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Carry-ons are arguably the piece of luggage travelers pull out most often, whether it's the only bag coming on a weekend trip or used in tandem with a checked suitcase. It also spends the most time with us in transit, which means the functionality is even more important: Are your belongings easy to get to if you need to retrieve something while waiting at your gate? Is there a space to stash whatever item you remember on your way out the door? These are a few of the things Traveler editors considered when sifting through the seemingly endless options on the market. We set out to find the best of the best—bags that are lightweight but still sturdy, have enough space to house clothes, shoes, toiletries, and accessories, and will hold up for many trips to come. After months of testing, these are the pieces we've deemed the best carry-on luggage of 2023.
What we considered:
When testing out carry-on luggage, we asked editors and contributors to consider several factors: How light a bag was on its own, how much it could fit, whether the design and organizational factors were helpful (and aesthetically pleasing), how well it held up in transit, how easy or difficult it is to roll and pick up, whether it's worth the price point, and if there are any unique features that set it apart from other carry-on suitcases or bags they've used.
This article is part of Condé Nast Traveler's first-ever Luggage Week, for which dozens of suitcases, backpacks, and weekender bags were road-tested by our editors.
What size can a carry-on bag be?
It depends on which airline you're flying with, but typically, dimensions are limited to 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches high for domestic airlines (Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, and United Airlines adhere to these figures; American Airlines allows for an extra inch of height, while and Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines's max is 24" x 16" x 10" and Spirit Airlines's allotment is 22" x 18" x 10"). Some airlines provide a single number; dimensions must add up to that number or below to be considered compliant.
International airlines tend to have slightly different size requirements; 21.5" x 15.5" x 9" is typical, but here are some exact specifications by airline:
- Air Canada: 21.5" x 15.5" x 9"
- Air France: 21.6" x 13.7" x 9.8"
- British Airways: 22" x 18" x 10"
- Emirates: 21.6" x 15" x 8.6"
- Lufthansa: 21.6" x 15.7" x 9"
- Qatar Airways: 20" x 15" x 10"
- Singapore Airlines: 45 total inches
What can’t I take in my carry-on?
Liquids over 3.4 ounces (100mL) are not allowed in your carry-on. Additionally, firearms and other potentially hazardous items are prohibited. Check TSA's website for specific items you may have questions about.
Are carry-on bags free?
Again, it depends on which you're flying with and what kind of ticket you purchase. These airlines offer one free carry-on (and one personal item), regardless of what level ticket you bought:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
While these airlines offer one free carry-on (and one personal item) to all travelers except those who purchased a base fare:
- United Airlines
- Best overall carry-on: Paravel The Aviator Carry-On
- Best lightweight carry-on: July Carry-On Light
- Best budget carry-on: Béis The Carry-On Roller
- Best expandable carry-on: Away Carry-On Flex
- Best softside carry-on: Travelpro Platinum Elite softside spinner
Weight: 8.2 lbs.
Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 9"
Pros: Glides smoothly even when fully packed, unique look and feel
Cons: No external phone charger included, could use an interior pocket along the length of the bag
Luggage brand Paravel has built a dedicated following thanks to its retro Wes Anderson–style designs and use of sustainable materials. The Aviator Carry-On is no different: Available in shades like scout tan, safari green, and scuba navy, it has a recycled polycarbonate shell, recycled zippers, and an interior lining made from 15 upcycled plastic water bottles. It's a favorite of senior editor Megan Spurrell: “This is one of two carry-on roller bags I have used regularly for nearly three years—we’ve traveled everywhere from Lisbon to Mexico City to Los Angeles together.” Spurrell has used it for weeklong trips, and notes that it's still in good shape after years of use: “It has definitely gotten scratched up from being thrown into the hull of planes (I have checked it before, even though it’s carry-on), but it has held up well otherwise—there are no cracks in the shell, zipper issues despite how much I have stuffed it, nor sticky wheels.” The one minor flaw: The top handle placement is a bit counterintuitive, placed on the side of the suitcase further from your body.
Weight: 8.36 lbs.
