The soft versus hard luggage debate ends here.

By Patricia Doherty
May 08, 2019
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Courtesy of the retailers

When you’re traveling with fragile items in your suitcase, whether you’re handing it over to an airline or a taxi driver or tossing it into your trunk, you want the protection you get with hard case luggage. Some travelers simply prefer hardside luggage for its sleek look or packing configuration.

Related: The Best Lightweight Luggage for Traveling

Most hard luggage has a “clamshell” setup, where the bag opens flat, like a book, and there are two similar packing areas, usually with tie-downs or zippered mesh layers. They are easier to clean than fabric bags, and they often come in bright colors or even decorative prints. Travelers who tend to overfill soft-side bags to the point where they won’t fit into an overhead bin might do better with a hardside that keeps its shape — or one that expands and compresses back to carry-on size like magic.

Related: The Best Luggage Brands for Every Budget

The terms “hardside,” “hard-case,” and “hard-shell” are used interchangeably, so we’ll use the terminology of the various manufacturers. Shop our selection of medium check-in and carry-on size suitcases below, and (if you're not already) be prepared to fall in love with hardside luggage.

Briggs & Riley Sympatico CX Int'l Carry-on Expandable Spinner

Courtesy of eBags

Briggs & Riley has long been making some of the best hardside luggage on the market. This 21-inch bag — made of resilient virgin polycarbonate. Its “outsider” external-mount handle provides a smooth packing area, and its 70/30 compartment configuration is more akin to packing in a traditional suitcase. If you're reluctant to part with the "give" a softside suitcase allows when packing, Briggs & Riley's CX technology allows you to zip it closed while expanded and then compress it back down to carry-on size regulations in a snap. Meanwhile, the double spinner wheels and comfortable, soft touch carry grips make handling easy. Oh, and don't forget about that lifetime warranty. 

To buy: ebags.com, $579

Bric’s Capri 21-inch Carry-on Spinner

Courtesy of Amazon

This streamlined polycarbonate bag comes in olive, gray, and blue with Tuscan leather trim. At only 6.4 pounds, it’s lightweight as well as durable. Spacious inner compartments feature elastic straps and zippered sections to keep contents neat and organized, while easy-glide wheels and a telescopic handle allow for effortless movement.

To buy: amazon.com, $295

Rimowa Essential Lite Small Cabin 

Courtesy of Bloomingdale's

This durable international carry-on is a such smart buy if you like to travel light. Made of ultra-light polycarbonate shell, it weighs just 4.2 pounds and also comes in glossy red with smooth-rolling spinner wheels. The multi-stage telescopic handle adjusts to any height for comfortable maneuvering. And the flex-divider system keeps contents organized and makes packing simple.

To buy: bloomingdales.com, $540

Away The Bigger Carry-on

Courtesy of Away

This start-up luggage brand may be a newcomer to the industry, but it’s quickly becoming a cult favorite among frequent fliers. Away makes unbreakable hardside luggage in three sizes, and The Bigger Carry-on is a roomy 23-inch case that is sized for most major domestic airlines. It’s equipped with a built-in battery and a TSA-approved combination lock, and alongside the brand’s seven core colors, there are always fun seasonal collaborations.

To buy: awaytravel.com, $245

Hartmann 7R Medium Spinner

Courtesy of eBags

This shiny, modern suitcase is engineered with both design as well as durability in mind. It comes in six eye-catching colors, while leather detailing lends a timeless touch. And it’s built to endure years of travel, with its impact-resistant material and resilient aluminum pull handle. It weighs in at just short of seven pounds, which is super-lightweight for a 28-inch checked bag.

To buy: ebags.com, $550

eBags Fortis Pro Traveler 22-inch Hardside Spinner Carry-on

Courtesy of eBags

The abrasion-resistant shell of this 100 percent polycarbonate bag comes in navy, red, black, and a pretty ocean blue. For convenience and flexibility in packing, its interior has one full mesh-zip section and one open area with tie downs and eBags' smart movable shelf system which allows you to split that side into compartments. Top and side grips, 360-degree silent Hinomoto wheels, and three-stop telescoping handle make zipping through the airport easy. Plus, there's now a USB port built in to attach your power bank to when you want the extra juice for your tech,

To buy: ebags.com, $200

Travelpro Crew 11 Hardside 25-inch Spinner

Courtesy of eBags

This medium-sized check-in bag is offered in navy and silver, with a sleek exterior design. With a 100 percent polycarbonate construction, the piece is durable — and inside zippered sections and smaller accessory pockets make it easy to pack. Low profile top and side handles and self-aligning magnetic spinner wheels provide for ease in handling. 

To buy: ebags.com, $250 (originally $540)

Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion Carry-on Hardside Spinner

Courtesy of Amazon

At 20 inches, this bag should fit easily into most overhead bins while providing a spacious interior with full zippered dividers. It’s currently Amazon’s bestselling piece of carry-on luggage, and it is available in nine colors with a brushed-look finish. Made of 100 percent polycarbonate, it’s incredibly lightweight — and its four spinner wheels move it along easily.

To buy: amazon.com, from $75

Travelers Club Luna 20-inch Hardside Carry-on Spinner

Courtesy of eBags

Its attractive, brushed finish comes in blue, charcoal, or gold, making this bag expensive-looking, despite the afforable price tag. Composed of ABS plastic with an aluminum frame, it is designed to absorb impact and flex back into shape. Unlike most hardside bags with zipper closures, this bag uses stylish levers and sturdy hinges. The fully-lined interior has a mesh zippered pocket.

To buy: ebags.com, $94 (originally $231)

Tumi Latitude Short Trip Packing Case

Courtesy of Tumi

Weighing in at just over eight pounds, this attractive 26-inch check-in bag is from Tumi's most durable lightweight collection to date. It comes in four colors: blush, silver, blue, and black. The shell may look tough, but it's actually really flexible, enabling your luggage to endure whatever the baggage handlers throw its way. A brand-new wheel system makes it easier than ever to handle, and two packing compartments with a removable garment section provide packing flexibility, too.

To buy: tumi.com, $745

Victorinox Spectra 2.0 Medium Expandable Spinner

Courtesy of eBags

This attractive 27-inch polycarbonate bag is expandable, providing an additional 4.3-inches of packing space when needed. It comes in black, navy, and red with corner guards and zipper bumpers for protection. There’s a zippered door on the front side for top-load packing or easy access to contents and interior pockets for organization. With the company’s bag tracking system, you can be reunited with lost bags easily at no cost.

To buy: ebags.com, $430 (originally $720)

Delsey Chatelet Hard+ Four-wheel Spinner

Courtesy of eBags

This elegant 27-inch bag comes in brown or champagne with a tan leather trim. Made of virgin polycarbonate, its curved corners add to its good looks, and high-quality spinner wheels make handling easy. Its unique Stop & Go brake system keeps the bag from drifting on slanted surfaces, while two wheels remain free to roll along. The luxurious red interior has tie-downs and zippered dividers.

To buy: ebags.com, $340 (originally $800)

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