WHEN I decided to buy myself a new suitcase, the question came up: “Which suitcase is better – hard shell or soft?” The answer is that both suitcases have their pros and cons and it all really depends on what you are putting into your suitcase, how much you want to cram in, and what shelf life you expect your suitcase to have. Will it be easy to carry or move around? Does it need to be a brand name? Will it be secure? Once you have answered all those questions, like me, you will come up with the right answer. But believe me, when I’ve gone on holidays, I’ve had both, so don’t let me colour your judgement. There is no right or wrong answer.
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Don’t be hard on yourself – there is a soft option
If like me, you are a crammer, that’s trying to fit as much as you can into a suitcase, then your best option might be a soft suitcase. This is one where I have stuffed as many shirts, ties, trousers, shoes, belts as I can – and the suitcase doesn’t have that nice slim rectangular shape that a hard shell suitcase has, but looks more like an overweight dumpling. Not only is every single centimetre inside filled to the brim, but all the outside pockets are also teeming with irrelevant things that can be left at home. Let’s face it, unless you are going on an uninhabited desert island where there are no shops, half the things you are taking with you can be bought at your holiday destination, and probably much cheaper.
Zip up with a brand and a secure TSA lock
As long as you can run that long zip right across without it getting stuck, then you have achieved your goal. You’ve taken everything bar the kitchen sink and you’re as happy as Larry. Everything on your ‘take on holiday list’ has been ticked off, and like in our household, half the clothes you are taking will never be worn and will be brought back home clean. So, if you are looking to keep up with the Joneses, and need a brand name, there are plenty to consider: Pathfinder, Nicole Miller Paige, Nautica, Swiss Gear, if that is what you are after. My choice was a navy blue Samsonite Flux – Spinner XL Expandable 81cm wide by 136 length. I also invested in some name tags and vintage stickers showing the places which I have visited before to make my suitcase stand out more on the airport carousel. The icing on the cake was a Transport Security Administration (TSA) lock, which are not only secure but can be opened by security at the airport if they needed, before they let you get on your way.
Busting the weight restriction will cost you time and money
So, if there are any bad points about going soft, that’s in relation to suitcases, is that you have stuffed so much in there, that it’s hard to carry or even wheel around. And when you put it on the scales at the airport and you find out that it weighs more than the weight restriction of 50 pounds, and 62 linear inches (adding the height, width and depth together), you will be charged extra to get the case on the plane.
The life expectancy of a suitcase is around three to five years – depending on how quickly you want to change it. Whether it is a hard shell or soft, its lifespan will depend on how you look after it. I’ve got suitcases that have lasted more than a decade, but I don’t travel every other weekend. If I was retired and had more time to travel, then the chances are that the soft shell suitcases I have might tear, the zip might break, or it could quite easily be ripped apart, totally disregarding the small padlock holding it together, if someone felt that I had something worth stealing.
Battered, bruised, but strong and hard as nails
A hard shell suitcase can be quite appealing as well. I’ve had quite a few in my time. I’ve got the scratch marks and dents on the suitcase to prove it. Unless you have a soft-sided suitcase made of strong, good quality material like ballistic nylon or cordura, not the cheap polyester, then in my opinion, it’s worth going for a hard shell suitcase. These days they are made from high-tech plastics such as ABS or polycarbonate, which are good to have if you want to put something fragile into your suitcase like a bottle of wine, perfume or a delicate ceramic figurine.
Hard shell suitcase good for fragile items
Hard shell suitcases generally have a 50/50 split, allowing you to pack two sides equally, and they come with a strap to make sure the contents are held securely. There’s no chance of over-stuffing, as the suitcase has to close, and there’s no outside pockets. Hard shell suitcases are particularly popular on cruises, where they are easily stacked up.
So, is it hard shell or soft? The verdict is here
Like I said before, I take both types of suitcase with me on holiday. Anything fragile goes straight into my hard shell. This could be bottles of booze, perfumes, presents, souvenirs that I don’t want to get damaged or crushed, iPads, electronic stuff, cameras, and items of value such as jewellery. Hard shell usually have more wheels than soft luggage, so are easier to move around. Both have locks, though soft shell can be ripped open as oppose to hard shell. Also, although most cases are completely water resistant, hard shell suitcases are much easier to keep dry in snow, rain or puddles, not to mention accidents and spills. Any clothing, towels, things that you can bend, that can be squashed or squeezed, I will put in a soft-shell suitcase. Smaller items can also be put in pockets inside the soft shell, plus there are also pockets on the outside. If my soft luggage is over-sized, it is much easier to unzip and deal with getting rid of any unimportant items.
If you can’t decide on hard or soft luggage then you may want to buy a hybrid suitcase which combines the best features of both suitcases – a hard shell with a front zip pocket. Rock Hybrid is just one company that are doing just that with this cabin size suitcase featured below. But whatever luggage you decide to take, do tell me of your experiences. What will you take? What made you reach that decision? Your knowledge could help others in planning their next holiday. Your comments are welcome.