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Best carry-on luggage 2021: Top picks for travelers

Business travel is starting to pick back up as the pandemic begins to recede. We narrow down the best carry-on luggage options for on-the-go business travelers in this guide.

Business travel is not only optional for many corporations in today's economy, it's a necessity. Even though the pandemic of 2020 wrought economic havoc on travel and tourism -- a $4.5 trillion loss in global GDP -- the business show must go on. Domestic and international business travel is still a reality for many employees. 

Of course, business travel means luggage. Frequent business travelers have packing down to a science. Many rely on basic travel gear and carry-on gadgets to make business travel a seamless affair. But the options for carry-on luggage are endless. 
To help narrow down the search, here are some of the best carry-on luggage options available to business travelers on the go.

Generally, carry-on luggage options are broken down into four categories: Hardside (hard shell), softside, two-wheeled, and four-wheeled (also known as spinner luggage). Two-wheeled luggage is the typical walk-behind style, while four-wheeled or spinner luggage allows for multidirectional use, meaning you can roll your luggage alongside you as you walk.

Amazon Basics hardside carry-on spinner

Comes in four colors: Black, navy blue, blue, and orange


Type: Hardside; Spinner | Weight: 7.34 lbs | Size: 21-inch | Dimensions: 14.9 x 10 x 21.6 inches | Capacity: 39 liters | Price: $74.99 on Amazon

The hardside carry-on suitcase from Amazon offers business travelers an option that won't break the bank. It comes in four color options: black, navy blue, blue, and orange. 

 Durable for the price
The ABS (three blends of plastic) shell is made of, you guessed it: three blends of plastic. It provides good impact and heat resistance, and features a scratch-resistance finish. 
Expandable interior
The interior is fully lined, complete with three zippered pockets for storing small items. A divider is included, and the suitcase is expandable for additional capacity -- up to 15% more space.
Comfortable and maneuverable
The suitcase's comfortable telescoping handle extends to 11-20 inches, and its four-wheeled design makes it great for multidirectional use. The enhanced maneuverability makes it easier to move inside those tight airline aisles. It also has two carry handles on each side. 
Bottom line
Its durability and affordability make it a safe option. But the ABS material is a cheaper and less flexible plastic compared to those made from polycarbonate. This option would work best for the less-frequent business traveler. 

$74 at Amazon

Travelpro Maxlite 4 expandable rollaboard carry-on

Lightweight, flexible, and weather-resistant canvas material


Type: Softside; Two-wheeled | Weight: 6 lbs | Size: 22-inch | Dimensions: 22 14  x 9 inches |  Capacity: 51 liters | Price: $129.99 on Amazon

This great softside carry-on option from Travelpro brings travel design experience with it. Travelpro has been committed to making premium, high-quality luggage for over 25 years.

Durability to last
The lightweight yet flexible canvas material means this suitcase is built to last. In addition, it features a water-repellent coating on both the interior and exterior, providing complete stain protection. For an added buffer, guards are placed in damage-prone areas.
Packing efficiency
This suitcase features a full-size lip compartment to store all your freshly-pressed business attire, complete with mesh pockets and hold-down straps. The main compartment expands up to two inches to maximize packing space.
Ideal design for travel
The Maxlite 4 features an expandable telescoping handle up to 42.5 inches. The rollaboard, two-wheeled design features ball-bearing lined wheels for smoother rolling, and crash guards protect the wheel housing. 
Bottom line
With a limited lifetime warranty, this carry-on option is made for travelers, by travelers. However, its design limits itself to business travelers who carry little in the way of gadgets.  

$129 at TravelPro

Nomatic carry-on pro

Polycarbonate design is durable


Type: Hardside; Four-wheeled | Weight: 8.86 lbs | Size: 22-inch | Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 inches | Capacity: 29 liters | Price: $549.99 on Nomatic

If you're looking for an innovative design for your carry-on luggage needs, look no further than the Nomatic Carry-On Pro. It is well suited for the business traveler who has tech organization as a top priority. 

Innovative design
The Nomatic Carry-On Pro features a tech compartment, providing enough space for a 15-inch laptop, including a tech case and bag, all stored away in a foldable compression panel. 
Seamless packing efficiency
This suitcase not only features various compartments dedicated to your necessary tech, but it also has plenty of space for 1-3 days' worth of business attire, kept in place with adjustable magnetic compression straps.

Lifetime use
The Nomatic Carry-On Pro has a lifetime warranty. Its polycarbonate design is durable and meant to hold up in any condition. The four-wheeled design features hinomoto wheels that make for quiet and quick maneuverability. 

Bottom line
It is hard to beat this sleek and tech-forward design. The only cons would be its steep price and its lack of exterior compartments. 

$549 at Nomatic

Baseline Domestic carry-on expandable spinner

Water-repellent, ballistic nylon design


Type: Softside; Four-wheeled | Weight: 9.3 lbs | Size: 22-inch | Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 inches | Capacity: Up to 46.4 liters | Price: $599.99 on Briggs and Riley

This carry-on from Briggs and Riley is perfect for domestic business travelers who simply desire functionality and durability.  

Well-crafted design
Briggs and Riley know how to hit the mark when it comes to luggage design. The water-repellent, ballistic nylon design lends itself to lifetime use. The bag corners are reinforced with guards for long-lasting protection. 
Loads of packing space
This suitcase expands up to 2.5 inches, affording up to 25% more packing space. It also features numerous pockets, inside and out. Two mesh panels at the top of the bag make a perfect space for pressed business attire, and they work well with the tri-fold garment suiter. 
Great maneuverability 
This carry-on option has a four-wheeled design, double-swiveled for 360 degrees of movement -- perfect for all those airport and aisle navigations.
Bottom line
Once again, premium design demands a premium price. Although it is slightly heavier than other options, the well-crafted design and lifetime guarantee make it a top contender. 

$599 at Briggs-Riley

Tortuga Setout backpack

Allows for hands-free convenience


Type: Carry-on backpack | Weight: 3.8 lbs | Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 9 inches | Capacity: 35; 45 liter options | Price: $125 - $139 on Tortuga

Wheeled carry-on luggage usually garners all the praise from business travelers, but don't overlook the advantages of carry-on backpacks. Simply put, carry-on backpacks allow hands-free convenience. 

Here's one option among many: The Tortuga Setout backpack.

The Setout backpack works great as a carry-on bag. Tortuga has two options: max-sized international (35-liter capacity) and max-sized US (45-liter capacity). 

Optimal packing
This backpack features plenty of room for clothes and toiletries, along with compartments and pockets for various accessories or documents, and laptops/tablet sleeves meant for laptops up to 17 inches.
Built for comfort
The Setout backpack has a padded hip belt for comfort and security, as well as hideaway shoulder straps that act as load lifters to ease the weight as you bear your business load. 
Bottom line
Carry-on backpacks are becoming more and more popular, as they do not sacrifice packing space. The non-wheeled alternative is multi-use: great for navigating airports or hiking your favorite trail. 

View Now at Tortuga

Which is the right carry-on luggage for you?

Choosing the right carry-on luggage can be difficult when the options seem endless. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. First, become familiar with the carry-on restrictions and allowances of the airlines you frequent -- each is different. 
  2. How often do you travel? You need something that will hold up over time if you travel frequently. Also, where will you be traveling? (e.g., What will the weather conditions be?)
  3. What are your must-have essentials? (Laptop, tablets, headphones, trackers, etc.)
  4. Also, consider the quality of the materials, the weight, the style and look, etc. 

The list could go on, but these are important considerations. The bottom line is simple: It must work for you.