Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of soft- and hard-sided luggage. Some differences may be minor, but some may be precisely why you would buy one over the other. Okay, let’s take a look at soft-sided luggage first.

Which bag is mine?

Soft-sided Luggage


Outside Pockets – Outside pockets can be handy to have, providing a place to store your travel papers, snacks, and more.

Flexibility – With the soft-side, you can stuff your luggage into smaller spaces if needed – like packing a car or the overhead bin on an airplane.

Packing Irregular Shaped Items – With the flexibility of the fabric, you can pack irregular-shaped items into your luggage, like scuba gear, where if you had a rigid siding, it might not fit.

Storing – Maybe easier, as they have the flexibility to be squeezed into a smaller place if needed.


Theft – Soft-side is more susceptible to ambitious thieves. They have been known to cut through the fabric wherein hard-sided it is nearly impossible.

Material – The material should be of good quality, or it may tend to rip. The last thing you want is your luggage to rip open and spill its contents.

Cleaning – Soft-sided luggage can be a chore to clean. Don’t spell your coffee or tea on your luggage or anything else. It may also pick up odors that you will not be able to get out quickly.

Weather – As the material gets wet, it will make the luggage heavier and could damage the items inside.

Set of luggage

Hard-sided Luggage


Safety/Strength – It is nearly impossible to cut into a hard-sided piece of luggage. It will keep thieves out. Hard-sided is strong and durable.

Cleaning – Wiping down your luggage is a breeze with hard-sided. No stains, no muss.

Protection for Items Inside – If you buy things or have breakable things, hard-sided is ideal. If another suitcase falls on yours, or the airline bag handlers throw your bag, the items inside have a much greater survivability rate.

No Overpacking Overpacking is not going to happen with hard-sided. There is a limit. Besides, you need to learn to pack light anyway! Especially if you are in charge of your luggage (not on a coach tour or group tour).

Weather – Hard-sided can handle weather much better than soft. The rain is not likely to get inside and ruin your things. Or if someone spills something on your bag, it will just run off!


Clamshell – 50/50 – The basic style for hard-sided is that the two sides are equal in size – thus, they are called the clamshell design or 50/50. This should be a minor point, but I thought you should be aware of it.

Cruise – The way they stack luggage on cruises, many have recommended using hard-sided.


Fewer Pockets – For some reason, they usually don’t include pockets in hard-sided luggage. One way to get around this is to use packing cubes. I love packing cubes; they are a great way to organize either type of luggage.

Storing – If you bought a set, they typically can be nested inside, so you only need to find a spot for the largest size you have. They are not flexible, so an exact space is required.

Weight – today’s hard-sided luggage may be made of ABS plastic, polycarbonate, or aluminum. Aluminum will be the heaviest; you may want to avoid it if you need to carry your luggage. ABS plastics are very lightweight. Polycarbonate has the reputation of being the most durable. If weight is an issue, be sure to check that before buying.

Both Styles Have These Options

  • Multiple colors and designs
  • Four wheels
  • Expandable – At one time, they did not have hard-sided expandable, but both sets we have had were expandable.
  • Weight – has become similar – The early hardshell luggage was much heavier, but with the introduction of lighter materials, weight should not be a significant difference.
  • TSA Approved Locks
Tom with luggage in Paris

My Preference

My husband and I have traveled continuously for five years. I started with soft-sided luggage, but they did not last long; they completely fell apart after five months. I do need to say my husband’s hard-sided bag did have an issue, so we are on our second set of hard-sided luggage, but both sets lasted years, not months.

I like the protection it gives the items inside my bag, and after months and months of use, they still look brand new. They don’t even have any scratches, and they have flown thousands of miles, plus all the bumping around they get when we are driving.

I miss having the pockets on the outside, but I now have a laptop purse combination that I use that is a great substitute. Overall, I prefer the purse more than having outside pockets on the luggage. My husband has a fancy travel backpack with pockets for everything, so yes, the pockets were nice but not a necessity.

We will not be going back to soft-sided; we are pleased with what we have.

Final Tip

On either type of luggage, one thing they both have are zippers. Zippers are more likely to cause a problem than either having soft- or hard-sided luggage. One way to prevent problems is using a “luggage strap.” They are inexpensive compared to what you could lose. Add a luggage strap to your list of things you use when you are traveling.

And PS – don’t buy black luggage, be venturesome – smile.

Have you decided on hard- or soft-sided? I hope these pros and cons were helpful. Enjoy your luggage shopping!!