Hardside vs. Softside Luggage: Which Is Better For You?

By Ariya
Last Updated: August 1, 2023
Hardside vs. Softside Luggage: Which Is Better For You?

Key Takeaways

  • Softside luggage offers flexibility and ease of packing, making it suitable for travelers who value adaptability.
  • Hardside luggage provides better protection for fragile items and enhanced security features.
  • Softside luggage is generally more lightweight and affordable, while hardside luggage offers durability and a sleek, modern aesthetic.
  • Consider personal preferences, budget, trip types, and travel needs when choosing between hardside and softside luggage.
  • Ultimately, the decision boils down to finding the perfect balance between functionality, style, and durability that aligns with your travel preferences.

Got a trip on the cards and a major suitcase puzzle to solve? Well, you’re in the right place! We’re about to dive head-first into a battle of the luggage titans – hardside versus softside. These are the celebs of the suitcase world, each with a bag (pun intended) of tricks up its sleeve.

Choosing the perfect piece of luggage isn’t just a fashion statement; it’s a whole travel style decision. And here’s the thing – hardside and softside aren’t just about the outer vibe; they’re packed with pros, cons, and unique quirks. So, ready to discover the major difference and find your new favorite travel buddy?

What Is the Main Difference Between Hardside and Softside Luggage?

Imagine this: you’re chilling in a store jam-packed with suitcases. You’ve got hardside ones twinkling like shiny armor and softside ones, so snug and inviting. But which one’s your match? Both seem awesome, right? Let’s suss out their quirks to help you find the one that jives with your travel groove.


Softside suitcases are a bit like your favorite joggers—crafted from tough-as-nails stuff like Cordura, ballistic nylon, or ripstop fabrics. These flexible materials bend and flex, just like you when you’re busting out your best dance moves.

Hard-shell luggage? They’re your skateboarding helmet—firm and protective, made from solid stuff like ABS, polycarbonate, or polypropylene. They’re all about offering extra protection and keeping your gear safe from all the travel chaos.

Weight and Durability

Soft side luggage is light as a feather, and carrying it around is a walk in the park. But beware, like that comfy old tee, it might show signs of wear and tear over time.

Durable luggage like hardside cases might weigh a bit more, but they’re built like a tank. Think of them as a pair of sturdy hiking boots—kinda weighty but oh so tough. But hey, they could end up with a few battle scars, just like your bike after a few off-road adventures.

Flexibility and Expandability

Soft-sided bags are like the gymnasts of luggage—super flexible and ready to fit into tiny spaces. Need extra space? They’ve got you covered with their expandable capacity.

On the flip side, hard-shell luggage is the bouncers of the luggage world. Their rigid materials provide a protective shield, they are not big on the stretchy stuff, but they’ve got your back against all the bumps and drops.

Storage Space

Here’s the deal: softside luggage loves to keep things tidy. They’re a whizz at organization with a ton of exterior pockets and zippered pockets both inside and out. Perfect if you’re the type who needs a special place for everything.

Hard-shell case? They’re all about simplicity and loads of storage space. Think minimal design, like a spotless room with a generous main compartment and not much else. Great if you like to keep your gear straightforward and neat.

Protection and Hygiene

Hard-shell suitcases are the top dogs when protecting breakable items (like that delicate souvenir you can’t resist). They’re a breeze to clean and do a better job of keeping water out than their softside counterparts.

Softside luggage, made of absorbent material, can handle rough and tumble but might only shield your fragile stuff with extra padding. They’re the tough rugby players—resilient but not indestructible.

Style and Colors

Looking for luggage that lets your personality shine? Softside suitcases are like a rainbow—plenty of colors and patterns to choose from.

Hard-shell luggage is the ultimate in modern, sleek style. They come in a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns. They’re the designer sneakers of the suitcase world.

Price Range

You’ll find softside luggage in a whole range of prices—some cost no more than a cinema trip with snacks, while others might set you back as much as a new gaming console.

With their rugged materials and swanky looks, hard-shell suitcases cost a bit more. They’re the front-row tickets to your favorite gig—you might need to save up, but they’re worth it!

What’s Hardside Luggage?

