Luggage choices abound—along with promises of stronger and more functional models. To find out where the top brands excel and where they fall flat, we put seven suitcases through a series of punishing tests and evaluated their performance. PLUS How to pack the perfect bag—and what to do when it fails to reach its final destination.
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.
Hartmann Intensity Collection, 22" Expandable Mobile Traveler
Weight 11.5 lbs. Price $595
Warranty Length of bag's life
Design A plain-Jane bag, but smartly laid out, except for the perplexing lack of a bottom handle—important for placing bags in overhead compartments—and the faulty zipper of the removable interior lining. Once unzipped, the lining is impossible to zip back into place. Our testers also found the main handle particularly short; it forced all but the most petite of them into a hunched position.
Resistance Nearly bone-dry after the water test: only about a teaspoon of liquid leaked into the front pocket and main compartment. The Hartmann passed the scratching and puncture tests with flying colors, and the interior fabric proved highly resistant to our simulated toiletry leak.
Packability A slim, wide handle casing means that nearly all of the interior space can be used. Though the main compartment is only six inches deep (the depth of most bags in our test was about 81/2 inches), the suiter's three-inch pouch offers additional space, if you don't mind dividing your clothes between the two areas. There are also two decent-sized front pockets.
Maneuverability Wonderful balance and functionality in challenging situations: the bag was very stable. But the handle's short length meant our testers had to roll the case at a lower angle, leading to extra wear and tear on the back of the case.
Durability Although the frame was undamaged, the handle took a beating and disconcertingly popped up (twice) on impact. However, the bag's appearance suffered less than that of any other in our test.
OVERALL An especially well-rounded bag—good for anyone who appreciates simplicity. Tall travelers may want to look elsewhere, though.
Tumi Generation 4, Wheeled, 22" Expandable Frequent Traveler
Weight 13.5 lbs. Price $595
Warranty Five years
Design Sleek and attractive, but our testers had problems with its handles. The main handle has a locking lower position that's tricky to bypass, and the unobtrusive side handle is hard to grip. Alone among the bags we tested, the Tumi expands using an interior pop-up mechanism; though useful for packing, this means the interior lining is difficult to remove, making cleaning a challenge. Tumi's tracking system for lost bags (each case is assigned a special bar-coded ID) is a definite plus.
Resistance The main compartment stayed dry during the water trial, but a front pocket took on water. The fabric suffered only mild scratching from the serrated-knife test and survived the puncture test. Toiletries posed no threat to the water-resistant interior, but its lining's light color means you can't hide stains.
Packability The main compartment is hampered by a thick handle casing, which reduces the usable depth of the case by an inch. And the interior strap that holds items in place is too short to use when the bag is fully packed. The front pockets are fantastic, however: there's a roomy one running the bag's length, as well as a shorter, shallower one in front.
Maneuverability Felt a little less smooth than the others when simply rolled in a straight line, but was excellent on turns and exceptionally stable, thanks to a bottom-heavy design (though that did make it more of a challenge on stairs).
Durability During the impact test, the interior plastic mechanism that expands the bag broke, and the fabric at the corners split, exposing the frame. After the water test, the pop-up function of the bag's handle became impossible to work without extreme wrangling, rendering the bag unusable at times.
OVERALL The most aesthetically appealing of the cases, but a little bit fragile. We recommend it for business travelers, who often carry on their luggage and who will appreciate the bag's looks and maneuverability.
Victorinox Medium Mobilizer, 22" Expandable Upright
Dimensions 22" x 14" x 10"
Weight 12.5 lbs. Price $490
Warranty Length of bag's life
Design Cheers for the sturdy case and its easy-to-grip, spring-loaded main handle and side handle that pulls out and locks into place. But where's the bottom handle?Victorinox's coded bag-tracking system, like Tumi's, provides peace of mind.
Resistance Suffered only mild scratches during the knife test, but flunked before the watering can. The interior of the bag's front pocket was soaked, the main section was drenched, and, to make matters worse, water flowed between the two. The fabric proved more resistant to toiletries, but the shiny material stained easily.
Packability An especially spacious interior means that the prominent handle casing is still easy to pack around. The suiter, which comes with a special mesh shirt pocket and a hook for multiple hangers, won high marks.
Maneuverability Great shock absorbency, but felt sluggish compared with others, which made sprinting difficult. Also, though it was stable in most of the tests, the case was prone to toppling once off-balance.
