The 5 Best Soft-Sided Luggage Pieces of 2023, According to Travel Experts
Whether you're going on a weekend getaway or flying around the world, these are the best soft-sided luggage picks that'll make packing easy.
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Travel is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but it also poses some logistical hurdles like booking flights, choosing the aisle or the window seat and, of course, packing. The debate of hard vs soft luggage is a hot topic in the travel world. Some travelers opt for the protection and durability of hard shell luggage—and we admittedly have some favorites (like the Away polycarbonate flex suitcase and the Bigger Carry-On—but there are definite perks to the best soft-sided luggage.
“Soft-sided luggage can be manipulated a little more when empty, so they might fit into tighter spaces, like cruise ship closets and at-home storage easier,” says Janice Eckert, a travel specialist at Awaken Travels. Soft-sided luggage also comes in plenty of shapes and styles that often win over the standard shape of hard-sided luggage when it comes to packing smarter.
Almost all pilots opt for soft-sided luggage. Travel pros also consider soft-sided luggage to be more versatile and ideal for certain types of trips, from a camping trip to a business meeting across the county. When it comes to choosing the best luggage set for your upcoming travels, these are our top soft-sided luggage picks.
The best soft-sided luggage
Best overall soft-sided luggage
Osprey Sojourn Wheeled Travel Pack
No two trips look alike, which is why the Osprey Sojourn travel pack is ready for your itinerary of choice. A quality option when it comes to soft-sided luggage, the Osprey is a versatile enough to be rolled through airports or carried like a travel backpack. The bag can accommodate 45 liters of storage while remaining within the carry-on dimensions for most U.S. domestic airlines. The main compartment is an open design, making it an ideal time to use packing cubes for better organization.
The Osprey bag also features an exterior quick-access area for anything you might want to quickly grab while en route. Internal compression straps and external straps keep the bag compressed, which can be a lifesaver if packing light isn’t your strong suit.
- Wheeled luggage design that also works as a backpack
- Internal and external compression cinches
- Extra-large wheels
- Removable internal aluminum frame
- Offers back and lumbar support as a backpack
- On the pricier side
- Doesn’t work as underseat luggage
Best budget soft-sided luggage
Travelpro Maxlite 5
We’ve all made travel mistakes before, but investing in affordable, yet high-quality, luggage piece surely isn’t one of them. The Travelpro Maxlite 5 is a lightweight option that offers roomy storage areas with durable materials. Travel expert and advisor, Teresa DeGraff, recommends investing in luggage that makes packing easy, which includes internal organization. “I definitely look for compartments in the luggage that help me define what I pack and stay organized,” she says.
The carry-on bag’s dimensions fit almost all international airline requirements, and the material is both water- and stain-resistant, so your bag is less likely to end up dirty. That’s another reason DeGraff prefers soft-sided luggage. “The hard-sided pieces I have always get scuffed and scratched. They tend to look worn faster,” she says. The combination of the Travelpro Maxlite’s features, price and durability make this one of the best soft-sided luggage deals around. (For another budget-friendly pick, you can also consider the new Quince suitcase line.)
- Won’t break the bank
- Lightweight at 5.4 pounds
- Water- and stain-resistant coating
- Expands up to 2 inches
- Available in 13 colors
- Some reviewers say the wheels aren’t very durable
Best carry-on soft-sided luggage
SwissGear Sion Expandable Roller
Packing only a carry-on bag is an art form that takes dedication and strategy, but it does allow you to avoid baggage claim and extra travel fees. If your airline allows you to travel with carry-on luggage, the SwissGear Sion fits the bill. SwissGear has a solid reputation for its durable luggage and this model uses its scuff-resistant material. It also includes plenty of storage and even a removable wet bag.
Fragile items on your carry-on packing list, like sunglasses and jewelry are sure to arrive unscathed. This piece has 360-degree wheels for smoother navigation, and the suitcase expands in case you pick up souvenirs on your travels. At 21 inches tall, it meets most airline requirements for carry-on luggage.
- Meets most airline carry-on requirements
- Has four 360-degree spinner wheels
- Crush-resistant internal and external pockets
- Includes additional bags and straps inside
- Made of scuff-resistant material
- Some reviewers say the handle feels flimsy
Best checked soft-sided luggage
Briggs & Riley Baseline Medium Expandable Spinner
Taking off on a lifelong dream adventure of traveling around the world? You might want to pack more than just a weekend’s worth of clothing. The Briggs & Riley expandable spinner is a rolling soft-sided luggage that can fit from 80 to 97 liters. It features Briggs & Riley’s One-Touch CX expansion system, which expands all four sides of the suitcase with the push of a button. And you can compress the suitcase easily. A built-in garment area uses a foam roll bar to keep clothes wrinkle-free while two zipped mesh pockets help with packing smaller travel accessories.
