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Feature

August 30, 2021
The Best Luggage According To Infatuation Editors Who Travel A Lot
From wheeled duffles and retro suitcases, here’s what to take on your next trip.
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Between all of us here at The Infatuation, we have a former fashion editor who used to travel extensively for work, an erstwhile bellboy who’s handled more luggage than roughly 99% of people on this planet, and countless folks who are effectively bicoastal (but just won’t admit it). So our luggage expertise is surprisingly robust. We have a lot of opinions on all kinds of bags and suitcases, and right now we’d like to share them.

For the most part, this is a list of the best checked luggage — although most of these companies offer carry-on choices, if that’s what you’re looking for. (You can assume that we endorse those options as well.) You should also know that, for the most part, the selections on this guide start in the $200-$300 range. Below that tier, you can definitely find some viable options (we’ll make a guide to them eventually), but you’ll be hard-pressed to find something in that category that has wheels, zippers, and handles that hold up to extended use.

Think of this as a guide to luggage that you won’t have to replace after two years of travel, and use it to find your next upgrade, whether it be a retro-influenced, sustainably produced suitcase or an expandable aluminum option that’ll draw more attention than whatever you’re wearing.

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Feature:

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The Consensus Favorite

The award for Most Owned Piece of Luggage at The Infatuation goes to Away. Specifically, The Medium (checked luggage) from Away. Apparently, this is the checked suitcase of choice for New York media types, and there are several likely reasons for this. First off, Away’s suitcases come with built-in USB chargers, so you can enjoy the novelty of plugging your phone into our luggage. (The charger also fully ejects, because airlines require that.) Then there’s the design aspect. Some luggage companies try to do too much — but Away keeps things simple. The polycarbonate shell also holds up well, and the 360 spinner wheels function very smoothly.

Now let’s talk price. At $275, this isn’t the absolute cheapest hard-shell suitcase available, but (as you’ll soon learn) it’s far from the most expensive. For what you get, the price feels fair and accurate, and the same holds true for Away’s other luggage.

Get Away The Medium ($275) →

The Aspirational One

Usually, it’s hard to pinpoint the apex of any product genre. Some brands nail certain things, other brands nail others — and the more expensive options tend to be overhyped in some way or another. But Rimowa makes a pretty compelling claim to the Best Luggage throne.

The wheels on these suitcases spin as if they were greased with the finest of butters. Factor in the ultra-thin polycarbonate walls of your standard Rimowa, and you have flexible, lightweight luggage that not only rolls well, but can take a beating and be lifted with ease.

Design is another area where Rimowa (seemingly effortlessly) succeeds where so many other brands fail. Their suitcases aren’t in no way edgy or ostentatious — but the minimalist ethos and distinctive ridges make them immediately recognizable, at least to those who’ve taken it upon themselves to become luggage aficionados.

We do, however, have a few disclaimers. If you check it, your Rimowa will eventually get scuffed. (That’s why we prefer the matte versions, which seem to be more damage-resistant.) And for those who want to buy an aluminum Rimowa: first off, congratulations. You must be doing very well in whatever professional field you’ve chosen. (Those suitcases start at $1,150.) Second, you should know that your metal luggage will get dented. But that’s ultimately nothing that should scare you off. Think of those dings as a patina that give your suitcase character. That said, we still think you should buy an Essential series Rimowa. They may not cost a thousand dollars, but they’ll last you a very long time (and they’re a bit lighter too).

Get Rimowa Essential Check-In M ($850) →

A Great Starter Choice

Another popular travel brand at The Infatuation, Calpak is pretty much the same concept as Away. Their luggage is straightforward, functional, and relatively affordable — although we do give Calapk the slight edge in terms of aesthetics. (The simplicity is appealing.) As for the shell on this suitcase, that’s polycarbonate, and there are some handy interior features like a divider and compression straps.

