Soft-shell vs Hard-shell Suitcase: Which One Is the Best for You?

Whether travelling overseas or on a short trip, what’s your preference: hard case or soft case? There’s quite a big range to choose from isn’t it? I love buying bags, including suitcases. I have a few suitcases, such as large, medium, and carry-on, in both hard and soft cases. Surprisingly, in Japan, there are more sales of hard suitcases than soft ones, unlike in other countries. Anyhow, they both have their pros and cons. Let’s take a look…

Materials and Flexibility

Soft-shell Luggage

Okay, let’s start with the soft-shell suitcase. As you can see, it’s made of soft material and it’s the most popular luggage in the world, except in Japan.

First, the materials are based on fabric, but it’s not just normal fabric; malleable fabrics are used on the outer shell, making it more flexible. This flexibility allows it to fit inside narrow spaces for storage or in lockers. The materials used for soft-shell luggage are, of course, tough and durable, such as woven nylon, but there are different types of them;

  • Ballistic: Known for being heavy-duty and durable, with a smooth texture. Offers excellent resistance to scuffs and scratches.
  • Cordura: Also heavy-duty and durable, but softer than Ballistic. Performs better in puncture tests.
  • Ripstop: Touted as the toughest option, highly weather-resistant, and tear-resistant. Often used for outdoor luggage, although it may not have the same aesthetic appeal as other suitcases.
Photo by Tommaso Pecchioli on Unsplash

Heard-shell Luggage

A hard-shell suitcase is tough and sturdy, giving more protection than a soft-shell suitcase against bad weather and keeping your valuable items safe from getting crushed. It also provides better security against cuts from thieves. In the past, hard-shell suitcases used to be less sturdy, more likely to crack, and heavier than soft-shell ones. But nowadays, lightweight and durable plastic, or even heavy aluminium materials, are much improved. Common materials include polypropylene, polycarbonate, ABS, and aluminium.

  • Polypropylene: has become common for its lightweight and durable properties in hard-shell suitcases. This hard hydrocarbon resin, made from propylene, offers slightly less rigidity but excels in weatherproofing, crack resistance, chemical and temperature resistance, and, most importantly, lightweight construction.
  • Polycarbonate: is a tough polyester compound used in hard-shell suitcase material. While it’s heavier than polypropylene and ABS and tends to be more expensive, polycarbonate suitcases are flexible and highly resistant to cracks.
  • ABS: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a popular luggage material known for its durability. However, it can be damaged by exposure to high temperatures or rough handling. Despite this, ABS is the most affordable option among luggage materials.
  • Aluminium: the hardest and heaviest material used for suitcases. It is prone to denting easily and adds significant weight. However, over time, aluminium suitcases develop a rusted appearance, giving them a fashionable sense rather than being valued primarily for their durability as a functional purpose.
Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

Soft-shell Suitcase’s Pros

  1. Lightweight Design: Soft-shell suitcases are designed with lightweight materials, reducing overall weight and making them easier to carry.
  2. Expandable Capacity: Many soft-shell suitcases offer expandable compartments, providing additional space for packing when needed.
  3. Flexible Construction: Soft-shell suitcases feature flexible materials that can easily adapt to fit into various storage spaces, including overhead compartments and car trunks.
  4. Enhanced Organization: With exterior and interior pockets, soft-shell suitcases offer convenient organization for efficiently storing belongings.
  5. Impact Absorption: The flexible nature of soft-shell suitcases enables them to absorb impact, offering some protection for delicate items during travel.
  6. Space-saving Versatility: Soft-shell suitcases can be compressed or folded for compact storage when not in use, maximizing space in your home or luggage storage area.

Soft-shell Suitcase’s Cons

  1. Limited Protection: Soft-shell suitcases may offer less protection for fragile items compared to hard-shell options, as they are more susceptible to impacts and crushing.
  2. Vulnerable to Water Damage: While some soft-shell suitcases may have water-resistant properties, they are generally more prone to water damage compared to hard-shell suitcases, especially in heavy rain or when exposed to moisture for extended periods.
  3. Wear and Tear: The fabric of soft-shell suitcases may show signs of wear and tear more quickly over time, including scuffs, tears, and stains, which can affect their appearance and longevity.
  4. Security Concerns: Soft-shell suitcases are more susceptible to theft, as they can be easily cut open with sharp objects, such as knives or blades, compared to hard-shell suitcases.
  5. Less Durability: In general, soft-shell suitcases may have a shorter lifespan than hard-shell alternatives, as they are more prone to damage from rough handling, punctures, and abrasions.

Hard-shell Suitcase’s Pros

  1. Superior Protection: Hard-shell suitcases offer enhanced protection for fragile items due to their rigid construction, reducing the risk of damage from impacts and crushing.
  2. Water Resistance: Hard-shell suitcases are generally more resistant to water damage compared to soft-shell options, providing better protection for your belongings in wet conditions.
  3. Durable Exterior: The hard exterior of these suitcases is less prone to wear and tear, maintaining its appearance and integrity over time despite rough handling or external forces.
  4. Theft Deterrence: Hard-shell suitcases are more difficult to break into compared to soft-shell options, providing added security for your belongings against theft or tampering.
  5. Longevity: Due to their sturdy construction, hard-shell suitcases tend to have a longer lifespan than soft-shell alternatives, making them a worthwhile investment for frequent travelers.

Hard-shell Suitcase’s Cons

  1. Limited Flexibility: Hard-shell suitcases have less give than soft-shell options, making them less flexible when it comes to fitting into tight spaces or overpacking.
  2. Heavier Weight: Due to their rigid construction and materials, hard-shell suitcases are generally heavier than soft-shell alternatives, which can make them more cumbersome to carry and may result in additional luggage fees.
  3. Prone to Scratches: While hard-shell suitcases are durable, they are also susceptible to scratches and scuffs, which can detract from their appearance over time.
  4. Less Expandable: Hard-shell suitcases often have fixed dimensions and lack the expandable compartments found in many soft-shell options, limiting their packing capacity for bulky or oversized items.
  5. Limited Organisation: Hard-shell suitcases may have fewer exterior pockets and compartments compared to soft-shell alternatives, making it more challenging to keep belongings organised and easily accessible during travel.

Choice for Both Hard and Soft Suitcase

It’s totally a personal preference for which type of suitcase you are going for, soft-shell or hard-shell. If you are a budget traveller using LCC and are unwilling to pay extra luggage fees, go for the soft-shell suitcase, or even though there are many choices for cheaper or bargain hard-shell suitcases. However, I personally like soft-shell, which allows you to pack small stuff easily accessible in small pockets, an advantage of soft-shell luggage. Alternatively, if you are carrying a decent-sized bag for personal items, then you don’t need any small pockets; go for hard-shell.

Criteria for choosing

  • Durability
  • Flexibility
  • Weight
  • Style and Appearance
  • Price

Anyway, it’s all up to you to decide. I know it’s hard to choose, considering there are so many different types of them, hahaha. But I guess whatever you want to buy, just get what you really want to carry for your lovely holiday, and maybe it would add a bit of a spoiling feeling to your holiday.

Hope this post helps you decide which one you would get.

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