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Luggage guide: Are soft-shell or hard-shell cases better?

BY Joshua Joda

27th Jun 2023 Travel Guides

6 min read

Luggage guide: Are soft-shell or hard-shell cases better?
A look at some key differences between soft and hard-shell luggage
Assuming you're looking for new lugage to replace your time-worn existing one, there are a few (maybe surprising) things to consider, from the number of wheels to material. So when it comes to decision time and you need to make a choice—do you go with soft-shell or hard-shell?
This is something that travellers may not usually think about, but the material and composition of your travel case does play a part in its longevity, how you’ll use it and how you can pack. It’s all down to the individual, so your decision will be influenced by how you travel and your own preferences.

The differences

The clearest difference is the most obvious one—one set of luggage (hard-shell) has a ridged, polycarbonate exterior, making them sturdy, durable, and naturally more damage resistant. They’re also more water resistant and can withstand the elements more effectively. Whereas soft-shell bags are made from flexible material, are lighter and tend to have a bit more room for packing extra items inside.
Generally speaking, if you’re a frequent flyer that prefers to fly with carry-on luggage to hop on and off quickly for flights, you may be using a soft-shell case already. This is because they’re lighter and can fit into tighter spaces easier–while hard-shell cases are robust and can handle the bumps and scrapes of transit and long-haul flights.
soft-shell luggage

Packing Space

Your average, well-made suitcase will have enough to fit everything you need to take for a trip, depending on the size and how long the trip is, but soft-shell cases do come with a key advantage. The inflexibility of hard-shell cases means that they’re not expandable and don’t for extra room to pack items in along the sides for example, while some may also lack inside zips and compartments. This isn’t to say all hard-shell cases aren’t expandable—as quite a few are, but not all of them. This TydeCkare carry-on is a great choice if expandability is crucial for your travels.
Importantly, if you tend to naturally overpack and feel the need to bring more items on a trip, soft-shell cases may be the better choice for you.

Mobility

A lot of cases in the modern travel industry are four-wheeled, so this applies across the board from soft to hard-shell cases. But four-wheel mobility combined with a soft-shell’s already light composition is a match made in heaven for effortlessly gliding across polished airport terminals or generally flat ground. This is where a soft-shell four-wheel case like the Samsonite spinner will be put to good use.
However, two-wheeled cases, which will also tend to be soft-shell are better for more rugged, uneven terrain and are made to be pulled primarily behind you. This is great for certain locations and environments but not ideal on trains or planes as they can’t be rolled sideways, and that makes the chances of inconveniently bumping into people more likely.

Style

More often than you may think, style and form may well influence a suitcase purchase as some people may opt for more chic look while they take to the skies. With this in mind, hard-shell cases win this category as they tend to be a bit more stylish and imaginatively designed, with arrays of colours and contours to make them stand out. The Ted Baker Belle adorned with a ribbon texture and gold handles for example.
Though this isn’t to say that soft-shell bags are completely hopeless in the aesthetic department, they will tend to look more basic in colour and overall design. If you’re after soft-shell luggage that’s a bit more stylish, you should go for this retro-looking cream Aerolite case.
Hard--shell cases

Longevity

Modern luggage of all types from a reliable and quality brand will generally last fairly long, being able to cope with travel on different terrain over the years and bumpy flights. Despite this, there is a clear winner here in hard-shell cases, as they’re easy to maintain and clean and won’t get dirty as easily as their soft-shell counterparts.
And in terms of their lifetime, they’ll tend to last longer as they’re more resistant to blunt force, wear and tear and the elements.
Hopefully this has helped give you some important information about your options, the pros and cons of both hard-shell and soft-shell cases, allowing you to navigate the luggage market with more confidence.
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