For many air travelers, carry-on luggage is the go-to solution to avoid rising fees and busy airports. However, when undertaking longer journeys or traveling with family, a bigger checked bag is a necessity. To help cut through the myriad of options, we tested nine of the most popular checked suitcases to identify the most durable, spacious, and maneuverable ones out there. Our top pick, the Away Medium suitcase, boasts fantastic internal organization and compression, a durable exterior, and comfortable handles, while still being stylish. Meanwhile, our budget pick, the Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner, is one of the lightest bags we tested, rolls super smoothly, and has expandable zippers to fit even more. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a reliable checked bag that’s comfortable to wheel around, easy to pack, and able to endure the abuse of any airline, the Away Medium suitcase is the one to choose.
Important Details about Best checked luggage in 2023 –
– Air travelers rely on carry-on luggage, but larger checked bags are necessary for longer trips or family travel
– Nine of the most popular checked suitcases were tested for durability, capacity, and maneuverability
– The top pick overall was the Away Medium suitcase, with great internal organization, compression, and a durable exterior
– The Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner was the best budget pick, with expandable zippers for more space and a lighter weight
– All suitcases tested had four 360-degree wheels and a hardshell exterior
– Medium-sized checked bags (around 25 inches tall) were tested to avoid exceeding airline weight limits
– Durability tests included dropping the suitcase down a flight of stairs and noting scuffs, scratches, and dents
– Capacity tests included packing the bags to the brim
– Usability tests included maneuvering the bags around New York City streets, checking handles and wheels, and examining internal organization and compression systems
Facing rising fees and busy airports, many air travelers depend on carry-on luggage to get them through every trip. But if you’re going on a long journey or traveling with family, a bigger checked bag is a must. To help you wade through the options, we tested nine of the most popular checked suitcases for weeks, examining durability, capacity, maneuverability, and more, to see which one is truly the best.
Best Overall Checked Suitcase: The Away Medium Suitcase
The Away Medium suitcase was undoubtedly the most well-rounded piece of luggage we got our hands on, outdoing the other bags in many of our most important tests. It’s solidly durable, with only a few scuffs from its trip down the stairs, has an incredible interior compression system, is easily maneuverable, and is even comfortable to carry for those times you need to lift it in and out of the car.
One of the biggest reasons the Away suitcase claimed our top spot was its fantastic interior organization and compression system. While most of the bags we tested utilize the classic X-shaped straps to keep your clothes in place, one side of the Away has a panel that you can cinch down to flatten out its contents. This panel compresses your items more evenly than straps, which makes closing the two halves and zipping a much easier process. Another bonus of this panel: If you unzip your suitcase and accidentally open it with this side on top, your things won’t come tumbling out onto the floor the way they can with traditional straps.
The suitcase’s other half has a simple zippered mesh netting, and between the two, we were able to fit a surprisingly large amount of clothes into the Away Medium. We packed eight button-up shirts (including a few bulky flannels), six hoodies and sweaters, two bathing suits, one towel, a puffy winter coat, five pairs of jeans, a toiletry bag, and three pairs of sneakers. We stuffed our sneakers into what was probably our favorite feature of the suitcase — an included zippered bag that you can use to stash your shoes or dirty clothes while traveling, but can pack into itself when not in use.
While a few other suitcases had more capacity than the Away, thanks to expandable zippers or a larger interior, the Away’s better organization made it by far our favorite to pack. And if you do want more room, you can opt for Away’s Large suitcase, which is 29 inches tall to the Medium’s 25 inches. Just be careful to stay under the 50-pound airline limit when packing, as suitcases that big are easy to overstuff.
Aside from its internal features, the Away also did great in our other tests. It got scuffed up after we dropped it down some stairs, but it comes with a scuff eraser, which worked surprisingly well. It came out of the drop with only a couple of lasting scratches, which is better than many of the other bags we tested.
