The Best Carry On Luggage For Women

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What’s the best carry on luggage for women? Here’s our inside guide.

Abigail King with Rimowa suitcase for cabin luggage

The Best Carry On Luggage for Women

Business travel, family travel, glitzy travel and ultra-budget travel. The last few decades of careering around the globe have transformed me from the world’s worst packer into a lean, mean travel machine.

So, here it is. The best carry on luggage for women, whatever your situation.

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Rimowa Hand Luggage Suitcase

The best wheelie suitcase

It’s hard to beat the Rimowa Topas Four Wheeled Cabin Suitcase, which has been a prominent member of the “best cabin luggage lists” for years.

I have one and I absolutely love it. Spinner luggage suits city trips best.

It’s sturdy, stylish, spins extremely well and doesn’t fall over when you let go of it to pick up a newspaper and coffee. It measures 22 x 16 x 8 inches.


  • Metallic hard shell case protects your things 
  • Spinner wheels work beautifully  in all directions
  • Adjustable internal dividers and compression system.
  • Looks good! Easily shared by family as is gender neutral in appearance (!)
  • TSA Lock
  • 32 L capacity


  • Clam shell opening limits quick access
  • Wheels awkward on uneven ground
  • At 4.6kg takes a chunk of weight allowance
  • High price tag
  • Difficult to fit in unusually shaped items


The most versatile, sturdy and stylish suitcase out there. Our choice for best carry on luggage.

Stylish and sturdy. Mesh panels inside secure your belongings in place but you can also remove them if needs be. There’s an inside zipped compartment and outer lock with TSA approved combination code. The telescopic handle mechanism is clean and reliable and there’s a separate, easy to use handle to lift the bag up the steps. It can withstand all weather conditions, has a capacity of 32L and weighs 4.6kg.

What it’s best for: Business travel when you don’t mind everything going into the hold except for your suit and laptop. Or, long haul family travel.

Product image of Lowepro Camera and Laptop Bag

The best carry on luggage for camera gear

I’d recommend the Lowepro 250 AW II Fastpack Backpack for Camera. Measuring at 31 x 26 x 50cm (12 x 10 x 20 inches) it weights less than 2kg at 1.8kg, making it one of the most lightweight cabin bags around.

The padded compartments for lenses, laptop, passport and more make it versatile and easy to use. And while it’s not particularly designed with women in mind, it’s not so large and bulky that it becomes a problem. You can fit your laptop in the back, your lenses and camera body in the base, passport in the front and all your other essentials for a long haul flight in the top section.

Used happily for years until I started leaving my big camera at home more and more…

or the fit and able, this protects gear and makes it quick and easy to get about on uneven ground.


  • One of the most lightweight options around
  • Padding to protect electronics
  • Quick access pockets for ID, passports etc
  • Separate pocket to hold water
  • Keeps your hands free


  • You can’t wheel it!
  • Less secure that the Rimowa
  • Difficult to keep smart clothes flat
  • Lower capacity
  • Unlikely to fit men’s shoes due to compartment design
  • Can leave your back a little sweaty


For young backpackers, hikers and bikers who need their luggage on their bodies while they cross uneven terrain. Parents who need a spare hand to manage the other suitcases or children (just the one spare hand?! Ed.) Measuring at 31 x 26 x 50cm (12 x 10 x 20 inches) it weights less than 2kg at 1.8kg, making it one of the most lightweight cabin bags around. 

Lowepro are a tried and tested brand with durable joins and great waterproofing. Obviously, though, this won’t protect against severe dents and there is always the risk of someone slashing the bag with a knife or simply undoing the zips in the crowd.

However, the real draw is the separate padded compartment for serious camera gear as well as a padded compartment for your laptop. Then there are several different sections that make it easy for quick access to your passport, boarding pass, water and so on.

Even with these specialist features, it still comes in at under 100 GBP making it lighter on the wallet as well as on the scales.

Northface Base Camp duffel Sand

The best carry on holdall

The Northface Base Camp Duffel comes in a range of sizes for whatever your needs, but the small size (13 x 21 x 13 inches) fits in most cabin holds.

It works for sporting trips and outdoor adventures as the tough exterior fabric holds up well and it has some great internal pockets for keeping things organised.

Plus it has handy backpack straps for throwing on your back when you need to hurry between transport or getting to and from events.

