Choosing luggage is no longer just about choosing what size suitcase you need. You need to decide the various ways you are likely to travel, the length of time of your trips, and the amount of clothes and items you will take with you. The answers to these questions could have you choosing more than one piece and type of luggage. Our buyer’s guide will cover all the factors you should consider when selecting luggage.
Method of Transportation
Are you taking a road trip, flying, or taking a cruise?
The best luggage for road trips are pieces that are soft enough to be compressed to allow for better packing in your car.
If you travel a lot by plane, research the airlines you use most often. Most airlines allow a carry-on and a personal item. There are size restrictions for carry-ons that vary by airlines. Carry-ons are usually placed in the overhead storage. You can purchase one piece of luggage that complies with multiple airline restrictions, but airline restrictions can change. Personal item luggage is usually placed under the seat in front of you, so you need to learn the size restrictions for this piece of luggage also. All other luggage has to be checked in and placed in the baggage compartment. While there are no restrictions on size, there are higher fees for heavier bags.
For cruises, luggage should be flat and rigid enough to be packed in the pre-cruise storage area on the ship.
As already stated, the size you need will depend on your method of travel, but the length of your trip and the different types of clothes you need will also determine the amount and size of the luggage you need. Obviously, the shorter the trip the less you need to pack. However, trips where laundry facilities are less available or trips where you need formal wear, business attire, and casual wear can require more clothes and more or larger luggage.
Storage at Home
The space you have available to store your luggage can determine the size of the luggage you buy and whether you buy hard or soft luggage. Determine if you can store some pieces of your luggage inside other pieces. Just like when you are packing your car for a road trip, soft luggage is easier to squeeze into storage places. If you feel that you need a larger piece of hard luggage, you may have to decide where it can sit that is least objectionable.
Types of Luggage
Now that you have considered the types of travel you will be doing, you can decide which types of luggage are best for you.
As mentioned earlier, carry-ons have size restrictions that are generally under 21 inches as the largest allowable single measurement in any direction. You are allowed to bring the bag on the plane and store it in the overhead storage. The restrictions vary by airlines. The height is measured from the floor and includes from the wheels to the top of the collapsed handle
Personal Item Luggage
Plan on storing your personal item luggage under the seat in front of you. For this piece of luggage, you will also have to learn the measurements for the space available. Small backpacks, briefcases, computer bags, tote bags, camera bags, and bags specifically designated as personal item bags are included in this category.
Items that you want to access easily during the flight should be in this bag. Examples are your passport, phone, wallet, a pen, and notepad. It is recommended that this bag have compartments for these items as well as some clothes and overnight essentials. If you have a personal item bag for a child, you may want to pack some clothes, toys, and a few snacks.
Suitcases usually measure between 24 inches to 30 inches with some as large as 36 inches. Some airlines have size limits, and most have weight limits that include charging extra for individual or total luggage over certain weight limits. These bags have to be checked and are stored in the baggage compartment of the plane during the flight.
Duffel bags are soft-sided luggage similar to gym bags or backpacks. They can have handheld straps as well as wheels and collapsible handles. You may want to choose duffel bags with multiple pockets and keep them within carry-on size restrictions.
Garment bags are longer soft-sided luggage and have a hook for hangers. You can use them for clothes you do not want wrinkled. They usually have a strap to hold the clothes in place and fold in half to make them more compact.
While many luggage sets are just different sizes of identical hard-sided luggage, they can include coordinated luggage with both hard and soft-sided luggage. This can be the cheapest way to buy a selection of luggage, and it provides you with a variety of choices whenever you are ready to pack for a trip.
Hard-sided or Soft-sided Luggage
Luggage used to mean heavy, hard-sided suitcases that had to be carried. Now, you can choose hard-sided suitcases made from lighter weight materials with wheels and collapsible handles. You can also choose soft-sided luggage made with fabric. These can also have wheels and a collapsible handle.
Woven and ballistic nylon are used for soft-sided luggage. Ballistic nylon is strong even though it can suffer abrasions. Woven nylon is abrasion-resistant and better for over-shoulder luggage because it is softer. Ripstop nylon, also known as parachute nylon, is designed to resist tearing. The quality of a fabric is measured by its denier, which refers to the thickness of each individual fiber that comprises the fabric. The higher the denier, the stronger the fabric.
As mentioned earlier, unlike hard-sided luggage, soft-sided luggage can be squeezed into spaces. It also allows you to squeeze a little extra in your luggage, but that can work against you with space and weight restrictions. Soft-sided luggage also does not offer as much protection for the contents as hard-sided luggage.
Hard-sided luggage is no longer as heavy as it used to be. It is now made of lightweight and durable polycarbonate, ABS, or aluminum. For lighter weight luggage choose ABS. For more durable luggage choose polycarbonate. For the most durable but heaviest, choose aluminum. Most hard-sided luggage opens flat so that you can pack both sides easily and hold your items in with straps. Some hard-sided luggage opens at the top, however, making it harder to reach the items at the bottom. Hard-sided luggage can get scratched, but that does not damage your ability to use it, and hard-sided luggage better protects your items from rain and snow. It also can not get cut open with a blade.
Transporting and Maneuvering Luggage
Both hard-sided and soft-sided luggage have a variety of handle and wheel options. Soft-sided luggage can offer backpack style straps which can leave your hands free and prevent a bag from being left. Both types of luggage also offer collapsible, topside, and side handles. Adjustable telescoping handles help make the luggage comfortable for anyone who is handling it. The more options you have, the easier it is to transport luggage under various circumstances.
Wheel choices on luggage include no wheels, two wheels, and four wheels. Some wheels can rotate 360°, while others only move backward and forward. Wheels that move 360° are easier to maneuver in tight spaces but can cause issues on rough terrain. Some two-wheeled luggage has recessed wheels. This provides better protection for the wheels, but it does reduce some packing space. However, recessed wheels help meet size restrictions better and take less space in overhead storage. Two-wheeled luggage also has two feet on the front that can keep luggage stationary on inclined surfaces better than four-wheeled luggage. Luggage with no wheels can be harder to transport, but it eliminates the issues of less pack space and adding to the height of the luggage under airline restrictions.
Always check the handles, wheels, and connections for sturdiness.
Interior and Exterior Storage
Exterior storage can be important when you want to get quick access to items such as your ID, passport, keys, or sunglasses. These pockets are not available on hard-sided luggage.
Having luggage with a lot of interior pockets of varying sizes helps you sort your items better for quick and easy access.
The latches on hard-side luggage provide better security for your items. Just make sure that any locks are TSA approved.
Luggage can have a chain or coil zipper. Chain zippers are comprised of interlocking teeth on both sides of the zipper that are usually metal. Coil zippers usually have two parallel polyester coils. Chain zippers are stronger and less likely to break than coil zippers. Coil zippers can be separated with just a ball point pen and resealed without a trace of damage. The quality of the zipper can indicate the quality of the bag. YKK zippers are considered to be the best zippers.
When you shop for luggage, take a tape measure with you so that you know the size of the luggage for certain. Be sure to consider the size when the bag is packed and items are stuffed in the outer pockets.
Try out the various handles and straps for strength, durability, and comfort. Check all connections for durability.
Try out the wheels also to see how easily they roll. Consider how the wheels will work when the luggage is packed. Again, check the connections for durability.
Check the amount of space available inside the luggage. Square corners provide extra space over rounded corners.
See how much packing space is lost to wheels and handles.
Check on how smoothly zippers work and how durable they seem.
Read the warranty and even note exclusions such as airline damage.
If you intend to buy online, try to find the same model in a store so that you can test it in person.