After two years of travel restrictions, some have begun to feel comfortable traveling once again. And whether you’re hopping in the car for a road trip or boarding your first international flight in a while, a trusty carry-on suitcase is an absolute essential.
We’ve tested hard-shell carry-ons in the past, but since we know there are plenty of soft-shell suitcase lovers, we spent more than two months testing 12 of the most popular soft-shell carry-on suitcases on the market. We packed and unpacked each suitcase, scraped them against the sidewalk and even tossed them down a flight of stairs all to see which suitcases are the best. And, after all our testing, only two suitcases stood out as the best soft-shell carry-on suitcases of 2022.
Best overall soft-shell carry-on suitcase: Delsey Paris Hyperglide
$500 $250 at Bloomingdales
If you need a reliable soft-shell suitcase that can fit everything you need and will last for years, the Delsey Paris Hyperglide is the bag for you. Whether we were stuffing it full of clothes, rolling it around the streets of Brooklyn or rubbing it across concrete, the Hyperglide consistently scored as one of the best suitcases we tried.
For starters, the Delsey Paris Hyperglide was surprisingly durable. It had just a few scuffs from our drop test when we kicked it down a flight of stairs. And when we scraped it on the sidewalk, it came out with just some slight discoloration — no tears or rips like a handful of other suitcases we tested.
On top of its sturdiness, the Hyperglide was a pleasure to roll around. Its wheels spun smoothly and were big enough to roll over all but the biggest cracks. Its small construction meant it was easy to whip around, so you won’t have trouble weaving through a crowded airport. However, it has a tendency to occasionally tip over when it’s packed full.
The Hyperglide also has plenty of great internal and external organizational features, including a simple X-shaped strap, a large mesh zippered pocket, a toiletry bag on the inside and two zippered large pockets on the outside. Plus, it weighs only 6.8 pounds, and when we packed it with our test set of clothes and shoes, it fit the entire standard pack except for two pairs of shoes. (Only two suitcases we tested fit everything.)
The Hyperglide’s handle wasn’t anything special, but it didn’t feel flimsy and rattly like others and wasn’t hard to pull out or in, even when the bag was packed to the brim. It has only two height settings, but in our experience, they were good enough whether we were pushing it by our side or pulling it behind us. And while the Hyperglide is available in just two colors — black and teal — we liked its classic and timeless look.
The Delsey Paris Hyperglide was an impressive carry-on suitcase all around. It does everything you need from a bag and has the durability to make it last for years. Our biggest gripe with the Hyperglide is its lack of a TSA-approved lock, but given it will probably be by your side most of the time, we don’t think it’s a true downside. However, if a TSA-approved lock is a must for you, our runner-up, the Samsonite NuRoad, might be your best choice.
Runner-up soft-shell carry-on suitcase: Samsonite NuRoad
$246.49 at Samsonite and eBags
If you want a bag with similar performance to the Delsey Paris Hyperglide and the peace of mind that comes with a TSA-approved lock, the Samsonite NuRoad is a fantastic soft-shell bag you should consider.
The Samsonite NuRoad was a solid contender throughout our testing process. It rolls smooth, has a comfortable handle with eight different height settings — the most of any bag we tested — and to top it off, it’s one of only three bags we tried that comes with a TSA-approved lock. (The other two are the Away Expandable Carry-On, which has been discontinued since we started testing, and the Tumi Alpha 3 Carry-On, which rings in at $895.)
Besides the security of its cable lock, the Samsonite is nearly on par with our overall winner in many categories. When we rolled it around the block, it was one of the nimblest suitcases we tried, and its wheels felt buttery smooth while only getting stuck on big cracks.
It does weigh in 1 pound more than the Hyperglide at 7.8 pounds, and unfortunately, that extra pound doesn’t mean extra packing capacity. The NuRoad had a hard time fitting everything in our standard pack and we had to leave out one pair of shoes, our toiletry bag, a towel, one flannel and a winter jacket.
