Anyone who has ever discovered his trusty suitcase mangled on a baggage carousel or abandoned on a tarmac in the rain—or found herself dragging it across the cobblestoned streets of a European village—knows that not all luggage is created equal. To find the cream of the crop, T+L purchased the newest bags available at press time from seven top luggage companies—all 22-inch roller models, expandable when possible—and put them to the test.
Each bag was subjected to identical stresses, admittedly more severe than any piece of luggage would normally endure. To test the fabric's resistance, we tried to puncture it with sharp objects and scratched it with a serrated knife, to see how easily it would catch or tear; we also emptied an eight-liter watering can over each bag, smeared oil and dirt on exteriors to observe the fabric's absorbancy, and poured toiletries (shampoo and lotion) on the interiors to see how they'd hold up to leaks. In our durability test, we repeatedly tossed each bag, fully packed, from the top of a staircase. With an eye on design and functionality, we tried out each bag's compartments, zippers, and handles to see how easy it is to pack and to use. To test the bags' maneuverability, we ran them through an obstacle course of cobblestones, curbs, uneven pavement, and stairs. Although we took aesthetics into account, this wasn't a beauty contest: our aim was to find the best all-around workhorses. Here are the results, listed from the most to least expensive bag. By Amy Farley, with Jennifer V. Cole, Darrell Hartman, Robert Maniaci, Bridget Moriarity, and Clara Ogden
TravelPro Platinum 4SE, 22" Expandable Rollaboard Suiter
Dimensions 22" x 14" x 9"
Weight 13 lbs. Price $600*
Warranty Length of bag's life
Design Although strong on the basics (the zippers were our favorite among those we
tested), the bag had one major drawback: its Pro-Grip extension handle, a flip-up rod that
sticks out from the main handle at a 45-degree angle. Our testers found that the Pro-Grip
requires you to hold your arm at an awkward and uncomfortable angle; it was also somewhat
flimsy—under pressure, it nearly snapped off.
Resistance Our water test left the insides of the bag's front pockets and main compartment soaked—plus, they took an exceptionally long time to dry. The interior absorbed a great quantity of greasy shampoo and lotion, and the bag's exterior snagged easily during the knife-scratch trial.
Packability The Pro-Grip necessitates a larger-than-usual handle casing that reduces the effective depth of the main compartment from 8.5 to 7 inches. On the other hand, there's space in the top pouch, and two of the four front pockets are fairly substantial. This is a bag for people who like to compartmentalize: it comes with everything from a suit and shoe bag to a hanging cosmetics case.
Maneuverability Using the Pro-Grip, our testers found quick turns a challenge, though it did make the bag more stable. Without it, however, the TravelPro was extraordinarily unstable: this was the only case that flipped over during each of our agility tests—often more than once.
Durability The corners of the bag took a severe beating during the toss test, but the frame was undamaged. Most worrisome was that the handle popped up upon impact, which could lead to severe damage when going through a baggage carousel.
OVERALL Although we had expected a bit more from this bag (TravelPro was, after all, founded by an airline pilot looking for the perfect suitcase), we nonetheless were impressed by its range of innovative accessories that will appeal to diligent packers.
Andiamo Valoroso, 22" Wheeled Expandable Roll-on Pullman
Dimensions 22" x 14" x 8.5"
Weight 13 lbs. Price $595
Warranty Five years
Design This rugged-looking case has some good points (removable interior fabric, an
adjustable-height handle, and a substantial pocket on the back side) but could be more user-friendly:
its main handle mechanism felt a little sticky, and the chunky zippers were hard to tug. In
its fully extended position, the handle was too high for most testers. Also, the feet on our
bag weren't perfectly aligned, making the case wobble when standing upright.
Resistance The thick-weave exterior fabric was excellent at resisting punctures (and hiding scratches), repelling oil and dirt, and protecting the main compartment from water. So it was all the more disappointing to discover that a sievelike zipper allowed nearly a cup of water into the front pocket. One bonus: the strong interior fabric prevented the water from leaking into the main compartment and was particularly toiletry-resistant.
Packability The roomy interior's unobtrusive wheel base and deep exterior front pocket scored points for functionality. The suiter comes with a folding hanger and adjustable padded bars to minimize creasing.
Maneuverability Like the TravelPro's, the Andiamo's handle—which adjusts to a 45-degree angle—aided with stability, but made quick pivoting and curb-hopping difficult. The difference: this bag was stable.
Durability Some of the plastic protective elements around the wheels and on corners came loose after the tosses, but the bag's fabric and frame emerged unscathed. If only the metal screws on its handle had fared so well—they rusted after the water test.
OVERALL We included a bag from Andiamo—a lesser-known, California-based company—because we'd heard rave reviews from luggage dealers. With its roomy, sturdy design and unpolished appearance, this is more a bag for adventurous types than for fashion-conscious travelers.