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Cars & travel.

Updated: 24 Jun 2021

Tips on choosing the best hand luggage

Suitcases are fairly simple products. Yet before you buy your hand luggage there are some essential questions that need answering.
Which?Editorial team
Choosing and buying the best hand luggage 440344

Your first consideration when choose luggage is whether to buy a two or four wheeled suitcase. 

Four-wheeled cases are often referred to as spinner suitcases and usually have small wheels. Two-wheeled cases are known as upright suitcases and tend to have larger wheels.

While the best suitcases can cope with being pulled along different types of ground, four-wheeled spinner suitcases are typically easier to manoeuvre over smooth floors, such as those at the airport. Two-wheeled cases with larger wheels are typically easier to pull across rougher ground and up and down kerbs.

Wheels tend to be made from rubber or plastic. You may find hollow plastic wheels to be a little noisy when pulling on rough ground.

Ready choose? Go straight to our hand luggage reviews to find the best one for you.

What size hand luggage should I choose?

If you’re looking for a case that’s suitable on board a flight as hand luggage then you’ll need to choose carefully. There’s no consistency in the dimensions offered by the manufacturers and the airlines themselves have completely different size and weight restrictions.

Arriving at the airport with a cabin case that exceeds the airline’s dimensions can be a costly mistake. Even if the difference is just a few centimetres the airlines may insist on checking your case into the hold and charging you a fee.

Even if a case is advertised as cabin-sized, don’t assume that it will fit your chosen airline. Our research found that airlines can include a suitcase’s wheels and trolley handle as part of the measurements for luggage allowances, but not all manufacturers do the same – some only provide measurements for the main body of the case. That’s why our lab experts have measured the cases to include all handles and wheels. The exact dimensions of each cabin suitcase can be found in our hand luggage reviews.

Bear in mind that the cases were measured when empty and a fully loaded case may have slightly increased dimensions – especially if you use any pockets or expandable compartments.

Does the trolley handle affect comfort?

Trolley handles can either have a fixed height or be adjustable. Choosing a cabin case with an adjustable handle means you can set the trolley handle to a height that best suits you.

Suitcase trolley handles vary between hand luggage. Most are plastic, but some are padded or ergonomically shaped with the aim of increasing pulling comfort.

Most handles retract into the suitcase when not in use. When buying hand luggage, open the suitcase to see how much internal space the handle takes up and whether this affects the useable packing space.

Try before you buy

To find the best hand luggage for you we recommend you try before you buy.

Head out to the high street to try out some of our Best Buy hand luggage first hand. Trolley handle heights and grips will vary, so choose one that suits your body frame.

See how easy it is to lift the suitcase using both the top and side handles, ideally with some weight in the case. If you're going to take it on a plane as hand luggage, then think about size - will it meet your airline's size and weight restrictions?

The best hand luggage that we recommend as Best Buys are a mix of two and four-wheeled suitcases. Generally four-wheeled cases are easier to pull on smooth floors, while two-wheeled suitcases fared better in our tests on rougher ground. Bear this in mind when trying out a case on a shiny department store floor.