Various suitcases stacked

Understanding Luggage Durability

There are a number of things to take into consideration when buying your next set of luggage. You want something that looks good and matches your personality, you want something that is comfortable and convenient to travel with, and you want something that will fit all your travel belongings inside it, safely and securely. But most of all, you need a bag that will last.

Broken hardshell suitcase

A vacation, business trip, or tour can be irreparably spoiled by a broken piece of luggage, when it splits open and you lose your valuables, or the handle breaks and you can no longer roll or carry it comfortably. The best way to prevent something terrible from happening to your luggage is to buy strong, durable luggage in the first place.

There are 2 main types of luggage to choose from – hardside or softside – and within those, a variety of different materials, each with their own pros and cons. In this article, we’d like to teach you about the durability, advantages, and disadvantages of some of these.

Hardside Luggage

Woman on bench with hard side suitcase

Also known as hard-shell luggage, this luggage is, as the name suggests, more rigid on the outside. Hardside suitcases tend to be made in a clamshell formation, with the split exactly down the middle. There is very little variety in the shapes in which hardside luggage can be built, so if you’re looking for something more creative, you may want to consider a softside suitcase.

Despite the lack of variety, this type of luggage is gaining in popularity, as modern hard-shell suitcases tend to be lightweight and durable. There are a few materials commonly used in the manufacturing of this type of luggage, including high-tech plastics, such as polycarbonate and ABS. The heaviest but most durable material generally used to make hardside luggage is aluminum.

Pros

Hardshell suitcase ready for packing

Hard-shell luggage offers a high level of security, as it often comes with built-in locking mechanisms, and some aluminum cases don’t even have zippers, but rather lock with drawbolt latches. The shell material cannot be cut or ripped through, either, so the only way for someone to steal your luggage would be to steal the entire thing.

The rigid shell makes this the best luggage type for transporting breakables or fragile items, as the shell is unlikely to be dented or depressed enough to damage anything inside. It also allows the suitcase to be conveniently stacked with similar-shaped items, and if you have a hard-shell carry-on piece, it should fit comfortably in the overhead compartment.

Cons

Over full hard side suitcase

Hardside suitcases can only be packed to their original shape – you will not be able to squeeze in those extra last-minute items if it is already full – the hard shell cannot bulge or bend to allow for extra packing space. If you are someone who tends to overpack, you may want to consider a softside case, or learn how to pack more carefully.

The 50/50 split or clamshell shape requires a lot more space to fully open, so be sure you don’t choose this luggage type if your accommodation is expected to be very small, though a bed would always be enough space for this. It will also require the right amount of storage space at home, between trips, as it cannot fold away or be squashed into a smaller shape.

You can expect your hard-shell luggage to scuff, scratch, dent, or even crack in time, so be sure to choose a durable and scratch resistant material when shopping for your luggage. Although aluminum can dent quite easily, the dents can simply be tapped out from the other side. Polycarbonate suitcases may scuff or scratch, but are unlikely to crack, whereas ABS models are the least durable and the most likely to crack with wear.

Softside Luggage

Man pulling soft side suitcase

Softside or soft-shell luggage has been the more common type in the past, though hard-shell luggage is gaining in popularity. There are many shapes and sizes of softside luggage, ranging from standard suitcase models through to rolling backpacks and oversized duffels.

Softside luggage can be made from a variety of soft and yielding materials, ranging from the lightweight and least durable polyester through to the strongest types of nylon – ballistic and cordura. Canvas and leather are also materials occasionally used to make softside suitcases, though these days they are rare. More often, these materials are used to make backpacks and duffels.

Each of these materials has its own set of advantages and disadvantages including durability, water-resistance or absorption, flexibility, weight, maintenance, and of course, price. Finding a balance between these specifications is the trick to finding the perfect luggage for your needs.

Pros

Luggage on trolley in train station

Soft-shell suitcases tend to have more pockets and compartments than their harder counterparts, both on the inside and the outside, and they can often expand and compress to a degree, making them a great choice for people who tend to overpack, or those who live in small spaces and don’t have space to store a hard suitcase.

They are also often more lightweight than hard-shell luggage, making them a great choice for people who do a significant amount of traveling and don’t want to lug around heavy bags on every trip, or, because they can expand and change shape a bit, you can make up for the lower weight by packing in a few extra pounds of travel gear.

Cons

Torn suitcase with other luggage

Most fabrics and materials used for softside luggage can be cut or ripped if enough force or a sharp tool is used, making them the least secure baggage type. They usually have zipper closures, which are easy to cut away from the fabric, though some come with integrated locks, which increase the security a little.

Soft-shell bags are never a good option for transporting fragile cargo, as the items will not be protected by the shell, and could easily be bumped or knocked against something outside of the luggage. Even if wrapped and packed very carefully, there is significant risk in carrying breakables in a soft-shell case.

Leather Luggage

Vintage leather suitcase

Before the advent of modern plastics and high-tech materials, leather was a very popular material for luggage-making, but due to the high price and its high-maintenance nature, it has been mostly replaced by cheaper and lower-care materials. However, there is still a significant market for boutique leather luggage for those who wish to spend the money for a high-end and durable product.

Leather is a very durable material, far superior to most other soft-shell types of luggage, though the durability, appearance, lifespan, and usefulness will be affected by the type of leather used in each bag’s construction. Luggage can be made from full-grain, split-grain, top-grain, or napa leather, each with its own pros and cons.

Pros

In general, leather is very durable, and if properly cared-for, can last a lifetime. Rather than wearing down over time and looking worn and grubby, some types of leather develop a unique patina and character that is generally loved by the bag’s owner, as it tells the story of their adventures.

Vintage leather suitcase handle

Luggage made from top-grain leather is resistant to stains and discoloration, and those made from full-grain leather are most resistant to scuffs and scratches. Napa leather is soft and yielding, and feels and looks fantastic. Leather bags often come with plenty of pockets and compartments, making them useful and convenient travel partners.

Cons

Leather is expensive, and although the prices differ according to the type of leather used, this will always be the most expensive choice of luggage. Leather requires a lot of maintenance, and some leather types, such as suede and other split-grain leathers, will scuff easily and age badly, no matter how carefully you treat them.

Leather is not naturally waterproof, and although many leather manufacturers treat their leather with excellent techniques to make the products waterproof, it is always a good idea to keep your leather luggage away from water as much as possible, or it could be permanently damaged.

Conclusion

Set of blue luggage

Whether you are a regular traveler or someone who only goes on the occasional vacation, you will want a good luggage set to make sure that your belongings arrive safely and in good condition. There are a number of materials used in the manufacture of luggage, and not all of them are created equal. That old saying, “You get what you pay for”, comes into play in a big way when you are buying luggage, and you should make your choice carefully, based on the information above.

Amy Catchpole

Amy Catchpole is a lifetime farm girl who currently lives on a farm with her husband, dogs, horses, and sheep. As a farmer, she is very concerned with lasting and durable tools and products, as well as the environment and the welfare of the planet. Aside from farming and animals, Amy’s biggest passion is the English language, and she is an avid writer and editor.

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