On our list of the best luggage brands, Briggs & Riley takes the top spot as the best overall brand, offering a lifetime warranty on its durable and thoughtfully designed luggage lineup. You can also add a three-initial monogram at no additional cost.
- Large capacity checked luggage for long trips
- Compressible expansion area
- Built-in garment area keeps clothes wrinkle-free
- Free monogrammed initials
- Lifetime guarantee
- Weighs 12.5 pounds
Best soft-sided luggage for kids
L.L.Bean Adventure Rolling Duffle Bag
Whether you’re taking the kids to an all-inclusive resort for families or dropping them off at sleepaway camp, L.L.Bean’s rolling duffle bag is functional soft-sided luggage that comes in fun colors and patterns. Overall, it has 33 liters of storage capacity with a two-wheel design. The latest version of this duffle comes with a redesigned no-tip base, so it’ll stand upright without the risk of toppling over.
The carry-on-sized duffle has several methods for easy transport. A telescoping handle for rolling has L.L.Bean’s Smooth-Glide wheels, or you can carry the bag like a traditional duffle with the handle wrap. The bottom and top also have padded grab handles. An external, small zippered storage is ideal for safely stashing away items like a passport or travel documents. Weighing less than 7 pounds, it’s a lightweight, soft-sided luggage option worth considering for kids.
- Kid-friendly size and selection of colors
- No-tip design
- Tested for water- and abrasion-resistance
- Telescoping handle, handle wrap and handles on both ends
- Meets most airline carry-on requirements
- Two-wheel design
What to consider when buying soft-sided luggage
In contrast to hard shell luggage, soft-sided luggage comes in many styles, so you can shop for the best one that fits your needs. When shopping for soft-sided luggage, Eckert says to look for options that have compartments and pockets for better organization, both on the inside of the bag and the outside. “External pockets are a good place to throw tennis sneakers, portable luggage scales, socks or things you don’t mind getting a little tousled,” she says.
Soft-sided carry-on luggage with wheels is one of the most common types, and it either has one set of wheels or two (the latter gives the option to pull and push). “I look for four wheels to give me the flexibility of pushing on four wheels or pulling on two,” says Eckert. If your trip takes you on uneven terrain, you might want to consider a pick that can also be carried as a backpack.
You could opt for a smart bag with features like a USB charging port, built-in scale and biometric lock. Some of the best soft-sided luggage also qualifies as a personal item, meaning it’ll slide under your seat on a plane if the overhead bins are full. It’s also wise to consider the budget of buying new luggage. Some of the best affordable luggage is soft-sided, so you’ll have plenty of options that leave money leftover for the trip itself.
How we found the best soft-sided luggage
As shopping experts, our only job is to help you find a winning product. We start with the research and reporting basics—what products are made of, what they look like and how much they cost—to ensure that we’re only recommending the buys that are worth your time and money. Then, we research the features that speak to the product’s quality, taking advice from industry insiders and subject matter experts on what makes a product a smart value (or worthy of a splurge). Finally, we do the work of combing through user reviews to see how real people interact with the product, and if it stands up to the test.
Is soft-sided luggage as durable as hard shell luggage?
The best soft-sided luggage can absolutely be as durable as hard-sided, as long as it’s made with high-quality materials. “My favorite soft-sided suitcase is one I’ve used for 15 years,” Eckert says, who’s well-versed in business travel. “I traveled on a weekly basis with it for three years and then monthly for another two years. It’s still in great shape, no rips or holes and still sturdy and solid.”
How do you clean soft-sided luggage?
Keeping soft-sided luggage clean is simple. Spot-cleaning with soap and water usually works, but be sure to read the manufacturer’s washing instructions. Travelpro, for example, says using soap on its soft sided luggage can harm the coating and instead recommends spot-cleaning with a mixture of water and rubbing alcohol.
Eckert says some travelers like to use stain- and water-resistant spray, like Scotchguard, but many of the best soft-sided luggage pieces already repel water.
How do you protect soft-sided luggage?
DeGraff keeps her soft-sided luggage in a dust cover when she’s not using it to keep it protected and clean. While traveling, you can help protect your luggage by using TSA-approved locks or shopping for luggage that already includes them.
- Janice Eckert, a travel specialist at Awaken Travels based in Arizona
- Teresa DeGraff, a travel expert and advisor
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