I tried out Sterling Pacific’s carry on luggage and loved it. Here’s why I think it might be the best carry on luggage on the market.
Sterling Pacific’s aluminum “35L” case is stunning. There are no two ways around it. It harkens back to the age of jet-setting across the world in a time when air travel was limited and novel. The classic style features a ridged metallic exterior with Italian leather, silver interior buckles, and a design that is more trunk than rollaboard.
Outside of the striking silver exterior, users will note a rarity. Bucking the four-wheeled omnidirectional spinner wheels trend that has taken over the market, Sterling Pacific made two-wheeled luggage for both of the sizes it offers. The tilt-and-roll model that was the mainstay of business travelers for years has returned.
Dimensions, and Details
The size of the case is the maximum allowed on US carriers but will likely slip past European size restrictions at the gate.
- Dimensions: 22.5″ x 14″ x 8.5″ (varies only slightly from others in the “35L” market at 22 x 14 x 9 inches)
- Volume: 35L
- Weight: 11.5 lbs
The interior utilizes a crisscrossing pair of straps to hold articles in place complete with silver branded buckles. A dark tan interior and netted, zippered compartment on the top of the interior is an ideal place for loose articles such as a dopp kit.
And then there’s the hinge that closes and props open the top of the case (more on that shortly.) It provided easy access to everything in my case at once.
Sterling Pacific lists the following features:
- Full 5052 Aluminum Body with Impact Bearing Ridges
- Reinforced A380 Aluminum Corners
- A380 Aluminum Wheel Housings
- A380 Aluminum Trolley Housing
- Retractable Aluminum Trolley
- Italian Full-Grain Leather Handles
- Extruded 6063 Aluminum Frame
- Dual Thru Axle Wheels
- TSA (approved) Double Combination Latch Locks
Inside the case is a small (included) dopp kit in the netted area on the lid that contains a leather care kit, a microfiber square to shine the exterior, and an instruction manual. My case also came wrapped in a black fabric cover that slips on and off over the top of the piece.
There is no USB port or USB chargers to contend with, and while it may be a personal preference, I have found these to be more of a distraction than useful. I like the simple, purist nature of the 35L.
Passing through the airport, I noticed a number of things I had missed when packing for my trip. The wheels are larger than I expected and far larger than spinner wheels on other cases. This made for a very smooth roll through tiled airport floors. Getting on and off the train was easier too because the wheels are too big to get stuck in between. The same happened when exiting the aircraft and then tilting to roll it up the jetbridge.
It was especially easier with my backpack on top of the case. With spinner wheels, the added weight of my backpack makes it harder to get up those hills. This is one reason why many with spinner wheels still tilt-and-roll their cases despite being equipped with spinner wheels.
I easily fit Sterling Pacific’s 35L into even smaller than normal overhead bins on both mainline (A320) and regional (E175) equipment.
I forgot how nice it was to be able to leave luggage standing and walk away without the prospect of it rolling on its own down a sidewalk.
Rather than opening at a 50/50 split in the middle, the Sterling Pacific 35L has an 80/20 split. With other carry-on bags, it can be difficult to fit shoes into one side because of where the bag opens, but as this opens deep, adding my shoes was easy.
I also loved the crisp flip of the dual combination locks. The telescoping handle was smooth and sturdy.
In addition to the tilt-and-roll with big wheel design, I felt as though the case was lighter moving through the airport. When comparing it to other hard-sided cases, the weight in line with other metal cases. It just seemed easier to move on terrain that wasn’t flat or smooth. Polycarbonate shell cases that seem to be more and more the norm don’t seem to be as resilient to the obstacle courses most frequent flyers encounter as they travel for work and leisure.
I liked the trunk approach for some of the packing reasons I mentioned but it also made packing and unpacking faster. The hinge that holds the lid open is sturdy and keeps the top lifted. This is one reason why I may have found it easier to pack. With a 50/50 split, both sides of the case are open during packing, inevitably, one side may protrude more than the other, and there’s a sandwiching approach to getting it closed, flipping a heavy half over the other half and zipping around (or closing clasps.) Due to the trunk-style loading, the hinges held the top open at 90 degrees so I could exceed the bottom of the case (because there was more room on top) and closing was far easier.
I hit some corners here and there but never snagged on anything as I would have with soft-sided luggage. There was no visible damage.
Everywhere I went – in airports, at hotels, on the street, and even to a meeting (I was leaving straight to the airport after) – people asked me where I got it and who made it. It’s an attractive piece of luggage and feels like a solid step up from even the long-loved Rimowa that many travel experts adore.
I have yet to see the patina of traveling with the case over an extended period of time. Wear and tear is certain to happen, but how the carry-on suitcase responds to dings and dents remains unknown.
While I don’t personally use an exterior pocket laptop sleeve (like Away and Arlo Skye provide in some models), those without TSA Precheck might wish for this feature.
The one thing I would have liked to see is a clip on the front or back for a smaller bag. My wife often secures her purse on the bag and such a clip. This size case wouldn’t be large enough to support a garment bag but something small would be a welcome addition.
Travelers who love softside luggage for its maleability won’t love the hard aluminum design.
It’s also worth noting that while it was perfect for my three-day trip, a five-day trip to a cold environment with a big coat inside could be a struggle.
Sterling Pacific’s aluminum line of luggage is not cheap, in fact, it’s right at the top of the market. As I have said with other quality pieces before, for very frequent travelers it’s probably worth getting a carry on that can withstand the demands of rigorous and consistent travel. The case prices at $1,495 for the 35L and $1,995 for the check in 80L size. That puts it in competition with the top picks in the luxury luggage market. At a price point starting at nearly $1500, the durability, and quality of the case become the leading factor. In my experience, it seems to hold its own at that level.
The attention to detail, novel approach, stunning look and feel, and, most importantly, ease of use make it worth the money for those looking for high-end luggage. I won’t be giving up mine any time soon.
What do you think? Have you tried Sterling Pacific or a similar case?