Which is better | Soft vs. hard suitcases?

June 16, 2016 5 min read

The Soft vs Hard Suitcases Debate Rages On... And it all depends on the following factors.

We re-wrote this in 2019 with updated info and models, visit this post here 

When working in the store the first question we ask of those looking for new luggage is whether they want soft or hard, most people have a preference for one over the other and it’s generally a pretty personal preference based on prior travel experience. It’s certainly true that the last 2-3 years has seen a major shift to hard suitcases, with more than ever coming into the market and they have had the lion’s share of major updates and developments. Interestingly though, with all my access to suitcases, my preference remains for a soft suitcase, for reasons which I’ll explain at the end of the post.

hard vs soft luggage - the luggage professionals - sydney - melbourne

Suitcases are a fairly large investment in terms of your trip planning and budgeting, ranging from $200-$2000 for a reputable brand, they certainly all have different offerings designed for different travellers. It’s common too that you don’t buy the suitcase just for one trip; you need to align your suitcase with the type of travel you do most often to get the most value out of the one bag.

Hard Suitcases

Major Benefits

  • Lightweight and strong construction. The strength to weight ratio is generally better on the latest ultra-lightweight hard suitcases.
  • Better security – the hard shell reduces theft through case slitting (or anyone adding something to external pockets)
  • Maximum packing space, due to the thin plastic shell construction you get maximum packing space inside as space is not given over to folds of fabric and lining.
  • Protection for your belongings, the hard shells are very durable and resilient, if your case is dropped it offers better impact resistance and therefore protects fragile items inside better.

Major Drawbacks

  • Space when the suitcase is open - and this is a major one, they take up twice the space then a soft case when open. To pack or unpack or even just slip your jacket into your suitcase, you need to open the suitcase right up and lay it flat due to the middle division. Mostly hotel rooms are short on space and it can be very difficult to negotiate opening and closing a medium or large suitcase each day. If you take a hard suitcase be prepared to completely unpack at your destination, no matter how short your stay.
  • Hard suitcases rarely have an expander section.
  • 4 wheels – this is also a benefit, (the 2 vs. 4 wheel is a debate for another day) but if you’re travelling somewhere in which you will be pulling your suitcase over rough terrain or cobblestone, the hard 4 wheel suitcases can be harder to manage.
  • Hard suitcases can be less car friendly, especially if you’re travelling in pairs or more with a couple of hard suitcases. Consider whether you will be in and out of taxis or hiring a car in your travels and ensure your hard suitcase/s will fit!

Shop hard suitcases here 

Soft Suitcases

Major Benefits

  • More organised packing – soft suitcases normally have a more organised packing system with additional pockets and external pockets for fast access whilst in transit. It is easier to travel with a soft suitcase through airports, train stations and cities as you can simply add your tickets and bottle of water to the outside pocket, however this does bring with it reduced security.
  • They take up less space when they are open – you can simply lean your case up against the wall and open the lid, this way you can get away with not unpacking on short stays, or partially unpacking, or like me you can toss your dirty clothes in the case and close the lid to hide the mess and keep your hotel room pristine.
  • They often have expander sections making them versatile for different trips
  • Often soft suitcases are easier to pack into car boots depending on their design and how rigid they are.

Major Drawbacks

  • Unlike hard suitcases, the lighter a soft suitcase is the flimsier it might be as it is likely made from less heavy duty fabrics or it will have less features.
  • Less security, thieves are able to cut through fabric to break into a case, external pockets can also have items put in without your knowledge (this can be overcome with travel locks).
  • Less protection for the items inside, a hard suitcase will absorb the impact from bumps and knocks, a soft suitcase won’t so much.
  • Fabric is more prone to wear and tear than plastic, for example fraying, pulling or ripping, in many instances it won’t compromise the function of the bag but in some instances it might.

 Shop soft suitcases here 

So back to why I prefer a soft suitcase, it’s quite simply how I like to organise myself whilst away. I like my hotel rooms to remain absolutely clutter free, so whilst I do always unpack on the other end, I use my suitcase to house extra shoes, handbags and my dirty clothes. I pull it up against the wall and shut the lid on so I don’t have to look at mess, but can easily access my stuff. I have travelled with a hard suitcase and constantly hauling it up on to the bed to get in and out of it was a nuisance for me, one that outweighed the many benefits!

hard vs soft luggage - the luggage professionals - samsonite

So, the top factors to consider which might influence what works best for you;

  • Do you often carry valuables or breakable items (including digital devices)?
  • Is security a major concern where you live or frequently travel to?
  • Do you like the expander function?
  • Do you prefer to organise your packing into 2 halves (hard) or into one side with smaller pockets to organise small items (soft)?
  • Are you in and out of cars? Including taxis, tour buses, hire cars or your own car for domestic trips?

Whichever is your choice, I’ve picked out my top picks that are currently on the market for each;

Hard Samsonite Lite-Locked Suitcase: This is part of Samsonite’s Curv range, lightweight structure and super strong, but with the added benefit of a hinge and clip locking system rather than a zip making it extra secure.

Soft Victorinox Werks 5.0 Luggage Range: All the strength and innovation associated with Victorinox soft suitcases in a lightweight package.

Get Around's for those who just can't decide!

Pacsafe Toursafe Anti-Theft Suitcase: The best of both worlds, this suitcase is literally half soft half hard featuring the best benefits of each.

Samsonite Spin Trunk Suitcase: A hard suitcase designed specifically for people like me, it features an 80/20 packing structure that is closer to how a soft suitcase packs – a game changer really!

For a cost effective solution, rental luggage is also available here.

Images: Supplied by Samsonite, with thanks

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