How did The Wirecutter test the luggage?
Once we narrowed the field to something around 10 to 15 bags, we put them through their paces. We did the initial testing on our top picks in an airline training facility, a warehouse of fuselages and mock cabins, where they can train airline staff members for different situations.
So with the help of airline employees, we took each bag along a series of obstacle courses and tested for handling and durability in the airplane.
Did you try to stuff them full of too much clothing?
Yeah, we pack these bags obsessively, just to get a feel for the subjective experience. How well do the bags open and close? How organized do I feel? Was it easy to do? There are little details you start to notice. Like cheap zippers. Or an internal fabric that’s likely to tear. Inside pockets that are too small to be that useful. And, on the positive side, bags that seem to hold more than they should without bulging. Or clever systems for keeping a suit or dress well pressed even while folded up.
Side-handle durability and feel (especially on checked bags) become surprisingly important for hefting the bag off a carousel or into a car.
Does it matter what they are made of?
The three most common materials are metal, nylon and plastic. The plastic bags are the last ones you want, unless you’re worried about price.
Metal luggage, like Rimowa’s, is a luxury at this point. And we can basically dismiss it unless you want to spend thousands of dollars on your bags, which is insane.
So the real choice for most of us is between nylon and plastic. Plastic is lighter, cheaper to make and flexible. However, it also shows wear much more quickly than its nylon counterparts. We have nylon bags that we’ve been using for years that look cleaner than plastic luggage that’s been checked once. The stiffer plastic bodies also transfer more stress to the zippers, which can lead to catastrophic failures. As in, it pops open and your clothes come tumbling out on the conveyor and everyone stares and they thank the good stars that they aren’t you.
My problem has always been the extended handles on carry-on roller bags coming off or jamming.
Those handles and wheels are the weak spots. It’s sort of unavoidable. That’s when a brand’s reputation and warranty come into play. That’s one reason our favorites were the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 22-inch Expandable Rollaboard Suiter for carry-ons and the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 25-Inch Expandable Spinner Suiter for checked bags.
Something that intrigues me is the so-called smart luggage. Is there a smarter, cheaper way to do many of the same things?
Absolutely. You can throw a Tile tracker in your bag and a portable battery charger and you’re basically all the way there. I travel with a USB chargeable scale that you hook onto the handle and lift with it. It’s a little bigger than a tube of travel toothpaste or rolled-up sock.
It’s all about a $60 to $100 depending on the charger you buy.
What’s your best (or worst) luggage tale?
I was working in Africa and someone had checked a live alligator onto the plane. It came out on the conveyor belt trussed up in electrical tape, thrashing a little. So a bunch of us are there trying to pick up our work gear as carefully as possible from around this animal. That was the most surreal, anyway.