All Articles The BEST Carry-On Bags for Your Next Flight (Plus Airline Size Restrictions)

The BEST Carry-On Bags for Your Next Flight (Plus Airline Size Restrictions)

Beth Luberecki
By Beth LubereckiMar 10, 2020
A collage of our top pick, the Away Carry On. The collage has a green background. The two suitcases are white and dark green.

All of the products featured in this article were independently selected by our editors. If you buy an item through a link on our site, we may earn a commission.

Sometimes you just want to simplify things when you’re flying—no lost bags, no waiting at the baggage carousel, no domestic or international checked bag fees. Packing everything into a carry-on bag (even for a long trip) is the best way to ensure both you and your clothing arrive at your destination at the same time. Here are the top user-tested carry-on bags for every form and function of travel.

The Best Overall Carry-on Bag

Several carry-on bags in front of a white background.

With more than 1,700 five-star reviews and an overall average of 4.9 out of 5, Away’s The Carry-On gets the most love from the widest range of travelers. Designed to fit in the overhead bin of basically every airplane, including those of smaller regional carriers, this 21.7 x 13.7 x 9–inch carry-on weighs just 8.1 lbs. and features both a sturdy polycarbonate shell on the outside (available in an array of color options) and two compartments inside, one for clothes and one for things like shoes and toiletries. A water-resistant laundry bag helps separate your dirty and clean items.

Its ultra-quiet 360-degree spinner wheels make The Carry-On easy to maneuver over any surface, too. “The bag is beyond light,” notes one reviewer, “so it was the first time I walked through airports and didn’t sweat and struggle with my bag. Super stylish and even strangers were complimenting.”

You can also choose to get the bag with a removable 37-watt lithium-ion battery under the handle, which means you won’t have to worry about a dead phone battery during your travels. (The battery should be removed if you are asked to check the bag at the gate). One reviewer calls this their “favorite feature—no more being stuck at an airport without a charge!”

The Best Small or Lightweight Carry-on Bags

The AmazonBasics Underseat Luggage Suitcase.

If a carry-on bag’s weight is at the top of your list of important features, both the AmazonBasics Underseat Luggage Suitcase with Wheels and the Lucas Ultra Lightweight Carry On get rave reviews from real travelers.

The 4.7-lb. AmazonBasics Underseat Luggage Suitcase with Wheels offers similar features as bags from some of the big-name brands, including a telescoping push-button handle and smooth rolling wheels, and scores points with users for being “super sleek and attractive.” At 13.3 x 9.4 x 14.1 inches, it’s just a little larger than a personal item and can fit easily in overhead compartments and under most airline seats. Users love its many zippered pockets and its ability to hold more than you would expect. One reviewer was able to pack “three pairs of pants or jeans, two dresses, four shirts, night clothes, underwear, an extra pair of shoes and toiletries with some room to spare!”

The bag’s handle means you won’t get a sore back or shoulder from lugging it around, and another reviewer loved that the handle “is adjustable to three different heights, so that even a child could easily roll it around.”

The Lucas Ultra Lightweight Carry On.

The expandable Lucas Ultra Lightweight Carry On (22.8 x 14 x 9 inches with wheels and handles) weighs in at a mere 5.8 lbs. As one reviewer notes, “I bought this because I don’t like asking for help to put my suitcase in the overhead bin. This does the trick.” It’s roomy to start with and then expandable in case you come home from your trip with souvenirs.

Travelers also love the bag’s ergonomic handle, eight-spinner-wheel system that allows for smooth 360-degree movement, and the stability that comes from its wide wheel placement and specially designed case platform. The suitcase “rolls very well,” notes one reviewer, “and it does NOT tip over, even with a backpack or other bag on top.”

The Most Versatile Carry-on Bags

Canway’s duffel bag.

Maybe you value a bag that can transform into a duffel or backpack. Or maybe you prefer an expandable carry-on or one with extra pockets. For many travelers, versatility is the most important feature of a carry-on bag, and for that reason we’ve selected a number of bags that travelers love for their uniquely versatile features.

