Travelpro Maxlite 5 21″ Carry-On Expandable Spinner Review
We like the ergonomic feel of the Travelpro Maxlite 5 21″ Carry-On Expandable Spinner's handle and dig its straightforward organization; we can see why flight attendants choose this bag.
- Telescoping handle’s shape feels very ergonomic
- Minimal wheel noise
- Expansion zipper lets you squeeze more gear around the bottom
- A few loose threads developed on the outside
- Fully-extended handle wiggles a bit more than we’d like
- Bag can tip if you let go of handle when it's not completely stopped
5.4 lb (2.4 kg)
23 in x 14.5 in x 9 in (58.4 x 36.8 x 22.9 cm)
Overall Dimensions (includes wheels and carry handles); Case Dimensions: H: 21 in. W: 14 in. D: 9 in
Polyester, DWR Coating, Rubber, rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate), Unbranded Zippers
Travelpro needs no introduction to anyone who has researched luggage or even looked around a busy airport lounge while waiting for their flight. The brand is almost everywhere, and for a good reason. They make good, quality, and reliable suitcases and bags, if a bit unexciting—you can think of them as the Toyotas of the luggage world. Their specialization even spills over to their Maxlite 5 Laptop Backpack, injecting key characteristics such as a rigid structure and boxy shape, which are otherwise not that common to travel backpacks like that.
In this review, though, we’ll be taking a look at the Maxlite 5 21” Carry-On Expandable Spinner, a proper piece of luggage showcasing the brand’s competency in designing such bags. We particularly like the main handle’s ergonomic shape and the quiet wheels. These two elements arguably need to perform the best since they make the most contact with you and the ground, respectively. Everything in between? Well, let’s check it out right now.
The outside of the bag uses a soft shell that allows for more flexible packing since the fabric has a lot more give compared to hard plastic shells. That said, it still has a ton of underlying structure that helps maintain the signature boxy shape of a suitcase. To be more specific, the fabric is polyester with a DuraGuard coating that helps keep it weather-resistant. It’s not exactly ballistic nylon, but it was durable enough to make it through the unpredictable weather we encountered during testing (rain and gusty winds included).
While we’re not too worried about the fabric itself, some of the stitching has noticeable loose threads around the front. The Black colorway hides them well, but they are definitely there. They don’t affect the bag’s constitution at the time of writing, though we’d recommend snipping these off so that they won’t get pulled later down the road.
In terms of styling, the Maxlite 5 21″ Carry-On doesn’t stand out from the crowd. That’s probably for the best if you’re trying to stay inconspicuous during your travels, and we recommend going for this Black one if you want it that way. If you want a bit of flair, there are other colorways at the time of writing, including Ensign Blue, Slate Green, Orchid Pink, Champagne, and Midnight Blue. Other than colors, the only eye-catching element of the bag’s design is the prominent logo badge located near the top.
Like most luggage, the Maxlite 5 21″ Carry-On uses really chunky metal zipper pulls. This makes sense since the main ones are lockable, so you’ll want them to be just as beefy, if not more, as the lock you’re using. However, the zippers are unbranded, and we’d typically prefer to see ones from a reputable brand like YKK. To be fair, Travelpro seems to know what they’re doing since these haven’t jammed or broken off. The bag’s structure plays a significant role in this; keeping the zipper track straight helps the sliders glide more smoothly and consistently. Can you tell we’re very discerning about zippers? Now you can.
Secondary handles are very useful to have on large carry-on bags, and the Maxlite 5 has two: one at the top and one on the right side. The latter is unexpectedly oriented perpendicular to the bag’s length. This feels a bit unusual, given that your hands fall naturally to your side, knuckles facing out rather than toward the front. Still, it’s perfectly suitable for quickly hauling the bag in and out of an overhead bin or a trunk. The same goes for the slightly thicker padded top handle.
There’s technically a bottom handle as well, though, unlike the others, it’s more like a pocket you can clutch into. That’s okay because it’s designed for use in conjunction with the top handle, so you can shuffle the bag horizontally along a conveyor belt, for example.
Then there’s the main handle. Travelpro calls it their PowerScope Lite handle with patented Contour Grip. Translating from marketing speak to layman’s terms; it’s a handle that extends telescopically. Push the button to unlock and pull on the handle to extend—simple! The marketing speak isn’t entirely superfluous, though, since the handle is quite ergonomic, as we’ll explain in the next section.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a spinner luggage without the wheels. There are four of them, and they turn independently of each other as expected of a spinner. Though they’re fairly skinny, they spin and rotate very quietly. They also roll smoothly over a range of terrain and aren’t very loud as you make your way through the airport, which is great for keeping a low profile.
Last but not least, there’s a slot at the back for a luggage tag. We like using a smart tracker like an Apple AirTag or Tile, so this isn’t a feature we often use. That said, it’s nice to have the option in case you still prefer the simplicity of a printed luggage tag.
