Hard vs Soft Luggage: Which is Best for International Travel?

Hard vs Soft Luggage: Which is Best for International Travel?
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So, you've booked your dream international escapade.

Now comes the not-so-glamorous but crucial part: choosing your luggage. 

With a plethora of options out there, should you go for the sleek, sturdy hard-shell, or the versatile, expandable soft-sided luggage? This comprehensive guide will help you pick the perfect armor for your international trip.

Hard-Shell Luggage Pros: Fort Knox on Wheels


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Built for Protection

Hard-shell suitcases, crafted from polycarbonate, ABS, or aluminum, are your best bet for safeguarding fragile belongings. Whether it's a prized camera or a delicate souvenir, the hard exterior shields your contents from rough handling, bumps, and even crushing pressure.

Security Savvy

Worried about prying eyes? Hard-shell suitcases often come equipped with TSA-approved locks, offering an extra layer of security for your valuables, especially important when checking in luggage.

Keeping it Clean

Spilled something sticky on your luggage? No worries! The smooth, non-porous surface of hard-shell suitcases wipes clean easily, making them ideal for messy travel situations.

Structure and Organization

Hard-shell suitcases typically have built-in dividers and compartments, keeping your belongings neatly organized and preventing them from shifting during transit.

Glide with Ease

Most hard-shell suitcases boast spinner wheels, allowing for effortless maneuvering through airports and crowded streets.

Hard-Shell Luggage Cons


Hard vs Soft Luggage: Which is Best for International Travel?


Generally heavier than soft-sided options, hard-shell suitcases can eat into your precious baggage allowance, especially for budget airlines.

Limited Flexibility

Hard-shell cases don't offer much wiggle room when it comes to packing extra souvenirs.

Scuffs and Scratches

The hard exterior is prone to scratches and scuffs, which, while purely aesthetic, might bother some travelers.

Soft-Shell Luggage Pros: The Flexible Flyer


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Packing Prowess

Soft-sided luggage is a champion of space optimization. The expandable nature of these bags allows you to cram in those extra packing cubes or last-minute purchases without blowing out the seams.

Lightweight Champion

Soft-shell suitcases are significantly lighter than their hard-shelled counterparts, giving you more wiggle room with airline weight restrictions.

Pocket Power

Many soft-sided suitcases boast external pockets, perfect for stashing travel essentials like passports, boarding passes, or water bottles for easy access.

Easy Storage

When not in use, soft-sided luggage can be easily folded or collapsed, taking up minimal storage space in your home.

Soft-Shell Luggage Cons


Hard vs Soft Luggage: Which is Best for International Travel?


More Fragile

Soft-sided luggage offers less protection for delicate items compared to hard-shell cases.

Security Concerns

Soft-sided suitcases are generally easier to breach than their hard-shelled counterparts. Consider using TSA-approved locks for added peace of mind.

Susceptible to Stains

The fabric exterior of soft-shell suitcases can be prone to stains and tears, so be mindful of what you brush up against during your travels.




How to Choose Your Luggage


Consider Your Travel Style

Jetting off on a business trip with just a carry-on? A hard-shell might be ideal for ultimate protection. Backpacking across Europe for months? A soft-shell's flexibility and lighter weight might be more suitable.

The Importance of Contents

Are you carrying fragile electronics or sentimental items? Hard-shell provides superior security. Packing mostly clothes and everyday essentials? Soft-shell offers ample space and lighter weight.

Think Beyond the Suitcase

Do you plan on doing a lot of walking or navigating crowded public transport? Opt for a lightweight, maneuverable option.

Don't Forget Durability

Regardless of your choice, prioritize well-made luggage from a reputable brand.


hard or soft shell luggage


4 Pro Tips for Packing Perfection

  1. Packing Cubes are Your Best Friend: Utilize packing cubes to compress clothes and maximize space efficiency in both hard and soft-shell suitcases.
  2. Utilize Available Compartments: Take advantage of built-in dividers and compartments in hard-shell suitcases to keep your belongings organized and prevent them from shifting.
  3. Pack Strategically: Place heavier items at the bottom of your suitcase, regardless of type, for better weight distribution and easier handling.
  4. Invest in TSA-Approved Locks: Enhance security for both hard and soft-shell luggage with TSA-approved locks to deter tampering.

By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both hard and soft-shell luggage, and considering your travel style and needs, you can confidently choose the perfect luggage companion for your international adventure. Now, pack your bags, grab your passport and get ready to relax.

Do airlines prefer hard or soft luggage?

Airlines are completely indifferent to whether you choose hard-shell or soft-sided luggage. Their primary concern is that your luggage adheres to the size and weight restrictions for checked and carry-on baggage. So, pack with confidence in whichever type of luggage best suits your travel needs.


Do hard suitcases crack easily?

The durability of hard-shell suitcases depends on the material. Polycarbonate luggage shells are known for being strong and flexible, withstanding bumps and scrapes well. However,  ABS shells can be more brittle and prone to cracking, especially under significant pressure or extreme temperatures.

  • Polycarbonate: More resistant to cracking, absorbs impact effectively.
  • ABS: Less expensive option, but more susceptible to cracking, especially in cold weather.

To minimize the risk of cracking, choose a well-made suitcase from a reputable brand and handle it with care.


hard or soft shell luggage


Why is Hard Luggage so Popular?

Hard luggage's popularity stems from its fortress-like protection. The hard shell shields contents from rough airport handling, bumps, and even crushing pressure, ideal for fragile items. Security-conscious travelers appreciate the option of TSA-approved locks, and the easy-clean surface makes them low-maintenance. 

Hard-shell suitcases also boast built-in organization and often come equipped with spinner wheels for smooth maneuvering. While heavier and less flexible than soft-shell options, hard luggage offers peace of mind and a sleek aesthetic, making it a popular choice for many globetrotters.

