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Our guide to the best hard-shell and hard-side suitcases has been updated with four additional picks for 2016.
In the good old days of train travel a gentleman would have a cavalcade of steamer trunks in tow, housing all manner of wardrobe, knick knacks, accoutrement and what-have-yous. There are some things to keep in mind about hard-shells (or hard-sides depending on your vernacular.
Best Hard-Shell for Those Prone to Lose Luggage: For Tumi’s Tegra-Lite line, they gained exclusive access to a polypropylene thermoplastic composite material called Tegris (they’re the only travel company that has access). Best Hard-Shell for Quick Strips: The inability to quickly access items is one of the biggest drawbacks of most hard-shell carry-ons, as grabbing anything packed inside entails unzipping the main compartment and cracking it open.
Best Hard-Shell for Standing Out: Flight 001 have made a name for themselves with their useful yet playfully designed line of travel accessories. Best Hard-Shell for Not Breaking Anything: Pelican’s reputation for durability is legendary. Best Hard-Shell for Not Lifting a Finger: Air is in the name of this suitcase for a reason. Best Hard-Shell For Bragging: The least expensive suitcase on this list is also an award-winner.
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Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. Because they're nicer to lug around than something with sharp edges, can always expand in a pinch -- magic zippers for extra space rock -- and are pretty close to unbreakable. For things that shouldn't get squished, like my scuba gear, I used an ancient Samsonite plastic hardcase, which suffered many a hard knock over the years and finally gave up the ghost when the lock broke. At $1000+ a pop here in Oz those are way out my target price range, but everybody's now making copies and eg. In my experience, the quality of the workmanship seems much more important than which type of sides your suitcase has in regards to its ability to protect its contents. Certainly, there are other features to consider, like whether the suitcase has dividers and zippers to keep clothes separated or organized, or expansion zippers to add space for unexpected souvenirs. Weight is definitely a consideration, the heavier the suitcase, the less weight left for luggage and the heavier it is lugging it up and down stairs to your lodging, etc. The type of items you describe needing to transport, the protection provided by a regular rollerbag is probably sufficient, and you don't have the excess weight of a totally hard-sided luggage, and as you said, quite versatile! PS: perhaps this question would have been better framed as an exhaustive list of the pros and cons of getting hard sided luggage vs a roller bag? Until recently I would fly up to twice a week to various countries and had the travel luggage down to a fine art - and I always go for a soft case with a handle and wheels - remarkably like the one in your picture. The only thing that seems to go on them is the zip, so I would replace the case every 18 months to 2 years, but as they are very cheap this was not a problem. In general hard side suitcases weigh more then the soft side so if you carry a lot of weight an extra kilo or 2 of suitcase is important. One more consideration is security and theft if your suitcase is one of the unlucky to be open hard sides with their built in locks may not survive this event at all. The only challenge is that many canvas suitcases tend to not have TSA locks because they're at the cheaper end of the price scale. I also have a lightweight (not polycarbonate) and sturdy Caterpillar brand 4-wheeler with a TSA lock.
Not the answer you're looking for?Browse other questions tagged luggage or ask your own question. There are many different types of travel luggage, but one of the most important features is whether the luggage is soft or hard. Hard luggage is now made out of sturdy yet lightweight materials; however, hard luggage is much heavier than soft luggage of the same size. Most airlines only allow 44-50 pounds (20-23 kilograms) of checked luggage and charge for any amount over this. The durability of luggage varies drastically depending on the material it is made out of and its construction.
Hard luggage is less likely to get scratched than soft luggage, but once it does get scratched, it is more noticeable.
If rolling, hard luggage gets dented, it can affect the way that the wheels roll or even prevent the luggage from closing properly.
Air travelers should note that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has guidelines about locked luggage. When it comes to accessibility of luggage contents, soft luggage prevails over hard luggage. Hard luggage is easier to clean than soft luggage simply because it can be wiped down with a damp cloth. Soft luggage does not always have wheels but, because it is lighter than hard luggage, it can be easier to lift.
Many factors can affect the price of luggage, including the brand name, size, material it is made of, style, and extra features. The features of hard luggage are combined with those of soft luggage when purchasing hybrid luggage. These combinations mean that the luggage offers more protection against impact while still being lightweight and providing the traveler with features like expandability and exterior pockets.
The process of buying luggage can be confusing because there are so many different factors which can affect the suitability of the luggage for travel, the durability of the luggage, and the price of the luggage.

Your choice of luggage depends on numerous factors, such as personal preferences and mode of travel. Durability is a common concern for travelers, especially considering most people travel with laptops, iPads, cameras, and other delicate electronics. The same is true for keeping the luggage clean, which is a huge perk for anyone who has been stuck carrying a muddy, smelly suitcase from city to city (or country to country).
