Best carry-on luggage 2018: travel light and skip baggage reclaim

Going on a last minute get away? Got that all-important business trip coming up? Breeze through the airport and make your journey quick and easy with our list of the best carry-on luggage.

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Why travel light? Experience, that’s why. The experience of taking kilos of stuff around the world that never get worn. Shoes are the biggest culprit, then spare shirts. If you’re going on a short or a long trip, pack carefully and there’s little reason why you need to check-in luggage. However, good intentions go nowhere unless you have the right carry on bag.

With a small cabin-sized suitcase, you can keep everything you need with you, bypassing both the bag drop queue and the luggage carousel in your destination .. and get to the taxi rank before everyone else on your flight.

Looking for the best carry-on luggage? You've come to the right place; our guide has all the information you need to make an informed purchase.

How to choose the best carry-on luggage

Most airlines these days have the same rules and regulations about carry-on luggage. Common airlines at British airports, such as EasyJet and British Airways, allow you to bring on board a cabin bag with dimensions up to 56x45x25cm. 

However, be sure to check with the specific airline you are travelling with, as they may vary. 

It is also important to be aware that the budget airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair and Flybe sometimes operate a one-bag policy, which means you cannot have your carry-on luggage and your handbag, as this would count as two pieces (although you can always just shove it inside your case while boarding and take it out again once seated like everyone else). 

So what’s the best carry-on luggage? That depends on what kind of traveller you are, but know that they come with 2 wheels, 4 wheels or even 8 wheels, so you barely have to make any effort to carry your bag at all. So if you struggle to pack light, at least you won’t struggle through the airport. However, a carry-on size backpack can also be a great option.

If you do plan on cramming in as much stuff as possible, opt for feather-light luggage. They can weigh as little as 2kg and will make your life a whole lot easier when you’re lifting your bag into the overhead compartment. What determines their weight is what they’re made of, but bags made of light fabrics do tend to have more built-in pockets.

We’ve picked out some of the best carry-on luggage for all types of travel, styles and budgets. So take a look at our list and get booking that next flight!

The 8 best pieces of carry-on luggage

1. Tumi Alpha 2 Continental Carry on

A smart bag for both short and long haul flights

Best for: Long & short haul
Material: Ballistic Nylon
Dimensions: HWD 55.9x40.6x22.9cm
Weight: 5kg
Reasons to buy
+Four wheels +Expandable compartment
Reasons to avoid
- Some prefer hard cases 

If you want something that’s built to last, you may not think a soft case is the best option. However, this carry on bag from Tumi is said to be incredibly well built and has protection on the corners which means this case can take a beating during transit. Those who travel frequently found this bag to really hold up well, and fit neatly into an overhead cabin without feeling like you’re compromising on packing space. 

It has an expandable section which makes it ideal for when you end up coming back with what seems like twice as much as you went with, but no matter what you can always expect this bag to be within airline guidelines. Four wheels make it easier to get around, as this bag does come in as one of the heaviest on our list, but it is almost one of the smartest. 

2. Globe-Trotter Leather Trimmed Trolley Case

A small but sturdy and spacious case for smart packing

Best for: Smart look
Material: Leather and canvas
Dimensions: HWD 43x77x24cm
Weight: 10kg
Reasons to buy
+Looks professional +Handcrafted detailing
Reasons to avoid
- Heavy 

For those who want to look the part when travelling, then a Globe-Trotter bag is what you must have. this leather trimmed trolley case looks vintage and professional and has been handmade with polished detailing that really finishes off the look. It’s downside is it’s almost ten times heavier compared to other suitcases, but it also looks ten times cooler. 

It looks like an old-fashioned suitcase, but is surprisingly spacious inside, and has two handles and wheels for easy maneuverability through the airport. To make it all the more unique, if not a little fiddly, it fastens with push locks that have individual keys. 

