TravelTravel Advice

Our Favorite Carry-On Bags for Avoiding Luggage Fees

The best luggage for the overhead bin and the space under your seat

Luggage that has withstood the test of time and cramped overhead compartments. (Photo: Mary Mathis)
Luggage that has withstood the test of time and cramped overhead compartments.

As the world comes to a standstill as we try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we encourage all of you to hunker down right now, too. In the meantime, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to get back out there.

Outside staffers are on the road a lot. Just like everyone else, we’re constantly trying to avoid ever rising baggage fees by fitting everything we need for a trip into our carry-on bags. Here, six of our frequent flyers talk about luggage that has withstood the test of time and cramped overhead compartments. 

Lo and Sons the Hanover 2 ($115)

loandsons
(Photo: Courtesy Lo and Sons)

When it comes to the compartments in my carry-on bag, the perfect number is always n plus one. The Hanover 2 is my new go-to, under-the-seat personal item because of its understated look and plentiful internal and exterior pockets that help me stay organized even on a 48-hour, five-flight travel itinerary from Santa Fe to New Delhi. It’s so well designed that I’ve also started using it as a gym/work bag—my running shoes go in its roomy main compartment, my computer in the separate laptop sleeve, my keys in an interior pouch, and my headphones in the nifty top pocket. As the proverbial saying goes: a place for everything, and everything in its place. 

Kelsey Lindsey, associate health editor

buy now


Roam Jaunt ($495)

backpack
(Photo: Courtesy Roam)

I’ve long been a backpack-or-bust traveler. For all my previous trips abroad, from Iceland to Mongolia to New Zealand, I never considered anything other than my trusty 55-liter REI Co-op backpack. So when one of our editors asked me to test a rolling suitcase earlier this year, I was skeptical I could be won over. But the Roam Jaunt surprised me: the wheels are a marvel and make navigating streets and airports easy, and the compact size means you’ll never struggle to fit it in an overhead bin. The best selling point, though, is how roomy this suitcase is for its small size—like Mary Poppins’s bag, it seems bottomless. For my next flight to Scotland, my backpack will be staying home. 

—Abbey Gingras, associate audience editor

buy now


Tortuga Outbreaker ($299)

backpack
(Photo: Courtesy Tortuga Backpacks)

I’ve been using the unisex Tortuga Outbreaker for a little over a year now, and I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve lugged it on every trip that has required flying, including a 20-hour slog to Indonesia, a series of connecting flights to Norway (with lots of running through the airports), and on domestic business trips everywhere from California to New Orleans. On all those excursions, I only took the Outbreaker and a personal item and felt like I was able to bring everything I needed while still having space for souvenirs and snacks on the way home. As an organization nerd, the smart system—with a spacious main compartment, mini zippered pockets for items like socks and toiletries, and a laptop sleeve—is right up my alley, and I never leave behind the custom packing cubes that fit snugly inside. My one big disclaimer is that I wouldn’t recommend the pack for a trip that’ll require you to carry it for prolonged periods of time, like backpacking around Europe, as the straps tend to dig into your shoulders after a couple hours. 

—Jenny Earnest, audience development director

buy now


Patagonia Black Hole Duffel ($97)

patagonia
(Photo: Courtesy Patagonia)

I’ve tried every kind of fancy adventure carry-on bag you can imagine—backpacks that open like duffels, duffels with backpack suspension systems, bags with laptop sleeves and shoe compartments. But almost every time I test one, I wind up dumping everything out at the eleventh hour and repacking in my 55-liter Patagonia Black Hole duffel, because it seems to swallow more gear more efficiently than anything else. Most likely this is because it’s so simple: just a large rectangle that you can stuff to your heart’s content, with durable yet pliable walls that are somehow always capable of stretching just a little more. But I like to chalk it up to magic. 

—Ariella Gintzler, associate gear editor

buy now


Helly Hansen Duffel Bag 2 and Bric’s Bellagio Spinner Trunk ($110 and $595)

HH DUFFEL BAG 2 50L
(Photo: Courtesy Helly Hansen)

For years I’ve gotten away with using my Helly Hansen Duffel Bag 2 as a personal item and my Bric’s Bellagio Spinner Trunk as my carry-on. Despite holding up to 50 liters, the cylindrical shape of the duffel bag somehow makes it seem much smaller on my back than it actually is—it just squeezes into the overhead bin—so check-in and gate agents have yet to stop me. The Bric’s is super sturdy and packs down well, which makes it perfect for heavy or more fragile items. On a recent trip to Seville, Spain, for a three-day-long wedding, followed by a few days in Tangier, Morocco, I managed to fit four sets of clothes, two wedding outfits, two pairs of shoes, a winter coat, two blankets from Fondouk Chejra (Tangier’s central weaver’s market), and a decorative pot that was gifted by the very sweet owner of Le Saveur de Poisson (arguably the best fish lunch in Tangier) in both and spent zero on baggage fees. 

—Erin Riley, senior travel editor

buy helly hansen buy bric’s


Osprey Fairview Wheeled Travel Pack Carry-On 36L ($240)

osprey
(Photo: Courtesy Osprey)

I spent over three years living out of a 65-liter Osprey Ariel backpacking pack while traveling abroad. Its durability made me a loyal Osprey fan, but I found myself frustrated with its one-dimensionality. While traversing dirt roads in Borneo, I was thankful for its cushy straps and hipbelt, but while searching the streets of Auckland, New Zealand, for a hostel, I wished it had wheels, and while getting on a plane, I longed for a built-in personal item so I wouldn’t have to carry my small backpack in front. Luckily, Osprey now makes a bag that checks all those boxes: the Fairview, which morphs into the perfect carry-on for any situation. It has rugged wheels that made it a breeze to roll (even over Sicily’s cobblestone streets), a daypack that attaches to the back or front and can be removed as a personal item, and comfy straps and a hipbelt that make it easy to carry over long distances. Now instead of having multiple bags for different uses, the Fairview is all I need. 

—Kaelyn Lynch, assistant travel editor

buy now

Filed To: BagsPatagoniaCarry-On BagAir TravelLuggage
Lead Photo: Mary Mathis

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small commission. Outside does not accept money for editorial gear reviews. Read more about our policy.

More Travel