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The 9 Best Rolling Luggage, According to Frequent Fliers

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Retailers

Luggage can make or break your trip. At its best, you don’t even notice it’s there. At its worst, it’s an anchor you have to drag across the airport like a dog that refuses to cross the street. There are many schools of thought when it comes to picking the best rolling luggage (check-in or carry-on, hard shell or soft side, etc.), so we asked frequent fliers for their recs.

When you’re carry-on or bust …

Never mind that your clothing is rolled up into literal balls of wrinkled cotton or you weren’t able to pack deodorant; if it doesn’t fit in the carry-on, it’s not coming. One thread we noticed is that all the experts picked the largest version of each brand’s available carry-on. Go as big as you can or stay home.

Meet the most recommended bag from our experts. As the “Bigger” of Away’s carry-on options, this one pushes the limit for what most airlines will allow. Miraculously, it’s still light enough to wield safely above passengers’ heads and into the overhead bin, a testament to its durable polycarbonate frame. Sarah Raoufpur, a casting director based in Los Angeles, says that beyond work trips, her Bigger Carry-On has traveled around the world (“Over the last several years, it’s been to Japan, Spain, and Mexico”). While there’s a lot to love about it, Raoufpur says, “It’s sleek, chic, and has enough room to be comfortably packed for weeks at a time. My favorite features are the USB external battery (perfect for long travel days).

Being an actual movie star comes with more than the usual human amount of travel, so it’s no surprise that Shay Mitchell’s brand, Béis, is hype-worthy. Another line of work that can require frequent flying? Public relations. Cathy Jang, a PR specialist at Amazon Prime Video, says Béis gets you the most bang for your buck. “I tried to get my hands on a piece of Béis luggage during Black Friday and it was no use. I ended up getting the carry-on later and it was well worth it, even at full price. I travel regularly, so luggage is far from an afterthought — this thing glides like a dream, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks nice too.”

When you take your luggage like you take your mattresses …

A slew of new direct-to-consumer brands is making traveling in style more democratic. These bags tend to cost half that of legacy labels, but they look good, perform, and usually come with free shipping.

Calpak makes one of the Cut Shop’s favorite weekender bags (the Luka duffel). So we weren’t surprised to find that the brand’s luggage is top-qual too. The Ambeur line is a decent dupe of Rimowa’s aluminum suitcases and a fraction of the cost. They’re also made of aluminum but are shockingly lightweight — an average of one or two pounds lighter than Rimowa pieces. Plus, you can be a little less precious about them when they’re unceremoniously heaved across baggage claim.

July launched a little after Away, but it already has a dedicated following (this writer included). It’s the only place I’ve been able to find a transatlantic-voyage-level trunk without costing what feels like an apartment security deposit. This is the largest bag the Melbourne-based brand offers and is perfect for families that need to travel with their child’s entire room wherever they go. I love that it’s made with aluminum bumpers but has a polycarbonate shell, so it stays light. It’s also probably only rivaled by Away in the amount of color options offered.

When you just want something that works …

It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? These bags value function over form but don’t look too shabby, either.

When he’s not shoving clothes into his Pelican camera case to cut down on checked items, Matthew Tompkins, a cinematographer who lives in upstate New York and Los Angeles, uses this durable Amazon find. “I pack my bag like a game of Tetris — with clothes alongside equipment — so a hard shell is imperative when transporting things safely. This Samsonite rolls smoothly and gets the job done,” he says.

Damien Nunes, former director of accessories, partnerships, and collaborations at Gap, travels between the East Coast and L.A., Austin, and Seattle (and internationally to London and Paris) on the regular, and this Patagonia wheeled duffel is the only thing that can keep up. “This bag has to be checked, which is fine with me because it’s super-weather-resistant; has smooth, strong wheels; and has a great handle. What I love is that it’s just a huge volume of space, without lots of useless pockets and compartments. What’s also great is it has a zipped bottom lining that I can shove stinky, dirty clothes under during a trip,” he says. And it lasts too — Nunes had the previous generation of the slightly smaller model for 12 years.

When you’ve got down-payment money in your bank account …

Two names came up frequently when talking to our experts: Tumi and Rimowa. Classics are classic for a reason, and these labels have proved time and again that they’re worth the (not insignificant) investment.

A former Rimowa skeptic, Lauren Gary, senior strategist at TBWA\Media Arts Lab, is now a full-fledged convert: “My husband is a frequent traveler and has been a Rimowa enthusiast for the last ten years. Once his luggage became a permanent fixture in our travels together, I could see why,” she says. “This thing screams “luxury”… as it should with that kind of price tag. The Classic has leather handles, a sleek aluminum body, and latches that click so well it feels like shutting the door on a G-Wagon.” The downsides are that the piece is a bit heavier than plastic versions, some of the hardware has been known to be finicky (though if you’re within Rimowa’s warranty period, you’ll be fine), and per Gary, “It’s not suited for smaller yachts.” You know, relatable travel things!

“The last Tumi I had I used for over ten years,” says Joe Zee, former editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Style and co-host of FABLife. “That one was so old, it only had two wheels! It’s just super-durable. Of course, no baggage carousel treats luggage well, but this has always held up and fits everywhere.” Zee says the interior of the bag is especially nice: “It has a separate compartment for dirty laundry, and there are clips for a garment bag in the interior.” The only downside? The color you’re looking at here is the color you’re going to get.

Want a bag that’s durable — like, throw it across the tarmac and it won’t sustain a scratch durable — but feels like you’re pushing air? Eugenia Gonzalez de Henn, contributing editor at Vogue Mexico & Latin America, says, “This bag rolls so smoothly, it feels like it can walk on its own.” She discovered Rimowa through her husband (“A perfectionist German architect who swears by its design and practicality”). She loves how lightweight the bag is, but even better: “When it opens, the weight is evenly divided down the middle, and these very handy blue dividers hold your clothing down so nothing moves, wrinkles, or unfolds when you open and close the bag.”

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The article was originally published on July 8, 2016. It has been updated throughout. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

The 9 Best Rolling Luggage, According to Frequent Fliers