In terms of maneuverability, it wasn’t the absolute best we tested, but it was definitely better than most. The Away Medium is well-balanced, has smooth wheels, and rarely tipped over, even when we rolled it over deep cracks in the sidewalk and street outside our Brooklyn apartment. The Rimowa Essential Check-In M and the Paravel Aviator Grand had a better overall performance when we wheeled them around, but the Away handled well enough. However, we did have one wheel that rattled around once or twice during testing, and when the bag was fully packed, the handle was a little sticky coming up.
On top of all its technical attributes, the Away suitcase is undoubtedly gorgeous. We ranked it second in terms of looks (again behind the Paravel), and its sleek, minimalist design is available in six different colors.
Best Budget Checked Suitcase: Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner
The Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner performed quite well in our tests, especially when taking into account that the other bags that performed as well cost closer to $300. The Freeform’s wheels are smoother than the ones on the Away suitcase, and with an expandable zipper on the outside, it can fit more than our overall winner, while weighing nearly a pound less.
The Freeform doesn’t have a compression panel like the Away, but you will find the traditional X-shaped straps that do the job on one side, while a zippered compartment on the other side features an additional thin pocket to stash any odds and ends. While the organization and compression isn’t as good as the Away suitcase, this Samsonite roller makes up for it in size. The internal space feels a touch bigger than the Away, and when you expand the bag by unzipping the outer zippers, you can definitely fit more than our overall pick.
But even though it fits more, the Freeform weighs less than the Away, coming in at exactly 9 pounds on our scale (the company’s site lists it at 8.48 pounds). That’s 0.8 pounds lighter than the Away at 9.8 pounds, which means carrying the same load up and down flights of stairs felt a bit better with the Freeform. However, its handles aren’t as comfortable as the Away’s since they’re thin and not super cushioned.
While the Freeform was one of the better bags to maneuver around both in our apartment building and outside of it, one downside was its telescopic handle. It’s flimsier than a lot of the others we tested, which means there’s a lot of give when you’re trying to change directions, especially when the bag is packed full. It also didn’t come out of the drop test the cleanest, with a solid amount of scuffs and scratches; however, there was no real structural damage like dents or cracks.
We tested medium-sized bags whenever possible, which are typically about 25 inches tall. This is because while you can fit much more in the larger sizes — which are normally around 29 inches tall — it’s easy to overpack and exceed an airline’s weight limit. The Paravel Aviator Grand and the Samsonite Maxsum Eco are the only bags we tested that are larger than 25 inches, coming in at 28 inches and 29 inches, respectively. Many of the other suitcases we tested do have larger sizes, so if you want the extra room, you can opt for those.
Durability Impact: After fully packing each suitcase, we pushed it down a large flight of stairs. We then took note of how scuffed and scratched it was, and looked for any dents.
Usability Capacity test: We packed the Away Medium suitcase to the brim, noting its internal layout and pockets, and how much we could fit in. We then checked to see if any other bags could fit more.
Weight: We weighed each bag on a scale and checked it against the manufacturer’s listed weight.
Maneuverability: We took each suitcase through the streets of New York City, noting if it could easily navigate curbs, uneven pavement, and tight corners.
Handle: We tested the handle for sturdiness and comfort, noting any creaking, sticking, or uncomfortable grip.
Wheels: We noted how smoothly, quietly, and easily the suitcase wheels rolled.
Overall Look: We ranked each bag based on style, color options, and overall attractiveness.
Organization: We packed each bag with an array of items, noting how well each bag kept everything in its place, and how easy it was to pack and unpack.
Finding the perfect checked suitcase is essential for long trips, family vacations, or when you need to pack more than just a carry-on. We tested nine of the most popular options, looking at everything from durability to style to organization. Overall, the Away Medium and the Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner outperformed the rest in our tests. The Away had a more innovative interior design and superior maneuverability, while the Samsonite had more capacity at a lower price point.
Ultimately, choosing the right suitcase depends on what you need from it. If you’re looking for a durable, stylish suitcase that is easy to maneuver and has an innovative interior design, the Away Medium is the way to go. However, if you’re on a budget and need a suitcase that can hold more while weighing less, the Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner is an excellent option.