Dimensions: 23" x 16" x 10"
Pros: Comfortable handle, fairly easy to clean
Cons: Although the beige color is incredibly pretty, it gets dirty very quickly; I would recommend a darker color
With a pretty, ribbed design and thoughtful features like a cushioned silicone grip on the handle, you wouldn't guess this is one of the most affordable suitcases on our list. It's been tested by commerce producer Paris Wilson, who used it to pack for her and her boyfriend on a weeklong trip to the Florida Keys; with the help of the expandable zipper, it fit at least 14 outfits as well as four pairs of shoes and two purses. The wheels have stood up to bumpy roads—“We live in downtown Manhattan where cobblestone streets are a staple and we still managed to make it to the subway without any hangups”—and the included pouches come in handy for dirty clothes or even souvenirs. “I’m tempted to buy the remaining luggage to create a set; I would recommend this to anyone who's interested in building their luggage collection but might not know where to start.”
Weight: 7.9 lbs.
Dimensions: 23" x 15" x 9.5"
Pros: Durable wheels, easy to lift, compression straps
Cons: Because of its size, it may be checked on smaller planes or flagged to be checked on planes at full capacity
Away recently upgraded a few of its core suitcases, including The Bigger Carry-On. Updates include an additional zipper compartment, a color-matched interior made of recycled polyester, and an underside grab handle for easy overhead bin lifting. Tested by editorial assistant Jessica Chapel, who has taken it on a flight to New Mexico, a bus ride to New Jersey, and in cars on weekend trips from New York, it's one of the lighter bags on the list at under eight pounds. Compared to her previous suitcase, “It does wonders. Prior to this luggage I often traveled with a checked bag. I can fit almost as much in this suitcase, and it's way more practical—and feels more swift, given the 360-degree wheels.”
Weight: 3.9 lbs.
Dimensions: 21" x 14" × 7.5"
Pros: I enjoy the ease with which you can move this piece of luggage around; it feels very zippy
Cons: The telescopic handle sometimes sticks
July calls this the lightest double-wheel suitcase in the world, and it is the lightest we've tested here at Traveler at just under four pounds when empty. Research director Alexandra Sanidad has brought it on planes to Phoenix, Arizona, and Portland, Oregon, and on an Amtrak to Woodstock, New York; she says “it's very cute and fits nicely in tight spaces,” and is a “good price for a sturdy, colorful, functional suitcase.” As for what it fits, light packers can fit a week’s worth of clothing in here; if you’re bringing multiple day and night outfits, plan for a weekend’s worth.
Weight: 11.1 lbs.
Dimensions: 22" x 16" x 9"
Pros: Extremely functional and stylish, glides smoothly even when full
Cons: It’s a little large for a carry-on; I've had to check it twice so far
Tumi bags are an investment—at over $1,000, this is one of the priciest bags on our list of the best carry-on luggage—but for frequent business travelers or those looking for a lifelong investment piece, it might be the bag for you. It's gone with former Traveler editor Alex Erdekian on trips to Mexico, Italy and France, a bachelorette party at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, and Boston. She calls it “the most beautiful suitcase I’ve owned,” and appreciates the “zipper expansion that drastically increases the depth of the suitcase,” as well as the “sneaky zipper around the front that allows you to pull out clothes quickly.” It is one of the heavier bags on the list, though, and Erdekian says she's had difficulty lifting it overhead when full. Also of note: It comes with a five-year warranty, and can be customized with a monogram or set of “pop of color” accessories.
Weight: 6.53 lbs.
Dimensions: 21.5" x 15" x 9.5"
Pros: Budget-friendly, very lightweight
Cons: Since its design is pretty plain, it's not the most aesthetically pleasing suitcase on our list
This hardside carry-on with spinner wheels and a built-in TSA lock has racked up rave reviews on Amazon, like this one: “It fit an odd amount of stuff in it. It's like a clown car. It has compartments and zippers that keep things separate and organized. It holds up well and is really good looking. It's absolutely worth every penny. I'm purchasing more for the rest of the family.” Traveler editor Meaghan Kenny agrees, calling it an overpacker's dream bag. The hardside spinner comes in black, navy, bright blue, and orange.
Weight: 8.1 lbs.
