Choosing Your Luggage: Hardshell Vs Softshell Luggage

Luggage shopping can be very confusing and at times may even prove to be difficult. One has to choose the size of the luggage, the brand, consider the price, consider the warranty and also choose the material in which the luggage is made. This article serves to help make your decision a little less hectic. We will look at the 2 main types of luggage (Hardshell & Softshell) and the give you a few pointers on what to look at to make a good decision.

Let's begin with describing what Hardshell and Softshell luggage are.

Hardshell Luggage:

In today's world hardshell is made mainly from high-tech plastics, mainly ABS(Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and polycarbonate. These are lightweight and durable. Polycarbonate is more durable while ABS is lighter. Some hardshell luggage is made from Aluminium which is the most durable but heaviest of the hardshell luggage range.

We've written a comprehensive article on Hardshell Luggage.

Hardshell Luggage

Softshell Luggage:

Softshell luggage is made from "soft" fabrics that are not as rigid as plastic and can yield and move. The main fabrics used for softshell luggage are Polyester and Nylon. The different types of nylon used are ripstop, ballistic and cordura. Ballistic is smoother and shines more than cordura while cordura is a little softer and more abrasion-resistant. Ballistic fabric maintains its strength over time even though it may abrade. Ripstop, also known as "Parachute nylon" is the most lightweight of the nylon range.

Softshell Luggage

Now that we have a basic idea of what hardshell and softshell luggage is, we can now take a look at a few points one can look into when purchasing luggage.

  • Durability

Durability is so easy to be taken lightly when shopping for luggage, however it should be your first thought and priority when looking into purchasing new luggage. Have you ever have a wheel break off from your heavily packed luggage? If so then you know that a strong bag is definitely needed.  If you travel a lot by air then you also know how vulnerable your luggage is to being tossed about. 

When comparing the durability of Hardshell and Softshell luggage we cannot outright point out a winner as both are durable in different ways. The strength of the bag greatly and mainly depends on the materials used to make the bag. 

When buying hardshell the best option to choose is Polycarbonate as it is much more durable than ABS.  Polycarbonate is very strong and it is designed to flex when it hits hard on any surface so as to prevent splitting and cracking. This makes it the best Hardshell choice as the main problem for hardshell cases is that they break upon heavy impact.

If you choose Softshell then you must go for luggage made from high-density fabric that is treated to resist staining and moisture. The biggest problem with softshell luggage is that it tears and easily gets soaked and dirty. Choosing the right material will save you from this.

  • Price
The cost of a bag is almost always a huge factor when purchasing luggage. The prices of Both softshell and hardshell vary greatly. You will find inexpensive luggage in booth categories however you must be carefully of cheap bags as they may come cost you heavily in the future. Luggage does not have to be expensive, however, you need to get a bag that will be able to survive the roughness of travel. When you do find a cheaply priced bag ensure that you check the warranty period as this will indicate to you how strong the bag may be. A fair warranty period is anything over  a year, a good warranty period is anything over 3 years and a great warranty period is anything over 5 years. If you find a bag with a good price, ensure that it also has a good warranty. 


Buying a set may help decrease the cost of bags as individual bags sets are usually priced cheaper than buying 3 or 2 single bags.

You do not need to break the bank to get yourself luggage but you need to ensure to get value for your money.

  • Security

Modern suitcases are fitted with TSA combination locks which ensure that your bag is locked while on the move. These locks are found on both hardshell and softshell luggage. It is advisable to purchase a bag that has a TSA combination lock. 

Both types of luggage use the zipper system, however some hardshell bags also use the clamp system(no zipper) which is considered to be more secure that zippers. A lot of criminals that break into luggage usually rip the zipper to gain access. A clamp system protects your luggage from this form of burglary. Brands such as Delsey also provide a new zipper system that locks the 2 sides together to prevent anyone from ripping the zipper using a sharp tool.

Therefore, if you are to choose luggage with a zipper, go for the best quality zipper you can afford. If you want maximum security, then go for a hardshell case that uses the clamp system.

  • How and what you pack
How you pack your bag and what you intend to pack in it is another factor to look into when choosing which luggage to buy.


If you are person who loves to pack to maximum capacity then softshell may do well for you as the fabric can offer a bit more of space by stretching and conforming to the shape of your items. Hardshell luggage is very rigid and will not allow you to go anywhere beyond its set volume. 

Fortunately some brands and ranges of luggage provide luggage that is expandable in both categories thereby allowing you to pack beyond the maximum capacity. Softshell luggage also comes with extra pockets on the outside for last minute packing.

Soft bags usually open to one main compartment that usually has interior pockets . Hardshell bags are typically made with “split construction”, the bag zips down the middle and opens into two shallower main compartments, like a clamshell. Hardshell bags take up more space when open but stack better when closed.

Hardshell luggage works great because its rigid case can act as a barrier that protects items such as electronics and valuables if cushioned well inside. Softshell bags may leave these items vulnerable especially if the bag is hit by something hard. The rigid shape of Hardshell luggage makes it hard for you to fit the bag in tightly fitting spaces that a softshell bag can easily be forced into such as small car boots(trunks).

  • Mobility
Mobility is a very important factor when travelling, especially when travelling with heavy luggage. Hardshell luggage almost always comes with four 360°rotating wheels and this type of luggage is referred to as spinner luggage. This type of luggage is best rolled next to you in an upright position.  If you prefer 2-wheeled bags then you may need to look into softshell luggage as you may not find any modern hardshell suitcase with just 2 wheels. Softshell luggage can be found both as a spinner or 2 wheeled bag.
  • Weight
Due to modern technology, both categories now produce lightweight yet durable bags. Therefore the difference in weight can at times be negligible if price is not considered. Usually the lighter the luggage the more expensive it becomes when looking at hardshell. 
  • Waterproof / Water resistant?

Neither of the two is considered fully waterproof or water resistant. However, the outer shell of the hardshell repels liquids more and is easy to clean if any liquid is split on the surface. 

Most softshell bags that provide some level of water resistance are made from fabrics that are treated to repel liquids. It is very important to make sure you know whether the Softshell luggage you are buying is treated to repel liquids or not. 

  • Conclusion

This list is not conclusive and it is meant to guide you and help you as you choose your luggage. Ultimately the luggage you choose will be determined by how you travel, your taste and style, availability and budget. 

Finally, buy a reliable bag that will be value for your money.

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