Trunki suitcase as cabin luggage

The best carry on luggage for kids

Available in kooky colours and characters, the Trunki changed the world of children’s luggage forever. They’re fun for kids to put toys into and they can ride and pull the case along.

Although lightweight, they’re an awkward shape (18 x 8 x 12 inches) for maximising what you can actually bring into the cabin. Also, parents, it’s likely you who will be carrying them. So if you’re thinking that you may struggle to fly with a toddler, then perhaps give this one a miss.

Designed for children, with “lockable” sides, the fun factor here just beats the practicality.


  • Sturdy and tough
  • Long strap allows parents to pick it up easily
  • Locking sides so contents don’t spill out
  • Children can ride on it as well as pull it
  • Lots of colours and characters available
  • Helps young children feel involved


  • You end up having to carry it!
  • Doesn’t maximise cabin luggage space
  • Children over 2 can open the lock with time
  • Lower capacity
  • It will count in the luggage allowance


The Trunki keeps children entertained in the airport and involved when packing and planning before a trip. They’re fun and reasonably practical but with dimensions of 46 x 21 x 31cm (18 x 8 x 12 inches) they may limit your options if you’re planning to travel hand luggage only. 

The Trunki comes with stickers and an easily operated plastic lock to prevent contents spilling out onto the airport floor. There’s also a fabric mesh on the inside to organise things a little.

Lekebaby Backpack as cabin luggage

The best carry on luggage for babies and toddlers

If you’re still at the stage of changing nappies and bringing food, then a dedicated cabin bag that splits the two functions is a must. The Lekebaby Backpack (10 x 8 x 17 inches) allows you to manage more than your usual changing bag does, with easy access for water and a waste section underneath.

And even if you plan to breastfeed on the plane, it’s a wise idea to bring some formula with you, just in case your ducts get blocked. The Lekebaby has an insulated compartment perfect for this.


  • Comfortable when carrying a baby
  • Leaves hands free
  • Two main sections for food and nappies
  • Zippable waste section
  • Inner compartments 
  • Sturdy and lightweight
  • Slides under seat if needed


  • No quick access like a messenger bag
  • Erm, that’s it!


This really is the handiest carry on luggage option when travelling with very young children. It’s soft and comfortable and allows you to have baby in a sling as well. The compartments are well organised but not TOO organised so you can just fling the odd thing in there in a rush. It’s easy to keep food separate from toys separate from clean clothes and soiled nappies. And it stays put on your shoulders and slides under

Osprey Farpoint 36 carry on luggage wheelie suitcase in use

The best carry on luggage for teens

The Osprey Farpoint 36 works as a soft shell wheelie with a backpack harness. It’s great for keeping hands free when flying solo with a toddler but also eases the pressure when you can wheel along.

It’s a nice starter bag for teens, too, without worrying about the weight of a 65L bag affecting their developing spines. Read the full Osprey Farpoint 36 Review here.

What to Look For When Buying Carry On Luggage

It’s taken time, not to mention injury, to finally realise that it’s worth getting the right carry on luggage in order to avoid wrecking either your body or your business prospects.

I’ve updated the list over the years as security measures and my degrees of style and fitness have changed!

Top tips for your carry-on luggage

You can find most international food in the main hotels but it’s sometimes a little harder to track down some traditional Gambian dishes. Ask the managers and chefs in the resorts – and you can also look out for the following:

  • Pack a foldable, zippable, expandable bag in your hand luggage. Like this one.
  • Stash anything you actually need during the first half of the flight in there. Slide it under your seat. Makes boarding the plane much easier. 
  • Likewise, all the coats, scarves and gloves you shed when travelling from cold to hot can simply go in that bag and are less likely to be lost.

Common mistakes to avoid when buying your carry-on

1 – Don’t forget airport restrictions

Most airlines allow cabin luggage with dimensions of 56cm x 45cm x 25cm (22 x 18 x 10 inches), which is what we’ve used as standard.

Some American airlines allow for more than this. Some budget airlines give you less.

Ryanair is the most notorious example, previously charging passengers caught with luggage greater than 35 x 20 x 20cm (14 x 8 x 8 inches). But they, too, have changed their policy.

Then some airlines allow you one cabin luggage suitcase and one small personal item. Others insist on everything fitting in to the one suitcase (including your handbag) and will make you prove it at the gate, charging you if you can’t pull it off.

