Hard vs. soft luggage

Choosing the right luggage can be a tough decision. Should you go for a suitcase with a hard, rigid shell, or for a soft-sided bag with more give in its structure? The Good Housekeeping Institute found both hard and soft luggage can cope well with the rigours of travel (see Resources). According to "Which?" magazine, the choice depends on your individual needs. Consider the pros and cons of each category to choose the luggage best for you..

Hard shell pros

Rigid-sided luggage offers more protection to fragile possessions, such as delicate clothes, jewellery, cameras or laptops. A firm and sturdy hard shell can also double as a seat when you're stuck in a crowded airport or railway station. The materials used to make hard-sided suitcases are often very light-weight, so luggage like this can help you meet airline weight requirements. Hard-shells offer better water-proofing than their softer rivals, too.

Hard shell cons

Hard shells typically have no external pockets, making it tricky for you to get at any items you need while in transit. It's not always easy to persuade a hard shell to fit into a luggage compartment and there's very little margin for error. Hard shells can crack under sudden shocks, such as being dropped onto concrete. When you're not using it, a hard case demands more storage space than a soft-sided bag.

Soft-sided pros

A soft bag offers extra space, because its sides are more flexible. Some soft bags are between a quarter and a third larger, when fully expanded. You'll find external pockets, handy for storing journey essentials such as travel sweets. Soft bags readily squeeze into luggage compartments and occupy less storage space than hard-shells when not in use. You can often repair the fabric if a soft bag gets damaged, something you can't do with a hard-shell.

Soft-sided cons

If you stow fragile items in a soft-sided bag, they will be more vulnerable to damage than they would be in a rigid suitcase. Luggage made from flexible materials is more likely than rigid luggage to split if it is dropped onto a hard surface, according to the Good Housekeeping Institute. Soft fabric can tear in luggage racks and aircraft holds. According to "Which?" magazine, soft-sided luggage tends to be less water-resistant that hard-sided luggage.


Regardless of the type of luggage you choose, the Good Housekeeping Institute's tests suggest that you get what you pay for, in terms of durability. Cheaper luggage tends to show signs of wear and tear much sooner than more expensive buys . Hard-shell luggage may look more tough and rugged, but there's no evidence it stands up better to the rigours of baggage-handling than soft luggage, according to a study by "Which?" magazine.

What to choose

Your choice of luggage depends on what matters most to you when you travel. If you carry lots of expensive, fragile items, you worry about airport weight restrictions and you want a handy travel seat, then choose a hard-shell. If you're short of storage space at home, you hate struggling with luggage racks and you want extra room in your bag for impulse buys when travelling, then the soft-sided option is the perfect choice for you.

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About the Author

British writer Martin Malcolm specializes in children's nonfiction. His books include "A Giant in Ancient Egypt" and "Poetry By Numbers." His schoolkids' campaign for the Red Cross won the 2008 Charity Award. A qualified teacher, he has written for the BBC and MTV. He holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of London.