Nothing swallows up gear like a duffel bag, and one with wheels is a good choice for multisport gear junkies. If your adventures frequently require gear of widely varying sizes and shapes, a rolling duffel is a smart way to corral it all. For light packers, a carry-on wheeled duffel (22") offers less space but allows you to forego the time and expense of checking a bag.
Best for: adventure travel requiring bulky or odd-shaped gear; family trips; road trips.
Designed for traditional travelers, this category typically features compact sizing and sturdy construction made to handle the rigors of luggage transport systems. If you like to have things organized—medications here, toiletries there—look for bags with lots of pockets or add-in organization accessories.
Best for: business travel; family visits; road trips and travel to urban areas.
Popular with adventure travelers, these combine the convenience of wheeled luggage with the mobility of a backpack. You can transport lots of gear with a simple pull of the extendable handle. Facing heavy foot traffic or a long flight of stairs? Strap on the shoulder and waist straps for hands-free carrying convenience.
Best for: adventure travel; road trips.
These travel-friendly backpacks excel where wheeled luggage cannot: on gravel, cobblestone streets, stairs, and another uneven terrain. Travel packs sport internal frames, hideaway shoulder straps, and built-in security features. Women’s travel packs have suspension systems designed specifically for a woman’s frame.
Best for: Travelers who want to be highly mobile and plan on carrying all their gear.
The traditional duffel—minus wheels and pull handle—is lighter than its rolling counterpart, easier to store (no rigid parts, so it folds up smaller) and friendlier to your budget. It also offers huge capacities—several models available at REI provide over 130 liters (8,000 cubic inches) of space. Zip your pack inside one to transport it on an airplane.
Best for: climbers, college students or any traveler on a budget.
These urban carry-ons have a padded compartment to protect your 10"–17" laptop, plus a bevy of organizing pockets to hold cables, peripherals, and paperwork. Some are "checkpoint-friendly," meaning the TSA may not require you to remove your laptop at security checkpoints. Laptop sleeves can also be used with e-readers and tablets.
Best for Urban travelers and anyone who wants to safely transport a laptop.
Want to avoid the expense and hassle of checked bags? All of the bags and packs described above—from wheeled backpacks to duffels—come in sizes intended for carry-on use.
Most airlines allow carry-on bags no larger than 22" x 14" x 9". Rules can change, so be sure to check with your airline about size limits (or other baggage regulations) before departure.
Best for: Travelers who pack light, are highly mobile and want to bypass baggage claim and baggage fees.