The 5 Best Carry-On Luggage Pieces of 2023

The Samsonite 21-inch Freeform Hard-sided Carry-on stood out the most

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best carry on luggage
Photo: People/Tara Donne

What's one staple every traveler needs? A good piece of carry-on luggage. (Even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle know the importance of having a solid carry-on!) Whether you're going away on a short trip or just don't want to deal with the hassle of checking a bag, a piece of quality carry-on luggage is indispensable.

While choosing a carry-on is personal, depending on your traveling and packing style, there are some universal qualities that make a piece of luggage a good one. (It's worth noting that before you buy, make sure your carry-on of choice will fit in your airline's overhead bin.) Any seasoned traveler will tell you that easy-gliding wheels are crucial for an efficient travel day. Many of the newest suitcase models come with handy details like combination locks and USB-enabled charging capabilities.

With so many different types of luggage and each touting their own special features, it can be hard to know which to pick — that's why we turned to travel specialist Rebecca Mazzaro for her expert opinion. "I do like a hard-sided carry-on to protect my items," Mazzaro tells PEOPLE. "But, a soft carry-on can be 'molded' a bit more to the space."

To find the best options available, we tested 11 pieces of self-described carry-on luggage to see which ones earned top marks on things like organization, size and weight, maneuverability on different surfaces, and durability. (It was a fun day in the PEOPLE Tested lab for the testers who got to push suitcases off a six-foot ladder and swing a baseball bat at them!)

Read on to discover our picks for the best carry-on luggage that PEOPLE Tested.

Best Overall: Samsonite 21-inch Freeform Hardside Expandable Carry-on

Samsonite rolling suitcase

Pros: The Samsonite Freeform Hardside Expandable Carry-on easily glides over every surface and stood strong through all our wear-and-tear testing

Cons: There could be more internal pockets

When you're rushing through the airport to make a flight, you need a bag that's dependable, easy to maneuver, and tough enough to handle every knock and bump, and the Samsonite Freeform Hardside Expandable Carry-on is exactly that. Equipped with four full-rotational, 360-degree spinning wheels, this luggage from Samsonite passed all of our tests with flying (yes, we said it) colors. Our tester was blown away with this bag's easy glide, whether using all four wheels or tilting on two.

This bag is made from a lightweight yet sturdy hard shell and comes in a variety of unique colors that will help your suitcase stand out from the rest on the checked bag conveyor belt. And, because this bag is compliant with most carry-on size restrictions, you can skip the frantic rush and stressful wait at baggage claim altogether. This luggage has a built-in TSA-compatible combination lock to ensure that you arrive at your destination with all of your belongings intact.

Our tester was impressed by this lightweight bag's toughness. "This bag could definitely get tossed around and be fine," they noted. "I would feel fine about it getting checked at the gate if I'm boarding group 9 and there's no more overhead bin space available." If the thought of handing your precious luggage over the notoriously rough gate check still makes you break out in cold sweats, you can breathe easy knowing that the Samsonite Freeform Hardside Expandable Carry-on is protected by a 10-year limited warranty.

Some good news for all the over-packers out there: this expandable bag is notably spacious, with a simple but roomy interior that includes two interior sections, a cross ribbon divider, and a small zip-up pocket that could easily fit delicates. Our tester noted that they would prefer the bag to include an extra pocket to stash your shoes, but despite that small qualm, they would still recommend this bag to family and friends — and so would we.

Price at time of publish: $159.99

Dimensions: 21.25 x 15.25 x 10.0 | Weight: 6.5 pounds | Charging-enabled: Not capable

Samsonite rolling suitcase
PEOPLE / Meredith Campbell

Best Overall, Runner Up: Travelpro Platinum Elite Expandable Hardside Spinner Carry-On

Travelpro rolling suitcase

Pros: This bag is sturdy, easy to maneuver, and has two zippered clamshell pockets (plus a few more helpful pouches)

Cons: Though this bag has charging capabilities, it doesn't come with the necessary power bank

This piece of carry-on luggage from Travelpro truly lives up to the brand's name: It can make even the novice traveler feel like an expert. The sleek and stylish hard-shell exterior is resilient and easy to clean, made from flexible 100 percent polycarbonate to resist dents and cracks. An external USB charging port means no more scrambling through the airport with a dead device, and a TSA-approved combination lock helps protect your belongings.

The Travelpro Platinum Elite Carry-On Expandable Hardside Spinner was thoughtfully designed with a practical layout, which features two zippable clamshell sections and multiple accessory pockets, plus a handy water-resistant pocket to store your toiletries or damp items. "I was surprised as to how much I liked this bag," our tester shared. "Everything fit nicely, and I think despite the price tag, this is a great buy."

