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Very Frequent Flyers Review the Best Carry-On Bags

This post contains references to products that frequent flyers in our forum enjoy. No advertisers were involved. We receive no compensation when you click on links to these products. No terms apply to anything on this page. This is just a collection of products that we’ve actually used and actually enjoy.  For more unbiased product reviews, head here.


Travel with just a carry-on? Or trying to pluck up the nerve to ditch the hassle of a checked bag? An important first step is knowing what bag to carry. So we did a deep dive into FlyerTalk’s Travel Products forum to see what carry-on bags the frequent fliers there swear by. The first rule of one bagger travel? Not all carry-ons are created equal. Here are the ones that frequent fliers swear by.

GORUCK GR1 (Matt Hyatt/Flickr)

The Indestructible Carry-On With a Cult Following

“GORUCK GR1 is the only bag I use!!” is the usual tone of reviews by GORUCK fans. If you’re not aware of GORUCK bags, the best place to start is to know that they’re basically indestructible (each bag comes with a lifetime guarantee) and designed and used by Special Forces soldiers and tested out in the field.

It’s designed to be the only travel bag you need, especially when your safety depends on it. And it also has a bunch of cool features that make it great for travelers who don’t often find themselves in life-threatening situations but want one bag to bring everywhere that will survive anything. Here’s a quick list of the perks of FlyerTalk’s favorite GORUCK carry-on bag, the GR1:

  • They’re TSA compliant, and fit under your seat
  • They open flat for getting things in and out, no digging around necessary
  • They’re comfortable: (padded straps and a stabilizer to make the load easier to carry)
  • They keep your laptop very protected: (the laptop compartment is bombproof and a false bottom keeps it from banging around if you drop your bag)
  • Lots of small pockets: an external one for quick access, 3 internal pockets, and interior and exterior webbing for storing whatever.
  • Very durable: rainproof, built to survive combat situations, comes with a lifetime guarantee

The drawbacks? GORUCKs are indestructible and they are priced like it. Your GORUCK might be the last carry-on you ever buy but it will cost you around $300. And, they’re kind of a gateway drug to other GORUCK bags. “90% of my trips, I use my GORUCK GR1,” said one FlyerTalker on his one-bag of choice. But,

“If cold weather to warm weather transitions require me to pack for multi-seasons, I’ll go with my slightly larger GR2 (modified to replace the compression buckles with G-hooks). My GR1 has side and bottom handles added from factory.

My GR2 has side and bottom handles added from factory + I replaced the compression strap buckle (plastic) with a metal G-hook.

My GR3 is a first run with side handles… and I replaced all 4 plastic compression buckles with metal g-hooks. I’ve only used the GR3 once. Liked it, but it is too big for my needs most of the time.

The GR2 is a fav of mine, but also tends to be a bit big. GR1 is my favorite as it is big enough to haul all my gizmos, clothes and toiletries. Upon arrival at my hotel, I dump all non-office essentials and it becomes a reasonably sized daily carry bag for my laptop, cables etc.”

You could do worse than a carry-on bag with a cult following among frequent flyers.

Tom Bihn Synik 22

The Detail-Oriented Bag That Never Goes on Sale

A bag that never goes on sale is like a restaurant that’s only open on Wednesdays and Sundays. They do it because they can and they’re worth it. FlyerTalkers who own Tom Bihn carry-on bags are almost evangelical about the bag’s seamless meeting of form and function. And, Tom Bihn bags have earned their acolytes with bags of various sizes and shapes that are designed with enormous amounts of attention to detail.

This several-hundred-word treatise on the philosophy behind the ergonomic design of the water bottle pocket and other crowd-sourced detials is a pretty satisfying design nerd-out. TLDR, every part of Tom Bihns are designed to make this bag a fun and helpful travel companion.

