Once you've got the carry-on versus checked bag and wheels versus no-wheels decisions out of the way -- for the sake of argument, let's say you've opted for a checked bag with wheels -- you have to decide between two wheels or four, and a hard-side or soft-side bag. Both the four-wheeled eBags EXO Hardside 24\" Spinner (Est. $180) and the soft-side, two-wheeled Briggs & Riley Transcend 200 24 (Est. $379) are excellent choices.
We rank the eBags EXO a little higher thanks to its bombproof, ribbed polycarbonate case, which offers superior protection for your belongings and looks good doing it. Testers with Outside magazine say the eBags EXO Hardside Spinner survived a 13,000-mile European tour completely dent-free, and Outside writer and luggage expert Ted Alan Stedman describes it as "the most durable spinner we've ever tested."
Most users agree, like one frequent traveler who posts to eBags.com: "They do show a few dings and scratches from the baggage handlers, but that's much better than my last hardside which lasted only a few trips." Some users are initially flummoxed by how to work the built-in, TSA-approved combination lock for the zipper, which requires two hands; however, most consider this a plus in terms of bag security.
If you prefer soft-side luggage, it's hard to beat the Briggs & Riley Transcend 200 24, a newly redesigned version of the popular Transcend 24 that continues to draw rave reviews. It's the only bag to earn a perfect durability score in the Good Housekeeping Research Institute's tests. It maneuvers well on its two wheels and, unlike the brakeless EXO spinner, can sit upright -- even on a slope -- without rolling away from you. If you like the idea of self-propelled luggage, you can also purchase the Transcend 200 24 as a medium-size spinner (Est. $399) .
Despite its soft-side construction, users say the Briggs & Riley Transcend 24, made of Tuff-lite fabric, still holds up remarkably well. The Transcend also offers a zip-open expansion option, expanding from 11 to 14 inches of depth and increasing carry capacity by nearly a third, for a total of 4,337 cubic inches. Its external measurements are 18 by 11 inches (or 14 inches when expanded) by 25.5 inches, and is available in 19-, 20-, 22- and 27-inch sizes, all of which refer to its internal measurements (add about 1.5 inches to estimate the external measurements for each size).
The eBags EXO's 4,386 cubic inches offers a little more space, and a single adjustable shelf in the main compartment, paired with a zip-around mesh compartment in the lid, offers plenty of flexibility in terms of storage space. It may be too much flexibility, actually; many reviewers say they use packing cubes to keep their belongings from becoming a jumbled mess. The eBags EXO 24" Spinner's outside dimensions measure 18 by 11 by 27.5 inches, and it's also available as a smaller carry-on or a two-piece set.
The Briggs & Riley Transcend offers a few more options for organization, with zippered pockets in the lid (which open downward if you have the lid propped against a wall); garment-securing panels for up to three garments; and a quick-access outside pocket, which is conspicuously absent on the hard-sided eBags EXO spinner (and every other hard-side bag in this report).
If you have very strong feelings about soft-side versus hard-side suitcases, you can choose in line with those feelings and remain quite happy. Both models maneuver very easily and are backed by lifetime warranties that cover damage caused by airlines. But if you split hairs -- which we do -- the eBags EXO comes out on top thanks to the extra durability from its hard-side construction and components that are designed for easy replacement.
Also the eBags EXO's handle, which telescopes far enough to be used comfortably by anyone from a 6-foot man to a sub-5-foot woman, works smoothly; we found several comments that the Briggs & Riley's telescoping handle tends to stick and that its external frame can bump against your leg as you carry it by your side. And finally, although both bags represent a great value, the eBags EXO is only about half the price of the Briggs & Riley Transcend 24.
If you're planning to take your wheeled luggage off the beaten path, you might also want to consider the Gregory Alpaca 28 Roller Bag (Est. $400) , which draws praise from the editors of Backpacker magazine for its extra-wide chassis and handle. They write that it's "the most stable, tip-proof bag we've used." One editor adds that while his buddies were wrestling their roller bags up a gravel path in Chile, he got by smoothly with the Gregory Alpaca. Its thermoplastic urethane fabric holds back water, and a healthy D-shaped opening gives you ready access to about 4,881 cubic inches of storage space -- a near-perfect combination of factors for the outdoor set.