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Best cabin bag 2021: Wheeled suitcases to backpacks | The Independent

<p>Our best picks are lightweight to make sure they stay within airline luggage weight limits</p>

Our best picks are lightweight to make sure they stay within airline luggage weight limits

(iStock/The Independent)

You might think carry-on luggage is only about two things: size and style. Whether jetting off for just a weekend, or absconding for a fortnight, you want to cram in as much as you possibly can – and look sleek while doing it.

But the ultimate cabin bag isn’t necessarily the largest, or the best looking. Durability matters – some cases look great at first but wear out quickly – as does volume (impacted not just by a bag’s dimensions but by its shape and interior layout, too).

A case that meets the 55cm x 40cm x 20cm standard will make it on to just about every flight; go over that, even by a few centimetres, and some airlines (including Ryanair) will make you pop it in the hold.

Setting out to find the best cabin bags, we felt strongly that they should also be as light as possible. As more airlines introduce weight limits on cabin luggage – 7kg to 10kg in economy class is common for many – it seems silly to plump for anything hefty, even if it does tick the other boxes.

Finally, handling is key. Even when packed to the brim, a top cabin case glides effortlessly over airport terminal floors and makes mincemeat of cobbles – it is a pleasure to wheel, not a chore. And yet it shouldn’t be so responsive as to have a life of its own: chasing a wayward bag down after you’ve paused to buy a coffee is not a great look.

Read more:

  • 10 best backpacks for women that are comfy and stylish
  • 9 best wheeled travel bags
  • 10 best cycling bags for adventures, commuting and more

Now, a word on price. If you’re a frequent flyer, a cabin bag – as opposed to hold luggage – is the place to splurge. While even the most indestructible, sleek suitcases start looking beaten up after a few trips in the hold, cabin bags, with proper care, can stay pristine for years. So buy the best you can afford; you’re (finally) going on holiday and it’s time to treat yourself.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Antler clifton cabin (universal)

This handle is a revelation. When sliding Antler’s signature cabin bag, Clifton, from a trailing position, up to run alongside you, there’s no need to adjust your grip – a clever pivoting mechanism does all the work. It’s a small innovation, but it shows a respect for the customer experience that runs through the rest of this bag.

Other things we like, and it’s a long list: the wide, sturdy wheels; the range of trendy pastel colourways; the satiny but robust interior with zipped pockets for keeping toiletries out of the way. It’s also pleasantly light, weighing just 2.8kg, and has a roomy capacity – a generous 37l. There’s a 10-year warranty, and, for less than £150, you get style and stability designed to fit every major airline. There’s nothing not to like here, whether you’re only flying occasionally or are a regular traveller.

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Away the carry-on

If there’s such a thing as a trendy luggage brand, Away is it. Modern, simple design – plus a range of on-point colourways – make this roomy case (which holds just under 40l) Instagrammable from the moment you open its sleek delivery box.

But it’s not a case (sorry) of style over substance. Even when full, Away’s four wheels glide with a buttery smoothness, changing direction with ease. The sturdy handle helps – no shaking here – and there’s enough cushion to keep it comfortable during long periods of use. The real selling point, however, is its removable 37-watt lithium-ion battery, tucked discreetly underneath the handle so you can charge on the go. And we love its personalisation service. For an extra £50, the case will bear your initials in a stylish font. It would be the perfect cabin bag, but for one thing – it’s a devastating 3cm too deep for Ryanair.

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Eastpak strapverz S

Eastpak makes some of the most durable, affordable luggage you can buy, end of story. And this clever spin on their bestselling tranverz carry-on bag proves this brand can be innovative too. On the surface it looks like a standard two-wheel cabin bag. But one quick zip and a couple of clicks later, and it’s transformed into a backpack, leaving you hands-free to wheel your hold luggage or browse in the airport duty-free shop.

Like all Eastpak bags we’ve tried – and we’ve tried a lot – this one holds more than it looks (an impressive 42l), partly thanks to the soft but sturdy nylon exterior. And the single front pocket is the right size for storing everything you’ll need on a short flight: book, tablet and passport included. Spend the £135 now, and you’ll still be using it for years to come.

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Victorinox connex global hardside carry-on

Sleek, simple, stylish – this hard case, from the company behind the Swiss army knife, feels premium in an understated way. It’s the small things that really gives this case an edge. We like the colour coding on the wheels that matches its body, and the luxuriously lined interior compartment with padded flap (no flimsy mesh here). But the best addition is the integrated tool by the handle – featuring an ID tag and USB port, you can hook up your own charger stored within the bag and go.

