When it comes to luggage, manufacturers love to toss around the term "lightweight." Practically every bag now has that as part of either its name or its product description. And there's good reason for that: most bags really are quite light these days.
In our previous report, we had a category for Best Lightweight Luggage, but we've eliminated it because it's hard to find luggage that's NOT light. Take our Best Reviewed choices in this report, the Delsey Luggage Helium 19-inch Carry-On Trolley Case (Est. $225) weighs a mere 5.1 pounds, while our Best Reviewed spinner, the Samsonite Silhouette Sphere Expandable 21 Inch Spinner (Est. $165), weighs 8.1. That's three pounds more, but it's also three inches longer with a correspondingly larger capacity, and it's still fairly light.
There are a lot of factors that go into a bag's weight, with construction being the key. Manufacturers are always trying new materials to create bags that hold up to the rigors of travel without contributing to the overall weight. Adding wheels and a handle to a bag makes it extremely convenient to use, but they also add to the size and weight of the bag. However, manufacturers are working to reinvent the wheel, as it were, so those two features are sturdier without making the bag either heavier or longer.
The latest trend in lightweight luggage is super lightweight or ultra-lightweight luggage. We're seeing this category more often, but we're also seeing some problems. Many of these bags get terrible reviews for durability -- they rip easily, sag, wobble or the plastic components break. A good example is the IT World's Lightest Luggage Collection. Its 30-inch soft-sided trolley case weighs less than five pounds, but we read many reports from people who say the material is thin and flimsy, the handle is wobbly, it's hard to pull on the tiny wheels, and the wheels buckled under the weight of the packed items. A few said they returned it because they were afraid it was too flimsy to use as a checked bag, and it's too large to use as a carry-on. The smaller sizes in this line get somewhat better reviews, and IT has other collections that also get better reviews for durability, but are no lighter than any other "lightweight" suitcase.
Most other manufacturers have recently added "super" or "ultra" lightweight lines as well, but that's a term that's tossed around fairly loosely. We saw plenty of bags that billed themselves as super- or ultra-lightweight, but weighed the same as bags of the same size that don't use those qualifiers, or that just use the term lightweight -- there is no standard for what is light, super light or ultra-light. A manufacture can call it whatever they want, and they will. Also, be aware, some manufacturers list their bags weights and measures, but in the fine print note that it's "without wheels."
The main factor in the weight of any bag is what you put into it. Buying, say, a 22-inch bag that weighs 8 pounds versus 6 pounds won't make much difference once you pack it full. Then, the wheels of that bag still have to be sturdy enough to support the weight of what it is carrying. The case needs to be able to handle the load without putting undue strain on your shoulders or arms; or dragging, buckling, rocking or tipping. In the great scheme of things, a pound or two isn't going to make much difference, you're better off with a sturdy, well-built suitcase.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Luggage: The six best luggage choices, as identified by professional tests, expert reviews, user reviews, and our own analysis.
Best Carry-On Luggage: Overhead bins are getting smaller by the minute, and airlines are tightening up their bag restrictions. These 19- and 20 inch bags and duffels will fit even the tightest spaces.
Best Spinner and Rolling Luggage: Spinner luggage, with wheels that swivel 360 degrees, and roller luggage, with sturdy, fixed, inline wheels are the most popular option for travelers. Most of our Best Reviewed will fit in an overhead bin, too.
Best Luggage Sets: Stylish and with a lot of packing options, luggage sets give you a lot of bang for the buck. We found a few good choices for grown-ups, and even some cute picks for children.
Buying Guide: Want to avoid buyer's remorse tomorrow morning? Our Buying Guide will help you decide which suitcase you need, and tell you what to look for in the best luggage.
Our Sources: Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the best luggage, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.