The hard-sided vs. soft-sided luggage debate has been long standing throughout the travel world. While the travel industry certainly seems to have strayed toward soft-sided luggage, there is still a good proportion of hard sided luggage users out there. Most simply prefer the durability of a hard plastic shell, as well as the reassurance of knowing their fragile items are going to stay safe and sound. I’m going to take a more in-depth look at both sides and see if we can conclude which is truly the superior luggage.
Hard Sided Luggage – If there was ever one compelling stat to convince me that I should buy hard luggage, it is this: Airline baggage handlers either damage or break 7.34 out of every 1000 pieces of luggage they handle. Now, that is less than 1%, but it still doesn’t sound like a risk I want to take. Additionally, hard-sided luggage is stain resistant and waterproof as well. Because of all these durability factors, if you often travel with expensive electronics or fragile items, a hard sided suitcase is really the only surefire way to protect your things. However, really hard hits or drops can, in fact, crack the siding. Unfortunately, once this happens the suitcase is ruined. Additionally, hard sided suitcases are not as “packing friendly” as their soft sided counterparts. What I mean is, hard sided suitcases are not as flexible, and therefore give you more limited packing space. While you may be able to stuff that extra beach towel into your soft luggage, hard sided luggage is not so forgiving. The most common misconception about hard sided luggage is that it weights more than its soft sided counter parts. While this may be true if you compare it to a duffel bag, the reality is that with such advanced polymers and plastics, soft and hard sided luggage weight relatively the same amount. That is good news now that airlines are charging between $15 and $25 a bag.
Soft Sided Luggage – Soft sided luggage appears to be the clear favorite coming into this debate. The selection for soft sided luggage far outweighs that of hard sided luggage. So if you are looking for a certain style, soft sided may be a better choice. Soft sided luggage is also much more “packing friendly” in two ways. One, like I said in the hard sided section, it offer more packing flexibility, so you can cram more stuff into little nooks and crannies. Secondly, soft sided suitcases usually offer a number of different pockets and compartments. This help to keep things organized. Also, soft sided luggage cannot break in the sense of cracking or shattering. It will absorb impact far better than its hard sided counter parts. However, it does not protect its content as well. Also, soft sided luggage can be prone to rips and broken zippers. Over long periods of time, soft sided luggage will also show its age faster. This is due to its ability to pickup stains and dirt.
The Verdict – Although everyone has their own opinions, I think that for most recreational travelers, soft sided luggage is still the winner. Its versatility and “packing friendliness” make it the best option for most travelers. However, if you would consider yourself a professional traveler, or travel with fragile items, then hard sided luggage is more appropriate due to its longevity and durability.