As you can probably tell I love to travel which means that my luggage is very important to me. However, when I began searching for an affordable carry on I couldn’t find any good information on what to look for. It was just blog posts filled with affiliate links written by someone who most likely never even touched the bags that they were recommending.
That’s why I decided I write this article (also containing affiliate links [gotta pay the bills]). I actually bought these bags with my own money (hence the affiliate links) to give you the best possible review.
Here’s What to Look for When Searching for Luggage
The most important part of any piece of luggage is the material that it’s made out of. Most modern luggage is made from the following:
Made of a Good Material
Aluminum-this is the gold standard for suitcases. It’s lightweight and durable. It’s fallen out of fashion because its very expensive but you can still find it in high-end brands like Tumi and Rimowa.
Polycarbonate-Nowadays higher-end bags are using polycarbonate. This is a molded type of thermoplastic polymer and is a very popular material for hard luggage. It is lighter than aluminum but still very durable and offers more style choices, e.g. in colors and patterns.
Another important benefit of polycarbonate as a luggage material is how impact-resistant it is. Upon impact, the material flexes to absorb the impact and then flexes back to its original shape, making polycarbonate luggage extremely resilient to rough handling.
Polypropylene is not as durable as polycarbonate but it’s extremely light making it an ideal choice for someone who’s primary concern is their suitcase being as lightweight as possible
Finally, we have Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS plastic). This is the cheapest plastic used in hardshell cases. This is the same stuff that legos are made out of. It’s lighter than polycarbonate but it’s also the most brittle.
But wait? What if we combine ABS with another plastic? Could we then get a ‘goldie locks’ material that’s both lightweight and durable? Yes! That’s why many mid-range cases will use an ABS Polycarbonate blend (keep this in mind later).
A good way to tell the quality of the material is how hard it feels. ABS plastic feels thin and brittle (because it is) and makes a higher-pitched sound when you hit it. Polycarbonate feels more flexible (because it is) and makes more of a low-pitched thud like a bass drum when you hit it.
Here’s a youtube video comparing polycarbonate with ABS plastic
A Handle That Doesn’t Wobble
After you’ve assessed the material you need to look for a telescopic handle (the one that goes up and down) that doesn’t wobble a lot. The more wobbly it is the cheaper material and construction quality it is. Almost all luggage under $100 will have really wobbly telescopic handles.
One of the reasons I don’t recommend the Amazon Basic 21″ case is because the handle was so wobbly I felt like it was going to break off in my hand. The reviews confirmed my suspicion.
The casters (a fancy way of saying wheels) should feel firmly attached to the case and should be rubberized. The most durable casters are the line skate two-wheel system. They can stand up to rough ground more and since they don’t spin around nor stick out of the side of the bag they’re less likely to fail.
There’s a reason you see most flight crew with inline skate suitcases. That being said spinners are more and more popular with most travelers because they give you a wider range of motion and are more stable, that is the bag is less likely to tip over than two-wheeled models.
A Good Zipper
Most luggage nowadays uses zipper fasteners but there are more and more that are going back to more old-school style locks. Since most luggage use zippers we’ll focus on that for this article.
The best way to tell if the zipper is of high quality is the pulls. That’s these things here. A suitcase zipper needs to be able to withstand a lot of punishment and thin metal or even worse plastic pulls (like on this $40 case) are a sign of a low-quality zipper system.
A good zipper should zip and unzip easily without the head getting caught with all the teeth in perfect alignment. Next, you want to check the tape. There shouldn’t be any fraying, loose strings, or God forbid holes in the tape.