Finding the perfect bag can be tough, be it a small, carry-on backpack or a stylish pull-along suitcases. To help you make the right decision, we look at the capacity, functionality, durability, style and price of bags perfect for taking as hand luggage.
7 of the best carry-on bags reviewed
Nadia El Ferdaoussi, travel blogger at TheDailySelf.me says:
I spent so long looking for the perfect cabin bag that would make travelling through security in airports easier. I always carry my laptop with me, so wanted something that allowed me to take it out quickly and easily without disturbing the rest of my, usually very tightly packed, bag. I’ve started collecting iron-on flag patches from each of the countries my Conn has travelled to with me and it’s filling up nicely.
The Conn is 48 x 28 x 19cm, well within the cabin size regulations, but as it’s a soft sided backpack it can be filled with much more than a hard case. I’m able to squeeze in all the clothes, shoes and tech I need for shorter trips without having to pay for check in luggage. It fits well in the overhead compartment, but can also squeeze under any seat when there’s no space left. Some airlines only allow a certain number of wheeled cases on board, I’ve never had to check this backpack in, even when I’m the last person boarding a fully booked flight.
My favourite feature is the padded laptop zip compartment on the back. It feels secure enough that I can place my laptop, iPad, kindle and anything else flat in without their cases as it lies against your back, so unlikely to get any knocks. There’s a small zip compartment on top that’s perfect for wallet and passport, plus two small pockets inside and thick, comfortable, adjustable shoulder straps. Minus one point because another external zip pocket would be handy.
Heavy duty cotton canvas with tarpaulin trim detail and high quality parachute webbing trims, plus D-ring adjustable shoulder strap system all make the Stighlorgan backpack extremely durable. On the flip side, these make the bag a little heavier, but you know it’ll survive a lot of travel.
Style factor: 4/5
The Conn isn’t just functional and versatile, it’s also made with the fashion conscious traveller in mind. Stripy canvas nautical lining, metal hardware zip pulls and rope design. The silhouette is taken from current issue Irish military packs but with a city adaptation. Technical detailing with modern styling.
Value for money: 4/5
While the bag isn’t exactly cheap, it’s really well made and you pay a bit more for quality and design. I know I’m not going to have to replace it anytime soon, making it good value for money.
Functionality meets fashion on trips under ten days. Fashion conscious travellers who want to travel light.
Sam Baldwin, Senior Manager at Skyscanner says:
I wanted a bag that would allow me to travel without having to pay to check in a hold bag. I love the way the Cabin Max completely opens up like a suitcase. It has enabled me to beat the baggage charge and save money on flights all over the place. This well-travelled bag has been all over the world with me, from Beirut to Istanbul, and while it does now have a few tears, it has served me well for the price I paid.
The Cabin Max, at 55 x 40 x 20cm, stays true to its name and has been designed to give you the maximum possible space while staying within cabin baggage size guidelines for many budget airlines like Ryanair and easyJet. You do need to be careful, however, as I have discovered that maximum dimensions vary greatly depending on what airline you are flying with, so it’s possible this bag might be a little too big if packed to capacity.
The Cabin max has two different compartments to help sort out your clothes from your smaller, personal items. There is also a handle on the top to make carrying it easier and there are two adjustable shoulder straps with some light padding on the back. In addition, there are two handy straps on the side of the backpack, which could hold an extra pair of shoes or a water bottle if needed.
Unfortunately as this is a lightweight backpack made of very thin material, it is not as durable as other bags. After a few trips, I have found that some seams on the outer pocket have split. Definitely needs tougher stitching.
Style factor: 3/5
This bag is certainly not going to win the “sexiest bag on the planet” award, but it’s not offensive and as it comes in black, a colour that never goes out of fashion, it gets some bonus points.
Value for money: 5/5
At just €33, the Cabin Max is a total bargain for anyone looking for a good bag on the cheap. While this is not exactly a bag-for-life, it should last you a few years and will save you lots on checked-in baggage charges!
This bag is a perfect fit for budget-conscious travellers who want a functional bag for short weekend trips. It’s a popular choice for many Skyscanner staff!
Emily Luxton, travel blogger at emilyluxton.co.uk says:
I initially received the large version of this case as a sample to review, and loved it so much that I decided to buy the hand luggage size too! I love my Lock n Roll because it’s ridiculously durable, so can survive my frequent travels, and because it’s really lightweight despite being a hard case.
The case is a roomy 55 x 40 x 20cm, and the minimalistic design capitalises the available space brilliantly, giving a 35L volume. The only problem is that the size is over the maximum hand luggage dimensions for some airlines, but it works for most.
A four-wheeled case that glides along fantastically with 360 degree movement, the Lock n Roll Spinner makes travelling so easy. On rough/uneven surfaces the plastic wheels make a bit of a racket, but inside airports they’re practically silent. The case opens into two halves, meaning that there are two roomy compartments inside, with a divider pad for neater packing.
The Lock n Roll case is made from such thin, light plastic that it almost feels like a toy – but it’s actually extremely durable and comes with a five year warranty.
With a streamlined, simple design that comes in a range of bright colours, I think the Lock n Roll is really good looking. The colour schemes might not be to everyone’s tastes, and this case probably wouldn’t suit a business traveller, but I love my bright pink suitcase.
Value for money: 4/5
At nearly €140, it seems like a bit of a splurge for a suitcase, but it’s a quality case that’s going to last, so I’d say it’s worth it.
Fun-loving frequent fliers.
