Hard or Soft Luggage – which suitcase is best for travel?

Hard or soft suitcases - which is best for travel?
Hard or soft suitcases - which is best for travel?

After 8 months trialling a hard case suitcase, we’ve finally made the switch from soft suitcases to a hard shell luggage set for travel. Whilst it did take a little getting use to, we haven’t looked back – it’s hard suitcases for the win! We bid goodbye to our decade long love affair for our set of Samonsite soft case caster spinners and embraced the protective polycarbonate hard case goodness. Here we weigh in on the pros and cons of hard or soft luggage and discover which suitcase is best for travel.

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Pros of Soft Suitcases

Undecided about hard suitcases vs soft suitcases? Here are the many benefits of travelling with soft case luggage:

Loved our Samsonite Silhoutte Soft Case Spinners - still going strong
Loved our Samsonite Silhouette Soft Case Spinners. One of the most popular, ours is 10 years and still going strong!

Find best price for Samsonite Silhouette Soft Case

Find best price for Samsonite Silhouette here *affiliate link.

Exterior pockets

There are always last minute items to slip into the checked luggage and the zippered pockets around the outside of the soft sided luggage make it that bit easier to pop in a toothbrush, zip up that phone charger or slide in those unexpected souvenir items.

Soft shell luggage can stretch and carry a little more with the exterior pockets expanding to generously squeeze in items that missed the initial pack including extra shopping, books and magazines.

External pockets of soft cases did come in handy and are missed
External pockets of soft cases did come in handy and are missed.

Top opening when flat

Most hotel rooms are designed with a soft shell suitcase in mind, where the soft case is placed on a suit case stand or designated area ergonomically designed so contents are accessed from a top opening bag or luggage whilst standing up. I do miss being able to loosely close the lid of a soft suitcase to hide the mess and keep the resort room tidy without having to unpack everything from the suitcase.

Top opening suitcases have their benefits
Top opening suitcases have their benefits. Credit: Angelina Litvin.

A hard does not have a 90 degree top opening. Hard shells opens up like a book and lies flat taking up double the surface space of a soft suitcase. Most hotels do not accommodate areas for hard cases. When my hard shell luggage is fully opened, I’m often unpacking bent over on the floor in a corner.

In tight accommodation areas like cruise ship cabins or staying at a relatives small guest room, the full open of a hard shell takes up valuable space.

Lojel Novigo is one of the few hard cases that open like a soft suitcase
Lojel Novigo is one of the few hard cases that open like a soft suitcase. Image courtesy: Lojel

 

A hard case that acts like a soft case

There is a Lojel Suitcase that opens the same way as the soft luggage sets. The Cubo by Lojel is a hard case suitcase designed to open from the top like a soft shell, with fabric hinges to keep the hard lid from falling back. The Cubo even has a handy pocket on the outside and expansion gusset – all the good traits of soft luggage with a hard shell exterior.

There is also a hybrid soft and hard case suitcase by Lojel. Click here for best prices for Best Prices for Lojel Exos III *affiliate link.

Find best price for Lojel Cubo

Find best price for Lojel Cubo here *affiliate link

Buy Lojel Cubo here - hard case that acts like a soft case
Buy Lojel Cubo here – hard case that acts like a soft case

Can slide things in easily when vertical

Unlike hard shell luggage, when a soft shell suitcase is standing vertical on its wheels, there is still an ability to slide things into the main compartment on the go.

Recently we went from sunny Brisbane to freezing cold Canberra and had to stop, find a quiet area with some space within the airport to lay the hard case down and unzip the entire suitcase open to access the winter jackets and hats. Passers by would peer into the the entire contents of our suitcase as we rifled through the two enclosed mesh compartments.

Exos III hybrid soft and hard case family. Image courtesy: Lojel
Exos III hybrid soft and hard case family – slide things in more easily with pockets. Image courtesy: Lojel 

The way the hard shells are designed, contents are zipped up on either side of the hard shell and there’s very little room to slide anything into the main compartment without having to open the entire case out on the floor – this is my one gripe about hard cases. However, with a little retraining it’s no longer a big issue.

No scuffs and scratches

The soft exterior sturdy fabric of a soft shell suitcase does not scratch as easily as a hard shell suitcase. Hard suitcases often have marks and scuffs on the smooth hard exterior of a hard case.

Shiny then but they scuff and scratch
Shiny then but they scuff and scratch

Expandable

Soft cases often feature an expansion gusset to fit extra in, it’s easier to stuff excess items into a flexible soft exterior suitcase whereas a hard case has a set volume with no give.