Top Pick

Available for carry-on and checked luggage

Samsonite Freeform Hardside Luggage 21-inch

  • Sleek modern design and colors
  • Ultra light and strong hardshell design
  • TSA approved lock

Ever spotted those futuristic-looking suitcases that seem like they’re from a cool space flick? That’s hard-sided luggage for ya! These bad boys are as tough as a turtle’s shell, crafted from solid stuff like plastic, composite, or even metal. Polycarbonate suitcases are a popular choice. But they’re not all show and no go. They’re about securing your gear and being super smooth to roll around. It’s no shock that travelers are all over ’em!

Pros of Hardside Luggage

Enhanced protection: Hardshell luggage is your personal bodyguard! Think of it like a knight’s shiny armor for your stuff, safeguarding everything from your grandma’s precious porcelain doll to those swanky new sunglasses you just bought.

Water-resistant: No need to fret about spills or sudden rain showers with hard-sided luggage. It’s like a raincoat for your gear, keeping everything dry even if the heavens decide to open up.

Security: These cases aren’t easy to tear open or tamper with. Plus, many luggage brands offer fancy TSA-approved locks. It’s like your suitcase’s very own secret handshake!

Style Options: Hard-sided suitcases strut into the scene with a bunch of cool colors and designs. It’s like your luggage is making its very own fashion statement!

Hygiene and maintenance: These guys are a cinch to wipe down and keep tidy. So even if you end up in a dusty old guesthouse or a muddy campsite, your spinner suitcase remains squeaky clean.

Cons of Hardside Luggage

Limited flexibility: Unlike its softer sibling, hard-sided luggage doesn’t do the squish-and-squeeze thing too well. So it might not be your best buddy when you’re trying to fit that extra pair of sneaks you just scored.

Reduced storage space: It’s missing those handy outer pockets that softside luggage flaunts. So, you might need a second thought before stashing that extra comic book or pack of chips.

Weight: Being made from tougher stuff, it’s usually a bit heftier. So if you’re the one lugging it around, it might feel like you’ve signed up for an unplanned workout.

Prone to scuffs and scratches: Sure, it’s strong, but it’s not too fond of scratches or scuffs. So after a few tussles with baggage handlers and conveyor belts, your suitcase might start showing off its battle scars.

Related: Pros And Cons Of Hardside Luggage: Is It Worth Buying?

What’s Softside Luggage?

Top Pick

Available for carry-on and checked luggage

Travelpro Maxlite 5 Softside Luggage

  • High-density nylon fabric
  • 4 wheel spinners
  • Expandable for more packing space

You know those squishy, bendy bags? Those are softside luggage. Picture them as your beloved, comfy hoodie – soft and pliable but tough as nails. They’re usually whipped up from things like woven nylon or fabric, with fabric suitcases being a common choice. Softside luggage isn’t just about suitcases; it includes all sorts of carry gear like backpacks and duffel bags. They’re a hot favorite among many travelers due to their versatility.

Pros for Softside Luggage

Light as a feather: Soft luggage is pretty light, making it an ideal pick for those who don’t fancy dragging a mini mammoth around on their escapades.

Plenty of space: These bags are deceptively roomy, boasting a lot of storage space, various compartments, and external pockets. Many of these expandable luggage options can even make room for that extra pair of boots or cool memento you picked up.

Flexibility in packing: With a softside bag, packing isn’t about playing Tetris. You can snugly fit in extra stuff, turning to organize into a piece of cake.

Easy to fit in tight spaces: Softsided suitcases can fit into tight spaces without a fuss – think jam-packed overhead compartments or crammed car boots during a family road trip.

Scratches are less visible: Scratches on a softside bag are sneakier, so your bag stays looking fresh for longer.

Compatible with packing cubes: Soft luggage and packing cubes are a match made in travel heaven, simplifying your stuff-sorting task.

Cons for Softside Luggage

Prone to tearing: Soft luggage, like your all-time favorite pair of denims, can rip over time. If you’re a globe-trotter, you might often shop for a new one.

Cleaning challenges: Spotted a stubborn stain or some dirt on your soft luggage? Cleaning can feel like a bit of a wrestle.

Less protection: Softside luggage doesn’t offer the same level of protection for your breakables as hardside luggage. So, handle those delicate treasures with extra care.

Lack of built-in locks:  Most soft luggage doesn’t have an in-built lock, so you might need to splash out on a separate TSA-approved one.

Limited water resistance: These bags aren’t as rain-proof as their hard-shelled counterparts, so they might not keep your gear dry during a surprise shower.

Inline skate wheels: Soft luggage usually sports wheels that roll just forwards and backward, not in all directions. So, navigating might not be as smooth as you’d like.