In our experience, Calpak’s luggage has held up very well when repeatedly mistreated, and, if you’re an over-packer, you’ll be happy to know that these suitcases can be stretched to what feels like a breaking point (but, fortunately, is not). These pieces of luggage are also significantly cheaper than Away’s, although they don’t have USB chargers. But if you’re just looking for some quality, not-too-pricey luggage to replace the beat-up bag in your closet, that shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Get Hue Medium Luggage ($245) →

The Business-Traveler Classic

Nothing says “I’m going to need a receipt for that expense” quite like a Tumi. Rimowas might have more appeal for the minimalist, fashion-forward crowd, but Tumis are well-made classics that excel in the realm of functionality. This suitcase comes with a garment sleeve, for example, as well as a USB port (although the power bank is sold separately). The wheels are also far better than average, the handle feels solid with a smooth release, and — though it isn’t quite as flashy as Rimowa’s polycarbonate — this suitcase’s ballistic nylon construction is extremely durable.

If you’re a traditionalist with a hefty budget who likes zippers, classic looks, and quality products that you won’t ever have to worry about, this is the pick for you. It’s also worth noting that the gold hardware on this Tumi is even more attractive in person.

Get Tumi Alpha 3 22-Inch Wheeled Dual Access Continental Carry-On Bag ($950) →

The High-End Workhorse

Sitting slightly below both Tumi and Rimowa in terms of price, Briggs & Riley is what we’d call “starter high end luggage.” You get a bump in quality over companies like Calpak and Away, but you are spending significantly more — just not as much as would on other top-tier brands.

Encased in a hardy polycarbonate shell, this suitcase expands (from 6270 to 8400 cubic inches) to fit over 25% more and features some nice bells and whistles like mesh pockets and adjustable garment compression panels. So if you’re on the hunt for a significant luggage upgrade and either A) don’t want to spend the money on a Rimowa or B) want something a bit stiffer and more substantial than a Rimowa, this is a great alternative.

Get Briggs & Riley Sympatico 30-Inch Large Expandable Spinner Packing Case ($739) →

The One That Gets The Job Done

Yes, Burton is a snowboard company, but you don’t have to snowboard in order to buy one of these bags. In our experience, this brand’s carry-on is actually a favorite of hair and makeup artists looking for something practical and near-indestructible for their kit, so it’s safe to say the checked version holds up too. The sub-$300 price tag (with a 90 liter capacity) is another huge plus, and the all-black color scheme has near-universal appeal. In case you are a snowboarder, there are also some internal mesh pockets you should be able to get some use out of — and have we mentioned how much we like the handles on the front of this luggage? They’ll help you lift this bag onto a stand, and they’re weirdly comforting.

Get Burton Multipath Checked Travel Bag ($250) →

The High-Performance One

Patagonia’s Black Hole duffel bags are wonderful. Lightweight, durable, and significantly weather-resistant, they’re perfect for a weekend trip (to the mountains, say). But what if you need wheels? That’s what Patagonia’s wheeled duffels are for.

Pretty much the same thing, but on a rigid chassis, this is the perfect checked luggage for anyone who owns a pair of hiking boots and suspects they might get caught in the rain. And, if you’re just a casual traveler, this bag is a highly functional option at a price that feels reasonable (especially considering how much use you’ll get out of this thing). You can also feel good about the fact that Patagonia’s wheeled duffels are made from 64% recycled materials, and we’d like to remind you that Patagonia donates 1% of sales to environmental causes.

Get Patagonia Black Hole 70L Wheeled Duffel ($329) →

The Tactical Alternative

In terms of both aesthetics and functionality, North Face and Patagonia bags are very similar. They’re both effectively waterproof and can be stuffed to the bursting point (even if you have to press down and really yank on the zipper) — so which one do you choose?

We slightly prefer the construction and materials of the Patagonia wheeled duffel (they feel a little more refined), but the rubber-like coating on North Face’s bags is a little heftier than Patagonia’s. The all-black color option is another plus (it’s fair to say that we appreciate black luggage), and the buttons on the grip that allow you to extend the handle are surprisingly fun to press. But you shouldn’t really choose a bag based off colors or buttons.

This is, however, slightly cheaper and little larger than the Patagonia option, so that’s something to consider. No matter which route you go, you’ll wind up with something you can drag through a blizzard.

