Looking for affordable and durable hand or cabin luggage? Here’s our pick of the best cabin-size and carry-on bags
With the baggage allowance for budget airlines thrown into flux in recent years, it’s harder than ever to find the best cabin luggage to suit your trip and needs. We’ve waded through the masses of bags, holdalls and suitcases on offer, to bring you the best in show from across the board.
If you’re UK-based, you’ve got all of Europe on your doorstep, which means cabin luggage is a real key piece of kit if you’re looking to avoid hefty hold luggage charges and accompanying waits on short-haul trips. Choose well and good cabin luggage could serve you for many years to come, from Parisian minibreaks to Croatian festivals to German Christmas markets – and everything in between.
Whether you’re in the market for a slick investment piece or a cheap and cheerful – but nevertheless robust – option, we’ve rounded up the best hand luggage for every budget and airline.
See our handy chart at the bottom of the article for the current luggage allowances for major airlines including BA, Ryanair, Easyjet and Jet2, though it’s best to triple-check your individual airline policy before you depart.
Best hand luggage: At a glance
- Best all-round cabin suitcase: American Tourister Bon Air Spinner | £75
- Best for paid Ryanair carry-on luggage: Aerolite Lightweight | £43
- Best long-lasting suitcase: Antler Clifton Cabin with Pocket | £220
- Best budget hand luggage: Cabin Max Backpack | £40
- Best-looking suitcase: Antler Stamford Cabin | £200
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: The best travel backpacks to buy
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.
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The best hand luggage and cabin luggage to buy in 2023
1. Eastpak Tranverz S Wheeled Luggage: The best soft-sided case
Price when reviewed: From £100 | Check price at 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
2. Aerolite Lightweight: The best for paid Ryanair carry-on luggage
Price when reviewed: £43 | Check price at Amazon
If you’re heading away for longer than a couple of nights, chances are to get the most out of your Seville/Porto/Budapest jaunt you’ll want a few outfits-and-a-washbag-worth of luggage. For those forking out for paid carry-on luggage on Ryanair, this lightweight suitcase from Aerolite is the exact maximum size you can take. Its hard-shell exterior means you can cram it to your heart’s content without worrying about it bulging out of the baggage gauge at the airport.
Looks-wise, it’s pretty unassuming (who wants loud luggage anyway?), but is available in a range of colours from Wine to Rose Gold, and feels much more premium than the price tag lets on. Our 5ft 4in reviewer had one small bugbear: the handle was a little on the short side, so word of warning that it may not be comfortable for the more statuesque among us.
Key specs – Dimensions: 20 x 35 x 55cm; Weight: 2.6kg; Capacity: 34l; Number of wheels: 4
3. Kono Hard Shell Spinner Cabin: The best for small spaces
Price when reviewed: £50 | Check price at Amazon
This little case ticks so many boxes. It’s really dinky – not even the strictest of airlines could have an issue with its proportions. But it’s also eye-catching (there are other bright colours to choose from too) so it’ll be hard to lose. It’s built to last, thanks to a hard shell casing but also really lightweight thanks to an aluminium frame. On top of all this, it has 360-degree spinning wheels, which mean it’s a breeze to manoeuvre.
Inside, straps keep things neat. The handle was easy to operate – often in less expensive cases this isn’t the case – extending and contracting smoothly. There’s also a code lock, which is handy.
Key specs – Dimensions: 20 x 30 x 48cm; Weight: 2.1kg; Number of wheels: 4
4. Antler Clifton Cabin with Pocket: The best long-lasting suitcase
Price when reviewed: £220 | Check price at 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
5. IT Luggage: The best lightweight case
Price when reviewed: £45 | Check price at 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
6. American Tourister Bon Air Spinner: The best all-round cabin suitcase
Price when reviewed: £75 | Check price at 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
7. Cabin Max Backpack: The best budget hand luggage
Price when reviewed: £35 | Check price at 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 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
8. Tipu Tiger Trunki: The best hand luggage for children
Price when reviewed: £45 | Check price at Amazon
It’s hard to go to an airport these days and not see at least a handful of children either wheeling or being wheeled about on a Trunki. These compact little cases manage to be useful, practical and fun all at once. Tired little people can be transported to faraway gates with ease and there’s decent storage space – you can easily pack enough clothes for a weekend away.
The exterior, including wheels, is strong, hard plastic that can withstand all sorts of bumps and bashes. Inside, straps (a Teddy Bear seatbelt) hold contents in place. The clasps are easy for even little hands to master – just don’t overfill the case – and can even be locked with a cute little key. As well as two handles, there’s a long strap for shoulder carrying or it can be used as a means of towing.
Tipu Tiger is by no means the only Trunki in town: they come in a variety of themes and colourways from unicorns to fire trucks.
Key specs – Dimensions: 46 x 20.5 x 31cm; Weight: 1.7kg; Capacity: 18l; Number of wheels: 4
9. Antler Stamford Cabin: The best-looking suitcase
Price when reviewed: £200 | Check price at Antler
For anyone who thinks it doesn’t really matter what cabin luggage looks like, we give you the Stamford Cabin. It’s impossibly sleek and smart. We opted for the khaki model, but it’s available in black and putty, too. All of them have a hard polycarbonate shell casing in a matt finish, which makes inevitable scratches much less noticeable.
But this has much more to recommend it than just being easy on the eye. It’s seriously well-made, boasting a combination of British design and Japanese invention. The latter created the Lisof tyre fabric on the 360-degree hinomoto spinner wheels, meaning the experience of wheeling the case is almost impossibly quiet and smooth.
Inside is just as smart with a host of different compartments, including a pocketed packing divider that keeps things neat and crisp. There’s even an integrated USB port for easy, on-the-move charging. It really feels that everything has been deeply considered and painstakingly accomplished. It is a joy to look at and a pleasure to use.
Key specs – Dimensions: 54 x 40 x 20cm; Weight: 2.7kg; Capacity: 43l; Number of wheels: 4
|Airline||Cabin baggage allowance||Maximum dimensions||Maximum weight|
|British Airways||1 cabin bag and 1 small bag||Cabin bag: 56 x 45 x 25cm; small bag: 40 x 30 x 15cm||23 kg|
|easyJet||1 cabin bag||56 x 45 x 25cm||No weight limit|
|Norwegian||1 cabin bag and 1 small bag||Cabin bag: 55 x 40 x 23cm; small bag: 25 x 33 x 20cm||10 kg|
|Jet2||1 cabin bag and 1 small bag||Cabin bag: 56 x 45 x 25cm; small bag: handbag/laptop bag that must fit under the seat in front||10 kg|
|Aer Lingus||1 cabin bag and 1 small bag||Cabin bag: 55 x 40 x 24cm; small bag: 25 x 33 x 20cm||10 kg|
|Flybe||1 cabin bag and 1 small bag||Cabin bag: 55 x 35 x 20cm; small bag: handbag/laptop bag that must fit under the seat in front||10 kg|
|KLM||1 cabin bag and 1 small bag||Cabin bag: 55 x 35 x 25cm; small bag: 40 x 30 x 15cm||12 kg|
|Lufthansa||1 cabin bag and 1 small bag||Cabin bag: 55 x 40 x 23cm; small bag: 40 x 30 x 10cm||8 kg|
|Ryanair||1 cabin bag||40 x 20 x 25cm||10 kg|
|Thomas Cook Airlines||1 cabin bag and 1 small bag||Cabin bag: 55 x 40 x 20cm; small bag: handbag/laptop bag that must fit under the seat in front||6 kg|
|TUI Airways||1 cabin bag||55 x 40 x 20cm||5 kg|