Despite how buying luggage may make you feel, there is such a thing as the perfect bag. Once you know exactly what you’re looking for, it’s not too hard to find, either. This buying guide is all about helping you track down the perfect piece or set of luggage for your lifestyle.
Table of contents
Types of luggage to suit your needs
There are two main considerations to keep in mind when buying a new piece of luggage. You’ll want to consider size, but first and foremost, it’s important to look at what type of luggage you’re searching for. Almost all luggage products will come in all of the three main sizes, so you’ll be able to find the size that suits your needs after choosing the style.
There are many useful features to look for when buying new luggage, but some are a little more universal than others. Upright spinner luggage has four wheels mounted on independent castors, allowing your bag to stand on its own and pull along smoothly behind or in front of you. There are a few exceptions to this rule; some pieces from brands like Samsonite contain four sets of double wheels for extra stability.
Today’s spinner luggage features 360 degree wheels, allowing for movement in all directions. These pieces are typically hard side luggage.
Hard side luggage
Hard side luggage is notable for having a hard (often polycarbonate or ABS plastic) shell. It’s extremely durable, and helps protect your luggage from being squished, tossed, or banged around. As a result, it’s a popular choice for air travel, where baggage handlers are likely to move your luggage with less care than you would take.
There are pros and cons that come with buying luggage that has a hard side finish. While it’s durable and comes with spinner wheels, it also lacks outer pockets. Many pieces now have an expandable zippered section if they’re large or mid-sized, but this may not provide as much expansion as a soft sided piece of luggage might. Additionally, because of the rigidity of each product’s shell, hard side luggage shows wear more quickly than soft sided pieces. Opt for matte and textured surfaces to reduce the visibility of scratches. Look for products that list their makeup as containing materials such as ABS plastic and polycarbonates.
Should you be buying luggage that weighs less than 10 pounds, your purchase can be categorized as lightweight luggage. These pieces are likely made with fibreglass or aluminum components, and can come in either hard or soft sided formats. Find lightweight luggage pieces in a hard side finish from brands like SWISSGEAR, who excel in creating durable, ABS plastic luggage.
Soft side luggage
Soft side luggage is a more traditional choice for travellers, although hard side pieces are quickly becoming more popular. Made from polyester, nylon, and canvas, these items often feature more pockets than hard side pieces. In particular, they offer external pockets, which makes them ideal to take as carry-on.
Soft side luggage will show less wear over time. However, due to their classic style, these pieces will sometimes come with 2 wheels instead of 4, so they can be harder to maneuver in larger sizes. Because the soft sides of these pieces make it easier for their contents to be squished or jostled, they’re a more common choice for methods of travel where the traveller stays with their luggage the entire time: carry-on on airplanes, car travel, and train travel.
Hybrid luggage is designed to capitalize on the best parts of both hard and soft side luggage. These pieces typically have a rigid aluminum frame (the hard side) underneath a soft, textile exterior. They’re often expandable, and have multiple external pockets. While they’re a little harder to find, hybrid luggage pieces are meant to be both light and durable.
If you’ve got kids traveling with you, you may want to get them their own piece of luggage. Look for pieces with fun designs to help encourage them to look after their own bag. Most kids luggage today is themed with fun characters or cartoon designs, so choosing a theme they love is the first half of the battle. Pieces will typically come in hard side finishes, as ABS plastic and similar materials are easier to print detailed images on.
The other half of the battle when buying luggage for your kids involves making sure that the luggage can do what you need it to do. Kids luggage is always relatively small (which is great if you might have to carry it during nap time!) Still, kids luggage offers plenty of variety, with options including 2 or 4 wheels, soft sides vs hard sides, and overall size.
Choosing the right luggage size
When buying luggage, you’ll likely find sizing guides with reams of information about where you’re headed and how long you’ll be there for. The reality of things, however, is that the ideal luggage size has more to do with what kind of traveller you are rather than how long you’ll be gone for.
Some people can pack an entire month’s worth of clothes and toiletries into a carry-on; others need a mid-size piece for a weekend away. If you will ever have cause to need a large piece of luggage, consider buying your luggage as a complete set instead of in separate pieces. A matching luggage set is easier to identify at baggage claim, and will stack and store well in the home. Three piece luggage sets are often the best deal (especially when on sale), and have the additional perk of saving you the time of hunting for three matching pieces.
As a general rule, consider carry-on luggage for 1-3 nights, midsize luggage for 4-14 nights, and large luggage for extended trips and temporary relocation.
Carry-on luggage is the smallest size of luggage available. These pieces are typically about 21″ tall, and are designed to fit into overhead compartments.
Carry-ons are the most popular choice for overnight and weekend trips, although backpacks and weekender bags are also popular for road trips. (You’ll notice less weekender bags on airplanes, as their irregular size often excludes them from coming onto the plane as carry-on). Your carry-on will have different size restrictions depending on the airline that you’re flying, so make sure to double-check your measurements before purchasing.
Most modern travellers opt for hard side luggage, as carry-on needs to be stored in the overhead bins—so external pockets can’t be accessed during your flight anyways. A popular choice of features pairs 360 degree spinner wheels with a lightweight, hard side body and a telescopic aluminum handle.
Some travel light, and some travel heavy. For everyone else, there’s midsize luggage. Midsize luggage measures anywhere from 23 to 26 inches in height and is thought to be ideal for medium length trips: anything that’s longer than a weekend, but shorter than a fortnight.
Midsize luggage almost always needs to be checked, so upright spinner wheel luggage in a hard side finish is a popular choice at this size.
Large luggage includes bags that are 27 to 32 inches tall. It’s ideal for long trips and temporary moves. Because of the size of large luggage pieces, they typically come in upright form with four spinner wheels.
All major airlines have a weight restriction for checked luggage, so make sure that your large luggage piece falls below the maximum allowable weight before checking it. You’re unlikely to be made to unpack the bag at the kiosk, but airlines will charge extra for bags that weigh more than the limit. If you’re a frequent flyer, your airline rewards program may allow an increase in allowable weight for large pieces of luggage (depending on your rewards tier.)
Guidelines for air travel
Carry-on luggage rules
All of Canada’s major airlines charge a fee for checked luggage for domestic travel. As a result, more passengers are bringing carry-on items onto their flights, and the airlines have locked down on how big carry-on pieces can be.
Air Canada allows a maximum baggage size of 9″ x 15.5″ x 21.5″ for carry-on, and up to 10 kg in weight. WestJet has similar requirements, with their maximum measurements sitting at 9″ x 15″ x 21″. (WestJet’s weight requirements are vague, so consider following Air Canada’s 10 kg rule as a suggestion.) Both airlines also allow an additional “personal item” with smaller size restrictions.