Get The North Face Rolling Thunder 30in Rolling Gear Bag ($300) →

The No-Nonsense One

You probably know Eastpak as that one backpack company that’s been around since 1952. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is essentially a rolling backpack. Granted, it’s significantly larger than a backpack (and it looks like luggage), but it has the same basic functionality. There’s nothing too fancy about this nylon bag, but if all you want to do is spend less than $150 on something for carry-on use (and you’d like that something to look perfectly nice as well), this is a solid choice.

Get Eastpak Tranverz S ($145) →

The Expandable One

When you go on vacation, what are you top three activities? If you mentioned shopping, here’s a bag for you. This Away suitcase expands, so it should accommodate all the clothing, shoes, and ceramics you’re prone to impulse buying. Away’s expandable line is relatively new, however, so we have yet to get any hands-on experience with this — although it has the same basic Away construction and comes in four sizes (including two for carry-on use).

Get Away The Medium Flex ($325) →

The Deluxe Expandable One

We realize we’re talking to a pretty niche audience here, but if you’re looking for an expandable suitcase that’s crafted from aluminum, we think you should go the Tumi route. This hybrid design involves panels of fabric that connect both sides of the suitcase and can be hidden away when you aren’t using the expandable function, and it also features some interior amenities like a zip divider and hanger bracket. We have yet to take this on a trip, but, upon inspection, construction appeared to be top-notch, and — while it isn’t expandable — we’re also big fans of Tumi’s aluminum trunk, which similarly falls into the rolling-status-symbol category.

Get Tumi 19 Degree 30-Inch Expandable Wheeled Packing Case ($1,395) →

The Retro One

Once again, a very niche pick. If you don’t want to spend over $1,000 on a suitcase, we understand completely, and we’re genuinely sorry for shoving this in your face. But just look at it. Globe-Trotter has been around since 1897, and if you see their luggage in the wild, you will, undoubtedly, experience fantasies of living in a highly bespoke Technicolor dreamscape.

Interior-wise, there isn’t much going on here. This is pretty much just a canvas-lined trunk that you can stuff all your clothes in. The exterior, however, is made from a highly durable vulcanized fiberboard with robust metal hardware and attractive leather accents to reinforce the corners. But the vintage looks (and extended heritage) are the real selling point here, and we aren’t going to waste your time pretending otherwise. If you’re going to buy a Globe-Trotter, chances are you know by now. We think you should go for it.

Get Globe-Trotter Centenary 30” suitcase ($1,743) →

The Faux-Retro One (That Costs A Lot Less)

In order to atone for suggesting several wildly expensive pieces of luggage, allow us to introduce you to Paravel. This company’s suitcases start at $255 and offer a throwback aesthetic with a vaguely mid-century feel. Most importantly, however, this Paravel luggage is made from a recycled polycarbonate shell, recycled zippers, and a liner produced from 15 plastic bottles. Paravel also offsets all emissions from sourcing, assembly, and shipping, and the accents on this bag are made from vegan leather. Overall, we’d place this suitcase in the same grown-up-yet-cost-effective tier as Away and Calpak, and — if your personal aesthetics align with the unique, retro look — we think this is something you’ll enjoy.

Get Caravel Aviator Carry-On ($255) →

The Rugged One

Do you always carry a S’well bottle? Have you thought about moving to the Pacific Northwest? Are there hiking trails bookmarked in your browser even though you hardly ever take time off work? It sounds like Filson’s the choice for you. As with the rest of Filson’s bags, this rolling duffle is made out of a heavy-duty cotton twill that can hold up to just about anything and also provides a measure of waterproofing. The handles are made from a thick, stiff leather that grows a little more supple over time, and the whole bag develops a nice patina with heavy use. So if you’re craving some attractive, long-lasting luggage that has more flex than something with a polycarbonate shell, Filson’s a wonderful choice. The cost obviously isn’t insignificant, but you will get compliments.

Get Filson Large Rugged Twill Rolling Duffel Bag ($675) →

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