Budget carry-on bag (non-roller)
A good wheelless carry-on bag enables you to fit everything you actually need for a week on the road into a comfortable-to-carry pack that measures 21 by 14 by 8 inches (the maximum volume allowed) and only weighs about 3 pounds. Compared to a similarly sized rolling bag, this will give you about 20 to 30 percent more usable space.
After looking at the dozens of options available online, we tested six of the highest-rated carry-ons this year to determine that, on a budget of less than $150, the $80 eBags eTech 2.0 Weekender Convertible gives you an affordable and capable entry point. It’s basically an oversized school backpack in every way. YKK zippers take care of all sealing duties here, so it should be fairly reliable for years to come.
For more premium carry-on bags without wheels, check out our full travel gear guide on The Wirecutter.
Carry-on bag (rolling)
We spent hours researching the most highly regarded bags via experts and reviews and then tested a batch with flight attendants in a full-sized model of an airplane cabin. For most people, we believe the Travelpro Platinum Magna ($260) offers the best balance of features, durability, and price for most flyers who log less than 25,000 miles annually. It’s relatively light, the wheels are built to last, and it’s big enough to easily fit 5 days’ worth of clothes. Compared to other bags in this price range, you also get surprisingly high-end components and a warranty that covers anything (even airline damage) for the life of the bag.
If you fly more than 25,000 miles annually and you’re willing to invest in a higher-quality bag, we recommend the $470 Briggs & Riley Baseline International Wide-Body Upright Carry-On Suitcase, which is made well enough to actually improve your travel experience.
The Briggs & Riley is among the roomiest bags you can find at this size. You can simply fit more stuff into this bag than others we looked at—up to 7 days’ worth of clothing thanks to its cavernous interior and clever, variable-level expansion/compression system. Other details, from the zippers to the wheels, are as high-quality as you’ll find anywhere. If things go wrong, user-replaceable parts make it easy to do quick fixes on your own, and any more major problems (including airline damage) are covered in a reliable lifetime warranty.
For more carry-on bags with wheels, including a budget pick, check out our full travel gear guide on The Wirecutter.
Packing cubes are tiny bags that compartmentalize your clothes within your luggage. Imagine all your underwear and socks in one cube, all your shirts in another; another holds your workout clothes. You can pull out only the cube you want. The cubes simplify packing and re-packing.
After researching user reviews and testing, we found there are two major brands to consider: Eagle Creek and eBags. Both make great packing cubes that are neck-and-neck in terms of build quality and value (about $30 for a set of three that will last forever). Both cubes are available in similar sizes, virtually the same weight, and backed by lifetime warranties.
Overall, we prefer Eagle Creek’s redesigned classic Pack-It cubes because the materials feel nicer. Still, eBags’s packing cubes are also great and we wouldn’t hesitate to buy them if the Eagle Creek ones were unavailable for whatever reason.
If you have clothes that you don’t mind getting wrinkled like socks and underwear, you can use a compression sack to save space. Our full travel guide has recommendations for these.
For more packing cubes and helpful packing tips, check out our full travel gear guide on The Wirecutter.
The eBags 3-1-1 Nalgene Travel Bottle Kit in medium is your best bet for traveling with liquids in your carry-on. The bottles don’t have many frills, but their strength is in the thick-yet-supple, dishwasher-safe plastic that made the brand’s water bottles famous. While most bottle kits just include a few sizes, this one includes bottles of different designs for different purposes. They range from large, squeezable ones with optional squirt caps for shampoo or soap to squared-off flasks that work well for mouthwash or other liquids to tiny little jars that are perfect for storing medications. Just note that the kit’s larger 4-ounce bottles are not technically allowed by the TSA—but we’ve never run into issues with that in a year of traveling with them. Neither have the 141 customer reviewers that give them a 4.4-star average rating.
For a cheaper toiletry bottle alternative and list of approved liquids, check out our full travel gear guide on The Wirecutter.
Based on user and professional reviews and referrals from frequent travelers, we narrowed our selection down to six models that we tested, all constructed with a fold-up design and a hanger system for keeping the bag and the cargo off the bathroom counter but within easy reach.
