on luggage 2021
There are hundreds of carry ons on the market these days, with offerings from both established luggage brands and newcomers hoping to disrupt an expensive industry with affordable, high quality gear. With tons of options to choose from, picking the right bag for your trip can be overwhelming. After researching dozens of cases (reading through both editorial and user reviews), we zeroed in on 12 of the most popular with especially high praise from reviewers, and then put them through the ringer to determine the best carry on suitcase.
Finally, the Samsonite Omni PC Hardside 20 Inch Spinner is a rare polycarbonate case coming in at under $100 on sale. It’s a durable, lightweight option from a trusted brand, but the internal organization is minimal and features a finicky containment strap that’s hard to open and close. The Omni also lacks a side carrying handle something that proved more than a little annoying when trudging up and down stairs. Still, with its sturdy build and materials, the Omni proved the best option at this price point.
It tied with the Delsey Chatelet for the highest overall score from our testing, even before accounting for the fact that it’s lower priced than its high end competitors. Away’s offering stood up very well to our abuse, handling being kicked, jumped on and dropped down stairs with only minor scuffing and zero lasting dents. This is due to the materials it’s constructed with: The outer shell is 100% polycarbonate, an extremely strong yet lightweight and flexible material that’s become the gold standard for hardside luggage.
To be fair, Away’s top and side carry handles are a bit flat and stiff a minor issue since the bags will typically be rolled rather than carried, but an issue nonetheless. The telescopic handle was also one of the wobbliest we tested. That said, Away claims the handle is meant to be this flexible to better absorb shock, and no issues with the handle actually arose in our testing. We also liked that the handle itself is black rather than the brushed steel color typical of most cases, as this better matches the trim and detailing on the bag.
Away really shines, however, when it comes time to actually pack it. The case features the best internal design of the bunch a simple yet effective system that will keep your stuff organized without overcomplicating things or clogging up valuable packing space. One side consists of a deep pocket covered by a full zip divider, good for hard or bulky items; the other side is topped by a removable, buckle down compression board that helps you wring every bit of space out of the 39.8 liter bag. The compression board also features a larger zip pocket hermes cigarette tray replica
that’s the perfect size for sliding your laptop into it; since the board is meant to sit atop your clothing, this automatically offers extra padding for your delicate electronics.
Whether or not you want a smart suitcase is a matter of preference, but it’s nice to have the option. Away was the only case we tested that actually comes with a battery pack (a 10,000 mAh travel friendly charger, to be precise). It also has the easiest battery removal process of the cases tested by far, since you can simply pop the battery out of the case while it’s still shut. The case also has two charging ports, whereas all but one other we tested (the Genius Pack Supercharged) had only a single port.
As noted above, the Delsey Chatelet Hard+ 21 Inch Spinner actually tied in our testing with Away’s case. The Chatelet got especially high marks for durability, thanks to its Bayer virgin Makrolon polycarbonate shell, Hinomoto wheels and aluminum handle. The outer shell is thicker and has less give than Away’s making the case heavier and less flexible overall, but also less dent prone. In fact, the Chatelet essentially ignored all our attempts to damage it. The shell also has a lightly textured diamond pattern meant to reduce the appearance of scratches and scuffs, and it was indeed more scuff proof in our tests than the Away.
This was also the most luxurious feeling case of the bunch. Inside features soft touch polyester lining and super smooth zippers with faux leather pull tabs. The top and side handles are also wrapped in cushy faux leather, making them quite comfy to hold for long periods of time. The wrapping on the handles is thick, though, meaning it’s hard for other items to lay flush atop the case an issue for those who like to stack tote bags or pet carriers on top of their luggage while rolling through the airport.
So what’s the problem? The Chatelet is 9.3 pounds nearly 1.5 pounds heavier than Away’s Carry On, and more than 3 pounds heavier than the Calpak Ambeur. And in the world of excess baggage fees, weight reigns supreme. The bag also has an enormous internal capacity with 44.9 liters of space, but is physically bulkier than the Away. While the Chatelet should be fine for domestic travel, you could run into trouble when trying to carry this bag onto certain international flights. It’s always worth checking an airline’s posted carry on dimensions before traveling.
Polycarbonate is among the best hardside suitcase materials, but you’ll usually have to pay a premium for it. Not so with the Samsonite Omni, which has a fully polycarbonate shell yet can be snagged for about $100. The micro diamond texture is similar to that of the Delsey Chatelet, and prevented any serious scuffing in our testing without Delsey’s bulk. The Omni weighs just 6.8 pounds and has a huge 41 liter capacity. This is a very sturdy bag with plenty of space, and also comes with Samsonite’s 10 year warranty.
Outer materials: We assessed the materials used in each case’s outer shell, zippers, telescopic handle and wheels.
Internal materials: We felt the materials used in the lining of cases for softness and stretched and bent any internal compression straps.
Dent and scuff test: We jumped on the cases. We kicked the cases and whacked them with hammers. We tossed the cases down a flight of stairs, much to the annoyance of our neighbors. Then we assessed how busted up each bag looked, as well as how easy it was to wipe away scuffs and pop out dents.
Internal volume: We measured the packable interior of the bags and also noted reported capacity in liters.
Packing experience and organization: Just as important as capacity is how the space within a bag is actually used: Is the organization overwhelming, nonexistent, or just right? We assessed the utility of any internal pockets, straps, and dividers. Then we actually packed and unpacked the bags with the same set of items, noting how easy it was to keep our things organized, shove in last minute items after closing the case and get at things once the case was reopened.
Weight: We weighed the bags (unpacked).
Maneuverability: We rolled the bags across carpet, hardwood, cracked pavement and grass, and assessed how quietly, steadily and smoothly each bag moved.
Top and side handle comfort: We carried each bag up and down a flight of stairs using both handles, and assessed the comfort of each bag’s handle grips.
Telescopic handle comfort and stability: We raised and lowered the handle, and wiggled it around to assess wobbliness. We also used the handle to drag each bag, fully upright and as well using only the two front wheels, around the bumpy streets of Brooklyn.
Smoothness of internal and external zippers: We zipped and unzipped multiple times, with the bags both packed and empty, and noted any snags or resistance.
Charging: We noted whether each bag had charging capabilities, and, if so, how easy that charger was to connect and remove and how many ports the case had.
Expandability: We noted whether, and how easily, the bag could expand.
TSA locking mechanism: We noted whether the bag had a TSA friendly lock, and also how easy this lock was to both set and use.
Other extras: We noted whether the bag came with meaningful extras like included laundry or garment bags, luggage tags, brakes or electronic tracking systems.
Materials and durability were worth up to 15 points: feel and composition of outer materials (5); inner lining (5); resistance to dents and scuffs (5).
Capacity and organization were worth up to 15 points: internal volume (5), packing/unpacking experience (10).
Performance was worth up to 20 points: top and side handle comfort (5), telescopic handle comfort and stability (5), smoothness of internal and external zippers (5), maneuverability (5).
Style was worth up to 10 points: number of color/design options (5), general impressions (5).
Additional features were worth up to 10 points: charging potential (3); expandability (3); TSA locking mechanism (2); break system (1); extras (1).