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How We Test and Rate Luggage

We developed the best luggage testing and rating system on the planet. Here is our full methodology so you can understand exactly how we review suitcases.

How We Test and Rate Luggage

Our mission at TravelFreak is to give you the absolute best recommendations possible. We want to help you find the ideal luggage for your needs, so we developed a detailed test methodology to score luggage across several key categories.

We’re a bunch of gear junkies at heart, and we love analyzing every detail of our gear. We spent years testing and reviewing luggage, and we weren’t satisfied with just giving subjective ratings based on what we liked best. We wanted to understand what makes a piece of luggage stand out when there are so many options to choose from.

We got our team of gear nerds and former product engineers together to develop the most in-depth and objective luggage rating system in the world. Our product ratings are based on concrete, measurable data, and extensive real-world testing.

This is the deep-dive into our luggage testing system so you can understand exactly how we test and rate every suitcase on this site and how we choose which ones to recommend.

Scoring Categories

We break down luggage scoring into eight categories:

  1. Build Quality
  2. Ease of Use
  3. Functionality
  4. Water Resistance
  5. Brand Impact
  6. Buying Experience
  7. Warranty
  8. Price-to-Performance Ratio.

We give a suitcase a score 0-10 in each category using a weighted formula and a series of specific, measurable attributes. For example, in the Build Quality category, we look at attributes like materials, scratch resistance, and wheel bearings to generate the score.

We then use a weighted average and scaling factor to calculate a final overall score based on the individual category scores.

The chart below shows how much each category contributes to the overall score.

Interpreting Our Scores

Based on the overall scores, luggage will fall into one of five ranges that we’ve identified. Knowing how we class bags within the scoring system should help you understand what an individual score means on its own and how it fits in with the competition.

A high score doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a suitcase will be great for you, and a lower score doesn’t mean you should avoid a bag altogether. Scores are meant to be useful guidelines based on our testing metrics. It is important to look at the individual category scores and specific features to decide which bag is the best fit for you.

Here is a breakdown of our scoring thresholds and an explanation of each score’s meaning.

  • 9.4 and Above: Best in Class – It is very hard to earn this score. These suitcases perform well across every category, and we recommend them universally. These are the best of the best.
  • 8.9–9.3: Highly Recommended – These are excellent and high-performing bags. Depending on your specific needs, one of these may be a better fit than our best overall picks.
  • 8.3–8.8: Great for the Right Use – We typically recommend these bags for more specific use cases, because their outstanding performance in one area may have other tradeoffs.
  • 7.5–8.2: Good with Some Compromises – These are still good bags that we generally recommend. There are some compromises to be aware of depending on your use case.
  • 7.4 and Under: Not Recommended – We generally don’t review or recommend bags that score this low, except possibly as a budget pick. They typically have significant issues with quality or function.

1. Build Quality: 30% of Overall Score

After testing dozens of suitcases over the years, we’ve seen what breaks first and which designs stand the test of time.

We use eight attributes to assign each suitcase a score for build quality. The table below shows how much each one contributes to the overall build quality score.

Main Material

Materials play a large role in durability. Luggage uses materials ranging from extremely durable polycarbonate to burly Cordura nylon to flimsy thin polyester.

Main Material Score
800D+ nylon 10
high-strength canvas 10
Polycarbonate 10
Aluminum 9
full-grain leather 8
TPU or PVC coated nylon or polyester 8
800D+ polyester 7
400D+ Cordura or ballistic nylon 6
ABS 6
polypropylene 6
<400D nylon or polyester 4

Zippers

Zippers are often the first things to fail on a suitcase. Either they rip open or get jammed. Because of this, zippers are one of our most important durability metrics.

Some suitcases get around the problem of broken zippers by avoiding a main zipper altogether and using a design with a hinge and latch instead. This design is typically heavier and more expensive, but it is much more durable than any zipper.

The most common zipper sizes for luggage are #5, #8, and #10. The number refers to the width of the zipper in millimeters. For the main zipper of a suitcase, bigger is better. A beefy #10 zipper is going to be much stronger and wear-resistant than a smaller zipper.

We also considered the zipper types when ranking for durability. See below for the three primary zipper types and how we evaluated each.

Coil Zippers

Made of interlocking plastic coils, these are the most common zippers for backpacks, and for good reason. They are easy to manufacture, flexible, and durable. We prefer packs with coil zippers.