After much testing, we think the $40 Eagle Creek Pack-It Wallaby is the best for most people because it’s fairly lightweight (it weighs about half a pound, which is just below average for a full-featured Dopp kit) and it has both ample storage for whatever you might want to bring and the largest hook of any toiletry kit we tested. The hook is about as wide as the base of a beer can, which means you can hang the kit in places that smaller hooks couldn’t fit onto, like a shower curtain pole or thick towel rack. It also stows smartly by hooking onto the back, which ensures that it won’t get easily caught on anything as you pull it out of your bag—that was a major annoyance we had with our pick by Maxpedition from last year.
We also appreciated the Wallaby’s internal organization. Upon unzipping, the kit divides itself into three main sections: a top panel with a mesh zippered pocket and a touch-up mirror in the center; a bottom panel with three organizer pockets, a toothbrush/razor holder, and a zippered pouch behind them; and a detachable see-through bag for storing liquids that you can remove for the TSA upon request.
For a compact toiletry kit that we like and more, check out our full travel gear guide on The Wirecutter.
The Bose fit comfortably in almost any ears.
One of greatest luxuries you can have on any trip is silence. Whether you’re on a plane or escaping from a hotel’s noisy air conditioner, noise-cancelling headphones can offer blissful quiet. After conducting subjective listening tests across 24,000 miles of in-flight testing against nine other top-rated contenders, we like the Bose QuietComfort 20i in-ear headphones best for their ability to reduce ambient noise by a remarkable 45 decibels. Their over-ear counterparts, the QuietComfort 25, are nearly as good, but they’re comparatively huge. Travel guru Rob King likes the performance of his QC 15s (our former pick and the predecessor to the QC 25), but laments their size. “I leave them behind on anything less than a 5-hour flight as they’re too bulky,” said King. Both models are $300, but there are cheaper, albeit less effective, options in each article.
For more on noise-cancelling headphones, including budget-friendly options, check out our full guides to the best over-ear and in-ear noise-cancelling headphones.
When you’re traveling, it can be difficult to fall asleep to unfamiliar noises. We recommend Hearos Xtreme Protection earplugs, which costs $40 for 42 pairs.
Well-respected sources like Sleep Like the Dead find the best sleeping products by analyzing trends across user reviews. After poring over hundreds of earplug user reviews, they found that the Xtreme Protection line received 92 percent user satisfaction and that they’re the only earplugs with “good” reusability. The Hearos have one of the highest noise reduction ratings at 33 decibels—the difference between a lawnmower and a conversation, according to Cooper Safety. Concert photographer and IShootShows.com editor Todd Owyoung called the Xtreme Protection his “go-to earplugs of choice,” saying they’re “comfortable, cheap, and have [kept] my ears from ringing for years.” They’re what we’d get too after looking at other options like the Ultimate Softness, 3M’s E-A-R Classic Earplugs, and Howard Leight’s LL1 Laser Lite and MAX1 Earplugs.
If you are a light sleeper, we recommend the $13 Bedtime Bliss to keep light out of your eyes while you doze off. Not only was it my favorite out of the six we’ve tested in the past 2 years, it is the top-rated sleep mask on Sleep Like the Dead’s crowdsourced sleep mask leaderboard and the bestselling mask on Amazon, where it maintains a 4.5-star user rating averaged over 1,632 ratings as of this writing.
What sets the Bedtime Bliss apart from most sleep masks is its sculpted, structured design that’s contoured to sit on your face like a pair of soft goggles with fabric lenses that sit around your eyes (instead of directly over them). As a bonus, it comes with a small stuff sack for storage and a sample set of earplugs (which aren’t as good as our earplug pick).
To see what other masks we tested and for a backup pick if the Bedtime Bliss is sold out, check out our full travel guide.
A Kindle Paperwhite is great for reading books on the plane, but if you’re traveling for leisure, it’s also great for accessing travel guidebooks. While traveling in Southeast Asia a couple of summers ago, we used a paper copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to Cambodia and the Kindle version for Bangkok, but wish we’d gone with the Kindle version for both. Electronic annotations, universal search, and bookmarks are far easier to use than physical ones and they sync automatically across your phone and computer.
