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Carry Awards

Best Carry-On Finalists – The Second Annual Carry Awards

by , February 10, 2014

What do you need when you’re preparing to hit the skies? Good food and leg room? Forget it! Think about something you can control. This is one of the broadest categories, as carry-ons need to cover travel, work, play and still fit in an overhead bin.

Bags in this space generally fall into a business vibe, adventure vibe, or a relaxed weekender vibe, so it’s important to know what will resonate with you. We generally don’t dig hard cases for carry-on, as they don’t shape and squeeze into tight or slightly irregular spaces. Occassionally, we make exception though for those who don’t need too much versatility.In this category, we’re seeing more personality and options than ever, which might make it tricky to pick a favorite. But go on, you know you want to…

You have two votes to use as you will…

Allocate your 1st choice with 2 points

And your 2nd choice just with the 1 point. 

Note: any votes made over the allotted limit will be wiped from the voting tally. 

Rimowa Topas Stealth Cabin Trolley IATA

Why the Rimowa? Because you’ll look like The Boss. No, really. Small wheeled cases generally look a bit dorky, but this thing is Keyser Soze, secretly coordinating the world’s entire underground everything. It has more presence than a B-52. It doesn’t have to squeeze into spaces, as spaces will reshape themselves for this.

Rimowa CO

Qwstion Weekender

Here’s a bag that asks for very few compromises from you. It looks good in almost any setting, it maximises your carry on space, it can swap between single strap or backpack carry, and it has pocketing for almost anything you’ll carry. While nominated last awards, the bag has been updated for faster conversion and more nailed details.


 Tortuga Travel Backpack

This backpack is about getting everything you can into a bag and taking it all onto the plane/train/rickety old bus. There’s plenty of section, pockets, and parts to help organise. There’s ample padding, and there’s enough access points to make sure you’re never digging too deep to find that thing.


Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack

Half way between a business carry-on and an adventure travel pack, the Aviator uses flexible and sensible zones to help you organise your one bag travel. Straps can all tuck away for checking in, there’s a solid waist belt for helping with the load, a rain cover, and you have zones for shoes, tech, laptop and clothing.

Timbuk2 Aviator

Tom Bihn Synapse 25

This is small capacity for a carry-on, which means it works better as an overnighter only, or a supplement to check in luggage. Great organising, excellent build quality, and incorporates the modular system for hanging laptops, tablets and tech.


Goruck SK40

Who’s to argue with taking one of the most respected carry ons available (and last year’s Carry Awards winner), and stripping back the tactical thing for more subtlety. All the ruggedness of the GR2, but with a more minimalist vibe.


Minaal Carry-On

Raising over $340K on a goal of $30k wasn’t a bad start for this Kickstarter launch, with a convertible carry-on that tries to always have you covered. The patterning is sophisticated, the organising features are resolved and it sports a seam-sealed rain cover included as standard. This looks like a bag from a much more mature company than it is.


Osprey Ozone Convertible 22

Being able to swap between wheeling or carrying sounds awesome, but hybrid packs have generally suffered from being too heavy or awkward to bother with. The Ozone finally gets this equation right, through hard work and evolution. Weighing 6lbs (2.75kg) with its added zip-on backpack, this bag is light even when compared to pure wheeled cases. Refined pattern work, just enough features, and a convertible system that doesn’t need a rocket scientist, this is Osprey at their best.




What’s not here?

There is loads of great carry-on getting around, as this is a category that people care about. Red Oxx has big fans, and awesome organizing, but for us the generic handles and fussy look just slide them out of the core group. The Arc’teryx Covert is an awesome bag for a specific set of needs. Briggs & Riley are building some great kit worth a check. It’s been great to see the SLICKS pack return, which is an excellent carry on option. And lots of our work backpacks would be right at home in this category also.
  • Nick Andreetta

    This is one of my favorite bag categories and it has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, as evidenced by stores like REI and MEC making their own carry-on travel backpacks. There were far fewer options when I bought my Osprey Porter 46 (maybe a classic in this category now?) in 2007 for my first trip to Europe. I use the Porter for every trip and it hasn’t failed me yet, but I may upgrade to one of these packs at some point for more comfortable straps, a tiny bit more organization, and nicer materials.

    Of all the nominees here, the Minaal looks like the underdog winner. The Qwstion bag might look the best, but my wife has their Daypack and the zippers feel odd in use and don’t want to stay closed. Their bags could use a bit more structure, too.