3. Samsonite Cosmolite 55cm Spinner Cabin Case

A smart and lightweight cabin bag ideal for frequent flyers

Best for: Lightweight case
Material: Polypropylene
Dimensions: 55x40x20cm
Weight: 1.7kg
Reasons to buy
+Looks smart+4 wheels for easy manoeuvrability 
Reasons to avoid
-Handle feels a little flimsy

If you’re a frequent flyer, whether it is for business or please, you need to have a Samsonite. Customers who use this Samsonite are impressed with the amount of space inside, and say they are definitely worth the cost as they are built to last. Some think the handle feels a little flimsy, but with this cabin case being super lightweight, the 4 wheels make it really easy to get around the airport with no fuss. 

It also has a TSA lock which is perfect for those who travel to the states, and the hard casing means you’ll have peace of mind if you’re ever asked to put your bag in the hold. A highly recommended choice for anyone who travels on a regular basis. 

4. Victorinox Spectra Expandable Cabin Suitcase

An expandable hard case which looks slick

Best for: Business trips
Material: Polycarbonate
Dimensions: HWD 55x38x23cm
Weight: 4.2kg
Reasons to buy
+Expandable+Hard shell
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most roomy

Those who prefer hard shell cases will love this expandable carry on luggage bag from Victorinox. It’s super compact and is said to be durable for those who fly or travel frequently. 

Some say it is a little smaller than they expected, but the case features dividers and pockets which really help maximise packing space inside. It comes with a lifetime guarantee should anything happen to your case in transit, but users have noted how well this case withstands travel, both in the cabin and in the hold. Probably not the best choice for those who have a tendency to overpack, but for short business trips, you can expect this case to serve you well. 

5. Briggs & Riley Explore Domestic Carry-On Expandable Spinner Suitcase

An expandable bag for when you make some last-minute holiday purchases

Best for: Expandable capacity
Material: Nylon, Polyester
Dimensions: 56x35.5x23cm
Weight: 3.4kg
Reasons to buy
+Lifetime  guarantee+Water-resistant 
Reasons to avoid
-Bigger and heavier than most  

This is the perfect bag for those who don’t know how to travel light. This carry-on bag has expandable pockets which will give you up to an extra 2 inches of room when you need it most. This does mean that the bag is bigger than most, but you’ll still be within airlines limits, even if you fill the extra room. 

There is a designated water-resistant pocket which is perfect for carrying toiletries without the risk of ruining all your clothes, and you can also have peace of mind that your bag comes with a lifetime guarantee that covers airline damage should you ever need to put your luggage in the hold. 

6. Antler Atom Suitcase

A hardwearing case that is the perfect size even for stricter airlines

Best for: Durability
Material: Polypropylene
Dimensions: 55x40x20cm
Weight: 1.9kg
Reasons to buy
+Approved on all airlines (including Ryanair)+3 different colours
Reasons to avoid
-Handle could be longer

For those who have gone through numerous suitcases over the years because they end up falling apart after a couple of trips, the Antler Atom Suitcase could be the answer to your problems. Users are particularly impressed by the build quality of this suitcase and find it to be incredibly durable for both long and short-haul flights. 

If you don’t always fly with the same airline, you can absolutely be sure this carry-on luggage is the perfect size for even the strictest airlines such as Ryanair, and the TSA lock also makes it suitable for international flights. Some have said they would like to see a longer handle for when pulling along, but the 360 degree rotating wheels make it simple to push alongside you, which also means the wheels won’t be subjected to as much wear and tear. 

7. Ted baker AMITHIA Metallic trim travel bag

A designer carry-on bag that will make you look airport chic

Best for: Designer
Material: Polyester
Dimensions: 56x36x31cm
Weight: 2kg
Reasons to buy
+Fashionable +Lots of compartments
Reasons to avoid
-A strange shape

Ladies, if you want to look chic the next time you’re jetting off somewhere, then we think this Ted Baker carry-on luggage will make you feel holiday-ready. The black bag with rose gold trim is bang on trend for 2018, and it has plenty of compartments for those who just can’t leave anything behind. 

It is a slightly different shape to your standard carry-on luggage, so we would recommend double checking with your airline before flying, but the dimensions suggest this bag is fine for fitting in the overhead compartment. To finish the sleek look, it comes with a matching luggage tag and additional handles so you can even carry this as a normal bag when going up or down stairs. 

