Our most popular blog post, our most frequently asked question and our first question to our customers – what are you looking for a soft or hard suitcase? Both come in various sizes, both have a range of quality options from entry level to premium, both have broad price points and functional features and both get the job done. So, which is better? It depends on personal preference, travel plans and sometimes budget.
The choice of hard suitcases now outnumbers the soft ranges by about 4 to 1 (on average for major brands), so the consumers have overwhelmingly made a preference for hard suitcase clear. But there are other factors at play on this, there is more opportunity to incorporate tech and new innovation in hard suitcases, soft suitcases have a ‘sameness’ to them so that there are only so many ranges one brand can have without it being repetitive and unnecessary. That, however does not necessarily mean a hard suitcase is the right choice for you.
So just as we did in our original post, we’ll look at the major pro's and con's of each (read the original post here), with an updated perspective on the latest built in features.
Before launching into our list, it is worth outlining the following rule regarding weight;
A soft suitcase will typically be lighter at comparable prices. So for a $120 cabin suitcase, normally a soft one would be lighter than a hard suitcase in this price bracket.
Ultra-light hard suitcases exist and are often the lightest on the market, however, it is premium materials that get them this light, so the prices start from about $250 upwards for a cabin in the ultralight category.
Lightweight and strong construction. The strength to weight ratio is generally better on the latest ultra-lightweight hard suitcases*
New built in tech offerings such as USB ports, built in scales, combi locks, personalisation or engraving and so on.
Better security – the hard shell reduces theft through case slitting (or anyone adding something to external pockets).
Maximum packing space, due to the thin plastic shell construction you get maximum packing space inside as space is not given over to folds of fabric and lining.
Protection for your belongings, the hard shells are very durable and resilient, if your case is dropped it offers better impact resistance and therefore protects fragile items inside better.
Space when the suitcase is open – and this is a major one, they take up twice the space then a soft case when open. To pack or unpack or even just slip your jacket into your suitcase, you need to open the suitcase right up and lay it flat due to the middle division. Mostly hotel rooms are short on space and it can be very difficult to negotiate opening and closing a medium or large suitcase each day. If you take a hard suitcase be prepared to completely unpack at your destination, no matter how short your stay.
Hard suitcases don't always have an expander section, where most soft suitcases do. If a hard suitcase does expand, it's typically a heavier model.
Hard suitcases are less car friendly, especially if you're travelling in pairs or more with a couple of hard suitcases. Consider whether you will be in and out of taxis or hiring a car in your travels and ensure your hard suitcase/s will fit!
More organised packing – soft suitcases normally have a more organised packing system with additional pockets and external pockets for fast access whilst in transit. It is easier to travel with a soft suitcase through airports, train stations and cities as you can simply add your tickets and bottle of water to the outside pocket, however this does bring with it reduced security.
They take up less space when they are open – you can simply lean your case up against the wall and open the lid, this way you can get away with not unpacking on short stays, or partially unpacking, or like me you can toss your dirty clothes in the case and close the lid to hide the mess and keep your hotel room pristine.
They often have expander sections making them versatile for different trips.
Often soft suitcases are easier to pack into car boots depending on their design and how rigid they are.
Unlike hard suitcases, the lighter a soft suitcase is the flimsier it might be as it is likely made from less heavy duty fabrics or it will have less features.
Less security, thieves are able to cut through fabric to break into a case, external pockets can also have items put in without your knowledge (this can be overcome with travel locks).
Less protection for the items inside, a hard suitcase will absorb the impact from bumps and knocks, a soft suitcase won't so much.
Fabric is more prone to wear and tear than plastic, for example fraying, pulling or ripping, in many instances it won't compromise the function of the bag but in some instances it might.
So to summarise the list and put it into the context of travel; for a normal business or leisure traveller a soft suitcase might be easier to pack, live out of and generally just manage whilst in transit. The pockets, organisation, ability to partly open the case to add or remove items and the fact that they take up less space when they are open is typically just easier. Soft suitcases also offer great value for money for lightweight options.
However, generally the soft suitcases, whilst they vary in quality, don't have unique travel features like the hard suitcases do that may make them more suited to specific travellers. Features such as ultra lightweight materials, built in scales, expanders, interior organisation, personalisation, business compartments and so on that mean there is a huge range to choose from so you can find the perfect model for you.