That means no longer having to blindly and aimlessly rummage through your bag in the overhead compartment for one tiny thing before takeoff. Topo Designs put padding almost everywhere this bag touches your body, which also makes running through the airport with two minutes to board less torturous on your frame. Almost everything about the Global Travel bag has been configured to allow you to customize it with the brand’s assortment of packing gear: The daisy chain lets you hook on accessory packs; the sizing of the compartments is perfectly measured to accommodate storage cubes; and attachment clips further turn you into a pack mule for even more baggage options.

The Best Do-Everything Duffel: Peak Design Travel Duffel

If you have duffels reserved for specific purposes—travel, the gym, schlepping your everyday goods—then you have more space than us, friends. Peak Design, a brand that’s become famous for its ingenious storage solutions for hauling camera and video gear, makes a travel duffel that fits the bill for every purpose. Available in 35- and 65-liter options (only the former can be used as a carry-on), the Travel duffel is one of the nicer bags we’ve seen in the sub-$150 price bracket.

There’s also something every satisfying about the way the hand-carry straps snap together with a magnet, and if your arms are getting tired, those straps can be work on your back. The extra-wide zipper allows for great access to your goods, and some internal pockets make it easier to know where you’ve put your chargers, passports, and other miscellaneous travel goods. While the duffel doesn’t fold into itself like the Patagonia bag below, it does fold down fairly flat. One of our staffers brings this duffel with him on his travels and stores it in his other carry-on in case the travel shopping bug bites him and one bag isn’t enough to get his goodies home.

The Best Convertible Travel Bag: Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Bag


Black Hole Duffel Bag, 40L

Remember that hapless kid in fifth grade the whole class mocked for showing up with a rolling backpack the first day of school? (People don’t forget!) Well, if you still holding onto some secondhand trauma from the incident, Patagonia’s streamlined duffel might be good enough to risk straining your back to carry. Late last year, Patagonia updated its popular line of Black Hole bags, swapping out the high-gloss finish for a new matte look that makes good on the eco-conscious brand’s commitment to sustainable sourcing. Aside from the new 100% recycled thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) finish, essentially everything about this bag is the same. While we miss the look of the OG bags, we’re happy to say the duffel loses none of the specs or details that made the originals so damn great.

The body fabric, lining, and webbing are all made out of water-resistant recycled materials designed to keep your valuables dry, while two padded straps make for an easy switch if you’d rather sling it over your shoulders like a carry-on backpack. The bag’s handles are also specially reinforced to make for comfortable hand-carrying so your lower vertebrae will hold up fine no matter how far your terminal is from the gate. Best of all, the whole thing folds into itself for storage. With all due respect to your childhood classmate (who you definitely owe an apology), sometimes carrying your bag just looks cooler than wheeling it around.

The Best Truly Budget Carry-On: Amazon Basics Hardside Spinner

We’ve all been there: You forgot to pack for your trip in two days, and wait, you don’t have a suitcase. Take advantage of that Prime membership burning a monthly hole in your credit card statement, and scoop up the most popular carry-on Amazon from its namesake brand. With over 45,000 overwhelmingly positive reviews to its credit, this 20-inch hardside spinner has earned more than its fair share of compliments like “perfect for the price,” “light and sturdy,” and “great, all-around suitcase.” For an suitcase that costs less than a Benjamin, this spinner is built pretty well and features everything you’d want from a quality spinner: an expander, interior zippered pocket with additional storage, and smooth-rolling wheels for breezing through that moving walkway like you’re The Flash.

4 More Carry-Ons We Like

We’ve also assembled a number of other worthy alternatives that’ll help you jet off in style, even if you’re on a Frontier budget. These may be slightly less accessible or less well-rounded than our top picks—and some of these we haven’t had the luxury of testing ourselves—but they boast many of the same features you’d hope for in a well-traveled suitcase, from easy-gripping telescoping handles to a roomy, organized interior.


22-Inch 19 Degrees International Expandable Spinner Carry-On

Perhaps no other suitcase brand on the planet has the same name recognition as a Tumi, the workhorse luggage of choice for business travelers, and plenty of celebrities, since it first came on the scene in the ‘70s. Beyond the absolute basics—trustworthy zippers, a bevy of pockets and dividers, and locks for keeping everyone else out except the TSA—this shellacked spinner has style in spades. Add to that a Lever Lock system that fully enables your overpacking tendencies, and Tumi’s tracing system (in case you ever lose sight of your bag), and you have hardly any reasons not to scoop one. The polished diagonal ridges on this spinner give it some subtle Rimowa vibes, too, without entreating you spend more than $1,000.

Upgrading from the $30 Carhartt duffel you’ve had since college to something slightly more distinguished? North Face’s base camp bag is the next logical progression, with a similar rugged style for outdoorsy folks, plus a water-resistant, recycled exterior that can handle a little dirt and distressing. It’s extremely generous with a 50 liter capacity for tucking in gear, clothes, and beyond. Plus, the price point at under $150 is just right. It’s probably the next best thing if for some reason Patagonia’s high-vis logos aren’t to your liking and you’d prefer something stealthier to haul your stuff into the great outdoors or onto the main cabin.

In the war between direct-to-consumer suitcases, Away is the clear winner by sheer popularity. But for anyone trying hard to not cave into peer pressure, Monos makes a comparable hardside suitcase that doesn’t scream Instagram-obsessive-millennial. It’s built with nearly the same specs as Away’s carry-on and features nearly all the same design details from the interior compression, included laundry bag, 360-degree spinner wheels, and ribbed exterior. It’s a whole Andrew Jackson less than the Away if that’s enough to sway you to shop a suitcase from a lesser-known brand.

Help your suitcase stand out in a sea of black nylon by copping a polycarbonate spinner in robin’s egg blue. Floyd’s retro carry-on spinners are inspired by ‘70s skating culture (peep the wheels!), with a breezy, laid-back sensibility that’ll help ease you into the vacation mindset. The glaringly orange, well-apportioned storage section inside only amplifies the brand’s ethos of good vibes and great design. If you want swervier luggage that doesn’t look like everyone else’s in the terminal, this one’s a solid bet that perfectly blends high-vis colorblocking and design chops.

What’s the Difference Between Soft and Hardside Carry-On Bags?

Hardside luggage used to be a bit of a novelty. If you had any 15 years ago, you might have been one of the few people in the airport hauling around their characteristic sleek shells—which made finding your bag at the luggage carousel a lot easier. But as these models started to become available in polycarbonate plastics, hardside options become just as ubiquitous as their soft shell counterparts.


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