Durability A couple of hard tosses left a small indentation in the bag's back, but the fabric held up remarkably well, and the wheels, which received the brunt of impact several times, were unharmed. After the test, however, the handle became more difficult to extend and retract—a cause for concern.
OVERALL Though not quite as tough as we would have liked, the Victorinox is a good choice for leisure travelers looking for extra packing space and an easy-to-use design.
Samsonite Silhouette 700 Series, Expandable Carry-on Upright Suiter
Dimensions 21.5" x 14" x 7.5"
Weight 11 lbs. Price $320
Warranty 10 years
Design Nearly perfect—our testers loved the adjustable-height handle and were impressed with the bag's easy- to-grip side and top handles. They were disappointed, however, by the clumsy (and flimsy) built-in ID tag.
Resistance Although the exterior fabric looked water-resistant (it certainly held up against oil and dirt), we ended up with about a cup of water in the main compartment and a sopping wet front pocket. We were also surprised to find that the exterior fabric scratched fairly easily. The interior stood up to water and toiletries, but its tan color reveals every stain.
Packability The only company to acknowledge the difficulty of packing around the handle casing, Samsonite maximizes interior space by providing a special pouch that helps you pack items between the metal bars and create a flat surface for the clothes above. Plus, there are three useful pockets (one deep and long) in the front.
Maneuverability The bag felt slow and heavy despite its light frame and lacked balance on tight turns. Testers, however, were thrilled with the performance of the handle, which is designed to absorb shocks.
Durability With a padded flap that zips over it, the handle—the most vulnerable part of many bags we tested—was successfully protected in the toss test. The thin, plastic frame on the back of the case, however, dented in one corner and shattered in another, leaving the bag prone to further damage. Strangely, the fabric came through this test unscratched.
OVERALL A good value choice: this bag has some flaws but also several real advantages at an attractive price.
American Tourister Tribute II 600 Series, Expandable Carry-on Upright Suiter
Dimensions 21" x 14" x 8"
Weight 11 lbs. Price $200
Warranty 10 years
Design Adequate, if a little shabby. Our testers liked the main handle and the easy-to-grip bottom one, but noted that the thin interior fabric cannot be removed for cleaning.
Resistance The exterior fabric kept the front pocket dry, but there was about a half-cup of water in the main compartment—and it was quickly absorbed into the tan interior fabric, which we found particularly susceptible to staining. This was the only bag that succumbed to our stabs: the exterior punctured slightly and the interior fabric beneath it tore. The knife-scratch test left the bag an unsightly mess.
Packability This has the smallest interior capacity of the bags we tested, and it's the only one that comes with a top interior pouch, but no true suiter. Neither of the deep front pockets runs the length of the case—a bit of a disappointment.
Maneuverability Our testers applauded the handle's comfortable grip, which aided with movement, but were frustrated with the bag's lackluster shock absorbency, which left them with tired arms and shoulders. The bag wobbled in tight turns, though it recovered quickly and rarely fell over.
Durability One of the plastic wheel casings came a little loose after our tossing tests, but there was no structural damage to the suitcase. Plus, the fabric fared remarkably well while skidding across pavement.
OVERALL What do you expect for two hundred bucks?Not perfection, but this case performed well, making it an excellent starter bag.
* All prices are manufacturers' suggested retail. In many cases, these models are available at a discount in stores.
According to the Department of Transportation, nearly 1.8 million passengers complained that their bags were lost, stolen, or damaged by U.S. carriers in the first six months of this year—a 38 percent increase from the same time period last year. Some airlines and airports are starting to address this perennial problem by investing in electronic luggage-tracking systems known as radio frequency identification (RFID). At press time, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas had plans to start using RFID in August; Japan Airlines, All Nippon, and KLM have already tested RFID programs. But until this technology is the industry standard, airlines will continue to misplace luggage. While most travelers know they have a right to compensation, few know that there are ways they can increase their chances of collecting.
