When you are planning to travel whether locally or internationally, the first thing that comes in your mind is what luggage to carry. While your luggage choice may be a matter of your own personal taste, there are so many options to choose from which makes it quite hard to decide on one. And if you are reading this, you are probably confused about which type of luggage to go with between hardshell vs soft shell luggage. Well, the truth is that both luggage types offer a number of benefits for specific travel situations. This means that you should evaluate how you plan to pack your items, your travel destinations, and finally your probable accommodations for you to determine which luggage type to carry. So in this luggage guide, we are going to take a closer look at both options with reasons for choosing either of them.
This luggage option is ideal if you are planning to travel long-haul carrying non-breakable items especially clothes. This option comes with a robust interior that protects your items from impact. According to Consumer Reports, they are still the most preferred luggage option amongst many travelers. This is mainly because of their lightweight, accessibility, and ease of use. They feature many pockets that allow you to fit more items thus making travel a little easier. While soft-sided luggage may be the most preferred, their biggest downside according to users is durability and wear. However, with the increase in the number of luggage brands, nowadays you can find a soft-sided bag that can withstand your adventures.
The flexibility of soft-sided suitcases generally comes from the material they are made from. Most of the materials might be more familiar to you since they are also used for clothing and other items we use daily. Some of the most common materials are Polyester, nylon such as ballistic nylon or Cordura, canvas and leather.
When choosing between sift sided materials, always remember to check the denier rating. This often tells you about the durability of the material. Generally, the higher the denier rating, the stronger, heavier, thicker, and more durable the material will be. For the best experience, you should focus on getting a material with a denier rating ranging between 500 and 2000. Keep in mind that the higher the denier rating, the heavier the luggage will be.
This is arguably the cheapest soft material option available in the market. This is why you will find most luggage with the lowest prices made using polyester fabric. However, the quality of polyester bags also does vary according to the thickness of the fiber. If you want luggage that you will use often, you should choose something at least 800D or above.
Nylon is without a doubt the strongest material when comparing leather, polyester, canvas, and nylon itself. While it is quite expensive compared to polyester and canvas, it is still a lot pricier than leather. The following are the different types of nylon fabric options (ballistic nylon and Cordura nylon) and the differences between them.
Despite being made from nylon threads, the properties of ballistic nylon are quite different. The material is built from thicker and heavier threads and also woven differently. The material is mostly used in travel gears that need improved resistance. Compared to regular nylon or polyester, ballistic nylon has a rough feel and is a lot heavier. It is also easier to clean and so durable that it can resist abrasion and tear. The only major downside of ballistic nylon is that it is hard to dye which means quite a few color choices.
Just like ballistic nylon, Cordura nylon is also known for its durability and resistance to tears, abrasions, and scuffs. However, unlike Cordura it does take dye easily which means more color choices. It also has a similar appearance to Canvas. The material is mostly used in high-end travel gear that needs improved durability and resistance to weather.
Canvas is a woven fabric that is made from either cotton or hemp or a blend of the two. There are only two different types of canvas, plain and duck. The more commonly used canvas is the duck canvas and it is usually common in sneakers and tents. The main difference between the two options is that the duck canvas is tightly woven. Luggage made of canvas is usually waterproof. Although it’s rarely used in luggage, it is much stronger compared to regular polyester, although not as strong as nylon. This is because it is made from organic materials and not plastics. Due to its very natural looks, the canvas is mostly used in jackets, backpacks, and duffel bags.
While it is often hard to find leather luggage, it is still widely used in high-end handbags, backpacks, and duffel bags. The material is usually stronger, flexible, and more durable compared to polyester and most nylon bags. It is made by tanning animal rawhides. When buying leather luggage, try to go for high-quality leather, generally referred to as top grain leather or full-grain leather. In addition to lasting a lifetime, high-quality leather will also look great and age gracefully. Generally, the thicker the leather, the longer it will last. The main disadvantages of leather luggage are that they are usually heavier, expensive, and not as weather-resistant as other options.
If you are seeking a more protective luggage option or want to carry delicate items then hard-sided luggage is the way to go. Thanks to their robust construction, this luggage provides total protection for your possessions. In addition to being protective, they also have a modern and sleek look. However, on the downside they are rigid and lack room for expansion thus harder to squeeze in items. Hard-sided luggage are robust thanks to the various forms of hard shells they come in. They are made using heavy-duty materials such as ABS, polycarbonate, and Aluminum. ABS is the lightest of them all while Aluminum is the heaviest and also the strongest. Premium hard-sided luggage have a polycarbonate construction which is much more durable but not heavy.
This is an acronym for the word acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, a thermoplastic material, often used in 3D printing and injection molding thanks to its low melting point. ABS is so far the cheapest hard material used in hard-sided luggage. This is why it is the most used material in the lower price range of hard-sided luggage. It is much lighter when compared to polycarbonate but not as durable. It is also not as resistant as polypropylene. However, it is strong enough to protect items inside your suitcase making it great in terms of functionality and price.
Polycarbonate is the best option most of the time since it is moderately priced and durable compared to the other materials. It is a compound of polymer (synthetic organic materials) and carbonate. This means that it has the properties of both of these materials. Thanks to its transparency, polycarbonate can be easily made into different patterns and colors. Polycarbonate material is popular in hard-sided luggage for two main reasons. It is extremely lightweight and also highly resistant to impact. This makes it ideal when you are looking for a luggage that is extremely resistant to very rough handling. However, all this comes at a cost. It is much heavier and more expensive when compared to ABS and polypropylene.
