The 10 Best Wheeled Luggage
This wiki has been updated 20 times since it was first published in June of 2015. Sure, packing will never be an activity we relish, but hauling your belongings when traveling for business or pleasure is a whole lot easier when you've packed all that stuff into convenient wheeled luggage. While all of these models will boost your mobility, they come in a variety of sizes, with hard shells or soft bodies depending on your needs. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best wheeled luggage on Amazon.
A Brief History Of Luggage
By the 1920s, automobile travel was becoming increasingly popular and affordable.
Airplanes not only had specific size and weight restrictions on baggage, but also required travelers to transport their belongings much greater distances at a time.
While human beings have been carting their possessions around the world since time immemorial, the suitcase as we know it has only existed since the end of the 19th century. Before that time, crates and trunks were the only options, and even the most stylish of those were really just glorified wooden boxes with a leather exterior.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the first of many transportation revolutions was well underway, and steam trunks were simply not well-suited to the many new ways of getting around. While tourism had once been a privilege only available to the upper classes, suddenly many more people could afford to travel. Of course, these newly-minted tourists did not have the luxury of a staff to carry their trunks for them, and so a new class of luggage was needed to suit their needs. The format had to be manageable by one person, which limited its size, and ideally could be carried in one hand, meaning it could not be too heavy. A strap or handle was also necessary for maximum portability.
The first luggage that resembled what we commonly use today came in the form of the suit case — a literal case for suits. It contained multiple compartments to ensure that each article of clothing was kept separated and in pristine condition during travel. Often, these came with matching hat boxes. In time, the format was adapted to accommodate women's clothing as well as other possessions.
The suitcase business was initially an offshoot of the leather goods industry. The products were still bulky by today's standards, often with built-in wood or steel frames, though they were far more manageable than their predecessors. By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, however, big business recognized the potential of hand-carried luggage and began to put major research and development into its suitcase offerings, not to mention a major marketing push.
By the 1920s, automobile travel was becoming increasingly popular and affordable. The market for suitcases grew in step with the new form of transportation, as did the number of offerings that could easily fit inside a car. A few decades later, the introduction of air travel necessitated a full-on luggage revolution. Bags had to be lighter and cheaper in order to sell in an increasingly competitive market.
Airplanes not only had specific size and weight restrictions on baggage, but also required travelers to transport their belongings much greater distances at a time. While you could simply carry a suitcase from your front door to your car, handling your luggage yourself from check-in to your gate of departure and onto the plane itself was another story.
American inventor Bernard Sadow conceived of the idea of adding wheels to luggage when traveling home from a family vacation to Aruba in 1970. He watched as airport workers moved equipment with ease thanks to a skid on wheels, and, regarding his family's own heavy load, realized the same concept could work. He applied for a patent, which was granted in 1972, revolutionizing the luggage industry forever.
From Two Wheels To Four and Back Again
Before wheels actually made it onto the suitcase itself, another invention was used to simplify the act of transporting luggage. Americans were buying two-wheeled carts that could be stacked with baggage and pulled behind them like a hand truck at a rapid clip. The bags were usually secured with elastic or leather straps. The carts could be folded up when not in use, so as to be out of the way once a traveler reached his or her destination.
The first wheeled suitcases, as developed by Bernard Sadow, did not follow the format of the wheeled carts. They relied on four wheels instead of two, and had to be pulled along by a strap in an upright position. This was no easier than using a two-wheeled cart, and, as a result, the initial wheeled bags were not ultimately as popular as they could have been.
In 1987, the Rollaboard suitcase was invented by Northwest Airlines pilot Robert Plath. This was the first model to use two wheels and a long handle that allows baggage to be rolled along at an angle. While Plath initially offered his invention only to fellow crew members, others traveling through airports took notice. Plath took note of the demand and quit flying to start Travelpro, one of the top competitors in the luggage market today. In just a few years, his two-wheeled design became ubiquitous.
Choosing The Right Wheeled Luggage
Luggage shape and size is now largely determined by the aircraft that will ultimately carry most bags. There are strict limits on what constitutes a carry-on bag, and they may vary from one region — or airline — to the next. The first step is to determine whether you want a carry-on bag or if you are willing to accept the hassle and fees that come with checking your baggage. If you simply know that you must travel with too much stuff to fit in a standard carry-on, well then the question is answered for you. If not, a carry-on sized bag will be easier for you to maneuver and will save you time and money in the long run.
If not, a carry-on sized bag will be easier for you to maneuver and will save you time and money in the long run.
Once you've determined what size works best for you, it's time to choose a style. Today, the battle between two- and four-wheeled luggage rages on. Unlike the four-wheeled suitcases initially invented in 1970, which followed the narrow rectangular format of the hand-carried bags that came before them, bags with two pairs of wheels have since caught up.
Today's four-wheeled bags work just like the initial Rollaboards — that is, they can be pulled alongside you by an extended handle at an angle. Their one advantage over their two-wheeled cousins is that then can also be rolled while upright and moved around without the extension of a handle.
Another consideration is whether you want wheels that swivel — often called spinners — or those that stay straight in their forward position. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, so it's a good idea to test out some bags in both styles before you make a decision.
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