To learn more about why the Kindle Paperwhite is the best e-book reader, visit our full guide to the best e-book readers.
USB battery packs
Battery life on smartphones and other gadgets continues to get better, but we’re still not at the point where you can leave in the morning and expect to go to bed still in the green—especially not if you’re traveling and taking lots of pictures or using GPS for directions.
If you want a battery to keep in your bag that can charge anything at full speed, Anker’s $30 2nd Gen Astro E4 13,000 mAh External Battery (Astro E4 for short) is our new pick for best full-size USB battery pack. The Astro E4 has an elongated design measuring 2.4 by 5.9 by 0.9 inches and weighing just over 10 ounces—about the same volume and weight as a portable hard drive, but a bit longer and narrower. When fully charged, one Astro E4 can use either of its two USB ports to almost fully charge a depleted iPad Air at full speed. Or you can fully juice up a smartphone about five to seven times, depending on the phone.
If pocketability is more important than capacity, our favorite portable battery pack for walking around is the Anker 2nd Gen Astro 6,400 mAh. It’s about the size of a pack of Trident gum, and its flattened, rounded form factor won’t dig into your leg if you wear tight pants. It performs well, too: After 30 hours of research and 64 hours of testing, we concluded that the 2nd Gen Astro 6,400 mAh reliably charges gadgets as fast as any pocket-sized pack we found. This smaller Astro has about half the capacity of the Astro E4, but has more juice than other packs at this size, most of which cost roughly the same amount. There is a drawback, however: The battery doesn’t support pass-through charging, meaning that you can’t charge it and your phone at the same time.
For more on battery packs, including backup picks in case these sell out, check out our full-sized and pocket-friendly guides to the best USB battery packs.
Power strip with USB
If you’re lucky enough to snag a free outlet at the airport, you can turn it into a three-for with a multi-socket power strip. Our pick is the Accell Home or Away surge protector ($17.78), which is small enough to slip in your pocket and safeguards your gadgets with 612 joules of surge protection. The smallest of the travel surge protectors we tested, the Accell offers two built-in USB ports so you can plug in a tablet and phone and still have room to juice up three other devices. It’s also worth noting that you can get it to work with 220-volt ports using a plug converter, but it’s not rated for this purpose. It will still work as a power strip, though.
For more on how we got to this pick and a backup pick in case this sells out, check out our full guide to travel USB power strips
If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll probably have a hard time getting your power cords to plug into local outlets. The good news is that almost every “wall wart” that comes with modern electronic gear is capable of accepting 240-volt/50-Hz electricity (the US is 110/60), so you probably don’t need a voltage converter, just a different physical plug. There are multi-country single adaptors (US on one side, multiple plugs on the other), but these tend to be very bulky. A simpler option is a straight plug like the cheap and well-reviewed Ceptics (which has an average of 4.8 stars from 2,751 reviews).
If your gear can’t accept different voltages, consider leaving it home. There are voltage converters on the market, but all have terrible reviews; we can’t comfortably recommend any.
Though there are many reasons not to carry around your own travel towel, a good travel towel dries fast and packs tiny, taking up less space than a paperback. Not only are these things great for drying your body, they’re also helpful for quickly drying laundry or rain-soaked clothes on the go.
After testing five top towels, our pick is the Packtowl, formerly known as the MSR towel (under $25 for XL). It dries quickly and can be folded down and tucked into a compact mesh envelope the size of a greeting card. Like many of the towels, it comes with a snap-on loop for easy hang-drying from anywhere.
We have a backup pick and talk about how we tested in our full travel guide if you want to know more.
The individual loops within the braid provide enough grip to hold up wet shirts.
While doing laundry at home can be a large weekly event, OneBag author Doug Dyment recommends approaching travel laundry as a part of your daily routine, especially if you’re trying to pack as little as possible: “The laundry should be more like cleaning your teeth—something you do everyday. It only takes about 5 minutes to do it. Every night, do your socks and underwear and you’ll have clean socks and underwear everyday.”
