Lightweight Luggage: Leaders of the Pack

Carry-On · Check-Through · Duffel Bags · Garment Bags

The latest luggage is designed to create more space when you use it and save more space when you store it. On some soft-shell models, you can expand the depth for more storage, then compress it to the original size. On hard-shell models, manufacturers have added exterior pockets.

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For most consumers, having luggage that creates space means sitting on a bag or case that’s crammed with clothes just so you can close the lid. However, several manufacturers today redefine what it means to save space when you use luggage or when you store it, because they added first-of-a-kind expansion systems as well as features that allow you to collapse the luggage, so it fits under a bed or behind a door. 

Manufacturers also introduced features that are designed to make luggage that’s more versatile and easier to maneuver. For example, you now can buy hard-shell models that have exterior storage compartments, such as a pocket for a tablet computer.

SPACE CASE. You’ve been able for some time to expand the depth of soft-shell carry-on luggage to fit more of your stuff, but now the luggage also can be compressed to the original depth, so it still fits in the airplane’s overhead bin. This new feature was introduced in 2012 on some Briggs & Riley and Samsonite models.

Both manufacturers’ systems use mechanisms that are attached inside of the top and bottom panels and extend the depth of the bag by as much as 34 percent. After the bag is packed, you zip it closed and push down on each side to compress the luggage. This capability means that you more easily can bring back souvenirs from your trip or add about four shirts when you pack. Based on our hands-on evaluation, we believe that if you pack a heavy book or other bulky item, the bag might not compress to its original size, but the compression increases the likelihood that the luggage still will fit in the overhead bin.

You’ll pay at least $399 for a two-wheel carry-on model that has the expansion/compression feature. No four- or eight-wheel models exist, because the expansion/compression systems don’t allow for such construction, according to manufacturers. Briggs & Riley models that have the expansion/compression feature also have an interior panel that’s strapped to the top of clothes and is designed to prevent clothes from moving around and wrinkling during transit.

To help you to resolve another space issue, three manufacturers introduced collapsible carry-on and check-through luggage that’s designed to be stored more easily when it isn’t in use. Biaggi, Lipault and Road Warrior have models that collapse to about one-third of the original depth, so you can stow the luggage under beds or in other small spaces, such as behind doors or hanging in closets.

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Biaggi and Lipault models have interior panels on all sides that unsnap from the soft shell, so you can fold them flat and compress the shell when you want to store the bag. The Road Warrior models fold and unfold when you pull on a cord that triggers a mechanism that allows the bag to flatten to about 4 inches deep. Road Warrior calls this system Micro Pop, and it’s available on wheeled carry-on and check-through uprights as well as wheeled duffel bags.

Based on our hands-on evaluation, we believe that Road Warrior’s system delivers the most desirable construction, because, unlike other collapsible-luggage systems, the panels and the shell of Road Warrior models stay intact when you flatten the luggage. We also found that Road Warrior’s system is faster and easier to use than are the Biaggi and Lipault systems. With Road Warrior, it takes about 5 seconds to pull the cords quickly—once for the width and once for the length—to make the luggage collapse. It took about 45 additional seconds to fold or unfold the other systems, because each side has to be lifted up and snapped in place, much in the same way that you assemble a gift box.

However, the Road Warrior models are more than double the price of the Biaggi and Lipault models. For instance, the MSRP for Road Warrior’s foldable 21-inch wheeled carry-on upright  is $550, while similar-size models from Biaggi and Lipault are $239 and $189, respectively.

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