Choosing Luggage: Hard-Side Versus Soft-Side

March 15, 2012 by · 4 Comments 

When choosing a new suitcase today, it’s not just about the size, capacity, number of wheels, or TSA compliance level: You also get to decide what you want your stalwart travel companion to look like. One big decision is whether to choose a soft-side or hard-side bag. Here’s a look at both types and why you might choose one or the other.

Choosing Soft-Side Bags

Obviously, these bags boast huge flexibility. Because the tops aren’t rigid, it’s easier to squeeze them into tight spaces like crowded overhead bins, even when you’ve overpacked a little. To add to their inherent flexibility, many of TravelPro’s models even come with 2½-inch expansion capability to allow for even more packing capacity.

Their flexibility makes them durable in a different way than their hard-side counterparts. They won’t yield to pressure from being tossed onto luggage conveyers and the like, so you won’t have to worry about the occasional bag handler getting rough with it, because it can withstand many of the bumps and bruises.

Inside the bag, there are generally more opportunities for organization, from pockets to special dividers for different items you may need to pack.

Finally, as you might expect, these bags also tend to be lighter weight than their rigid counterparts because the fabric is considerably lighter than the plastic needed to build a hard-side bag, though it all depends on the other components of the suitcase, from the frame and hardware to the accessories included with it.

Choosing Hard-Side Bags

Hard-side luggage can be made from a variety of materials, including ABS plastic and highly durable polycarbonates. In many ways, their features are the same as the soft-side bags — fairly light weight, durable, designed for easy organization.

The biggest reason people buy hard-side luggage these days is to show off their individuality and personality. Many find these bags more visually exciting than the standard, business-class black roll-aboard models.

They’re available in all kinds of colors, with flashy printed patterns, solid colors or actually textured; their surfaces can come in gloss or matte finishes. Some models really stand out, reflecting how travelers see themselves as well as making their lives easier at baggage claim.

The downside to these surfaces: They can be more prone to scratches, surface blemishes and bigger structural damage, both from others handling them and from normal wear and tear, pushing them into overhead bins and more. And your belongings will usually be safer from harm inside a hard-side suitcase because they don’t flex as much. (But your best guarantee is carrying on all breakables in a separate container!)

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