Leading an adventurous and well-traveled life comes with baggage. Well, luggage at least.
If your kit and kaboodle has seen some mileage, buying new gear can be a money saver in the long run. And toting the right type of luggage to fit current-day airline luggage rules will help you avoid extra fees and enable you to comply with carry-on restrictions and check-in weight limits.
But figuring out which luggage to buy isn’t easy. With countless styles, sizes, and prices to compare, the task can be overwhelming. To help you arrive at your luggage decision destination, Consumer Reports reviewed a variety of luggage types. Consider these factors before you shop.
Solving the Case: Luggage Basics
Decide How You’ll Use It
Is it for flying, driving, cruising, or some other purpose? For airplane travel, familiarise yourself with the luggage rules of the airlines you plan to patronise. If it’s for road trips, look for bags that are pliable enough to maximise your trunk space. For cruise ships – which stack baggage in the boat’s belly before departure – flat, rigid luggage is optimal.
Consider How You’ll Store It
Once the luggage gets home, where will you put it? Hard-sided bags are the most unforgiving; you can’t squeeze them into a storage space. Soft-sided, structured bags have a little forgiveness on the front and back, but the footprint is fixed. If you have no place to store a stand-up suitcase, you may have to limit yourself to unstructured duffels.
Know Which Size You Need
This will depend mainly on the length of your trip and, if you are flying, airline luggage restrictions. It also depends on your own habits. Some people can pack for two weeks in their carry-on and an under seat personal item.
Variations on the Valise
Ask yourself this: How many bags do you really need, and what sizes will cover all your needs?
A carry-on bag is one you can take aboard the airplane and stow in the overhead bin. To avoid being forced to check your suitcase for later retrieval on the conveyor belt, buy a bag that conforms to the strictest rules in the industry.
Any suitcase larger than carry-on size must be checked. The most common size options are 65 – 75cm in height. You can find suitcases as large as 86cm but check with your carrier for size limits. There’s usually a weight limit, with extra fees applied for excess weight per bag.
Soft-Sided or Ironsides?
Soft-sided luggage continues to dominate the market, but hard-sided is quickly gaining popularity because of newer, lightweight materials.
What’s in a Wheel?
Wheeled suitcases make up at least two-thirds of all luggage sales today. If you plan on rolling your own luggage, your first decision is whether to buy a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler.
Suitcases with two wheels, also called trolley cases, utilise the same type of wheels found on in-line skates—they roll only forward and backward, not side to side. The suitcase rolls behind you as you pull it from the extending handle.
Pros: Wheels are recessed, which protects them from snapping off during rough handling. For urban journeyers, two-wheelers are better than four-wheelers for clearing curbs and rolling on uneven surfaces such as sidewalks or cobblestones.
Cons: Some travelers complain that the dragging position causes shoulder, wrist, or back pain. Also, it can be cumbersome to drag a two-wheeler in a crowded space because you need clearance between yourself and the bag. Recessed wheels intrude into the bag’s interior packing area.
Also known as spinners because each wheel swivels 360 degrees, as on a shopping cart. You can push them, pull them, wheel them alongside yourself, and turn them in any direction.
Pros: Easier to navigate in tight spaces. A heavy or large suitcase may be easier to manage with four wheels. Ergonomically, the spinner is a better choice than the roller because it does not put stress on your shoulder.
Cons: Spinner wheels take up some overhead-bin space because the length of the wheels is included in the overall allowable dimensions. A spinner won’t remain stationary on an incline; you have to lay it on its side if the floor is on even a slight gradient.
Time to Upgrade? Some Shopping Tips.
Take a Tape Measure
Know the rules of the airlines you plan to fly. Measure the dimensions yourself and make sure the measurements account for all parts, including outer pouches, wheels, and handles.
Hold That Handle
Check the wrist angle and the feel of the grip. For maximum durability, the handle should have little wiggling or rattling as you pull the bag. Also check for smooth movement as you pull it up and retract it.
Wheel It Around
The wheels should roll smoothly and stay in place. Gently jiggle the wheels with your hands to make sure they are firmly attached.
Check the Interior Capacity
The outside measurements are important, but don’t forget to consider how roomy the inside is. This can be difficult to do because some manufacturers do not disclose the interior volume. Look for the features that maximise interior space. These include:
- Squared edges: Interior volume is sacrificed with curved corners.
- Integrated outer compartments: Outside zip compartments should be on the same geometric plane as the main part of the bag.
Check the Warranty
If you want your bag for the long haul, get the one with the best manufacturer’s warranty. A lifetime warranty to repair or replace the bag is, of course, the best option.