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Best cabin bags for travel in 2024, from small suitcases to overnight backpacks

Whether for business or pleasure, choose one of these and you’ll pack like a pro

Tamara Hinson
Wednesday 27 March 2024 17:25 GMT
These handy travel companions were used to transport everything from computers and cameras to dive gear during testing
These handy travel companions were used to transport everything from computers and cameras to dive gear during testing (The Independent)
Our Top Picks

Whether you’re travelling light for a weekend away or want to keep your most valued possessions close at hand, the best cabin bags should offer good practicality without compromising on style.

When it comes to packing before you travel, there are ample options to choose from. There are duffel-style bags with removable straps as well as over-the-shoulder types that offer the perfect combination of style and ‘stuffability’ – in other words, easy access and room for pretty much everything, barring the kitchen sink.

Travellers with an abundance of tech should consider tougher builds. We’d recommend opting for cases with waxed fabric (as this will provide brilliant protection against wear and tear) and plenty of pockets (ideally ones accessible from the interior and exterior) for cables and power packs.

Adrenaline junkies and backpackers, meanwhile, are more likely to value bags with multiple interior compartments, which are a lifesaver when it comes to separating sand- or sweat-covered gear from other items. On the other hand, soft-sided bags – especially ones with exterior compression straps – can be useful when space is at a premium.

Keep reading to find out which ones had us on cloud nine.

How we tested the best cabin bags

Whether it’s for work or pleasure, we travel a lot. While we might have a few favourite luggage brands, we’re always open to experimenting with new ones. As keen scuba divers, snowboarders and mountain bikers, we demand a lot from the bags we use, and we’re also pretty good at identifying features that will come in handy – along with the ones that simply aren’t worth the extra cash.

These particular bags were put through their paces on visits to Singapore, Indonesia and Manchester, and we used them to transport everything from computers and cameras to the dive gear we needed for a visit to one of Indonesia’s most remote archipelagos.

The best cabin bags for 2024 are:

  • Best cabin bag overall – Thule aion carry on spinner: £284.99,
  • Best budget cabin bag – Vango shuttle 25: £55,
  • Best premium suitcase – Briggs & Riley domestic carry-on expandable spinner: £439,
  • Best lightweight suitcase – Marks and Spencer Oslo 4 wheel hard shell cabin suitcase: £95,

Thule aion carry on spinner

best cabin bag
  • Best: Cabin bag overall
  • Size: 35cm x 23cm x 55cm
  • Weight: 3.25kg
  • Why we love it
    • Durable
    • Handy pockets
  • Take note
    • Heavier than some other bags we tested

News flash (particularly for those who associate Thule primarily with ski boxes) – Thule does a mean sideline in cabin bags, too. The aion weighs slightly more than some of the other bags we tested, but it’s also the toughest, thanks to a polycarbonate panel at the rear and a 600-denier waxed canvas shell. For us, though, the highlight is the clamshell opening.

One side (which is also accessible via a zip on the front of the bag) comprises a shallow covered compartment, while the other features a deeper single compartment, covered not with material but compression straps attached to a removable laptop-sized sleeve. The small pocket on the exterior was great for storing smaller items such as keys, and the four oversized spinner wheels moved incredibly freely.

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Vango shuttle 25

best cabin bag
  • Best: Budget cabin bag
  • Size: 59cm x 20cm x 31cm
  • Weight: 0.7kg
  • Why we love it
    • Well padded
    • Handy zippered pockets

When we left our laptop case in a hotel room in Goa, we had no concerns about keeping our exposed computer in this bag’s laptop sleeve – like the rest of the bag, it’s exceptionally well padded. The extra-large side handle meant shoving this bag into (and dragging it out of) cramped overhead luggage bins was a breeze, and the enormous main compartment means this is a great bag for weekends away, too.

Our favourite feature? The way in which the elasticated side pocket, designed to hold bottles of water, is hidden by a zippered pocket. This provided extra peace of mind and meant we didn’t have to remove said water bottle from the side pocket before placing it in the overhead locker.

