11 carry-on bags for today's tech-savvy traveler

No traveling techie should be without a trusted carry-on bag. These 11 unique options can help boost productivity on the road and stabilize some of the typical turbulence associated with modern air travel.

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Best carry-ons for techie road warriors

You pack just one bag, a wheeled carry-on, for a short business trip. It includes your laptop, tablet, smartphone, two days' worth of clothes and toiletries. But when you arrive at the airport gate, you're forced to check the carry-on.

What gives? For starters, manufacturer measurements for "rollaboard" carry-on bags often exclude their wheels and handles. No industry standard exists, so carry-on size restrictions vary among airlines. And as more travelers bring bags aboard flights, overhead bin space gets squeezed, and some airlines get strict with size scofflaws.

It's a mess. So we visited several luggage shops and department stores, tape measure in hand, and double-checked the size of a number of notable carry-on bags with external laptop pockets. The following 11 bags are the best options we found for tech-savvy travelers. But first, here are a few basics about carry-on regulations, along with three tips from a travel industry pro.

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Basics of airline carry-on regulations, and buying tips

A suitcase measuring 22 inches high by 14 inches wide by 9 inches deep — or smaller — meets several domestic carriers' carry-on allowances, including American, Delta, United and JetBlue. Some are more liberal. Virgin America says 24 inches by 16 inches by 10 inches is OK. Some airlines measure bag size in linear inches, and 45 linear inches (22 + 14 + 9 = 45) is a frequent acceptable allowance.

International carry-on restrictions are often tighter. For example, Air France's allowance is 21 inches by 13 inches by 9 inches. Regional jets are even stricter, and some have been known to disallow all wheeled bags, regardless of size. However, though you may have to check a bag on a regional flight, it's usually free, and the bag is typically waiting for you when you deplane.

Scott Applebee, vice president of marketing for luggage maker Travelpro, offered these tips for people researching a new bag purchase:

1. Many bag dimensions apply to only the main compartment. To estimate a bag's complete measurements, it's a good idea to add about an inch in height for two-wheelers and 2 to 3 inches for four-wheel "spinners." The wheels on two-wheel bags are often more recessed than those on four-wheel spinners. As a result, some spinners offer less packing space than comparable two-wheelers.

2. Look for rollaboards with flexible top carry handles that can be flattened down, and keep in mind that firm, arched handles add height.

3. You might want to err on the safe side and only consider rollaboards advertised as 19 inches or 20 inches tall. You'll get less packing capacity, but they're more likely to fit onboard planes.

Now, here are the 11 best carry-on bags for techie travelers …

3. samsonite

Samsonite Pro 4 DLX vertical spinner mobile office

Samsonite's business-travel bag ($250) isn't exactly designed to dazzle, but it features a built-in, adjustable cushioned pocket for laptops up to 17 inches, plus pockets for a tablet and a separate compartment for clothes. However, that compartment isn't particularly large, and you probably wouldn't want to live out of this bag for more than two days.

The bag's overall dimensions are 20.75 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches, according to Samsonite's site, but our height measurement was closer to 22 inches, factoring in the top handle. Assuming you don't overstuff it, Samsonite's Pro 4 DLX bag should make it onboard.

4.delsey titanium

Delsey Titanium International 19-inch carry-on spinner trolley

Delsey Paris's international carry-on is attractive, with a polycarbonate exterior that comes in three colors. (Dark red is the standout). Unlike other hard-shell suitcases, it has a zippered, padded, pop-open exterior compartment that can be used to store a laptop, tablet and travel documents or other printed materials. The bag also features a built-in TSA combination lock, which helps secure the main compartment — but not the laptop pocket.

Best of all, the bag is affordable. At the time this story was published, the red bag cost $150 on Delsey's site and $128 on Amazon. Delsey's dimensions for the bag (19 inches by 13 inches by 9.8 inches, or 11.8 inches when stuffed) don't include the wheels, feet, or handles. Our measurements were closer to 21 inches by 14 inches by 10 inches.

5. helium breeze

Delsey Helium Breeze 5.0 carry-on spinner

An "only at Macy's" item, Delsey's Helium Breeze 5.0 spinner (available in black and red) has an exterior protected pocket that can accommodate laptops with screens up to 15.6 inches. The main compartment is fairly roomy, and there's a separate compartment for shoes. As of this writing, the bag is on sale for $120.

Despite the "carry-on friendly" features listed in the bag's sales material, it may not make it onboard with you. We measured the bag at 23 inches by 14.5 inches by 10 inches, or about 47.5 linear inches. Delsey's dimensions (as stated on Macys.com) are 20.5 inches by 14 inches by 10 inches, or 44.5 linear inches.

6. travelpro platinum magna

Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 22-inch expandable rollaboard

Travelpro bags are "the choice of flight crews and frequent travelers," according to the company. We can attest, having spotted numerous airline crewmembers toting the bags. The Platinum Magna 2 model, available in black and olive, has a front zippered pocket with protective laptop padding and an RFID-proof interior pocket. The bag is also moderately priced, at $247 on eBags.

