A suitcase is so much more than a container for your personal items when you travel; it’s the base of your mobile wardrobe, and it can impact your clothes and travel style greatly. In this guide, we’re going to talk about luggage and suitcases. We’ll delve into the various styles, and talk about which suitcases you should consider owning. Of course, we’ll end with some recommendations.
Types of Suitcases
There are many kinds of suitcases and new styles that seem to be coming out all the time. Here are the most common types of suitcases you’ll find for sale, followed by the styles we recommend.
- Messenger Bag
- Briefcase / Attache Case
- Upright Spinner
- Garment Bag
- Large Spinner
- Large Garment Bag
- Duffle Bag
- Ruck Sack
- Rolling Bag
The Essential Carry-On Bags Worth Having for Air Travel
If you are going to be bringing carry-on luggage on a flight, we recommend a firm wheeled upright suitcase and a messenger bag or laptop bag. We do not recommend backpacks unless you are going on a trip in which a backpack is necessary, such as camping or hiking. Otherwise, backpacks are for school boys, no joke; they make you look like one!
As for the other styles of bags, they definitely have their uses, though they aren’t as flexible and often have more drawbacks that a simple upright wheeled suitcase and a messenger/laptop bag. For instance, satchels, weekenders, and garment bags lack the structure that is desirable to keep precious cargo organized and they have the further drawback of being handheld. While this isn’t a dealbreaker for many, carrying a heavy bag in addition to your laptop bag is a drag when walking through miles of airport corridors. If you prefer the look of one of these bags to a messenger or laptop bag, go ahead and substitute it; you can prop it on top of your wheeled luggage to lighten the load.
The Upright Spinner Carry-On Suitcase
Any seasoned traveler, pilot or airline employee will immediately recommend using this type of bag. It usually has one large pocket that can store a few changes of clothes, an extra pair of shoes and a Dopp kit. On the exterior of the bag are various pockets for mid-flight access that can carry accessories, passports or even a few different gadgets. When you are selecting a bag, it’s important to look for ones that will fit in the overhead compartment of most aircraft. Ideally, it should measure 22 x 14 x 9 inches. It is wise to ensure it has well-constructed telescoping handles, four spinner wheels, and that it is easy to move in all directions and spin on a dime. The only time you should have to lift the bag is to put it in the overhead compartment, the back of your rental car or on the conveyor belt at security. This will be your primary bag, and it beats checking a bag because the chances of the airline losing a carry-on are slim to none.
Whether you choose a satchel, a messenger bag, a briefcase, attache or a backpack, the handbag you opt to carry on should easily hang from your shoulder and be capable of fitting under the seat in front of you. It’s also best to only have one shoulder bag with you at any given time.
The purpose of this bag is to carry items you’ll need regularly mid-flight. It might mean storing your laptop, your tablet, and your phone inside, or it could be paperwork from your office, an important document or random items like breath mints, books or identification. You should also pack your expensive accessories such as rings, cufflinks and watches in this bag so that they are always with you.
How you decide what bag to bring should be based on whether you’ll need to carry it in public outside of the flight or whether it is only being used to transport items from A to B.
Determining What You Need
Often what you want isn’t necessarily what you need. The first step to determining what suitcase to bring with you, is to examine the factors of travel:
- How are you traveling? (air, land, sea)
- What is the duration of your travels?
- Is it for business, pleasure or both?
- Will you come home with souvenirs or gifts?
- Are you transporting anything one-way only?
- Will you have to deal with foreign security, police, or customs agents?
- What are the weight and size restrictions of the airline?
- Are there fees for additional luggage?
- What restrictions and laws does the region(s) you’re traveling to or through have?
- Will you need access to the luggage during transport?
Depending on how long you’re traveling for and the purpose of your trip, here are some ideal styles of luggage that will get you where you need to go in addition to your laptop bag.
Weekender Bag or Duffel Bag
A weekender bag is exactly what it sounds like. It is a duffel style bag that can hold enough clothing for a weekend getaway. If you’re traveling by car, rail, bus or boat, the Duffel is a great bag for getting you where you need to be. It also works well as a second carry-on for longer trips or excursions where you need to pack extra clothing or gear.
The carry-on spinner is the most versatile travel bag intended for carry-on. With one you’ll avoid paying expensive fees to check luggage and you’ll be sure your luggage won’t get lost in the airport shuffle. Carry-ons come in many different forms, but the 4-wheel spinner is arguably the easiest to maneuver in airports.
If you need to bring a suit or a jacket with you, it’s best to wear it to avoid crushing it into a small spinner. If you need more than you can wear, then always choose a larger checked bag, below.
Larger Checked Suitcases
If you do check a suitcase, bringing a larger wheeled suitcase is best. They are wide enough that a suit jacket only needs a single fold horizontally across the body of the coat, rather than vertically through the collar. GG founder Sven Raphael Schneider always travels with a large wheeled spinner if a suit jacket needs to be packed. It may or may not be worth it to pay $50 round trip to avoid the hassle of steaming, ironing or dry cleaning at your destination, but on business trips it’s usually ideal to be able to pull a jacket straight from your suitcase with minimal fuss.
How to Buy a Suitcase
For the most part, all luggage looks similar. There are different types and styles, of course. But the ones that fit into the same “spinner” or “carry-on” category tend to look alike. The only noticeable differences to the untrained eye, is the color, the pattern, and, of course, whether it’s hard or soft sided.
The problem is that not all suitcases are as good as others. In fact, some are downright terrible. And the adage “you get what you pay for”, isn’t always true when it comes to luggage.
The two most important factors to consider when purchasing a suitcase are how easy it is to operate and how durable it is.
