In search of cabin luggage light enough for me to lift into an overhead bin
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When you tend to overpack, as I do, choosing ultra lightweight luggage is a savvy start to smarter packing. I wanted to find the best lightweight carry-on bag, so matched up Delsey vs Samsonite. Was there a clear stand-out in budget-friendly luggage under 5 pounds?
I’d had my existing carry-on bag for eight years, a soft-sided Samsonite with lots of pockets and the ability to expand, which I liked. It was still in good condition; but it was too heavy, almost 10 pounds, empty.
I was increasingly struggling with this heavyweight carry-on. It seemed imprudent to rely on strangers to assist me, when my bag teetered precariously as I struggled to get it into the airplane overhead bin. It was time for some ultra lightweight luggage.
How Light is Ultra Lightweight Luggage?
I wanted a hard-sided carry on this time. It had to be a four-wheel spinner (much easier to move around) and some interior pockets would be nice. I needed a durable bag but didn’t want to invest in top-of-the-line luggage, so I set a budget of US$250 and hoped to spend less.
I had no idea what defined “ultra-lightweight” and was pleasantly surprised to find there are several carry-on bags that fit the definition – 5 pounds or less. That was almost half the weight of my current carry-on!
I originally planned to compare the four biggest luggage companies, but decided to leave out American Tourister and Travelpro. American Tourister has great price points, but I don’t like their styles quite as much. And Travelpro is better known for soft-sided bags; I wanted a hard-sided.
That left Delsey vs Samsonite.
Samsonite & Delsey Compared
Samsonite was founded in Denver, USA in 1910 by the Shwayder brothers; they saw the need for durable, well-constructed travel trunks.
Delsey was founded in Paris in 1946 by Emile DeLahaye as a producer of hand-made camera cases.
A huge variety of durable and affordable luggage. Samsonite is the world’s largest luggage company and also owns Tumi and eBags.
Hard-sided bags and interesting styles with a European flair.
- 5 pounds
- 21.75″ x 14.75″ x 7.5″
- Metallic Finish in Black, Grey, Blue
- Made of polycarbonate
- 10-year warranty
- 5 pounds
- 21″ x 12″ x 10″
- Blue or Grey
- Made of Polycarbonate
- 10-year warranty
- Smooth Zipper
- Security Feature
- Sleek style
- Deep dimensions
- Security Feature
- Would prefer slightly deeper dimension for packing bulky items
- Zipper stuck
Lightweight Carry-On Bags - Size Limits
It turns out not all lightweight carry-on bags fall within airline size limits, which vary quite a bit. In Europe, permitted carry-on sizes are often smaller, and that’s especially true on UK and European discount airlines.
I live in Denver – United Airlines has a hub here, so it’s the one I fly most often. United’s carry-on limit is also the standard in the U.S.: 22” high by 14” wide by 9” deep. Since I also fly Air Canada (I’m from Toronto) and Lufthansa, I checked their dimensions as well. They were similar to United, so that was my target size. Check with the airlines you fly most often, when considering a purchase.
Delsey vs Samsonite
Delsey - Ultra lightweight luggage
Delsey is a French company that dates to 1946; it began as a manufacturer of leather camera cases. It’s based in Paris and second in the global luggage market, behind Samsonite. I was aware of Delsey but have never owned one of their bags.
I pulled up the Delsey website and immediately noticed the Chatelet. Named after a district in Paris, it has a pretty two-tone exterior and I thought the off-white with a contrasting tan accent was tres, tres chic. However, it weighed 9.3 pounds, not ultra-lightweight, so the pretty Paris bag was a “non”. I would consider it another time, if I was looking for larger, checked luggage.
The Delsey Turenne 20” - 5 pounds
Retail $175 (Amazon). Discount department store $120 (subject to availability)
I looked next at Delsey’s ultra lightweight carry-on: The Turenne. It was introduced in 2018 and appeared to have everything I was looking for: a sleek design, double spinner wheels and most importantly, it weighed only 5 pounds. It’s made of impact-resistant polycarbonate, which is apparently the standard for durable and light.
Even better, I found it for $120 at Nordstrom Rack, a discount department store. It was an attractive silvery grey colour but also comes in night blue if you prefer something that’s easier to spot on the luggage carousel. It is also available at Amazon (as of early 2021).
