Recommended carry-on bags

This item appears on page 34 of the March 2020 issue.
My three Delsey bags. Photo by Pam Douglas-Smith

Evenyl Roemmich of Vista, California, wrote, “My companion, George, and I travel with carry-on bags only. Recently, when the rubber on one of the wheels of my carry-on fell off, I knew it was time for a new bag. But what? I had been using that 2-wheeled Rick Steves bag for ages, perhaps 15 years, and loved it!

“The personal bag (the second carry-on bag allowed on most airlines) is important also. My Healthy Back Bag, with a single shoulder strap, has done a great job. It has lots of compartments, but it’s rather ugly, and I think I need something larger.

“So I’d like to hear what ITN readers have to say about a wheeled carry-on and about a personal bag. As for a wheeled carry-on, is hard-sided or soft-sided better? And two wheels or four? How long should a carry-on last? Lastly, I would appreciate recommendations for specific bags, including brand names and model names and, if possible, where to find them.”

We printed subscribers’ responses in the last two issues. The remainder appear below.

I’ve made annual trips to Europe of two to four weeks for personal travel and to lead pilgrimages. I’m dedicated to doing “all carry-on” going overseas and then checking an expanded bag on my return. As an adventurer, I’ve learned to travel light because you frequently have to heft your stuff up stairs in train stations and to hotel rooms.

I’ve tried all kinds of combinations of bags, and the ones I’ve found to be the best thus far are all by Delsey (, which is a French brand but is readily available on and Prices vary based on color selected, and eBags does have them on sale often. I love the colors offered, as they make the bags easy to spot.

The main bag I use is the Helium Titanium, a hard-sided with four wheels, which I really love. I had a Rick Steves bag with two wheels for years that I liked a lot, but it’s great to not have to drag your bag when you’re tired or on uneven ground.

In the Helium Titanium model, I have both a regular US carry-on size [$320] and an international carry-on size [$360]. The international one has a convenient separate compartment on the front.

They hold up well, and I like hard-sided luggage because it stows on planes easily. The expansion feature gives room to bring home treasures. Best of all, they have excellent wheels that work on all kinds of terrain.

• The second carry-on, the Quilted Rolling Overnighter [$160], is a 2-wheeled overnighter that slides onto the handle of the full carry-on suitcase, then separately slips under the seat once you’re on the plane.

It’s super-cool because it unzips to open wide in the front, so you can see everything easily. In addition to toiletries, meds, jewelry and electronics, I’ll add in pajamas, a fresh shirt and underwear, so I can shower and go to dinner on arrival at my hotel without having to open up my main suitcase. For overnight jaunts, I’ll take it and leave my bigger bag at the main hotel.

I recently did more than two weeks in Europe with the small international version, but I took the larger US one for a 4-week trip. With careful packing, mix-and-match clothes with scarves and using organizational cubes and shelves, I was able to do it.

I even tucked in a reversible RainCaper ($70 on Amazon) and a Costco down vest (less than $20) in their little bags for cooler weather and rain.

Pam Douglas-Smith
Port Townsend, WA


Traveling in Asia and Europe, there are different requirements for carry-ons. Many airlines in Asia limit carry-on weight to 15 pounds, whereas US airline weight requirements are higher and more liberal. US carry-on size limits are bigger than those in Asia or Europe, and US bags won’t make it through carry-on size checks in those places. US bags are typically 22 inches, while the limit abroad is typically 21 inches.

When it comes to wheels, having big wheels makes the bag roll more smoothly, especially where there are carpets, such as in corridors and lounges. Small wheels on a big bag are more likely to get stuck in carpets and rough areas.

I feel bags with four wheels are better, as it’s easier to push them than pull them. If the bag you buy and push on a smooth floor goes away from you smoothly, that is the one you want.

Hard-sided bags are better if you travel a lot, as your bags are very likely to get banged up. A sharp object will slice through a soft-sided bag.

Buy one with a handle attached on two sides. Handles attached by a single column in the middle are difficult to maneuver and, in my experience, tend to jam or break.

In my opinion, a lightweight RIMOWA ( Essential Lite Cabin bag [$490-$520] is probably the best if you travel a lot.

R.V. Nagesh
Jackson MI


I have had a TravelSmith (800/770-3387, carry-on for years and absolutely love it, so much so that I bought a second, just in case. After about eight years, it still works perfectly, serving me well for all trips, planes and lengths of travel.

I can easily pack for a month or more and still be able to drag it down streets. This bag, and its wheels, have never failed me, in spite of much abuse and many cobbled streets.

This bag is not the typical square luggage, but it holds a lot. As I write this, I have it packed for France, with five pairs of pants, one long-sleeved top, six T-shirts and blouses, sleepwear and my SCOTTeVEST, and there is still room for my toiletries, hair dryer and a bit more. However, the first thing I did with the bag was to cut the inside straps so that the top would fold all the way back for easier packing and use.

The front, zippered compartments hold lots of last-minute stuff, easy to reach as I fly.

Unfortunately, the 2-wheeled variety of bag that I have (which I prefer) has been replaced by a 4-wheeled spinner, but even that is still worth a look. It is now called the Travel Smith Spinner360 Carry-On, which comes in a strong polyester material that is cleanable. It weighs 7 pounds and measures 16"x16"x9", including the wheels.

The current bag [$149] has a solid back, where the handle slide is, and the other sides are soft and pliable. It also includes a matching zippered tote bag.

I have seen the 2-wheeled version on resale sites.

Patricia Bunyard
Cambria, CA


I’ve been traveling extensively for almost 30 years, sometimes with a carry-on only and often on major trips with the addition of a rolling duffle. After using several different carry-ons, I bought an it luggage ( 2-wheeler weighing less than 4 pounds and measuring 21.8"x14.2"x7.3".