Besides packing ability, the one other big area where the NuRoad falls short of our overall winner is durability. While the Hyperglide only had minor discoloration from rubbing it on the sidewalk, the NuRoad came out of the test with some decent scrape marks. It didn’t tear through any fabric and came out of the drop test with little to no damage, but the face material of the NuRoad just isn’t as sturdy as the Hyperglide.
The NuRoad is available in two simple colors (black and dark blue), has solid interior organization and tons of exterior pockets and features a utilitarian design that we think looks great. So if you’re set on getting a soft-shell suitcase with a TSA-approved lock and willing to give up some durability and packing space, the Samsonite NuRoad might be the bag for you.
How we tested
We tested 12 suitcases over the course of two months to find the best soft-shell carry-on bags out there. To do that, we put each suitcase through tests that stressed its packing capacity, durability, rolling performance and more.
We broke up our tests into three categories: durability, usability and design and build quality. Within each category, we conducted various tests and examined every aspect of each suitcase from wheel size to warranty.
Here’s a breakdown of all the tests we ran:
- Drop test: We pushed each bag down a flight of stairs and looked for any damage to the wheels or shell and took note of any scuffs, scratches, dents or any other damage.
- Abrasion test: We rubbed each suitcase facedown on the sidewalk outside our building back and forth five times. We examined the wear and tear and took note of any damage, including discoloration, scratches and rips.
- Stain test: We spilled dark soda on each suitcase and took note if it ran off the suitcase’s material, if it soaked through and if it left a stain.
- Handle durability: We rattled around the handle of each suitcase to see how sturdy and stable it was. We examined if it was hard to pull in or out, especially when packed full.
- Measurements: We measured the internal space of each suitcase with a tape measure.
- Unpacked weight: We weighed each unpacked suitcase on the same scale.
- Capacity test: We created a set of clothes and accessories as a standard pack. We then packed each suitcase with that pack to see how much fit and noted what elements couldn’t fit and how tight the pack was.
- General maneuverability: We rolled each suitcase around our building and took note of how easy it was to move around, weave and change direction. We also took note if the suitcase had a tendency to tip over or if it could stand up by itself.
- Wheel maneuverability: We took note of the suitcase’s wheel size and rolled it over different sized cracks and bumps to see which ones the wheels would get stuck on.
- Carrying experience: We carried each suitcase up and down three flights of stairs using all available handles to see how comfortable it was.
- Handle: We counted how many height settings each suitcase had and whether the settings were comfortable when pulling.
- Zippers: We zipped and unzipped the suitcase multiple times both when it was empty and when it was packed full and took note of any snags or resistance along with the general feel.
- Additional interior features: We counted the number of internal organizational features, such as pockets, compression straps and garment bags.
- Additional exterior features: We counted the number of external organizational features, such as pockets, expansion zippers and TSA-approved locks.
- Locking capability: We took note if the suitcase featured a lock and made sure it was TSA-approved.
Design and build quality
- Color and design options: We counted the number of available colors and designs for each suitcase.
- Design: We judged how each suitcase looks and ranked them from best to worst.
- Warranty: We researched the warranty of each suitcase and ranked them from best to worst.
Everything else we tested
Goodhope Overnight Carry-On
$65.50 at Walmart
We previously had recommended this suitcase as our pick for the best budget soft-shell carry-on suitcase, but after more long term testing we’ve demoted it due to its lack of durability. On a recent trip, the carrying handle on the top of the Goodhope suitcase popped off when we were picking it up to put it in a car. We were wary of its durability in our first round of testing and noted its poor performance in our initial review, even saying we didn’t expect this bag to last for a long time. However, after the testing process the bag didn’t even last one full trip. While this suitcase is one of the cheapest ones we tried, we think you should still be able to get at least a handful of trips out of it before it breaks. The suitcase is light and spacious, and we love how it folds down flat for easy storage, but just know if you opt for this suitcase you’ll likely have to replace it soon.