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Briggs & Riley domestic carry-on expandable spinner

best cabin bags
  • Best: Premium suitcase
  • Size: 56cm x 35.5cm x 23cm
  • Weight: 4.2kg
  • Why we love it
    • Innovative features
    • Extendable sidewalls for extra space
  • Take note
    • Pricey

We’ve referred to suitcases as Tardis-like before, but this one really is. This cabin case’s USP is its extendable sidewalls, which can be raised (and then compressed) to provide 22 per cent more space. Other innovative features include the power pack pocket on the suitcase’s rear, the aircraft-grade aluminium telescoping handle system (trust us, this is the smoothest suitcase handle you’ll come across) and the combination of internal compression panels and a soft-touch lining – a double act that left our clothes crease-free, even after a long-haul flight to Singapore.

In a nutshell? Yes, it’s one of the pricier suitcases, but it’s also one that – in our opinion – is worth every penny.

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Marks and Spencer Oslo 4 wheel hard shell cabin suitcase

best cabin bags
  • Best: Lightweight suitcase
  • Size: 55cm x 36cm x 20cm
  • Weight: 2.5kg
  • Why we love it
    • Secure locking system
    • Plenty of pockets

This is a fantastic suitcase that comes with plenty of perks, including an ultra-secure locking system and an abundance of pockets. The spinner wheels roll incredibly smoothly, thanks, partly, to their double-wheel design, and the presence of additional handles on both the bottom and side made it easy to remove from a particularly full overhead luggage bin.

The interior comprises two mesh-covered compartments, and we loved the way additional pockets have been incorporated into these mesh covers – one has enough room for a laptop, while the other is divided into two zippered pouches.

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Scamp and Dude silver lightning bolt quilted overnight bag

best cabin bag
  • Best: Over-the-shoulder cabin bag
  • Size: 48cm x 19cm x 33cm
  • Weight: Unspecified
  • Why we love it
    • Well padded
    • Reinforced base

It’s a myth that cabin bags need to be rectangular. This is an over-the-shoulder bag that also serves as the ideal cabin bag. Our testing process involved filling it to capacity and shoving it (easily) into various cramped overhead luggage bins.

Bear with us here, but this is another bag worthy of the comparison to a Tardis – somehow, Scamp and Dude has managed to squeeze in a huge main compartment, one large internal laptop pocket and two smaller pockets.

At first, we wondered if the silver was a bit much. Would people think we’d wrapped a tote bag in tin foil? Luckily, it works fabulously, thanks to the funky lightning strike design, which includes a single bolt picked out in bright pink. It’s exceptionally well padded throughout, too, and the reinforced base provides added protection from wear and tear.

The metallic version is currently sold out (you can sign up for an email notification when it returns), but the khaki colourway is still in stock (£70,

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Samsonite magnum eco spinner

best cabin bag
  • Best: Hard-sided cabin bag
  • Size: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm
  • Weight: 2.6kg
  • Why we love it
    • Lightweight without being flimsy
    • Sustainable

This suitcase is ridiculously, mind-bogglingly light, and it lacks the worrying flimsiness we’ve come across in suitcases with a similarly low weight. The three-point TSA-compliant lock was incredibly easy to use, and it’s another suitcase with wheels that move incredibly smoothly. The two main compartments are covered by mesh sleeves, and we loved the design.

Rather than using fixed covers that zip up, Samsonite has used covers that clip into anchor points on the suitcase’s walls, and the removable nature of these covers meant we could simply unclip them when they weren’t needed. The magnum is also pretty sustainable – it’s made entirely with recycled post-consumer waste.

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Tripp graphite horizon

best cabin bag
  • Best: For standing up to wear and tear
  • Size: 55cm x 39cm x 20cm
  • Weight: 2.7kg
  • Why we love it
    • Durable

Another suitcase that feels incredibly light but has a surprising rigidity, this graphite grey case from Tripp will stand up to some serious wear and tear. Even the wheels – supersized rollers that glide incredibly smoothly – have exterior components that protect the sides of the wheels from accidental knocks.