Molded Plastic Zippers

These zippers are made with tiny plastic teeth that lock into each other. They can be quite durable, but they aren’t as flexible, and curves can cause them to jam or break.

Metal Zippers

This is probably what you’ve got in your pants. While it’s easy to assume metal would be better than plastic, these are actually the most likely zippers to break or jam. We rarely recommend packs that use metal zippers.

YKK zippers are widely recognized as the gold-standard zipper manufacturer. While there are other brands that make good, high-quality zippers, we still recommend YKK for durability and reliability. Because of this, luggage with YKK-branded zippers is rated higher than bags that use generic off-brand zippers.

Main Zipper Type Score
hinge and latch (no main zipper) 10
YKK #10 coil zipper 9
YKK #8 coil zipper 8
generic #10 zipper 8
YKK #10 molded zipper 7
generic #8 coil zipper 7
YKK #5 coil zipper 6
generic #10 molded zipper 6
generic #5 coil zipper 4
metal zipper 2

Scratch Resistance

Scratching is not an issue for softside luggage, but it can become a major problem with hardside luggage. While scratches don’t affect the functionality of a suitcase, they do make it look worse over time. That can be a big deal if you just bought an expensive, stylish piece of luggage.

Some materials are more scratch-resistant than others, and many hardside suitcases are designed with texturing that resists and hides scratches and scuffs.

We test luggage scratch resistance and give a 0-10 rating to each piece of luggage.

Wheels

Luggage wheels are another component that breaks often. We’ve seen suitcases in otherwise perfect condition become completely useless because of broken wheels.

We follow a few basic principles when rating luggage wheel durability:

  • Two-wheeled roller suitcases are typically more durable than four-wheeled spinners. This is because roller wheels are bigger, simpler, and more securely attached to the case.
  • Bigger is almost always better when it comes to luggage wheels. An oversized wheel can roll over a crack or obstruction that may jam or break a small wheel.
  • Chunky rubber or polyurethane tires help luggage wheels absorb impacts and survive longer.
  • For spinner wheels, double-wheel designs are typically stronger than single-wheel designs.
Wheel Design Score
rubber/PU roller wheels 10
plastic roller wheels 8
rubber/PU double spinner wheels 8
plastic double spinner wheels 6
rubber/PU single spinner wheels 6
plastic single spinner wheels 4

Bearings

In addition to the wheels themselves, the bearings that those wheels spin on are critical components. We prefer luggage that uses fully sealed stainless steel ball bearings from reputable manufacturers like SKF.

Sealed ball bearings prevent damage from moisture or dust.
Wheel Design Score
SKF or equivalent sealed stainless bearings 10
sealed stainless bearings 8
non-sealed stainless bearings 7
non-stainless bearings 6
bushings 4

Replaceable Parts

If you are traveling frequently, even the most well-built suitcase might break eventually. That doesn’t mean it has to be out of commission though. Many brands now build luggage with wheels and handles that can be removed and replaced. This means if a wheel breaks, you can swap it out rather than throwing the whole suitcase out. That’s good for your wallet, and it helps keep stuff out of the landfill.

Replaceable Parts Score
user-replaceable 10
factory-repairable 7
none 5

Fit and Finish

We rate every suitcase based on the quality of design and assembly. A suitcase can use high-end materials, but if it isn’t put together well, the durability is questionable.

We look for high-quality stitching, precise fits between components, defect-free manufacturing, and accurate assembly.

We give each suitcase a 0-10 score for Fit and Finish.

Manufacturing & Quality Control

We assign every suitcase a 0-10 score based on where it is manufactured, the quality and reputation of the factory, and the quality control practices. We are looking for products that come from well-respected factories with skilled workers and excellent quality testing.

2. Ease of Use: 20% of Overall Score

A suitcase should be streamlined and easy to use. Cumbersome features or overly complicated designs can detract from the travel experience. A good suitcase is easy to pack, easy to move, and easy to organize.

We score ease of use based on four categories: packing and organization, telescoping handle, maneuverability, and grab handles.

Packing and Organization

A good suitcase needs to be easy to pack and unpack, while keeping everything organized during a trip. We rate luggage based on organization features, opening style, and ease of access.

Telescoping Handle

Most suitcases come with telescoping handles, but they aren’t all created equal. Some only have one fixed height, which is awkward and uncomfortable for extra short or extra tall folks. The best luggage has plenty of height adjustability.

