8 best wheeled travel bags that get you from A to B with ease
As anyone who’s had to walk through airport security carrying a crippled case knows, a dependable bag can make or break a holiday
As anyone who’s had to walk through airport security carrying a crippled case knows, a dependable wheeled bag can make or break a holiday
With more people than ever picking a wheeled bag over a backpack – for extra space minus back pain, for example – they’re no longer just the domain of business travellers and beleaguered parents packing for the family.
Wheeled bags come in sports-friendly models – duffels that will house ski boots and tents – and multi-compartmented, gap year/sabbatical sizes, as well as classic cabin-sized hardshells.
We tested these bags in all conditions, from a simple trundle through the airport for a couple of hours in an overhead locker; to an assault course of broken paving slabs and potholes in the city; to haphazardly being stuffed with a long weekend’s camping gear then being (accidentally) left out in the rain.
Good, smooth wheeling was a prerequisite for any bag that made the list: ideally we looked for spinners (where the wheels move 360 degrees for better maneuverability), metal ball bearings for durability, and super solid construction. A decent warranty was also a plus. Then we looked for a good weight to space ratio – because, with airline restrictions, there’s no point buying one huge bag if all you’re left with is weight allowance for a travel pillow and a magazine.
We tested a range of sizes – from petite overnight cabin bags to cases you could move house with – and styles, from traditional boxes to sports bags with wheels.
When it comes to choosing between these last two – hardshell or soft, box or duffel – it’s best to decide based on what you’ll be carrying.
You’ll snooze better knowing your expensive camera equipment and Go Pros are safely stored in an indestructible hard case like the Gregory, below.
But if it’s clothes and shoes you’re hauling, a softshell will give you a bit more flexibility – though it’s worth looking for a case with multiple compartments like the Osprey that can keep flip-flops and laundry away from your evening wear.
From stylish to sporty, monogrammed to megasized, here are the best wheeled bags to suit any adventure.
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Briggs & Riley rhapsody cabin spinner: £349, John Lewis & Partners
We were genuinely surprised by how hard we fell for this smart little bag, part of sleek brand Briggs and Riley’s new rhapsody collection. It’s marketed as an overnight bag, but because the handle is mounted on the outside, its 28l compartment is flat so goes really far, and the outer pocket has plenty of room for a laptop, tablet, passport and tickets. We managed to get a long weekend’s worth of packing inside without a problem. But what really won us over were the little luxury touches: the gorgeous plum outer, the unbelievably soft lining, the squishy leather handles, the space-age telescopic handle and its satisfying click, and the silky smooth wheels – plus the lifetime warranty. For us the size was a huge draw – it’s not much larger than a big briefcase, so it will stow anywhere – but Briggs & Riley do have a bigger size in the range. This is a bag undoubtedly designed for first class, but it can come with us anywhere.
Osprey rolling transporter carry-on: £180, Osprey
A really stylish bag that we fell in love with as soon as we saw its beautiful teal shell. The Rolling Transporter – a wheeled version of Osprey’s popular Transporter backpack range – is among the lightest of all the bags we tested, at 2.3kg for 38l of space. It’s designed to be an “adventure proof” bag – so it’s durable and water resistant, and it feels like it. The thick, soft material is a nice variant on the usual hardshell-cased wheeled bags. The bag is also really versatile, with pockets everywhere – front pockets for a laptop, a big easy access top compartment that would be ideal for storing a liquids bag – and a back sleeve for passport, tickets, magazines etc.
Samsonite s’cure eco spinner: £175, Samsonite
A great innovation from one of the biggest brands in the game, this case is made from 85 per cent recycled polypropylene rescued from Samsonite’s own production process. A recycled bag is a good start, but Samsonite have thrown in some extra green features: the tags and part of the handle are all made from a lovely, mellow-coloured recycled wood.
