Making the right choice can be tricky when it comes to the best hardside luggage material. Let’s face it, most people have no idea what material their hardcase suitcases are made from…most don’t really care.
All they want to know is whether it is durable and good value.
Knowing the best luggage material is actually a real benefit to you. It allows you to make more informed decisions and sets more realistic expectations for you.
In this article, I will help you understand the different hardside materials available on the market, their advantages and disadvantages…and I will then tell you what you should consider buying…and what to avoid.
At the end, you will be better placed to make a better buying decision.
Hardside luggage materials
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
ABS is the cheapest of all the hardside luggage available on the market. It is a combination of three properties… Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene.
It is cheap to manufacturer and produce hence why it is commonly found as the choice material for budget ranges. The more established and prominent brands do not use ABS in their ranges.
ABS is a low strength material and is prone to damage as it is not very flexible. It is known to crack and smash on impact hence why durability is always an issue.
If you are planning on checking in luggage, there is a higher risk of damage especially with the way baggage handlers move and stack luggage.
You would only consider an ABS hardside suitcase if you were on a low budget. It can almost be seen as a false economy as it may be better paying more for better quality luggage that does not need replacing as frequently as ABS may do.
One of the most popular hardside luggage materials, it is so with good reason. It is near enough impossible to break…take a hammer to it and it simply bounces off…some people have taken a shotgun to it with little success.
The reason it is perfect for luggage is that it can be formed in a variety of shapes and it remains flexible. It is this flexibility which means it can be drooped from height or have heavy weights placed on it without breaking.
It is a very lightweight material and incredibly strong. It can be shaped in a number of designs and textures which also make for more a stylistic, attractive luggage design.
It also naturally offers protection against ultra violet light which means better color protection. They also scratch much less than other materials and dents can simply be pushed back out.
Put simply, this is an excellent, durable and strong material that is perfect for hardside luggage.
This is an interesting material and although not as prevalent as Polycarbonate, it is nonetheless up there as a good hardside luggage material.
Its benefits place it above ABS on the scale but realistically, just below Polycarbonate.
It is a lightweight material based on an oil-based plastic structure. It is flexible…more so than ABS but not as flexible as polycarbonate. It is incredibly lightweight, more so than the others, so if that is a really important requirement, this may be the material for you.
To summarize…a lightweight, flexible material that realistically sites on the quality scale between ABS and polycarbonate.
This is seen as the most premium of luggage materials. If you take a look at the most expensive luggage, most will be made from Aluminum.
Manufacturers like Rimowa have based their whole offering on this material.
The real question is whether this material is so much better than the others to warrant the ‘best’ title and whether the price tag can be justified.
The reality is that aluminum is easily damaged and easily scratched. It is also very heavy when compared to modern polymers. It is also a very expensive material.
However, it is incredibly robust and will do a great job at protecting contents. It handles temperature extremes very well and is waterproof.
It can therefore be considered a good material. However, in my opinion it is popular more for the impression rather than the reality. They are seen as ‘cool’ and desirable. The dented luggage look signifies your travel experience.
As with most products where there are different markets directed at different customer segments, aluminum luggage is seen as a premium product for the premium market. Even if the qualities can easily be found elsewhere, the market and demand for aluminum luggage exists.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
This is easily the least common material for hardside luggage but they do exist. It is a very lightweight material with its key selling point being its flexibility.
It will not do a great job of protecting contents so has limited appeal in the hardside luggage market where protection is perceived as a key requirement.
It is clear that it is not one of the better materials for hardside luggage.
What is the Best hardside luggage material?
When we look at materials for luggage, it is easy to say what is best generally but the reality is that there are a number of factors that may need to be considered.
Here are some factors to consider before choosing your hardside luggage material.
The weight is important as it may have an impact on how much you can pack before you reach the limit. Obviously, the more the actual luggage weighs, the less you can pack.
It will also impact on the portability. Heavier luggage makes transporting it more tiresome.
Your choice of material may be limited by your budget. Obviously, ABS and PVC luggage is cheaper than polycarbonate and aluminum. There is little point shopping for Aluminum suitcases if your budget only stretches to an ABS case.
Not all suitcases are bought with air travel in mind. If you are not intending to use it for air travel, you do not necessarily need the strongest case. The roughest treatment and the danger point for any suitcase is check in at an airport. If you avoid this, you could quite easily manage with a much cheaper case without issue as people do not tend to abuse their own luggage.
It can be quite tempting to opt for a cheaper case made from a cheaper material…I know as I have done that in the past.
However, this can be a false economy. If you travel often enough, you may find that you are having to replace your luggage more often than you would like. In this scenario, it is often better to pay a little extra for a strong and durable suitcase made from a polycarbonate.
They will serve you better over the long run.
Comparison table comparing luggage materials
Only when you put together your exact requirements can you realistically say what the best material for hardside luggage is.
All things considered, I think that the winner lies somewhere between polycarbonate and aluminum. Personally, I would opt for the polycarbonate because it is lighter and more durable…in terms of looking new.
Obviously, I have listed some of the benefits above but I think polycarbonate strikes the right balance between the factors that need consideration.
Let me know what you think…what has been your experience? Leave a comment below.
Benefits of hardside luggage
- Better protection of valuables inside the case
- Better security as the case cannot be slashed and opened. Some hardside cases do not have zips that can be punctured either
- Generally, they are strong and lightweight
- They tend to have more capacity for the same sized luggage when compared to softside luggage
- Better water resistance
- Easier to clean…do not go moldy in storage
- More modern styling than soft cases
Problems with hardside luggage
- Limited to the space internally…no expansion capabilities
- No outer pockets so convenience is an issue
- Easier to damage such as scratches and scrapes
- You need more room to open them given their clam shell designs
- You need to open the whole case to remove an item
- No ‘give’ in the design, so problem fitting into tight spaces
- Most have 4-wheel spinners…problematic over rougher terrain
- More expensive than soft case equivalents
What is the best material for luggage?
The best material will always depend on your budget. As you move up the budget scale, the better the materials get. For the average consumer with an average budget, polycarbonate is hard to beat.
Generally, in terms of available materials, the best material for hardside luggage is between polycarbonate and aluminum.
What is the best quality luggage?
The best quality luggage has good quality construction, great finish and great materials. They should be well designed, functional and durable.
Is polycarbonate luggage durable?
Yes, polycarbonate luggage is durable. It is robust, strong, flexible and very hard wearing. Any dents can be pushed back into shape and polycarbonate is virtually indestructible.
Is polycarbonate good for luggage?
Polycarbonate is an excellent choice for luggage material. It is used in a host of household goods for its strength and durability. These qualities also apply to luggage where it can be on the receiving end of some rough treatment.
Are hard shell suitcases better?
It depends. Some people prefer soft side luggage as it is more flexible to fit into spaces and store. It also tends to perform better when mishandled. Some of the modern materials are strong and rugged too. They are also more convenient in terms of expandability and compartments.
Hard shell suitcases are generally more secure and less prone to tampering. They protect the contents of the case better and are also more robust when dealing with wet conditions. Most have four-wheel spinners so are easy to transport on smooth terrain. They are easier to clean and maintain too.
What is better Polypropylene or ABS?
In terms of quality of material, polypropylene sits between ABS and polycarbonate.