Soft-sided and hard-sided luggage

Hard vs Soft Luggage: Which is Best?

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When it comes to choosing luggage for travel, there are two main types to consider: hardside and softside. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages, so which one is better?

In this post, we’ll explain what hardside and softside luggage is. We’ll also take a detailed look at the differences between these two types of luggage and help you decide which one is right for your travel needs.

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What Is Hardside Luggage?

Hardside luggage, as the name suggests, has a hard exterior shell that’s usually made of polycarbonate, ABS plastic, or aluminum. These materials are extremely durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear, making hard-sided luggage a good choice for travelers who want to protect their belongings.

Hard-sided luggage also tends to have a more structured design, which can make it easier to pack and organize your items.

Advantages Of Hardside Luggage

1. Very Durable

Hardside luggage is made from durable materials such as polycarbonate, ABS plastic, aluminum, and polypropylene that can withstand the wear and tear of travel. It provides better protection for your belongings compared to softside luggage, especially when it comes to fragile items.

2. Provides Good Protection to Contents

The rigid outer shell of hard-shell luggage provides excellent protection for your belongings, keeping them safe from damage during transit.

3. Secure

Hardside luggage is more secure than soft-sided luggage as it cannot be easily cut or punctured. The hard shell also makes it more difficult for thieves to access your belongings.

4. Water-Resistant

Hardside luggage is often water-resistant, which makes it ideal for travel in wet conditions.

5. Easy to Clean

Hardside luggage is easy to clean and maintain, as it can be wiped down with a damp cloth or cleaned with mild soap and water. This is especially useful if your luggage gets dirty or stained during travel.

6. Stylish

Hardside luggage comes in a wide range of colors, designs, and patterns that can add a touch of elegance and sophistication to your travel style. Whether you prefer a sleek and modern look or a classic and vintage feel, there is a hardside luggage that suits your taste.

Disadvantages of Hardside Luggage

1. Heavy

Hardside luggage is typically heavier than softside luggage, which can be a disadvantage if you are trying to pack light.

However, some hardside luggage models are designed with lightweight materials, such as polycarbonate, to reduce weight.

Also, it can make it more difficult to maneuver through airports or onto planes.

2. Less Storage Flexibility

Hard-sided luggage is more rigid, which means it may not be able to accommodate as much extra gear or irregularly shaped items as a soft-sided bag.

3. Brittle

While hard-shell luggage is generally more durable than soft-sided luggage, it can still crack or break if it’s dropped or mishandled.

4. Limited Expansion

Hardside luggage generally does not have the same level of expansion as softside luggage, which means you may not be able to pack as much.

5. Difficult to Store

Hardside luggage is less flexible than softside luggage, which means it can be more difficult to pack and store in tight spaces.

It may also be more challenging to fit into overhead compartments on airplanes or under seats.

6. Less Pockets

Hard-sided luggage usually has fewer pockets and compartments than soft-shell luggage, which can make it more difficult to stay organized.

7. Prone to Scratches

Hardside luggage is susceptible to scratches and scuffs, especially if it’s made from a softer material like polycarbonate. However, some hardside luggage models feature scratch-resistant coatings that can prevent or minimize scratches.

What Is Softside Luggage?

Soft-sided luggage is a type of luggage that is made from soft and pliable materials such as polyester, nylon, or canvas. These materials are used to create a flexible and lightweight design that makes it easy to pack, store, and transport your belongings.

Soft-sided luggage can come in various shapes and sizes, including:

Advantages of Softside Luggage

1. Lightweight

Soft-sided luggage is usually lighter than hard-sided luggage, which can make it easier to carry and maneuver.

2. Expandable

The soft and flexible materials used in soft-shell luggage allow the bag to expand and contract to accommodate your belongings.

3. Durable

Softside luggage is usually made of durable materials like nylon or polyester, making it able to withstand wear and tear from traveling. The fabric can also stretch to accommodate extra items and protects against minor bumps and scrapes.

4. More Storage Flexibility

Soft-sided luggage typically has more storage space than hard-sided luggage, thanks to its expandable design and multiple compartments.

5. More Flexible

Soft-sided luggage is more flexible than hard-sided luggage, making it easier to fit into tight spaces or overhead compartments.

Softside luggage is better suited for carry-on as it can be compressed.

6. More Pockets and Compartments

Soft-sided luggage often has more pockets and compartments, which can make it easier to organize your items.

Disadvantages of Softside Luggage

1. Less Durable

Soft-sided luggage is generally less durable than hard-sided luggage, so it may not hold up as well over time.

2. Less Protection

The soft and flexible materials used in soft-shell luggage may not provide as much protection for your belongings as the rigid outer shell of hard-sided luggage.

