Whether you’re leaving town for the weekend, or catching a jet across the world to another continent for an international trip, there’s always a need for a good set of luggage. After all, while accommodations, traveling methods, and sightseeing are often crucial aspects of any trip, getting your belongings to and from your destination is just as important — regardless of where you go.
When it comes to luggage, we now have more choices than ever in terms of sizing, styles, features, and more. Although luggage technology and designs have evolved over time, the main choices are still rather simple: softside or hardside luggage?
The answer to this may very well depend on who you ask, as each type has its place in the world of travel. With that said, hardside luggage has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years, as many continue to realize the numerous advantages it can provide in comparison to luggage made with softer materials.
Have you ever seen someone at the airport or bus station rolling hard shell luggage across the ground, and wondered why anyone would opt for a larger, more rigid version over softer luggage? You’re not alone.
Below, we’ll get you up to speed on all the essential information you need to know about hard case luggage, including how it works, what it’s typically made of, and the potential advantages you can get from using it.
What is Hardside Luggage?
Before going into all the various aspects and features of hardside luggage, it’s best to first define what it even is.
As you probably guessed by the name, hardside luggage is any luggage with a hard outer shell. This is of course a very obvious difference from soft luggage, which is made of various fabrics, similar to what you’d find with a backpack.
With hard luggage, the shell is made from either plastic or metal, and forms a protective shell around the contents inside. The luggage can use either zippers or latches to open and close, and almost always uses a hinge system to open in the middle, rather than just zipping open the main compartment to access the insides as you would with softside luggage.
Hard luggage cases are packed differently from softside versions as well. With softside luggage, the bags are usually packed from the top down by stacking your clothing and items on top of each other. When packing hard cases, you typically split your belongings on each side, and then use straps to hold each side down so your items don’t get thrown around and fall out inside during transport.
The design and stature of hard luggage almost always results in four wheels on the bottom, allowing you to navigate it through turns and around corners easier. This is commonly referred to as “spinner” luggage, which is essentially another name for hardside luggage.
The end result is a very mobile, rugged, and stable set of luggage that always maintains its exact shape, and is easy to navigate on normal surfaces. These aspects offer you everything needed for a reliable set of luggage that can support your travels for years to come.
What Are the Advantages of Using Hardside Luggage?
Using a hardshell suitcase can give you several unique advantages when traveling, making your journeys easier and more convenient in a number of functional ways.
One obvious advantage to using hardside luggage is the enhanced durability it provides. Unlike softside luggage, the outer shell of hardside luggage cannot rip, tear, or be cut.
Luggage often takes quite a beating regardless of where or how you travel — especially when on a cruise or traversing via airplane. The luggage gets thrown around, stacked on other bags, and handled in a rough manner, which can sometimes prove too much for fabric on softbags over time.
Although some hardside luggage can get scuffed and scratched over the years, you won’t have to worry about ripping your bag in the middle of a trip or while at the airport. The incredibly durable outer shell will hold up for countless trips.
Another key advantage of hardside luggage is the increased security. Softside bags can easily be broken into in most cases, even if you use a lock on the zippers. In most cases, a would-be thief can simply cut the bag open with a knife, or just unzip it and go through your belongings.
Hardside luggage provides you with enhanced security, since the tough outer shell can’t be cut open or ripped. When used with locks, you can have increased peace of mind that comes from knowing your belongings are full protected inside.
Do you have the tendency to overpack, and stuff your luggage with as much clothing as possible? This is much easier to do when using softside luggage, since the flexible outer layer provides some give when filling up all the space inside.
It’s safe to say that most of us at some point have crammed a ton of clothing into our luggage, and then attempted to smash everything down while furiously trying to get the zipper to close. Although this may prove successful, you’re asking for a bag full of wrinkled clothes, and possibly a broken zipper at some point, which makes your luggage useless.
Hardside luggage cannot be crammed full of stuff; the room you have is what you get. This can force overpackers to be more wise about what they choose to bring, which can not only make your trip easier, but keep your clothing neat and organized, and avoid the dreaded busted zipper down the road.
Easy to Clean
Luggage can go through a lot during your various trips, and that includes encountering messes along the way, whether that’s from the occasional spilled drink, or some type of accident caused by someone else.
When using softside luggage, the material on the inside and outside tends to absorb messes, leading to odors and stains over time. This also makes it difficult to clean the luggage.
The material used with hardside luggage allows for easy cleaning no matter what happens. In most cases, the outer shell of the luggage prevents the inside from getting messy in the first place, but even if a mess finds its way inside for whatever reason, you can almost always clean it up with a damp rag.
One of the more underrated advantages of hardside luggage is the consistent sizing it provides. If you’re traveling on airplanes, you know all about the size restrictions in regards to both carry-on and checked baggage. Sofetisde luggage has a general size, but overstuffing it can alter the dimensions and potentially land you in trouble.
Hardside luggage cannot flex, bend, or expand, so you always know exactly what size your luggage will be, sparing you from potential inconvenient issues and extra fees.
Protects the Contents Inside
The enhanced protection of your belongings is one of the best benefits hardside luggage offers. Softside bags do provide some level of protection—some much more than others—but they cannot come close to the security of hardside versions.
While it’s true that any luggage owner wants their stuff inside protected, if you’re bringing back breakables from your trip, or transporting things like wine, olive oil, and other glass containers, you’re leaving the entire contents of your luggage at risk if something goes wrong.
As we all know, luggage takes a beating during your travels, and one wrong toss, smash, or impact could break what’s inside. If you’re using hardside luggage, and have your items properly secured inside, this is something you’ll never have to worry about.
Are There Disadvantages to Using Hardside Luggage?
Hardside luggage certainly offers a ton of benefits, but there are some potential drawbacks to keep in mind.
