A Traveler’s Guide to Buying Luggage

For the traveler, luggage is a long-term investment. With literally hundreds of brands, styles and sizes to choose from, purchasing luggage can be a daunting task. Here’s how to find the type that suits you best.

First, ask yourself the following questions:

How much does it weigh empty?
How often will it be used (once a week or once a year)?
How much will you be packing (enough clothes for overnight trips or bulky, heavy items)?
Will it be used for personal or business use? Or both?
How do you prefer to carry it, by the handle, over your shoulder or pulling on it wheels?
Do you need hard- or soft-sided (soft is lighter, but easier to damage; hard is heavier, but holds up better).
Costly or inexpensive? Expensive luggage is more likely to be targeted for theft. Cheap luggage falls apart sooner.
Single compartment versus multi-compartment? Non-sectioned pieces allows you to put things where you want. Divided luggage keeps items organized and in place.

Luggage Sizes

Cabin-sized (19 to 22 inches)
Due to their compact size and easy handling, these bags can be brought on board a train, plan or automobile. They are ideal for use as an overnight bag, with enough room for one or two outfits, toiletries, medications and other personal necessities.

Mid Size (23 to 26 inches)
Perfect for trips that are a week long or less, these bags have to be checked when traveling.

Large (27 to 30 inches)
Ideal for long trips or carrying the belongings of more than one traveler, these also have to be checked. New airline regulations limit individual luggage size to 30″ in length and 62″ total (height + width + depth). The fines for not abiding to the size rule are hefty; $75 to $300.

Types of Luggage

Suitcases or Pullmans
Suitcases and wheeled Pullmans usually range in size from 24″ to 36″ and are available in three construction types: hard-sided, semi-soft, and soft-sided. Hard-sided cases are best for protecting contents but tend to be heavy and bulky. They are either molded cases made of polypropylene, plastic, wood or metal and are covered with materials like canvas, vinyl or leather. Many hard-sided cases have wheels and pull straps. Soft-sided cases make great carry-on luggage because of their light weight and expandability. But they sacrifice protection by being less resistant to impact (think twice before you checking them if you’re carrying anything fragile). Semi soft-sided cases combine the best of both worlds, being partially framed with expandable tops and bottoms.

Designed for short trips, carry-ons are small bags or suitcases that can be stored in overhead bins or underneath the airplane seats. Sizes can vary, but generally do not exceed 22″. Most carry-ons have at least one external pocket, multiple inner compartments, and a handle or shoulder strap.

Tote Bags
Favored by women, totes are casual, all-purpose bags which tend to be smaller than most carry-ons and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The simplest totes look like open-top shopping bags made of fabric or leather. Other totes might feature zippers, waterproof pockets, expandable bottoms, and shoulder straps. Totes also double as purses, beach bags, or shopping bags.

Business/Computer Cases
Business bags come in a variety of styles, many of which are computer-compatible. They feature various compartments for paperwork and office supplies and personal accessories.

Garment Bags & Carriers
A garment bag offers the convenience of packing your clothes on hangers. Generally speaking, these bags can accommodate up to four garments, while a garment carrier can hold ten or more pieces. Garment bags range in length from 40″ (for men’s business suits), to 54″ (for women’s long dresses). Many can expand up to 60″ to accommodate evening gowns. The downside to garment bags and carriers is that most aircraft have little or no closet space to stow them.

Materials & Construction

Leather: Leather comes in different qualities. Is the bag “top-grain” or full-grain” leather? Is the leather less expensive because it is split, processed or patchwork leather? Is it thick and durable cowhide or bridle leather. Less expensive leather is more likely to show wear and have more imperfections.

Fabrics: Is nylon, vinyl, or natural fibers used as the primary covering and trim? How strong is the fiber? Is the bag constructed of puncture-proof ballistic nylon? Shopping for fabric bags is like shopping for high-quality bedding; look for the highest thread count. This count refers to the number of threads per square inch. The more threads per inch, the more durable and lasting the bag. Look for a minimum of a 1200 thread count.

Cordura: Interwoven with a blend of ballistic nylon and various metals, Cordura can stand up to more punishment than any other fabric. Difficult to find, expensive and notoriously heavy, Cordura has the lowest return rate of any luggage.

Edges: Are the edges durable and do they provide protection to the luggage? Does it have reinforced corners?

Handles – Is the handle durable and well-padded? For large luggage, a locking handle system prevents the handle from being damaged when you check your bag.

Wheels – It is less taxing to pull a bag than carry it by its handle or over your shoulder. Recessed wheels are less susceptible to damage. Rubberized wheels with ball bearings handle smoother and last longer.

Zippers – Modern, synthetic zippers made of molded plastic or polyester coils can self-repair when the slide is run back over the zipper. Metal zippers are the most durable.

Locks – Hard-sided luggage usually has built-in combination locks. Soft and semi-soft bags usually come with padlocks and key locks that attach to the zipper pulls

Special Features – Is there an accordion pleat on the sides of the bag to allow it to expand? Are there outside pockets? Does the bag have waterproof pockets for storage of wet and soiled garments?

Other Things to Consider

Be sure to check the interior. Look for luggage that is fully lined with material (leather or fabric) on the top, bottom and walls of the bag or case. If it isn’t lined, exposed screws and hardware can snag and rip your garments. Ideally, the interior should feature a clothing strap for keeping items in place and at least one pocket for storing small items.

The Warranty. If there is a warranty, how long is it good for and what does it cover? Do I return it to the store where I’ve made the purchase or must I ship it directly to the manufacturer to be serviced? Be sure to ask these questions before making a purchase.

Some Final Tips

Utilize luggage tags, but use a P.O. Box or your business address on them (a home address may suggest to potential thieves that your house will be vacant). Also make sure to include your name, address and telephone number somewhere inside your luggage.

Put luggage to the test by carrying, rolling, opening and closing them before purchasing.

In Conclusion

Luggage is available through retail stores, specialty stores, mail order and on the internet. Before making a final purchase decision, compare quality, price, style, convenience, and match them to your personal taste.


Am Tourister
Briggs & Riley
Code Alpha
Eagle Creek
Intl Traveler
High Sierra
Kenneth Cole
Pierre Cardin
Travelers Club
Wally Bags
Zero Halliburton

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