Changing rules and restrictions on baggage size and skyrocketing costs for suitcases you fly with, may have you re-thinking about what to pack in! But what to choose? Hard shell or soft side luggage?
Our family has been members of the “soft-sided” luggage club for years. (Perhaps we’ve taken this concept a bit too far, at times packing in re-useable tote bags!) But, recently, we were given the chance to sample our first hard-shell carry-on bag—the Ricardo Elite Roxbury 2.0 from Ricardo Beverly Hills. When my 10-year-old daughter grabbed the bag and began easily sliding it down the hallway immediately claiming it as her own, it was clear I needed to think about a change of case. This wasn’t the hard-sided luggage that I’d grown up with—indeed hard shell bags have changed.
It’s important as you decide what’s best for your family to take into consideration some key differences.
The Ricardo carry-on came in a cool “Black Cherry” color—which was likely one of the things that attracted my daughter, but it also attracted me, as I know color makes it easier to find your bag among the black blurs spewed out on the baggage carousel. This color was distinctive, but not obnoxious. But there’s more to a suitcase than its looks.
What’s It Made Of?
This carry-on is made of a “high-impact Makrolon polycarbonate.” Typically hard shell luggage is made with materials such as polycarbonate, aluminum or polypropylene. This bag has some “flex” to it—which is encouraging, as some concerns with hard shell bags include that they crack more easily because of their inflexibility. Polycarbonate use in bags has changed that problem in recent years. I asked my daughter to lie on top of the bag, which she happily did, with no cracking or creaking. The soft luggage we’ve carried for years is made of high-tech nylon, and it’s served us well. Some soft bags are made of “ballistic nylon”, leather, or cotton/nylon combinations.
Will It Last?
Durability seems to be the biggest concern among most travelers I know. If you’re spending a decent amount of money on a bag, it’s no wonder. And with travelers carrying more electronics than ever (iPads, cameras, clocks and laptops), they want to know things will arrive in one piece. There’s no doubt that hard cases do a better job of protecting things that are more fragile, but let’s be honest, it’s not just about the case on the outside—it’s how well the object is packed on the inside. Padded electronic sleeves are now found in many hard shell cases, but extra padding should be considered. We’ve been mostly lucky in that through the past 20 years, only one of our soft cases had problems in which it got seriously wet and mildewed. Score another for hard cases, as they are more water resistant, and generally provide better protection from the elements (water, snow, mud). So, keep the weather in mind when you’re traveling. Are you heading into the rainy season in Hawaii? Perhaps hard side is the way to go. Or if you’re headed to Yosemite National Park for camping, perhaps the trip calls for soft-sided bags. These days, however, both soft and hard sided bags are made generally of materials that can be wiped down to avoid big stains.
The main reason I’ve stood by soft-sided luggage for so long is two-fold. First off, it’s generally lighter, and secondly, it doesn’t typically draw second looks from TSA or airline personnel when I’m looking to use it as a carry-on. But, with the newer materials used in hard-sided bags, some of them can actually be even lighter than some of their soft-sided cousins.
That said, many hard shell bags are still heavier. However, with the hard shell comes more wheels—four, as opposed to two or none on soft bags. Good wheels make for easy transport through airports, terminals and stations. But, there’s no getting around the “sizers” at the airport with a hard-sided bag. So be sure of your bag’s dimensions and prepared to check if need be. If you are a souvenir fan who must bring back a model of the Eiffel Tower, or a snow globe of the White House, and you want to know you’ve got extra room to spare, that’s also something that typically soft side luggage affords—with several compartments, outside pockets and the ability to expand being common. However, hard-sided bags have caught on and many, including the Ricardo Elite, now have expanders. Personally, it’s a blessing for me not to be able to come home with more than I left with—but for those who must and who choose hard shell, you can always pack a smaller soft-sided bag inside to bring back with you!
All types of luggage may come with locks to keep contents safe inside. Hard luggage, no surprise, offers general better security as it’s more of a challenge to get into than soft. But I’ve always thought that if someone wants to get into a bag badly enough, they’ll do so, and a little lock on your bag won’t stop them.
The TSA posts its guidelines about locked luggage, and they openly say there may be times when they need to “physically inspect a piece of luggage,” meaning, they need to open it. It’s within their rights to open the bags—and if you’ve used a lock that is not TSA approved, it could mean breaking the lock, or even destroying the luggage to get to what’s inside. The Ricardo Elite comes with a TSA compliant lock built in, but make sure that any other locks you choose are TSA compatible.
So, keep in mind your preferences in durability, size, convenience, add-ons and price when you’re choosing hard shell VS soft-sided luggage and soon enough you’ll be humming, “Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag!”