The soft versus hard luggage debate ends here.

By Patricia Doherty
February 07, 2020
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Credit: 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.

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.

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.

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

Credit: 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:, $435 (originally $579)

Hardside Expandable Carry-on: Samsonite Spettro 20" Spinner

Credit: Courtesy of Samsonite

This streamlined bag comes in silver, purple, and blue — each with a scratch-resistant honeycomb texture. At only 7.43 pounds, it’s lightweight as well as durable. Spacious inner compartments feature elastic straps, built-in packing cubes, and zippered sections to keep contents neat and organized, while easy-gliding, 360-degree spinner wheels and a telescopic handle allow for effortless movement.

To buy:, $320

Hardside International Carry-on: Rimowa Essential Lite Small Cabin

Credit: Courtesy of Bloomingdale's

This durable international carry-on is such a 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:, $490

Hardside International Carry-on: Hartmann 7R Hardside Spinner Carry-on S

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

This shiny, modern suitcase is engineered with both design as well as durability in mind. It comes in stunning metallic 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 over five pounds, which is super-lightweight for a spinner.

To buy:, $500

Hardside International Carry-on: Travelers Club Luna 20-inch Hardside Carry-on Spinner

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

An attractive, brushed finish makes this bag expensive-looking, despite the affordable 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:, $96

Hardside Domestic Carry-on: Away The Bigger Carry-on

Credit: 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:, $245

Hardside Domestic Carry-on: Travelpro Maxlite 5 Carry-on Spinner

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

An excellent budget buy, this suitcase is the latest release in Travelpro's Maxlite line and it covers all the basics — even at such an affordable price. It weighs only 5.4 pounds, so hoisting it into the overhead bin will be a breeze. You'll be able to depend on the durable polycarbonate case and Travelpro's recently expanded lifetime warranty.

To buy:, from $102

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

Credit: 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:, $130 (originally $250)

Hardside Domestic Carry-on: Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion Carry-on Hardside Spinner

Credit: 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:, from $112

Hardside Medium Checked Bag: Travelpro Crew 11 Hardside 25-inch Spinner

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

This medium-sized check-in bag is offered in black and has 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:, $250 (originally $540)

Hardside Medium Checked Bag: Tumi Latitude Short Trip Packing Case

Credit: 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, purple, 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:, $850

Hardside Medium Checked Bag: Victorinox Spectra 2.0 Medium Expandable Spinner

Credit: 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:, $449

Hardside Large Checked Bag: Away The Large in Aluminum

Credit: Courtesy of Away

While it may be Away's most expensive piece of luggage, this suitcase is built to protect your belongings at all costs. On impact, the aluminum shell may dent, but it won't break. And the TSA-approved latches eliminate the possibility that a thief could break into your bag by puncturing the zipper. Plus, the brand offers a lifetime warranty to either fix or replace the bag.

To buy:, $595

Hardside Large Checked Bag: Delsey Chatelet Hard+ Four-wheel Spinner

Credit: 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:, $350