I was amazed how light it was. My handbag often weighed more. I took it for a quick spin at home and found it was easy to maneuver and the retracting handle worked well and seemed sturdy. I liked it so much I wondered if I even needed to consider a Samsonite. It’s my dream to live in Paris one day, so maybe French luggage was “a fait accompli”.
I weighed it with my luggage scale and it came in at exactly 5 pounds. It has a combination lock which allows you to set your own three-digit code. And it’s TSA-friendly, meaning it can be opened by the TSA, using a universal key. I don’t usually bother with locks but liked the idea of having one built in and since I am hoping to do more international travel, the lock seemed like a good feature.
The spinner wheels were great and the handle moved up and down easily. It’s also a nice angled handle to hold; my smallish hand fit perfectly around it.
Delsey uses what they call a Zip SECURITECH™ making zippers that are apparently highly durable. Unfortunately, I found the zippers challenging – I had to pull forcefully to get it to move and and it kept catching.
The Delsey Turenne has two equal-sized compartments with netted fabric covers in a nice blue that contrasted with the grey exterior. I liked the fabric because I could see what was on each side without having to zip it open. It comes with two detached fabric bags: one for shoes and one for laundry.
There were no other internal compartments. It seems extra fabric pockets and zippers add to the weight, so I could live without them to get a lighter bag. Also, it doesn’t expand but I am ok with that as well. Although it’s hard-sided, it had some flex to it; apparently a little flex in this rigid material is what you want.
I liked the Delsey Turenne: I couldn’t get over how light it was, it’s very attractive and well-priced. My only hesitation was the zippers. Would they loosen up? Well functioning zippers seemed like a significant detail.
Ultra Lightweight - The Best Samsonite Carry On
The current leader in the luggage business, Samsonite was founded in Denver in 1910 by the Shwayder brothers. They sell a wide variety of luggage styles at many price points and are known for reliable, quality luggage. A search for ultra-lightweight luggage produced the Samsonite Lite-Box Carry On 20″ – their newest lightweight carry-on. It has a striking vertical accent, comes in deep blue and grey, and weighs only 4.85 pounds. But the suggested retail price was $550 and $400 was the lowest price I could find. That was significantly over my budget so I eliminated it.
Next, I looked at Samsonite’s other ultra-lightweight style: the NeoPulse Carry-On Spinner. It was 5 pounds and retailed for $280, still more than I wanted to spend. But I found it on sale for $160 at Macy’s. Amazon also had it available, for a slightly higher price.
Retail $160 and up (Samsonite /Macy’s/Amazon)
The Samsonite NeoPulse comes in three colours: metallic blue, metallic silver and metallic black. I ordered the black and was pleased when it arrived a few days later. The metallic shine made the black appear a little lighter than true black.
It was identical in weight to the Delsey Turrene – 5 pounds. (I confirmed both weights with my luggage scale). I had read conflicting information about the dimensions, with some websites listing the height at 23.62”. This was incorrect. The height is 21.75 – within my required 22”. The width is 14.75” and depth is 7.5”. I did a little research and apparently, the bins that airlines use to check your luggage size, are slightly bigger than their stated limit. I determined that the slightly wider shape of the Samsonite should not be an issue.
A quick trip around my living room found that it moved easily on the spinning wheels and the extendable handle seemed sturdy. The zipper also worked really well, opening and closing it was easy and smooth. The interior was divided into equal-sized compartments, each with a zipper closure to keep things contained. Like the Delsey, it had no interior pockets. In fact, they were virtually identical inside.
I set the bags side by side and to compare the dimensions. The Delsey was maybe a half inch shorter and two inches less wide. But it is 10” deep, versus the Samsonite which is 7.5”. The over-packer in me was intrigued: would one be roomier than the other, when I packed them both? Only one way to find out.
Delsey vs Samsonite - Packing a Carry-On for Paris
To compare Delsey vs Samsonite in action, I packed each of them for a fall weekend in Paris. I am writing this during the height of Covid travel restrictions, so this would be an imaginary trip; a dry-run for a future holiday. I would pack a wardrobe for three nights/four days: Two pants, three blouses, two sweaters, one blazer, pajamas and toiletries. And I’d pack one pair of boots. I’d take one warm coat and wear it on the plane.
