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Best hand luggage: The best cabin luggage and carry-on bags

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Looking for affordable and durable hand or cabin luggage? Here’s our pick of the best cabin-size and carry-on bags

Choosing the best hand luggage and cabin luggage can be confusing with so many options currently on the market. To make your buying decision easier, we've rounded up the best options that you can buy this year from budget-friendly kits to investments that will potentially last you decades.

Given that we've spent the majority of 2021 in lockdown, most people will be anxiously awaiting their next holiday. Thankfully, the UK government has green-listed a few countries that you can safely to and from, from 17 May. Of course, these are subject to various tests and the countries' own Covid protocols, but it's a great option, especially if you're vaccinated.

A cabin-size bag is an essential piece of kit, regardless of how frequently you travel, especially if you need to avoid baggage charges and luggage carousels. With the best hand luggage, you can keep your gear safe, secure and by your side, breezing from terminals to taxi ranks in the shortest time possible.

Your choice of bag will probably be determined by your budget and type of trip. Essentially, you’ll want to strike a balance between practicality and portability, and get the most out of the space dictated by your airline’s size and weight allowance.

All of these carry-on bags comply with the size restrictions laid out by airlines including BA, EasyJet and Jet2 (see our handy chart at the bottom), but it’s best to double-check with individual airline policies before you travel. We’ve also included a bag that complies with the latest Ryanair baggage restrictions.


How to choose the best hand luggage for you

Is it better to buy a suitcase or a backpack?

This really comes down to personal preference and how you tend to travel. If you’re travelling for business, you might want a suitcase with packing compartments to keep smart clothes neat, and outer pockets to store documents and laptops for easy access.

For speedy travel, a backpack is the best option, as you can store it underneath the seat in front of you. It also leaves both hands free for when you’re moving around.

If you have back problems or trouble lifting, a lightweight suitcase would be the best option.

READ NEXT: Our favourite travel backpacks

Should I go for a hard shell or a soft-sided suitcase?

If you’re travelling with precious cargo, expensive gadgets or plan to buy fragile souvenirs, you should consider the material the case is made from.

A hard-shell suitcase will offer the best protection for your items and, although it might pick up a few scuffs, it won’t see as much wear and tear as a canvas or polyester bag. Hard-shell cases rarely feature outer pockets, though, which can be handy for storing easy-to-grab items.

A good soft-sided suitcase should come with compression straps that allow you to keep things secure and to reduce the overall size of the bag depending on how much you’ve stuffed inside.

How many wheels should my suitcase have?

A four-wheel “spinner” suitcase is the easiest to move around. Weight is spread evenly across four corners of the case and, as the spinner wheels can move in all directions rather than just back and forth, you’ll be able to glide through airports with a smooth 360˚ motion.

You may prefer the simplicity of two fixed wheels, though, and this does tend to be the cheaper option. You’ll also shave off an all-important couple of centimetres from the overall case dimensions.

READ NEXT: The best travel pillows to buy


The best hand luggage and cabin luggage to buy

1. Eastpak Tranverz S Wheeled Luggage: Best soft-sided case

Price: From £60 | Buy now from Amazon


Eastpak is well known for its street-smart and functional rucksacks and cases. Having initially produced bags for the US military, it knows a thing or two about producing durable, hard-wearing pieces, and all cases come with a reassuring 30-year warranty. This two-wheeled case features two large inner compartments, making it easy to organise your gear, and a handy front pocket for smaller items such as passports, iPads and chargers.

The lightweight telescopic handle and the padded handles on the top and side are easy to grip, and the strong double-stitching protects against airport-security scuffs. The exterior compression straps let you pack things down neatly and securely, depending on how much you’re carrying, and the soft sides fold down for easy storage when it’s not in use. There are loads of colours and designs on offer, too, from business-friendly black to bold graphic prints.

Key specs – Dimensions: 51 x 32.5 x 24cm; Weight: 2.3kg; Capacity: 42l; Number of wheels: 2

Buy now from Amazon


2. Antler Clifton Cabin with Pocket: Best long-lasting suitcase

Price: £179 | Buy now from Antler


If you're looking to invest in a great cabin suitcase that will last you years, then look no further than the British brand with over 100 years of experience in the field. Antler offers a 10-year warranty of all of its premium products. Its latest addition - the Clifton Cabin with Pocket - has all the best features from its existing suitcase round-up, including four wheels, secure TSA locks, and a twist-grip handle.

The best feature of this suitcase, however, is the addition of a secure front pocket to keep your valuable belongings. You'll be pleased to know that this pocket can accommodate a 15.6in laptop and a tablet, apart from anything else you need to access in a hurry like your travel documents or any important files. You can even personalise the suitcase with your initials before you place your order.

Key specs - Dimensions: 56 x 35 x 23cm; Weight: 3.3kg; Capacity: 38l; Number of wheels: 4

Buy now from Antler


3. American Tourister Bon Air Spinner: Best all-round cabin suitcase

Price: From £50 | Buy now from Amazon


Made from polypropylene, this hard-shell case is strong and sturdy but surprisingly light and easy to manoeuvre. Available in a range of bright colours, all with a sleek ridged design, the American Tourister Bon Air is both functional and fashionable and easy to spot on the carousel if it happens to get bumped to the hold.

Inside there are two roomy sections: a zipped compartment with two outer mesh pockets (great for liquids) and an open-sided area that can be secured with elastic ribbons. The four wheels make for smooth 360˚ rolling and for added security there’s a fixed three-digit lock and a discreet address label at the back of the case.