LuggageX, a newcomer from the UK, has proven itself as both practically indestructible as well as inexpensive. Hard shell luggage pieces have been known to crack and fall apart more easily than softer cases. Traveler’s Choice hard shell suitcases are made of the revolutionary polycarbonate ABS, which will be less likely to crack or scratch during travel. Travelers who plan to do some shopping along the way may find it more difficult to fit extra items into hard shell luggage. If you want soft luggage that can fit into an overhead bin, one option is the Samsonite Luggage Hyperspace Spinner. Hard shell luggage tends to be easier to handle in airports or train stations since most have four wheels rather than two.
Different colors and patterns are more common with hard cases, making them easier to spot among the dozens of black bags that come bouncing onto the baggage carousel.
But whatever your criteria, there’s a lot of buying advice packed into this guide, so read on.
As the name implies, the Spectra 2.0 Dual-Access solves this problem by way of a separate quick-access front panel, which features a series of organizational pockets on the inside.
They’re trusted by the military, law enforcement agencies and Hollywood to store and transport all manner of precious cargo. The popular brand is a favorite among the jet set, as their hallmark is reliable, functional travel equipment. Antler's "Liquis" goes for $300 or so, which is a bit more that I'd like to pay but not entirely out of the question -- if it really is worth it. You'll want strong sturdy zippers with big teeth that won't break easily, nice thick fabric that won't rip easily or sturdy solid sides that can handle impacts without breaking, sturdy pulls on the zippers, wheels that glide easily, handle that telescopes easily, etc. If you're anticipating transporting your scuba gear in this suitcase regularly, I'd probably pick differently because my primary considerations would be different. I find 4-wheelers to be more useful than 2 because you can simply roll the suitcase along (rather than pull) when heavy. You'll have the support, protection, and durability of a regular hardshell case with the flexibility and easy-to-reach compartments of a soft-side. Soft luggage is typically made of high-denier nylon or other durable material-like leather.
A typical 29" hard-shell suitcase will weigh at least 15 pounds, whereas a typical soft-sided suitcase of the same size will weigh just about half of that weight. Hard luggage offers better security because a thief could simply cut through soft luggage to get at the contents inside.
Airport security officials have the right to open locked luggage, even if it means breaking the lock in the process. Soft luggage usually has outside pockets where travelers can put items they need quick access to or where they can stuff last-minute items. This can be very useful when the luggage needs to be transported through tight spaces like when traveling by train. So long as the contents are well packed, the rigid exterior of the hard luggage will keep fragile items inside the luggage from getting nicked or broken. In general though, a piece of high-quality hard luggage is going to cost more than a similarly sized piece of high-quality soft luggage.
Make sure that the luggage will be able to carry all of your travel items and can also fit in your means of travel (air, car, etc.). Extra features, like locks and expandability, will typically cost extra but may be worth the additional expense. You can browse through hard and soft luggage by going to the Travel page and then selecting Luggage. By educating yourself about the differences between soft and hard luggage and the options available, you can be sure to get the best luggage for your needs. During a durability test, its suitcase was one of the few that survived being crushed by a Prius.
Although many hard cases, especially those made from polycarbonate, are expandable, soft luggage can still stretch more around the edges.
Although it is possible to find soft luggage with four wheels, it is less common, whereas it is a standard feature for the hard shells. Rockland is one brand whose suitcases feature 360-degree turning spinner wheels, which, combined with the lightweight design, make traveling a little bit easier.
Soft cases do come in various colors, however, colored luggage tends to get dirty after a few trips, and general wear and tear is easy to see. Personalized luggage tags, ribbons, stickers, or even duct tape can help your bag stand out and remain easy to spot. Having an extra blanket, pacifiers, a favorite toy, or extra clothes in an outside pocket is a nice alternative to jamming extra supplies into a full diaper bag. All cases are also equipped with an integrated TSA combination lock for less hassle during U.S.
Also, hard shells do tend to show wear and tear more easily than ballistic nylon — scratches and dents are more apparent on their smooth finishes. There’s also an electronics pouch on the other side that separates the bag’s main compartment from the outside world.
Since it’s only available in a patriotic array of red, white and blue, there’s no way you’ll miss it at baggage claim. Their new Elite luggage line marks a major push by the company to break into the consumer market. The secret lies in a combination of polycarbonate materials and Zero Halliburton’s so-called geometric X-Rib pattern, which provides incredible durability with minimal bulk. When we say this is an elite purchase, we mean it: the design and construction process is patented. But we all know that if you had the money you’d probably have a sleek, all-aluminum cruiser in your garage too.

Hard luggage is made from a sturdy material such as polypropylene, polycarbonate, or aluminum.
By contrast, hard luggage must be completely opened in order to get to the contents or add extra items.
Most hard luggage is also waterproof and will protect contents against the elements like rain or snow. Hard-sided luggage does tend to last longer than soft luggage, so the cost ends up about the same in the long run.