Dimensions: 23" x 15" x 10.3"
Pros: The front zipper is such a plus, with lots of sections for organizing
Cons: The color range isn’t huge—I wish they alternated in more shades
This Arlo Skye zipper-front suitcase has gone on many trips with Spurrell—she alternates between this and a Paravel carry-on, and this one has been to Peru, upstate New York, and Montauk: “I take it as a carry-on for most flights—from weekend trips to weeklong getaways—because it’s surprisingly roomy, with an organized front pocket that I can easily stow essentials like my laptop, book, and magazines in.” Sleek yet durable, it comes with a removable charger (boasting both USB C and USB A ports), two shoe bags, a laundry bag, and a cotton storage cover. The aesthetics are a plus, too: “I love the design of this bag—it feels like a reliable, sleek rolling bag, with design you’ll never get tired of.”
Weight: 7.8 lbs.
Dimensions: 23.5" x 14.5" x 9"
Pros: Expandable design, multiple exterior pockets
Cons: Some travelers may prefer a clamshell opening; may be too large for some international flights
Every inch counts—especially if you're traveling with just a carry-on—and softside luggage offers a little more give than hard-shell bags. This expandable pick has a telescopic handle, spinner wheels for easy gliding, and an external USB port for charging your devices. It's earned an “Amazon's Choice” distinction thanks to its consistently high reviews and competitive pricing (its larger size, which has many similar internal features, is a favorite of former Traveler editor Louis Cheslaw). The suitcase is available in several shades (including black, Bordeaux, and true navy) and three carry-on sizes (19-, 20-, and 21-inches).
Weight: 8.15 lbs.
Dimensions: 21.7" x 13.7" x 9"
Pros: Expandable, easy to roll
Cons: Scuffs easily, no exterior pockets
Go one step further, space-wise, with this expandable suitcase, which gives you an additional 2.25" of packing space when needed. Traveler's global associate director of audience development Lara Kramer has used this bag for trips as long as a week (including a trip to London), and noted how smoothly it rolled across almost any surface, thanks to its 360-degree spinner wheels. “The joy of this luggage is its simplicity,” she says. “It's a pretty straightforward design, but what it does, it does very well: glide smoothly and easily with its 360-degree spinner wheels and provide the luxury of expanding to add more room if needed. Between my husband and I, one of us is always snagging it as our main carry-on.” Kramer recommends choosing a unique color for your bag, or adding your favorite sticker to the outer hard shell to help it stand out, and notes the inevitable scuffs can look pretty jarring against the black colorway.
Weight: 12.5 lbs.
Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 9"
Pros: Very easy to store, even in small places; soft handle grip
Cons: Expandable mechanism can be tricky to lock into place
The designers at Béis knew what they were doing when they built this soft-sided expandable carry-on, a favorite of senior commerce editor Madison Flager. It's a big space saver for people with minimal closet or storage space, and yet still fits plenty when expanded—enough for a long weekend to five-day trips. An exterior front pocket holds a laptop sleeve, pocket to place a portable charger (and a small hole to slip the charging cord through), plus a key clip. Smooth-rolling wheels and a soft hand cushion on the underside of the handle are great touches, too.
Weight: 7.16 lbs.
Dimensions: 21.5" x 14" x 9"
Pros: Responsive handle, very lightweight
Cons: No exterior pockets for added storage
Lightweight with a rugged exterior, frequent traveler Patrick Thompson noted that this bag “seems like it would hold up to the hustle and bustle of an airport, getting jammed into an overhead compartment, and any excessive packing into the trunk of a car.” He's been using it regularly for over a year, bringing it on trips as long as two weeks (Argentina and Italy), as well as long weekend trips to Utah, Georgia, and Florida, and while it has gotten scuffed, it's still in good shape, and is a bag he'd recommend to other travelers. “I love the color and that it's very lightweight. I find it to be easily rollable when traveling.” While there is “a stealth pocket on the top corner that holds smaller items, which can be very useful and convenient while trudging through the airport,” he hasn't often utilized the front exterior zipper, which is meant for easy access to the main compartment, and would prefer another exterior pocket in place of it.
Weight: 10 lbs.
Dimensions: 20" x 14" x 7.9"
Pros: Built-in garment folder, interior compression system, exterior pockets
Cons: Doesn't roll as easily when full
Senior features editor Rebecca Misner calls this suitcase “a professional travelers’ dream carry-on: very sturdy, and full of bells and whistles that actually make packing easier.” Briggs & Riley's signature expansion system allows travelers to press a button and pull up on a lever in the main compartment to expand the suitcase sides vertically. “Once you’re packed and zipped, you just push down on the exterior sides to compress.” Other notable features include mesh interior pockets, a built-in garment folder with a foam roll bar that keeps clothes from wrinkling, and unassuming SpeedThu pocket pockets on the exterior made to fit a passport and boarding pass—with a bright orange lining that signals when the pocket is open (meaning your important docs are at risk).
