Clem Chambers prides himself on never having to check a bag. “I’ve only had to do it two times in the last 500 flights, ” says the CEO of investing site ADVFN.com and author of the novel The First Horseman. “And only then because you can’t take a cricket bat on board with you.”
Like a lot of frequent travelers, Chambers is also pretty particular about his carry-on bag. “Most bags’ wheels are awful, ” he says, and so he looks for luggage with rugged wheels, like those found on a skateboard. “It doesn’t matter about the rest of the bag—the leather, the compartments, clever pockets, ” he says. “If the wheels come off, the bag is dead.”
As airlines have ratcheted up baggage fees—and arguably done only a middling job at keeping track of checked-in luggage—finding a high-performance carry-on has become essential for frequent flyers. Carry-on bag features—such as increased capacity, TSA-friendly tech compartments and, of course, those wheels—can mean the difference, literally, between a smooth trip and a chaotic one, especially when you’re sprinting through the airport.
The first wheeled carry-on debuted about 25 years ago, and today’s most cutting-edge luggage, according to the Travel Goods Association, reflects its continuing evolution. This year, “bags are more functional, lighter and have improved-upon, game-changing options, ” says Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the TGA. One growing trend: mod-looking hard-sided bags with traditionally soft-bag features, such as easy-access outside pockets and more internal compartments.
When we looked at the best new bags on the market, we found practical features that also have a sense of fun: collapsible bags, compression systems and even laundry chutes. Other bags prepare you for the high probability that you’ll spend a few hours hanging out at the airport: One bag incorporates a seat into its frame, while another has a secure cradle for your tablet, so you can wait out your delay by watching a full season of Game of Thrones.
The most dazzling trend, however, may be the increased movement within four-wheeled models, which now turn 360 degrees so that you can pivot the bag as you cruise down the plane aisle. Los Angeles–based travel consultant Antoi Antzoulides recently bought a multiwheel bag from Rimowa and is so pleased with it, she reports, that “my husband says I’m obsessed with it. I’ll pull it out and roll it around even if I’m not going anywhere.”