Airlines also have very different allowances for flying with babies and flying with toddlers, with some providing generous extras and others providing nothing at all.

Here’s a handy list of common European airlines hand luggage limits from flight search specialist Skyscanner.

2 – How much do you really need?

For some flights, you don’t need much, even if you’re staying overnight.

For others, you may need suits, wedding hats, baby food, extensive camera gear or complicated medical kit including injections and a sharps disposal box.

Bear in mind that many airlines will take cabin luggage from you at the gate if the flight is full.

There are ways to minimise this happening (arrive early or consider flying in business class) but it’s also worth making sure that your cabin luggage can withstand some bumps and bruises in the hold.

Also, consider buying packing cubes for your carry-on. It makes it easier to pull things in and out during the airport and mid flight.

All of our recommendations have this at the back of our mind!

3 – Remember that some items MUST travel in your carry on

Sometimes, you don’t want things with you in flight. But they HAVE to stay with you. The recent changes regarding how to store batteries and power packs, for example, mean that my hand luggage is often weighed down by electronic goods I have no interest in using during the flight.

I’d also strongly recommend you carry the following in cabin luggage: high value items, sentimental items you couldn’t bear to lose, contact lenses, medication and breakables.

4 – Guarantees and warranties

Personally, I don’t worry about finding a lifetime warranty. Hopefully my lifetime will be long, in which case my lifestyle will chance gain and I’ll likely need a different kind of suitcase. Or, it won’t, in which case I’ll have bigger problems to worry about.

5 – Wheelie or backpack?

Spinner wheels are a mainstay of many luggage brands now for good reason. Why damage your back and shoulders when you can whiz luggage right along the airport floor? The only trouble is that rolling luggage doesn’t cope as well with cobbled streets and fails entirely in mud or sand. It also adds weight to the suitcase. 

So, if you’re in good health, travelling off the beaten path and keeping weight to a minimum is the aim: go for a duffel bag or backpack. Otherwise, go for the spinner wheels!

Your Hand Luggage Checklist

The best carry-on luggage for women fits the following:

  • Fits the dimensions of the airline you’re flying with
  • Is as lightweight as possible
  • Can withstand being put into the hold if needs be
  • Can withstand heat, snow and airport brutality
  • Has wheels (usually – see above!)
  • Has a quick access compartment

FAQs for the best carry on luggage for women

What’s the best cabin luggage for flying business class?

Fly business and you usually have a a much greater luggage allowance. This varies from airline to airline so check out the reviews here and check with your airline as well. 

In general, I’d still recommend the Rimowa wheelie as your main piece of hand luggage because it travels so well. You can then include a small handbag or briefcase and a suit carrier if you need one. 

What’s the most affordable carry on luggage?

If money is tight then head to a TK Maxx or Matalan or Thrift store if you’re in the US. I can’t guarantee the quality of any of it, but it will be cheap! TK Maxx is your best bet for something affordable that won’t fall apart on you in transit. 

Do spare the money if you can, though. It’s a complete false economy if you end up with cabin luggage that breaks during a trip. 

How can I find lightweight carry on luggage?

The most lightweight option will be something without wheels: it’s the frame and the wheels that add the weight. And while technology has improved a lot, it’s still a struggle to find a wheelie that weighs less than 2kg.

What’s the best carry on luggage for Europe?

If this is your first trip in Europe, you may be taken aback at how many cobbled streets there are and how many elevators and escalators there aren’t.

So, although I’d still recommend the Rimowa wheelie, if you’re fit and able enough to use a backpack and have a lot of walking to and from hotels in mind, you may want to opt for one of those instead. 

What’s the best international carry on?

Bear in mind that for international flights, you need to go through airport security. A clamshell case may be less convenient in this situation. On the other hand, if you are visiting somewhere where crime is rife, a hard shell case may be even more important.

What’s the best carry on luggage for men?

I’d say the same as for women: the Rimowa classic wheelie. But you may also want to take a look at the North Face Duffle mentioned above as you’re more likely to be happy carrying it.

What else do you need to know for your next trip?

Don’t forget to download your free list of long haul flight essentials here and make sure to get your copy of our pre-trip checklist here. And then? Check out our other travel tips and resources here.