The internal design allows for a certain amount of customisation, thanks to the zippered cover over one side of the case and X-shaped compression straps on the other.

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Patagonia black hole duffel bag, 40l

best cabin bag
  • Best: Duffel-style cabin bag
  • Size: 53.3cm x 34.8cm x 26.9cm
  • Weight: 1.17kg
  • Why we love it
    • Fair Trade Certified
    • Made from recycled materials

‘Black hole’ is an appropriate name for this duffel bag, which is Fair Trade Certified sewn and made entirely of recycled materials. The laminated ripstop fabric feels reassuringly tough, as do the reinforced side handles. It’s another bag with plenty of opportunities for customisation – the straps, for example, allow it to be carried like a backpack and are fully removable – and when the bag’s not in use, it folds neatly into its own carry sack.

The interior is easily accessible, courtesy of a three-sided zip and comprises one large central compartment and a laptop-sized pocket in the lid. A smaller side compartment, accessible from both the interior and exterior of the bag, is perfect for smaller items such as power banks and charging cables, too.

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Carl Friedrik the carry on

carl friedrik.png
  • Best: Stylish cabin bag
  • Size: 37cm x 55cm x 23cm
  • Weight: 3.9kg
  • Why we love it
    • Stylish
    • Robust outer shell
    • TSA-approved lock system
  • Take note
    • Expensive

Carl Friedrik has been marrying style and functionality in its travel bags only since 2012, but it’s already grown a cult following, thanks to appearances in both Succession and The White Lotus. Just like the HBO shows, its suitcases scream “quiet luxury” and have the price tag to match.

The premium carry on case comes in three sleek colourways, boasting a robust shell and hardwearing aluminium frame that helps to make sure the case is durable and worth the investment (the brand claims its bags will last you a lifetime of journeys).

We found the carry on far easier to pack than our usual case, thanks to two sets of integrated straps and a removable compression pad, while the 360-degree wheels glided effortlessly and silently across uneven pavements and through the airport. It also felt incredibly light despite the durable shell, and there are handles on both the top and side for easy carrying. Plus, there are two integrated TSA-approved locks, rather than your typical zip, for extra security.

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Eastpak travelpack

best cabin bag
  • Best: Soft-sided cabin bag
  • Size: 51cm x 33cm x 23cm
  • Weight: 1kg
  • Why we love it
    • Two roomy compartments
    • Versatile

Is there anything this cabin bag can’t do? We suspect not. Then again, perhaps it’s hardly surprising that this offering from Eastpak – a brand famous for its backpacks – works equally well as a duffel bag or rucksack.

When carried using the side handle, the backpack straps slip neatly into their designated pocket, and the clamshell opening, which reveals two roomy, mesh-covered compartments, makes accessing the contents a breeze. We loved the presence of the bag’s side straps – these don’t only serve as compression straps but help to secure water bottles placed in the side pockets, too.

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Cabin bags FAQs

What are the cabin bag allowances for different airlines?

Ryanair: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm

Jet2: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm

Wizz Air: 55cm x 40cm x 23cm

Easyjet: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm

British Airways: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm

As well as the above, passengers with these airlines can also take small personal items, such as a handbag or laptop case, on board.

The verdict: Cabin bags

Thanks to its fabulously innovative design, Thule’s aion carry on spinner bags the top spot (excuse the pun). This is one of the best cabin bags we’ve ever come across, and it’s got a sturdiness we don’t often see in soft-sided cabin cases.

Although we loved everything about Marks and Spencer’s Oslo 4 wheel hard shell cabin suitcase, it was its manoeuvrability that really sold it to us, while the Vango shuttle 25 offers a relatively affordable alternative.

Planning on catching 40 winks on the plane? Here’s our round-up of the best travel pillows

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