Like a timeless winter coat or a solid pair of brogues, luggage is an investment that’s not to be taken lightly. When hopping over borders and switching time zones, something to cart your kit in is the most important thing to have to hand (second only to a passport).
But it’s not a case of any old rucksack will do. “Luggage is becoming more of a fashion and lifestyle accessory, as consumers demand both comfort and style,” says Victor Sanz, vice president of men’s design at suitcase brand Tumi. “It’s more than ‘just a bag’ in which to transport personal belongings; it’s becoming an extension of the journey.”
So, if you want to minimise hassle and maximise style (not to mention space) while on the go, you’ll need to find the right tools for the job. This is your guide to what to buy and where to find it. Safe travels.
The Dopp Kit
Better known on British shores as a wash bag, we prefer the original American slightly-more-sophisticated-sounding moniker. Named after Chicago-based leather craftsman Charles Doppelt, who invented the bag for the US army in 1919, it’s ideal for storing toiletries while travelling, keeping the rest of your stuff dry and spill-free.
As with anything expected to go the distance, steer clear of cheaper polyester and polyurethane options. Instead, opt for something in durable leather with a nylon lining, which will perform on both form and function counts.
Good For: Keeping your clothes free of shaving cream.
Garment & Shoe Bags
Regrettably underused, garment and shoe bags might seem superfluous to the frequent business traveller, but those who’ve turned up to a meeting looking like a well-thumbed broadsheet know they’re anything but.
Designed to transport items of clothing you’d usually hang, rather than fold, a good soft-sided garment bag is essential for keeping workwear crease-free until landing. Meanwhile, shoe bags ensure freshly shined brogues don’t emerge subpar after several hours in a suitcase.
Good For: Ensuring your suits and smart shoes stay in shipshape.
The Carry-On Bag
No, a gym bag won’t do. Even if it’s just an hour-long domestic flight, a nylon barrel bag won’t cut the mustard.
“Compact carry-on luggage is essential when flying, while classic holdalls and weekend bags – particularly in leather – will never date,” says Annalise Fard, director of homes at Harrods.
As Fard suggests, there are two main options when it comes to carry-on luggage: those with a soft shell and those with a hard shell.
Soft-shell styles take the form of a weekend bag or holdall. As well as there being a fair chance you already own one of these, a classic weekender in black or brown leather works well if travelling light for pleasure and when all the practical features of a wheeled hard-shell suitcase aren’t needed.
Good For: Short trips or storing your in-flight essentials.
The Cabin Case
Planning a city break or hoping to stay on an extra few days after a work conference? A hard-shell, wheeled cabin case is the Goldilocks option. Not too big, not too small, these allow enough room for stowing a couple of days’ worth of wardrobe and toiletry essentials neatly and securely.
Provided you ensure the case is manufactured to airline size specifications, you’ll also save yourself the embarrassment of having to check-in a bulging weekender – and pay handsomely for the privilege – too.
While it’s now a fairly standard feature on most new cases, it’s worth mentioning the benefits on doubling up on wheels from two to four. These include (but are not limited to) reduced arm strain and increased manoeuvrability for navigating the endless airport queues.
The big daddy of travel bags. The linchpin of luggage. This is where it pays to think long and hard before coughing up. Why? Because buy right and this one’s for life.
Whether it’s a lightweight, curved design you’re looking for, or something that’s closer to an old-school trunk, consider not only what you’d rather be seen with, but also what won’t emerge in pieces at baggage collection.
Remember to buy the smallest bag that meets your needs. While it’s good to be prepared for all occasions, there’s little point splurging on a suitcase that’s rarely – if ever – fully filled.
Good For: Trips longer than a few days.
The Luggage Buying Checklist
“It’s all about quality,” says Mr Porter accessories buyer Simon Spiteri. “You can have the most beautiful case in the world, but if it breaks after two trips, that’s kind of a false economy.”
Materials, then, are key. “A hard-wearing outer shell constructed from durable leather, nylon, canvas or aluminium will age well and stand the test of time as it gets bashed around by even the most enthusiastic baggage handler.”
As with clothing, craftsmanship makes all the difference. A quick way to gauge quality is to check the stitching, specifically how close the stitches are sewn together. You’re looking for consistency in spacing here, as consistent stitching balances tension and strengthens the bag’s overall structure.