Specifically, you want a braided—not twisted—surgical latex clothesline with looped ends, which means you want a Flexo-Line (currently unavailable, but can be added to your wishlist). Dyment has tried them all, but Flexo-Line is the one he comes back to. The Flexo-Line can stretch up to 7 feet long, enough to span most hotel bathtubs, and it has loops that you can attach easily to a door handle, bath spigot, or faucet. The braided construction is superior to twisted designs made from other materials because the latex does a better job of gripping garments securely between the loops, which means you don’t need any additional clothespins. Oh, don’t forget the powdered laundry detergent.
Our top pick for binoculars is great for near-home hikes, but for travel, we’re willing to sacrifice some clarity and stabilization for a body that’s lighter and more compact. After talking to several hunting and outdoor experts, we reviewed many models that cost less than $200, seeking a versatile, durable pair with a good warranty for viewing wildlife. We asked Milan G. Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation of the Connecticut Audubon Society, to take our top two models out for a spin. After Bull’s tests, we recommend the $80 Nikon Trailblazer 8×25 binoculars. These are waterproof, so they won’t get permafogged, and have a wide field of view of 429 feet at 1,000 yards. They are a roof prism design, which is generally not recommended at this price point, but Bull found them “okay in low-light conditions” and brighter than our other recommended top model. And the Trailblazers are super easy to pack at only 4.1 by 4.5 inches and 10 ounces.
If you have room to spare for larger binoculars with better image quality, check out our full guide to the best binoculars.
Folding Water Bottle
If you’re tired of paying $4 for a liter of water every time you take a plane trip, try a lightweight, collapsible water bottle that you can stuff in your bag and refill once you get past airport security. After abusing four water bottles from respected outdoor brands with reliable track records, our new favorite is the $17 Platypus PlusBottle with the push-pull cap—though if you want to be 100 percent certain the cap will never come undone and leak, get the closure cap version.
It has a loop built into the top that lets you attach it to a carabiner if you want, and it’s made of a soft, plastic material that rolls up easily without wrinkling and creasing (it’s more beach ball than chip bag), which we think will help its durability. This theory is backed by its impressive 4.5-star average user review rating.
Stowable tote or daypack
Even if you only bring one bag, it’s good to pack a stowable daypack that will stuff down to virtually nothing to fit in a bigger bag. That way you can take day trips without carting around 20 pounds of clothes and toiletries as well.
Over the last 2 years, we’ve researched about 20 leading candidates, then stress-tested and walked around with seven stowable daypacks. Our favorite is the latest version of Patagonia’s Lightweight Travel Tote ($80). It has all the features you’d want from a dedicated backpack, yet it can also function as a tote thanks to its comfortable webbing shoulder straps. Despite its ample 22-liter capacity (about average for a daypack), it folds into a pouch that’s about the size of a $3 bag of chips and weighs just 14 ounces—that’s several ounces lighter than “ultralight” packs of similar capacity, let alone normal backpacks.
Among the included pockets are a front pocket that’s great for easy access to smaller things, two mesh water bottle holders, and a padded back panel slip pocket designed to store the straps that’s also perfect for reading materials, a tablet, or small computer. There’s also an interior pocket that could be great for less-frequently-used items like keys or chapstick. (This is also the pocket that the bag stuffs into for storage.)
If you’re fine with just a tote, you can save a lot of money by going with something like the Eagle Creek Packable Tote, which is only $25. It can’t be used as a backpack, but its larger-than-average 28L capacity holds about one and a half brown paper grocery bags’ worth of stuff.
For traveling, the right camera has to put flexibility above all else. It has to be small and light enough that you can easily throw it into your pocket and not worry about it taking up precious space in your bag; in order to give you some benefit over your smartphone, it has to take images that are high-quality enough to show off to your friends and family.
