Recommended carry-on bags

This item appears on page 33 of the February 2020 issue.

My Lug Zipliner shoulder bag can convert to a backpack. Photo by Merle Orozco

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 a number of subscribers’ responses last month, and we’ll print the remainder next month.


Over decades of travel, I’ve gone through various wheeled carry-ons, even buying an expensive one that ended up being too heavy. I’ve learned that some luggage makers might say they have a lifetime guarantee, but when you make a claim, a fine-print disclaimer is in force. However, Eagle Creek (eaglecreek.com) upholds its guarantee, even when a suitcase is many years old.

Nearly a decade ago, I went to a store called Magellan’s and purchased an Eagle Creek bag. A year or so ago, I returned to the store, which is now called CircaTerra Travel Outfitters (Santa Barbara, CA; 805/568-5402, www.circaterratravel.com), and they helped me ship my worn-out, ripped bag to Eagle Creek, who decided against repairing it and exchanged it for a new suitcase of similar size.

On a later trip to CircaTerra, when I was in the market for a carry-on, the staff took their time, asking me questions about my needs, in order for me to find the right luggage. They taught me the advantages of 4-wheeled carry-ons, and I purchased the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior 4-Wheel International [$249]. I have since used it on more than a couple international trips and am satisfied this was the right choice.

Here are the specifics: 21.8"x13.8"x7.8", with a capacity of 2,260 cubic inches (37 liters), expandable to 2,440, and weighing 4 pounds 12 ounces. It has a lifetime warranty.

Hoisting a carry-on can put stress on the shoulder, especially for people like me who have rotator cuff issues. Other brands may be lighter in weight, but having a true “lifetime” guarantee is reassuring.

The four wheels make it much easier to move. I find having the carry-on at my side is much easier on the shoulder than pulling the carry-on behind me.

Greg Stathakis
Santa Barbara, CA

 

At a local luggage retailer in early 1999, my husband and I purchased an Eagle Creek (eaglecreek.com) carry-on bag, which has been with us to all seven continents and on many trips within the US. In the 20 years we have owned our Eagle Creek bag, we have been more than happy with it. We still use this bag today and highly recommend this company and its products.

Though designs have changed in the past 20 years, this carry-on is a 2-wheeled soft-sided bag that converts to a backpack. It also has a small front day pack, which can easily be zipped off the main bag.

In addition to carry-on bags, Eagle Creek’s website has wonderful packing cubes and garment folders and great organizers. We own several and use them on every trip.

Sally Bingley
Richmond, VA

 

My recommendation for a carry-on is a soft-sided Lug (www.luglife.com) Porter Wheelie, which measures 21"x14"x9". The cost is $200.

For a carry-on, I prefer a soft-sided bag, allowing flexibility when trying to put it in a tight or small space. I have not tried putting it under a seat, but I do know it fits in the overhead bin.

This roller bag has four dual spinner wheels, making it easy to maneuver. It has a retractable handle drop of 10 to 19 inches and a handle drop of 1½ inches and weighs only 5.1 pounds empty.

Organizational pockets include a lined slip pocket in front with magnetic closure, a front zippered pocket, two side cargo pockets with double-zip closure and a trolley sleeve. Its retractable handle has a zip pocket.

The inside compartment is roomy and can hold a change of clothes, a couple pairs of shoes and a sweater or a packable down jacket or windbreaker. I suggest using packing cubes.

As for the personal bag, I like the Lug Zipliner, a shoulder bag that can convert to a backpack. The interior dimensions are 15"x12"x4", the bag weighs a little over a pound empty, and the cost is $85.

It has three RFID-blocking zippered pockets in front, a front slip pocket, a back zippered pocket and an insulated zippered pocket on the side. It has a lined interior featuring two slip pockets and a back zippered pocket.

This serves as my day pack, and it can hold my camera with an 18mm-200mm zoom lens, a small point-and-shoot camera, extra batteries, a notebook, tissues, hand sanitizers, brochures/tickets, etc.

The insulated side zip pocket is good for keeping a water bottle cold.

I also like the bright color prints and styles of Lug bags. The color of my carry-on is “Camo Berry,” and my Zipliner is “Wine Red.” Lug products come in neutral colors too (for example, black, navy, gray or walnut).

I purchased mine from QVC. Other retailers also carry Lugs.

Merle Orozco
Simi Valley, CA

 

Like Evenyl Roemmich, I travel with only a carry-on and a personal bag. For the past 12 years, as my carry-on, I’ve used a Jansport (www.jansport.com) 2-wheeler-cum-backpack that I got secondhand at my local shoe-repair shop. It has managed well.

• The smaller item is an Eagle Creek backpack/purse (and I have no idea where I found that).