  • They open flat so that you can pack it like a suitcase (it also comes with internal straps)
  • They keep your laptop protected: the laptop compartment is suspended off of the bottom and back of the bag (in an easy access pocket)
  • They’re easy to carry: with optional sternum straps and a padded hip belt (with leave-no-trace removable hardware)
  • They have pockets for days: each pocket is perfect for something (from keys to camera)

The drawbacks? All of that attention to design is expensive. The SYNIK 22 will run you around $300 and it’s unlikely to go on sale. But, it’s fans in the FlyerTalk forums do have a few workarounds if you find the price prohibitive. “They do occasionally do a member forum surprise gift or review units. You may find Synik on eBay with patience and persistence but it is a very new item. I’ve seen other premium ‘one bags’ on eBay, too. I can’t speak for all of them but many do offer premium build and materials for the premium price tag. My Synapse 19 is still in great shape and I think I have a 2nd generation model before they had a Synapse 25, plus I tend to overstuff it. Avoiding zipper blowout or a backpack strap stitching coming loose on my main bag is nice peace of mind.”


Red Oxx Air Boss


The Great Place to Start

The clear favorite among the travelers in the world’s largest frequent flyer community? The very customizable Red Oxx Air Boss. Why? The bag’s biggest fans tend to be those who have extensively modified their Air Boss bags to their own personal preferences.

  • They’re great for beginners: they even come with a packing guide (you can also purchase packing cube kits)
  • They’re compartmentalized: there’s an interior section for toiletries, shoes, etc. plus, two outer compartments with straps to keep your clothes wrinkle-free.
  • They’re easy to carry: especially when you use the (retractable) “backpack style” configuration
  • They’re basically indestructible: and that’s coming from frequent flyers who travel quite a lot
  • They hold a surprising amount: really. Prepare to be almost alarmed by how much you can fit in there.

“I carry a Red Oxx Air Boss that I fitted with two of their wide compression straps, with a Tom Bihn Absolute Strap. For three-day leisure trips, I opt for a Red Oxx Sunchaser with the same Tom Bihn strap for three-day leisure trips. BOTH of these bags are excellent and come with lifetime guarantees. Sold my Tom Bihn Tristar, nice bag but the Air Boss I prefer.”

It’s a sizable bag that is best for one baggers who are just starting out. Says a veteran one bagger, “Been using the Red Oxx Air Boss for over ten years. Lately, I’ve been using the Mini Boss more often. I’ve gotten more efficient with packing, so the ‘bigger’ bag doesn’t get used as often.”

The drawbacks? The Red Oxx bag will also run you around $300. But, since all of the most highly recommended carry-on bags come in at around this price point, it’s safe to assume that this is the cost of a bag that will last you your traveling lifetime no matter how often you fly.


Want to read more carry-on bag reviews or let everyone know what carry-on you swear by? Come on down to the forum thread on the topic and join the FlyerTalk.



[Featured Image: Tom Bihn]

mhrb March 2, 2020

What's with this unsubtle advertising?

dlaue January 30, 2020

Had lots of repairs to TravelPro platinum luggage. Then I found Briggs and Reilly brand. A wise choice for very frequent traveler. Indestructible and a lifetime warranty from a company likely to last your lifetime.👍

SamirD January 23, 2020

I have an Eagle Creek similar in function to this one: https://www.eaglecreek.com/shop/packs/gear-warrior-convertible-carry-on-ec0a3zrm?variationId=281#hero=15 I got it in college in 1996 I believe. It has been with me all over the world in different countries, weather, altitudes, and even was carrying my books for a day at school while I skateboarded down streets at up to 40mph.

S c 0 TT y January 22, 2020

The AyeGear Vest and Jacket are great compliments to my existing carry-on and have been saved a fair few times when i’ve been over my weight allowance on local flights in Europe

Long Zhiren January 22, 2020

It's all fun and games until you get a seat with no under-seat storage. You put the soft carry-on overhead, and then all of a sudden, another passenger removes your bag saying that the overheads are only for big wheeled carry-on luggage like their own which now takes up all of the overhead.