Which suitcase is better – hard or soft?

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.



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4 thoughts on “Which suitcase is better – hard or soft?”

  1. I really love this, I barely travel but when I do I really love my hard suitcase and it fits everything I need for my trip. 

    I have mostly used carry-on and a backpack, But this post makes me want to rethink some things i do for trips. I have seen that the suitcase on wheels is super easy to get from Point A to point B and that just might someone who can’t lug around a suitcase as easy as someone else could.

    Thanks for writing this, I look forward to reading more from you.

    • Hi Rebekah, like you I am a fan of the hard suitcase which with a good lock, strap and belt, can take care of itself during the rough and tumble of travelling – especially when it lands on the arrivals carousel. I am glad that my article has given you some more ideas as to what luggage to take with you. Suitcases with wheels are great when you are running late and are racing towards your gate number. Also, you can get a bad back, if your luggage is heavy, so wheeling it around is that much easier. But like everything else, as you probably noticed in my article, the disadvantage of a wheeled suitcase is that it doesn’t work too well when you have to negotiate steps or cobbled streets. Therefore, it might be better to spread the load over two or three cases, but if you are a light traveller, which I think you are, I think you can get away with it. I am really glad you liked my article and that it has given you some more ideas when you next decide to travel.  

  2. Great job is detailing the differences between soft and hard suitcases. It sounds  like you travel a lot. Your review demonstrates your expertise in packing and travelling. I used to travel quite a bit, but since the lock-down, I’ve been working from home. However, when I do travel, I always use a hard case. One time when I was travelling to South America, upon arrival I found my soft suitcase had been slit open and everything; all my equipment, computers and monitors were gone; just my clothes were left. Since then, I strictly use a hard case with a Pathfinder lock. The other thing about travel and me, I don’t like to take a lot of clothes (I only go on location for about 5 days). I only want to travel with one suitcase and a backpack. All my equipment and support stuff go in the hard case, and my clothes and iPad go into my backpack.  I guess you can think of the backpack as a soft case, but it travels in the cabin with me. Thanks for your thorough and informative article.

    • Hi Terry, thanks for your comments. I’m a bit like you. I like to travel light and have with me a hard case. I also take a backpack which I can use when I arrive at my destination to get me around. I am sorry to hear about your bad experience travelling to South America. It is one part of the world I have yet to explore. I’ve done another article on which locks to use on suitcases and will investigate the Pathfinder one which has escaped my attention. Both hard and soft suitcases have their pros and cons which I have tried to highlight. I am glad my review has been useful and informative. There is always that problem of taking too many items of clothing or not taking enough. I like to take a few extra which I can squeeze into a hard or soft suitcase. You never know if you will spill something on your shirt – or if the weather is raining like it often does in England where I live if I am going out on a day or weekend trip – where you need to change out of your wet clothes. Lastly, there is always something that you forget to put on your list to take with you. Great to hear from you.


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