Travel Gear

The Great Luggage Debate: Hardside vs. Softside Suitcases

Let's Talk Luggage!

Finding the right suitcase is no small task. You need a dependable bag to seamlessly carry you through your travel experience, not make it more cumbersome. Searching for a new piece of luggage warrants important questions, especially when you shop online.

Does the listed dimension include the expansion zipper?
Would I be able to lock my bag and stay TSA-compliant?
Is the luggage handle too wide for my personal item's trolley sleeve?
When it comes to luggage, the devil is in the details.
Hard-Shell or Soft-Shell?

One frequently asked question is whether a traveler should opt for softside or hardside luggage. Today, we would like to do something unimaginable as a brand that sells both: offer our honest opinion about which is better.

We understand that some people are loyal to one type of luggage, and if you have found what works best for you, we are all about it! We know how to make functional designs, but functionality ultimately depends on the needs of the individual. You know your lifestyle best, so you don't have to take our word for it. But if there are two things we know, they're product design and smart travel. Today's post is to offer our two cents on this debated topic.

When it comes to hardside vs. softside, we must admit we are partial to the former. Read on for our case of why a hard-shell suitcase is a female traveler's best friend.


Exterior Comparison: Material, Durability, and Bag Size

Let's start with the most obvious difference between the two styles: a hard shell bag will have a rigid exterior, while a soft side bag is made from fabric.

Sherpani hardside luggage is made from 100% crush-proof polycarbonate, creating an ultra-durable and protective shell. Our softside luggage is a more eco-friendly choice, as it's made from reclaimed ocean-bound plastic! However, there is more than only material to consider when it comes to sustainability.

Actress and sustainable fashion advocate Emma Watson claims that a purchase is sustainable if you use it at least thirty times. Long-lasting products are a key factor in sustainable living. The most important part of sustainably minded shopping is investing in quality products that are responsibly manufactured and shipped.

All Sherpani suitcases will tick those boxes because of our closely monitored manufacturing processes and sitewide carbon-neutral shipping! We stand by the longevity of our products, too. Did you know that all Sherpani luggage is backed by our Fearless Lifetime Warranty?

The argument for a soft suitcase is that, because the fabric is malleable, you can cram in extra items and take advantage of every inch of give. Softshell bags allow you to create space where there seemingly is none. If overpacking is your thing, we totally understand why you would enjoy the flexibility of fabric luggage.

Here is our reasoning for why we prefer a hard exterior.

Firstly, the protection of a hard shell is well beyond that of a softside suitcase. This is even more important if you plan to check your bag. With a soft shell, anything from rough handling to in-flight turbulence can put your belongings at risk.

Next, there is the weatherproof factor. A softside suitcase might sound like a good idea when you board a plane in sunny San Deigo, but when you arrive in Costa Rica during the daily tropical rainshower, you might reconsider the fabric bag. On the other hand, hard-side luggage will offer better protection from rain, snow, and other weather.

We get that softside luggage is better for squeezing in that just-in-case pair of sandals, but what about when that actually changes the dimensions of your bag? Another reason we prefer the hard shell is because this means your bag's dimensions are set in stone. These days, airlines can be incredibly strict about luggage size requirements, and overpacking a softside bag might get you into trouble at the gate.

Of course, many hard-side bags come with an expansion zipper (ours do!), and then you get the best of both worlds: extra room with a dependable, fixed dimension.


Interior Comparison: Bucket vs. Clamshell Opening

Let's move on to a less obvious difference: how the main compartment is divided.

On a softside bag, the zipper typically runs around the brim of one side, so, when open, you have one big compartment for top-down packing. With a hardside bag, the zipper is usually centered on the suitcase, so, when open, you have two compartments with equal depth to pack from the middle. In industry terms, a softside suitcase has a bucket opening, whereas a hardside one has a clamshell opening.

Bucket Opening (Softside Luggage) 
Clamshell Opening (Hardside Luggage)

Some people prefer the bucket opening because it takes up less room (i.e., you can lean the lid half against a wall when living out of your bag). We prefer the clamshell opening of the hard side design. The two halves allow for optimized packing and better organization–especially helpful during travel when you want to separate clean and dirty laundry. It also offers elevated accessibility, making it easy to find things without disrupting the outfits you so carefully folded back home.


Softside Suitcase Pros

We don't want to overlook the pros of the softside design! Let's take a closer look at why people love a soft suitcase.

Weight is one of the biggest (and most valid!) suitcase concerns. In general, softside luggage weighs less than hardside luggage. However, Sherpani hardside luggage is thoughtfully crafted from ultralightweight material. Our 22" carry-on Meridian weighs only six and a half pounds (that's lighter than many of our competitor's softside bags of the same size).

Another softside pro is that the fabric material is easier to keep looking new since it's hard to leave scratch marks on the fabric. Have you seen a well-traveled hardside suitcase covered in white scratches from wear and tear? We have! So when we developed our hardside luggage, we were determined to fix this flaw.

A typical manufacturing process makes a suitcase with an all-white base and then adds a top coat of color to the design. We wanted to do one better, so the color of the Sherpani hard-side luggage is all throughout the polycarbonate shell. Since there is no top coat, scratching won't chip the color off your Sherpani luggage! This chip-proof coloring will keep your luggage looking new after years of using it to create travel memories.

The final pro we hear about softside luggage is that it can have external pockets, unlike hardside designs. Well, you got us there. It's impossible to build pockets into a hard external shell. Our suggestion? Pair your hardside bag with a smaller personal item for air travel, and be sure to pack all you need for your flight in the smaller bag.


Did We Convince You?

We thought it could be helpful to address this topic from a product design standpoint, hoping to bring a new perspective to those curious about the differences between soft-shell and hard-shell luggage. Although we say hardside luggage is the way to travel, we know that quality luggage is what matters most.

If you're still on Team Softside, that's more than okay! It all boils down to preference; all we care about is that you find the luggage that best serves your needs. We are confident any traveler can accomplish this with a Sherpani design!

At Sherpani, we take suitcases seriously. Our goal is to set you up for success on all your adventures. Your luggage is your most loyal travel companion, so you want to choose it carefully! We know there are many options out there, and we thank you for making Sherpani a trusted brand for women with wanderlust.


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By women for women, the Sherpani Travel Blog talks about all things travel (and all things Sherpani!). From unique travel guides to general travel tips to personal stories from women in our community, this is a space to celebrate our belief that travel restores the human spirit.

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