Weight: 9.9 lbs.
Dimensions: 14" x 22" x 9.5"
Pros: Keeps dress clothes wrinkle-free, exterior pocket to hold documents or other small items
Cons: May not be large enough to be your only suitcase on a trip
Heading to a wedding or business trip? Kramer vouches for this compact Travelpro garment bag. “The lay-flat garment bag design is the real gem of this carry-on. It holds way more than you think—and arriving with all of your dresses and shirts wrinkle-free is a huge game changer.” The durable nylon fabric, made with a Duraguard coating, is a bonus, too.
Weight: 7.9 lbs.
Dimensions: 22.8" x 9.4" x 15"
Pros: Smooth-rolling wheels, built-in phone charger, antimicrobial lining
Cons: Scratched easily on first use
Tested by destinations editor Shannon McMahon, who prefers to travel with expandable hard-side spinners, this one stands out for “its super roomy packing capacity and its smooth-rolling wheels.” It's become her go-to carry-on after first using it for a four-day getaway last year with room to spare (even after buying souvenirs). Smart features of the utilitarian bag include a built-in phone charger, zippered laundry compartment, oversized mesh organizational pockets, and antimicrobial lining. The exterior scratched surprisingly easily on that first trip, but beyond that it hasn't seen much damage: “It's not a fight against scratches on the outside like I thought it would be, it seems like it was just a first-use thing.” The bag's biggest pros: Its packing power and its ultra-lightweight—“it's light as a feather when empty,” McMahon says.
Weight: 6.06 lbs.
Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 9"
Pros: Wheels smoothly, easy to carry around
Cons: Laptop sleeve doesn't fit much else, so if not using it, feels like an unnecessary use of space
Frequent traveler Katie Thompson has been using this suitcase for over a year, bringing it to Italy, Argentina, Florida, upstate New York, and Savannah, and calls it “an organizer's dream.” The Samsonite carry-on is loaded with zip pockets and mesh nets to give every item its own place. Thompson says it “can comfortably fit a week's worth of clothing if you are a light packer, but is probably best for a weekend trip,” and notes it rolls easily and in all directions. Another perk: The hardshell exterior has built in patterns that help to hide any scratches, though it has gotten some scuffs with time. Overall, it is “sleek, unique, and compact,” though overall storage is on the smaller side: “The additional pockets on the top side make the inside smaller,” Thompson says. “It fits less than my previous carry-on, but I still managed 10 days in Italy with it.”
Weight: 8.25 lbs.
Dimensions: 21" x 13.5" x 9.5"
Pros: Front pocket for last-minute items, plenty of interior compartments
Cons: Limited color options, no expansion
Hard-shell bags with a front pocket are few and far between, but this Calpak bag makes a strong case for it. Executive editor Erin Florio says she “actually [looks] forward to packing this thing;” while she was worried about its size at first glance, after traveling with it, she says smart packers could pack for up to 10 days with it. “The inner compartments make it really easy to organize all your items, from shoes to laundry to toiletries, which helps you fit in more,” she says. As for that exterior pocket, it can fit a laptop, hardcover book, and magazines.
Weight: 6.3 lbs.
Dimensions: 23" H x 14.5" W x 9.5" D
Pros: Lightweight and fits a lot of clothing including shoes
Cons: Hard to lift when heavy. Also hard to clean/get scuffs out
Recommended by associate social media manager Kayla Brock, this expandable carry-on has a mesh zip compartment and zip-lock compartments inside, which make organizing clothes, accessories, and toiletries easy. She has brought it to North Dakota, Europe, New York, Zanzibar, Seattle, Jamaica, Chicago, Colorado, and the Cayman Islands, packing for as long as three weeks with it (though in winter time, it's better suited for weekend trips). “Although it originally looks like my clothes wouldn’t fit (I’m guilty of overpacking), the suitcase closed with ease,” Brock says. In the year-plus that she's been using it, it has gotten some scuffs and discoloration on certain parts of the body, and the zippers have bent a little; however, Brock still strongly recommends it: “Out of all the suitcases I have this is my absolute favorite and without a doubt the one that I take with me on a trip.”
This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date.