Despite my tendency to overpack, I do strive to pack as light as possible for Europe travel. Carry-on’s are much easier than larger bags when you are riding trains and subways; more the norm to get to and from the airport in Europe, versus North America, where we tend to take taxis.
I’ve gone to France for a week, with only a carry-on, and while I did have fewer outfit options, the convenience of a smaller bag was great. For more packing tips see: Smart Pack Hacks: A Guide to Avoid Overpacking
Packing for My Imaginary Trip to Paris
I packed the Delsey bag first; because it is deeper there were a few different ways that my bulky toiletry bag and boots could fit in. Everything fit quite easily, which made me wonder what I was forgetting. I added an umbrella and a scarf; since I wasn’t actually going to Paris, I was satisfied that I had everything. Pretend packing is much less stressful than real packing.
I took everything out and re-packed it into the Samsonite NeoPulse. Its shape is flatter and wider, so the piles couldn’t be as high and I spread things out a little more. My chunky boots wouldn’t fit on top of my jeans, as I had them in the Delsey.
The only difference in the interior was the stretchy strap which held things in. This seemed unnecessary given the compartments had covers that zipped closed, like the Delsey.
The packing experience was similar and I was able to fit everything I wanted to take. I decided to weigh the bag, packed. It was 15.3 pounds; I was surprised that my items weighed more than ten pounds. Even packing light adds up.
Delsey vs Samsonite - Compared
And so, Samsonite vs Delsey, how did they compare? The weight was identical, but the dimensions were different with Samsonite being wider and Delsey being deeper. That difference gave me a little extra space when I packed the Samsonite, but I preferred the depth of the Delsey which gave me flexibility in configuring bulky items, such as boots.
I liked the look of both bags. I found Samsonite’s top and side handles a little more comfy to hold. The security features were identical although the combination lock was on top of the Delsey and on the side of the Samsonite. I didn’t have a preference.
The interiors were almost identical with their zippered compartments but no additional pockets. They are both made of polycarbonate and have a 10-year warranty. It’s hard to know which would hold up better. The reviews I read were good on both although a few people complained of the telescoping handles breaking, in both cases. The handles seemed equally sturdy to me.
The most significant difference was the zippers: the Samsonite was much easier to open and close, and I struggled with the zipper on the Delsey Turenne. Finally, the Delsey was cheaper, but not by enough that it really influenced my decision.
Delsey vs Samsonite - The Lightweight Champion
Winner - Samsonite NeoPulse
The truth is, I wanted to buy the Delsey. I liked the look of it and the deeper dimensions. But the zipper was too big of an annoyance for me. I was afraid it might get worse with use, not better.
So the Samsonite NeoPulse Carry On gets my vote in the Delsey vs Samsonite matchup. At $160 the price was right and I’m confident it will last. And best of all, at 5 pounds I can lift it into an overhead bin, all my myself. As mentioned, it was available at Macy’s with a deep discount, when I was shopping, so you may want to look around and compare prices.
I’m thinking I might just leave it packed for Paris. You know how I dislike packing, and it seems like a good harbinger for 2021: a year when I hope we will all be packing for midlife travel adventures.
More Carry-on Luggage...
Cool Colourful Bags – The Monos Carry-On
Since I wrote this article I’ve discovered another fabulous luggage brand: Vancouver-based Monos. I just purchased one of their bags (pictured above) and absolutely love it. They are very durable, well designed and come in gorgeous colours. (Note: they are slightly heavier than the bags I reviewed above, at about 7 pounds, although I found the weight manageable.) You can read more here: Monos Luggage Review.
The Soft-Sided Carry On – Travelpro Maxlite 5 21”
If a soft-sided bag is your preference, the Travelpro Maxlite 5 21” Carry On Spinner is a winner: it’s well reviewed, expandable and weighs only 5.4 lbs. It also comes in 7 colours – I like the slate green. If I was looking for a budget-friendly soft-sided bag, this would be my pick. $149.99
The Luxe Bag – Rimowa Essential Lite Cabin
If you’re feeling spendy, the Rimowa Essential Lite Cabin bag weighs 4.9 pounds, 30% less than their standard luggage, and comes in six pretty colours. These lovely bags are hand-made in Germany and I admire the attention to detail. At more than $500, I would be too upset every time my expensive suitcase got a scuff or dent. But it may be the perfect luggage for you. $520