Where do you fall in the “hard-sided vs soft-sided luggage debate”? I’ve been updating a lot of older posts, including some on our business travel must-haves — I know not many people are traveling right now, but I thought this might make a fun discussion since there are so many luggage sales everywhere I turn.
So here are the questions: What’s your favorite suitcase, and why? Do you believe in soft-sided suitcases (like the TravelPro Elite) or hard-sided luggage (like Away or these Samsonite ones)? Do you have a favorite weekender or collapsible bag that you bring with you on trips for souvenirs (cough, clothes you’ve bought on vacation)? Do tell…
(Wow — have we not talked about the best travel bags since 2012? Hmmn.)
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For my $.02, I have always preferred a soft-sided suitcase in the “hard-sided vs soft-sided luggage” debate. I’m one of those people who constantly “remembers” things to add at the last minute, and I like being to unzip a tiny portion while the bag is still standing up and shove whatever I’ve remembered inside.
I’m also a fan of external pockets — even if I’m only keeping things like a nail file, a protein bar, and maybe a magazine. If I’m traveling with my laptop or Chromebook I often stash that in the external pocket until I’m past the security gate.
(As a side note — if traveling by myself or with just my husband we always do carry-on only. But if we’re traveling with the whole family it’s just easier to pack huge suitcases and check them — particularly in the days when we had a stroller to navigate through the airport having multiple smaller rolling bags was just too difficult.
And I’m a huge fan of any “additional” bag with a travel sleeve to go over the rolling handles, whether it’s a weekender, laptop bag, or backpack — reader favorite Lo & Sons is a great spot to check for bags with travel sleeves (and most of their wares are 40% off right now).
(Psst: Here’s my TravelPro MaxLite review!)
That said, I know one of our guestposters who had traveled internationally frequently for work vastly preferred a hard-sided suitcase, noting:
For too long, I struggled with heavy luggage with two wheels only to arrive at my destination with wrinkled clothes and spilled toiletries. I’ve converted to hardside luggage with four wheels, and I’m never going back. It’s light, so you can pack more and stay under the fly limit. Best part? You look calm, cool and collected as you roll your luggage easily through the airport and your hotel.
On the other side, RoadWarriorette has always preferred soft-sided suitcases, noting:
I think generally a soft sided suitcase is going to be a better bet for most travelers. They are more flexible and therefore able to squeeze into oddly sized overhead bins. There are usually more options for expanding, so if you do come home with more than you departed with it’s not that big of a deal. Plus there are so many available [that] there are options across the budget spectrum.
However, if you have specialized equipment that needs extra protection then a hard-sided suitcase may be a good option for you.
Readers, how about you — where do you fall in the “hard-sided vs soft-sided luggage debate”? What is your favorite suitcase — and why?
These are some of the Corporette readers’ favorite items for business travel…
Hunting for lightweight carry-ons with a trolley sleeve for your rolling bag? As of 2023, Tumi, Lo & Sons, Cole Haan, Vera Bradley, and Baggalini are your best bets if you’re looking for quality — but here are some other options (including super affordable Amazon ones) below. (Kat has this one and likes it!)
I prefer soft-sided luggage because of the pockets. For checked luggage, four-wheeled suitcases are rather nice. Two-wheeled are far better for carry-on; they are easier to pull through airports as you sprint from one terminal to another for a connecting flight.
As a counterpoint, I’ve had issues with being able to wheel some 2-wheeled carry-ons down the aisle of airplanes, so end up having to carry it. I like the ability to turn it sideways and push it on the 4 wheels.
Well this is…odd…timing for this post?
I’m absolutely team soft-sided and 4-wheeled. The person cited who liked hard-sided didn’t actually say anything positive about hard-sided suitcases, just the 4 wheels. I like the flexibility of soft-sided bags so they can expand just a bit if you need to squeeze in that one last thing. Also, I like option of using the exterior pockets.
I have a Tumi carry on which I like, but I wish I had gotten the type that opened at the front of the bag, rather than in the middle (i.e. you zip it open and the two halves fall flat). I think I’d be able to fit a lot more if it didnt split like that. It is a bit heavy empty but it wheels around like a dream, and I have no fear about it getting beaten up.
I also have a set of Samsonite Lift luggage, which is fairly lightweight. I like it, and it’s at a good price point. One of the wheels has gone wonky on my large (29″) suitcase so I might replace it, since they’re on mega discount right now on the Samsonite website.
My sister got an Away bag and I honestly can’t understand the hype. As soon as you use them, they get these bad scuff marks and look terrible. Way too much money, very little benefit IMHO.
I had an away suitcase that I sent back, it was wobbly and scuffed horribly, not a fan at all. Monos is MUCH better IMHO for the cost, especially if you’re going for a smaller more 2 day bag. I strongly prefer my Tumi but I can’t justify another one for the cost (the one I have is my all time favorite for 3-4 day trips, but a bit big for 1-2 day ones).
I have a hard-sided bag for when I travel with my DSLR, but otherwise prefer soft-sided bags!