Padded wheels (designed by Mitsubishi, no less) let you glide to your destination clatter-free – it’s noticeably quieter than other cases when wheeled over cobbles. The sturdy, smooth sliding telescopic handle feels built to last for years of holidays or business trips. And the final flourish? A zipper that expands it out an extra 4cm, so it can hold extra kit, should your airline allowance permit.

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Stubble & Co the adventure bag

OK, this is a backpack, but hear us out. Its dimensions adhere to the standard cabin-bag allowance, packing in 42l – though it weighs just 1.8kg. And, more importantly, you needn’t wear it as a backpack: a sneaky side strap converts it into a carrier-style bag.

Who’s it for? Organisation geeks. A wonderland of pockets, zippers and hidden compartments, it keeps everything in its place, and lets you do away with wash bags or shoe containers. Slip passports in the front; a tablet down the padded side; clothing in the main section (which butterflies open like a standard-style cabin bag). It calls itself an adventure bag, and while it is, the surface feels slick, smart and premium enough for city breaks as well as outdoorsy fun. And that glorious sheen comes from recycled plastic. Eco-creds, check.

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Longchamp boxford and cabin suitcase

From the leather detailing on the zips and handle, to the shiny exterior and elegant glide – everything about this case feels glamorous. Even its deliciously deep, roomy interior is indulgent. It’s flexible, too – literally. One whip of a zip and you can expand it out to buy a couple extra inches of storage space, perfect for impromptu shopping trips. However, do take note: even if you don’t expand it, it’s a shade too large for some airlines, at 24cm deep.

Timeless navy or brown exterior reduces the visibility of nicks and keeps it elegant enough for even the most luxurious of hotel stays (though you may find you’re overdressed for EasyJet). Responsive wheels can get a tad excitable on ultra-smooth surfaces, but elsewhere feel like they could turn on a dime.

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Tripp holiday 6 cabin 4 wheel suitcase

Fresh, cheery colours. Light enough (2.7kg) to zip across pavements. Funky patterned exterior. Yep, for £56, you could do a lot worse than Tripp’s bestselling holiday 6 suitcase. It might not come with the bells and whistles you’ll find with some cases, but for the occasional traveller it more than fits the bill. Especially given its minimalist interior allows you to pack in a full 37l of travel goodies.

Is it a lifetime case? Jury’s out. While it’s bright and breezy, and seems to have a pretty strong exterior, some of the other parts – namely, the handle – don’t necessarily feel built to last decades. But once again: it’s £56. If you’re only taking a couple trips a year, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

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Snugpak roller kitmonster G2, 35l

This bag hits the sweet spot between a duffle – with all of that classic soft, cushy flexibility – and a classic cabin-roller. The super-durable design (the waterproof exterior is made of tarpaulin; a heavy-duty zip seems indestructible) means this case can take a battering, too.

Inside it’s simple, but equally effective. Separate “wet and dry” compartments are handy for storing muddy boots, soggy bathing suits or damp rain jackets. This is an outdoors enthusiast’s case that could also be used for camping trips and, probably, an expedition to Outer Mongolia.

Style mavens might be able to do without the overt “Snugpak” branding on the front. But if that doesn’t bother you – and why should it – if you’re heading on a rugged adventure to the ends of the earth, then you’ve got a solid buy here.

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Samsonite lite-shock spinner, 55cm

It’s an investment piece, certainly, but you’ll get a fair bit for your money here. Besides being feather-light – it weighs just 1.7kg yet holds 36l – the hard shell, made of woven polypropylene, is one of the most resilient we’ve come across. Faced with checking our luggage at the gate last-minute, we’d not bat an eyelid – there’s no question that this can survive the hold.

The resilience extends to general wear and tear – even though it comes in a range of bright colours, the shimmery, ribbed exterior is good at hiding scratches. Meanwhile, the handling is smooth and responsive, but not so much as to have a mind of its own. And the 10-year warranty comes in handy, too. Having owned many Samsonite cases in the past, we’ve come across the inevitable hiccup – a broken zipper, a loose wheel – but that coverage has ensured issues are ironed out quick-smart.

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The verdict: Cabin bags

With its holy trinity of style, perfect price point – and the fact that it fits on pretty much every major carrier – Antler’s clifton universal takes first prize. For a more casual, rugged look though, we love the long-lasting, durable Eastpak strapverz S.

Got more cash to burn? If you only fly with airlines with generous luggage allowances, Away’s carry on offers pretty much the perfect case. Otherwise, we’ll be buying Victorinox’s elegant connex for a worthy long-term investment.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts and offers on luggage and other travel buys, try the links below:

  • Boden discount codes
  • GO Outdoors discount codes

Need somewhere to stash your essentials while on the road? Here’s our roundup of the best women’s purses and wallets

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.