Luggage Types: Which Bag or Case is Best For You?

This post gives an overview of the types of luggage that are typically used by travelers, whether it be for a small load for a short haul excursion or a larger capacity suit case for a longer trip. So let’s delve in:


The briefcase was first created around the 1850’s and has been predominantly associated with business ever since. They are an excellent option is you are carrying papers and/or tablets or small laptops. The archetypal box shape briefcase design (below left) has been added to over the years with some extremely smart models that are hybrids with other types especially the messenger type bag (Below right).


The 17th century term ‘tote’ means to carry. It did not translate to being used as a name for a bag until much later and the tote bag as we know it today really took off in the 1950’s

In its simplest form the tote is now used extensively for carrying shopping as a replacement for plastic bags. In terms of traveling however there are many tote variants.

These range from simple bags that are ideal for carrying on an airplane to luggage type roll on bags. The luggage type bags are usually on the smaller size and are an ideal choice for carrying belongings on a short trip.

Messenger Bags

Messenger bags hail from the early postal services and offer a practical and stylish way of transporting everyday items. Messenger bags are a fashionable solution for the modern man (see our review of the best Men’s messenger bags) or women to carry what they need for the day that increasingly includes laptops or tablets. If not carrying a laptop or a significant number of items then the Smaller messenger bags (below right) are very popular.

Duffel Bags

Duffel bags are named so because Duffel, a town in Belgium, was the location that produced the thick cloth used in the early examples.

In their pure form duffel bags are usually big cylindrical bags. These have typically been used for military purposes (Center image below).

The duffel bag has evolved into the mainstream and now the term is used for holdall bags of various sizes. Some have been adapted with wheel and retractable handles to ease movement making them able to carry large loads and be handled efficiently. With their variations in size duffel bags used as both carry on and checked in luggage.


Backpacks span many different uses and sizes. With regards traveling smaller backpacks are an ideal carry on option where larger backpacks are used as checked in luggage.

Where most luggage is a solution for carrying belongings to and from your home to your mode of transport and subsequently to your end destination backpacks can be used ‘on the move’ when conducting activities such as camping, orienteering etc.

Backpacks have come a long way since their inception and are enshrined in human daily use. Moving with the times there are now many great examples where backpacks have been adapted to business applications specifically for carrying laptops and effects. You are now just as likely to see someone with a backpack on the way to the office as a briefcase or messenger type bag.


If you think of luggage for traveling you probably consider the suitcase. The materials and technology surrounding luggage has evolved over the years. High quality soft side cases and newer hard-shell suitcases dominate the market. They generally can be categorized in three main sizes as detailed below:

18″ – 22″ Carry On Luggage

One thing is for certain you do not want to be the source of entertainment for the long line of people waiting to board the aircraft. I have witnessed people performing great feats of human strength to get their hand luggage in, and subsequently out of, the size checker. They possibly got away lightly compared to those that have to open their case and don layers of clothing (their usually off to the tropics) to enable their bag to pass the ‘cabin’ test.

The kind of size that meets most cabin check in requirements is around 21.5″ . This type of carry-on luggage is typically used to enable secure accessible storage in the cabin whilst on a longer haul. They are also useful, depending on your planned business and social activities, for 1-2 day trips especially if you have separate travel garment bag. The table below gives a general overview of some major airlines restrictions:

25″ – 27″ Medium/Large Checked Luggage

These sizes are the most popular size of checked in luggage. They are ideal for  a week long trip, or longer, depending on how light you travel and the effectiveness of your packing. Suitcases come in hard and soft side variations.

28″ – 32″ Large Checked Luggage

These are very large suitcases meant for trips of over a week in duration. They have a large capacity. It should be noted that fully packing the larger suitcases with heavy goods may result in you exceeding the 50 lbs. weight restrictions that most U.S. airlines enforce. You should also pay cognizance to any regulations around the total size of your luggage. This is calculated by adding the height, width and depth together.  Some cases also have the ability to expand so if the full capacity is used this should also be taken into account.

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