Hard vs Soft Luggage: Which Is Better?

When it comes to hard vs soft luggage, how do you decide which to buy? We compared all their features, including weight, durability, ease of packing and so much more, so you can choose the best suitcase for your needs.

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If you’re planning a trip any time soon, you’re probably considering which bags to take, checking out the best luggage brands and trying to answer the most divisive modern-day travel question: Is hard or soft luggage better?

The hard vs soft luggage debate rages on because there are so many smart options available for both, whether you’re looking for carry-on bags, underseat luggage, affordable luggage or luggage sets. Soft-sided luggage gives you more packing flexibility, but hard shells protect your belongings better. Also, hard shells tend to be heavier, but soft-sided ones can damage more easily. There are good and bad features for both and, in the end, it really comes down to personal preference.

We’ve weighed the pros and cons of hard vs soft luggage so you can decide not just which one is best, but which one is best for you. Once you’ve made your choice, you’ll be ready to check off your packing list, avoid packing mistakes and head out to your next destination!

Is hard vs soft luggage better?

When looking at hard shell vs soft shell luggage, each have their own distinct benefits. If you’re checking a bag, consider going with a hard shell that will better withstand being thrown around by baggage handlers, sitting on the tarmac in the rain and being tossed on a conveyor belt. The Away polycarbonate flex suitcase and Bigger Carry-On are beautiful-looking choices, as is anything from Béis, founded by Pretty Little Liars actress, Shay Mitchell. Or, Monos, an affordable and sustainable brand beloved by frequent travelers, is another popular pick.

If you’re only traveling with a carry-on, a soft-sided suitcase may serve you better. It can more easily be maneuvered into a tight overhead compartment, and you can easily get to your belongings during a flight because you don’t have to take down and unzip the entire bag. Osprey, Helly Hansen and Lo and Sons all offer soft luggage in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.

Hard shell luggage

Made of durable materials like polycarbonate, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and aluminum, hard shell luggage is practically indestructible. That means everything inside the bag stays well-protected, which is especially important if you’re bringing home fragile purchases from your trip.

Because most hard shell pieces have four wheels rather than two, they’re a breeze to roll through an airport. Bonus points if they’re 360-degree spinner wheels, which offer superior maneuverability so you can even turn your bag sideways when you’re boarding a plane instead of struggling to carry it down the narrow aisle.

When it comes to safety, hard luggage boasts some valuable features. It can’t be slashed or sliced into like fabric bags, and most hard cases have TSA-friendly locks built in so they can’t be cut.

Hard shell luggage is also easy to clean, so even if it does get dirty—and it will—you can usually just wipe off scuff marks with a clean cloth or Magic Eraser.


  • Sturdier and more durable
  • Offers better protection for items inside
  • Easier to clean
  • Tends to come with four spinner wheels and a lock


  • Less flexible space
  • Often heavier

Soft-sided luggage

Soft-sided luggage has been around forever and remains a favorite of many frequent travelers because of its flexibility. In fact, its ability to be squished into small spaces is why pilots only travel with soft-sided luggage. There’s a better chance of a soft-sided bag being able to be pushed into an overhead compartment or fit under the bed of a hotel room.

And, when it comes to packing, soft-sided luggage offers the luxury of expansion. You can almost always squeeze just one more item into it—something you’ll definitely want to take into consideration if you’re not a light packer. Also, because the interior of soft-sided pieces is generally one big open space—as opposed to the two divided sides of a hard shell case—you can organize your belongings however you prefer, using packing cubes or the rolling technique.

Soft-sided luggage is generally lighter than hard luggage, so if you’re worried about going over an airline’s weight limit, it’s a smart option, as it gives you more leeway to use those pounds for your belongings rather than for the suitcase.


  • Easier to fit into tight spaces
  • Offers more flexibility for packing
  • Tends to be lighter


  • Less protection for items inside
  • Harder to clean dirt and stains
  • Fabric can get torn or be cut

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the hard sided luggage vs soft sided debate. It comes down to personal preference, packing needs and figuring out which features are most important to you. As long as you’re happy with your choice and you can pack and travel comfortably, that’s all that really matters!

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Lois Alter Mark
Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning travel, lifestyle, shopping and entertainment writer for Reader's Digest, Forbes and USA Today 10Best. Her work has taken her to all seven continents and introduced her to new people, food and—her latest obsession—pickleball! An avid cruiser, she loves introducing readers to the joys of travel.