When you’re traveling, portability tends to be a priority—the best camera is the one you’re most likely to have on you when you need it. Besides, unless you’re making large prints, you’ll have a hard time noticing a difference in image quality between pictures taken by a pocket-friendly Sony RX100 Mark III and what you’d get from a much larger DSLR or mirrorless camera. It takes photos that are sharper and cleaner than anything else under $1000 and its video quality is on par with some SLRs. Its larger, 1-inch sensor will blow smaller point and shoots out of the water in low-light situations, but the 3x zoom lens means you’ll have to get much closer to the action.
If you’re going on a trip where you’ll be whitewater-rafting, swimming, climbing, or otherwise wreaking havoc on anything you carry, a tough camera like the Olympus TG-3 will be able to handle whatever abuse you throw at it. It’s waterproof down to 50 feet, dropproof from a height of 7 feet, freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and able to withstand the force of a 220-pound weight sitting on it. Despite all that protection, the TG-3 is still small enough to fit in your coat pocket.
Olympus just announced its successor, the TG-4, available in May. It’s all but identical to the TG-3, but can shoot Raw (greater freedom for advanced users), faster GPS, and some new shooting modes. The two have the same toughness, same sensor, and same body. We’ve tested and approved the TG-3, so it’s the one we officially stand behind—but if you feel confident in Olympus, just grab whichever you can get cheaper.
You might be tempted to go for a larger mirrorless camera or DSLR, but unless you’re serious about image quality and printing (or are a hobbyist who likes shooting with a larger-format camera) those options take up precious space and add a lot of weight in your bag. Our current pick for best mirrorless camera under $1,000 has no chance of fitting in a pocket and weighs 18 oz. with a kit lens. That’s about 1.75 times as heavy as an RX100, and every additional lens is like adding yet another point-and-shoot camera’s worth of weight and volume to your kit.
For more on cameras, including advice on DSLRs and mirrorless cameras if you want the best image quality, check out our cameras section or our guide to which kind of camera is best for you.
For writing your adventures as you travel, you can’t beat the portability, practicality, and romanticism of a pocket notebook. For that, there’s nothing better than Field Notes ($10 per three-pack, available in a variety of styles and types). The Pen Addict’s Brian Dowdy told me “Field Notes is pretty much the runaway pocket notebook champ.” Dowdy rates it one of his top five paper brands and has praised it for the lack of feathering or bleedthrough with almost any pen, as well as the light-brown ruled lines that are easier to write over than solid black. Lifehacker dubbed it one of their five best notebooks. Austin Smith of Art Supply Critic told me in an email that “Field Notes has it no question.” OfficeSupplyGeek and The Well-Appointed Desk have both reviewed a slew of different Field Notes variants for those looking for something a bit more interesting.
If you think you’re going to be writing in foul weather, Field Notes also has the waterproof Expedition version (orange, black) with pages made from a synthetic water-and-tear-resistant paper. You should only get these if you really need them, because otherwise they just feel unnaturally slick and are more prone to smearing ink.
Compared to the popular Rite in the Rain water-resistant notebooks, we prefer the Field Notes’ 100% synthetic pages because they’re more tear-resistant, more water-resistant, and have fresh, white pages (instead of tan ones like a grocery bag). The one caveat is that the synthetic paper will only work with pencils and certain inks; thankfully our pick for best pen definitely makes the grade.
If you’re looking for a great writing implement to go with your notebook, check out our guides to the best pens and mechanical pencils.
Think you would never want to use a selfie stick? Consider that they help you take better photos of yourself by giving you a wider angle to work with so you get more of the background as opposed to just a close-up of your face. (It’s not that your face isn’t beautiful, but you didn’t go to the Taj Mahal to get a picture of just your face.)
To find the best selfie stick, we put in 20 hours of research, brought in 20 testing models, and took dozens of selfies in various conditions, including at a frozen-over Niagara Falls. In the end, we found Looq Systems’s Looq DG ($20) to be the best option for most people because it’s the shortest when folded up (about 1 foot) and the longest when fully extended, which makes it easier to carry and more versatile for composing shots than competitors.
Our full guide to the best selfie sticks has more picks in case this runs out or you want a wireless remote.