Is Hard or Soft Luggage Better?

There are a lot of options available when it comes to buying luggage. One of the biggest decisions you will have to make is whether you will buy hard or soft sided luggage. There are pros and cons to both options that should be carefully considered so that you make an informed decision on your next luggage purchase.

Cloth vs Hard Shell Luggage

Price: Tie

Hard shell luggage has come a long way since it was first introduced. Modern technology and new designs have made it cheaper and easier to manufacture. The price between soft and hard shell luggage is less obvious and you will find similarly priced designs for both styles.

Organization: Depends

Hard side luggage usually opens like a clamshell, right down the middle. This 50/50 split provides two distinct sides that are usually separated via a zipper from each other. The two sides are great for couples that want to use one bag or travelers that like to separate their items. Hard side luggage may include different zippered or mesh areas on the inside for organizing items.

But some travelers dislike the separated sides of hardshell luggage and prefer the deep space that is found inside of a softshell suitcase. Soft luggage usually includes zippered areas on the inside similar to hard side luggage, but soft luggage also includes pockets on the outside giving it additional pockets for organizing.

Flexibility: Soft Side Luggage

There is no doubt that soft-sided luggage is more flexible and will allow you to pack in more items. The flexibility of soft-shelled luggage makes it easier to manipulate. It can be crammed under a seat, stuffed in the overhead bin, and shoved into the trunk of a car much easier than hard-sided luggage.

Security: Hard Side Luggage

For fragile or breakable items, hard side luggage is the way to go. However, not all hard side luggage materials are created equally. Some of the cheaper materials are prone to breaking and will not provide the same protection. Hard side luggage also offers better security from thieves and smugglers because of the way it opens.

Fashion: Hard Side Luggage

Hard side luggage is more on-trend right now. It is more contemporary, sleek, and can regularly be found with modern tech features such as charging ports, built-in locks, and GPS.

Ease of Cleaning: Hard Side Luggage

Luggage made from cloth was not designed to be cleaned easily. It is going to soak up every spill, smell, and stain. On the other hand, dirt, dust, and spills are removed with ease from hard side luggage because it was designed to wipe clean.

Weight: Depends

Both hard and soft-sided luggage can be found in similar weights. The difference comes down to what material is used and how the bag is packed.

The materials that are used to make hard side luggage can add to the overall weight of the bag. Hard luggage materials have come a long way since this style of bag was first introduced. Most hard side luggage is made of polycarbonate or ABS. Both material options are as light or lighter than cloth materials. Soft side luggage can be made lightweight, but their flexibility often leads to overpacking and that can quickly put a bag over the weight limit for many airlines. 

Durability: Hard Side Luggage

Hard side luggage is stronger and more durable than soft side luggage, but it is prone to showing scratches and scuff marks. If you want your luggage to always look immaculate, you may want to opt for a soft bag.

When it comes to withstanding the tough conditions of traveling in a cargo hold, hard side luggage is the champ. Hard luggage can take quite a beating without damaging the items inside.

Hard side luggage is the winner when it comes to braving the elements. If you expect your bag will be subject to rain, mud, sand, snow, or sun, hard luggage is the way to go. Hard-sided luggage offers better resistance to the elements and it is easier to clean making it the clear-cut winner in this category.

Convenience: Soft Side Luggage

Soft side luggage is easier to manipulate making it the more convenient option. Additionally, there is no doubt that hotels have not caught up to the clamshell design of most hard side luggage options. The suitcase holder that is found in most hotel rooms does not work well for hard-side luggage designs that require twice the space to open.

Luggage Material ABS vs Polycarbonate

Most consumers who buy hard side luggage have no idea what their bag is made of. But materials do matter when it comes to the durability of the bag.

Polycarbonate is a durable thermoplastic. It is more flexible and offers better impact absorption than ABS making it less likely to crack or break while traveling.

ABS is another common type of thermoplastic. ABS is lighter than polycarbonate but does not offer the same durability making it a cheaper, lighter option.

Best Hard Case Luggage Material

If budget and weight are the highest priority, ABS is the way to go.

For durability and strength, polycarbonate cannot be beat.

Do Airlines Prefer Hard or Soft Luggage?

Airlines do not prefer one type of material over the other. Airline workers do prefer that your luggage be quality made, in good condition, not overweight, and well packed. A quality bag should have a strong handle for workers to grab. The bag should be free of rips, tears, and dangling items. Overweight bags are hard for workers to pick up and can lead to injuries and broken handles. It is best to keep luggage under the recommended weight limit and well packed to ensure that the items contained within are safe and secure.

Is Hardside Luggage Better than Softside?

The answer is: it depends on your personal needs and preferences. There is no one size fits all when it comes to luggage. For some frequent travelers, both options have a time and place. A durable and strong hardside bag is better for checking-in and a flexible softside bag usually makes for a better carry-on.