Hardsided vs Softsided Luggage Considerations

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August 27, 2018
Shree Ravi

 

The Hardside vs Softside debate has been raging amongst travelers for over a decade now. Whether you are choosing a carry on or a checked suitcase, this is one choice you simply cannot ignore.

So, is hardsided or softsided luggage better? 

The answer as you expected isn’t as simple. Let’s take a look at what both have to offer and even subjective decisions can be taken with some clarity.

 

Soft side options

A soft sided suitcase is shown here

These are usually made of durable synthetic fabric like Nylon or Nylon-polyester combos. Most good soft side suitcases are made from Cordura, Ripstop or Ballistic Nylon (These have very good abrasion resistance)

Cordura & ballistic nylon have different texture and softness but offer very good abrasion resistance.

You’ll often see terms like 1680D Nylon or 1000D Nylon etc. The “D” simply stands for linear mass density of fibers. This doesn’t necessarily mean the higher the number the more abrasion resistant or sturdy the suitcase is going to be. The manufacturing methods & the patterns the fabric is woven into has a large say in the final result.

Soft-sided luggage has many advantages. For starters, they are highly flexible so storing them and opening them in tight spaces is quite easy. Keeping yourself organized is quite easy since most soft side luggage options come with many internal and exterior pockets not to mention suiters for business travelers. Easy access pouches on the outside are quite common in both carry-on and checked sizes.

Soft-sided cases also maintain their aesthetic appeal a lot better and can be cleaned very easily. They are far less prone to scratches and don’t retain any scuff marks.

The downsides most commonly associated with soft side cases is that they can rip especially when they go over sharp edges. (A broken luggage carousel in an airport is an example) The other most common con is that they are only available in very few color options.

 

Hard side options

A hardsided suitcase is seen here

Hard side luggage is made of ABS, polycarbonate or Aluminium. ABS options are lighter and polycarbonate options last longer. Hardside cases in general with the exception of Aluminium (in some cases) are very light. This is one of the clear advantages they possess.

Protection is another aspect they excel at. This type of luggage or suitcase is ideal in situations where you are transporting fragile or easily breakable items as they have very good shock absorption capabilities. Hard sides ensure you can only pack a fixed amount which stops you from going overweight. Another positive is that they fare better in snowy or rough weather conditions at keeping the contents safe.

Most of these also come in with a TSA approved lock. These suitcases are also waterproof, which is a very handy feature to have.  They come in solid color options which make them very easy to spot and you might not need a baggage tag at all.

Despite its initial impressive looks, hardside cases tend to accumulate scratches very easily and start to look very worn out. (Especially if you travel frequently) Another con is that they aren’t flexible and most of them don’t have an easy access zipper on the outside, so you need to make sure you have enough space to open the case to remove anything you need.

 

Durability

This is not as clear-cut as it used to be hence we’ve discussed it separately.

Normally hardside cases are known for their durability but many of the mid to high-end softside suitcases we have seen excel when it comes to overall durability. Price variations are often reflective of how well built a softside case is. For example, TUMI’s and Briggs & Rileys are built like tanks in terms of their frame and materials used. On the other end of the spectrum, you have many budget cases that struggle to keep up with the durability on offer by their hard side counterparts.

As far as hardsides are concerned ABS is the least durable with polycarbonate faring much better. Polycarbonate cases are a massive upgrade to the plastic luggage seen in yesteryears. If you opt for a budget hardside you do run the risk of gathering massive dents when the luggage falls on the corners.

Aluminum luggage (which falls into the hardside category) like the ones produced by Rimowa is still the best in terms of durability. Aesthetically, the color options can be quite limited & the dents & scratches are quite clearly visible but they are definitely one to check out if you like a classic. However, these are extremely expensive. The larger Rimowa suitcases come with an electronic tag to help you check in your luggage from your smartphone. Aluminum options at first glance might make you think “that’s gotta be heavy” but in reality, they are quite light.

 

Here is a quick comparison:

 HardsideSoftside
VariantsABS, PolycarbonatePolyester/Nylon Variants (Ballistic, Ripstop)
AestheticsBrighter & darker color options but can scratch easilyMainly darker colors with better abrasion resistance
Overall DurabilityVery good (Model Dependent)Very good (Model Dependent)
WeightVery LightLight (feature & brand dependent)
FlexibilityInflexibleHighly Flexible
ProtectionExcellent (Ideal for fragile items)Good
Organizational FeaturesVery limitedA wide variety
PriceCheaperVaries based on features
Note: When talking about durability we considered the handles, zippers etc., not just the material alone. Whilst the polycarbonate on its own is quite durable, many softside models have sturdier wheels, handles etc. (overall package)

Aluminum luggage such as the ones by Rimowa are not so common but are the best in terms of durability.

Tegris by Tumi is a polypropylene thermoplastic composite that has excellent impact resistance but is extremely expensive. Tegris is also 100% recyclable and is certainly one to watch in the future.

 

 

 

Sources: 

Choosing between Hardsided & Softsided Luggage, Consumer Reports

Hardside vs Softside Luggage: Our Readers Decide the Pros and Cons, Travel Fashion Girl

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