Who, besides baggage handlers, really knows what our suitcases go through when they’re out of sight at an airport? At the very least, you’ll always want rolling luggage that can handle being tossed around. But beyond that, what makes for a good piece of luggage is highly variable: hard-shell or soft-side? Two wheels or four? Luxury or affordable? Stylish or practical? Ideally, your luggage will be the perfect blend of them all. To find these Goldilocks suitcases, we asked some of the most well-traveled people we know about their favorites, and below, you’ll find a suitcase fit for just about every traveler.
Our experts definitely prefer hard-shell luggage. It’s durable and easy to clean, protects your clothes if it rains, and is harder for bedbugs to penetrate if you encounter any on your trip. The hard-shells on this list are made from ABS (an inexpensive but less durable plastic), polycarbonate (a more durable but lightweight material), or aluminum (slightly heavier but the most durable). There are a few soft-sided pieces on this list too — for those who haven’t made the switch yet. While they aren’t as durable, “from a repair standpoint, we always feel that the canvas soft-sided luggage is better than the hard-side luggage because you can repair canvas,” Tony Pecorella, president and CEO of Modern Leather Goods, a repair shop in Manhattan, says. He’s an authorized repairman for many of the luggage brands below and says someone comes in with a cracked hard-shell every day and “there’s no repairing them at all.” So in addition to soft-side suitcases being fixable, they are overpacking-friendly because you can stuff more in them than a rigid polycarbonate case and finesse a larger carry-on to fit in an overhead bin, too
A pretty standard feature in all suitcases are the buckled straps that go over your clothes to help keep them in place. In newer hard-shells, they have doubled down on this concept with full dividers that compress your clothes and make it easier to close your suitcase. Unlike the straps, the dividers cover the entire section and usually have an additional zippered pocket on them, addressing a common complaint that polycarbonate cases don’t have any smaller compartments.
Our experts continuously raved about the wheels on their favorite suitcases, describing them as smooth and sturdy. Most were talking about their four spinner wheels, which make the suitcase much easier to push along as it can glide in all directions. For comfort and ease of use, four wheels is definitely the way to go and is our recommendation, but again, Pecorella says it’s not the best choice from a repair standpoint. “It is always stronger to have the case that has the two wheels on it,” he says. “Those wheels are encased, so the only thing that can really happen on those wheels is that they wear out eventually like tires on your car.” With the four spinners — which Pecorella fully admits to using personally — he says because they aren’t encased and just are attached to the bottom of the suitcase, you run the risk of them being banged off. “If you’re rolling off a curb or if you hit the escalator too hard, it’ll just snap the wheel right off,” he says. “That’s one of the biggest repairs we do here all day.”
Almost none of the suitcases on this list go the easy-repair route of being soft-side and having two wheels, and that’s because they all have pretty good warranties, which Pecorella says is actually the most important part. “This is what we tell our customers all the time: If you are a regular traveler, really look into the luggage brand’s warranty and see what they are covering and what they are not covering,” he says. “There is a large disparity between the very good ones that I would recommend if we were off the record and ones I would not recommend.” The biggest phrase you want to avoid is “limited to manufacturer’s defects,” which Pecorella says means they basically cover nothing and will attribute damage to wear and tear, or say it’s your fault or the airline’s fault. “Lifetime warranty” is ideal, and he says most of them offer it. Others will say they have a “limited lifetime warranty,” which means it’s only good for so many years or there are restrictions on what it applies to. The bottom line from Pecorella is to do your homework: That way, you’ll really know what you’re getting.
If you’ve checked an overweight bag before, you’ll know how much those extra charges can sting. Lightweight suitcases are ideal for overpackers — including myself — so we’ve included each case’s weight when empty.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Compression dividers | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 7.4 pounds
We’ve been recommended this style of Away suitcase in nearly every size, but the Bigger Carry-on is by far the most popular. It has an almost 50-liter capacity, but it still fits in most overhead bins and is perfect for a longer trip. Kelly Farber, founder of KF Literary Scouting, took only this on a three-week, seven-city business trip, and said, “That thing just would not quit.” No matter what size you get, though, each one features the same desirable qualities our experts were looking for in a modern suitcase. “It’s sturdy but light, and has a USB charger so I can charge my phone just enough to order an Uber,” writer and photographer Nicholas Gill said. “Plus, inside it has a nylon bag where I can toss in my clothes after getting caught in a sudden jungle downpour, which always seems to happen.”
