Choosing the right carry-on bag

Switching to carry-on luggage is one way to force yourself to take less. (Shutterstock)

Switching to carry-on luggage is one way to force yourself to take less. (Shutterstock)


, Last Updated: 2:33 PM ET

How often have you heard fellow travellers beg off an evening out because they're going away the next day and have to pack?

How often have you heard someone just back from a trip say they wish they'd packed more?

My answers to those questions are "frequently" and "never."

Switching to carry-on luggage is one way to force yourself to take less. From what I see at airports, more folks seem to be going that route, either with conventional wheeled bags, small backpacks or both.

The only times I've taken checked luggage lately were for a cruise, where jacket and tie were required in the dining room and an overseas travel media event with dress-up dinners on the agenda. In those situations, my wife and I put our fancier duds in one piece of checked luggage and our day-to-day stuff in our carry-ons.

Before shopping for a carry-on, check the websites of the airlines you regularly use to see what they allow.

Air Canada and WestJet let you to bring two items into the cabin. Both airlines use the same maximum dimensions, 23 cm x 40 x 55 (9 inches x 16 x 22) for the larger one, 16 x 33 x 43 (6 x 13 x 17) for the smaller one, which might be a purse, briefcase or tote bag. The maximum weight for each is 22 pounds (10 kilograms).

Air Transat and Sunwing allow only one carry-on per passenger in economy. Their dimensions are both 23 x 40 x 51 cm (9 x 16 x 20 in), but weight limits vary.

To be safe, buy a carryon no taller than 20 inches (51 cm).

Weight is another critical factor. I checked carry-on luggage at The Bay recently and found 20-inchers weighing from less than six pounds to nearly nine. The most Air Canada and WestJet allow is 22 -- and that's full.

The Roots "Smooth" 19-inch upright I use is one of the lightest I've found, 4.6 pounds (2.1 kilos) empty. Even when I stuff in a couple of extras, it's only 15 pounds.

A salesperson at The Bay told me there's a strong demand for lightweight luggage. "Light" and "lite" figured prominently in the advertising of several makes I examined.

Lighter bags are regarded as less sturdy, but I keep thinking that extra pounds have to be hoisted into the overhead bin. Light luggage won't have all the features of heavier stuff. My Roots is definitely a bare-bones bag. It works for me, but wouldn't for some.

Should you buy a soft-sided or a hard-shelled bag?

For carry-on, my vote is for soft-sided, which are easier to fit into tight spaces (overhead bins, under airline seats). They're lighter, too, although the polycarbonate construction being used in the latest hard-sided carry-ons has narrowed the gap.

Hard-sided ones offer more protection for contents but if you're handling the bag yourself that isn't a big consideration. Soft-siders can puncture and tear; hard-shelled ones can scratch and dent.

Caution: Some carry-ons are expandable. You can squeeze more into them, but once expanded they may exceed carryon requirements.

If you or the person you're buying for is tall, make sure the pull-out handle is long enough to make it comfortable to pull. Using a tape measure, I checked half a dozen makes and found differences of up to three inches (12 cm) in handle length.