Yes, it is a bit odd timing for the post, though some people are travelling. I was sad that RoadWarriore!!e stopped posting in 10/2019 – hope she’s ok – but she probably hasn’t been travelling much this year anyway so maybe she was prescient.
I like the Travelpro Maxlite line but that one that Kat shows isn’t really carryon size, because the stated size doesn’t include the wheels. I’ve had to check way to many suitcases of that size.* So I got the Travelpro Maxlite International Carryon size, which meets even the strictest carryon rules in US and Europe – Alaska Airlines is very picky and decreased their size allowance in 2018. When I travel(ed) for business, I almost always fly via Alaska. I still have the larger carryon size for when I travel on non-business.
My old suitcase is from Costco and it is great, soft-sided with lots of pockets, internal suit bag and other features. I think it’s about 8 years old.
I bought my son a Costco hybrid with hard back half and soft front half and he used it crisscrossing the country on medical school interviews and then four years later for residency interviews and it is still in great shape.
*Though often I don’t mind gate-checking a bag because there is less chance of the airline loosing the luggage than when checking at the check-in counter, I hate regular checking. I went through a period where my luggage was delayed on 5 out of 6 flights in six months, mainly because from Seattle to the East Coast, you often need a connecting flight and with delays, the luggage didn’t make it on. If I’m travelling to one place, delayed luggage isn’t a as much of a pain. When you’re travelling on business, lost luggage can be a disaster. And if you’re flying, then driving, it would be almost impossible to go back to the airport the next day or later to retrieve the delayed luggage.
I like soft-sided with two wheels because I’m often taking it out onto sidewalks and streets, where I drag it up curbs and across rough ground. I took the international carry-on that Kat mentioned on a month-long trip through five countries and it was awesome.
P.S. I was able to stow it myself and I’m 5 feet tall and had broken my elbow two months prior. Super light and easy to handle.
I loathe the road warrior mindset that you are only cool if you can cram your wrinkled pants into a teeny rolly bag. It’s also very ableist. I check my bags, bring a normal wardrobe not some weird jacket that doesn’t wrinkle, and don’t worry about the delay on the arrival end, it’s a great time to walk a bit and catch up on messages.
Strongly prefer hard-sided. After years of traveling for work and leisure, I have a systematic approach to packing such that it is undesirable to have any last-minute items that get shoved into random outer pockets of a soft-sided suitcase. The outer pockets infrequently have no protection from damage and/or theft. Personally, a soft-sided suitcase would invite a less organized packing methodology. I always use packing cubes (organizers?) to categorize everything.
I typically pack a hard-sided suitcase which contains everything I don’t need immediately during transit or upon landing. Anything that I need right away – or is extremely valuable – I pack into a zipped, organized tote bag. This might include my laptop, a change of underwear, weather-appropriate change of clothes, shoes, chargers/cords, meds, jewelry, and toiletries. If I’m bringing my laptop, my preferred tote for travel is the Lo & Sons OG. If no laptop is needed, the Goyard Artois is my preference (I add a purse organizer).
jan r jeske
Q: does anyone have experience with the small bicycle wheel contraption that you can pedal under your desk while working? Any comments appreciated on cost, how well it worked, was it sturdy or fell apart right away, was it of value to you and if so, how? If you liked it what model(s) would you recommend? Thanks!!
I have a hard sided Delsey carry on with four wheels that I love. I find four wheeled bags easier to push/pull through the airport and like the protective factor of the hard sides. Pre-covid, I typically traveled with a DSLR, breakable gifts, electronics, etc. I also like that I can’t overpack it and accidentally make it too big to count as a carry on and the lack of outside pockets is fine by me–I only ever forget stuff in those.
I prefer hard sided suitcases. The first bag I got when I started working got torn during airplane travel the very first month. The airline paid for it but 30% less. I took that money, added some more and got my first Samsonite immediately. Its still with me, 13 years old, scuffed but fully functional and still my go to bag though I have bought 3-4 more bags in various sizes – a soft sided Samsonite check-in which use for 3-4 days of travel, a non branded soft sided extra large one to store clothes at home, a Samsonite extra large hard-sided one (though it has a broken wheel now so keep it for winter wear storage at home) and one medium hybrid which I combine with the original medium one for extra long trips esp in winter. My advice to every one is if you don’t know what to get, get a medium hard sided bag. Love Samsonite! Though I think the next one I buy will be from Victorinix. I have their shoulder bag and have been using it for eight years and love it.
I have an Away larger carry-on (two, actually, because I couldn’t resist one of their limited edition colorways so I gave my first to my husband). I like it a lot, although I suspect most of what I like about it is common to hard-sided carry-ons that are designed to fit in overhead bins. I LOVE that I can pack the bag to the brim and never worry about having to squeeze it into the overhead, because the exterior dimensions stay the same no matter what. Yes, the handle is wobbly — I would probably go for Monos now if I didn’t already have two Away bags, at a similar price point and seems to be better quality.