The more I explore the ins and outs of choosing luggage, the more I realize the most important distinction to make when you’re trying to pick a set is the major difference between hardside and softside luggage.
The distinction between the two is entirely self-explanatory, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole boatload of nuances to pay attention to during your search.
Softside luggage in general, refers to canvas-like or Nylon baggage that flexes under pressure. The majority of luggage is softside, and it doesn’t have the firm outside structure that hardside cases do. That being said, many people prefer the softside option over hardside cases for many different reasons.
Softside luggage is more flexible than hardside. By nature, canvas and similar materials are flexible. This means it’s much simpler for these pieces to fit into tight spaces or collapse down some to allow for extra space for other bags. Additionally, softside luggage is more likely to be expandable, like the Samsonite Lift Spinner. If you’re traveling and you know you’re going to bring back more than you left with, an expandable case can be the difference between using the same bag and having to buy a second one.
Many softside cases however, are not entirely flexible and, actually preserve the softside look despite the fact they have reinforced shells that sit just beneath the exterior fabric.
The Travelpro Maxlite Spinner I reviewed here has this feature, so the exterior is able to stand up to some substantial use despite the “soft” sides.
Another perk of softer cases is the material tends to be less likely to irreparably mark. If something gets on them, it can be wiped off with a wet towel most of the time. Plus, dings and scrapes don’t usually stick or make a difference to softcases. This is not the “case” with a lot of hardside luggage unless it’s been made to have a texture that doesn’t show blemishes.
Hardside cases on the other hand, actually come in two different styles: hardsides and hard cases.
Hardside luggage means the exterior of the case is more of a shell than anything else. The shell however, is not made to be completely solid as much as it is designed to be less likely to flex.
Hardside cases may be a more obvious option than canvas-like bags to protect contents, but there is still a fair possibility a good wallop could damage the things inside. The Rockland Melbourne 3-piece set is a great example of structured hardsides with the versatility of different external textures.
Hard cases are inflexible, solid options that don’t bend under pressure. The Samsonite Luggage Fiero is one such rugged beast! They’re usually made of polycarbonate, and they don’t offer a whole lot of external frills as far as expansion or pockets go. The shell will protect the contents of the case, so packing breakables is less of a worry.