    • AA

      That’s so helpful thanks. The Qwestion review on here was 100% positive so it’s good to have some more views. I could live with odd but not “opens by itself”. Lack of structure is an issue for a lot of these types of bags. I have the Goruck Civvy and it has zero structure. I was thinking of going with the Qwestion but for nearly £200 for the weekender a two year warranty is very poor.

      I too have the Porter 46 and it’s seen some travels. I always found it a bit uncomfortable, I have a Goruck GR2 which would be amazing if it was a bit lighter and had a waist belt.

      • Nick Andreetta

        I didn’t mean to sound too critical of Qwstion’s bags. My wife gets a lot of compliments about her Daypack and it’s one of the nicest convertible bags if you need a backpack that can hide its straps, as she does for dress code. The bag certainly doesn’t just open on its own, the twist latch prevents that and holds the flap securely in place. However, the zippers operate with so little force that the lateral expansion of the bag is enough to make them rest about an inch shy of the fully-closed position at the end of the zipper. It’s entirely possible this was a design decision as it allows you to, having opened the latch, simply pull the flap and both zippers will open without a fight. It also allows you to close the latch first and then close the zippers without being careful about their alignment. Tougher zippers often require more care when aligning the panels and going around corners. Some people would likely prefer this easy opening and closing, so I would characterize it as more of a personal preference than a glaring design flaw. Me? I would prefer more zipper resistance.

        I agree that the Porter becomes uncomfortable to carry for long when fully packed. Admittedly, I don’t use the waist belt. For maximizing the amount you can pack within carry-on regulations, however, I don’t think there is a better choice. And I am always impressed each time I pack when the foam panels in the sides and the compression straps that connect them across the pack manage to shrink the bag so much. It invariably takes an overpacked bag and brings it right back to regulation carry-on size. It’s a much better compression design than most of these that only have straps on the sides and will leave a bulge in the middle.

        • AA

          I, like you, would prefer more zipper resistance. I’m curious, why the daypack over say, the office bag?

          I have to use the waistbelt but then I’m a wuss. 100% on the compression, it’s excellent. That said as a result, if you need quick access, the Porter isn’t great. The compression also lends itself to overpacking, at least in my case.

          The GR2 suffers a bit from bulging in the middle which steals space from the front compartment. The bag has too many pockets though, and the front flap can become overloaded. It’s also very tall.

          I wanted to move away from the Porter because I realised I spent most of my time using it as a backpack and that I wasn’t doing my neck/shoulders any favours in the duffel mode.

          • qwstionthenorm

            First of all, thank you all for the feedback. We’d like to join the discussion here, to give you our point of view from the designers perspective. As pointed out by Nick, we developed the double-zip top opening with the twistlock to allow full access to the main compartment with only one quick movement. this makes security check procedures at the Airport simple and easy; open twistlock – pull flap – full overview and access to the contents.
            On the first series of Daypacks we also found the resistance of the zipper to be rather low, mainly the one on the side. The current edition was updated in this regard and uses an auto-lock zipper with higher resistance.
            Nevertheless, our nominated products (Weekender and Officebag) do not share this issue.

          • Nick Andreetta

            Thanks for providing this insight. The top opening definitely works as designed then as it’s very easy to pull open. The side zip is the main culprit as it’s not reinforced by the latch, is fighting gravity, and is the one you don’t want quick access to. I’m glad to hear it has been resolved and a locking zipper sounds like the right solution.

            I would probably buy another of your bags for myself—I like my wife’s Daypack a lot—but would prefer a backpack that embraces two strap carry with ergonomic straps rather than constraining comfort for the sake of convertibility. Your brand occupies a unique position by selling clean canvas bags that don’t slavishly embrace the heritage trend and don’t look out of place at work or in the city. There’s probably room in the line for one that is a backpack, through and through.

          • Nick Andreetta

            She picked the style she liked best. She’s also fairly small, so I got her the bag that was just big enough for a MacBook Air and let that dictate the dimensions.

            I, too, would like to upgrade away from the Porter at some point. I rarely carry it without the backpack straps and its weaknesses are evident there. The most logical replacements are the Tortuga and the Minaal, but I might just as likely try to reduce my packing list until it’s closer to 20 liters so I can get a perfect all-purpose backpack from Mission Workshop or the like. The trouble is convincing your family to reduce their packing too, or you end up offsetting your minimal backpack by having to drag their checked luggage.

