When you’re travelling, that feeling of being able to breeze through the airport knowing that you don’t have to stop at the baggage carousel is a pretty good one. You just need to make sure that you have a bag that meets airline restrictions – and fits with the sort of trip you’re taking.
Firstly, those size guidelines: the recommended world standard for luggage allowed in the cabin is now 55cm x 35cm x 20cm, though, confusingly, not all follow these guidelines exactly. It is always worth checking with your carrier before investing in a new case to make sure that there are no hiccups on your journey.
Once you know the size you’re after, choose from a hard-sided or soft-sided case. Most rigid cases these days are made from tough, lightweight polycarbonate that will withstand knocks and scrapes (and rain if the weather’s not playing ball on your trip). Soft-sided options tend to be lighter, more squashable, depending on the frame of the bag, and are more likely to have an expandable feature or straps that convert so you can wear it on your back.
On the wheel front, an increasing number of bags have four spinning wheels, so instead of pulling your suitcase along as you would with a two-wheeler, you can just roll it next to you. While that has its advantages, if you’re heading somewhere rugged (or cobbled for that matter) wheels might not do you any favours. Also look out for a TSA-approved combination lock, which means your luggage can be unlocked and inspected by security without damaging anything. If a bag doesn’t have its own lock, you might want to consider adding your own.
To help the decision-making process, we – with help from the Independent travel desk – have found a range of cases that fit the cabin-sized brief. Prices start from 25 quid, so there’s a case for all budgets.
1. American Tourister Bon Air: £72, Amazon
If you find a lot of the suitcases out there too drab, US brand American Tourister makes good-value, quality bags in a huge range of colours. The four-wheeled Bon Air comes in 11 shades, with four, including this turquoise, new for 2016. (Fun fact: the white version is the case used by Big Brother contestants). At 2.5kg, it’s light for a hard case. It’ll hold 31.5 litres, so not as much as some on the list but it’s a good option for shorter trips (or light packers).
2. Eastpak Strapverz: £76, Amazon
The Independent’s deputy travel editor Nicola Trup is a big fan of this from the US bag specialist. “It’s soft and lightweight, and while it has wheels, it also comes with detachable straps you can clip into place to carry it backpack-style,” she says. Inside you get two separate zip-up compartments to keep your stuff organised. There are also compression straps to help keep things as compact as possible. It comes in black, grey and a camouflage print, as well as this dark blue.
3. Ted Baker Surie: £199, John Lewis
This is Ted Baker’s second luggage collection, but the build quality and attention to detail on these lightweight hard cases has helped them stand out from the pack. They feature eye-catching signature prints from the latest fashion collections and inside, you get one of the brand’s typical playful linings (this one is birds of paradise). Here, the glossy patent finish on the case and rose gold-tone accents on the wheels, lock and handle make it one for travellers after a bit of glamour. There is another plainer designer if you don’t want florals.
4. Tumi Vapor Lite: £395, Tumi
If you’re after a super-durable hard case that still looks sleek, try US brand Tumi. Its new four-wheeler Vapor range is made from layers of polycarbonate fused together, designed to be stronger than the standard version. As a result, it’s not quite as light as some – still an impressively airy 3.27kg – but it feels like a seriously tough case that will withstand bumps and scrapes. Choose from six colours and one jazzily patterned one.
5. Quechua 40L Expedition Bag: £25, Decathlon
The Independent’s travel expert Simon Calder uses one of these strong, soft-sided bags from Decathlon’s mountain sports brand in favour of a trolley-style case when he goes on a short break. With a 41-litre capacity, you can get more in here than many on the list. The straps convert to backpack-style so you can go hands-free if necessary. Note that the full size is slightly bigger than standard cabin restrictions but as long as you don’t fill it too full, because it’s soft-sided, you can compress it down to make sure it meets your airline’s regulations. You’ll need to add your own lock.
6. Samsonite Smarttop: From £100, Amazon
If, like us, you are never quite able to organise your case with the essentials to hand, this new model from Samsonite is pretty useful. There’s a zip-up compartment at the top, so even when it’s in the overhead locker or under the seat, you can still reach your stuff. There’s space in there for your toiletries and boarding pass and other valuables. Elsewhere, it’s a lightweight (1.9kg-2.3kg) and durable case that comes in four colours and four sizes to suit different airlines’ cabin-bag restrictions and you can choose from four wheelers or an upright case.
7. Antler Neptune: £90, Amazon
Anyone who needs to cart their laptop around with them on business trips will know the importance of a protective case. This is Antler’s first hard case with a padded compartment for your tech cables and files and it’s one of the best work bags we’ve seen. You get a 39-litre compartment for your packing. It’s a four-wheeler and light at 2.9kg, so is manoeuvrable if you need to get to a meeting in a hurry. It comes in black, black or black. Choose from portrait or landscape versions.
8. Longchamp Boxford Travel Bag: £185, Selfridges
Not everyone gets on with a trolley. For overnight stays, you might prefer to carry rather than wheel. Longchamp’s bags are some of the smartest and most durable out there. Made from tough canvas and with leather trims, this one comes in three chic colours – black, blue or brown – and there’s a detachable shoulder strap and luggage tag.
9. Rimowa Limbo: £530, Selfridges
If durability and strength is key (and you have cash to spend), try German brand Rimowa. This combines a lightweight polycarbonate shell with a tough aluminium magnesium frame, with smart-looking silver hardware. Inside, the dividers can be adjusted to work for the amount of luggage you have. We also like the handy strap that lets you attach another bag so that you’re not over-loaded when you go through the airport. Comes in three colours and holds 32 litres.
10. Brics Ballagio Four-Wheel Suitcase: £445, Amazon
You might have seen Amal Clooney wheeling around one of these super-chic cases by the Italian luggage specialists. With tan leather trims, the cream four-wheeler looks made for sunny holidays. Inside the zip-up case, we were impressed with the different compartments on both sides, so as well as looking super-stylish, you actually won’t lose things in the bag. It weighs 2.6kg and comes in two other darker shades if you don’t trust yourself to keep the cream clean.
11. John Lewis Greenwich: £65, John Lewis
When I was at uni a decade ago, my mum bought me a version of this soft-sided case to use for weekend trips. Ten years – and a lot of European city breaks and hen dos – later, it’s still going strong. With two wheels, it’s not as slick as come on the list, and not quite as light, but it will more than do the job if you’re mini-breaking on a budget. Choose from dark red or black.
For a quality, affordable bag that you’ll always be able to spot, try American Tourister’s Bon Air for shorter trips. If you’re off on an adventure where sometimes wheels might be more of a hindrance than a help, try Eastpak’s Strapverz that can be converted to wear on your back. If you have a bit more to spend, we’d go for Tumi’s super-tough Vapor Lite.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing
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