Rolly wheels and a bright color and... made of titanium?
November 20, 2012 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Which luggage is the best luggage for me?

I have very generous very rich people who buy me winter holiday gifts, and if I don't make a specific list they just buy me random things I don't need.

So what's the thing I stepped back and realized I needed this year? New luggage!

The few times in my life I've gone shopping for luggage I've been shocked and appalled at the prices of the stuff. And it seems like I'm attracted to things that seem like a good idea but are bad in practice for me. Like, for example, a hard-shell suitcase sounds awesome, but I am short and weak and worry that such an object would be completely unwieldy for me.

I don't travel often, but when I do, I often fly internationally, to Asia and Europe, maybe once a year, and places in the continental US maybe twice a year, at most. Because I don't travel often I usually stay where I go for upwards of a week, usually a little longer, in places that either won't have laundry or require me to bring extra environmental stuff like boots and parkas and formal gowns. I'm a woman who has lots of toiletries, and likes to have various shoe and clothing options. I also work online, so I'm often flying with two laptops, an e-reader, can-style headphones, sundry physical books, sometimes art and crafting supplies, lots of chargers and cords. There's always a lot of stuff to pack! And it always seems like I'm packing quite light despite it all! I often skirt the 50 lb limit on oversized luggage, so the actual case itself needs to be light for at least two reasons.

I check my luggage, because it may be pricey but it's worth it. Heavy carry-ons are a pain in mine and the flight attendants' asses. But because I check my luggage, and my luggage often has a laptop sitting in the middle swathed in pajamas, the TSA seems to like to destroy the crap out of my luggage! My main suitcase, an... American Traveler? I think? has systematically lost all of its zipper pulls, and the sew-on brand patch, and just gotten more and more broken each flight. I purchased it in 2006. I remember using luggage in my family that was more like 20 years old, and not 6 years old, before it was in a similarly dilapidated state.

So, well-seasoned travelers of MeFi, please share with me your luggage wisdom. In a fantasy world I would have a steamer trunk but I have neither the levitation powers nor the cute liveried footmen to carry it for me. What is the best luggage for me? Bonus: it is available in bright exciting unique colors and patterns, so I don't have to hope the ribbon I tied to it will stay on, and I can pick it out of the luggage carousel while I'm zonked from a transpacific flight. Price is actually no object in this discussion, so go crazy, but I am not paying for a brand name.
posted by Mizu to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a nice luggage breakdown from Put This On.
posted by neroli at 5:34 PM on November 20, 2012

I'm partial to Briggs & Riley. I've had a set forever and it still looks great. And it's easy to spot at luggage claim, because, unlike most luggage, the support struts are on the outside.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:38 PM on November 20, 2012

About six months ago I started acquiring Victorinox Spectra suitcases. They are super lightweight hard sided bags with 4 rolly wheels (which was my big requirement) and so far I am extremely happy. Reasons include:

(1) really, they are SUPER lightweight. I hear you on the checked luggage weight.
(2) So far they've proven quite durable. The sides appear flexible, but I've carried glass bottles (wrapped in clothes) with no problems at all.
(3) The sides get dinged up, but whatever, I can deal with that. There are no patches or fabric to tear or rip. These bags have been literally around the world with me (and then some) in the last six months and other than the scratches on the plastic they're in fantastic shape.
(4) Great warranty on everything including the handles and wheels.
(5) TSA-approved locking mechanism and tracking number in case it gets lost (who knows how that part works but at least it makes me feel warm and fuzzy)
(6) Pretty colors! I have a purple one for my big checked bag. It is immediately visible and easy to find on the belt or among a pile of bags.
posted by olinerd at 6:41 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have become very fond of the newer lightweight fabric luggage from Samsonite and Victorinox: specifically the models with four wheels. First of all, they're light (3.2 kg/under 7 lbs. for a 29" pullman from Samsonite). Second, they're pretty tough for being cloth. Third, the four wheels let you push them on most surfaces, instead of having to pull them, which requires a lot more muscular strength.

I'm not interested in paying for a brand name, but I've found that the brand names do seem to have lighter, stronger luggage at the premium price points. Their cheaper luggage is generally no nicer or lighter than other brands, but their quality stuff does seem to be significantly better--if you want to pay the premium. If it saves you a $75-150 overweight luggage fee, though, it's probably worth it.

BTW, do you really need two laptops, or is one for insurance? I'm a researcher and writer, and when I travel, I take one laptop plus a portable USB hard drive that has a clone of my laptop drive. I pack the encrypted USB drive in my checked luggage, and then at my destination, I back up to it regularly. If something happens to my laptop, I can buy or rent a replacement and either run it from the backup drive (if I need to get something done ASAP) or clone the backup to the new computer's internal drive (if I have half a day to do the clone without using the computer). If something goes awry, it requires more work, but it saves a lot of weight in traveling.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:25 PM on November 20, 2012

I need two *types* of laptops, a mac and a pc. It's... complicated. I generally keep one in my carry-on.