Edna Zhou, travel blogger at expatedna.com says:
This bag holds my entire life. As a full-time traveller, I’ve trusted it for years to carry everything I own – people are always amazed I don’t travel with a larger suitcase! Yet it is insanely durable: I’ve sat on it, dropped it, thrown it, hauled it across nearly 30 countries, and it has never failed me.
At 55 x 35 x 25cm and 54L, this bag makes the most of your carry-on allowance. With the help of packing cubes and compression bags, the Destination fits my entire wardrobe and then some, including my bulky winter sweaters, coat and boots. Even when fully expanded it squeezes in most overhead bins.
The Destination is a soft bag that reaches to 30cm deep when expanded (a life-saver on many occasions), plus, it has two wheels for easy maneuverability and TSA-approved locks on the side.
Delseys really hold up – I’ve had mine for so many years I’ve lost track, and it still has yet to show any real signs of wear or tear. At times my bag has travelled every single week without rest, and it’s handled it like a champ.
Style factor: 3/5
It looks like your standard rectangular carry-on luggage, the type you should probably tie a memorable luggage tag on to spot on the carousel. On the bright side, it does come in red.
Value for money: 4/5
It may be pricey, but the Destination comes with a 5-year international warranty and it will be the only bag you’ll need for at least five years, if not more. This one is an investment in quality, and peace of mind that your belongings are safe.
Long-term travellers who want the ease of a living out of a carry-on but the durability and capacity of a larger suitcase.
Claire Salter, travel blogger at curiousclaire.com says:
I wanted a backpack that would be big enough for a long adventure but not massive on my back. It took a lot of searching, but I am so happy with this bag. It’s carry on size but can be extended if you need extra space – more importantly it has separate compartments for my laptop and documents.
While it is small (at 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches and 35L) it can be extended to up to 45L and sits nicely on your back.
With a zipped main compartment like a suitcase plus a separate secure laptop compartment, this bag is so easy to get things out of. I really like the fact you can tuck away the backpack straps in their on little pocket – handy if you don’t want them getting caught up! It even includes a shoulder strap and a rain cover. The only thing that lets this bag down is that it has no waist strap so it can get a little heavy after wearing it for long distances.
With the exterior made from 1680 denier, high tenacity ballistic nylon, this water resistant bag is made to last. The manufacturers are so confident in this bag’s durability that they offer a lifetime guarantee.
Style factor: 5/5
The main reason for me purchasing this bag was because of how stylish it looks. It doesn’t look like those big bulky backpacks you see everyone normally carrying. The straps and tags can be removed so you can choose between having orange or teal.
Value for money: 4/5
At €175 this bag is definitely on the expensive side of carry on backpacks. The price is closer to what you would pay for a 60L bag and at the moment you can only buy it directly from the Standard Luggage Company. To me, it’s completely worth the money, as it is stylish with great durability and with it’s lifetime guarantee it may be the only backpack you’ll ever need to buy.
A lifetime bag for longterm travel.
Tara Povey, travel blogger at whereistara.com says:
This is an excellent bag for long term travellers, especially if you travel with your laptop. It has been with me all around the world over the past year and is still going strong.
Pretty good sized bag as 7.6 x 18.2 x 3.4 inches. It’s not one of those tiny suitcases. You’re not going to fit everything in it, but it’ll fit everything you need for a long weekend somewhere. There’s lots of extra pockets that help you squeeze more in, plus plenty of padding to ensure that your belongings are safe.
It’s a great carry on. It does everything it needs to do; my laptop slides in and out easily for security checks and the small side pockets are handy for stuff that I might need mid-flight. There is also another secret compartment in the back cushion of the bag. It’s not bulky so you can sling it over your shoulder easy and head out. And if you really had to you could just about fit it under the seat in front of you.
I’ve used this for most of my travels over the last year and before that I used it for work. It’s held together incredibly well. Barely a stitch out of place and no rips, tears or scratches.
Style factor: 3/5
It’s black, and a backpack so it’s very neutral. It’s not particularly un-stylish. It looks professional and is in no way chunky or blocky.
Value for money: 4.5/5
Considering how well it lasts and how well designed it is, I’d have to say that I think it’s amazing value for money. However, it is a little bit in the higher price bracket for most.
Business travel or people that need to have a lot of gadgets with them when they travel (such as bloggers or photography lovers).
Laura Cody, travel blogger at Travelling Weasels says:
We only travel with hand luggage so it’s important to us that our bag is light and the right size, so we don’t have to pay extra. The Schoolie Backpack fits our needs perfectly. We’ve been travelling with it full time for the last two years and it hasn’t worn at all!
At 43 x 31 x 22.8cm it’s pretty much the perfect size for hand luggage. Almost all carriers are happy with the width and length of the bag, some are less happy about the depth (e.g. Ryanair) but this just encourages us to pack light and not over fill our bag.
The backpack has a nice rigidity about it which helps keep our luggage in place, and provides it with protection. However, it’s still soft enough to squeeze under the seat in front of us. It has a small front pocket, ideal for quick access to liquids and passports. It’s big enough to contain everything you need, but small enough to make sure you don’t over pack.
It’s made from Polyester 600D fabric which is very durable. We’ve used it for two years without a worry or sign of wear.
Style factor: 5/5
It’s black and streamlined. It’s a classic!
Value for money: 5/5
At €40 this is not an expensive backpack, and as the durability is so good it’s well worth the money.
Minimalist flyers who want something that’s durable and guaranteed to count as hand luggage.
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*Prices correct at time of publication and subject to conditions and availability.