Reinforced stitching at stress points (e.g. where a strap or handle joins the body of the bag or case) is also a must for luggage if it’s to last, as is hardware that’s made from high-quality metal rather than easily obliterated plastic.
Don’t Forget the Details
“Look for a case that has plenty of inside pockets, compartments and zipper dividers, so that you can maximise the space you have,” adds Spiteri.
Lock It Down
“Security is also extremely important,” says Fard. “Opt for pieces which boast locks and other features that keep belongings safe and secure.”
Tip: A TSA lock will ensure your luggage can be unlocked quickly and easily by US security personnel, meaning they won’t have to ruin your case by forcing it open manually.
Make It Your Own
Worth considering for investment pieces like carry-on and check-in suitcases, personalisation and monogramming lends luggage an inimitable edge.
“This is a service which many of our customers take advantage of,” says Fard. “They feel it makes a piece truly theirs.”
Keep It Classic
If a carry-on is simply an extension of your travel wardrobe, it should be treated as such. So don’t be tempted by garish designs or all-over patterns (even if shirts of that variety are currently on-trend). Stick to classic colourways and metals such as black, navy or silver.
Use a cool or personalised travel tag as a way of marking out which is yours on the carousel instead.
Trim The Fat
With airline luggage allowances seemingly shrinking faster than bars of Toblerone, the weight of your case is more important than you might think – a kilogram here or there can be the difference between having to shell out extortionate excess baggage fees.
Prioritise luggage constructed from lightweight yet durable materials such as nylon, canvas, aluminium or advanced materials like polycarbonate, especially if you’re the type of guy who likes to take advantage of duty free shopping.
The Best Luggage Brands
Launched in 1910, this Luxembourg-based label is one of the market leaders in luggage – and it’s easy to see why. Combining innovative materials with modern design, Samsonite’s wares offer exceptional value for money.
Add to that exclusive collaborations with fashion’s finest – the likes of Alexander McQueen and Thom Browne, for example – and it’s no wonder this (relatively) young brand has won both Red Dot design awards and legions of fans worldwide.
Tumi has been creating world-class travel essentials since 1975. And while its offering now spans everything from messenger bags and backpacks to wallets and belts, it will forever be hailed for its luggage.
Aside from producing some of the best-built cases on the market, a key draw of Tumi is the unique metal plate the brand puts inside each bag. This features a unique 20-digit registration number that is registered on a central database, so you can be reunited with you case, should it ever go missing.
It’s a big world out there. But while seeing it all might sound appealing, carting a hefty case around probably does not. That’s where Eastpak steps in.
As well as offering a wide collection of luggage at prices that won’t mean you’ll need to cut your holiday short, the US-brand turns out duffle-suitcase hybrids that can easily be carried like a normal bag or condensed down and stowed away.
Upholding the Germans’ world-renowned reputation for innovation, Rimowa makes some of the lightest, sturdiest luggage around. Founded in 1898, the pioneering label has made its name on aluminium and polycarbonate cases featuring its signature grooved shells.
A lot stronger than they look, Rimowa cases are built to last. However, if yours does come a cropper, it can be taken care of by the company’s hotel repair service. Simply leave your worse-for-wear suitcase at any partnering hotel’s reception and repairs will be carried out while you’re out exploring museums or cutting deals.
A British institution (via Germany), 1897-founded Globe-Trotter has gone to great lengths to cultivate its status as one of the world’s leading luxury luggage makers – including having Hamburg Zoo elephants stand on its cases to prove their strength.
“Handmade in Hertfordshire with leather handles that take five days to make on a Victorian press, Globe-Trotter has a rich history that everyone wants to buy into,” says Spiteri. “Its luggage is durable and hardwearing but it’s their sheer beauty and craftsmanship that makes them such covetable cases.”
The Swiss Army Knife created by Victorinox more than 120 years ago is a literal work of art, having appeared in design exhibits across the world. Now a fully-fledged lifestyle brand, its suitcases are no less impressive (or bad-ass).
Built with the same ready-for-anything mentality, Victorinox’s luggage comes packing features such as front zippered doors for easy top-load packing and the ability to expand up to 47 per cent their own size. Never be caught in the forest without one.