With the recent speculation that airlines are looking to reduce the allowable size of a carry-on bag , it seems only natural that there’s been a rise in the sub-22-inch carry-on market. But is buying an 18-inch (or even smaller) carry-on a foolhardy move? Or is it a smart, forward-thinking purchase. And even more importantly, how much can you actually fit in an 18-inch carry-on bag?
Suitcase measurements are notoriously unreliable, so I started the test by pulling out the yardstick and getting the facts straight. Indeed, while the Delsey’s interior space measures 18 inches, it actually reaches a height of 20 inches when the four roller wheels (and excellent clearance) are factored in. Similarly, the Avionette is technically 22 inches of structured space, but when the extra material at the top of the bag is included (space which would be filled out by a bag packed to capacity), the dimensions stretch into the 24-inch zone.
The Capacity Test
The 18-inch Delsey Solution maximizes width in the absence of height, which does wonders for its interior capacity. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the bag held as I filled it to establish the baseline. I managed nearly a week’s worth of fall clothing, plus a pair of shoes and a medium-sized toiletries case. Not bad.
Next up was the Eagle Creek AWD Tarmac. Measuring a true 22 inches, the bag’s interior space is slightly smaller to make room for the four rugged spinner wheels. The items that had filled the 18-inch suitcase to capacity left enough room in the 22-inch bag to fit an additional larger item—say, a pair of shoes or a medium-weight jacket. The difference wasn’t staggering, but it was noticeable.
With an integrated two-wheel design that allowed the packable interior to run the length of the bag, I was curious to see if the Avionette would offer even more room than its 22-inch four-wheel counterpart. And indeed it did, but only slightly. A determined packer could squeeze two pairs of additional shoes into the space left free, but no more.
It’s not as bad as you’d think. Nearly anyone who can pack necessities into a 22-inch carry-on will likely be able to get by with an 18-inch bag. The only caveat is that, without a long side, items such as travel tripods and other longer items may not be able to fit inside.
The Surprise Lesson
The second lesson here is more of a reminder that suitcase dimensions aren’t consistently reported. Sometimes 22 inches includes the wheels; sometimes it doesn’t. In some suitcases, the packable interior runs the entire length of the bag; in others, the wheels offer more rolling clearance but less packable space.
Before wheels, suitcases were little more than boxes designed to be hoisted by skycaps and bellboys. Price and materials aside, one was essentially like another. But the rise of baggage fees and the carry-on lifestyle has produced a profound increase in the variation of suitcase designs. The moral here is to decide what dimensions you’re looking for and then read the fine print. Some companies offer a breakdown of interior and full-height measurements (look for the “specs” tab on the product page), but this information can be surprisingly hard to track down online.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Really (Truly) Light: Rolling Carry-Ons Under 5 Pounds
- Best Foldable Rolling Suitcases for Easy Storage
- Can You Get Your Checked Bags Faster?