Stephanie Be from TravelBreak.net and BUENA calls out the “TSA-approved lock, 360-degree wheels, tough hardware, and sleek design.” An interior compression divider on one side lets you “stuff all the things and zip it shut,” Summer Hull, director of travel content at the Points Guy, says. For Kiana Brooks, a luxury fashion buyer, another selling point was the warranty, which helped her justify the price of the large size. There’s a limited lifetime warranty on it. In this case, that means it doesn’t expire, but there is a limit on what it covers. Away will fix or replace any functional damage to the shell, wheels, handles, zippers, or “anything else that impairs your use of the luggage,” according to the website. The battery pack, however, is limited to a two-year warranty.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: ABS hard-shell | Compression strap | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited warranty | Weight: 7.3 pounds
Finding a suitcase closer to $100 that can hang with the rest of the ones on this list is pretty special. This Amazon Basics case is made from ABS, the cheaper and least durable hard-shell material, so that explains the price, but it’s still a favorite of writer Robin Reetz. She actually didn’t even like carry-ons before trying this one out, always preferring to check a bag — but after trying this spinner because of the price, she found a lot more to like about it. She was drawn to “the compartments and much-better-than-expected functionality,” she said. Reetz was impressed with the size of the 21-inch suitcase. “It’s really perfect for a weekend or four- to five-day trip,” she says. “I’ve traveled recently with friends who have Away and Delsey luggage, and all are now thinking about getting this bag.” Amazon has a three-year limited warranty that protects against defects in materials and workmanship under ordinary use and does not cover normal wear and tear, abuse or misuse, cosmetic damage or cleaning, damage or loss caused by an airline, or incidental or consequential damages, including damage to or loss of the contents of a bag, loss of use, loss of time, or similar expenses.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Compression dividers | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: 5-year manufacturer’s guarantee | Weight: 7.1 pounds
The Rimowa Essential line of suitcases was a very close second to the Away. More than ten people mentioned the brand; it ultimately didn’t take the top spot because of the price, but those who recommend it say it’s worth it if you travel often. Hull is a frequent flier, so her luggage “isn’t a once- or twice-a-year thing, it’s a regular companion,” which is how she justified spending more on a suitcase that would be functional and fun. It comes in 11 colors and two finishes and works like a dream, according to owners, almost all of whom praise the wheels. “I won’t pretend to understand all the physics behind the bearings and axles on Rimowa’s bags, but I do know they spin amazingly well through the airport,” Hull says. Chris Schalkx of travel website Rice/Potato, says “this has been one of our best travel investments we’ve made,” with wheels that roll “as a knife through butter, no matter the terrain they’re on.”
Rimowa was the first brand to release a polycarbonate suitcase back in 2000, so it’s had over 20 years to perfect the durable yet lightweight design. Travel writer Hillary Eaton brought the checked version of this on a 48-hour journey from Vancouver to Machu Picchu by “tiny floatplane, three long-haul flights, a five-hour bus, and a two-hour train ride,” and Eaton says the bag, and the three weeks’ worth of stuff inside, survived. Many users mentioned how easy it is to get this suitcase repaired if anything goes wrong, which shocked me after looking into the warranty. There’s a manufacturer’s guarantee of five years — if you remember to register your product when purchase it. Otherwise, it only lasts for two. Even within those five years, the warranty only applies “if the usability of the product is considerably adversely affected by a material or manufacturing fault already present at the time of hand-over (defect),” the brand says. Breaks caused by “abrasion, improper use, faulty operation, or externally occurring forces,” like cracks, breaks, and scratches caused in flight, are not covered. There’s a lot of fine print with Rimowa, so I suggest looking into it before you purchase.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Compression dividers | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 7.9 pounds
I’ve previously called July the Away of the Down Under. The Australia-based brand became available in the U.S. last year, and its suitcases resemble Away’s with a few different perks. July’s charger has a USB-C port, so you can charge the latest iPhone or your laptop straight from the bag. Its smallest carry-on weighs about half as much as Away’s, even though they both have similar liter capacities, and you can personalize it. This particular model sets itself apart with a removable fabric front pocket, which was great for Christine Wang, the founder of TheSkiGirl, who is generally a fan of soft-side luggage. This basically combines the two. It holds a 16-inch laptop and has slots inside for other documents, in addition to a zippered outside pocket for smaller items. If you’re traveling for work, everything you need is easily accessible, and instead of digging through your bag to remove your laptop at TSA, you can easily just snap this pouch off instead. July offers a lifetime warranty on manufacturing defaults, and a limited lifetime warranty that covers damage to the wheels, zips, handles, nylon compression strap, and cracks in the polycarbonate shell or aluminum bumpers.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Aluminum hard-shell | Compression dividers | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 10.1 pounds