Travelpro's dimensions for the bag's main compartment are 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches. Including wheels and the carry handle, we measured it at about 24 inches by 15 inches by 10 inches. This size exceeds some airlines' carry-on allowances, but several online reviewers say they had no issues bringing it on board. Travelpro also makes a 21-inch bag in this line, and it costs $255 on Amazon.

7. travelpro crew 10 hardside

Travelpro Crew 10 19-inch Business Plus 'Hardside' Spinner with mobile office

Travelpro's Crew 10 19-inch Business Plus Hardside Spinner ($212 on Amazon) is available in merlot and black, and it's a stylish option that's likely to fit into most overhead bins. Travelpro lists its main compartment dimensions as 19 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches. According to our tape measure, the hard-shell bag is about 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches.

The bag's exterior padded pocket opens wide for easy access to a laptop (with a display up to 15.6 inches) and a tablet, and it has pockets for a smartphone, pens, and other miscellaneous items. The bag also features a built-in TSA lock that secures the main compartment, as well as the exterior laptop pocket.

8. victorinox

Victorinox Swiss Army Avolve 2.0 20-inch spinner

Victorinox, maker of the popular Swiss Army Knife, also offers a respectable luggage line. I bought an Avolve 22-inch spinner several years ago and appreciate its roomy exterior laptop pocket. However, its size means it sometimes can't be carried on flights.

The smaller Avolve "20-inch" spinner, which also features an exterior padded laptop pocket, shouldn't have the same problem. Victorinox says the bag measures 20 inches by 13 inches by 9.75 inches, though we measured it at 21 inches by 14 inches by 11 inches, or 46 linear inches. The bag costs $250 at eBags.  

9. tumi bag

Tumi International Alpha 2 4-wheel carry-on

At $725, Tumi's Alpha 2 international carry-on, with four wheels and a roomy, exterior laptop pocket, is the priciest bag in this lineup. However, Tumi is one of our favorite luggage brands, and its products are consistently well made, durable, and occasionally stylish. (One of our personal favorite laptop backpacks comes from Tumi's limited edition Mini Cooper-branded bags, and it has a detachable cross-body bag that doubles as an exterior pocket on the backpack.)

This international Tumi carry-on is one of only two bags we measured that's actually smaller than the manufacturer's dimensions. We measured the bag at 21.5 inches by 13 inches by 9.5 inches; Tumi says it is 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches, and it expands to 11 inches. In other words, if the bag isn't overstuffed, it should make it onboard without issue.

10. rimowa

Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Hybrid IATA Cabin Multiwheel

Rimowa is a popular, slightly edgy, German luggage maker known for stylish bags made of aluminum or polycarbonate. The Salsa Deluxe Hybrid is a classic-looking Rimowa polycarbonate bag available in five attractive shades, with four wheels and zippered exterior pockets that can hold laptops, tablets, and other items. The bag is a clever blend of form and function.

Does the Salsa Deluxe Hybrid Cabin Multiwheel bag ($695) fit in overhead compartments? Probably, at least if the exterior pockets aren't packed to the max. Rimowa's dimensions for this "cabin" bag are 21.7 inches by 15.7 inches by 9.4 inches, or 46.8 linear inches. Our measurements: 22 inches by 15 inches by 9.5 inches, or 46.5 linear inches.

11. briggs torq

Briggs & Riley Torq International Carry-On Spinner

Briggs & Riley is another travel brand that's popular for its lifetime guarantee and known for placing its wheeled bags' telescoping handlebars on the outside, which saves interior space.

The company's attractive hardside Torq International Carry-On Spinner ($479) has a polycarbonate shell, and it's available in cobalt, ruby and graphite. The bag features an exterior pocket for tablets and smaller laptops. I easily slipped my 13-inch MacBook Air into its padded compartment but wouldn't recommend the bag for larger laptops. This Torq model's complete dimensions are 21.4 inches by 14.3 inches by 9.4 inches, or 45.1 linear inches, according to Briggs & Riley, including wheels and handle. Our measurements were actually a bit smaller at 21 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches, or 44 linear inches. The built-in TSA lock secures both the clothing and laptop compartments.

12. briggs riley verb

Briggs & Riley Verb Pilot carry-on

If you want a Briggs & Riley bag that's more "basic business black," the Pilot carry-on from its Verb line could be a good fit. The $399 bag has an expansive front pocket that measures 17.25 inches by 12.75 inches by 1 inch, according to the company, which should let you easily stow a laptop, tablet (in its own fleece-lined pocket), pens, and other items.

Briggs & Riley says the bag itself measures 21.5 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches, including wheels and handles.

13. bluesmart

Bluesmart

Bluesmart is really riding the coming "smart luggage" wave. The bag not only includes an exterior laptop compartment, but the hardside carry-on has a built-in battery for recharging a smartphone or other device; GPS and 3G wireless for location tracking; and an app-controlled digital TSA lock.

The company lists the bag's measurements as 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches. However, a review on The Points Guy blog says the bag is actually 22.4 inches by 14.4 inches by 9.8 inches, which may be too large to bring aboard on some domestic airlines. However, the reviewer also says the bag fit in the overhead bin on four different United flights without any problems. And for what it's worth, Bluesmart says the dimensions on its website include the handle and wheels.