Frequent travelers may find it in their best interest to pay more for quality luggage rather than buy cheap luggage which might need to be replaced often. For hard luggage, look for luggage made from polycarbonate, since this is the strongest material yet still very light. From there, you can narrow down results by doing a keyword search or by using the filters to refine results by New Luggage, Used Luggage, and price. Price points for both soft and hard shell luggage can vary greatly, so it’s important to identify your needs before making a big purchase. Though most cases are not considered completely water resistant, hard shell luggage is much easier to keep dry in rain, snow, or puddles, and it provides better protection against general spills and accidents.
If you plan to travel in the winter, or to more rugged locations, you may be better off with hard shell luggage.
Many pieces are currently made with polycarbonate, a softer material that actually flexes a little bit to absorb impact when dropped or thrown onto hard surfaces. Soft luggage is also easier to manipulate into small spaces, such as overhead bins or luggage racks on buses, whereas hard cases really compete with other bags.
It makes maneuvering cases much easier and, since they tend to utilize 360 degree wheels, it’s harder to flip, drag, or lose the balance on heavy bags. You can reach for things you’d like to keep handy, but may not need in your carry-on, such as a change of clothes, toiletries, a sweater, or an extra book. The case is expandable for up to 2” extra capacity, it’s airline carry-on approved, and features enough interior pockets and brackets and dividers to keep all your luxury wares safely in place.
If a buyer prefers, the electronics pouch can be removed, giving direct access to the bag’s interior without splitting open the bag. Like the company’s iconic silver briefcase seen in countless mafia and military flicks, the Air II’s unique construction gives off a distinctly modern vibe that’s only enhanced with flashy blue and silver colorways.
The main compartment of this case can expand by two inches all around, adding copious valuable space for all your sweaters (seriously, just bring one).
The 10-year limited warranty is enticing enough, but the svelte good looks, multiple glossy finishes and price point make this one quite hard to pass up. This Rimowa is a sleek, aluminum-magnesium alloy cruiser, constructed to withstand temperature and humidity fluctuations that are common to tropical climes.
Depending on what you are carrying, if the suitcase is flimsier, you will lose less weight of baggage allowance, but the innards will be less protected. Both hard and soft luggage have features which make them each more appropriate for certain situations. This is especially true if the hard luggage is not completely full and something heavy is stacked on top of it.
Another favorable point about soft luggage is that it is easier to fit into overhead airplane compartments, whereas hard, carry-on luggage might not fit in these compartments.
However, collapsible, soft luggage has the advantage of taking up less space when in storage. When buying luggage on eBay, always be sure to buy from a reputable seller so you can feel confident that you will have a good shopping experience. This is a huge perk for those who need to get to multiple flights or have heavy items in their luggage. We’re pleased to introduce to you the best hard shell suitcases we would find, each a convergence of all the necessary requirements, each unique in its own way. It earned a prestigious Red Dot for its smart design as well as a nod from Travel + Leisure as the best luggage of 2014. The two external zipper pulls conveniently stick into the TSA combination lock while a series of internal pockets, including a detachable luggage hanger, keeps everything in its place. Like nearly every other bag on this list, a TSA-approved lock is integrated into the frame if you’d rather not handcuff it to your wrist. The split case construction with divider panel keeps everything inside organized, and a wet pocket keeps things dry (why isn’t it called a dry pocket?).
But, though it may be ironic to pay more for less, this case weighs in at an impressive 5 pounds (okay, 4.9), which is far lighter than any others on our list. How much protection you need clearly varies considerably by what you pack and how you pack it. Many of these bags are also expandable so if you buy stuff on your trip you have some built in wiggle room.
With hard luggage, the amount of items which can be packed is limited by the dimensions of the luggage. These locks can be easily opened by airport security with a master key so the lock and luggage is not destroyed. Since luggage often undergoes intensive abuse and wear during travel, the possibility exists that it might not be a good idea to pay a high price for designer brands of luggage. Polycarbonate luggage is scratch resistant and lighter than plastic or aluminum cases, and can be even lighter than some soft luggage. Simply register the unique code affixed permanently to your suitcase and Tumi will assist in tracking and identifying your stuff should it be found rolling behind someone who’s not you.
These features definitely come at a premium price, especially for the space, but the ability to leave a separate backpack or laptop case at home will be worth it to many. Custom ball bearing wheels, recessed carry handles on all sides and a TSA-approved combination lock top off this Fort Knox of the skies, making it the perfect solution for those who value security above all else.
Many canvas-like rollerbags have stiff sides on 2-5 of the six sides, so you could pack your more delicate items nearer to the stiff sides, and put more clothes closer to the softer side for adequate protection. In order to enhance GTO's great looks while protecting the beautiful shine of the surface and adding further strength, EPIC equipped this case with their strikingly unique Hexacore™ outer surface.

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