Travel writer Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon says this case is her ultimate workhorse. She appreciates that the bag has room for the essentials she needs for a three- or four-day trip and says the carry-on glides effortlessly through her home airport in Miami: “I feel like I could just push it with my middle finger, and it would glide along the concourse.” Swede White, principal content strategist at Amazon Web Services, also owns the bag but isn’t such a fan of checking it in. “It dents and scuffs so easily,” something Away openly notes will happen, suggesting that it will develop a patina over time. “In hindsight, I do wish I would have gotten a bag with a different exterior material. Rimowa aluminum doesn’t seem to dent as easily, but it still happens!” It all boils down to personal taste, White adds.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Aluminum hard-shell | Compression dividers | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: 5-year manufacturer’s guarantee | Weight: 9.5 pounds
Another popular offering from Rimowa is the Original line, which comprises the aluminum suitcases that put the brand on the map. While aluminum is heavier than polycarbonate (this carry-on is 9.5 pounds and the above is 7.1 pounds), it is the most durable material to make a hard-shell out of, and Rimowa makes them so they are completely waterproof, a selling point for Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury-travel and lifestyle brand Black Tomato. While the other hard-shells on this list will mostly protect your stuff from the rain, they still have fabric zippers that water can penetrate. These suitcases close more like trunks with two built-in TSA locks and a completely sealed opening. The aluminum ensures that your belongings inside stay safe, which is key for Marchant: “My Rimowa has seen quite a few things around the world, including a tumble off the roof rack of a tiny car while winding down roads in Greece (miraculously intact).” The Points Guy Brian Kelly likes the Original cases. The other features — dividers, wheels, and warranty — are pretty much the same as the Essential line, but Kelly adds that Rimowa’s handles are standout, too, describing them as “especially awesome for tall people since the handle extends extra-tall.”
Photo: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Compression dividers | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 7.3 pounds
You might be able to personalize July’s luggage, but Roam’s is fully customizable. “Roam lets you customize their lightweight hard-shell pieces in bright, eye-catching colors,” says Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief Jacqui Gifford. “I recently purchased one with an ‘Arabian Purple’ back (it’s a subtle magenta), a ‘Pacific Blue’ front (a slightly brighter, cooler navy), and a ‘Metro Grey’ zipper.” The color options are different now, but they’re no less exciting. You can add your monogram free of charge. Roam’s luggage has a lot of the standard features we look for. It’s made from polycarbonate and has a built-in TSA lock, spinner wheels, and compression dividers on both sides of the suitcase. The warranty is pretty standard, too. Its lifetime limited warranty covers cracks to the shell and wheels, handles, or zippers that no longer work, so long as the damage occurred while the luggage was being used for its intended purpose.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Polycarbonate hard-shell | Compression dividers | Wheels: 360-degree spinner wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 8.36 pounds
If you can’t travel without taking your entire closet, Béis’s luggage is for you. For one, it’s “expandable up to two inches,” says Laura Ratliff, travel writer and former senior editorial director of TripSavvy. According to the product description, though, it’s probably closer to three inches, as it says the suitcase expands up to 12 inches, an increase from its standard nine-inch depth. More stuff means a heavier bag, and Béis’s built-in weight-limit indicator makes sure you don’t teeter over the 50-pound weight restriction for checked bags. According to a customer-service representative, the luggage-weight indicator activates when you lift the suitcase by the side-carry handle. A red mark will appear if the luggage is approximately over 50 pounds, which should save you some stress and money at the check-in counter.
While it’s not waterproof like the Rimowa above, the zipper is water-resistant, another favorite feature of Ratliff’s. Meanwhile, travel blogger HeyCiara appreciates the TSA lock, handle with ergonomic support, and built-in laundry and shoe bag, to prevent your clothes from getting soiled. As for warranty, Béis only covers its polycarbonate cases and not its newly launched soft-side collection. It covers all the standard things, but it only lasts “for the reasonable lifetime of the Luggage,” according to the website, which sounds like there’s an undisclosed expiration date based on how long the brand thinks it should last.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Ballistic nylon | Compression straps | Wheels: 4 dual-spinner | Warranty: Five years | Weight: 10.9 pounds
This Tumi case has been a go-to for Jane Stoller, author of Decluttering for Dummies, since 2014. “It’s done almost 500 miles — I actually use it almost every weekend as I drive frequently between my homes in Canada.” As an organization expert, neat luggage is key to Stoller, borne out by this case’s zipped compartments, large mesh zip pockets, compression straps, and a hanger bracket. “I also like the special touch of being able to monogram them with your name or initials,” she says.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Soft-side | Compression wings | Wheels: Spinner wheels | Warranty: Lifetime warranty | Weight: 8.9 pounds
Travel blogger Gabby Beckford prefers soft-side luggage, as it’s less likely to break. Her bag of choice is this durable option from Eagle Creek made with reinforced polyester. It has multiple locks to keep essentials safe and a reflective zipper, which is easy to locate in the dark. Beckford particularly likes that the bag expands, so she has plenty of room to slot away souvenirs from her trips.