Jo Rawlins Gilbert
Palo Alto, CA

 

I actually check my carryon-size bag, but I certainly don’t have to, at least in the US. My bag is a 22-inch, 2-wheeled Eagle Creek, which I have had since I retired my previous, convertible Eagle Creek backpack after 10 years of use.

The Tarmac Carry-On [$319] is the closest to the model I am using. While 4-wheelers seem to be more popular these days, I’m not convinced they are as sturdy as 2-wheelers.

• For a personal bag, I use an REI (www.rei.com) day pack (shoulder straps but no hip belt) that can fit under the seat in front of me.

Kathy Wilhelm
Cary, NC

 

After 20 years and many miles, the Rick Steves Hide-Away Tote Bag remains my favorite personal bag for flights and bus or car tours. I’ve tried others but keep returning to this old reliable.

It weighs practically nothing, it’s only as large as what I put in it, and both of its zippered compartments can be padlocked. At 22"×16"×8", it may be used by some travelers as their only bag.

Folded into its outside pocket, it can be used as a pillow on outward flights and then, expanded, provide a second checked bag for return flights. No need to search for a bag in a strange place to accommodate souvenirs! (I did check it once.)

After a trip, I hand- or machine-wash it and hang it to drip-dry.

I believe I paid $20 for it all those years ago, and it’s still available for $20 at store.ricksteves.com/shop/p/nylon-tote-bag.

Carole
Waterloo, IA

 

I swear by Eagle Creek bags. They are mid-priced, last forever and carry a lifetime (replace or repair) guarantee. I did have to have a repair done to an earlier bag and was very pleased with the service and the speed of the repair.

My current bag — a standard-size carry-on with two wheels — is at least five years old. I don’t remember what model it is, as it’s no longer available. If I ever lost it (which would be the only time I would have to buy a new bag because of the lifetime guarantee!), I’d get another Eagle Creek.

I’ve never used anything but 2-wheeled bags and find them very workable.

• For a personal bag, I use a PacSafe (www.pacsafe.com) Metrosafe LS350 Daypack [$99.95], but there are lots of other Pacsafe options.

It fits easily under the airplane seat and is roomy enough to carry everything one needs on a long flight or to live out of for a couple of days, as I recently did in Berlin.

The Metrosafe has two compartments, one of which is padded for a laptop and both of which lock to thwart pickpockets. The laptop compartment also can hold a Camelbak-type water bladder, with a handy tube/drinking valve on the top. I have used it successfully as a day pack when hiking.

Bags from both of these companies are widely available at any number of luggage retailers or online.

Dee Poujade
Portland, OR

 

In 2010, my husband and I planned an independent, 3½-week trip to Italy, where we would exclusively be taking public transportation (bus, train, Venice water taxis, etc.). I had read that Naples had a high number of pickpockets and that tourists needed to be extra-vigilant.

I researched secure bags and came across PacSafe, a maker of antitheft purses and backpacks. Among its many antitheft features, each has stainless-steel wire mesh imbedded within the material of the backpack, which helps in preventing thieves from slashing the backpack with a knife to make the contents fall out. PacSafe items also have slash-proof straps to help thwart anyone from cutting the straps and running off with the backpack. They also have clip hooks for all the zippers.

• My husband and I each purchased a backpack. Neither of our exact styles are currently available. Mine, in design, is closest to the current City Safe TS350 [$109.95], only mine is a larger size. My backpack is made of rugged, soft, pliable nylon and is extremely light in weight.

I use it as my personal item when flying on airplanes and as my day pack when touring any city. It is able to carry, as needed, a water bottle, an umbrella, a layering jacket, my iPad, a camera and my cell phone plus other things I might choose to add for the day.

We take one or two trips annually, and we have taken multiple independent trips of at least six weeks. I do not pamper the bag in any way, and the only wear and tear after almost 10 years of travel is a couple of minor scuff marks on the center-front panel. Nothing has ever broken, torn, frayed, etc.

• The current model that is closest to my husband’s backpack is the Metrosafe LS450 [$119.95]. It is made of a 650D Polyester. This material is stiffer than nylon, and, due to the backpack’s 25-liter size, he now uses it primarily as his personal item when flying. (He has a lighter, smaller-weight day pack that he prefers for touring the cities.) After 10 years, his backpack looks brand-new.

Evenyl Roemmich, when asking for recommendations, mentioned that her Healthy Back Bag has a “single shoulder strap.” PacSafe makes single-strap, cross-body packs as well, but these may be smaller in size than she desires.

I would highly recommend any PacSafe products, as ours have met and exceeded our expectations.

Cathie Sundry
Chula Vista, CA

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 travel-made-simple.com/carry-on-size-chart. But always check with your airline(s) before departure, as limits can change.