20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On Review: A Beautiful and Very Functional Piece of Luggage

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The Lowdown

If you’re a frequent traveler, buying a relatively inexpensive rolling carry-on at $70 – $150 a pop every few years can get old (and expensive) fast. Paying more money upfront for a carry-on that looks fantastic, will serve you for many years, and that comes with an excellent warranty will ultimately save you money in the long run. The 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on is just such a piece; it is built to last, and it looks fantastic.

Overall
5

Pros

  • 100% aluminum construction in a classic design
  • Stiff rubber handles that don’t flop around
  • TSA-approved locks
  • Minimal branding
  • Large enough interior that if packed correctly can hold the necessary items for a trip lasting a week or more
  • Extra security in that there is no cloth or zipper for thieves to cut or tamper with
  • Double divided interior with a zippered pocket on the left side
  • The telescoping trolley handle has multiple levels so that it will work for users of any height’
  • Four 360º spinning wheels allow freedom of movement
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Nothing
20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On Review: A Beautiful and Very Functional Piece of Luggage Listen to this article

Travel is picking back up again, and that might have you looking at the current state of your carry-on luggage and wishing for something a little bit more serviceable and modern. The 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on is a fantastic option that is intelligently designed, solidly built, and best of all — especially considering that it’s entirely made of aluminum — very affordable.

20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on with handle extended in the gate lobby of a local airport.

I’ve always admired the aluminum luggage pieces that I’d see travelers pulling behind them at the airport; aluminum suitcases exude a luxurious juxtaposition of vintage and modern; they’re serviceable and always in style, no matter the age of the piece.

While newer, unscathed aluminum luggage looks shiny and chic, unless you’re traveling by private plane — and your suitcases are being handled with the utmost care — they won’t always look that way. That’s okay.

Even though aluminum luggage is rigid and durable, that faithful traveling companion will eventually tell a story of the owner’s past journeys taken. Aluminum suitcases develop a patina over time — well-earned travel scars, if you will — that can include scrapes, dings, scuffs, and even dents.

As long as your aluminum suitcase isn’t somehow truly abused (e.g., by being crushed somehow), it will still be serviceable. If your luggage is somehow broken, servicing it (under warranty or not) is always an option, unlike a less expensive carry-on which is usually just thrown away when it fails. Even so, aluminum luggage wears well, and some people would argue that it just gets better with age.

Although I am specifically reviewing the 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on in this post, I should note that my situation is slightly different than most who usually travel with a carry-on.

When I fly out of our regional airport, SJT, I have to gate-check any bag that’s larger than a medium-sized duffle until I reach DFW, where I’ll retrieve it after a short wait upon arrival and then continue on my journey.

The carry-on luggage that I gate-check will inevitably get thrown around and possibly rained or snowed on in the scurry to load it in the plane’s hold at SJT or retrieve it from the plane at DFW. Because there’s no way around dealing with at least two necessary gate-checks on any journey, durability, weatherproofing, and ease of handling are critical, even for — or perhaps especially for — my carry-on.

Because of that necessary gate-check at SJT, I will sometimes check my carry-on if I have a tight connection at DFW. Those five to ten minutes spent waiting for my bag to arrive can be the difference between whether I will make my connecting flight or not, and I’ll often check my carry-on on the way home, especially if I am bringing back anything I picked up on my trip.

In other words, my carry-on has to be durable enough to handle being treated like checked luggage, so I have to consider that when I’m deciding which pieces to bring when I travel.

Here are some of the benefits of using aluminum luggage:

•  Weatherproofing: if you’ve ever boarded, had a connection at an airport before the next leg of your journey, or arrived at an airport while it was raining — and you had a checked cloth suitcase, you’ll immediately see the advantage. Even zippered polycarbonate luggage can experience some leakage along the zipper line.

Aluminum luggage generally closes with a hard outer lip that overlaps the inner lip of the luggage’s other side when they come together for closure. Combined with compression locks, this creates a weatherproof seal.

• No exterior zippers: Have you ever seen a suitcase come through the luggage claim that had been taped back together because the zipper had failed? It happens more often than you’d think, and every time I see those taped back together bags (or even worse — someone’s belongings in a black plastic bag because the luggage wasn’t salvageable), I can’t help but wonder what’s missing.

That’s not a concern because aluminum luggage simply can’t be overpacked and generally uses compression locks instead of a zipper.

• Theft-deterrence: Sure, someone can always snatch and grab your luggage, but that’s not the only way that a thief can access your bag’s contents. Cloth luggage can be slashed, and the bag’s contents grabbed.