The operating factor of a suitcase comes down to how easy it is to move around and carry. Most luggage will have wheels. Some will have four and others just two. The benefit of the four-wheeled suitcase is that it’s a spinner and it can be moved in any direction which makes them very easy to operate. The problem, however, is you can run into the situation where your luggage wants to get away from you. This is where two-wheels come into play. Since a suitcase with two wheels only moves back and forth, you can just turn it sideways to prevent it from running down an incline at the airport or the streets of San Francisco. They’re also far easier to walk outside with. They are better on uneven surfaces such as grass, snow, dirt, gravel, or the old streets of Europe.
As far as durability goes, the zipper is the biggest problem most travelers have to deal with. According to ConsumerReports.org, zippers come in two styles: chain and coil. The chain ones are the stronger style since they’re made from metal. Whereas the coil zipper uses polyester to hold the coils. According to their research, you want to look for the YKK branding on your zipper to ensure the most reliable quality.
The next most important aspect worth considering is the wheels. Let’s face it, there isn’t anything more irritating than one wheel that doesn’t work. It’s like getting stuck with the shopping cart that doesn’t want to turn. Spinner suitcases with four wheels attach the wheels externally which can cause them to break easier than the two-wheeled suitcases. The better luggage will use screws to attach them instead of rivets so it’s a good idea to check this and also, to move them around and see how well they spin and roll.
If you’re buying a carry-on spinner or any luggage with a retractable handle, you want to test it. You should be able to pull it in and out and spin, push and pull the suitcase without it rattling or wiggling, according to ConsumerReports.org. It should retract smoothly and pull out easily, ideally with a few stop points so you can decide how far you want the handle to pull out based on your height and preference.
Hard or Soft Sided Suitcases
The two standards these days are hard and soft-sided suitcases. Here are the pros and cons of each:
- More room to expand
- Can rip and tear
- Easy to break into
- Usually much heavier than polycarbonate spinners
If you do decide to go with a soft-sided suitcase, be sure to buy one with a high-denier material which measures the weight of the fabric, not the quality. You may find that soft sided works best as carry-on, but it can rapidly expand past the weight and size restrictions imposed by the airline.
- Durable but not as long-lasting as soft-sided
- Doesn’t tear or rip
- Can’t be cut open with a knife
- Can be very lightweight
- Easily scuffs and shows marks and dents
- Not as much room to expand
If durability is your biggest factor in deciding what suitcase to buy, consider aluminum. Although it’s the heaviest material, it is also the most durable.
Here are some of the suitcases we recommend for domestic and international travel.
For Durability: Zero Halliburton Carry-On in Aluminum
With expandable pockets and a dedicated sleeve for your laptop, this Zero Halliburton bag is made for the traveling executive who values the durability of an aluminum exterior. Made from Cordura nylon inside with padding for extra protection of your valuables, this is a suitcase that will last many years of regular travel. Buy this Zero Halliburton suitcase for just $775. It’s a great alternative to more expensive Rimowa luggage.
For Expandability: Briggs & Riley Domestic Expandable Carry-On Spinner
One of the top reviewed brands, Briggs & Riley has revolutionized the way travelers pack. It features a main compartment capable of expanding 25%, plus an additional compartment designed for suits or blazers. Made from ballistic nylon, it’s a well-crafted spinner that will keep up with you wherever you go. Get this Briggs & Riley spinner for just $519.
For Maneuverability: Samsonite Stryde Hardside Glider
From the classic suitcase maker Samsonite comes this new take on shape and maneuverability. Oriented on the horizontal rather than the vertical, this suitcase offers a wider handle and surface area on which to prop your other luggage. The wheels spin and maneuver like a dream, and unlike vertical bags that need to be tipped on their side and then opened, this suitcase opens like a book from the bottom, for easier opening and closing. Check out the Samsonite Stryde Hardside Glider here.
For Lightest Weight: Samsonite Black Label Cosmolite Spinner
To strip your luggage to the bare minimum weight, consider the Samsonite Black Label Cosmolite Spinner. Like any product designed to optimize a single feature, this bag is less than 3 kilograms but it is constructed from a new, high-tech thermoplastic that doesn’t have a long track record in the market. It’s also on the pricey side for an otherwise standard looking piece of luggage, but if weight is your priority, this one is about as light as they get.
Suitcase DOs and DON’Ts
DO buy bags that aren’t black or navy so you can distinguish them in a crowd.
DO tie coloured ribbons or place distinguishing markings on black or commonly seen luggage that otherwise may accidentally be grabbed by the wrong person.
DO bring a bag slightly larger than you need to make room for dirty laundry, gifts or souvenirs.
DO test the suitcase before buying to see how easily it moves and spins.
DO test suitcases after purchase on different textural floors like wood, carpet, grass, etc to see how it moves.
DONT listen to labels and promotions when buying luggage, especially regarding carry-on size. There is no “official luggage” and restrictions are imposed by the individual airlines and often change based on the aircraft. A 2015 Consumer Reports investigation found that nine out of eleven models measured were larger than claimed by the manufacturer.
DONT buy suitcases secondhand unless you can confirm it is in excellent working order and does not have any damage.
DONT buy a suitcase based on looks but instead, based on materials and ease of use.
DONT buy suitcases from no-name brands you’ve never heard of; they may be cheap replicas
DONT borrow luggage, if at all possible; they may contain something you don’t want to be found with or smell like an illegal substance, which dogs and technology used by customs and security can detect small traces up to a year old
We hope you’ve enjoyed this primer on suitcases. What brand do you prefer? Any tips when purchasing suitcases?