Luggage Buying Guide
Start by identifying your needs
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How will I be using this luggage? Mostly business, personal, as a commuter bag, overnight jaunts, etc.
- How frequently will I use this luggage? Every day for work, the annual family vacation, etc. This will help you decide on the quality/price trade-off.
- Where will I be taking this luggage? Cobblestone sidewalks in Europe call for much different features than a ride in the minivan to visit family.
- What size do I need?
- Does it matter what the bag looks like? These days, your luggage makes a statement about you. Is color, style, designer or brand important?
All the things you need to consider can be grouped into 5 basic categories: does this bag hold what I need it to, is it comfortable and practical to use, is it made well, what about the weight and does it look good (or, re-phrased, are the looks appropriate for my needs). Let’s break each down specifically:
1) Is the luggage packing space and size right?
Packability – Does this bag have the configuration that I like and need; big, minimalist-type interior that allows me to pack as I see fit or highly compartmentalized, offering many pre-determined spaces for my stuff?
Pockets – both interior and exterior – very important and highly personal – what works for you?
Size of the Bag – most luggage lines come in a variety of sizes, and here’s what that generally means:
- Small/Carryon – usually 19” – 22” and can handle 1-4 days of clothes, depending.
- Medium – 24”-26”, must be checked and can pack 3-7 days of stuff
- Large – 27”-28” luggage, must be checked and can hold 7-10+ days of belongings
2) Does this luggage function the way I need it to?
Accessibilty – does this bag have the right number and size exterior pockets for all my stuff? Especially with a carry-on bag, can I get to my ID, money and electronics easily?
Wheel ‘Style’ – Do I like the control that a 2-wheel upright provides ( tip it and pull) or the maneuverability of a 4-whhel bag (spinner luggage)?
3) Is this quality, durable luggage?
When it comes to luggage quality, the most important things are the material used, the handles and the wheels:
- Like your luggage softside? Many people do, because it has ‘give’. Nylon fabric is what you are looking for; ballistic nylon is the choice for most higher-end luggage because it’s tough, lightweight and very resistant to tears, scuffs and abrasions. CORDURA is also a quality fabric and has excellent color retention, so is often the fabric of choice for bags that come in a variety of colors. Polyester is most often seen in bags costing under $100; beware because polyester tear, pierce and rip easier than nylon, but can be a good choice depending on your travel needs.
- Hardside luggage is becoming wildly popular and the lightweight, extremely durable materials used are why. Molded polycarbonate plastic (same material that is used to make CDs and DVDs) is the tough-as-nails but extremely lightweight material that creates the shell.
- Telescoping handles – do they lock at various positions to accommodate your height? Do the handles have a solid feel; not wobbly or weak feeling? The telescoping handle will bear the weight of a fully-packed bag, so this is important to note.
- Exterior Lift Handles – at a minimum, the bag should have grip handles at both ends so you can lift the bag with 2 hands in and out of cars, down the stairs,etc. A third grip handle on the long side of the bag is nice in case you have to store it landscape instead of portrait.
- 2-wheel vs. 4-wheel – (otherwise known as upright vs spinner): In both case, look for wheels that are mounted to the luggage well; screws are easier than rivets if wheels must be replaced. Also, make sure that there is adequate corner protection around the wheels. In the case of spinner luggage, the 4 wheels should be mounted as far apart as possible for overall bag stability.
- Wheel construction – should be a durable polyurethane composite material or high-tech resin that is molded, not seamed. If the tag on the luggage does not tell you what the wheels are made of, go to the manufacturer website to check. It’s that important. Stay away from plastic – it can crack easily under pressure. Inline skate wheel construction is incredibly sturdy and maneuvers well.
4) Is this luggage lightweight?
- There’s a big focus on the weight of luggage today. The weight is super-critical, both in terms of extra fees that airlines charge for exceeding limits, but also for your own comfort while using it.
- Luggage manufacturers are great at engineering the lightest fabrics/materials; look for nylon (softside luggage), polycarbonate (for hardside luggage). Polyester is also very light, but not nearly as durable as nylon, so beware.
- The trade-off you need to consider is weight vs. extra functionality: 2 wheels vs 4, those handy extra exterior pockets, the additional side handles for hoisting, etc.
- A rough range of luggage weights generally still considered ‘lightweight’ is:
5) Does the luggage look good?
Color vs. black – More and more people are moving away from black luggage and manufacturers have responded by providing a color choice nowadays.
Brand or Designer name important? If it is, you have lots of options.
Your luggage does make a statement; travelling with business colleagues or clients calls for a look and feel totally different from the duffel bag your kids might go backpacking with.