The Guide to Lightweight Luggage

I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest to you that light luggage is a good thing – we’ve all heard the “pack light” mantra. But even aside from the fact that it sucks to carry around a huge, heavy suitcase, airlines are now cracking down on oversized baggage, which means overweight luggage can get hit with big surcharges, fees, and other unpleasant things. And many of the best brands of luggage are so heavy that, even if you carry on, you may need a fork lift just to get it up into the overhead. But fear not, intrepid travelers. I’ve got some recommendations for light luggage that is still just as durable heavier brands, and suggestions for how to pack to minimize the weight.

But first...

Baggage Restrictions – A Quick Survey

I spot-checked the checked luggage rules for a number of different airlines – I focused on Southwest, United, American, and British Airways, which seemed to be representative. All the airlines had basically the same regulations. These are their regulations for flying Coach – if you are lucky enough to fly Business or First Class, they may allow you a little more leeway.

Checked Baggage Limits

This subject is in constant flux. Airlines are trying to raise revenue by charging for checked bags, so checking anything is likely to cost you some money. The maximum size for a checked bag on all the carriers I checked is 62 linear inches (length + width + height). The maximum weight is 50 lbs, or 23 kg.

Oversize/Overweight Baggage

When your baggage clocks in over the weight limit, the airline hits you with a big fee. For bags between 50 lbs and 70 lbs, this fee can vary from about $25 to $50. When you get up past 70 lbs, the airline usually tells you that you have to ship it by air freight, which starts getting ridiculously expensive.

How to Lighten Your Luggage

There are just two possible ways make your baggage lighter: Lighten what’s inside, or lighten the bag itself. Here are my picks for the best lightweight luggage, followed by a few tips on bringing down the weight inside of them.

Lightweight Luggage - Best Picks

Every pound counts when 50 lbs is fine, and 51 lbs costs you money. Especially when a bag like Tumi’s LXT 28” upright weighs in at 22 lbs empty – that’s practically half your weight allowance used up on the bag itself! Here are my picks for luggage that is lightweight, but still good quality, so you know it won’t fall apart in the middle of a trip. You may notice a slight Eagle Creek bias – they really are the best when it comes to light, functional, and tough suitcases.

Eagle Creek Adventure Luggage: This stuff is the perfect combination of tough construction and light weight . Their carry-on is barely more than 7 lbs. And it still has Eagle Creek's famously smart design - including 4-wheeled styles that are easier to manage. And it even has a lifetime warranty!.

Timbuk2 Copilot Luggage: Timbuk2 messenger bags are famous for their durability and hip styling. Their wheeled luggage has all that, with skateboard wheels and the signature three-panel design, and the carry-on size clocks in at just 7.4 lbs. You could practically sling it on your back and ride off on your bike! Practically...

Eagle Creek Tarmac ES3 Luggage: Eagle Creek makes some of the toughest, best-constructed bags around, and their "Tarmac" line has always been the most durable of all. But for a long time, I had a hard time recommending them here, because, while they're lighter than most suitcases, they weren't as ultra-light as the Hovercraft line. Now the new, redesigned Tarmac ES3 line weighs just a few ounces more than the hovercraft. Not bad for such a tough bag!

Use Light, Compact Travel Accessories

So, once you have the lightest possible suitcase, you can give yourself a little extra insurance by making sure that what’s inside is lightweight too. Travel accessories - from travel containers to travel comfort stuff to accessories for your computer - are much smaller and lighter weight than their full-size, full-weight counterparts. So it can be worth it to leave your bulky hair dryer at home and take a fold-up travel hair dryer.

Use Travel Clothing

Travel clothing, like the stuff made by Ex Officio and Columbia Sportswear, is designed to be a lot lighter than normal clothes. It also packs down smaller, so you can get the same amount of clothing into a smaller (and lighter) suitcase.

Pack Light

I’ll end this little article with what can be the easiest and the hardest way to keep the weight of your luggage down. Don’t pack so much crap! You probably don’t need five pairs of shoes. Or three different sport coats. And maybe you can leave that portable coffee maker at home. Know what you’ll use, and what you won’t. Check out this travel outfitting guide for some suggestions on how to pack everything you’ll need in one carry-one size bag and one small day bag!



Eagle Creek
Adventure Luggage

A new line of lightweight yet rugged luggage from Eagle Creek. Famous Eagle Creek quality, and lighter than any bag they've made to date!

Timbuk2 Copilot Luggage

Timbuk2's inimitable style and famously tough construction, all in an ultra-lightweight suitcase. My new favorite!

Eagle Creek Tarmac ES3 Luggage

Newly redesigned, Eagle Creek has shaved some weight off while maintaining the ultra-durable quality. Top of the line but lightweight!