Anyway it's not that important, it was just to explain that I have some weird bulky stuff that the TSA will get curious about, that's all.
posted by Mizu at 7:35 PM on November 20, 2012

My mom is 5'2" and 98lbs. She used a Samsonite Oyster for almost 20 years until she decided only to do carry-on.

I have used it for the past 10 years. I have carried a tower PC in it. It had been in airplane holds and bus luggage compartments. I've used it to bring back liquors from other countries. Nothing has ever broken in it.
posted by MonsieurBon at 7:50 PM on November 20, 2012

SaddleBack Leather.

They'll fight over it when you're dead.

Seriously though, I'll never buy any other brand of luggage.
posted by matty at 8:24 PM on November 20, 2012

As I write this, I'm sitting in the airport leaning against this Briggs and Riley carry-on. It's deceptively tiny, but I've packed it with everything I might possibly need from tonight through Monday evening, including a pair of hiking boots, something decent to wear for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, a warm sweatshirt, my cozy bedroom slippers and Sleepytime tea because I'm partial to routines, and some work-related papers. I brought it on a trip to Mexico last summer and it carried twelve bottles of beer several blocks over cobblestone streets without incident.

When empty, it weighs like 7 pounds. I'm not a big person at all and I have no trouble putting it into the overhead bins by myself when it's stuffed to the gills. It's distinctive enough that I never have issues identifying it at baggage claim. It was expensive, but I got mine on sale AND the Briggs and Riley warranty is awesome. Basically, it covers everything. They'll even replace your bag if the airline loses or destroys it somehow. I broke the zipper on mine and it was fixed without hassle.

Plus, carrying it makes me feel like I'm going on safari or something, as though I should sling it onto the rack of my Land Rover Defender and be on my way, even if I'm actually just going to eat Thanksgiving dinner. So there's that.

My boss travels internationally and domestically a lot and he just bought a new Travelpro rolling suitcase, so that might be an option for you as well.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 12:43 AM on November 21, 2012

I don't have any specific brands to recommend but I love the cases with the 360 degree wheels. They are so much easier to maneuver.
posted by amapolaroja at 2:40 AM on November 21, 2012

My main suitcase, an... American Traveler? I think?

Probably American Tourister, now a Samsonite off-brand. I have one too and probably wouldn't buy again.

I bought my first Briggs and Riley suitcase (an upright carry-on similar to this model) a year ago and I totally fell in love with it. I did not realize it was possible to love a suitcase, but it is. To me, it is perfect in every imaginable way, in some ways I didn't imagine before I got it, and it has a lifetime warranty that covers damage caused by airline negligence (excepted by almost all luggage warranties).

I would go with the Baseline collections. The mass of the suitcase itself is pretty low compared to many other brands but they feel pretty sturdy. The Transcend and BRX models, like the one linked by easy, lucky, free above are even lighter but I worry about how well they will hold up to poor handling in checked baggage.

For you I would suggest the B&R Large Expandable Upright. 10.9 lb, has an expansion/compression system to fit extra stuff in a smaller space, lifetime warranty, and lists for $549. Sadly only available in black and olive. There's also a spinner version that has 360° wheels but lacks the expansion/compression system.

Briggs and Riley makes carry-ons in various sizes as well.

I would suggest looking at some of these suitcases in person before deciding on something. In Seattle, Bergman Luggage in Belltown has a wide range of luggage, including Briggs and Riley. And fun, expensive travel accessories.

I need two *types* of laptops, a mac and a pc… I generally keep one in my carry-on.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that airlines do not cover loss or damage of electronic equipment in checked bags domestically, and I don't think it's a good idea to check valuable items.
posted by grouse at 8:20 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Other big names for lightweight hard-sided suitcases include Rimowa and Hideo Wakamatsu, and if you can go without wheels, Red Oxx also comes highly recommended.

I would, however, take a close look at packing more efficiently, since the issue isn't just the quality of your luggage but all the stuff you're putting into it. An overstuffed suitcase, no matter how well-made, is more likely to break zippers or latches, so see about using compression sacks, packing cubes, etc., to keep yourself organized and save space.
posted by evoque at 9:22 AM on November 21, 2012

Rimowa + compression bags. They have a 22", which is a nice size because you have the option of carry-on or checking it (in the US - it's too big for international carry-on).
posted by judith at 8:30 PM on November 27, 2012

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