Suitcase Buyers Guide

Buying the right suitcase can be confusing with so many choices in the market today. Luggagist only reviews the suitcases which are getting the best feedback and are from dependable manufacturers which will hopefully narrow your search and help buying the right case easier.

However, choosing the right suitcase really depends on what sort of travelling you plan on doing. This quick guide will highlight some key areas and we will give our opinion on each based on our extensive experience & research.

Our goal is to provided you with the very best advice to match your individual travel requirements & budget.

Which material?

A common question we get asked is which material is the best for a case, hard shell or soft sided? Well, again it all depends on how you are using the case. It is a common misconception that hard shell cases are more durable than soft. This isn’t always true.

Yes, you can get some very long, hard wear with hard shell cases, but you can also get very durable material cases. The strength is determined by the type of material used, the quality of the material and how the case as a whole has been assembled.

Below you will discover the main benefits of each and the different types of material used.

Soft sided:

  • For most of us a good quality soft case will be less expensive, lighter and more versatile than a comparable hard shells.
  • Soft cases usually have a Polyurethane (PU) backing to keep them water resistant.
  • Some also have the benefit of being able to expand with the use of a zip around the side of the case which when opened creates a gusset to make the case deeper.
  • They also can have external pockets – especially useful for cabin luggage.
  • There are some soft sided cases which do not have a full frame (or skeleton) – these cases can squeeze into tighter spaces more effectively and great for storage when empty, they are also usually very lightweight.

Hard shell:

  • They will not compress like a soft case.
  • They will be more water resistant.
  • There are still some which don’t have zippers – not better from a durability point of view but will be tougher to break in to (although not impossible but such incidents can happen)
  • Hard shell cases are usually split 50/50 so there are 2 shallower halves as opposed to a soft case which has more of a lid and one deep compartment
  • They also commonly come in striking colours and patterns, textured or smooth finishes

Material types:

Soft sided:

Usually made from polyester or nylon or a mixture of both. The density of the material is measured in denier (D). The higher the denier the denser the material is, which means the material of the case is heavier (normally meaning the case itself is heavier and stronger but not necessarily). Nylon is slightly stronger than polyester. There are also specific types of nylon, most common of which are:

  • Ripstop: Usually made from Nylon. This process weaves a thicker ‘reinforcement’ thread in regular intervals in a cross stitch pattern which makes it a lot more difficult for holes to spread while also being very light.
  • Dobby Nylon: uses a textured weave in manufacturing giving it better abrasion resistance while remaining very light.
  • Cordura Nylon: A name owned by the company Invista. To use the Cordura name the fabric has to be approved by Invista. Normally an extra tough 1000D.
  • Ballistic Nylon: Extra tough, heavy duty, high denier nylon made with a ‘ballistic weave’, typically a 2×2 or 2×3 basketweave. This being the strongest but heaviest of nylons used in luggage.

Hard Shell:

  • ABS(Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): The most common of the hard shell materials. It can be dyed and textured in a huge variety of ways which can give cases an attractive look. It is more flexible and lighter than polypropylene but is often not as durable.
  • Polypropylene: When used in cases gives a much more solid, rigid feel. It is extremely hard wearing, however, with the amount (mass) of plastic needed they can be heavier than the other materials mentioned. Polypropylene cases can sometimes have a lockable clasp to keep the case closed rather than a zip and this can be a specific preference for some customers (as described in benefits above).
  • Polycarbonate: Relatively new in suitcase manufacturing and can vary in quality from case to case. When made to a high standard it is regarded as the toughest, lightest and, often, most expensive of the hard shell materials. It has a similar look to ABS so aesthetics can differ hugely. The price of the case is usually a good indication of the quality of the plastics used. Better brands will use virgin polycarbonate and molded into the specific shape. 

2 Vs 4 Wheels

Suitcases with 4 wheels have risen in popularity recently, but 2 wheeled cases still have their uses, again it depends on the type of travel you are likely to do most often. Here are some advantages for both:

4 Wheels:

  • 4 wheel cases (or ‘Spinner’ cases) are incredibly easy to manoeuvre over smooth surfaces, like airport flooring. The wheels glide smoothly and can take the weight out of wheeling your case
  • If you are on a train, bus or other tight spaces, 4 wheel cases can be pushed out in front of you with the narrow side going forward

2 Wheels:

  • 2 wheel cases (often referred to as ‘upright’ cases) have 2 bigger wheels and are recessed into the case in a plastic housing. These will travel over rougher services, such as roads, more smoothly, often with less vibration through the case trolley handle. 

Cabin cases

Airlines are getting more and more strict on the size of the case you are allowed to take on to the aeroplane as hand luggage. 

For the major airlines flying out of the UK the dimension are usually the following:

The height or longest side of the bag (including wheels and handles) either 55 or 56cm.

The width of the case can vary between 35-45cm.

The depth of the case will be 20, 23 or 25cm. 

IATA recommended cabin size for all airlines is 55 x 40 x 20cm, although airlines do not have to adhere to this. 


There are a few variants of different luggage locks other than traditional padlocks. More and more cases are coming with fixed combination locks. These locks are attached to the side of the case and offer slightly increased security over traditional padlocks.

Either padlocks or fixed combination locks can be ‘TSA’ approved. This means that when travelling to the United States, American security personnel can open the case with a skeleton key if they want to inspect it, meaning they do not damage your case or lock in the process and can re-lock your case after inspection. 

We hope this give you a good overview of what you are looking for when buying a suitcase for your personal travel needs.