Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
We take for granted that suitcases are so well-designed nowadays. It wasn’t long ago that we were lugging suitcases with a leash across airport terminals. However, there is one debate when it comes to luggage that continues to confuse travelers shopping for a new bag. It’s deciding between a 2-wheel vs 4-wheel suitcase!
For those of you that haven’t shopped for a suitcase recently, there are basically two main styles. There’s the traditional two-wheel design that is dragged behind you. Then there’s the more modern four-wheel design that you push alongside you.
- Wheels take up less space in the suitcase: Since the wheels tend to be integrated into the suitcase, they tend to take up less capacity. For example, a 22-inch long two-wheel suitcase will usually have more space than the four-wheel version since the wheels take up less space and do not stick out.
- Wheels tend to be more durable: Since two-wheel suitcases have wheels that do not pivot or spin, they tend to be more robust and durable.
- Less expensive: Two-wheel suitcases are less costly than four-wheel models.
- Difficult to move multiple suitcases: It can be difficult to move multiple two-wheel suitcases at once. You can use straps to connect multiple suitcases. However, it’s much easier to push along multiple four-wheel suitcases.
- Can’t move sideways through aisles: This can also be a challenge for some travelers. Most two-wheel suitcases cannot be rolled down the airplane aisle. Even those that can will usually clip passengers’ arms.
- Prone to falling over: My two-wheel suitcase tends to fall over when I place anything in the front pocket. It seems to be more sensitive to the distribution and balance of weight.
- Wrist and arm strain: Pulling a suitcase behind you can be straining on your arm and wrist, especially if you’re dragging it over long distances.
- Easier to move around: Since you are pushing the suitcase, it is generally easier to move than pulling a bag behind you.
- More stable: Four-wheel suitcases tend to have fewer issues with tipping over.
- Can be pivoted and pushed: Since the suitcase can be pivoted sideways, it makes it easy to roll down the airplane aisle until you’re ready to place it in the overhead bin.
- Roll away on uneven surfaces: If your bag is on an uneven surface, it can roll away from you.
- More vulnerable wheels: Since the wheels are more complex in their assembly, they tend to be less durable when it comes to rolling on uneven or bumpy surfaces. Also, the wheels on a four-wheel bag tend to stick out at the end. This means that they are more likely to be damaged when checking in your bag.
- Less useable space: The wheels can take up more room since they stick out the bottom, often taking up useable space in the suitcase.
I decided to rate the two styles on a series of factors:
Four-wheels are usually better than two-wheels when it comes to movement. Four-wheels allows greater mobility on smooth surfaces, though it can be difficult when moving over rough or uneven terrain. Two-wheel bags, on the other hand, tend to be better suited for a wide range of surfaces, but lack the pivoting and maneuverability of a four-wheel suitcase.
Some of you might wonder which is faster to move around with at the airport. I think that pulling a bag was faster than pushing one. However, after using the Away bag and seeing how it can swivel, it allowed me to walk between and past people that would not have been possible with my two-wheel bag. So I think it’s pretty even. You might have more speed with a two-wheel suitcase, but you get more maneuverability with the four-wheel suitcase.
Two-wheel bags tend to have more room since the wheels are usually integrated into the body of the suitcase. The wheels of a four-wheel suitcase tend to stick out, which means that it counts against the length of the suitcase.
In general, four-wheels is better than two. My two-wheel suitcases have a tendency to fall over, especially if I’ve loaded the front pockets.
Since the wheels on a two-wheel suitcase do not pivot, they tend to be more durable and steady. Also, since they are often less exposed than a four-wheel suitcase, they are less likely to get damaged when checking in your bag.
Two-wheel suitcases tend to be cheaper when comparing models of the same make and size. However, four-wheel suitcases are more popular right now, so you’re seeing less and less of a price difference between the two styles.
Four-wheel suitcases offer a lot more versatility. One thing to keep in mind is that you can always treat a four-wheel suitcase like a two-wheel suitcase in case you need to drag it behind you.