Away The Expandable Carry-On
No longer available at Away
Away’s soft-shell carry-on was one of the best we tested and was a frontrunner for our top spot. It featured a great compression system, decent maneuverability and a surprisingly durable build. Unfortunately, during our testing process, the bag had been discontinued. However, the Away Carry-On hard-shell suitcase is our pick for both the best hard-shell carry-on and the best hard-shell checked suitcase if you’re still looking for an Away bag.
Travelpro Maxlite 5 21-Inch Expandable Carry-On Spinner
$159.99 $139.99 at Amazon
If we had to pick another suitcase to recommend, we would definitely put the Travelpro Maxlite 5 at the top of our list. It lives up to its name and weighs only 5.4 pounds (the second-lightest bag we tested), has super-comfortable side handles for carrying and decent enough maneuverability and durability. It couldn’t quite live up to our other winners, however, mostly due to the telescopic handle occasionally getting stuck when the bag was packed full and a smaller packing capacity. If none of our main winners strike your fancy, this bag could be the one for you.
Briggs & Riley International Carry-On Expandable Spinner
$459 at Briggs & Riley
We really enjoyed testing this bag, and if we were picking a luxury suitcase, it would be our winner. It’s not absurdly expensive, was very durable and was one of the most maneuverable bags we tested. Its biggest drawback was its telescopic handle, which is built on the outside of the suitcase, meaning it was one of the wobbliest ones we tested. But besides that, there aren’t many negatives we can say about this bag. It’s stylish, easy to roll around, fits a solid amount of clothes and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Victorinox Werks 6.0 2-Wheel Softside Frequent Flyer Carry-On
$450 at Victorinox Swiss Army
This bag was a top contender, but in the end, its high price tag took it out of the running. At $450, it was one of the most expensive bags we tested, and while it was very nice, we didn’t think it was good enough to beat out the value of the Delsey Paris Hyperglide and the Samsonite NuRoad. The Victorinox bag was incredibly durable, had tons of internal organization and fit nearly everything in our standard pack. It does have just two wheels, which was a big limitation in its maneuverability, but if you’re looking for a more full-featured bag and have the extra money to spend, this bag won’t disappoint.
Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-Inch Expandable Carry-On Spinner
$329.99 $280.49 at Amazon
This suitcase was a really nice contender; however, the handle kept getting stuck and was a pain to pull in and out when it was packed full. For a suitcase this expensive and comparing it to other bags we tested, that was a deal breaker. Besides that, the Travelpro Platinum Elite was incredibly maneuverable and decently durable too. It has tons of organization options both on the inside and outside, but it didn’t fit as much as many of the other bags we tested.
Tumi Alpha 3 International Dual Access 4-Wheeled Carry On
$895 at Tumi
This suitcase is one of the only options we looked at that has a TSA-approved lock, and it was the smoothest rolling bag of all the ones we tested. On top of its maneuverability, it’s got fantastic internal organization; however, it’s so expensive that we can’t actually recommend it. If you’re interested in buying this Tumi suitcase, you should know we were impressed with it overall, but it did show some wear from our abrasion test, and it was by far the heaviest one we tried, weighing in at 11.6 pounds.
Samsonite Bartlett Carry-On Spinner
$99.99 at Samsonite
The Samsonite Bartlett wasn’t a very good suitcase in our experience. It got a slight dent in its frame when we dropped it down the stairs, the soda we spilled on it left a stain and the handle was annoyingly flimsy.
American Tourister Sonic 21-Inch Spinner
$89.99 at American Tourister
The wheels on this American Tourister suitcase were tiny and got stuck on basically every crack we tried to roll it over. On top of its poor maneuverability, the soda we spilled on it left a stain, and it had the loosest handle of all the suitcases we tried.
Protege 21-Inch Regency Carry-On 2-Wheel Upright Luggage
$44 at Walmart
This suitcase was outperformed by the Overnight Carry-On in nearly every category, plus it had a telescopic handle that frequently got stuck. It also couldn’t stand up by itself when packed full, so if you’re looking for a cheap bag, you might be better suited with the bag from Goodhope.
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