much more impressive at 47.9 liters, which the brand says can fit enough for four to seven days, and it's slightly less expensive, too. It has the same features otherwise: 360° wheels, interior compression, TSA lock, a laundry bag, 100-day trial, and lifetime warranty.

Do you prefer a carry-on or a checked bag? Let us know below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Jada Wong

Written by: Jada Wong

Jada is the market editor at Food52 with a decade of experience writing and editing for online publications such as Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, and Insider.


JV July 21, 2022
Very informative article. Would love for you to test Monos:
MacGuffin July 21, 2022
Gee, I guess my beloved Briggs & Reilly Baseline spinner didn't make the grade; alas . . .
Robin July 28, 2022
scraps August 7, 2022
B&R has no business on this junky list of paid ads. It is in a refined class of its own.
Leslie July 20, 2022
I love my soft sided Lipault carry-on. Can usually find a quirky color on sale somewhere. I also have Lipault in my big suitcase, since it weighs so little. Only problem there, is that it's not all that tough & wears out more quickly from baggage handling than your basic Samsonite type suitcase. But for car travel, it's the best.
Becky W. July 19, 2022
I definitely prefer a carry on suitcase.
This size makes me conscious of my choices while packing and not overpacking! I don’t worry about it getting lost or stolen, I don’t lose time exiting the airport. Peace of mind while traveling.
jill B. July 19, 2022
Hard sided luggage to me is a rookie mistake. It is neither flexible nor practical in a hotel room. How do you deal with it on a luggage rack? Plus, they’re way too heavy. To me, soft-sided luggage without compartments is the best bet. I like Hideo Wakamatsu for its fair price point, indestructible material, and virtual weightlessness.
Leslie July 19, 2022
Me too: the first thing I noticed were the jars of olives. Who on earth would choose to put liquids in an illustration for carry on bags?
Arthur July 19, 2022
I prefer soft sided luggage
Julie M. July 19, 2022
Similar to Away is Monos. I have the hybrid carry-on plus, and I love it. Worthy of a review also.
JV July 21, 2022
I’d love to understand why you chose the hybrid over the other options. Is the only difference no zipper? I’m considering purchasing a monos carryon too’
Julie M. July 22, 2022
Another difference is the aluminum frame and corners. Sturdy. It looks sleek - will be different from others. You sacrifice some weight (aluminum is heavier) and perhaps some space inside. And the no zipper can be a plus - zippers have broken on me in the past. I am sad about losing a bit of packing space.
pmforys July 19, 2022
I have jotted down, from an Austrian Air flight a few years ago. “21 x 13 x 9” so unless they (and others) have changed their requirements, which are in centimeters so my notes are probably on the conservative side, none of these would work. That’s not to say you might not get away with it, but after being shamed at the Lufthansa gate years ago, I don’t even want to be a millimeter over.
Julie I. July 19, 2022
Why would you show a carry on bag filled with jars of olives?
abbyarnold July 19, 2022
I love my Genius G5 carry on! It has an umbrella holder, a water bottle holder, and a laundry bag all accessed from the outside, and super-useful inside pockets along with a packing list inside. It is easy to pack everything I need for a whole week.
Angie July 19, 2022
I’m so distracted by the jars of olives in the photo of the first Away bag. I have questions….
tonyinsf July 19, 2022
Hahahaha! Yeah, that person is definitely not going through TSA. I had to dump an expensive little jar of honey trying to leave Maui.
tonyinsf July 19, 2022
I’ve had Away’s Bigger Carry-On for over 7 years now and have had no airplane issues traveling through Europe, Asia, and here in the US. It’s been dropped countless of times, fallen out of taxis, and even accidentally rolled down a hill. I’m a huge fan. Full disclosure, I also have the big check-in luggage to bring along on longer trips. To pack all of those souvenirs!
John July 19, 2022
You have not taken into account the weight of each bag. With a weight limit of 8 kilos on most airlines and some of the Rollins coming in at 3-4 kilos you have very little to play with.
Ericanyc July 19, 2022
I’m just starting to travel internationally again, but most airlines have strict weight limitations of as little as 7kgs, so how does that possibly work for the writer?
Janet K. July 19, 2022
I got hit with that on Lufthansa when I was going to a developing country for a long term assignment years ago. I had a lot of electronics, prescription drugs and documents in my carry on bag and it was too heavy according to them. I had to check it but everything made the trip. Never again, though.
foodie2811 July 19, 2022
If you haven't tried the Kabuto luggage, I recommend checking them out. I'm pretty rough on my luggage and it keeps up with me.
jpriddy July 19, 2022
Thank you for this review. Although I do not know the meaning of a "compression sleeve" (?), your comments are helpful.
Kristi B. July 19, 2022
Great reviews/info, but three of the five are slightly bigger than the carry-on limits, so I’ll keep researching.
Janet K. July 19, 2022
I've lived overseas and traveled a lot but I still prefer a soft sided suitcase. I like to be able to put things in the outside pockets. Also for hiking trips, I take poles, which do not fit in carryons so I have to take my bigger suitcase which must be checked. Lately I have been meeting up with my husband as he bikes across the US and he has requested all sorts of things plus we plan on hiking and I have to bring HIS hiking boots, too. No carryon for me! So far so good, no problems as my bags have always arrived. Anyway, everyone seems to be forced to gate check carryons these days as planes are so crowded.
Leslie July 20, 2022
Yeah, but if you gate-check, you don't have to pay the checked luggage fee, so it's worth it to at least try to take it on.
dpatterson July 22, 2022
Leslie, yes, I have gate-checked my carry-on a few times when they ask for volunteers. Usually only if I have enough time at my destination to wait at the luggage carousel, sometimes I've had a connecting flight or ground transportation (bus) to catch.