Canway’s Carry-On Garment Bag, for example, is a 24.4 x 11 x 12.6–inch garment-and-duffel bag hybrid that gets high praise for its versatility and capacity, with one traveler dubbing it “my new go-to travel bag.” The main garment section can hold a suit or other clothing, while various pockets are sized for storing shoes, ties, socks, and other necessities. There’s also a waterproof exterior pocket for stashing an umbrella or anything else you might need to access quickly.

Once everything’s packed, the bag zips up to its duffel shape for easy carrying via its padded strap or faux leather handles. One reviewer says, “The bag kept two suits, associated shirts, and shoes in great shape during the journey.”

Swissgear 6283 21-inch Expandable Carry-On Spinner Luggage.

Swissgear 6283 21-inch Expandable Carry-On Spinner Luggage.

The Swissgear 6283 21-inch Expandable Carry-On Spinner Luggage is, as its name suggests, an expandable bag that allows you to squeeze a little extra into your carry-on when you need more space. The 22.75 x 14.25 x 10.25–inch exterior (including wheels and handles) is made from scuff-resistant polyester and has two front panel pockets, along with a padded top and side handles. A steel locking push/pull handle system and four 360-degree multidirectional spinner wheels make for good maneuverability.

Inside, helpful organizational features like a removable zippered wet bag, large mesh lid pocket, packing pocket, and adjustable luggage straps keep everything in its proper place. One reviewer was pleasantly surprised to be able to get “a week’s worth of clothes in this suitcase, with room to spare.”

The Tortuga Setout Backpack 35L.

The front-loading Tortuga Setout Backpack 35L is a hybrid carry-on that can be packed like a suitcase but carried like a backpack through the airport or elsewhere in your travels. Laptop and tablet sleeves stow those must-haves in easy reach, while interior pockets help keep travel documents and smaller items organized. A padded side handle makes it easy to get the bag in and out of the overhead compartment, while injection-molded foam shoulder straps and a padded, removable hip belt make the bag comfortable to carry on your back.

It’s available in a standard men’s version plus a women’s fit with a suspension system designed for narrower shoulders and shorter torsos. Reviewers call the 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5–inch bag “one of the best travel purchases I have ever made” and “the one I would recommend hands down.” At 3.4 lbs., it’s also super light.

The TLS Mother Lode Mini 21-inch Wheeled Carry-On Duffel.

Our final traveler-approved pick in this category is the eBags TLS Mother Lode Mini 21-inch Wheeled Carry-On Duffel, a rolling carry-on that features a molded hard-side on the back and a soft-side luggage-style front. The large main compartment includes an interior zip-around mesh panel pocket, while a front zip compartment makes it easy to access packed items without opening the entire bag. The 21.5 x 15 x 9–inch duffel is expandable up to 1.5 inches if you need more room for souvenirs, while top, bottom, and side carrying handles make it easy to maneuver in and out of the overhead bin or a car trunk.

The telescopic handle adjusts to three different heights, and reviewers like how smoothly and quietly the bag rolls. One reviewer says, “This is the 4th roller bag design that I have carried in my 11 years of flying. It is by far my favorite.” At 8 lbs., 11 oz., it’s not too heavy, either.

The Most Durable Carry-on Bags

The L.L. Bean’s Adventure Duffle in Yellow.

From car trunks and bus luggage compartments to airplane seats and overhead bins, we sure do shove our bags into a lot of rough spots when we travel. That’s why many travelers rate durability high on their list of features—and that’s especially true when you’re traveling with kids. Among those who put extra emphasis on durability, the rugged L.L. Bean’s Adventure Duffle, waterproof North Face Base Camp Duffel, and hard-sided Chester Minima Carry-On consistently earn positive reviews.

Whether you’re the outdoorsy type or just tend to be a little rough with your luggage, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a tougher carry-on bag than L.L. Bean’s Adventure Duffle. One reviewer says that the bag “has received the roughest handling that can possibly be thrown at a bag and has remained virtually unscathed.” An extra-long zipper makes for easy access to the interior, while cinched handles and a padded shoulder strap make it comfortable to carry or use as a weekend bag. Optional monogramming lets you add a personal touch.

Travelers praise the bag for its “quality construction,” “perfect size,” and ability to “stand the test of time.” It’s made of sturdy nylon (solid colors) or polyester (prints) with a water-resistant polyurethane coating and reinforced bottom. In medium-size, the bag measures 11 x 23 x 11 inches and weighs just 1 lb. 7 oz.

