Video: Hard Shell vs. Soft Carry On Luggage (In-Depth Buyer's Guide)


  • I go international trip 5-7 times a year, good hardshell luggage carry on is better. Even if its not full some of your chocolates or special bread wont get smooshed.

  • Thanks great info. I've used both and I prefer the hardside. I almost never open my carry on inflight, it remains in the overhead. If I have to check it, I'm more confident it will hold up better than softside. I don't mind scuffs, I actually welcome them to give my bag a well-travelled patina. When I think back to softsides I've owned, it's like dumping everything into a deep canvas bag. What you are looking for is always at the bottom. Hardside had the two sides so if you are rummaging through it to find your nail clippers you don't have to empty the entire case find them.

  • I don't fly very often, at least not yet, but EVERY TIME I've flown I've had to stuff my soft sided carry on into the over head bin. Had I had a hard shell it wouldn't have fit. So soft sided for me.

  • I have a Ricaro polycarbonate carry on bag that has been my solo travel bag, including one trip to Europe for a month with everything I took in that one bag. I occasionally lubricate the wheels so they roll VERY easy and recommend all your folks do thye same. But the best feature is the almost impossible to damage material. Last summer, we were at a train station with no elevator to take down to the transfer corridor. I just put the handle back into the bag, put it on it's flat side and shoved it down the stairs (on the flat side). It slid down the stairs to the bottom, and was fine, all contents safe. You can't do that with soft side luggage. I can also throw it off the train if it's too hard to carry down steps, etc. It's six years old, still looks and works like new. Also, it's red, makes it a LOT easier to spot in a pile or conveyor belt of luggage.

  • As a baggage handler at the airport, please do yourself a favor and get hard sided, 4-wheeled rollers. The soft sided ones often have multiple pockets that jut out and get caught on other luggage. The pockets tend to open up if not locked. Also, hard sided stack neater and glide/slide easier over bags as they are loaded and unloaded into/out of the cargo pits & bag carts.

  • I’m definitely a depends person between the two. For carry-on, I go with soft-sided as they are very flexible and the multiple pockets are good for packing. For checked luggage, I go with hard-side, specifically polycarbonate. I don’t need those extra pockets and the hard shell protects the contents well during the rough handling by both man and machine.

  • Bucket! After traveling for 6 years with hard sided luggage, I switched a year ago to good quality soft sided luggage (Travelpro Platinum Elite) and I'm much happier with the additional flexibility, the extra pockets, and even the occasional use of the expansion zipper when I'm coming back with a few more things than I left with. The extra flexibility allowed me to make several trips with only my backpack and carry-on, something I greatly appreciated. Also, the bucket style is so much nicer to use in the hotel room. When I had the hard sided luggage, the clam shell design often meant I had to put it on the floor because it took up so much more horizontal space when opened up. I would love to see a comprehensive comparison of soft sided luggage.

  • I like a heavy duty expandable duffle bag I have used for years. I only ever have a small amount of fragile items that I will usually carry with me in a backpack. Only clothing and maybe a pair of shoes in the duffel, so no concerns about rough handling. Sturdy shoulder strap means I can walk anywhere with it.

  • One advantage of hard-sided luggage is that it is more secured and don't have pockets which allow people to drop drugs or bullets into it. In many developing world countries, there are such scams going on where unwitting tourists become drug mules for drug gangs as they dropped drugs into side pockets of luggages and then pick them up later. In some countries, having illegal drugs in your possession, whether knowingly or not, incurs an automatic death sentence penalty. In some countries, the customs and baggage handlers will place drugs or bullets in your luggage and the officers will 'suddenly' discover them, and you will be 'persuaded' to bribe them.

  • I think soft sided is probably a little better. If your hardcase is just slightly too large then it is more difficult to compress to the overhead bin. I have also found that hard cases tend to fail at the zipper stitch in the corners where the bag repeatedly gets bumped.

  • One thing to add: Soft shell luggage absorbs moisture so your bag will “weigh more” if you are coming back from a country that is humid. And who needs that after you have bought souvenirs!

  • Hard sided suitcases are HORRIBLE when the zipper is along the middle, making the 2 halves of equal depth, like a clam shell. When you open the bag in your hotel room, the top half is very heavy. They are extremely difficult to pack as the items in the top half fall down when you lift that half up, to open the suitcase. It is also very difficult to access the items in the top half. Avoid them.

  • My opinion about luggage is that I carry-on soft, check hard. Soft usually has the pockets which is great while you are at the airport. I don’t consider security or it’s contents a concern as it is with you all the time.
    The hard sides are excellent for durability, especially vs rough baggage handlers.

  • For carry-on luggage it may not matter as much as it is not subjected to lots of abuse by baggage handlers. But checked – in luggage needs to be tough. There is hardshell and there is hardshell. Check out and compare ABS, aluminum, polycarbonate, polypropylene. I prefer polypropylene. And is it only me, or is anyone else concerned about TSA locks? Is our TSA-locked baggage at the mercy of corrupt and dishonest customs officers or baggage handlers in many a country? And many such combination locks can be snapped off by careless luggage handling and collisions with other baggage. Zips are also a security vulnerability. Zippers can be ripped open with a nail, knife, or key.

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