Which Is More Expensive? Hardside Luggage

Ever gasped at the price tag on some suitcases? It’s a familiar reaction with hardside luggage, as they can make your wallet feel lighter. They’re built from seriously sturdy stuff like aluminum and polycarbonate. Aluminum luggage and other hardshell suitcases are not only heavy-duty but also heavy on price. These materials turn your suitcase into a mini fortress, protecting your stuff against the rigors of travel, but it comes with a price tag to match.

On the other hand, softside luggage is typically more budget-friendly. It’s crafted from materials like fabric, nylon, or polyester, which are less of a hit on your bank account. But remember, the final cost of a suitcase isn’t just about the material. It also depends on things like the brand, size, and any special features it has. If you’re thinking about getting a high-quality hardshell suitcase, expect to shell out somewhere between $200 and $400. But you can get your hands on softside luggage starting from about $50 for smaller ones.

It’s worth noting that business travelers often prefer polycarbonate luggage for their durability, despite the higher price. So, the next time you’re suitcase shopping, remember these points.

Which Is Better For Packing? Softside Luggage

When it comes to packing, softside luggage is like having a personal packing buddy. It usually features extra pockets on the front, ideal for stashing your passport, clothes, or that book you’re itching to dive into during your flight. Besides external pockets, they also have internal pockets, which can keep your things organized. And let’s remember its packing power – its ability to compress and fold means it doesn’t hog space at home, which is a total win if your closet is already overflowing.

Hardside luggage, on the other hand, requires a bit more thought when packing. It’s typically designed like a clamshell, meaning you have to balance your items on both sides. However, it excels in protecting your delicate items like laptops or souvenirs. It’s like a protective shell for your stuff, keeping them safe and dry.

So, what’s better for packing? It depends on your packing style and what you need from your luggage.

Which Is More Durable? Softside Luggage

When durability is the name of the game, softside luggage often comes out on top. Imagine it as a resilient fighter – it can endure the tough love of baggage handlers, getting squashed, and yet spring back into shape. Made from thicker material like ripstop nylon, soft-sided luggage is designed to last, even after countless flights.

Unlike hardside luggage, which may bear the brunt of the damage during transit and look worn out, softside luggage can weather a rough journey and still look fresh. This makes it an excellent choice if you want something that’ll stick around for the long haul.

However, hardside luggage has different flexibility, leading to scratches, dents, and cracks over time. While it excels in protecting and keeping your belongings dry, it tends to show signs of wear and tear more readily.

There’s a silver lining for hardside luggage, though. Due to its sturdy exterior, it’s rather tricky to break into, providing your stuff with an extra shield of protection.

Which Is More Secure? Hardside Luggage

When security takes center stage, hardside luggage steals the show. Imagine it as your stuff’s very own bodyguard.

Hardside luggage, built from strong materials like polycarbonate or aluminum, boasts a robust exterior and a rigid frame. This combination forms a formidable fortress, deterring any potential intruders. It’s like a safe – difficult to bust open or tear apart, posing quite the challenge for any opportunistic thief.

In addition, hardside luggage, your trusty travel suitcase, acts like a shield. Its solid structure offers superior resistance to water, making sure your items remain dry and untouched even if the weather decides to throw a curveball. When security is the main concern, hardside luggage truly shines as the ultimate guardian.

Softside luggage, on the other hand, might lack the ironclad protection of its hardside counterpart, but it has its own arsenal. It thrives on flexibility. Picture softside luggage as a gymnast – it can bend and rebound from rough handling, standing up strong to any knocks or bumps.

However, every hero has a weakness, and for softside luggage, it’s the non-rigid structure. It might be easier for unwanted intruders to access since it doesn’t provide the same deterrent level as a hard shell.

Related: Polypropylene vs Polycarbonate vs ABS Luggage: Which is Best?

Which Is Easier To Move Around The Airport? Hardside Luggage

For a breezy airport dash, hardside luggage is your speedy partner.

The edge hardside suitcases have come from their awesome spinner wheels; think high-tech like Hinomoto wheels. These gems are the definition of smooth, making your hardside luggage glide as if on ice. Imagine having your bag twirling alongside you, sailing through crowds of people, and traversing all types of surfaces with ease. This lightweight feature makes a world of difference when you’re carrying heavy items.