Samsonite Expandable Spinner
Samsonite Expandable Spinner

Lightweight soft case

Most hard cases are often heavier than fabric soft cases and the last thing any traveller wants is to eat into the restricted baggage allowance before packing begins. The large size soft cases (74cm suitcases) vary from 2.7kg (5.9lb) – 3kg (6.6lb) whereas hard cases range from 2.9kg(6.4lb) – 5.2kg (11.4 lb).

IT Luggage - world's lightest soft case at 2.2kg
IT Luggage – world’s lightest soft case at 2.2kg

There are however super lightweight luggage in hard shell form including my favourite the Lujel Lumo a 76.5cm large suitcase (larger than most) weighing 3.6kg (6.6lb).

The ultra light Lumo by Lojel
The ultra light Lumo by Lojel

Cons of Soft Suitcases

Less protective

There’s a YouTube video which secretly tapes baggage handlers haphazardly unloading suitcases. These guys were hurling suitcases, some bouncing from the metal wall onto a conveyor belt, bouncing off the metal edge. Baggage handlers are not going to handle your luggage with gentleness nor are the machinery and turnstiles that moves airline baggage around delicate. Soft suitcases come out worse for wear, contents can get damaged as soft shells lack the hard protective shock proof exterior.

 

 

There’s also inclement weather, leaks and spills to be mindful over. I once picked up my soft shell case with petrol spilt over it, the fuel had seeped into the clothing inside my soft sided Samsonite and ruined some of my clothes and leather goods. A hard case would have kept the clothing dry and contents protected.

Less Safe

Soft suit cases are at a higher risk of being slashed open to quickly pilfer valuables from within. Manilla and Tampo airports are notorious for theft. Luggage has been pried open or cut through. The exterior zippers and pockets are more easy points of entry for opportunistic airport thieves.

There’s also the unlikely but scary thought that drugs and other paraphernalia can be planted easily in the exterior pockets of a soft suitcase.

Zippers can break

The zippered pockets on soft cases provide more points of failure. Zippers can get snagged, become stuck or break over time.

American Tourister Xtreme Spinner - more pockets more zippers to break?
American Tourister Xtreme Spinner – more pockets more zippers that can break?

Pros Hard Suitcase

Still undecided on hard shell cases versus soft shell chases, here are the things we love about a hard case suitcase:

Secure & Safe

It’s more difficult to rifle through a hard case than a soft case, hard cases cannot be slashed through and are smuggler proof without external pockets and zips.

Secure and safe hard cases are our choice :)
Secure and safe hard cases are our choice 🙂

Look for double coil tamper proof zips for more security

Our Lojel Lumo suitcase also features a double coil zip, which makes it harder to penetrate. This unique feature is not included in many brands. Leading brands like Samsonite (which I do love) and it’s cheaper cousin American Tourister does not have double coil zips.

Double Coil Zipper action to protect suitcase from theft.
Double Coil Zipper action to protect suitcase from theft.

Although there is  ‘Zipper Protection’ featureeby Samsonite and American Tourister, this is not to be mistaken for double coil. Rather it’s a design feature which conceals the exterior zipper, it is not a theft safe double coil zip that prevents a thief from using a simple ball point pen to gain access to the contents of a suitcase.

Better Protection

A protective hard shell prevents valuables from breaking, protecting the contents within. We had piece of mind that bottles of wine and delicate souvenirs did not break, they were cocooned in a protective exterior. The hard case also provides better protection of valuables from liquid spills and bad weather.

Hard cases protect from spills and bad weather.
Hard cases protect valuables better. Image: Lojel

 

Hard cases are not a new concept at all, the old style steamer trunks were hard for a reason – to protect the precious contents which included hats, gowns and porcelain. Musicians and professional sports man carry their gear in hard padded cases to protect their valuable assets from damage in transport.

Now that science has caught up with logical thinking, we have suitcases that are made out of a scratch resistance, lightweight polycarbonate material that provides the same protection minus the dead weight.

Lightweight

Although some hard cases are heavy, there are many ultra lightweight hard case suitcases on the market. Our largest Lojel Lumo 76.5cm suitcase weighs 3.6kg (6.6lb) – which can be just as light or lighter than a soft case luggage.

Love the Lojel Lumo so much!
Love the lightweight Lojel Lumo so much!

Buy Lojel Lumo here *affiliate link.

The heaviness of a hard case can often be a deal breaker for travellers who optfor a less protection over a lighter soft suitcase. Samsonite’s Cosmolite 3.0 large 82cm suitcase weights 3.6kg (6.6lb) and Antler Atom’s Lightweight 4 Wheel large 74cm suitcase weighs a feathery 2.8kg.