We give higher scores to suitcases that offer a wide range of adjustable positions.

Number of Adjustment Points Score
4+ 10
3 8
2 6
1 4

Maneuverability

A cumbersome suitcase with uncooperative wheels can be a real hassle when navigating crowded airports. We give every suitcase a 0-10 maneuverability rating based on our testing. We look for smooth-rolling wheels, a sturdy handle that makes it easy to turn, and as lightweight construction as possible without sacrificing durability.

Grab Handles

Grab handles are essential for lifting a suitcase into the overhead bin or in and out of vehicles. In our experience, it’s hard to have to many handles. Top, sides, bottom—every handle gives options for lifting, pulling, or dragging the suitcase.

Number of Grab Handles Score
4+ 10
3 8
2 6
1 4

3. Functionality: 20% of Overall Score

During our real-world testing we evaluate the suitcase to see how well it does what it’s supposed to do. We test packing the bag with different loads to see how easy it is to pack and stay organized. We use the bag in real life on our own trips to find what works well and what doesn’t.

We assign a 0–10 functionality score based on how well the suitcase fulfills our needs during testing. Does it hold everything we need it to? Does it keep the contents secure and protected? Does it do everything we need on each trip without problems?

We’ve tested dozens of suitcases, so this score is based on how well this particular bag compares to the rest in terms of functionality.

4. Water Resistance: 5% of Overall Score

No suitcase is going to be totally waterproof, and you wouldn’t take one on a rafting trip. For those times that you get caught out in the rain, though, good water resistance can make the difference between walking into the hotel with a bag full of dry clothes or a soggy mess.

We rate water resistance based on materials and zippers. The chart below shows how much each metric contributes to the overall water resistance score.

Water-Resistant Fabric

The material is the main factor in making a suitcase water-resistant. Hardshells are naturally water-resistant. Most soft side bags have polyurethane-coated nylon or polyester, which offers decent water resistance. Laminated fabrics or thicker external coatings are the most waterproof for soft side luggage.

Fabric Water-Resistance Score
Hard Shell 10
thick, external TPU or PVC coating 9
laminated fabric 8
thinner internal PU coating 7
DWR-only 4
No coating 0

Water-Resistant Zippers

Zippers are an easy place for water to penetrate inside a bag. Some bags use polyurethane-coated zippers to seal out moisture.

Water-resistant zippers help keep a suitcase dry inside.
Zippers Score
Waterproof rated zippers 10
Unrated coated zippers 7
Uncoated zippers 5

5. Brand Impact: 5% of Overall Score

It is important to us to recommend brands that we believe are doing good in the world. Cheap and unethical mass production of consumer goods has created innumerable problems globally, and we don’t want to be part of the problem by promoting mass-produced goods.

Because of that, we rate every brand we review based on their global impact. This rating incorporates elements like sustainable design, carbon reduction, ethical manufacturing, and fair working conditions for employees.

Greenwashing and misleading marketing are serious issues these days, so as much as possible we base our brand impact rating on well-respected industry standard certifications and 3rd-party reporting. The chart below shows the breakdown of the individual metrics in our brand impact rating.

Funding Source

Money runs the world, and for a brand that means whoever controls their funding controls the brand. When companies turn to big investors for funds, they give up some autonomy and now have to focus on generating returns for their investors.

Brands that are able to avoid using external investors have a lot more freedom to dictate their own mission and values rather than obsessing over the bottom line.

Some brands use crowdfunding to generate revenue for new projects. This is great because it means the company answers only to the customers, not some big-name investor looking for a return.

Funding Score
crowd-funded 10
self-funded 8
outside investment 2

Sustainable Materials

When rating for sustainable materials, we look specifically at the product in question. We assign a score based on the amount of sustainable materials used in a suitcase.

“Sustainable materials” is a broad term and can be easily misunderstood. Brands often use greenwashing marketing to make materials like cotton or “bamboo fiber” seem eco-friendly, when they really aren’t. We refer to a specific list of lower-impact materials from the ethical fashion watchdog Good On You. These materials are verified to have lower environmental impacts.

