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How To Choose the Best Wheeled Luggage

Haul your gear all over the world with the right wheeled luggage for your journey

The one thing that makes hauling gear all over the world easier? Wheels. If you have a 50-pound load and a train to catch, wheels could be the difference maker. And even if you’re not in a hurry, wheels are the difference between cruising and sweating.

When picking the right piece of luggage for a trip, there are many considerations: what you’ll be packing, if you’ll check your bag, what type of terrain you’ll be wheeling over, what your modes of transportation are, and what type of versatility you need. Here’s how to buy wheeled luggage that’s best for your needs.

Type of Wheeled Luggage

When choosing what type of wheeled luggage you need, think about what type of travel you’ll be doing (camping? hotels?), which activities you’ll be doing (beach? safari?), and what modes of transportation you’ll be taking (small planes, trains, buses, boats?).

Wheeled Luggage

This is the classic suitcase on wheels, and is often best for hotel-based travel, or travel in urban areas (though some models have pretty incredible handling on dirt).

Wheeled Duffels

World adventurers love these all-purpose bags. They’re lightweight, malleable for stuffing into cargo spaces, and it’s easy to cram them full of gear. But a large, packed duffel can be cumbersome, especially if you have to schlep it over long distances. Wheels make it easier; some wheeled duffels also have backpack straps, which add extra utility.

Wheeled Backpacks

Get the convenience of a backpack with the mobility of wheels. If you encounter any stairs or unfriendly terrain simply stowe the handle and swing it onto your back. This type works best for those scenarios where you don’t need very much stuff as these bags are usually carry-on sized.

Two Wheels or Four?

Two-wheels are more common in adventure-travel luggage; you can pull the bag behind you or push it in front of you, and this set-up is better at handling rough roads like cobblestone and dirt. But urban travelers might prefer four wheels, since your luggage stays upright and can glide in any direction smoothly, and you can still tilt it for two-wheel functionality. (Just remember, if you leave four-wheeled luggage unattended, it will likely roll away). Two or four, make sure the wheels are high quality and not made of hard plastic, which is likely to break or crack if handled roughly.

Hard-Sided or Soft-Sided?

Before you decide, ask yourself what you’ll be carrying, where you’re going, and where you’ll store your luggage at home when it’s not in use. Hard-sided luggage is durable and more effective at protecting what’s inside. Soft-sided luggage—usually made of nylon fabric—can better squish into tight spaces and overhead bins, is easier to store at home, and is typically lighter weight. Make sure you choose high-denier fabrics as they’re more durable. Either way, make sure your luggage is made with water-resistant materials.

Photo: Dan Holz/TandemStock

Handles

You’ll want the all-important towing handle to be long enough so you can walk without your bag hitting you in the ankles, but short enough that you’re not taking up a ton of space in a crowded airport. The handle should also fully retract so it’s not at risk of being damaged. Look for top and side handles as well, which make it much easier to hoist your bag into overhead bins or pull on and off bus compartments. 

Size

If you’re getting one wheeled bag for all your trips, it should be big enough for your most gear-intensive plans. It’s easier to underfill a bag that’s too big than overfill a bag that’s too small. That said, it’s always better to travel as light as you can, especially if you’re moving around a lot and taking many different modes of transportation. Be sure to take note of the interior dimensions. Do support bars, curved corners, and inset wheels take up too much of your precious packing space? And don’t go too big, risking charges for oversize baggage. For checked luggage, the worldwide standard is generally 62 linear inches (which means the sum of its height, width, and depth).

Weight

When you know you’ll be packing a lot of gear, you don’t want to get penalized by the weight of the luggage itself. Make sure to compare the weight of each piece you’re considering before making your final purchase. As a rule of thumb, keep the weight of empty, wheeled bags under 10 pounds.

Color

Black is a great color for luggage—it’s sleek, sophisticated, and doesn’t show as much dirt as other colors. And that’s why everyone buys black bags. Which makes it difficult to spot your bag at baggage claim or in a crowd. Make your life easier by choosing a colorful or patterned bag, or go with black but throw some colorful ribbon on the handle. 

Zippers

Look for the gold standard of zippers—ones marked YKK. These are the most reliable; heavy-duty bags should have metal zippers with large teeth.

Organization

Does it have enough pockets and handy compartments? Think about where you’ll store paperwork, books, and electronics. Do you need a place for dirty shoes? If you need more organization, consider using packing cubes. Also, with bigger bags, check for internal compression straps to secure the load.

Technology

Some newer pieces of luggage have location tracking, built-in scales, digital locks, and ways to charge your electronics.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.