14 best cabin bags for great escapes

Whether it’s due to the mountains of lost luggage we’ve seen piling up at airports, or a desire to save money, a growing number of travellers are ditching checked baggage and downsizing to a single cabin bag. And, believe it or not, that is easier to do than you might imagine.

Thanks to the new breed of innovative, stylish cabin-friendly luggage options, travelling light has never been easier. But in a sea of backpacks with built-in compression pouches to wheeled cases with external pockets perfect for essential travel documents, it can be hard to know where to start.

Cabin bags, whether suitcases of backpacks, vary hugely, but factors worth considering include whether your ideal bag is hard-sided or soft-sided, and whether you prefer a backpack or a wheeled case. Globetrotting Ski Sunday presenter Ed Leigh says, “If you want to get away with a bigger carry-on allowance, you’re much less likely to get stopped for oversized or overweight cabin baggage if you have a backpack discreetly strapped to your back.”

For obvious reasons, the size and capacity (measured in litres) are both important factors, although it’s important to bear in mind that it’s highly unlikely you need as much space as you think. “You definitely need much less than you think,” says intrepid explorer Levison Wood. “Most people overpack and then don’t use many of the items they bring. Once you’ve finished packing, have a rule that you’ll always take three things out.”

Finally, key features to look out for include external pockets (if you’re not checking in baggage, you’ll have items such as liquids and electronic devices in your cabin bag, all of which will need to be removed at security), built-in RFID pouches in which to stash hackable items such as car keys and wallets, and built-in compression systems (whether zip or ratchet-based) to compress the contents of your backpack or case.

We travel. A lot. Which not only means we get through our fair share of suitcases, but that we’ve travelled with a wide range of airlines and know exactly which features are worth their weight in gold when it comes to making the most of a limited amount of space. Our testing grounds for the bags below included flights with multiple budget airlines to destinations which included Vienna and Gdansk. In other words, we’re pretty confident in our assessment that these cabin bags are the best around. Which means all that’s left for you to think about is which of those three items you’re going to remove…

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