After the soft vs. hard suitcase debate, the 2 wheel vs. 4 wheel is next on the list, and opinions are just as divided...
Missed our feature on Soft vs Hard Suitcase? – see here
In recent years we have seen a major shift to 4 wheels on all suitcases, and with good reason, on the whole they are easier to manage and better balanced – but a 2 wheel suitcase has some surprising benefits and may be a better choice for some types of travel.
4 Wheel Suitcases
- 4 wheel suitcases are very easy to manoeuvre and manage, particularly if you have more than one suitcase. They are a dream though the airport.
- 4 Wheel suitcases are better balanced, depending on how you pack, if the weight distribution is out of whack in a 2 wheel case they can tip over, 4 wheel cases don’t have this problem.
- They require much less effort to ‘wheel’ – as they wheel along beside you rather than being dragged.
- They can be pushed in front of you – particularly advantageous if you want to wheel your cabin bag or a suitcase on to the plane or a train, they can be turned sideways and fit down the aisle, a 2 wheel suitcase would have to be picked up and carried.
- The 4 wheels tend to be 360 degree spinner wheels housed in a casing, these are terrific on smooth surfaces like at the airport, but they can really struggle on rough surfaces. If you need to wheel your suitcase on footpaths, roads, dirt roads, cobblestones or over grass, a 2 wheel might be a better option, or look for a 4 wheel case with big, robust wheels particularly on the rear.
- The 4 Wheels are housed in casings that are completely exposed, 2 wheels tend to be on axles with the wheels sitting quite flush to the case, and the external casings have a greater chance of being broken in transit. They can be quite easily fixed, but not when you’re on the go – and a missing or broken wheel can really slow you down. Look for a case with bigger wheels and a really solid, integrated housing.
- A 4 wheel suitcase can get away from you pretty quickly if you’re standing on a bit of a slope, and a full large suitcase can pick up speed quickly! Not such an issue in the airport, but imagine yourself loading the family into a taxi at the hotel, and your little one lets your suitcase go, next minute your chasing it down the (hopefully not busy)road!
2 Wheel Suitcases
- More often than not, as soon as you’ve left the airport it’s more convenient to pull your suitcase behind you, a 2 wheel suitcase is better suited to this
- If you need to spend a little time off road 2 wheel suitcases are better equipped – they generally handle cobblestones, dirt roads and footpaths better than a 4 wheel suitcase
- The wheels tend to break less as they don’t stick out as much
- If you’re travelling with more than one suitcase it’s near impossible to wheel them both at the same time – 4 wheel suitcases are no trouble. To get around this with a 2 wheel suitcase look for models with a piggy back strap.
- You generally can’t wheel a 2 wheel suitcase all the way to your seat on the plane as they are too wide for the aisle.
- 2 Wheel suitcases can tip forward if they are not balanced properly when you pack.
As the quality of the 4 wheels has improved we are seeing less 2 wheel options on the market, as a better quality set of wheels can handle more rugged terrain and stands up to the wear and tear of transit much better. When you’re shopping for your suitcase pay close attention to the wheels and when you test it out, try pushing it and pulling it to make sure it’s a smooth ride however you wheel it.
So which is best for you?
For the vast majority of travellers 4 wheels are convenient and easier to manage so a great option. However the following considerations should be kept in mind when making your decision;
- Will you need to wheel your suitcase over rough terrain often? If you are spending a few months on the road in Europe for example, a 2 wheel suitcase may manage the cobblestones a little better. Or if you’re favourite retreat in Thailand is accessed via a long dirt path make sure the wheels are up to task.
- If you’re a frequent traveller or do a bit of mixed travel pay close attention to the wheels before you purchase, a 4 wheel suitcase is perfectly suitable but look for a bag where the wheels have notable quality features that are correct for what you need. The ‘double’ wheels (sometimes referred to as 8 wheels) are generally more robust.
Our top picks;
4 Wheel Suitcases;
Hard: Samsonite Octolites'
Hard (special Mention): The Delsey Chatelet has great quality wheels but also a brake feature – you can switch it to lock to stop it rolling away from you!
Soft: Victorinox Werks
2 Wheel Suitcases;
Hard: Not Available
Soft: Lipault Original Plume
Offroad: The Osprey range is the ideal 2 wheel backpack and suitcase range for more rugged adventures, see it here
Images via @mysamsonite (second image by Laudine Auborg)