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8 best suitcases and check-in travel bags for holidays in 2023

From lightweight luggage to lockable cabin bags and hardy suitcases, our experts have tested the best travel bags and holdalls

Tamara Hinson
Friday 09 June 2023 16:37 BST
<p>Used in cars and as overhead luggage, we even filled these way past their recommended capacity to really put them through their paces </p>

Used in cars and as overhead luggage, we even filled these way past their recommended capacity to really put them through their paces

Our Top Picks

Travel is changing, and so are our needs as globetrotters, and the demands on our suitcases and cabin travel bags have never been greater. So, we decided it was time to look for the best suitcases out there, whether you’re a fan of city breaks and are in need of a budget-airline-friendly case, or a lover of long-haul adventures looking for something a little more substantial.

For hard-sided cases, you can’t go wrong with polypropylene, a material that is tough, light and scratch-resistant. For soft-sided cases, we recommend looking for cases made with polyamide, which has similar qualities.

Bonus points go to cases with areas of reinforcement over wheels, or so-called compression zips, which allow you to cram more into your suitcase without risking damaging key components.

When it comes to wheels, hollow ones can mean your suitcase makes significantly more noise when you’re rolling it along, while rubber wheels are generally quieter than plastic ones. And while four wheels will make rolling your suitcase along smooth surfaces much easier, two-wheeled suitcases can be easier to manoeuvre on rough ground.

Finally, if keeping your suitcase in top condition is a priority, hard-sided cases are likely to be the best option. They’re low maintenance and can be wiped clean, and a growing number of hard-sided suitcases have scratch-resistant coatings.

How we tested

We rolled, dragged and heaved our suitcases across various destinations, squeezed them into cramped cars and overhead luggage cabins, and filled them way past their recommended capacity. After all of this, they didn’t just survive unscathed, they emerged triumphant, protecting our travel essentials, gliding smoothly through the most crowded of airports and helping us stay organised on multi-destination trips.

The best suitcases for 2023 are:

  • Best suitcase overall – Ted Baker bow detail medium case: £245, Tedbaker.com
  • Best super-sized suitcase – Rock sunwave large suitcase: £195, Rockluggage.com
  • Best medium suitcase – Tripp banana holiday 6 cabin four-wheel suitcase: £59.50, Tripp.co.uk
  • Best lockable cabin bag – Joules bee cabin case: £169, Joules.com

Ted Baker bow detail medium case

best suitcases luggage cabin holdall check-in travel bags
  • Best: Suitcase overall
  • Size: 69cm x 47.5cm x 28cm
  • Colourways: Three: blue, pink and black

Upgrade your explorations with this stylish suitcase from Ted Baker. Its sides feel incredibly rigid (much more so than the average hard-sided case) and we’re bowled over by the gold accents – more specifically, a tiny gold bow on the front, gold zips and gold tips on the side handles.

The suitcase opens clamshell-style to reveal two mesh-covered compartments, and Ted Baker has maxed out the capacity by incorporating two pockets into the material covering the left half (we found this especially useful for separating dirty laundry from the rest of the suitcase’s contents).

Add a simple but secure lock, spinner wheels that glide ridiculously smoothly, and internal compression straps with just the right amount of elasticity (trust us, the right compression straps make a world of difference) and we reckon this might just be one of the best suitcases on the market right now.

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Kipling spontaneous S suitcase

best suitcases luggage cabin holdall check-in travel bags
  • Best: Soft suitcase
  • Size: 33cm x 53cm x 21cm
  • Colourways: Five: black, bright blue, metallic, brush stripe pattern and light blue

We’ve always thought Kipling’s suitcases are seriously underestimated, and the spontaneous S is a case (excuse the pun) in point. This soft-sided case’s low weight (2.8kg) stems largely from the use of polyamide – a material that is tough yet light.

An oversized side handle made it easy to haul out of cramped overhead luggage compartments, and the large zippered pocket on the front was perfect for important items (such as boarding passes and passports) that we needed quick access to.

Inside, things get even better. A funky map-inspired design adorns the material that zips over the case’s two halves, and we’re fully in favour of Kipling’s decision to ditch traditional X-shaped compression straps, opting instead for two adjustable straps that span the width of one side of the suitcase.

  1. £195 from Kipling.com
Prices may vary
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Antler Clifton case in mineral, large

best suitcases luggage cabin holdall check-in travel bags
  • Best: Hard suitcase
  • Size: 20cm x 40cm x 55cm
  • Colourways: Ten: mineral, slate grey, sycamore, ochre, black, navy, blush, taupe, azure and poppy

We’re very aware colourways are probably the least important factor when it comes to suitcases, but we can’t help but be impressed by the choice of 10 shades when it comes to this hard-sided case.

Prone to overpacking? You’ll appreciate the expander zip, as well as the extra-sturdy compression straps you’ll find inside the case.

