Here are a trio of bags I have been looking at recently as great carry-on choices. While my first choice in bags are those made from canvas or leather, and made by either individual artisans or small companies, these bags offer unique features, durability and price which make them a great option.
Patagonia’s Maximum Legal Carry-On is a soft-sided bag made from recycled fabric (1,200-denier polyester) with a durable water repellent finish which will hold about 3-5 days’ worth of clothing. It features a backpack carrying option, a main compartment with convenient ‘book like’ access, dirty clothes or laptop sleeve, and importantly easy access pockets to carry your passport and the essential gadgets. Zippers and seems look ok. This is an attractive bag with an unfortunate boxy look.
I own a number of Tom Bihn bags and though I don’t consider them my aesthetic favorite, I have yet to find fault with their build quality. Zippers, seams and stitching are the best. Tom Bihn’s Tri-Star is a mid-sized carry-on bag made from urethane coated 1050 denier nylon specifically chosen for it’s abrasion resistance, durability, and ease of stowing and retrieving in an overhead bin. The Tri-star features three main top loading compartments (with the middle being best for carrying a laptop), a backpack carrying option, three front easy access pockets for your passport and such, and a very interesting side pocket perfectly sized to carry a water bottle. Tom Bihn bags tend to be priced higher than many bags of it’s type but they are truly a long term investment which should help you justify the added cost.
Timbuk2 may have lost much of that street cred luster but they still design good looking bags and this bag is no different. The Suitcase is made from Ballistic Nylon and features a detachable laptop section, internal compression, internal gadget pockets, organizer pockets to ease security checkpoint passage and an external slash pocket. I love how the bag opens up flat to allow for convenient unpacking and packing. The shape of the bag looks good too. I’ve had bags this size before and the lack of backpack straps might make carrying this big bag tough over long distances if full.