On the other side, softside bags generally sport inline skate wheels. Sure, they might not have the ‘wow’ factor of spinner wheels, but they do their job and do it well. These wheels roll your bag back and forth, giving you a good handle on where it’s heading.

But there’s a slight snag: softside bags with only inline wheels might need more muscle to steer, especially when squeezing through tight spaces. Just like you might need a damp cloth to clean a smudge, sometimes softside bags need a bit of extra push. Some softside bags have also started to adopt the spinner wheel technology, letting them glide smoothly, just like their hardside brothers.

For Checked Luggage: Both Are Great

When it comes to checked luggage, both the softside and hardside are champs in their own right.

The softside suitcase is a master of flexibility. It has the talent to squish into tight spots like overhead bins with no stress. And if you love picking up souvenirs or going on shopping sprees during your travels, its stretchability, and expandability are pure gold.

The softside suitcase also comes with another surprise – it can be squashed down, saving you some serious closet space at home. Plus, those handy extra pockets on the front are your ticket to quick access and added packing space for your must-haves.

Swinging over to the hardside suitcase, it’s like a protective shell for your stuff, offering unbeatable defense and water resistance. If you’re packing delicate items or traveling in unpredictable weather, it’s got your back. Its tough exterior and built-in TSA locks strongly deter any sneaky thieves.

Plus, the hardside suitcase is a trendsetter. It comes in a multitude of colors and patterns, so spotting your bag at baggage claim becomes a breeze. And when it comes to maintenance, hardside luggage is easy-peasy to clean and disinfect, keeping hygiene worries at bay.

In the end, choosing between the softside and hardside for checked luggage boils down to what you want and need.

If your top priority is a suit of armor for your stuff, hardside luggage is your choice. But if you’re hunting for a lighter physical weight and more give, the softside suitcase is your buddy.

Whatever your choice, both styles are a favorite choice for travelers worldwide.

For Carry-on Luggage: Hardside Is Better

Top Pick

Available for carry-on and checked luggage

Samsonite Freeform Hardside Luggage 21-inch

  • Sleek modern design and colors
  • Ultra light and strong hardshell design
  • TSA approved lock

Choosing the right carry-on bag for your journey? Let’s hear it for hardside luggage!

One major advantage is that they come in set sizes. This means you’re always sure your bag will fit snugly in the overhead bins, avoiding any last-minute panic that it has grown beyond the airline’s limits. Plus, navigating through the rush of airports is a breeze with hardside luggage. Thanks to the smooth 360 spinner wheels, your bag will glide with you, even in the busiest terminals.

But what really makes hardside luggage stand out? It’s like a personal vault for your treasured items. Thanks to the rigid exterior, it offers that additional protection that can be a real lifesaver during international travel.

Then, there’s the style factor. Hardside luggage comes in a rainbow of colors and striking designs. So, you’ll not only be traveling efficiently, but you’ll look good doing it!

When protection, style, and easy handling are on your priority list, a hardside carry-on bag is a clear winner.

Which Type Of Luggage Should I Choose?

Picking out your perfect luggage is more than grabbing any old bag. It’s about finding a fit that suits your specific wants and needs.

Firstly, consider your unique style. Are you all about the slick, modern feel of hardside luggage? Or is the easygoing and adaptable nature of softside luggage more up your alley? Your travel bag isn’t just about packing stuff; it reflects you. It can add an extra sprinkle of fun to your adventures.

Let’s remember your wallet. Softside luggage typically has more style options and price ranges, so it’s great for those watching their pennies. Hardside luggage has durable materials and cool features, but it might pinch your budget a bit more. Weighing up the features you want, the quality you’re after, and how much you’re willing to spend can help you find your ideal luggage.

Think about storage too. If you like extra organization, you might appreciate the external compartments on softside luggage for your essentials. Plus, their storage flexibility can come in handy for fitting in last-minute buys. But, if you’re all about maximizing internal storage capacity, hardside luggage might just be your champion.

Wrap-Up: Both Softside and Hardside Luggage Are Great Options

Each has its unique charm in the great face-off of softside versus hardside luggage. Softside luggage excels in flexibility and packing ease, taking rough handling in stride, which makes it a reliable companion for frequent travelers.

On the flip side, hardside luggage offers prime protection for delicate items, top-tier security, and a trendy look. Picking the right one comes down to personal tastes, your budget, the nature of your trip, and your specific travel needs. Remember, with a wide range of luggage types, the perfect one can elevate your travel experience.