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Nylon soft-side | Compression strap | Wheels: Encased wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty | Weight: 5.4 pounds
From a repair standpoint, Pecorella would probably say this suitcase is a dream. It’s made from easy-to-repair nylon and has just two encased wheels that won’t snap off. It expands up to two inches and has multiple compartments. None of this is groundbreaking, but TripSavvy’s former general manager Molly Fergus is a fan of this admittedly “basic but effective” suitcase. She prefers soft-sided bags for her carry-on so she can stuff them as much as possible, and this one can hold a decent amount. It’s her go-to bag for trips that are less than a week long, and even though it doesn’t offer the same protection that a hard case would, it’s still durable. Fergus has traveled with it to Miami, Cancun, and all across Europe: “It’s survived being dragged across sand, dirt, and cobblestones,” she says. Travelpro’s limited lifetime guarantee covers defects to the wheels, zippers, extension handles, and carrying handles, and this lasts for however long you own it. On top of that, for the first year, your product is backed by its Trusted Companion Promise, which covers the cost of repair for damage caused by an airline and covers the shipping cost for any product that needs to be shipped to one of its repair facilities. In order to take advantage of this, however, make sure you register your product within 120 days of purchasing it.
Material: Nylon | Compression strap | Wheels: Two | Warranty: Limited lifetime | Weight: 6 pounds
Alex Sanchez works in marketing for Boston-based travel company G Adventures, so she travels frequently for work (and for fun). She loves the versatility of this bag from Japanese brand Hideo Wakamatsu. “It can look like a duffel (which I like for when my trip is a bit more casual), or it can look a bit more polished for conferences and trade shows,” she says. “Another thing is that it has these adjustable straps on the side. If the bag isn’t super-full, you can pull on the straps and it collapses down so you’re not left with a lot of empty space in the bag.”
Hard-shell vs. soft-side: Nylon soft-side | Compression dividers | Wheels: Encased wheels | Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty
Travel blogger Alexandra Baackes runs several travel retreats a year, so needs to haul anything from scuba gear to yoga mats. The sturdy frame of her 80-liter Sojourn bag provides some much-needed structure, and compression straps offer plenty of space (the bag has padding to keep fragile stuff safe, too). “What I love about this bag is that while 90 percent of the time I use it as a wheeled suitcase, it does have the capacity to be a backpack, too — which I occasionally use when crossing a rickety Indonesian dock, or walking up a set of precarious steps in Peru,” Baackes says. She loves the free lifetime repairs offered by Osprey, which covers any fault found with the bag.
• Alexandra Baackes, travel blogger and founder of Wander Woman Retreats
• Stephanie Be, founder of BUENA and blog Travel Break
• Gabby Beckford, travel blogger
• Kiana Brooks, luxury fashion buyer
• Hillary Eaton, food and travel writer
• Kelly Farber, founder of KF Literary Scouting
• Molly Fergus, former general manager of TripSavvy
• Jacqui Gifford, Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief
• Nicholas Gill, writer and photographer
• Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, travel writer
• Summer Hull, director of travel content at The Points Guy
• Ciara Johnson, travel blogger HeyCiara
• Brian Kelly, The Points Guy
• Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel and lifestyle brand Black Tomato
• Tony Pecorella, president and CEO of Modern Leather Goods
• Laura Ratliff, travel writer
• Robin Reetz, writer and VP of marketing at Rag & Bone
• Lauren Ro, Strategist writer
• Alex Sanchez, consumer marketing manager at G Adventures
• Chris Schalkx, co-founder of Rice/Potato
• Jane Stoller, author of Decluttering for Dummies
• Christine Wang, founder of TheSkiGirl
• Swede White, principal content strategist at Amazon Web Services
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