Soft or Hard Shell Luggage What to Consider Before Buying

Can’t decide between soft and hard shell luggage? There are a lot of options out there, and making the right choice can seem tricky. Price points for both soft and hard shell luggage can vary greatly, so it’s important to identify your needs before making a big purchase.


Durability is a common concern for travelers, especially considering most people travel with laptops, iPads, cameras, and other delicate electronics. Hard shell cases are appealing if you want to protect anything fragile. Though most cases are not considered completely water resistant, hard shell luggage is much easier to keep dry in rain, snow, or puddles, and it provides better protection against general spills and accidents.Softer cases can absorb water, and are more susceptible to stains and smells. If you plan to travel in the winter, or to more rugged locations, you may be better off with hard shell luggage.

Hard Shell Luggage Has Changed

Hard shell luggage pieces have been known to crack and fall apart more easily than softer cases. The good news is that companies have been making changes to improve overall quality. Many pieces are currently made with poly-carbonate, a softer material that actually flexes a little bit to absorb impact when dropped or thrown onto hard surfaces. It’s a material so flexible it is commonly used to make contact lenses. Poly-carbonate luggage is scratch resistant and lighter than plastic or aluminum cases, and can be even lighter than some soft luggage.

If You’re Going Shopping

Travelers who plan to do some shopping along the way may find it more difficult to fit extra items into hard shell luggage. Although many hard cases, especially those made from poly-carbonate, are expandable, soft luggage can still stretch more around the edges. Soft luggage is also easier to manipulate into small spaces, such as overhead bins or luggage racks on buses, whereas hard cases really compete with other bags.

Two Wheels vs. Four Wheels

Hard shell luggage tends to be easier to handle in airports or train stations since most have four wheels rather than two. Although it is possible to find soft luggage with four wheels, it is less common, whereas it is a standard feature for the hard shells. It makes maneuvering cases much easier and, since they tend to utilize 360 degree wheels, it’s harder to flip, drag, or lose the balance on heavy bags. This is a huge perk for those who need to get to multiple flights or have heavy items in their luggage.

Customizing for Convenience

Different colors and patterns are more common with hard cases, making them easier to spot among the dozens of black bags that come bouncing onto the baggage carousel. Soft cases do come in various colors, however, colored luggage tends to get dirty after a few trips, and general wear and tear is easy to see.   Personalized luggage tags, ribbons, stickers, or even duct tape can help your bag stand out and remain easy to spot.


Accessibility is another perk of soft luggage. Having pockets on the front of the bag is very convenient. You can reach for things you’d like to keep handy, but may not need in your carry-on, such as a change of clothes, toiletries, a sweater, or an extra book.

Traveling with small children? Having an extra blanket, pacifiers, a favorite toy, or extra clothes in an outside pocket is a nice alternative to jamming extra supplies into a full diaper bag.

Deciding What Fits Your Needs

Finding the right kind of luggage depends on a lot of variables. Here are the pros and cons of soft shell luggage and hard shell luggage:

pros & cons


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