There’s a sense that no expense has been spared on materials with this bag – the telescopic handle glides out incredibly smoothly and feels wonderfully tactile, and there’s a reassuring sturdiness to every single component, whether it’s the zips, the wheels or the TSA-compliant padlock.

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Burton wheelie flight deck 38l travel bag

best suitcases luggage cabin holdall check-in travel bags
  • Best: Large suitcase
  • Size: 56cm x 35.5cm x 23cm
  • Colourways: Two: black and blue

Burton’s fight deck case has gone through several reincarnations, although the interior has remained pretty much the same, as has the emphasis on toughness and sturdiness. This isn’t the lightest suitcase you’ll come across, but it will stand up to a serious amount of wear and tear, thanks partly to its extra-thick side walls and the various areas of reinforcement – whether it’s the plastic corner caps or the reinforced handle.

We were sceptical about Burton’s so-called “volume-enhancing stretch CRAM zones”, but we were proved wrong – as notorious over-packers, we loved the way the zippered covers for the respective halves had a huge amount of elasticity, unlike standard covers.

  1. £235 from Burton.com
Prices may vary
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Samsonite proxis spinner

best suitcases luggage cabin holdall check-in travel bags
  • Best: Wheeled suitcase
  • Size: 81cm x 57cm x 32cm
  • Colourways: Six: black, petrol blue, honey gold, matte graphite, matte climbing ivy and lime green

Spinner wheels don’t get smoother than the ones you’ll find on the Samsonite proxis, although that’s far from the only reason we love this lightweight suitcase, which weighs just 3.6kg.

Made with roxkin (Samsonite’s very own, ultra-tough version of polypropylene), it’s a suitcase that isn’t just incredibly tough but has clearly been designed by frequent travellers. Added extras – such as the retractable, integrated ID tag, and the presence of multiple internal compartments – haven’t simply been added without thought, but because they’re genuinely useful add-ons.

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Tripp banana holiday 6 cabin four-wheel suitcase

best suitcases luggage cabin holdall check-in travel bags
  • Best: Medium suitcase
  • Size: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm
  • Colourways: Five: yellow, pink, blue, grey and red

There are lots of things we love about this suitcase, starting with the fact it’s nigh on impossible to miss it on the luggage carousel, thanks to its banana-yellow hue.

It lacks the rigidity we’d expect from more expensive suitcases but, as a cabin bag, it’s more than up to the job. It also comes with various features that aren’t always guaranteed on suitcases at this price point. These include the TSA-compliant lock and the reinforcements above the four wheels.

  1. £59 from Tripp.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Rock sunwave large suitcase

best suitcases luggage cabin holdall check-in travel bags
  • Best: Super-sized suitcase
  • Size: 79cm x 53cm x 38.5cm
  • Colourways: Six: peach, charcoal grey, white, blue, pink and black

This stylish suitcase, made from ultra-tough polypropylene, is perfect for anyone who struggles with the concept of travelling light. The simplicity of the interior – which comprises two compartments, one of which has X-shaped compression straps – allowed us to make full use of its size, and the brilliant expander zip meant we could create a little more space for some unplanned purchases.

The spinner wheels are double ones, which makes them less prone to wear and tear, due to the weight being spread more evenly, and we loved the fact the case comes with an impressive 15-year warranty.

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Suitcases FAQs

What size does a wheeled suitcase need to be for cabin storage?

This will vary slightly depending on the airline you’re flying with. Generally, you can bring one cabin bag for free, with the option to pay more for a larger bag. Easyjet for instance, allows a 45cm x 36cm x 20cm cabin bag or you can pay more for another, larger bag up to 56cm x 45cm x 25 cm. Similarly, British Airways and Jet2 both allow cabin bags with dimensions up to 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.

What are the best luggage brands to shop?

Depending on how far your budget will stretch and what style of case you’re looking for, there are both lifestyle designers such as Joules or Ted Baker and specialised luggage brands such as Antler, Tripp, Samsonite and Rock to choose from.

Is hard or soft material better?

Hard shell suitcases may provide more protection while being more resistant to the elements and easier to clean, compared to a soft material. That being said, softer materials tend to stretch more which is perfect if you plan on arriving home with more than you set out with. Outside pockets and storage sleeves are more common with soft shell luggage though, which makes important items more accessible during the journey.

What type of luggage is most lightweight?

For the most part, you’ll probably find that soft shell suitcases made with nylon or polycarbonate are more lightweight than their hard shell counterparts.

The verdict: Suitcases

We loved Ted Baker’s bow detail medium case, simply because everything about this suitcase is premium, whether it’s the thick compression straps or the abundance of pockets in the interior. Top-quality materials bagged Kipling’s spontaneous S suitcase the title of best soft-sided suitcase, while we were absolutely smitten with the look of the Joules bee cabin case, as well as the neat internal design and the toughness of the materials used.

For more travel essentials, read our round-up of the best travel wallets and packing cubes

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