While it’s a little tougher slash and grab from polycarbonate luggage, the fabric zipper line is still a vulnerable entry point; the cloth above or below the zipper be slashed, or a thief can simply push a ballpoint pen into the zipper allowing access to your contents. Either scenario is virtually impossible with aluminum luggage.

• Better protection for your breakable items: If you regularly travel with breakable items, hard-shell luggage offers exterior protection that can’t be matched — just make sure that your packed items are properly cushioned inside.

• It’s durable: Cloth luggage can fray and wear on stress points; polycarbonate luggage can crack. Even though aluminum luggage will develop travel scars, the components will hold up and still be serviceable for many years unless the luggage is crushed or severely abused. If you are a frequent traveler, the investment is well worth the return.

With that said, there are a few reasons why you might not want to invest in full aluminum luggage.

  • When empty, aluminum luggage can be slightly heavier than a similarly sized polycarbonate or cloth carry-on, so you’ll need to consider that if you aren’t able to lift a total of 30 or so pounds to put the bag in the overhead bin.
  • Because it is rigid and doesn’t expand, you can’t over-pack an aluminum suitcase.
  • If you can’t stand seeing dents or scratches on your luggage, aluminum isn’t for you.
  • But perhaps the most significant consideration is that aluminum luggage can be a costly investment.

In the US, a rough standard when considering carry-on luggage is about 22″ by 14″ by 9″. There’s no hard and fast size limit for international travel carry-ons, as some carriers will allow a slightly larger carry-on. Some will make you check your bag if it exceeds their particular size standards.

So let’s look at the sizes, weights, warranty length, and prices of several brands’ full aluminum carry-ons. I’ve marked the aluminum carry-ons that are the lightest, have the largest exterior size (including the wheels), the ones with the most extended warranties, and the one that is the lightest in bold.

The most expensive aluminum carry-on, the heaviest, the ones with the shortest warranty, and the one with the smallest exterior size (including the wheels) are noted with italics:

  • The 20″ LEVEL8 Gibralter Full Aluminum Carry-On measures 22″ by 15″ by 8.5″, and it weighs 10.14 pounds; it sells for $399.99 (though it is on sale for $345.99 at this writing). LEVEL8 aluminum luggage comes with a lifetime limited warranty.
  • A slightly smaller MVST TREK Aluminum carry-on measures 22″ by 14″ by 8.7″, and it weighs 9.6 pounds; it sells for $395. This bag has a 5-year limited warranty.
  • A slightly smaller AWAY Aluminum Edition Carry-On measures  21.5″ by 13.5″ by 9″, and it weighs 10.7 pounds; it sells for $525. This bag comes with a lifetime limited warranty.
  • A similarly sized Arlo Sky The Frame Carry-On Max: Aluminum Edition measures 23.0″ by 15.0″ by 9.6″, and it weighs 10.5 pounds; it sells for $675. This bag has a 5-year limited warranty.
  • A slightly smaller Zero Halliburton Classic Aluminum Spinner Carry-On measures 21″ by 14″ by 9″, and it weighs 11 pounds; it sells for $950 (though it’s on sale for $650 as of this writing). This bag comes with a 5-year limited warranty.
  • A similarly sized Rimowa Classic Cabin measures 21.7″ by 15.8″ by 9.1″, and it weighs 9.5 pounds; it sells for $1190. This bag comes with a 5-year limited warranty.

Now that you can see where the 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on fits with some of the other aluminum luggage options available, we can look at this particular bag.

The 20″ LEVEL8 Gibralter’s features include:

  • Classic and Durable: Made of aerospace-grade aluminum-magnesium alloy
  • Keyless and Zipperless: Dual TSA-approved Locks, Ensuring that your belongings are safe throughout your travels.
  • Slow-release handles without noise, mase to avoid pinching your hand
  • Ultra-quiet 360° durable spinner wheels
  • Mesh pocket interior divider
  • 20″ size is suitable for most aircraft overhead compartments
  • Gibraltar Aluminum Luggage comes with a 4-piece organizer bag set [author’s note: I did not receive these with my carry-on review sample, but I have a set of Acteon compression packing cubes from a Kickstarter project, so I have been using those.]
  • Limited lifetime warranty

The 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on is available in silver or dark grey; it ships in a recyclable cardboard box with cardboard corner reinforcements. The suitcase comes wrapped in a reusable cloth storage bag.

I received the LEVEL8 Gibraltar in silver; I requested this color specifically because I expect the suitcase’s aluminum exterior to acquire the usual scratches, scrapes, and dings, and I figured that these travel scars would show a little less on the silver instead of the dark grey.