8. Samsonite Guard It Rolling Tote

A designated laptop carry-on for business travellers

Best for: Laptops
Material: Polyester
Dimensions: 46x36.5x22cm
Weight: 2.5kg
Reasons to buy
+Padded laptop compartment (17.3inches)+Lockable zippersAffordable
Reasons to avoid
- Only 2 wheels  

When travelling for business on a regular basis, carrying a laptop can be a real pain. However, this Samsonite laptop carry-on is the best way to ensure your device is protected on your flight. It offers a generous padded compartment which can accommodate laptops up to 17.3 inches, and you get an additional tablet pocket, for screens up to 10.1 inches. 

This carry-on luggage only has 2 wheels for rolling, but it certainly takes the stress out of carrying an additional laptop bag on your shoulder as well as a cabin bag. You’ll still have ample space to fit in your clothing for a short trip. 

9. Lat 56 Road Warrior RW_02

Business travellers will love this masculine-styled carry-on

Best for: Business trip
Material: Ballistic Nylon & moulded EVA foam
Dimensions: 55x35x20cm
Weight: 3.7kg
Reasons to buy
+Eight wheels +Excellent pocket configuration
Reasons to avoid
-Masculine look-No laptop sleeve

Most luggage is built to a budget, but not so this beautifully crafted masculine carry-on. Equipped with eight wheels and an extendable raw handle to ensure an easy journey through the airport, the Road Warrior RW_02 has black military-spec moulded EVA foam across the front to protect against dinks.

Lightweight when empty and small enough to fit on even the most restrictive budget airline, there’s the usual zipped area to store a passport and boarding passes on the outside, and a pocket for inserting liquids or anything else you want to extract without opening the main compartment. 

Inside is a surprisingly deep inner compartment covered in silky, soft red fabric. In the lid is an area for storing a clean shirt or two, while the sides of the bag’s inner are lined with well-made pockets to keep everything clutter-free. Also included is a shoe-bag that clips to the inside.

10. Manfrotto Gitzo Adventury 30L

Ideal for photographers who want to travel light

Best for: Photography trips
Material: RipStop Nylon
Dimensions: 31x19x48 cm
Weight: 2kg
Reasons to buy
+Protects drones and cameras+Tough waterproof design
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy even when empty

So you’re travelling with a drone. Good luck checking that in. Many of the people you see on long-haul planes clutching large carry-on backpacks are photographers and videographers who don’t want to let their expensive equipment out of their sight. That includes wildlife photographers, which are the specific target of this outdoorsy backpack designed to take camera gear.

Easily fitting within even budget short-haul sizings, the Gitzo Adventury is able to carry pro DSLRs with telephoto lenses up to 600 mm, and mirrorless cameras, but the genius is an interchangeable divider that can be configured to fit either more lenses, or a DJI Phantom drone. As a bonus, there’s also a separate padded compartment for both a 15-inch laptop and a 12.9-inch tablet. As befits a bag intended for use in the wild, it’s got an unusual roll-top closure that gives your gear maximum protection in the rain.

11. Thule Crossover Carry-on

Hybrid roller-backpack with a built-in glasses case

Best for: Long-haul trips
Material: Dobby Nylon
Dimensions: 38.5x21x56cm
Weight: 3.5kg
Reasons to buy
+Built-in glasses case+Backpack straps
Reasons to avoid
-Too big for budget airlines

Though many travellers try to travel light on short-haul flights to save money, most people check-in their luggage on a long-haul flight when they’re given 20kg of check-in luggage. Consequently, there are very few bags that meet the more generous carry-on criteria of long-haul flights for those who don’t want to hang about at carousels.

Thule’s Crossover Rolling is just that bag; it takes a lot of luggage, and is extra tough thanks to a hard-sided design and two wheels that can take it over all kinds of terrain. The telescopic handle is also tougher than on most. Inside it’s a pretty standard design – complete with waterproof pocket – but it has two strokes of genius. 

The first is a hard-sided pocket on the outside of the bag for storing sunglasses, and the second is two straps that unfurl from the top to make the Crossover Rolling wearable as a backpack. It’s also got a pouch for a 15-inch laptop. It takes 38 litres of stuff.