Easy to organise

Rather than piling travel items on top of each other in a main compartment the way hard case suitcases are divided into two compartments makes it easier to organise. We are able to see the entire contents of a suitcase in one glance. There’s no digging around in search of packed items.

Lojel Lumo opens flat like a book.
Lojel Lumo opens flat like a book.

This method of opening up a hard case and laying it out completely flat does take time to become familiar with. After a couple of trips or practices this way of packing becomes second nature.

The future = hard case suitcases

People are adopting hard sided luggage as their suitcase of choice, take a look around a airport baggage carousel and hard cases are slowly but surely taking over, particularly prominent internationally. In the battle of hard vs soft suitcases – hard cases are winning and Aussies are steadily adopting the hard style luggage cases.

Lojel Lumo hard case suitcase at the airport
Hard cases are the best!

Kids love to ride on hard cases 😉

One of the benefits of a hard case is that kids are happy to push them along. The cheeky thing is that the four caster wheels make it easy to zip around and kids end up riding on them. Though not intended for this purpose, it  makes transiting through an airport with kids enjoyable.

Be sure to set a few ground rules first so kids aren’t aren’t madly cutting in front of adults or crashing into anyone – we parents don’t need anymore judgemental eyeballs.

Cons Hard Suitcase

New way to pack – takes time

Switching to a hard side case does take some time to get use to with little inconveniences like not being able to slide extra items in easily or able to put things into the main compartment without opening the entire suitcase up.

Getting things in and out of a hard case is a tad trickier.
Getting things in and out of a hard case is a tad trickier – takes some time to get use to.

Prone to scuffs and scratches

Hard case suitcases that travel through the baggage system and handled by rough baggage staff can get knicks, scuffs and scratches. Although more hard case designs are made in matt colours rather than glossy and have built in ridges, curves and patterns so scuffs and scratches are less noticeable, they are more prevalent in hard cases than soft.

Loads of funky luggage covers to choose from - easy to spot at baggage collection.
Loads of funky luggage covers to choose from – easy to spot at baggage collection.

Luckily, scuffs can be buffed out with a bit of elbow grease. Although it may defeat the purpose of having a hard case, there are foldable luggage covers (suitcase covers) that take up minimal space and slip over the hard side suitcase for scratch proof cover.

Number one selling hard case suitcase cover - Samsonite Foldable Luggage Cover
Number one selling hard case suitcase cover – Samsonite Foldable Luggage Cover

Dark hard case colours are better

We have set of canary yellow Lojel Lumo suitcase as well as a set of dark grey cases. The dark grey colour hide the scuffs and scratches better than the brighter palette.

Lojel Nimbus suitcase - water proof anti scratch texture.
Lojel Nimbus suitcase – water proof anti scratch texture.

Boxy looks

Some people may not be a fan of the hard case boxy looks. There are hard cases on the market with unusually bright almost garish colours and crazy patterns that may not appeal to everyone’s taste or style.

Boxy!? Samsonite's best selling Samsonite WInfield hard case suitcase
Boxy!? Samsonite’s best selling Samsonite WInfield hard case suitcase

In my opinion, they look a little more glamorous and current than the older soft shell styles which can be a bore. There are so many plain black fabric soft cases that it’s hard to distinguish one from the next. At least with a hard case you can easily spot your case from a mile away.

Not expandable

Hard suitcases do not have an expandable area to increase the size and volume of a suitcase to fit more in.

There could be second thoughts next time the unused hotel toiletries are swiped from the hotel as they can’t be quickly sneaked into the side or main compartment without having to open up the hard case entirely.

Lojel Suitcase Hard Vs Soft. Hard cases are fixed in size - but we're OK with that
Hard cases are fixed in size – but we’re OK with that

Hard case or soft case luggage – which suitcase is best?

Choosing between hard case or soft case suitcases? We firmly believe that hard case suitcases are best for travel. The lack of exterior pockets or the slight inconvenience of no top opening does not detract from all the wonderful benefits a hard case suitcase provides.

Hard or Soft Case for travel? We made the switch to hard suitcases. Lojel Suitcase. P&O cruise
Hard or Soft Case for travel? We made the switch to hard suitcases

Hard cases not only look better with a variety of colours and styles, they also provide better protection of  valuables when travelling. This protection make hard cases perfect for both checked luggage and for use as hand luggage.

Hard shell luggage glide easily on four caster wheels and provides extra safety and security from airline baggage theft and damage. Throw in the lightweight polycarbonate material that makes the luggage just as light as soft cases and there really are no reasons not to choose hard case suitcase.

What is the best suitcase for travel? Do you prefer a hard or soft luggage? Would love to hear your tips and suggestions to the best suitcase for travel below:

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