Airline pilots, quite literally, live out of their suitcases. They will not, nor can they, tolerate inferior quality or functionality. For this reason, civil aviators have become the go-to authorities on luggage reviews and, in particular, what you should look for when buying travel luggage.
What follows is a brief checklist, if you will, of things you should look for and at when purchasing a suitcase.
I considered omitting this section, as to me it seems obvious, but I realized that not everyone has the same experience or point of view that I have. So, firstly, I must make the point that my entire enterage of stuff must be either (a) wheeled or (b) able to be hooked, snapped, hung, set on, or in some otherway attached to a suitcase with wheels.
Secondly, there are the right wheels and the wrong wheels. The right wheels, or at least the ones that last the longest and are the easiest to tote along when your bag is overweight (mine was constantly…), are wheels that are rubberized and on ball-bearings, much akin the wheels on roller-skates.
Thirdly, recessed wheels are less vulnerable to damage. This could be an important consideration, especially if you plan on checking this piece of luggage.
(2) Shell Material
There are three major “types” of shells: Hard, Soft, and Semi-soft. The Hard shelled suitcases offer greater protection for your things, but are generally significantly heavier. Soft shelled rollaboards (or as I call them, “rolling duffles”) are convenient to pack and easy to squeeze into overhead bin space, but they offer little, if any, protection for your belongings. So called Semi-soft shelled suitcases are my rollaboards of choice, as they are light, contain a frame which offers adequate protection, are generally expandable, and are much more durable than their hard and soft shell counterparts.
(3) Add-a-bag straps & hooks
TravelPro and Eddie Bauer are the two manufacturers that I am personally most familiar with. I highly recommend TravelPro for anyone doing any serious travelling, as they make a lot of the bags used by airline industry professionals. This also means that we are their primary source of consumer product feedback. One thing, in particular, that I like about TravelPro (getting back to add-a-bag straps and hooks) is that most mid-sized (if not all) come with clips mounted on top of the bag for the (included) add-a-bag hook. This allows you to hang a smaller bag on the back of your roller. When you combine this with another mid-sized back sitting on top of the roller against the handle, you can carry quite a bit of stuff all conveniently attached to the roller.
The end point of this section, however, is not to advertise TravelPro, but rather to say that whatever bag from whatever manufacturer you end up buying, make sure that if comes with, or you can buy as an extra item, some kind of strap or hook to be able to hang a bag on it’s back. If you end up with a bag that doesn’t, however, not all is lost. Add-a-bag is actually a brand name. Add-a-bag is a company that makes straps that can attach to any rollaboard. I used one of these when I initially started flying commercially. They’re not the most convenient, but it beats having to haul the bag around on your shoulder.
Recently I’ve started seeing synthetic, self-repairing zippers that can repair themselves as the zipper slides over them. I’ve never owned one, however friends I used to work with that are still in the industry rave about their unparalelled reliability. Other types of zippers (especially if you plan on doing any serious travelling) will, eventually, break. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when. The problem is that generally this will happen on the road, in an airplane, or (worse) in airport security.
There are other considerations to luggage-buying that go along with the 4 aforementioned items, however this list gives you an idea of the major things you should be scrutinizing about any bag you’re considering purchasing.