I like the carry-on’s smooth exterior with grooved design and that it has minimal branding; the shiny LEVEL8 logo on the front is not obnoxious, and it’s cute — it looks like a stylized suitcase.

20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on front view.

The corners of the carry-on are separate, riveted-on aluminum pieces.

On the right side, there are two compression clasps with built-in TSA-approved locks. There are two slow-release swiveling handles on the carry-on — one is located on the top of the bag, and one is located on the locking side — made of rigid heavy rubber.

These handles are quite stiff; they don’t flop about, and they have a soft-touch coating.

The locks on the right side of the 20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on.

The back of the LEVEL8 Gibraltar is smooth aluminum, save for the grooved design.

The back of the 20" LEVEL8 Full Aluminum Carry-On.

On the left side, there are three evenly spaced 2″ long hinges with four protective rubber feet for when the 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar is set on the ground on its long side.

The hinge on the left side of the 20" LEVEL8 Full Aluminum Carry-On.

On the bottom, there are four 360º spinner wheels set into 0.75″ deep wheel wells.

The bottom of the 20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On showing the 360-degree wheels.

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Side note: Some people prefer two-wheeled luggage, and some people prefer four-wheeled luggage. While I have and use both styles, I prefer a four-wheeled carry-on; I can drag it behind me while walking through a crowded airport, and I can roll also roll it sideways on all four wheels in front of me as I board a plane rather than having to carry it.

My point is that many airplane aisles are slightly too narrow to drag a two-wheeled carry-on.

On the top of the LEVEL8 Gibraltar, there is a rubber handle that lies facing the telescoping 7″ wide by 1″ thick trolley handle, which has a release button in its center.

The top of the 20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On showing the hinged handle and the telescoping handle recessed into the suitecase.

The telescoping trolley handle has length-extending four stops; the first is 15.5″ above the suitcase, the second is at 17.5″, the third is at 19.5″, and the fourth is at 21.5″. This is a nice feature because people of different heights can pick the most comfortable level for their needs.

The telescoping handle extended on the 20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On; seen from the backside of the suitcase.

Then 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar carry-on’s two aluminum clasps are opened by pressing the button on the bottom; once the clasps have been released, you swing the lock back on its hinge, away from the other half of the suitcase.

One of the two combination locks on the right side of the 20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On.

The LEVEL8 Gibraltar’s locks are initially set to 000; it is easy to change the combination by opening the lock and locating the rod on the backside. By flipping the little rod to the opposite side, you can set your new password; once you’ve done that, you flip the switch back to the original side.

The lever on the underside of the LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On's lock.

A light gray rubber gasket goes all the way around the interior edge of the carry-on’s backside; it is easy to see when the luggage is open. Working in conjunction with the compression clasps, the rubber gasket helps form a weatherproof seal when it is tucked into the front half’s grooved channel.

Inside the LEVEL8 Gibraltar, there are two sections separated by removable mesh panel dividers. If you prefer to use only one or neither of them, you can release the five snaps on each side and set them aside.

The open sides of the mesh panels have grooved, plastic-handled loops that slide into their respective metal hooks at two points on each of the bag’s sides.

20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On laying on ground open, showing the compression dividers

A 17″ long by 7″ deep zippered pocket is built into the left side’s divider, perfect for small, loose items.

The LEVEL8 Gibraltar’s interior measures approximately 19.5″ tall by 13.5″ wide by 3.5″ deep. You do lose a bit of space on the bottom corners, measuring about 2″ wide by 1.5″ deep, due to the wheel wells and the stems holding the wheels.

The two telescoping trolley arms running down the center also take up a bit of room, and they will keep packed items from lying perfectly flat, as is typical of most carry-ons.

Because of the slight protrusion of the trolley rails into the packing area, the right side of any carry-on is where I tend to pack an extra pair of shoes, toiletries, socks, undergarments, and other small items fitted around and over the rails.

The right side of the 20 LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On's interior.

Each side’s lining has a zipper so that the components of the suitcase can be easily accessed if repairs are ever necessary.

The left side also measures approximately 19.5″ tall by 13.5″ wide by 3.5″ deep. While you’ll still lose that approximately 2″ wide by 1.5″ deep area in the bottom corners to accommodate the wheel wells and the wheel stems, the rest of the storage area is perfectly flat.

The right side of the 20 LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On.

The 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On holds 36 liters, which is about the standard for a domestic carry-on. If you are planning for a more extended trip and don’t want to check another piece of luggage, you can quickly take up too much space if you aren’t an efficient packer.