Polypropylene is the lightweight hard-sided luggage material when compared to polycarbonate and ABS. This makes it an ideal material for use in lightweight luggage range. It is also pretty durable than ABS, although not as durable as polycarbonate. However, it is priced similarly to ABS luggage which is kind of less expensive than Polycarbonate luggage. Polypropylene has a higher melting point meaning it can withstand very high temperatures. Therefore, it is the best option for the traveler who wants good protection in the lightweight form possible
While Aluminum suitcases have been around for a while, they are rarely used. This is mainly because they are heavier than plastics and costs more. This is why they have been completely replaced by other less expensive materials. The material is extremely durable, resilient, and shock-resistant thus doesn’t easily dent. It also has a unique look which is very easy to clean and spot on the luggage belt. All these features make it come with a very high price tag.
Pros and Cons of Soft-Sided and Hard Sided Luggage
Hardside Luggage Pros
- Protection for Breakable Valuables
- Weather resistance
- Easy to clean
- Offers better security
- More colors
Hard side Luggage Cons
- Size Flexibility Is Limited
- Damage Shows Up Easier
Soft side Luggage Pros
- Wear and Tear May Not Be as Visible
- Convenient Storage
- More Flexible
- Many pockets and Compartments
- Bump and Scratch Proof
- Flexible and Expandable
- Has a wide opening
- Can handle some hits
- Lighter and convenient
Soft side Luggage Cons
- No Water Resistance
- Damage to breakable items might Be Harder to Avoid
So which type of suitcase would you use as your carry-on luggage?
Most users prefer using the soft-sided option for carry-on luggage. This is mainly because of the number of times that we often try and cram our luggage into the overhead compartment. Apart from this, the extra compartments, especially the exterior pockets, make it very easy to carry items for regular use while on road such as itineraries. For example, you may want to put your water can within easy reach.
So which type of suitcase would you use as your check-in luggage?
When it comes to checking in, the choice of luggage largely depends on the kind of trip you want to go on. If you are going on a long and single-destination trip, a hard-shell suitcase would be ideal. While on this type of journey, you won’t need extra space. The security that a hard sided luggage provides is also preferable for this type of journey.
Other factors to Consider before Buying Soft side or hard side Luggage
If you still find it hard to decide between soft-sided and hard-sided luggage, there are some additional factors that you can look through to help you out. Here are some things to consider before buying soft or hard shell luggage:
- If you are Going Shopping – If you are planning to shop while traveling, you will find it quite difficult to fit in extra items into hard-sided luggage. Therefore, soft-sided luggage will be ideal since you can also fit them into small spaces like the overhead bins and luggage racks on buses.
- Two Wheels vs. Four Wheels – Some people may prefer four-wheeled luggage over the two-wheeled ones. This is because they are a lot easier to handle in airports or train stations. While there are a few soft-sided luggage with four wheels, they are less common compared to hard-sided luggage.
- Customizing for Convenience – Most hard-sided luggage comes with different colors and making them easier to spot. On the other hand, soft-sided options only come in a few variants. If you want luggage that will be more visible at the baggage claim, you may consider the hard shell suitcases with unique colors and patterns.
- Accessibility – Accessibility is one of the major advantages of soft-sided luggage. They have several pockets on their front sides which makes them very convenient. When you are looking for luggage that will enable you to reach for things you re carrying then you should consider the soft-sided luggage.
Wrapping up on the Hardside vs Softside Luggage
Like all aspects of travel, your choice of luggage all comes down to your personal preferences and needs as well as taste. Just like when choosing your hotel room, you have to know exactly are your needs and what you are looking for. As you have seen, neither the soft side nor the hard side luggage option was the clear winner in every situation. It always comes down to your travel needs as well as what you value. The most important thing is that you buy a high-quality product from a reputable brand especially if you plan to travel frequently. The bottom line is, first write down your travel needs and then do some research before finally deciding to settle with one product.
Tips for buying soft-sided luggage
If you are the type of person who always finds that you have an extra item to fit in your bag or just want lightweight luggage, you may have definitely chosen a soft-sided luggage. So here are some of the tips to consider when you go out to look for the right fabric for your luggage:
- Consider going with luggage made from nylon, regardless of whether it is ballistic nylon, Cordura, or just the regular nylon.
- If you plan to use your luggage regularly, go with dark colored fabrics which don’t get stained with oil and dirt pretty fast.
- If the luggage has no spinner wheels, the bottom part should be made from thick fabric that prevents wearing and scuff marks.
Tips for buying Hard Shell Luggage
You may want to buy hard-sided luggage if you are planning to carry breakable items. Unlike soft-sided luggage, it will offer you better security thanks to its hard covering and integrated locks. When choosing a hard-sided luggage material, here are the things to consider:
- Go for the polycarbonate luggage since they are moderately priced and at the same time very durable.
- Check the weight of the suitcase and also ensure that the dimensions are correct. Most dimensions exclude the wheels and handle that worth considering.
- Ensure that the case has a scratch-resistant finish since most luggage end up getting scratched just after a few trips.
- If you are buying an old model, consider those cases that have TSA-approved locks and come with expandable width.