The 10 Best Hardside Carry-On Luggage
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in September of 2016. With most airlines these days charging an arm and a leg for checked luggage, you may want to scale down your packing on your next trip by using one of these hardside carry-on options. We've included a variety of styles and designs to suit any taste along with a full range of prices to meet anyone's budget, from the occasional traveler to the miles-accruing frequent flyer. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
April 22, 2020:
If you need more protection than a softside suitcase or carry-on backpack can provide, then any one of these hardside carry-ons should do the trick. We've looked for rugged pieces that will get you from point A to point B many times over, ultimately removing the Atlantic Ultra Lite over concerns about its long-term durability. With that said, we have opted for a few budget-friendly pieces that don't offer quite the same overall strength as some of the pricier options. These, including the AmazonBasics Spinner and the Rockland Vision, will fit into virtually any budget, but probably won't hold up to years and years of heavy use. Consider them for occasional use only.
On the stronger side of the spectrum, the Samsonite Omni PC and the Pelican Air Case remain great options. The Pelican, especially, is known for its ability to shield its contents from whatever your trip can throw at it, and it boasts a foam interior that absorbs shocks well. For something a little smaller, we selected the Ciao Underseat, which, just as its name suggests, is sized to go under the seat in front of you. Or, if you need a diminutive model for the littlest members of your family, there's the Goplus Kids Set, which has both a wheeled carry-on and a backpack. Available in several cute designs, it's affordably priced and lightweight so it won't burden the user.
Finally, if your main concern is color and style, there's the Betsey Johnson Designer and the Kenneth Cole Reaction Out Of Bounds. These provide an array of color and pattern choices, making them a fine alternative to plain luggage for business travel. The Betsey Johnson model is a bit pricey given the overall quality, however, so grab this one because of its cheerful styling and not its abuse-proof construction.
Lojel Cubo Small Those who want everything right at their fingertips will like the Lojel Cubo Small and its ample, easy to open front compartment. A strap ensures that your laptop remains secure and in place, while a range of pockets makes stashing your gear a breeze. And because it has a textured surface, it won't show scratches as easily as some. us.lojel.com
The Carry-On by Away The Carry-On by Away is exceptionally strong and offered in a veritable rainbow of color choices, so you shouldn't have to compromise when it comes to style. There's an ejectable battery built right in, so you can charge your phone on the go, and it even arrives with a handsome leather luggage tag. awaytravel.com
Tumi V4 With a streamlined design and performance-driven features, the Tumi V4 is a top-notch choice for frequent travelers who demand a lot. This piece has a smoothly-operating handle, a zip-to-expand construction, and four recessed casters that glide well over most terrain. tumi.com
The Case For Hardside Carry-On Luggage
But it could be time to upgrade to a hardside carry-on, especially if you travel often.
Perhaps you've always used soft luggage because, once it's empty, you can collapse it and shove it under your bed. But it could be time to upgrade to a hardside carry-on, especially if you travel often. Passengers and flight staff usually try to cram as many bags as possible into the overhead compartment, leaving a soft carry-on vulnerable to being squished between the others, and leaving your valuables susceptible to damage. Hard carry-on luggage essentially has built-in walls to protect your items. You'll probably want this, since handling your breakables with care isn't a concern for the frantic flight staff or TSA.
Hardside luggage is made from durable materials, like ABS plastic or polycarbonate. It's very difficult to puncture these materials. Meanwhile, the cotton, leather, or canvas on your soft bag isn't very strong. One sharp item floating around in the overhead compartment during turbulence could easily puncture a soft-sided bag. Of course, not all punctures are an accident. If a thief gets a hold of your soft bag, he can rapidly cut it open, even if the zipper is locked. But locked hardside luggage is much harder to break into. Many cannot be cut with a knife. Airport luggage thieves have to take these to a remote place to break them open, giving you and the police more time to catch them.
Having a hardside carry-on doesn't only protect your belongings — it can also help you. How many times have you arrived at the airport to find that your airline clearly overbooked the flight? The situation has become so dire that some airlines even pay volunteers to change flights. And when this happens, there may be nowhere left to sit in the airport. You may not be able to find a seat in the boarding area, the nearby bars, the restaurants, or anywhere else, but you can sit on your hardside luggage if needed.
Items You Should Always Have In Your Hardside Carry-On
There are some items that are just too precious to keep in a soft bag or store in the cargo area of the plane. Let's take a look at things you should always pack in your hardside carry-on. First, keep both your passport, and also a photocopy of your passport in your carry-on. Your passport is an item that should only pass through your hands and the hands of airport or government officials. You cannot guarantee that will happen if you put it in your checked luggage. Of course, there is always the possibility someone can still steal your passport from your carry-on, which is why you need a photocopy, too. Storing your passport in a soft bag leaves this important document vulnerable to being crumpled up — not so in hardside luggage.
They charge for snacks, they can run out of certain items quickly, and they can be held up on the tarmac for hours before takeoff or after landing.
The second thing you should put in your hard carry-on is a cache of snacks. You may have noticed a few very problematic issues with airlines these days. They charge for snacks, they can run out of certain items quickly, and they can be held up on the tarmac for hours before takeoff or after landing. This can be a nuisance for most people, and even a medical disaster for some, like diabetics. A new rule limits the time planes can keep passengers on the tarmac, but it still allows for aircrafts to sit there for three hours without having you deplane. You'll be glad you have food in your carry-on if that happens. You'll be even more grateful that your granola bar wasn't smashed to pieces in a soft bag.
There are obviously several things you can keep in your carry-on that will enhance your comfort and experience, but we are just focusing on critical items that protect your health and safety. With that in mind, the third thing you should keep in your carry-on is hand sanitizer. Considering that deadly bacteria can exist on a plane for up to seven days, you can't risk not cleaning your hands regularly on an aircraft. But between bathroom lines and turbulence, you don't always have the option to properly wash your hands. Keeping hand sanitizer in your carry-on solves this issue.
What To Look For In Your Carry-On Bag
When looking for a carry-on bag, one with multidirectional, smooth-turning wheels is non-negotiable. If you're late for your flight, you want to be able to make a run for it through the airport, without your bag slowing you down. On that same note, look for one with a non-slip, ergonomic handle so you can get a good grip on it as you navigate the airport crowds. For those rare instances when you'll need to pick your bag up, you'll want one made from lightweight materials that also has handles on both the top and sides.
Flights can be bumpy, so make sure your hardside luggage has tie-down straps to keep your items from shifting during turbulence.
Frequent flyers know that the TSA line is a hectic place. Make sure your bag has two-way zippers so you can rapidly take out your travel laptop and liquids. Some even have privacy curtains, allowing you to cover up your unmentionables when you have to open your bag in the security line. You might want luggage that is brightly colored or features a unique design, too, so you can quickly spot it in the assembly line of suitcases coming out of the scanner.
Flights can be bumpy, so make sure your hardside luggage has tie-down straps to keep your items from shifting during turbulence. Depending on how rough the skies are, you may want a carry-on that can absorb impact without denting. For extra long trips, you'll want a carry-on with a roomy interior. This will allow you to pack things that make your flight more enjoyable, like your pillow or noise-canceling headphones.