  • Organic hemp
  • Recycled or organic cotton
  • Recycled wool
  • Recycled nylon
  • Recycled PET (polyester)
  • Monocel
  • TENCEL Lyocell
  • TENCEL Modal
  • Hemp
  • Linen
Sustainable Content Score
all materials and components (zippers, etc) 100% sustainable 10
main material and linings 100% sustainable 9
main material 100% sustainable 8
lining material 100% sustainable 7
main material partially sustainable 5
some sustainable materials 4
no sustainable or recycled materials 0

Emissions Reduction Programs

We look for brands that have concrete, actionable, and well-documented programs and policies in place to reduce their emissions. We look for transparent policies with realistic action plans and clear targets.

Emissions Reduction Programs Score
yes 10
no 5

Certified Carbon Neutral

Brands that are certified carbon neutral typically buy into programs to offset their own carbon emissions. This certification requires a rigorous 3rd-party evaluation.

Certified Carbon Neutral Score
yes 10
no 5

Certified B-Corp

To become a Certified B-Corp (Benefit Corporation), a brand has to demonstrate high social and environmental performance, make legal commitments to be accountable to all stakeholders (not just shareholders), and exhibit transparency.

Certified B-Corp Score
yes 10
no 5

Regular Impact Reporting

We look for brands that show transparency by performing in-depth analysis on their social and environmental impacts and publishing regular reports. To earn this score, a brand has to publish at least annual sustainability impact reports.

Regular Impact Reporting? Score
yes 10
no 5

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade Certified brands commit to ethical manufacturing and business practices. This standard ensures fair wages and working conditions for workers, ethical material sourcing, and support for communities that depend on manufacturing and production.

Fair Trade Certified? Score
all products 10
some products 7
none 5

6. Buying Experience: 5% of Overall Score

Shopping for and buying a new suitcase should be a rewarding experience. We value companies that implement specific policies to reduce the stress and risk of buying a product. We give higher ratings to companies with free shipping and no-nonsense satisfaction policies.

The chart below shows the breakdown of the metrics we use for scoring buying experience.

Shipping

Free shipping is more transparent and makes purchases more straightforward with less stress. We give the higher rating for this metric if the company offers free shipping at the price point of the product in question.

Shipping Score
free 10
paid 5

Return Cost

Free returns make a purchase less stressful because it gives you the freedom of knowing you can try out a product in person without risk.

Return Cost Score
free 10
pay for shipping 7
pay restocking fee 5

Return Window

Some brands offer generous 1-year return windows, which gives you plenty of time to be sure it will work for you. Others only give you 14 days to make a decision whether you’ll return it or not. We always like longer return windows better.

Return Window Score
1 year 10
90 days 9
60 days 8
30 days 6
<30 days 5
no returns 0

End-of-Life Trade-in Policy

More companies are offering options for you to trade your gear in once you’re done with it. Sometimes they just pay the shipping cost for you to send it back, but often they will offer a store credit for sending something back to them. Either way, this is a great way to keep gear out of the landfill and give it new life.

Return Cost Score
yes 10
no 0

7. Warranty: 5% of Overall Score

A brand’s warranty tells you a lot about both the company and the products. It’s always a good idea to buy from companies that stand behind their products with solid lifetime warranties. They may be a bit more expensive, but you know you won’t be paying for a replacement suitcase anytime soon.

Warranty Type Score
lifetime warranty covering wear and tear 10
limited lifetime warranty 7
limited term warranty 5
no warranty 0

8. Price-to-Performance Ratio: 10% of Overall Score

We believe any new piece of travel gear should be treated like an investment. That means we always recommend finding high-quality gear that won’t fall apart on your first trip. Of course, we also have limited wallets and understand that cost will always be a deciding factor.

Because of that, we rate products based on the bang for your buck they provide. We measure that using a cost-to-performance ratio, which helps us compare whether a higher-end product is really worth the extra cost or whether it’s better to save some cash.

We calculate the cost-to-performance ratio by comparing the MSRP to the testing and scoring over all the previous categories. A product that performs well at a lower cost has a higher cost-to-performance ratio.

This is an important data point to look at if you are on a budget but still want the best quality and design possible.

Continuing to Improve Our Rating

We are constantly refining our process for testing and rating luggage. We are currently using version 1.0 of our rating system, and we will continue to make changes to improve our process.

As we make changes, we will update this page and keep a record here so that we provide full transparency into our process.

Our goal is to give you the absolute best information and recommendations possible. We take that responsibility very seriously.

If you have any suggestions for improving our testing, or recommendations for new packs to try out, feel free to reach out. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Changelog

Version 1.0 (April 1, 2024)

  • Initial release