Carry-on showdown

When we travel, we typically want to bring the essentials without sacrificing items that make our travel more pleasant.  Airlines continue to nickel and dime us for bags fees, even carry-on’s with airlines like Spirit. Most international flights still allow for a free carry-on, but limit the size up to 50L of space, while in the U.S., most airlines with the exception of Southwest allow up to 40L.

Check bags cost money, they get beat up, they can be heavy, and you run the risk of possibly losing them leaving you stranded without your belongings when you arrive at your destination. Compact travel packing can make your travels easier and more comfortable when you don’t have to lug around larger bags with many items you don’t even use.

I’ll get into more details about travel miniaturization in the future, but for now, let’s focus on what to look for when choosing the best carry-on luggage.

Just like their larger counterparts, carry-on bags can get expensive, many look alike, quality varies widely, and it can be really hard to find a great value. Most of us have a budget in mind when it comes to purchasing, and for me spending more than $200 for a carry-on is too much. In order to help you find and compare the right carry-ons for you, I’ve reviewed three bags under $175 that have lots of space, comply with international and domestic size limits, and optimize maneuverability.


Docker Superlight Expandable Spinner

This is not the exact same bag I have, but it looks nearly the same and it’s about two inches taller. This bag I found at TJ Max for $50, it’s 40L and has the four wheel configuration which allows it to be rolled any direction. It can be expanded to 45L, has two handles, one on the top and another on the right side, and has two pouches on the front.


  • 4 wheels for easy rolling
  • Expandable
  • Handles on two sides
  • Cheap
  • Multiple front pockets for fast storage of handheld items


  • 4 wheels, takes 2 inches of space that could be used for luggage
  • Smaller zippers can be a bit sticky when opening and closing
  • Handle bar takes away space from the interior
  • Expansion is very minimal, only expands to 45L
  • Tiny wheels do not roll well on rough terrane

Overall this bag is cheap, has enough storage for a day or two, is easy to roll on all four, but can be tough to pull when tilted on its side.  Storage is restricted by the wheels taking up vertical space, there are not enough handles on the bag and the expansion is very minimal, only a five-liter expansion.


Burton Charter Roller

This bag can be purchased online (Amazon), and at a few retailers that carry Burton such as REI or the Burton Flagship stores. On Amazon, this bag costs $164, is 45L expandable to 60L and comes in under domestic size requirements.

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I like the styling of this bag and it’s actually the most unique of the three with red zippers, black trim, and gray coloring, with a bright red interior. Although not as wide as the other two bags it expands outwards three additional inches making it quite deep on both sides. Some unique style attributes of this bag also include skateboard wheels, handles on three sides, and good bumper protection on the back and bottom of the bag.


  • 2 wheels maximizes storage space
  • Expandable up to 14 inches for 60L of space
  • Handles on three sides
  • Unique styling
  • One large front pocket which can hold a notebook or large electronic device


  • Skateboard wheels are small, is rough to roll on non-smooth surfaces
  • Wheels are not pushed to the corners, taking up additional interior space
  • luggage tag hangs in the way and gets caught on zippers when you open it
  • Not well balanced, bag tends to try and fall forward with nothing packed in the upper side
  • Handle takes away storage space on the inside of the bag

Overall this bag has a variety of unique styles, good construction, lots of expansion, room for storage, and it comes in nicely under $170, which is only about $50 more than the most expensive carry on at the budget stores like Marshals, TJ Max, and Ross.  The Burton Charter carries a lifetime warranty and comes in multiple color options to suit your taste.


Dakine Status Roller 45L Bag

This bag can be purchased online (Amazon) and at hundreds of retailers that carry Dakine such as REI. On Amazon, this bag costs $157, is 45L expandable to 60L and comes in under domestic size requirements.

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Like the Burton bag, this one comes in many colors, but its styling is very traditional yet sleek and modern.  It has large zippers for easier opening and closing of compartments, nearly double the size of the zippers on the previous two bags, and it sits very well balanced loaded or empty.



  • 2 wheels maximizes storage space and they’re pushed to the far sides
  • Expandable up to 12.5 inches for 60L of space and wider than the other two bags
  • Handles on three sides
  • Great variety of colors
  • Multiple front pockets for fast storage of handheld items
  • Ergonomic handle
  • Longer handle, the handle is nearly six inches longer than the other bags
  • Biggest wheels make it easier to roll on rough terrane
  • Tucked luggage tag that is built in and doesn’t get caught or snagged


  • Handle takes away storage space on the inside of the bag

Overall this is my bag of choice.  The price point is just right, cost less than the Burton bag, and has many superior features that make this bag the best value for maximum storage space and ease of use. The only con for this bag is that like the other bags, the luggage handle takes away from the interior space, but given that it is nearly six inches longer, better balanced and wider, this concern is nearly negligible.

All three bags have good features, with enough storage for a weekend and they will all pass both domestic and international carry-on size limits. Depending on your budget, ease of use and or usage preference anyone of these three bags would make a great addition to your travel gear.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop us a line below in the comments section.