Final thoughts on two-wheels vs four-wheels
If I were advising someone looking to buy a suitcase, I would recommend four-wheels for a carry-on sized suitcase and two-wheels for a large check-in bag. While you might sacrifice some space with a four-wheel bag, I think you can often capture more space by using devices like packing and compression cubes. For example, I’ve used these compression cubes from Tripped that are essentially packing cubes with additional zippers to compress the contents. They are a great way to pack more efficiently.
Additional considerations when purchasing a suitcase
Also, here are a few other things to keep in mind when considering which luggage to get.
1. Look for durable wheels and handles:
When picking a suitcase, there are many brands to choose from. I tend to steer away from the designer brands and lean more toward travel brands. That being said, I recommend inspecting the wheels, handles, and zippers closely when purchasing any suitcase. There are areas that tend to break, so it’s worth getting suitcases that have large and durable wheels, sturdy and smooth retractable handles, and smooth and quality zippers.
2. Determine the case material:
You’ll often need to pick between hard or soft case suitcases. I don’t think that there is a huge difference between the two in terms of protecting your items inside. In theory, a hard shell should be more protective, but the reality is that a soft-shell can often absorb more impact. Also, a hard shell will likely show more wear with scuff marks. Though when it comes to inclement weather, a hard shell has a clear advantage since it won’t soak up water.
3. Check discount stores:
While I love the Away suitcase and would recommend it to anyone looking for a high-quality bag, it may not make sense if you only travel once or twice per year. If you’re looking for a quality suitcase but at a lower price, consider discount stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Nordstrom Rack. These stores tend to sell different brands, from designer to more established travel brands, at much lower prices. I bought my two-wheel TravelPro suitcase years ago and it continues to serve me well. I think it was 40% off the retail price when I bought it, which was a great deal.
4. Consider using a backpack for adventure trips:
Despite two-wheel suitcases being better suited for uneven or rough surfaces, they are a pain to drag across gravel or unpaved surfaces. If you know you’ll be doing an adventure trip, or even a trip where you’ll be moving a suitcase over cobblestone roads, I would consider using a backpack instead. We did a review a while back on my favorite large travel backpack (Osprey Farpoint 55). I used that backpack to travel through Southeast Asia and Central America, and it worked extremely well!
Win a set of compression cubes from Tripped Travel Gear
Tripped Travel Gear is offering to give away five sets of their compression cubes to our audience. You might be saying, I already use packing cubes, why would I need to use compression cubes? It just comes down to space. While a normal packing cube offers some elasticity, a compression cube is more aggressive when it comes to saving space. Think of them as the next evolution of packing cubes. And with baggage fees and the hassles of dealing with check-in luggage, any savings in space is always welcomed. Since the airlines have become a bit more strict with it comes to carry-on luggage, it’s become even more important to try and reduce any bulk space.
How to enter the giveaway
You can enter at the bottom of this page or on the giveaway page. You don’t have to purchase anything, but there are multiple ways to enter and gain entries. By signing up for some of the social media channels or sharing the giveaway, you’ll earn extra entries into the contest. The more options you complete, the more entries that you’ll earn. And of course, there’s no pressure to enter! The giveaway runs until Friday, December 6th. We’ll then randomly select our winner on December 7th.
Keep in mind that the contest is only for US and Canadian residents. Though if you’re not based in North America, don’t worry. We’ll have more giveaways soon, so stay tuned!
Keep in mind that the contest is only for US residents.
Thank you to Tripped Travel Gear!
I want to say a big thank you again to Tripped Travel Gear for generously providing five sets of compression cubes for our audience. I’ve been impressed with the quality and value in their products, and can definitely recommend them for travelers. And I appreciate them wanting to support our channel and connect with our audience.
What are your thoughts on two-wheel or four-wheel suitcases? Do you have a type or brand that you swear by? Let me know in the comment section below.