We think the handle is the most outstanding feature of the Maxlite 5 21″ Carry-On. It looks unassuming, but the shape feels natural to hold, and it has a noticeable impact on comfort when hauling the bag across terminals. It’s also partly rubberized to make grasping easier with even the sweatiest hands. You get two options for height adjustment, and those with shorter frames will feel at home with the middle position. Whether you choose to fully extend the handle or not is up to you, but we recommend whichever gives you a 45-degree pulling angle. Of course, since this is a 4-wheeled carry on, you can also opt to roll it on all wheels and not angle it at all.
Handling, for the most part, feels standard for a spinner. That said, we’ve had instances where we would let go of the handle prematurely, causing the bag to wobble and eventually tip over. With that in mind, make sure to put the bag to a complete stop before you let go of it.
While we generally feel confident pulling the bag around (again, shout out to those quiet wheels), the handle does wiggle substantially. Fully extended, most luggage handles will wiggle because of the gaps between each shaft and the plastic housing, among other things, but it can take some getting used to.
Inside The Carry-On Luggage
Not all carry on luggage has secondary pockets, and that’s a shame because using the ones on the Maxlite 5 21” Carry-On is handy for us. There are two of them nested on the front. The first is a zippered slip pocket at the front just below the logo badge. You might miss it initially since the zipper pull, though chunky, is neatly tucked away by an upward welt.
The pocket is tight but also deep enough for a smartphone, wallet, and AirPods. This means you can quickly stash those away here when you go through airport security. Mind you, we wouldn’t put something too small inside, like a memory card or earrings, since it’s a bit tricky to fish them out from a relatively tight space.
Next up is a secondary compartment just behind the zippered slip pocket. This is where we’d usually expect to find smaller pockets for organizing gear if this were a travel backpack. No such features are here, though; just a wide enough space for chunkier items like an additional layer or a long scarf—plane cabins do get chilly, after all.
It’s also a good spot for stashing a MacBook since the Maxlite 5 21” Carry-On lacks a separate laptop compartment. However, you’ll want to use a laptop sleeve for additional protection since the compartment isn’t tailor-made for a sensitive electronic device. And if you are intent on putting smaller accessories in this compartment, we recommend using a slim tech pouch or organizer.
Now for the main compartment. The front opens clamshell-style via a zippered lid that swings to the left when the bag is vertical. We keep the dual zippers on the top left corner where the zipper track ends because there’s also a zipper near the top right corner. You might get these zippers mixed up at first, but just remember the main compartment has two, not just one. What’s the other zipper for? We’ll explain soon enough.
Travelpro keeps the interior simple, opting not to overly compartmentalize it by saturating every side with pockets and segmenting every available space. Instead, it’s just the wide bucket space, a large zippered mesh pocket under the lid, and a smaller zippered mesh pocket on the left side. This simple layout is optimal for users (like us) who have their own means of organizing gear and clothing, such as packing cubes and pouches.
On the other hand, users without their own organizers have to rely on the two hold-down straps to keep gear and clothing locked down. There’s one for the top half and one for the bottom half. If you’re packing shirts and pants in those halves, the straps should effectively keep them down. However, your mileage may vary if the straps land in between pieces of gear. Even when using packing cubes, the straps land between them in certain arrangements, rendering them ineffective. On that note, let’s talk a bit about packing strategy.
The ideal general strategy is to pack bulky items in the bottom half and lighter gear at the top. Okay, that’s a no-brainer for most people since it makes perfect sense to pack, say, your shoes, jacket, and pants at the bottom and have tops sit above them. However, there is another reason to pack gear this way.
Remember that zipper on the top right corner? The one we said might be confused with the main compartment’s zippers? Unzip that, and it decompresses the main compartment’s expansion, letting the bottom half wedge out slightly by two inches. This makes it easier to pack bulky items like shoes and large packing cubes. This bottom-only expansion also keeps the bag’s center of gravity low, though it’s hardly ever an issue given that there are four wheels to keep it stable.
We can pack gear for nearly nine days, which is more than Travelpro’s own estimation of three to five. Then again, that conservative estimate may be more realistic if you change outfits often and varies with how thick they are. In other words, your mileage may vary.
As for the rest of the pockets, we used the smaller zippered mesh pouch to store items we rarely use on trips, like house keys and a packable hat. The larger zippered mesh pocket has substantial depth, which makes it ideal for storing used clothing, though you’ll have to flatten them a bit to avoid excessive bulk.
- Wheels feel smooth and don’t wobble
- Handle is ergonomic and comfortable
- A few loose threads on the front panel, but nothing concerning—seems cosmetic
- Wheels still in great shape after a trip from Detroit to Denver and then to Boston
- Can become a little front-heavy when fully packed, but it’s easy to handle as long as you don’t whip the bag around a ton
- A few loose threads around the piping, but it doesn’t feel like anything is coming apart—seems more like a manufacturing thing