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What are the differences between hardside and softside luggage?

mySA 9/16/2022 Andrew Koopman
Check out this guide before buying your next piece of luggage © Provided by mySA

Check out this guide before buying your next piece of luggage

Having the right type of luggage when you’re traveling can make a huge difference. You want something that’s affordable, easy to pack, maneuverable, will protect your belongings, and more. Back in the day, we didn’t have too many options to choose from. Most people just had the same basic suitcases as everyone else. 

But nowadays, you can choose from all sorts of different types, sizes, and styles. One of the biggest differentiators between luggage these days is hardside vs softside construction. To help you pick the right luggage for you, we’ve outlined all of the major differences between the two to make your next travel experience a breeze. 

To make sure we’re getting you the best comparison possible, we spoke with a West Coast-based flight attendant to get her input on the differences in luggage. So let’s dive in and see what she had to say. 

What is hardside luggage? 

Luggage manufacturers didn’t get too creative with the types of luggage when they named them, so you can probably guess what hardside bags are. Simply put, these bags have a hard outer shell, typically made of some sort of composite or even metal in some cases. 

Hardside luggage works a bit differently than a normal suitcase because you basically pack each side separately, opening into two equal-sized halves when you unzip it. People tend to opt for hardside luggage for additional protection, more maneuverability, and other reasons. But we’ll dive into those later on. 

Here are some examples of hardside luggage so you can picture what we’re talking about: 

July Carry-On

Samsonite Freeform Hardside Luggage 

Amazon Basics 30-Inch Hardside Spinner 

Swiss Tech 21” Hardside Luggage 

Made By Design Hardside Checked Suitcase 

What is softside luggage? 

On the flip side, softside luggage is luggage that, well, has soft-sided construction. That might not be much of a definition, but that’s really all it is. They’re usually made from materials like woven nylon that are flexible and offer much more give compared to the rigid materials used for hardside luggage. 

Softside luggage includes all sorts of different bags including regular suitcases, Rollaboard bags, duffel bags, tote bags, backpacks, and more. But for the sake of this piece, we’re going to focus on the bags that are comparable to hardside luggage just to be as objective as possible. 

Check out these examples of high-quality softside bags to give you an idea: 

Travelpro Maxlite 5 Softside Luggage 

Skyline Softside Checked Spinner Suitcase 

SwissTech Urban Trek 20” Softside Luggage 

SwissGear Sion Softside Luggage 

Verdi 28-Inch Softside Luggage 

Softside vs. hardside luggage: which is more expensive? 

As with all other things we buy, price is always going to be something to keep in mind when you’re shopping for new luggage. After all, you never want to vastly overpay for something, but you also don’t want to skimp out on quality too much and get a product that won’t last. That last point is especially true when it comes to luggage. 

We’ll talk about which type of luggage is more durable and better for protecting your items shortly but suffice it to say that no matter which type you prefer, you don’t want to just get the cheapest option you can find.  

So which one is more expensive, softside or hardside? 

Thankfully, you shouldn’t have any problems finding quality, affordable options in either style. There are so many different styles, sizes, manufacturers, and features available to choose from, that there isn’t really any standard price difference between the two. So that at least makes it a little easier to shop whichever type you prefer without feeling guilty about it! 

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, you should check out some luggage sets and bundles. Available for both hardside and softside luggage, these sets include multiple bags at steep discounts compared to buying everything separately. Here are a few examples of luggage sets that you can save big with: 

Rockland Journey 4-Piece Softside Luggage Set 

COOLIFE 3-Piece Hardside Luggage Set 

World Traveler Contour Hardside 3-Piece Luggage Set 

Softside vs. hardside luggage: which is better for packing? 

Since price isn’t really the big deciding factor between types of luggage, let’s take a look at one of the biggest things to consider when buying new luggage: how easy or hard it is to pack. I don’t know about you, but I personally hate packing. Even to this day as an adult, I’ll wait until the last second before I pack my bags for a trip. 

So I value luggage that’s easy to pack and deal with, and it seems that the West Coast-based flight attendant we talked to feels the same. According to her, hardside luggage can be a pain in the neck to pack because "you have to put things on both sides of the suitcase." She continued with, "a softside roller bag basically acts as a deep drawer which keeps my suitcase organized." 

This is, of course, a bit subjective, and you might be one of the people that prefer the internal dividers and pockets that hardside luggage has. But it can make it more difficult to pack, especially if you wait until the last second like me.  

It’s also worth noting that based on her experience onboard many flights, "softside luggage is easier to put in the overhead bin." This makes softside luggage especially worth considering if you’re using it as a carry-on bag instead of checking it. 

Softside vs. hardside luggage: which is more durable? 

The whole point of luggage is to store your clothes, electronics, accessories, and more to make them easy to travel with. But the big caveat here is that you don’t just want all your stuff to arrive, you want everything you arrive in one piece without any damage.  

This is really where hardside luggage can excel compared to softside. Due simply to the construction of the hard shell that surrounds these types of bags, "the hardside bag does offer more protection and therefore has less damage," according to our flight attendant source.  

This makes sense considering all of your belongings are literally encased in a big barrier of protection that you just don’t get from softside luggage. That said, hardside bags are more prone to scratches, dents, and damage to themselves since they don’t have the same level of give that softer bags do. But as for as your things go, hardside luggage will keep them from being damaged. 

Softside vs. hardside luggage: Which is easier to move around the airport? 

When it comes to maneuverability and moving your luggage around the airport, it’s a bit more nuanced than just hardside vs softside as a whole. This is because we could be talking about duffel bags, Rollaboard bags, spinner suitcases, and more.  

But in general, according to our flight attendant source, “hard bags with 360° spinner wheels are easier to move.” These are the bags that stand upright and have four omni-directional wheels on the bottom that you’ll see people wheeling through the airport. They’re easy to move because the wheels can spin in all directions so you can just walk through the airport and the bag will follow. 

To give you an idea about what I’m talking about, here are a few bags with spinner wheels: 

The Carry-On from Away 

Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside Luggage 

American Tourister Phenom Softside Spinner 

As you can see, there might be some softside bags with spinner wheels, too, but they’re most commonly found on the hardside bags. Softside bags with wheels are usually the ones where you have to lean the bag forward and the wheels can’t turn, which are much harder to maneuver. And don’t even get me started on bags with no wheels that you have to carry everywhere with you! 

Softside vs. hardside luggage: Which is better? 

While I would love to finish this off by giving you a definitive answer about which type of luggage is better, it really does come down to personal preference! I know that might sound like a cop-out, but just look around next time you’re traveling. You’ll probably see something close to a 50/50 split among travelers when it comes to hardside or softside luggage. 

Of everything we talked about here, it seems like packing is one of the biggest differentiators between which luggage people prefer. Our West Coast-based flight attendant friend, for example, prefers softside luggage. Based on her experience, “the hardside luggage is often harder for me to pack…I do not like to have to put things on both sides of the hard-shell suitcase.” 

Other people, however, might not mind the way hardside luggage has to be packed and may value the added protection of the hard shell a bit more. That’s why it’s going to be up to you in the end. No matter which type you choose, you’ll have no trouble finding a good option within the examples above. Happy travels! 

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