The primary complaint you’ll often hear with hardside luggage is the overall weight. This is a fair observation, since the material needed to make the luggage is definitely going to weight more than fabric and canvas used to make softside luggage.
This not only makes the luggage more difficult to haul around for some people, it can also make it more expensive to travel with if your airline charges by weight on checked baggage. Fortunately, this is becoming less of an issue as more airliners abandon this policy, but some still practice it.
In regards to the handling aspect, the bag may be a little harder to pick up and carry when needed, but also keep in mind that the vast majority of hardside luggage products use a swiveled four-wheel design that allows you to easily push or pull the bag on flat surfaces.
Lack of Flexibility
If you've flown on an airplane before, you’ve likely smashed your oversized carry-on bag into the bin overhead. Sure, the bag was likely bigger than the allowed dimensions, but if you’re using a softside luggage for your carry-on, you can always cram it down a bit more to fit.
The same is true when packing luggage in your car for a trip, or really just any other time you need to cram your luggage to save some space.
Hardside luggage doesn’t provide such luxuries — what you have is what you get, size-wise.
Fortunately, you can sidestep this with just a small amount of proper planning, and purchasing multiple sizes of luggage so you have more options.
Lack of Pockets
One of the key advantages of softside luggage is the multiple pockets on the outside. This allows you to separate certain items from the inside, stay more organized, and also allow quick access to certain items on the outside without the need to open the entire bag.
The vast majority of hardside luggage products don’t have pockets or compartments on the outside, which can add a small amount of inconvenience for some.
Needs More Space to Open
With softside luggage, you can typically open the bag from the top, and easily swing the top flap or section open to access your stuff inside. This means you can sit the luggage down in one spot, and easily get to your clothing and belongings from the top.
Hardside luggage has what’s commonly referred to as a “clam opening” which basically means you have to open the entire shell evenly from the middle, which does require a lot more space. This can be overcome by unpacking your essentials and clothing when you arrive to your location, or simply moving the luggage to a larger space that gives you the room needed to open it.
Common Hardside Luggage Materials
The vast majority of hardside luggage products use any number of four core materials to make the outer shell.
Most of the early versions of hardside luggage were made from aluminium, and it remains a popular material today. Aluminum offers a very chic aesthetic, and won’t rust, which is why it’s practically the only metal casing used for luggage.
While aluminum does have several advantages, it does weigh a little more than other material options, and is often the most expensive.
Polycarbonate is arguably the most popular material choice for hardside luggage, mainly because of its added durability, flexibility, and ability to provide just enough give to fit into cramped spaces when needed.
Polypropylene is an incredibly resilient material that can withstand a ton of punishment and show zero effects. It’s not as flexible as polycarbonate, but it is the lightest choice of material, often resulting in luggage just as light as soft sided versions.
ABS plastic is often used on more inexpensive hardside luggage products. This isn’t to say it can’t withstand a good amount of wear and tear, just don’t expect the same resiliency as other materials. On the plus side, ABS is one of the lightest materials available.
Features of Hardside Luggage
One thing to keep in mind though: Many luggage manufacturers will assure you that their sizes are certified for checked baggage or carry-on sizing regulations, but it’s always crucial to double check with the airliner prior to traveling to make sure your luggage will pass. Some companies have different sizing policies — an issue you don’t want to encounter at the last moment.
Extendable handles often come with hardside luggage, which makes manuerving easier. Smartly-designed hardside luggage will have an extendable handle that disappears into the case itself, protecting the handle from damage when not in use.
High-quality hardside luggage will offer several different compartments for larger clothing items, toiletries, and easy access to things like phone chargers and tablets.
Larger wheels are easier to control, and have a better time dealing with various inclines and terrain types. The majority of hardside luggage use spinner wheels, which means the luggage can turn on its own, negotiating curves and corners with easy steering. Some products also come with brakes, preventing the luggage from rolling away from you on inclines.
Keep in mind that TSA will always check your baggage before a flight, so it’s best to use TSA-approved locks on your baggage, which allows TSA employees to use a master key to quickly open your lock for inspection, rather than break and discard the lock.
If you choose to use non-TSA locks, there’s a good chance they won’t be on your luggage when you get it back at baggage claim.
This feature gives users much more versatility on what they can bring or how much they pack, heping counteract one of the main drawbacks of hardside luggage for most.
Many finishes are now scratch-resistant as well, helping the baggage to maintain a newer, cleaner appearance for longer periods.
This is even more beneficial if you plan on transporting breakable items that may be prone to damage if the move inside the luggage during transport. Hardside luggage with ample interior padding will protect any items from damage caused by impact or movement.
Hardside vs. Softside Luggage: Which is Better?
There is a common and ongoing debate as to whether hardside or softside luggage is better — a debate unlikely to end anytime soon.
Both types of luggage have their benefits and drawbacks, so for some it’s merely a matter of preference in regards to travel style, length of trip, or the items you plan on bringing.
With that said, hardside luggage has more advantages, and offers more conveniences. This is even more true if you are going on an extended trip, traveling via airplane, or require a higher level of security for your belongings.
Softside baggage may often be the better choice for an overnight trip in most cases. However, if you want better organization, better durability, easier cleanliness, better protection for your items, and a better way to keep would-be thieves out of your stuff, a set of hardside luggage will always be the better choice.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding as to what hardside luggage is, and why it’s quickly becoming the go-to choice for travelers of all types around the world. Improvements in technology and design have led to better products in recent years, and also more affordable pricing.
Are you in the market for a new set of hardside luggage? Be sure to check out our in-depth hardside luggage buying guide, which highlights a selection of the bet hardside luggage choices on the market, with plenty of variance among designs and price points. Plus, we’ve thrown in some advice on how to choose the best set of luggage for your needs.