One size doesn’t fit all, so look for features that match your needs.
For people who fly frequently, sturdy, functional luggage is an important investment.
Between airport, airplane and destination, a bag has to stand up to the rock-tumbler effect of riding in a cargo hold with hundreds of other bags, being bumped and shuffled onto trolleys, handled extensively, churned along conveyor belts and other machinery even before it hits the baggage carousel. A lot can go wrong between checking your bag and unpacking it at your destination, and there are more variables than you might think.
“You don’t want to end up stuck,” said Nancy Gold, president of Tough Traveler, a Schenectady-based luggage, backpack and child-carrier maker and retailer. “Because when you’re away on vacation and something falls apart, you’re not going to have too many options. The few bags they’re going have at the airport or your destination are going to be kind of expensive and maybe not so much what you’re looking for, but what else are you going to be able to do at that point?”
These tips from IndependentTraveler.com, AAA, the Guardian and local and national luggage retailers will help you figure out what kind of bag will best fit your needs.
Hardside or softside?
Semi-softsided bags offer some benefits. They offer better protection than fully softside luggage but are more lightweight than hardside luggage and they can expand to accommodate more than an inflexible hardside bag.
Softsided bags are easier to fit into tight spaces, like overhead compartments.
For those concerned about security, softsided bags can be made from slash-proof fabric and RFID-blocking material. RFID stands for “radio frequency identification” and many credit, debit and government-issued identification cards are RFID-enabled. RFID-blocking material is designed to prevent wireless identity theft. Brands such as VaultPro and PacSafe focus on providing these and other anti-theft measures.
Some newer bags feature a detachable “piggyback” clip near the handle, which allows a carry-on bag to be clipped to a suitcase and offers greater ease to those travelling with multiple bags. Tough Traveler also offers straps that can convert an older bag without a clip into a bag that can piggyback.
Padded back straps improve the comfort of carrying larger or heavier bags for long periods of time. If you plan on carrying a bag for extended periods, you should test them out in the store and check to be sure that the weight feels like it is being distributed evenly.
The best wheeled bags feature rubberized wheels that rotate 360 degrees, for increased durability and mobility.
Handles on wheeled bags should be long enough to be pulled along without awkward stooping or leaning and should be retractable to prevent damage during transit.
Denier count describes the thickness of the material a bag is made from, with a number beginning at 800 and going up. It should be listed on the material tag of most pieces of luggage. Nancy McMahon of Hudson Valley AAA recommends a denier count of 1,200 or higher for softsided luggage.
Ballistic nylon, originally developed for World War II flak jackets, is one of the strongest materials available for softsided or semi-softsided luggage. Cheaper, thinner materials will be more prone to punctures and snagging or ripping on machinery and other pieces of luggage.
Sturdy, synthetic zippers with big teeth are a best bet. Metal zippers can break, and zippers with small teeth are more likely to snag or come ungripped when pulled tight. Zippers may seem like a small detail, but when you try to close a very full bag, the zipper will bear much of the strain. A broken zipper can make a perfectly good bag unusable.
Bright colors will make your luggage easier to identify among many other pieces of pieces of luggage on the baggage carousel of an airport or in the cargo hold of a bus.
Make the right match
Look for luggage that offers a good warranty. If a company is willing to offer a 10-year to lifetime warranty on their product, it’s more likely to offer a product that is sturdy enough to stand up over time.
Ethan Demby of Magellan’s Travel Supplies, an online luggage retailer, recommended that if you are not replacing a bag you already own and like with one of the same model, you should consider looking at the bag in person. This will help you to better determine whether it is the right size, whether it offers the kind of compartments or organization that you want, and whether it will be comfortable for you to carry. Magellan’s offers air travel-minded bags with padded compartments for electronics such as laptops and iPods for convenience of access while the bag is stowed under a seat during flight and for quick removal at security checkpoints.
Gold, of Tough Traveler, says that she often encourages people to bring items they are concerned about being able to pack with them when trying out bags in the store. “What you need to do most of all is find a bag that fits your travel style,” Gold says. “Not every bag is going to fit every person.”