          • AA

            The Minaal has earned itself a few mediocre reviews. Not seen much on the Tortuga, but damn it is ugly.

          • Nick Andreetta

            I saw those, too. Hopefully they’ll make revisions.

            I agree about the Tortuga. It seems very practical and well considered for travel, but the aesthetics leave a lot to be desired. It makes it a lot easier to stick with the Porter and save the money though.

        • AA

          Also, can I ask, how comfortable is the backpack mode? The metal ring doesn’t look like it would be very comfy and it’s not like there’s a backpanel either.

          • Nikko

            I’ve got a similar Qwstion bag (the Daypack I think, which is smaller than the weekender as above), and the backpack carry mode is sufficiently comfortable. It’s not a fully sculpted backpack (so the straps aren’t angled for your body), but I definitely prefer carrying in this mode when the contents of the bag too heavy to carry single shoulder for long periods. I don’t really feel anything digging into my back.

          • AA

            Thanks Nikko!

          • Nick Andreetta

            Oops. I forgot to check back on this thread to reply, and now I’m sure my reply is no longer relevant.

            The Daypack my wife has doesn’t use the metal ring convertible strap system. Hers merely has a fabric panel that’s open at the top. You unhook the straps at the bottom (they’re sewn to the pack at the top) and slide them behind the panel to hide them. It’s a more common system, but does the job. She generally finds the straps comfortable for light loads but, as Nikko pointed out, they’re not sculpted for ergonomics. She doesn’t tolerate much weight in this bag before she asks me to carry it (if I’m around).

  • cx714

    “Solid waste” belt on the Timbuk2? I take it you weren’t impressed, though continuing on to “helping with the load” pretty well locks up my vote for best pun.

  • AA

    Hang on. You’d include the SK40, which is basically identical to last year’s winner the GR2, bar external webbing, but not include the Mystery Ranch ASAP, a different bag entirely from the 3 Day Assault that won last year but sharing the same trizip opener? Surely that’s a bit unfair.

  • fer

    I think the Rimowa (21.7″x15.8″x7.9″) is sick, but it fails in one important area, it doesn’t conform to the maximum carry on sizes of United and Delta in the USA (22″ x 14″ x 9″), so although you may be able to sneak it in, the airline can still check it, and it is the only reason why I ended up not buying the Rimowa.

    • Markku Partinen

      The maximum length in most flight companies is 56 cm (22.4″) and in some (e.g. Norwegian) it is 55 cm (21.6″) so Rimowa is fine. If you want to be sure to take your bag inside cabin (whether Rimowas or a bag pack or whatever) take care that the length is within limits. The thickness may be also an issue. Less than 9″ is usually secure. I have never had any problems withe the width (15.8″) of Rimowa.

  • adam

    minaal is best

    • Jon May

      How can Minaal be best. No-one even owns one.

  • Jon May

    I own a goruck gr2. It’s a fantastically made bag. But for travel, if it weighed 1kg less, had a waist strap and had zips you could actually lock it would also be great but it doesn’t have those features. Nominating the SK40 just sounds like they’ve got the dirt on one of the guys at carryology.

    • AA

      Ha! That’s the best comment I’ve read yet. I also own the GR2 and it’s in dire need of a hip belt and some weight savings.

  • Brandon Quittem

    I personally use the Tortuga and it has performed well on both weekend trips and long term travel (currently in India). Comfortable straps, easy access points. Highly recommend using stuff sacks/packing cubes to organize internally.

    Reviewed several of these (and some other solid carry on bags) recently if you’re interested:

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  • http://www.packinglighttravel.com/ Anne Betts

    I have the Tom Bihn Synapse 19 as my personal carry-on item/daypack. The dimensions of the Synapse 25 would exceed the personal item dimensions set my most carriers. I have my eye on the Tortuga, as I like its padded hip belt, among other things. Here are my criteria when looking for a carry-on bag:

  • Fair

    I recommend SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack, I bought it from best travel backpack reviews, I got bast one here.

  • Alisa Carlton

    In addition to the tough pack, I always carry a convertible- something that can double as tote in the local market and “stuff sack” on a bus – I like Travelon products http://amzn.to/1WU0rK0

  • https://onebagger.com Kate

    After a lot of research, I went with a combo of the Osprey Farpoint 40 and the Daylite pack. I can fit a week’s worth of clothes in the Porter, including business clothes, and then use the Daylite as my “personal item”.


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