Buying luggage is not something you do every day; and chances are the options have completely changed since you last purchased luggage. With new technologies allowing bags to get lighter and lighter and changes to airline requirements it's unlikely you'll be completely across the key things to look for in your new suitcase. Luggage can be quite an investment too, so we've created a bit of a cheat sheet with a quick checklist of things to look for that are the key quality indicators. These are the factors that you would look at to compare bags that meet your weight, size and style requirements.
If there are 2 wheels, they should be large, a little rugged looking and on an axle. They should have adequate protective casing around them and fit snugly into the case, not be hanging off the bottom.
If there are 4 wheels, generally double wheels are easier to manage than the smaller single wheels (that look like traditional castor wheels), and will offer better durability. Again, the wheels should look very integrated with the suitcase rather than just an add on.
2. Hardware including zippers and bumpers
Zippers and zip pulls should be large and smooth to run. Once a suitcase is full there is a lot of pressure on the zip and the bigger the better. Check them around corners, if there is any resistance whilst the case is empty and new, then move on!
On soft suitcases there should also be adequate bumper protection around high impact zones including the base and wheels that protect the fabric from fraying after repeated knocks.
The hardware on the wheel housings should be substantial and stabiliser bars/feet are useful.
3. Handles including carry handles and trolley handle
Handles are a key break point along with wheels and zips. Look for handles that tuck flat or are recessed to minimise knocks in transit and also keep in mind the more handle the better. Typically, suitcases have one on top and the side, sometimes there are grab handles integrated around the feet which is very useful as then two handles can be used when lifting avoiding all the pressure in one point.
Trolley handles should be well protected and have a push button release or lock away when not in use. If they can slide out easily in transit then they can get knocked and bent which stops them working.
There is a lot of variety in the material of suitcases now with most of them offering fairly sturdy options. For a soft suitcase, polyester or nylon should have a high denier or thickness. This will either be represented with a ‘D’ number or a ‘number x number’ reading, the bigger the numbers the better.
For hard suitcases the different materials (polyurethane, polypropylene & polycarbonate) have different properties, with the focus mostly being on getting the suitcase as light as possible. The lightweight cases should be flexible and bounce back into shape easily enough. Rigid suitcases should have an excellent, solid frame to keep it nice and rigid even under immense pressure.
Warranty is a tough one as there are so many rules and exemptions that it's not a blanket indicator. It's not quite as simple as a '10 year warranty means your suitcase will last 10 years’. In most instances, your suitcase should last beyond that, however the nature of the game means it's bound to be mistreated somewhere along the way, and of course it depends on how frequently you travel and your mode of travel. For luggage, warranties should be viewed in a manner of how easy it is to service your suitcase. A global brand can offer you assistance on the other side of the world, where a local brand may not.
In saying that, there are some warranties that separate themselves and offer lifetime or extended ‘cover everything’ warranties. Value can be placed on these types of warranties.
A 2-10 year warranty is about standard, yet should be considered along with other information in gauging a bags durability.
In our opinion, these are the key indicators – information should be readily available online to help you make your decision, or you can pop in store to speak with a sales consultant who can help match you up to bag that suits your needs.
And because what's not important is just as important when deciding, here are 5 things that are not actually quality indicators;
Internal pockets & lining – this is a luxury! Many of our most robust bags do without any lining to cut down on weight, and most will have minimal pockets and so on. If there is lining just ensure is looks robust enough not to rip and that the zippers are a good size.
External patterns or textures – hard suitcases all have different patterns and effects, these will impact how well your suitcase wears with some resisting and disguising marks better than others, mostly though, it's a cosmetic attribute rather than a quality indicator. A beat-up suitcase may look rough but will still do the job!
Expanders and built in locks – these are convenience offerings that are very useful to some, and will likely influence the price of the suitcase, but they are not reflective of quality or durability. A suitcase that doesn’t have these features is not necessarily worse quality, so if you don’t specifically need them you can look beyond this.
Brand – just because you have heard of the brand does not mean a particular suitcase is the best quality. It is true though that the large brands offer global warranties which are useful. A large brand such as Samsonite will have up to 50 suitcases at once, all offering different points of difference to suit different customers, some are most definitely top of the range, others offer difference features for specific travel. Make sure you’re looking at the right suitcase for your needs, then compare like for like models using the above indicators.
Price – whilst there is an element of you get what you pay for with luggage, you also pay extra for benefits such as expanders, interior features, laptop compartments, special materials and so on. Many of which you may just not need and therefore don’t need to pay top dollar. Read up on some entry level and mid-range bags too to check out what the differences are and put together your ‘must have’ list to narrow your search rather than navigating by price.
So there you have it, take some notes and go check out some suitcases like you know what you're doing!