Lost Bags Most domestic airlines won't consider a bag "lost" until it has been missing for seven days—but this varies from carrier to carrier. The maximum value most U.S. airlines will assign your lost bag is around $2,800. But without proof of its contents, you'll likely collect a fraction of this amount. Keep receipts—especially if you've gone on a shopping trip or are carrying expensive items. Declare that your bag is worth more than $2,800 upon check-in, and buy extra insurance from the airline. Most carriers will allow you to declare a value of up to $5,000, at a cost of $1 for every $100 over $2,800. Last year's Montreal Convention on international airline standards tripled the compensation for bag loss to a predetermined rate that, at press time, was the equivalent of $1,480, and set the definition of a "lost" bag at 21 days missing (down from 45 for many airlines). Remember, there are a number of items that the airlines won't take responsibility for, such as jewelry, cameras, electronics, furs, china, and other valuables. Make sure to read your airline's Contract of Carriage (posted on its Web site) to find out what not to put in your checked bag. Travelers with homeowners' insurance should check their policies, as many insurance companies also cover at least a portion of personal possessions lost on domestic and international flights.
Delayed Bags Most U.S. airlines consider a bag to be delayed if it doesn't arrive at your destination when you do. With both domestic and international carriers, you can be reimbursed for items you had to purchase while you were waiting for your luggage. The amount varies by airline, but can be anywhere from $25 to $50 a day. If your bag is delivered to you on the same day you arrive, however, you won't be reimbursed for anything. —ANDREA BENNETT
For the traveler who doesn't want to risk losing his bag (or who simply doesn't want to tote it), here are two luggage-shipping services that will pick up from your home and deliver right to your hotel: Luggagefree (800/361-6871; www.luggagefree.com; $126 for a 40-pound bag sent one-way from New York to Los Angeles in two days) delivers to all domestic and most international locations and offers the more personalized approach: it wraps suitcases in protective plastic before shipping, lets most customers select specific pick-up times, and will even pick up on weekends (for a $75 surcharge). Virtual Bellhop (877/235-5467; www.virtualbellhop.com; $99) has more competitive rates but lacks some of the extra services. Pick-ups are scheduled in four-hour blocks Monday through Friday, and luggage wrapping is strictly do-it-yourself. The company doesn't serve most of South America, but goes just about anywhere else in the world. —BRIDGET MORIARITY
Whether you leave it until the last minute or plan it a week in advance, packing can be one of the most anxiety-producing parts of a trip. No longer. Using methods culled from experts and tips from our own well-traveled editors, T+L presents two step-by-step guides to perfectly packed suitcases for a five-day trip. Although one is tailored to men's clothes and the other to women's, both contain unisex tips. By Xander Kaplan, with Amy Farley and Clara Ogden
Place heavy dress shoes along the bottom of the bag for balance, and protect them with felt bags and shoe trees. If you plan to work out, opt for collapsible sneakers. Carry toiletries in plastic sample-sized containers to save space and protect against spills. To prevent wrinkles in bulkier clothing, such as pants, fold them together with a rolled T-shirt at each crease.
Use a tie case; it takes up more space but is the only foolproof way to ensure that your ties won't get crushed. Roll sturdy and wrinkle-resistant clothing such as jeans and secure with rubber bands. Fit tightly rolled undergarments and socks into smaller crevices. Carefully fold sweaters and other delicate items and place them on top of your stack of pants.
Stow electronic accessories and cords in a plastic case so they are easy to locate (and to pull out during security searches). Have shirts professionally laundered and folded before placing them at the top of the case. Use rolled belts , gym clothes, and T-shirts to fill remaining space.
The top layer of the packed suitcase is least susceptible to wrinkles. Suit pants, folded in two with tissue paper lining the crease, should be laid on top. Finally, place suit jacket in the suiter.
Divide bag into two parts. In the first section, pack flat dress shoes or low heels that are comfortable enough for day and stylish enough for night. Save space with collapsible sneakers—and protect your clothes by placing shoes in felt bags. In the second part of the suitcase, use an interweave folding method to prevent creasing. Begin by lining the suitcase with a delicate item, such as a dress, letting its ends hang off the bag's edges.
Lay pants perpendicular to the dress, with ends dangling over the bag. Fold sturdier pants like jeans and cords, and stack them where the slacks and dress intersect. Roll nightgowns or gym clothes to place in empty crevices. For easy access, electronic accessories can be placed in a see-through case and stowed in one of the suitcase's extra pockets.
Keep your undergarments protected in a separate pouch (you'll be especially glad you did this when your bag is being searched by a stranger). To prevent wrinkles, skirts should be lined with tissue paper, folded in half, and then carefully rolled, again with tissue. Likewise, use tissue for sweaters.
With the interweave stack now complete, fold the dangling ends of the dress and pants over one another. This method protects both the dress and pants from tight folds—and the creases they cause. Delicate clothing, such as satin shirts, should be carefully folded (with tissue) and packed last.