Carry-on Luggage

Tuesday, 18 November 2008 | Tags: , , , ,

Carry-on luggage is appealing for frequent flyers and short trippers because there's no need to check your bags, no waiting at the baggage carousel, and most importantly, no lost luggage.

The Basics

  • Size and shape vary, but they’re all meant to fit either in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you.

    • Wheeled carry-ons look like mini suitcases with handles and wheels, and typically don’t exceed 22 inches. Some backpacks and smaller duffle bags also have handles and wheels.

    • Some garment bags are considered carry-on depending on size and the airline. Good choice for people traveling with business wear that’s best kept on hangers. Some even have wheels.

    • Tote bags are more casual. Many people use these to hold necessities while their main luggage checked.

  • Wheels are an important component: if they don’t work properly, it can be a frustrating trip.

    • Seasoned travellers prefer in-line skate wheels, which use the durable ball-bearing system and are inset into the bag structure for extra sturdiness.

    • Wheels on a plastic axle deteriorate faster because the plastic heats up as you race through the airport.

    • Most bags have two wheels. Some have 4 wheels, designed to give you better manoeuvrability in narrow spaces.

  • Material is another key consideration:

    • Polyester isn’t quite as rugged as nylon, which is also easier to clean.

    • The type of nylon is important: lightweight nylon tears easily. Look for ballistic nylon (also used in Kevlar bullet-proof vests).

    • Some material is treated with Teflon, but that only makes the bag resistant to spills and stains, not bumps and scrapes.

    • Hard-sided bags made of ABS plastic crack easily. Polypropylene is a better choice.

  • Look for extra reinforcement, like triple stitching and rivets on shoulder straps and handles.

Other Considerations

  • Feel how heavy it is empty, and double that or more to estimate weight when full. If it’s on wheels, you’re probably ok.

  • External pockets can be convenient for holding frequently accessed items like your tickets and passport.

  • Some bags can be expanded with a quick zip –handy for accommodating new purchases. However, keep in mind size limits. Expanding your bag may mean you have to check it rather than carry it on.

Be Aware

  • Be sure to check your airline’s carry-on size specifications. If your luggage doesn’t comply, you’ll be required to check it.


We traveled over 1000 kilometres in one day to see how well these four different carry-ons fared:

  • Delsey (hard shell; 2.8 kg): $200
  • Victorinox Swiss Army (soft shell; 3.5 kg): $220
  • Samsonite (soft with hard shell edges; 4 kg): $135
  • Skyway (soft shell; 4.1 kg): $70

Our tests and results include:

Size Test

  • The Victorinox gave us some trouble even before we checked in as it did not fit in the provided holder at the airport in order to be classified as “carry-on”. Fortunately we got special permission to take it on with us and it did fit in the overhead storage compartment. However, overhead bin sizes vary by aircraft, so this bag has its size risks.

Capacity Test

  • We were able to put the exact same contents into each bag, so there were no remarkable differences in capacity.

Ruggedness Test

We threw each bag down a flight of concrete stairs to see how much abuse they could take:

  • Apart from some cosmetic damage, they were all intact.

Function Test

It came down to function as the deciding factor:

  • The Samsonite was noticeably heavier, and its four-wheel system almost made it too mobile especially on slopes; however, it was good in an elevator and other tight spaces.

  • The Victorinox wasn’t a bad piece of luggage, but its size made it more of a suitcase, not a carry-on.

  • The Skyway was the heaviest, but its other features like expandability and affordable price made it a favourite

  • The Delsey bag was light and deceivingly small in appearance, though was able to hold as much as the bigger looking bags.


Inset wheels, durable fabric and overall construction are the key things to look for, but otherwise, we leave it up to personal choice.


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