The Chester Minima Carry-On.

A hard-sided bag like the Chester Minima Carry-On, on the other hand, is a great choice if you care more about protecting what’s inside the bag. This suitcase made with a Makrolon polycarbonate hard shell (which is lighter than aluminum and more durable and flexible than most plastics) scores points for its durability. It’s both lightweight and water-resistant, but also flexible enough to absorb external pressure to reduce signs of wear and tear.

One reviewer says, “The polycarbonate shell is super attractive and doesn’t show dirt or dings, and it easily wipes clean with a damp cloth.” Inside are two roomy compartments, three interior organizers, and a removable nylon laundry bag to corral all your clothing and accessories. A telescoping ergonomic handle with two lock positions, multidirectional spinner wheels, and top and side handles make it easy to move from place to place. No wonder reviewers call this 21.8 x 13.7 x 9–inch bag the “best I’ve had” and “perfection.”

The North Face Base Camp Duffel in Black.

There’s water-resistant, and then there’s waterproof. For maximum water protection, look to the 13.98 x 25.4 x 13.98–inch North Face Base Camp Duffel, which is made from a durable laminate material and comes with a lifetime guarantee. “It survived a wet airport tarmac and kept my clothes dry and clean,” notes one reviewer.

Access your gear through the D-zip opening that has a weather-resistant zipper flap. An end-cap zippered compartment helps keep shoes or dirty clothes separate from other items. Padded side handles allow you to carry it as a duffel, while detachable, adjustable shoulder straps transform it into a backpack. Another reviewer says, “I would buy this product again, except you won’t have to.”

Airline Size Requirements

Want to know if your carry-on bag will be allowed on the airline you use most frequently? Here are the carry-on size restrictions for the major U.S. airlines.

Alaska Airlines

One personal item and one carry-on bag with a size limit of 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

Allegiant

All passengers can carry on one free personal item that is no more than 7 x 15 x 16 inches and fits under the seat in front of you. Passengers can purchase a carry-on bag option for bags that are 22 x 14 x 9 inches or smaller.

American

One carry-on bag and one personal item included with ticket. Maximum size for carry-ons is 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Soft-sided garment bags up to 51 inches (length + width + height) can also be taken on board as a carry-on item.

Delta

One carry-on bag and one personal item included with ticket. Carry-on baggage cannot exceed 45 linear inches in combined length, width, and height, including handles and wheels, which is approximately 22 x 14 x 9 inches. There is no maximum weight for carry-on baggage except at a few airports in Asia.

Frontier

Passengers can carry on one free personal item 8 x 18 x 14 inches or smaller. Passengers can also pay to carry on an additional bag, which must be no more than 24 x 16 x 10 inches and weigh less than 35 pounds.

Hawaiian

One personal item and one carry-on limited to 45 linear inches (length + width + height).

JetBlue

One personal item plus one carry-on bag included with ticket. Carry-on bags cannot exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches (including wheels and handles) and personal items must be no more than 17 x 13 x 8 inches.

Southwest

One carry-on bag plus one personal item included with fare. Carry-on bags must be 24 x 16 x 10 inches or smaller. Personal items must be no more than 18.5 x 8.5 x 13.5 inches.

Spirit

One personal item and one carry-on with a maximum size of 22 x 18 x 10 inches. Carry-on bags are not included in the base fare.

Sun Country

Passengers can carry on one underseat item at no charge that does not exceed 17 x 13 x 9 inches. Passengers can pay to carry on an overhead luggage item with max dimensions of 24 x 16 x 11 inches and a max weight of 35 lbs.

United

One carry-on bag and one personal item included with ticket. Maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 22 x 14 x 9 inches (including handles and wheels). Maximum dimensions for personal items (which must fit under the seat in front of you) are 9 x 10 x 17 inches. Lithium batteries installed in any carry-on bags must be removed before being brought on board. Smart bags that don’t have removable batteries are not allowed on any United or United Express flights.

Virgin Atlantic

One carry-on bag and one personal item included with fare. Carry-on bags must be no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

More on Tripadvisor


Beth Luberecki
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who covers travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and tween-age daughter. Visit her website, and find her on Instagram and Facebook.