A 36-liter carry-on is perfect for a weekend away if you are a semi-reasonable packer; if you are someone who habitually overpacks, you’ll likely only be able to fit only a day or two’s worth of clothing, a couple of pairs of shoes, and your toiletries inside.

If you are a seasoned traveler, someone who can make a packing list and stick to it, you’ll be able to fit a week’s (or more) worth of clothing inside a bag this size.

Remember that aluminum luggage doesn’t allow you to overstuff; you can’t sit on the bag, hoping that the suitcase will flex out a bit and the zipper will hold everything together, and there’s no secret gusset that expands the suitcase’s size. It is what it is, so it is up to you to make it work.

My favorite methods for maximizing a carry-on’s space are compression packing cubes and bundling; I use both methods alternatively, and I often combine them.

Pro tip:  You always want to wear your heaviest shoes and jacket to the airport if you can, as it makes packing your bag much more efficient.

Using Compression Packing Cubes

I prefer using compression packing cubes versus using regular packing cubes, as compression packing cubes squeeze out any extra space between the folded clothing and make even more “stuff” fit inside your bag. This video shows how compression packing cubes work.

Why do I prefer compression packing cubes over the traditional style? This video says it all.

Using the Bundling Method to Pack a Carry-On

This video gives the basics for bundling.

Because I generally use center-divided carry-on bags like the LEVEL8 Gibraltar, rather than a carry-on with a single large cavity, I don’t put my shoes or anything else under the bundle. The left side of the bag holds all of my clothing, minus any heavier boots, jeans, belt, shirt, scarf, and jacket that I wear to the airport when I am traveling somewhere cooler.

The right side holds my toiletries, a couple of pairs of shoes, and anything else I might need on the trip.

I’m about to leave for a five-day trip to Laguna Beach for the MediaTek Summit that will require multiple outfits for events occurring on the same day, so I am essentially packing enough for a week or more.

Not counting what I will wear on my first travel day and the toiletries that I’ll carry in my backpack, my LEVEL8 Gibraltar packing list looks like this:

  • Three pairs of pants
  • Three lightweight sweaters,
  • Two button-down shirts
  • Two t-shirts
  • One dressy tank top
  • One pair of pajamas
  • Assorted socks and underwear
  • One pair of wedge sandals
  • A travel duffle bag (I always bring this, just in case)
  • My electric toothbrush
  • Deodorant and all non-liquid toiletries
  • A hairbrush
  • A pack of assorted face masks
  • Flat iron for my hair

Can I make all of that clothing fit into the left side of this carry-on, leaving the right side free for everything else? You bet I can!

I utilized a combination of the bundling packing method on the left side, while on the right, I placed a compression packing cube that holds all of my undergarments, two extra pairs of shoes, toiletries, a flat iron, and a few other necessities. As you can see, everything fits!

Worth noting is that I have already made one 15-day trip to NYC with the 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar (and a much bigger polycarbonate  28″ Rimowa Topas Sport Trunk). I completely overpacked for that trip, but since I have status with American Airlines, I can check up to three bags for free.

20" LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on in front of the Rimowa Essential Trunk.

On that trip, I checked the Rimowa; the 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar carry-on was gate-checked between SJT and DFW and was then carried by me to the connecting flight. On the way back, I checked both bags.

Not surprisingly, I managed to pick up the first set of what I expect will be many travel scars on the LEVEL8 Gibraltar during that trip. Here’s how it looks now, and I am very okay with that.

If you’re a frequent traveler, buying a relatively inexpensive rolling carry-on at $70 – $150 a pop every few years can get old (and expensive) fast. Paying more money upfront for a carry-on that looks fantastic, will serve you for many years, and that comes with an excellent warranty will ultimately save you money in the long run. The 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar full aluminum carry-on is just such a piece; it is built to last, and it looks fantastic.

The 20″ LEVEL8 Gibraltar Full Aluminum Carry-On retails for $399 (currently on sale for $345.99); it is available directly from the manufacturer. Use the code GearDiary10 to get 10% off.

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

What I Like: 100% aluminum construction in a classic design; Stiff rubber handles that don’t flop around; TSA-approved locks; Minimal branding; Large enough interior that if packed correctly can hold the necessary items for a trip lasting a week or more; Extra security in that there is no cloth or zipper for thieves to cut or tamper with; Double divided interior with a zippered pocket on the left side; The telescoping trolley handle has multiple levels so that it will work for users of any height; Four 360º spinning wheels allow freedom of movement; Limited lifetime warranty

What Needs Improvement: Nothing — for the price, it seems like an excellent buy

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-professed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area — or not.