This hard-sided luggage is made with a zippered expansion to increase its depth by 2 inches. A comfortable contour grip handle easily pulls the bag on both two or four of the bag's PrecisionGlide™ spinning wheels. Though we love the USB charging option, we wish that the necessary power bank was included in the moderate purchase price — but honestly, even if you don't use the charging capabilities, we think this carry-on luggage is a great buy.

Price at time of publish: $314.49

Dimensions: 23 x 14.5 x 9.5 | Weight: 8.1 pounds | Charging-enabled: Capable, but battery not included

Travelpro rolling suitcase
PEOPLE / Meredith Campbell

Best Soft-Sided: TravelPro Luggage Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Carry-on Spinner

carry on luggage

Pros: Smooth wheeling and sturdy construction make this a smart option for a traveler that prefers a soft-sided exterior

Cons: There are no bells and whistles in the interior and the zippers are hard to distinguish between the interior and the bag

This bag compares well to similar, much more expensive bags. It performed amazingly in our durability tests, sustaining no noticeable scuffing or damage with the ladder or baseball bat. It also performed well on different surfaces, and the 360-degree spinner wheels pivoted very nicely. The handle can be adjusted to five different heights, and the exterior handles are well-placed for lifting the bag.

There are a few downsides — for one, the interior doesn't come equipped with much in the way of organization, so you may want to spring for your own packing cubes (or just roll with all your stuff co-mingling). When packing, we also found it difficult to distinguish between the zipper that expands the interior and the zipper that closes the bag, so that was a minor annoyance. Lastly, the bag we tested came with one of the two external zippers broken.

All that said, this bag looks and mostly performs just as well as its pricier counterparts. Based on its sleek look and the fact that there were no major issues during testing, it's easy to recommend this bag. It's not perfect, but it's more than good enough.

Price at time of publish: $329.99

Dimensions: 21.75 x 13.75 x 9.75 inches | Weight: 6.9 pounds | Charging-enabled: No

best carry on luggage
People/Tara Donne

Best Hard-Shell: Away The Bigger Carry-On Suitcase with USB Charger

carry on luggage

Pros: This smart bag has a sleek, hard exterior, an organized interior, and a USB charger

Cons: Exterior zipper might get stuck, and the included cleaning sponge wasn't effective

We loved how easily this bag rolled indoors, and it even did pretty well on the cobblestone during testing. The hard-sided exterior really pays off in durability. There was absolutely no damage after our ladder test! And there was no denting, only some minor scuffing when we took the baseball bat to it.

As far as "smart" bags go, this one is a great choice. It comes with three charging ports, one of which is a "fast" charger that we found worked very well. If you're traveling with lots of devices, this is a really nice feature.

The luggage itself comes with a shoe bag, interior pouch compression pad, and enclosed compartment, which are all nice to have, but the interior space does suffer a little because the telescopic handle retracts inside. Still, this bag is Away's larger size carry-on model, so you should have a decent amount of room. At 8 pounds, it was pretty easy to lift and store overhead.

The bag comes with a sponge to clean the exterior, but in practice, we found the sponge pretty useless, and it didn't do much to help with the scuffing. The exterior zipper can also get a little sticky occasionally. Other than these minor complaints, it's a solid bag. Hey, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have one — they must be on to something.

Price at time of publish: $315

Dimensions: 22.75 x 15.25 x 9.5 | Weight: 8 pounds | Charging-enabled: Yes, two USB ports and an additional port

best carry on luggage
People/Tara Donne

Best Features: Tumi Continental Dual Access 4-Wheeled Carry-On

Pros: Two different entry points and a built-in garment bag and hanging rod make this carry-on luggage feel like true luxury

Cons: This bag is more expensive than many others on the market

If you're looking to shell out cash for a high-quality, thoughtfully designed suitcase, look no further than the Tumi Continental Dual Access 4-Wheeled Carry-On. This soft-sided bag is basically an organized traveler's dream — complete with a large mesh zip pocket, three smaller zip pockets, and a removable garment sleeve with a fiberglass rod to hang up your clothes once you arrive at your destination. To keep your belongings safe, this bag features a TSA-approved combination lock and comes with a complimentary TUMI Tracer® code to track your suitcase in case it's lost or stolen.

One of the features that sets this carry-on luggage apart from the rest is the dual-access sections, which allow you to enter the bag through a front lid or traditional split-case section, both of which are closed with security zippers. This feature is especially handy when you need to access something in your bag mid-airport-travel and saves you from the accidental yard sale that comes with opening an over-stuffed clamshell suitcase compartment.

Though we love the gambit of nifty features included with this luggage, including a built-in USB port, retractable top, side grab handles, and a complimentary monogram option, our tester noted that this bag also comes with some sticker shock. "I would recommend this bag for all of its factors," our tester shared, "except price."