Key specs – Dimensions: 55 x 40 x 20cm; Weight: 2.5kg; Capacity: 30l; Number of wheels: 4

Buy now from Amazon


4. Cabin Max Backpack: Best budget hand luggage

Price: £30 | Buy now from Amazon


Designed in the UK, this compact carry-on backpack weighs less than 1kg but is deceptively roomy, with a 44l capacity. It opens like a suitcase rather than a traditional rucksack, so you don’t need to squish all of your gear into it from the top down. A large front zip pocket has handy compartments for accessories and the side compression straps keep things neat.

It complies with most European budget airline hand-luggage rules and its nifty soft-sided design means it’s easy to stow under the seat in front of you. And if you’re schlepping across town with it, you’ll appreciate the adjustable padded straps and top carry handle. The showerproof 600D polyester material will protect your possessions from the elements too.

It’s functional rather than fashionable (although there are 30-plus colours/designs to choose from) and it’s not as robust as some of our other picks. However, for a no-frills, cabin-friendly bag to accompany you on weekend escapes, you can’t go wrong with this budget buy.

Key specs – Dimensions: 55 x 40 x 20cm; Weight: 0.7kg; Capacity: 44l; Number of wheels: 0

Buy now from Amazon


5. IT Luggage: Best lightweight case

Price: From £35 | Buy now from Argos


With an ultra-lightweight design (1.75kg) and a wide easy-grip trolley handle, this cleverly designed piece of kit is a breeze to wheel through airport terminals. The four easy-glide skate wheels allow for smooth 360˚ movement, and although it might not seem sturdy, it features a solid fibreglass frame and comes with a ten-year guarantee.

Tidy travellers will appreciate the four internal mesh pockets for neat storage and the two external pockets for easy-to-access items. The extra-wide handle can take a bit of getting used to if you’re more familiar with telescopic handles, but it’s easy to manoeuvre and is fitted with silica-gel padding for comfort and an easy push control.

Key specs - Dimensions: 55 x 35 x 20cm; Weight: 1.75kg; Capacity: 31l; Number of wheels: 4

Buy now from Argos


6. Samsonite Neopulse Spinner: Best for style

Price: From £161 | Buy now from Amazon


With a striking geometric design in a range of matte and metallic options, Samsonite’s Neopulse suitcase scores highly in the style stakes. Beyond its beauty, it has plenty of brawn, with a hard shell made from Makrolon polycarbonate and an innovative design said to reduce the visibility of scratches and protect corners from wear and tear.

The two interior compartments are lined with divider pads and the bottom compartment features strong elastic ribbons to keep items in place. It’s slim and portable, with a side carry handle and a lightweight double-tube wheel handle that can be adjusted for travellers of all sizes. The integrated three-digit TSA combination lock and concealed address label at the back of the case are handy extras.

Key specs – Dimensions: 55 x 40 x 20cm; Weight: 2.2kg; Capacity: 38l; Number of wheels: 4

Buy now from Amazon


7. John Lewis Geneva small weekend holdall: Best hand luggage for Ryanair flights

Price: £65 | Buy now from John Lewis

If you want to travel with hand luggage on a Ryanair flight and avoid baggage charges altogether, you’ll need to squish your possessions into a bag with dinky dimensions (40cm x 20cm x 25cm). This simple and stylish suede-effect holdall from John Lewis is just the ticket and will fit easily under the seat in front of you.

The main compartment seems surprisingly roomy (although you’ll need to really hone your packing skills) and you can store your passport and travel documents in the zipped internal pocket. It features double carry handles and a removable shoulder strap, and is available in black or light blue.

Key specs – Dimensions: 35 x 20 x 20cm; Weight: 0.5kg; Capacity: 12.5l; Number of wheels: 0

Buy now from John Lewis


Airline baggage allowance dimensions

AirlineCabin baggage allowanceMaximum dimensionsMaximum weight
British Airways1 cabin bag and 1 small bagCabin bag: 56 x 45 x 25cm; small bag: 40 x 30 x 15cm23 kg
easyJet1 cabin bag56 x 45 x 25cmNo weight limit
Norwegian1 cabin bag and 1 small bagCabin bag: 55 x 40 x 23cm; small bag: 25 x 33 x 20cm10 kg
Jet21 cabin bag and 1 small bagCabin bag: 56 x 45 x 25cm; small bag: handbag/laptop bag that must fit under the seat in front10 kg
Aer Lingus1 cabin bag and 1 small bagCabin bag: 55 x 40 x 24cm; small bag: 25 x 33 x 20cm10 kg
Flybe1 cabin bag and 1 small bagCabin bag: 55 x 35 x 20cm; small bag: handbag/laptop bag that must fit under the seat in front10 kg
KLM1 cabin bag and 1 small bagCabin bag: 55 x 35 x 25cm; small bag: 40 x 30 x 15cm12 kg
Lufthansa1 cabin bag and 1 small bagCabin bag: 55 x 40 x 23cm; small bag: 40 x 30 x 10cm8 kg
Ryanair1 cabin bag40 x 20 x 25cm10 kg
Thomas Cook Airlines1 cabin bag and 1 small bagCabin bag: 55 x 40 x 20cm; small bag: handbag/laptop bag that must fit under the seat in front6 kg
TUI Airways1 cabin bag55 x 40 x 20cm5 kg

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