It’s an environmentally-friendly bag that’s gone undercover: the black shell and orange detail means that the wood features fit well into the design, and on the inside the bag has all the features you expect from a Samsonite case. Three-point locking keeps your stuff secure and protected from weather, and it boasts two internal compartments (one with a further divider and one with ribbons) and a TSA combination lock (one that American security have a universal key for so don’t need to break open to search your bag). A sustainable take on a classic case.
Gregory quadro 45: £130, Gregory
Best-known for making the kinds of backpacks that survive the Pacific Crest Trail, Gregory has brought the same outdoor savvy to this business class bag. We loved the look – which we dubbed industrial sci-fi – and the robust hardshell, which feels as weather and impact-proof as Gregory promises it is. But our favourite features were the ones Gregory brought over from the trail: the “active shield”, a vapour and odour-resistant compartment within the bag that’s perfect for ski or hiking boots – or if your trip is more bikini than Bear Grylls, laundry and swimwear. It’s light (3.5kg) and spacious (45l) and does everything else a travel bag should do well: the wheels spin well and there are easily access pockets for your passport and laptop. An outstanding adventure bag for anyone looking to ditch the backpack.
Arc’teryx V80 rolling duffle: £350, Arc’teryx
This Tardis-like case, by chic winter sports brand Arc’teryx, could well be the last you ever need to buy. With an astonishing 80 litres of space at just 3kg in weight, thanks to the super light hard anodized aluminium frame, which means you can pack even more without going over the airline weight limit. It packs down so well – into a sleek, black oblong – that you would have no idea you were towing half of your possessions through the airport. The bag is aimed at climbers and skiers but there’s no reason this couldn’t work as a family bag: Arc’teryx reckons you can pack 42g in per litre of space, which is a lot of luggage. Arc’teryx is always cooly reluctant to make grandiose statements about how indestructible its kit is, but the water-tight zips and reinforced outer mean this bag will cheerfully survive the absolute worst travel treatment.
American Tourister eco wanderer: £99, American Tourister
We loved this budget-friendly bag, an efficient little spinner from American Tourister’s first eco-friendly range. The cabin size packs a respectable 40l, inside a soft shell with enough pockets to master even the most complicated airport security – that means accessible laptop and tablet pockets, passport and phone pockets. But best of all is that the bags are made from 100 per cent post-consumer recycled materials, and American Tourister reckons that equals at least 27 plastic bottles saved per bag. None of that detracts from the stylishness of the bag – we loved the slightly 80s-feeling grey and orange model.
North Face rolling thunder 30: £270, The North Face
Our favourite bag from the duffle/sports/suitcase hybrid category, the dramatically-named Rolling Thunder is an expedition-worthy bag for active holidays, camping holidays, and everything in between. A big zippered front panel (or top panel depending on whether you’re wheeling the bag or carrying it like a duffel) opens the cavernous 80l interior, which with minimal fuss and frills has more than enough room for a tent, sleeping bag, ropes and climbing equipment etc. From the zips to the handles, it feels extremely durable, and the inline skate-style wheels are smooth and sturdy. What we liked most about this bag was that it packed like a backpack – with one big compartment and multiple smaller pockets on the outside, which made it an intuitive switch for hikers and climbers who want to navigate airports without a pack attached to their backs.
Jack Wolfskin beat train 70 travel bag: £140, Jack Wolfskin
This is a wheeled bag for people who are too cool for wheeled bags. It’s a lovely, cotton-look bag with tasteful taupe tags and zippers. It’s packed with features – some just for fun, like the internal world map and bucket list waiting to be filled in – and some intensely useful, like the four mesh inner pouches in the upper compartment (ideal for stuff you need to access quickly like a waterproof layer, sunglasses or map) and the upper strap that doubles as a lash point for a day pack. But for all that, it’s durable, with offroad-worthy wheels and reinforced base. Perfect for an adventurous gap year.
The verdict: Wheeled travel bags
Briggs & Riley’s cabin bag was a genuine pleasure to take for a spin, a classy and understated bag in a brilliant and super portable size. For longer trips the Osprey rolling transporter (softshell) and Gregory quadro (hardshell) bags are super durable options that don’t scrimp on helpful features.
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