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Garment Bags

Garment bags are meant to be carried on. They are supposed to sit lightly in your overhead, or hang in a closet on the plane. The garment bag is the standard piece of luggage for those traveling on business, as it keeps clothes from wrinkling. Unfortunately, a goodly amount of people abuse their garment bags in ways the manufacturers never intended (or are willing to admit). This abuse comes in the form of stuffing them so full that they barely snap at the bottom closures together.

Have you ever seen a traveler carrying a garment bag that looks so stuffed the traveler might as well be wearing a red suit and a jiggling belly? Garment bags, unlike any of the other bags listed here, seem to expand exponentially when overstuffed. That is, when there are too many items packed into a garment bag, it makes the bag very difficult to fold over at the shoulder strap points. This causes the garment bag to look like an A-frame house, where the two bottom ends are spread way out.

For the purposes of this FAQ, I do not recommend the use of a garment bag as your carry-on. If you are traveling and you must take one with you, use something like the minimalist Eagle Creek Cargo Commuter Suiter, which folds in thirds and fit under your seat.

Advantages: Airline personnel will usually never ask you to check in a garment bag. Clothing will wrinkle less. You might have the benefit of having a flight attendant hang your bag for you in the closet, especially if you are flying in business, or first class.

Disadvantages: Too easy to overstuff. Most models do not fit under the seat. Limited to suits, dresses and other items that hang well.

Important features to look for

  • Make sure the seams seem strong.
  • Make sure the zippers do not seem too flimsy.
  • Look for a little loop at one end, through which you can install a little padlock (and lock it onto the end of your zipper).
  • Look for a separate set of short handles so you do not have to rely on your shoulder strap
  • Look for detachable shoulder straps.
  • Look to make sure the shoulder straps are adjustable.
  • Shoulder straps should have a pad on it to protect your shoulder.
  • Look for a clasp or clip on the bottom of your garment bag, so that you can keep the two ends of the bag together.
  • Make sure there is a handle or a hanger that will allow you to hang the garment bag lengthwise in the airplane's closet.
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