3. Less Secure

Soft-sided luggage is easier to cut or break into, so it may not be the best choice for travelers who are concerned about theft.

4. Harder to Clean

Soft-sided luggage can be more difficult to clean, especially if it gets stained or dirty.

5. Not Waterproof

Softside luggage is not as water-resistant as hardside luggage, which means your belongings may get wet if exposed to water.

6. May Lose Shape

Softside luggage can lose its shape over time and may not be as durable as hard-sided luggage in the long run.

Comparison Between Hardside and Softside Luggage

Now that we have explored the pros and cons of softside and hardside luggage, let’s compare them directly. We’ll cover some of the more important factors and see which type of luggage is superior in each.


One of the most significant differences between hard-sided and soft-shell luggage is their durability. Hard-sided luggage is generally more durable and resistant to damage than soft luggage.

Hard-sided luggage is made from tough materials such as polycarbonate or aluminum that can withstand rough handling, drops, and impacts.

On the other hand, soft-sided luggage is susceptible to tears, punctures, and rips.

If you’re looking for luggage that can withstand the rigors of travel, hard-sided luggage is the way to go. It’s more durable and can protect your belongings better than soft-sided luggage.

Winner: Hardside luggage


Weight is another crucial factor to consider when choosing luggage. Hard-sided luggage tends to be heavier than soft-shell luggage due to its rigid materials.

This added weight can be a drawback when traveling by air, as airlines often have weight restrictions for luggage.

Soft-sided luggage, on the other hand, is generally lighter and more flexible, making it easier to pack and maneuver.

It can also be compressed to fit into smaller spaces, which can be a plus when traveling with limited space.

Winner: Softside luggage

Storage Space

When it comes to storage, soft-sided luggage has an advantage. Softside luggage is typically more flexible than hard-sided luggage, meaning it can expand to accommodate more items. Soft-sided luggage also has more pockets and compartments, making it easier to organize and access your belongings.

Hard-sided luggage, on the other hand, has a more rigid structure, which can make it difficult to fit into tight spaces.

It also has fewer pockets and compartments, making it more challenging to organize your belongings.

Winner: Softside luggage


When it comes to style, hard-sided and soft luggage both have their advantages. Hard-sided luggage is often sleek and modern in design, while soft-sided luggage can come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Hard-sided luggage is also easier to clean and maintain, as it can be wiped down with a damp cloth. Soft-sided luggage, however, can absorb stains and dirt, which can be more challenging to clean.

Winner: Hardside luggage


Security is another essential factor to consider when choosing luggage. Hard-sided luggage is generally more secure than soft-sided luggage. Hard-sided luggage often comes with built-in locks, which can help prevent theft.

Soft-sided luggage, on the other hand, is more vulnerable to tampering, as it can be easily cut or punctured.

If you’re traveling with valuable items, hard-sided luggage may be the better choice. It offers more security features and can better protect your belongings.

Winner: Hardside luggage


Finally, price is an essential consideration when choosing luggage. Hard-sided luggage is often more expensive than soft shell luggage due to its durable materials and additional security features. Soft-sided luggage is generally more affordable, making it a good option for budget-conscious travelers.

Winner: Softside luggage


Hardside vs Softside Luggage

How Your Trip Plays a Role in Your Choice

As we have seen, hardside and softside luggage is evenly matched when it comes to their respective advantages and disadvantages.

However, each type of luggage has its time in the limelight, depending on the trip that you’re going to take it on. If you’re fortunate to own both types of luggage, you can choose which type to travel with, based on the characteristics of your upcoming trip:

Trip Length

If you’re traveling for a shorter period of time and don’t need to pack as much gear, a hard-shell suitcase may be a good choice. If you’re traveling for a longer period of time or need to pack more gear, a soft-sided bag may be a better option.

Travel Conditions

If you’re traveling to a destination with rough terrain or inclement weather, a hard-sided suitcase may provide better protection for your belongings. If you’re traveling to a destination with more moderate conditions, a softside bag may be a better choice.

Type of Belongings

If you are traveling with fragile or expensive items, hard-sided luggage may offer more protection. If you are traveling with clothing and other soft items, soft-sided luggage may be more suitable.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, your decision between hardside and softside luggage will depend on your personal preference. Consider which features are most important to you and choose the option that best suits your needs.

Some of the disadvantages of each can be mitigated somewhat by preplanning. For example, if you are traveling with fragile items in softsided luggage, careful packing can decrease the chance of the items being damaged.

Personally, if I’m traveling with only one checked bag, I tend to gravitate towards soft-sided luggage. I find that its flexibility, both physically and what I can pack inside, is its most compelling feature. However, I usually travel with two checked bags, so I travel with one of each type – the best of both worlds!

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