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Hard-Side vs. Soft-Side Luggage

Luggage comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and styles each geared towards the different needs and tastes of travelers. When purchasing luggage, it is important to distinguish what you value most in terms of travel. Whether it’s weight to ensure remaining under the weight limit, durability for long-lasting luggage, aesthetics for professional or sleek looking luggage, or pack-ability to maximize space, it is essential to understand the different types of luggage available in the market. Today, many travelers are faced with the choice between hard-side and soft-side luggage. Continue reading to learn more about the pros and cons of both hard and soft-side luggage. Hard-side luggage generally comes in two different types of materials, ABS and polycarbonate. These plastic materials are the most widely used for hard-side luggage. However, many manufacturers use mixtures and blends of the two, so it is important to do your research and buy the appropriate bag for your travel needs. Finally, there is aluminum hard-side luggage; this is generally the most expensive luggage and often the most durable. Each of these materials has its own benefits in terms of durability, price, weight and style. ABS hard-side luggage is typically the most inexpensive on the market. It can be lightweight and is resistant to scrapes and scratches. We recommend ABS luggage for the traveler on a budget who is looking for hard-side luggage at an affordable price. ABS luggage can be subject to cracking, and tends to be less durable than other hard-side materials. Therefore, it is not recommended for the frequent traveler. Polycarbonate was first introduced by Rimowa in 2000 and has gained popularity each year. Since some manufacturers like to blend and mix materials, it is important to check if a bag is pure polycarbonate (100%), a polycarbonate/ ABS blend, or a polycarbonate composite- all of which are more durable than ABS hard-side luggage. Polycarbonate composites have a layer of polycarbonate coating over a blend of polycarbonate. This compilation blend is lightweight and durable; however, the color is not fully absorbed through the shell. Therefore, if scratched, discolorations can appear on the suitcase. We always recommend pure polycarbonate luggage as the best option for a frequent traveler. Aluminum is the third option for those looking to buy hard-side luggage. Aluminum luggage was also introduced by Rimowa in the 1930’s and was brought to the market in the U.S.A by Zero Halliburton. Aluminum is the most durable of the three. The traditional aluminum metal construction can withstand years of constant travel and abuse while still holding its form and functionality. These bags can be subject to scratching and denting, but many feel that adds character to the look of the bag. One negative to aluminum luggage is that it is more expensive due to its incredible durability. Celebrities, athletes, and business travelers can often be seen with aluminum luggage and briefcases. While aluminum or metal luggage might not be for everyone, it has been a popular choice for travelers for almost 90 years. Soft-side luggage offers a much different travel experience. Soft-side luggage typically comes in three materials: fabric, polyester, and nylon- each with its own pros and cons. Fabric tends to be used on designer pieces or frameless luggage. This material is lightweight, flexible, and typically less expensive than both the polyester and the nylon. While more lightweight, it is susceptible to scratches and scrapes, and less durable than other soft-side materials. Polyester is widely used among luggage brands in light collections because it’s resistant to abrasion and is light weight. It is relatively inexpensive and comes in a variety of options depending on the brand and traveler’s needs. While it is more durable than fabric, it is still susceptible to scratches and cuts, and tends to age faster than other luggage materials. Nylon is the strongest material from which soft-side luggage is made. Depending on the grade (the higher- the stronger the material) nylon luggage can be extremely resistant to abrasions and cuts. It typically ages slower than other soft-side luggage, and is much more durable than fabric and polyester. While a little more expensive, nylon soft-sides are often worth the investment for the durability received. Directly comparing hard-side and soft-side luggage can be tricky depending on the kind of material from which they are made. Hard-side luggage is typically more durable than soft-side luggage as the harder shells resist abrasions, cuts and pressure. Soft-side luggage is typically more flexible making it easier to expand and stuff a bag with clothing and travel essentials. Should I buy Hard-Side or Soft-Side Luggage? When trying to choose between soft and hard-side luggage, think of your travel demands and needs. If flexibility and packing convenience are of the utmost importance for a couple trips a year, then soft-side luggage might be the way to go. If durability and protection of essentials is the preeminent factor, then hard-side luggage is a great option for keeping your valuables safe. If weight restrictions are your biggest issue, then the higher end offerings of both hard-side and soft-side luggage provide great, lightweight options to choose from. In the end, both are great options; it just comes down to deciding what factors are more pertinent to your situation and your personal style. 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