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The best carry-on luggage: under-seat cabin bags, hard shell suitcases, weekend bags and more

Pack smarter and avoid extra luggage charges this summer with our guide to the best cabin-friendly suitcases, backpacks and duffle bags.

The best carry-on luggage

With airlines introducing strict baggage rules for oversized luggage, investing in a carry-on bag that saves you from additional fees is a no-brainer. Not only will it save you money, but you won’t be left waiting at check-in queues and luggage carrousels wondering when (or if) your bag will appear.

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When it comes to finding the right carry-on-sized bag, there’s a lot to choose from. With everything from backpacks and duffle bags to small suitcases and trolley bags, it’s worth considering what luggage style and features will be best suited to the way you like to travel.

To help you pack smarter, The Recommended searched the internet to find the best cabin-friendly luggage for your holidays. We’ve also included a list of the major UK airline’s baggage allowances at the bottom of this page, so you don’t get caught out by extra charges at the boarding gate.

Jump to the best carry-on luggage:

The best carry-on luggage

Best under-seat cabin bag: Cabin Max Metz 30L Cabin Luggage

Stylish choice of colours

1. Cabin Max Metz 30 Litre Travel Hand Luggage Backpack

This lightweight 30-litre rucksack from Cabin Max is a great choice if you’re looking for a backpack that meets the majority of airline cabin restrictions.

Available in a choice of six stylish colours, this rucksack measures 45 x 36 x 20 cm. The bag itself is made from a showerproof polyester fabric and it zips open like a suitcase, allowing you to easily access your things. The front pocket has an organiser section, with a host of regular and zipped mesh pockets for storing accessories and important documents. This rucksack also has ergonomic backpack straps for added comfort, as well as a padded top carry handle and accessory loops.

Best large cabin bag: LEVEL8 Lightweight Carry-on Suitcase

Perfect for business trips

2. LEVEL8 Lightweight Carry-on Suitcase

This hard shell suitcase is an ideal size for those who opt for an extra cabin bag. Measuring 55 x 24 x 24 cm, it complies with most airlines’ baggage policies.

This suitcase has a built-in padded sleeve for storing laptops and other electronics, eight 360-degree spinner wheels and a retractable aluminium handle. The body of the suitcase is made from a lightweight plastic that’s both waterproof and scratchproof. It has a regular packing capacity of 36 litres, which can be extended by an additional 15% if you plan to pick up any souvenirs on your travels. There is also a TSA-compatible combination lock for the front laptop compartment and the main section, for added security.

Best hard shell trolley bag: COOLIFE Suitcase Trolley

Eye-catching colour options

3. COOLIFE Suitcase Trolley

Measuring 56 x 39 x 23cm, this hard shell trolley bag from COOLIFE has a 38-litre capacity, meeting the majority of airlines’ baggage allowances for larger cabin bags.

This suitcase is available to buy in five colour options, including a vivid green, red and yellow, as well as three dimensions depending on your baggage allowance. The outside of this suitcase is made from a lightweight and scratch-resistant hard plastic. The inside has a fully lined interior with mesh pockets and down straps for securing your items. It also has four multidirectional spinner wheels and a combination lock for security.

Best colours and designs: Eastpak Tranverz S Suitcase

Perfect for weekends away

4. Eastpak Tranverz S Suitcase

Available in a choice of 21 colours and designs, this suitcase from Eastpak is practical as well as stylish, with a 42-litre capacity, easy wheeling system and integrated TSA lock.

Measuring 51 x 32.5 x 24 cm, this suitcase has compression straps to control the volume of the case, as well as belt straps designed to keep your items in place. Inside there are two spacious compartments with zip-fastening pockets. The exterior of this suitcase is made from 100% hardwearing polyester.

Best bag for personal items: Cabin Max Manhattan Travel Bag

Suitable for under-seat storage

5. Cabin Max Manhattan Travel Bag

The perfect addition to a trolley case, this small travel bag meets most airlines’ free baggage allowances. It has a spacious, 20-litre interior, padded laptop sleeve and quick-stash ticket pocket.

This travel bag has pack-away backpack traps, as well as a top handle and shoulder strap, which keeps it compact when stored under seats and in overhead lockers. It measures 40 x 25 x 20cm and is made from a UV-coated twill material with eco-suede.

Best lightweight suitcase: Aerolite Lightweight Suitcase

Great budget option

6. Aerolite Lightweight

This minimal trolley suitcase weighs just 2.6kg when empty, but boasts an impressive 34-litre capacity. Measuring 55 x 35 x 20cm, it also meets the majority of airlines’ carry-on restrictions.

This suitcase has four wheels that provide 360 degrees of manoeuvrability, an adjustable telescopic handle and a three-digit combination barrel padlock. The interior features a zipped pocket divider on one side and packing straps on the other to keep your items in place. It also has two elasticated shoe pockets for storing footwear and other items.

