Hard shell luggage almost always looks much better than soft shell luggage. Their glossy shells catch the light really nicely, as they float alongside you as you glide through the terminal to your gate. And in recent years, companies have gotten a lot better at making them. The models you buy today aren’t quite as durable as fabric ones, but they’re almost there.
Fabric luggage does have one other advantage over hard shell. Thanks to their stretchiness, soft suitcases tend to be a little bit more accommodating to over-packers, while still maintaining the same carry-on size. You’ll find it a little bit easier to actually zip them shut, even when they’re filled to the brim with extra pairs of underwear. Hard shell suitcases have a lot less give in terms of packing space, which makes them unideal in case you’re someone that tends to accumulate tokens of your trip. This isn’t often a big enough problem to be a dealbreaker, but it’s something to consider.
The Best Overall Carry-On Luggage: TravelPro Platinum Elite
The TravelPro Platinum Elite suitcase offers the best value of any suitcase we’ve tested. The case’s cavernous interior includes tons of weird little zippered sections and mesh pockets for you to cordon off your toiletries, small items, dirty clothes, and shoes from your clothes without busting out the packing cubes. If you have a suit you’re storing, the case comes with a garment bag you can fold and drop into its top area, which will minimize any wrinkling. It’s also a full four-wheel spinner suitcase that maximizes on maneuverability. In case you experience any defects with said wheels (or the zippers, or the handle), the Platinum Elite comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
The one ding against the TravelPro is its humdrum looks, which evoke the carpeting of one of the airports you’re going to drag it through. But that hasn’t kept it from becoming a favorite of the kind of people that travel a ton. If the TravelPro logo looks familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen it on the luggage of the flight attendants and pilots that spend most of their lives in the sky.
The Best Hard Shell Luggage: Arlo Skye “The Zipper” carry-on
The Arlo Skye Zipper carry-on is our favorite hard-shell suitcase for a couple reasons. The bag’s polycarbonate exterior isn’t as hearty as the fabric on the TravelPro or the aluminum of a Rimowa, say, but we found the suitcase a bit more capable of withstanding regular use than other hard-shelled suitcases we’ve tested. It’s also much cheaper than a Rimowa.
All of Arlo Skye’s carry-on sized suitcases have internal pockets that make them easy to pack, including a few zippered areas for dirty clothes and shoes. The company also makes a version with an easy-access front pocket, presumably for a laptop or magazines, but we’d imagine you’d rather keep those things in a backpack or tote than in the suitcase you’re hauling into an overhead bin. Like the luggage from Away (more on that below), Arlo Skye’s luggage features a removable external charger. But while the one on the Away can only juice up your phone, you can use the battery included with the Arlo Skye luggage to charge a laptop.
For the Budget Conscious Menswear Bro: Horizn Studios H5 essential cabin case
Listen, we’re all for splurging on some baller luggage when appropriate. (Clearly.) But sometimes you need a suitcase that will securely get you from point A to point B—and look good doing it—but won’t call for you dropping well over a G. Enter this stealthy, blacked-out carry-on. It’s made out of a scarily durable polycarbonate, lined with water-resistant nylon, and comes with 360-degree spinner wheels, a built-in charging station, and a four-stage telescopic handle—all at a price that belies how methodically designed it is. Traveling on a budget this summer? Buy this and spend the cash you save on a better AirBnB.
For People Who Want to Own DTC Everything: Away The Carry-On
There are plenty of good reasons why the Away team has just about upended the luggage industry since it launched. Instagram-ready looks? Check. Durable shell? Check. Smooth wheels, top and side handles, clothes straps, a mesh zip pocket, a laundry bag, and—maybe most game-changing of all—a built-in USB charger so you don’t have to screw around with airport outlets? Yeah, check. At just over two hundred bucks and with a range of handsome, low-key colorways (we like the navy), Away’s carry-on means you don’t have to choose between getting something cheap and ugly and spending a rent check on something luxe. And for an industry that never really did the low-to-mid-tier thing well, that’s a very welcome change of pace.
The Last Carry-On You’ll Ever Buy: Moncler Genius x Rimowa reflection silver suitcase
Rimowa, the storied German luggage company founded in the late 1800s, has been on something of a collaborative spree. Few have yielded better results though than the suitcase the brand cooked up with the Italian skiwear gods at Moncler, which sees Rimowa’s iconic aluminum suitcase polished to a mirror-like sheen. The futuristic spinner the duo released through Moncler’s “Genius” program comes packed with the sort of details that made Rimowa a powerhouse in the luggage space for over a century: A single-stage telescoping handle, a hinged double latch lock by the main compartment, elastic compression straps with magnetic pull-release fastenings, the works. If you’ve ever been stuck traveling with a lackluster piece of luggage and thought, Man, I wish my suitcase could do that, chances are Rimowa’s can, and masterfully.
For Lovers of Luxury: Louis Vuitton Horizon 50 4-wheel carry-on
Before Louis Vuitton became the biggest name in luxury fashion, it was a humble trunk maker servicing well-heeled Parisians in need of superlative travel furnishings. In the years since, the company has expanded its purview to include all the hallmarks of a contemporary lifestyle brand, but luggage remains the house specialty. The Horizon is the maison’s sleekest carry-on, introduced with the help of the legendary industrial designer Marc Newsom and engineered to withstand the rough and tumble nature of TSA check-in. Lightweight, airtight, and done up in that instantly recognizable damier pattern, it’s a downright ritzy spinner.
The Ultimate Travel Flex: Brunello Cucinelli leather carry-on suitcase
If you only know of Brunello Cucinelli through the label’s ultra-soft cashmere—all milled in Solomeo, the scenic Italian hamlet the company calls home—you’re missing out. The ruminative designer makes far more than knitwear. Case in point: This classic carry-on, a handsome spinner in a precious leather finish that says, “I don’t usually fly commercial, but when I do I always fly first class.”
The Streamlined Duffle For Short and Long Trips:
Bric’s name might not carry the same cachet as those of its splashier Italian relatives, but the heritage label turns out premium luggage with the best of them. Founded in 1952 by Mario Briccola, Bric’s remains a family-owned operation, boasting the kind of tony pedigree DTC upstarts spend mightily to approximate. Its handsome duffels—handcrafted from specially-treated embossed PVC—take their cues from designs the brand first introduced in the early ‘50s, but they don’t feel overly retro. A little closer to the present day, they may even help you travel like you’re a megawatt celebrity in 1996.
The Convertible Travel Backpack: Patagonia black hole duffel bag
Remember that hapless kid in fifth grade the whole class mocked for showing up with a rolling backpack the first day of school? (People don’t forget!) Well, if you still holding onto some secondhand trauma from the incident, Patagonia’s streamlined duffel might be good enough to risk straining your back to carry. The body fabric, lining, and webbing are all made out of water-resistant recycled materials designed to keep your valuables dry, while two padded straps make for an easy switch if you’d rather sling it over your shoulders like a carry-on backpack. Jokes aside, the bag’s handles are also specially reinforced to make for comfortable hand-carrying so your lower vertebrae will hold up fine no matter how far your terminal is from the gate. With all due respect to your childhood classmate (who you definitely owe an apology), sometimes carrying your bag just looks cooler than wheeling it around.