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Hard or Soft Luggage for International Travel FAQs

Which is better, a hard or soft suitcase?

There's no single "better" option! It depends on your travel style and priorities. Hard-shell suitcases excel in protection and security, while soft-shell varieties offer flexibility and lighter weight. Consider your packing style, the fragility of your belongings, and how you'll be navigating during your trip.

What are the pros and cons of soft luggage?

Pros: Soft luggage is a lightweight champion, giving you more wiggle room with airline weight restrictions. It's expandable, allowing you to squeeze in those extra souvenirs, and often features external pockets for easy access to essentials. When not in use, it folds or collapses for space-saving storage.

Cons: Soft-shell suitcases offer less protection for delicate items compared to hard-shell cases. They can be more susceptible to stains, tears, and are generally easier to break into.

What is the best type of luggage to take on a plane?

The best type of luggage for air travel depends on your specific needs. For carry-on purposes, soft-sided luggage can be easier to squeeze into overhead compartments. However, if you're checking a bag and prioritize protection, a hard-shell suitcase might be better. Ultimately, both hard and soft-shell suitcases can be suitable for air travel as long as they meet the airline's size and weight restrictions.

Which type of luggage bag is best?

The "best" type of luggage bag is subjective and depends on your travel style and needs. Hard-shell suitcases provide superior protection and security for fragile items, while soft-shell varieties offer flexibility and lighter weight. Consider your packing habits, the type of items you'll be bringing, and how you'll be getting around during your trip to make the best choice.

Does hard shell luggage prevent bed bugs?

Hard-shell suitcases can be helpful in deterring bed bugs from entering your luggage, but they're not a foolproof solution. Bed bugs can hide in very small crevices and can potentially crawl onto your luggage during travel. The best way to prevent bed bugs is to be vigilant during your stay and inspect your luggage regularly.

Is it safe to check in soft luggage?

Yes, checking in soft luggage is perfectly safe. Airlines handle millions of pieces of soft-shell luggage every day. However, soft luggage does offer less protection than hard-shell varieties. If you're concerned about fragile items, consider packing them in your carry-on or using extra padding within your checked soft-shell suitcase.

What is the easiest luggage to travel with?

The easiest luggage to travel with depends on your priorities. Soft-shell suitcases are generally lighter and can be more comfortable to carry, especially when full. Hard-shell suitcases with spinner wheels offer effortless maneuverability. Consider how much walking you'll be doing and how important weight is to you when making your decision.

Is Swiss Gear good luggage?

Swiss Gear offers a variety of luggage options at different price points. Some reviewers find their suitcases to be good value for the price, while others may prefer higher-end brands for extended travel or heavy use. Researching online reviews and considering your needs will help you decide if Swiss Gear is a good fit for you.

What type of suitcase not to use?

Any suitcase that is in poor condition or doesn't meet the size and weight restrictions of your airline should not be used. Avoid suitcases with broken zippers, wheels, or protruding elements that could snag during transport. Also, steer clear of suitcases exceeding the airline's limitations to avoid excess baggage fees.

What size checked luggage is best?

The best size for checked luggage depends on the length of your trip and how much you plan to pack. A medium-sized checked suitcase (around 26-28 inches) is a versatile option for many travelers. For longer trips or those who tend to pack a lot, a large checked suitcase (around 28-32 inches) might be necessary. Always double-check the airline's size restrictions before booking your flight.

What are the pros and cons of hard suitcases?

Pros: Hard-shell suitcases offer superior protection for your belongings, especially from bumps, drops, and crushing pressure. Many come equipped with TSA-approved locks for added security. The smooth surface is easy to clean and often features built-in dividers for organization. Hard-shell suitcases with spinner wheels provide effortless maneuvering.

Cons: Hard-shell suitcases can be heavier than soft-shell options, reducing your allowance for clothes and souvenirs. They generally don't offer much wiggle room for overpacking, and the hard exterior can be prone to scratches and scuffs.

What is the best way to pack a hard shell suitcase?

Here are some tips for maximizing space and keeping your belongings organized in a hard-shell suitcase:

  • Utilize packing cubes: Divide your clothes into categories (shirts, pants, undergarments) and pack them into separate packing cubes. This compresses your clothing and keeps things organized.
  • Embrace the roll: Rolling clothes instead of folding them can save space and minimize wrinkles.
  • Pack strategically: Place heavier items like shoes and toiletries in the bottom half of the suitcase for better weight distribution and easier handling.
  • Use empty spaces: Fill in any gaps with socks, rolled belts, or other soft items to prevent contents from shifting during travel.
  • Maximize compartments: Take advantage of built-in dividers and compartments to separate different categories of clothing or toiletries.

How do you protect soft shell luggage?

While soft-shell luggage offers many benefits, it can be more susceptible to damage during travel. Here are some ways to protect your soft-shell suitcase:

  • Invest in a luggage cover: A luggage cover can shield your suitcase from dirt, scratches, and minor scrapes.
  • Wrap fragile items: If you're packing any delicate items within your soft-shell luggage, wrap them in clothes or padding for additional protection.
  • Be mindful of what you pack: Avoid packing sharp objects or heavy items that could puncture or tear the fabric.
  • Pack strategically: Place heavier items towards the center of the suitcase to distribute weight evenly and reduce strain on the zippers.
  • Hand-wash if needed: Many soft-shell suitcases can be spot-cleaned or hand-washed with mild detergent if they get dirty.

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Hannah Palermo

With over a decade in fashion editing and product reviews, Hannah is a seasoned expert in travel accessories and luggage. She's a fashion buff who's traveled America and Asia, and has a taste for finding items made to last. Her keen style sense and fresh perspective help readers to find the perfect travel gear.