In the world of luggage, the best carry-on bags are the utility infielder of traveling. We ask a lot of it. The bag has to be spacious enough to carry essentials for three to five days and keep small bits and pieces organized, all while being compact enough to smush into a 737’s overhead bin. The reward is a lot less stress. U.S. airlines lost about 684,000 bags in the first quarter of 2022 alone, so the best carry-ons mean deplaning without praying (or waiting) by the luggage carousel. It’s timeless travel advice everyone should heed.
Whether flying for business or pleasure, it’s wise to have a soft or hardshell spinner bag with a backpack or duffel bag as your personal item to keep tech within easy reach. While there are some slight discrepancies in size—an inch taller here or wider there—most domestic carriers consider a carry-on bag to be 22x14x9 inches (international flights usually come with smaller bag sizes), and often without a weight limit beyond being able to hoist it overhead.
Below are the most common types of carry-on you’ll find, and why they may be the best fit for your style of traveling.
From hikers to those who want to navigate airports hands-free, soft-sided backpacks can match the same volume of traditional wheeled carry-on bags, but in a form that’s easier to haul—especially for long weekend trips where a hard-sided bag is overkill.
With four spinner wheels, these hard-sided bags cruise through airports. The shells are virtually indestructible these days, making any of these bags, likely, the last one you’ll buy for a while.
Roller bags might have the edge for gliding over smooth airport floors, but soft-sided bags earn big points for adaptable carry. These bags let you haul gear in whatever way works best for your trip—especially if you’re flying somewhere that requires a small puddle jumper that doesn’t allow hard luggage.
Here are the best bags you can pack right now.