It’s not particularly sturdy, but it holds more than other carry-ons, as the wide handle is on the outside, so it doesn’t take up interior room. The light weight is wonderful for airplane overheads and carrying up steps.

I have had it for over 10 years, and it looks as if it will go at least another five. I will certainly buy another if this one ever dies. The closest available model to mine, the Los Angeles [$80], is designed a bit differently, but the specs are the same.

Jill Sullivan
Waynesboro, VA


I have a Ciao Expandable Under Seat Bag that I just love. It has plenty of pockets and will accommodate my small travel laptop.

They advertise it as a 15-inch carry-on that will fit under the seat, but it expands to a full-size 22-inch carry-on. I really like having the option because sometimes a full-size carry-on isn’t allowed when flying on smaller commuter planes or when an airline such as Bangkok Airlines restricts you to only 5 kilos for carry-on.

I bought mine at Costco for about $39, but Costco doesn’t carry it anymore. I have also seen them online for anywhere from $30 to over $80, so if you are a little patient, you can find some good deals out there.

Wayne Stickle
Long Beach, CA


I spent 20 years traveling for business and now have spent about 10 years doing recreational travel by car, bus, train, plane and ship. I’m so happy to be able to share my experiences with travel bags. I hope the information is helpful.

For a wheeled bag, I recommend one from Osprey ( There are several models that meet the various limitations of airlines. They are extremely lightweight, are soft-sided (so you can squeeze a little more in) and stand upright on their own (so you aren’t having to lean them against things). I recommend one that has two wheels, which I think gives you more room than the 4-wheeled models.

Additionally, they come with an “All Mighty Guarantee” to replace any product at any time if it is not repairable. I can vouch for their word.

Because I am short, I check my wheeled bag, so mine takes a bit more beating than those carried on board and stored in the overhead bins. One of my bags was damaged by the airline, so it no longer sat upright on its own. Osprey replaced the bag with one of a similar size and function; I only had to pay the shipping fee. That really impressed me.

• For the over-the-shoulder bag, I recommend a good day pack, one that has both a chest strap and waist strap so that the weight can be distributed. I carry one made by REI ( that works very well.

I do have a Velcro strap on both the wheeled bag and the shoulder bag so that I can connect them if needed or attach a bag of groceries or other purchases if necessary.

Osprey is also available at REI.

Maritza Jackson
Foster City, CA


My wife and I travel with carry-on bags only and use an Osprey ( Farpoint 40 backpack [$160]. This bag has no wheels, but it can be carried either as a day pack with shoulder straps or as an over-the-shoulder bag.

We have used it on international trips lasting as long as three weeks. It fits nicely into the overhead bins, even on the smaller Embraer/Bombardier-type planes that we encounter in small countries.

A 40-liter bag requires efficient packing and clever procedures while checking in. We typically move our heaviest items (electronics, cameras, etc.) to a personal-item bag, which we’ve never had weighed at check-in, and wear our coats onto the plane.

Now that, along with the size limitations, many international airlines have weight restrictions (as low as 11 pounds) for carry-on bags, a bag without the heavy wheels and frame is a must to avoid baggage fees. And I’ve found the over-the-shoulder feature seems to attract less attention with the gate agents.

David Eickhoff
Burton, TX


While my comments apply to carry-on camera bags, I think the information is useful to the general topic.

Since I carry professional camera equipment and usually max out on carry-on weight and size, I use only soft-sided luggage without wheels. Made of parachute material, Kiboko backpack camera bags from Gura Gear ( weigh less and can accommodate more equipment. (Some airlines keep lowering the carry-on weight limits. When I traveled in Brazil, one airline had a 5-kilo limit!)

The Gura Gear Kiboko 2.0 30L Backpack is amazing and expensive [$400]. I bought mine from B&H ( My wife has the Gura Gear Kiboko 2.0 22L Backpack — smaller and a bit cheaper [$330].

A couple years ago, she complained that she could no longer carry the weight of her camera bag. I solved the problem on Amazon by purchasing a light aluminum dolly for less than $20.

With the dolly, however, the carry-on no longer fits the size requirement. ‘No problem,’ I concluded. ‘I will just let them stow the dolly if they ask.’ As it turned out, no one has ever questioned this arrangement. We usually separate the dolly from the carry-on bag when we get on the plane, putting it in the overhead bin with the bag or under the seat if space is tight.

• Another fallback for our carry-ons was the purchase of travel vests from Tamrac ( These vests, which we wore on a January 2020 photo trip again with our backpacks, are very sturdy and have incredibly large pockets. If we have weight issues with the carry-ons, we load up our pockets with stuff removed from the bag.

Unfortunately, it appears the manufacturer quit making vests, as they are only available used.

Elston Hill
Burien, WA


My favorite carry-on bag is from Lipault ( I prefer the 2-wheeled Pliable Upright [$220] to the 4-wheeled model. It is extremely lightweight and roomy for a carry-on bag. The sides collapse for easy storage. It is also very attractive.

My blue-and-white L.L. Bean bag. Photo by Nili Olay

• My other favorite travel bag is an L.L. Bean ( rolling duffle. They don’t make this exact model anymore; the closest one is L.L. Bean’s Medium Adventure Duffle (item TA159437) for $119.

When both my husband and I travel, the two bags complement each other. Bulky items like shoes go into the L.L. bag, while flat items like shirts go into the Lipault bag.

• Add to that my Rick Steves backpack, and I am all set for any adventure.

Nili Olay
New York, NY

Airlines worldwide each determine the maximum dimensions of hand luggage allowed. There are no standard size limits of carry-ons on US domestic flights or on international flights. For a list of more than 170 airlines’ size restrictions on carry-on luggage, visit But always check with your airline(s) before departure, as limits can change.