Battle of the Baggage: Hard-side vs. Soft-side
You know the song ‘It’s a Small World After All’. When people hear that title, they often nod and murmur about how easy it is to get around to different continents and countries nowadays, especially compared to “the old days”, and it’s so true!
People say the world is getting smaller even; obviously they don’t mean it literally, but the sentiment is that travel has become so prolific and easy that there simply isn’t that much left of the world to discover. And with frequent and widespread travel, comes the need for people to carry more belongings with them on their adventures. You know what that this means? Luggage. Lots and lots of luggage.
As the demand for more luggage increases steadily, more and more companies are producing more varied models and designs to try and appease the growing demand. It would appear that there are generally two main categories of luggage that have emerged, each with their own pros and cons and supporters. But which is better? Is there a superior choice or do each have their merits and we should leave it at that?
Let’s explore this further…
Hard-side luggage, also commonly referred to as hard-shell luggage, is a more recent development that its soft-side counterparts, but even so, it has become increasingly popular with people over time. While the defining feature of hard-side suitcases is glaringly obvious, there are some other features which people tend to think about less. What are these features exactly?
- A lot of hard-side suitcases have in-built packing compartments and interior pockets. Part of the rationale for this could be due to the fact that designing pockets on hard sides would be much more complicated and unpredictable than having them on the inside. Having flexible exterior pockets would also defeat the object of having a sturdy, durable, solid suitcase.
While these pockets and compartments can be extremely useful for organisational purposes and for keeping track of various items, they can also prove to be a hindrance if you have a large volume of things to pack, as the divisions can get in the way. Make sure you know what you’ll be using your case for before deciding which type to use.
- Although many brands of hard-side luggage claim to be scratch-resistant and hardy, a common complaint amongst users is that they show wear and tear much more easily than soft-side suitcases. If you bang or scrape a hard suitcase against a wall or other obstacle, it is likely that a scuff mark will show, or the outermost layer of paint might be damaged. Scratches are a much more common occurrence than you might think.
While this might make for a less than perfect aesthetic, hard-side bags with intricate of geometric embossed designs can be very forgiving, and damage can be minimally noticeable. Also, who really cares if there’s a scratch on your suitcase? As long as the structural integrity is not affected, all should be fine.
- Hard-side suitcases are ideal for transporting fragile or breakable items, as well as valuables as they are generally more difficult to break into. Most hard-side bags come with built-in combination locks which add an extra element of security to your luggage.
Padding breakables and valuables thickly with clothes, blankets, or other insulators can be very effective in hard-side luggage as it stops things from shifting around during flights and transit. The hard sides keep everything contained and secure.
If we move onto soft-side luggage now, you’ll be able to see at a glance how they compare with hard-side bags.
As was the case with the hard-side suitcases, soft-side bags are obviously named as such because of the materials that make up their exterior. Soft-side luggage has been around for longer than hard-shell luggage, and still remains a popular choice. There is typically more variation in soft-side suitcases than hard-side. Here’s why:
- Contrary to hard-side luggage, soft-side suitcases more often than not have multiple exterior pockets and sleeves which range in size and function. Some fasten with zips, some with Velcro, and occasionally there might be buttons, but in any case, exterior pockets provide the traveller with additional space to store items, particularly those they want easy access to.
Have you ever been through security, walked around duty free for a while and then realised you can’t find your passport? After a few minutes of panic, you realise you put it in the front pocket of your suitcase, so it would be easy to reach for boarding. This is one of the main advantages soft-side cases have over hard-shells.
- Because soft-side suitcases are usually made of nylon blends or canvas, they can be subject to wear and tear quite easily as well, and tend to break down or rip more easily than hard-side suitcases. They are also more susceptible to being bumped, which might affect the contents if special care is not taken whilst packing.
By the same token however, the flexible nature of the cases also enables it to amend its shape slightly to fit in smaller spaces whereas a hard-side suitcase can be very limiting where space is concerned; hard plastic does not conform to space the same way that softer materials are able to.
- Another point that’s worth mentioning with soft-side suitcases is that they are often extendable. A lot have whole extendable zip areas that can increase the volume of the bag by 15% or more, and the ones that don’t have this feature still allow some leeway as they can stretch somewhat to accommodate large loads.
Hard-side suitcases do not often have this luxury and can subsequently be limiting if you have a lot of things to pack or buy too many souvenirs on holiday.
Which Case To Go For?
There are various reasons to argue in favour of both types of suitcase, and each has its disadvantages. It really just comes down to personally preference I would say. Are you looking for optimal protection? Or are you more interested in flexibility? Once you’ve nailed down your main concerns, picking a suitcase type will become a breeze.
Once you’ve made the decision, then comes the tough part…choosing out of so many different styles, designs, and colours!