Price at time of publish: $975

Dimensions: 22 x 16 x 9 inches | Weight: 11.1 pounds | Charging-enabled: Capable, but battery not included

best carry on luggage
People/Tara Donne

Things to Consider Before Buying Carry-On Luggage


Loyal to one airline? Check their guidelines on bag dimensions before purchasing— some luggage labeled "carry-on" may be too big for their overhead bins, especially if you tend to travel on smaller, regional airplanes. Here is a guide you can reference that details the requirements of most major U.S. carriers. In addition to making sure the size is compliant, consider if you want an expandable bag, as well. If you are prone to picking up souvenirs or frequenting every boutique in a new city, it's a good idea to have an expandable bag for the journey home.

Weight and Maneuverability

Can you easily lift the bag to store it overhead? Bags we tested ranged from 5.1 to 10.8 pounds, but make sure you can lift your bag while it's both empty and full if you're traveling solo. In addition to lifting and storing your bag, you'll want to make sure it's easy to roll around. Do the wheels catch, or do they roll pretty smoothly? Does the bag easily handle sharp airport turns and weaving in and out of crowds? Can the bag roll on smooth surfaces like airport terminals as well as bumpy sidewalks? You'll definitely want to consider this. If your shiny new carry-on bag arrives and it can't pass your own maneuverability tests, most luggage companies have flexible return policies.

Smart Capabilities

If you travel with a lot of devices, it can be really handy to have a bag that doubles as a charger. Some luggage comes with USB and USB-C charging capabilities, but keep in mind that you might need to purchase the power bank yourself if it doesn't come included.


Carry-ons go through a lot, especially if you end up in one of those "the bins are full, and we need you to check your bag" situations. A bag that can stand up to a battering is key. That's why we put our carry-on bags through numerous durability tests to see which ones showed wear-and-tear. Our best overall pick, the Samsonite Freeform Hardise Expandable Carry-on, is both lightweight and durable. That's the best-case scenario for a carry-on bag.

Person hitting luggage with bat
PEOPLE /Meredith Campbell

How We Tested Carry-On Luggage

PEOPLE Tested 11 pieces of carry-on luggage in the New York City Lab. First, we weighed and measured each bag, devoid of contents. Then, we packed for a weekend getaway, using the same amount of items for each bag. Once the bag was packed, we closed it up and wheeled it around on multiple surfaces, including a smooth indoor floor, an outdoor sidewalk, and cobblestone. We also tested whether it rolled on two or four wheels. We then did an overhead lift like we were storing the bag in an airline's bin. Next, we put the packed bag on top of a six-foot ladder and pushed it off three times, checking after each fall to see if the contents of the bag had shifted. Finally, we took a baseball bat to the bag and hit it up and down the exterior. Once that was finished, we checked for dents and recorded our findings.


What luggage is considered carry-on?

Technically, any piece of luggage could function as a carry-on as long as it does not exceed the airline's size and weight limits. Generally speaking, this means if it can fit in the overhead compartment, it can be carried onboard.

What size is carry-on luggage?

As mentioned above, the size limits of carry-on luggage vary from airline to airline. The standard carry-on size, however, is 22 x 14 x 9 inches, and a maximum size of between 45 and 51 linear inches. To find the maximum size, add the height, length, and depth of the bag together.

What is a good weight for a carry-on bag?

Again, this is at the discretion of each airline, and many of them do not restrict the weight of carry-on luggage for domestic flights. Weight limits can go as low as 15 pounds on budget airlines up to 35 pounds on others. Consult your company's policies before you arrive at the airport.

Can carry-on luggage fit under the seat in front of you?

That depends on the dimensions of your bag. If it does not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches, it will fit. Most commonly, personal items should be able to fit under the seat, and your carry-on should be able to easily fit in the overhead compartment.

How strict are airlines about the weight of a carry-on?

That depends on the airline. You may be asked to pay to check your carry-on by one company and have no restrictions with another.

What Is PEOPLE Tested?

We created the PEOPLE Tested seal of approval to help you find the very best products for your life. We use our unique methodology to test products in three labs across the country and with our network of home testers to determine their effectiveness, durability, ease of use, and so much more. Based on the results, we rate and recommend products so you can find the right one for your needs.

But we don't stop there: We also regularly re-review the categories in which we've awarded the PEOPLE Tested seal of approval — because the best product of today might not be the best of tomorrow. And by the way, companies can never buy our recommendation: Their products must earn it, fair and square.

In short, PEOPLE Tested provides recommendations you can trust — every day, every purchase.

Want more product recommendations? Check out all of our People Tested content.

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