Best women’s backpacking bag: Osprey Fairview 40 Outdoor and Travel Backpack

Meets EU maximum carry-on allowances

7. Osprey Fairview 40 Women's Outdoor and Travel Backpack

Specifically designed to fit women, this 40-litre rucksack from Osprey meets maximum EU carry-on allowances, making it a cost-effective option for backpacking or weekend getaways.

This rucksack has a shoulder harness and hip belt, both of which are designed to ensure a comfortable fit. It weighs 1.44kg when empty and measures 54 x 35 x 23 cm when fully packed. The bag itself is made from a lightweight and durable nylon fabric.

Best men’s backpacking bag: Osprey Farpoint 40 Outdoor & Trekking Rucksack

Pack-away straps and hip belt

8. Osprey Farpoint 40 Outdoor & Trekking Rucksack

This Osprey rucksack is ideal for long backpacking trips. It measures 35.6 x 22.28 x 53.34 cm and has stowaway shoulder and hip straps for easy cabin storage.

This rucksack is designed with comfort in mind. It has a lightweight frame, a mesh back panel for ventilation, as well as shoulder straps and a hip harness for back support. The bag itself has a 40-litre capacity and features a lockable slider zip which provides access to the main compartment. Inside there is a mesh pocket for storing small belongings, as well as compression straps for keeping your clothes and other items in place.

Best carry-on duffle bag: Gonex Expandable Canvas Holdall Bag

Extendable for extra storage

9. Gonex Expandable Canvas Holdall Bag for Men

Measuring 60 x 28 x 31 cm, this duffle bag has an extendable capacity ranging from 50 to 60 litres. It is made from a high-quality canvas material and features a water-resistant rubber bottom.

This duffle bag also has wear-resistant rubber mats to protect the bag from scuffs and dirt. It features a zip pocket on each end, two front zipper pockets and one large inner pocket. It is available to buy in five colours: army green, blue, coffee, dark grey, and grey.

How strict are airline cabin allowances?

Every airline has its own baggage policies that you should take time to read before travelling. Most low-cost, short-haul carriers allow one small ‘personal’ bag on board for free, with the option of paying additional fees for an extra-large cabin bag that can be stored in overhead lockers.

How strict airlines are when enforcing their baggage allowance rules is arbitrary. While you might get away with taking a slightly larger bag on board than an airline’s baggage policy allows, there is never any guarantee that you will not be charged additional fees at the boarding gate for doing so.

What size is carry-on luggage?

To keep you from second-guessing your airline’s baggage policies, we’ve listed the major short-haul airlines’ cabin allowances below, followed by our top recommendations for luggage that meets their criteria.

The following airlines allow one small cabin bag on board free of charge, with the option to buy an additional cabin bag to store in the overhead lockers. Be mindful, as each airline has slightly different baggage sizes.

  • Ryanair’s bag policy states that each customer can take on board one small personal bag – included in their ticket price – so long as it is no bigger than 40 x 20 x 25cm. You can purchase an additional 10kg cabin bag to take on board and store in the overhead lockers. This must be no bigger than 55 x 40 x 20cm and can weigh a maximum of 10kg.
  • Easyjet’s cabin bag policy allows all customers to bring on board one small cabin bag free of charge that must be no bigger than 45 x 36 x 20cm. This bag must also fit underneath the seat in front and weigh no more than 15kg. Customers can choose to purchase an additional large cabin bag no bigger than 56 x 45 x 26 cm. It must fit in an overhead locker and weigh no more than 15kg. An additional perk of purchasing a large cabin bag is that it includes a speedy boarding pass.
  • Wizz Air’s baggage policy states that passengers can take on board one carry-on bag free of charge that weighs no more than 10kg. The bag must fit underneath the seat in front and be no bigger than 40 x 30 x 20cm. An additional bag can be brought on board subject to extra charges. This must also weigh no more than 10kg and be no bigger than 50 x 40 x 23 cm.

The following airlines allow one large cabin bag on board free of charge. Be mindful that large cabin bags may sometimes be put in the hold on busy flights, so ensure that you remove your essential travel documents, valuables and other essentials if you are asked to do so.

  • TUI allows passengers to take one piece of hand luggage on board that weighs no more than 10kg at no extra fee. The maximum dimensions must be no larger than 55 x 40 x 20 cm.
  • Jet2 has a similar policy. Passengers can carry on board one piece of hand luggage for free, so long as it weighs no more than 10k and is no larger than 56 x 45 x 25cm. You are also allowed to bring one small personal item on board that must be able to fit underneath the seat in front of you.
  • British Airways allows passengers to take on board two free cabin bags. Small ‘hand bags’ that weigh no more than 23kg and are no larger than 40 x 30 x 15 cm are guaranteed to travel in the cabin as hand baggage. A second free cabin bag can also be taken on board for free, but on busy flights, this may be put in the hold at no extra cost. This must be no larger than 56 x 45 x 25 cm and no heavier than 23kg.

The above information is up-to-date as of July 2022.

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If you would like to read more expert-recommended round-ups, check out our Summer Essentials page, where you’ll find more recommendations, including the best fans to help you beat the heat and the best sun creams.