Suitcase purchasing advice: how to choose the right product

  • What You Need to Know
  • Suitcases come in a huge number of different designs and materials.
  • A hard case provides better protection for the contents than a soft case.
  • Thanks to new materials, hard case luggage is not significantly heavier than soft case alternatives.
  • Wheels and adjustable handles contribute to the ease of transport.

For most people, their vacation is the best time of the year. Whether spent in distant lands, on Mediterranean shores, on the South Coast, or even attending a conference, having the right kind of suitcase is essential. The suitcase is traditionally the most popular form of luggage. In this article, we will point out what to look out for when buying a suitcase.

two suitcase in the airport departure lounge

Hard Case or Soft Case?

Hard case or soft? This is usually the first question that anyone asks when they consider buying a new suitcase. Here, we’ll analyse the differences, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of these two types of suitcases.

Hard Case Suitcase — The Ideal Travel Companion

Hard case luggage is undergoing an increase in popularity. Its hard outer casing provides the perfect protection for clothing and other travel accessories. Despite the occasionally rough treatment of luggage at the airport, hard case suitcases are always up to the challenge.

Materials like polycarbonate, polypropene and ABS are used to make the outer shell. Thanks to these materials, hard case suitcases are particularly sturdy while remaining lightweight. They are thus able to unite the positive attributes of both aluminium and soft case luggage.

green suitcase

Hard case suitcases come either with or without wheels. Sizes also differ enormously. Some models are perfectly sized for a weekend away, while others can fit enough for the whole family.

The manufacturing quality, waterproofness, and number of mounted handles are further characteristics which are worth considering before buying a suitcase.

In the following list, we have compiled the most important plus points and drawbacks of using a hart case suitcase.

  • Materials ensure stability
  • Suitcase contents are protected
  • Usually waterproof and lockable
  • Available with two or four wheels, as well as without wheels
  • Large selection of models and sizes
  • Certain models are between 5% and 20% heavier than soft case alternatives
  • Rigid outer shell limits volume
  • Extra weight becomes an issue for models without wheels

Soft Case Suitcase — Flexible Packing Options

Soft case suitcases are directed at a different kind of traveller. They are often criticised for not being sturdy enough to stand up to the rigours of a busy airport. This is, however, not the case. Thanks to modern material technology, cases made from polyester, nylon or canvas are far more durable than they may appear at first glance. Soft cases are also much more flexible. This is a big advantage for storage, as well as during packing.

The flexible material of a soft case suitcase allows it to be stowed away with ease in overhead storage and tight spaces. Soft case suitcases are therefore extremely suitable for trips with the train or in the car.

travel suitcase

Materials like polyester and nylon also have the following advantages:

  • They are scratchproof.
  • They are flexible, meaning that the volume is not fixed.
  • Most soft case suitcases come with practical compartments on the inside. This helps to keep things organised while packing.
  • You can also find extra compartments on the outside of the case. This can be useful for keeping certain things close to hand during a trip.

The downsides of a soft case suitcase are fairly self-explanatory. Despite improvements to the materials used in their manufacture, they remain less hard-wearing and weather resistant than luggage made from plastic or aluminium. This makes them significantly more sensitive to damage. It is also worth noting that soft case luggage is more cumbersome to clean than hard cases.

  • Flexible
  • Lightweight Scratchproof
  • Practical compartments on the inside and outside
  • Not as hard-wearing
  • Not weatherproof
  • Difficult to clean

Hard Case Suitcases and Soft Case Suitcases in direct Comparison:

Type of SuitcaseHard CaseSoft Case
PropertiesOften only a little heavier than soft cases
Robust construction
Effective protection for contents  
Usually lightweight
Flexible materials
Materials are not necessarily waterproof
Can be squashed into spaces where hard case suitcases often don’t fit
MaterialsABS, polycarbonate, polypropeneNylon, polyester, canvas, leather
Recommended forFrequent flyers
Passengers on a ship
Travellers by train
Road trips (holiday, travel, get-aways, etc.)

Finding the Right Suitcase for You

Size is one of the most important factors when buying a suitcase. There is no such thing as a standard size for suitcases. Customers should instead orientate themselves based on their own requirements. The kind of traveller you are also plays a role for what suitcase you should buy. For example, a three-day trip to the beach requires a much smaller case than a two-week stay on the Costa del Sol. You should also consider your means of transport. Driving in your own car allows you to be flexible with your packing and storage, while airlines have their own strict rules which must be adhered to.

In general, suitcases come in about six different sizes:

Overnight Bag

overnight bag
  • Height: 40cm
  • Volume: 11L to 21L
  • Suitable for hand luggage: yes
  • Recommended trip length: n/a

Cabin Suitcase

cabin bag
  • Height: 41cm to 55cm
  • Volume: 25L to 49L
  • Suitable for hand luggage: yes
  • Recommended trip length: one to three days

Medium Suitcase (M)

suitcase m
  • Height: 56cm to 69cm
  • Volume: 50L to 69L
  • Suitable for hand luggage: no
  • Recommended trip length: eight to ten days

Large Suitcase (L)

suitcase l
  • Height: 70 bis 75 cm
  • Volume: 70 bis 89 Liter
  • Suitable for hand luggage: no
  • Recommended trip length: one to two weeks

XL Suitcase (XL)

suitcase xl
  • Height: 76cm to 80cm
  • Volume: 90L to 119L
  • Suitable for hand luggage: no
  • Recommended trip length: two to three weeks

XXL Suitcase (XXL)

suitcase xxl
  • Height: 80cm to 85cm
  • Volume: 120L+
  • Suitable for hand luggage: no
  • Recommended trip length: longer than three weeks, family holidays


The weight of a suitcase is particularly important when flying. Before choosing to buy a particular suitcase, you should be aware of its weight when empty. This helps to give you a little advantage over the airlines. Most airlines limit the weight of suitcases for the hold to 20kg. Having a lighter suitcase, therefore, lets you bring more clothes and travel accessories.

Tipp: Frequent travellers are advised to buy an entire luggage set. This ensures that you have the right-sized suitcase for any trip.

However large your suitcase is, it is not advisable to purchase anything that weighs over 4kg. Models made from polycarbonate or ABS tend to approach this weight as soon as the volume exceeds 100L. The popular and often in-demand, medium-sized hard case suitcases are unlikely to weigh more than 3kg. Smaller suitcases that can be used as cabin bags weigh even less.

Soft case suitcases no longer have the weight advantages they once had. A Spinner cabin bag from the brand Samsonite is made from nylon and weighs 2.4kg. Hard case alternatives of the same size are usually only a tiny bit heavier. The Xenon model from Titan has a volume of 26L and only weighs 2.5kg. The slightly larger hard case model from Hauptstadtkoffer has a volume of 39L and still only weighs 2.4kg. Soft case luggage made from polyester or nylon is only minimally lighter in comparison. Heavy hard case suitcases, weighing in at over 5kg, can’t even be found at the discount store anymore.


The space inside a suitcase is given in the product specifications in litres (L). The volume of a suitcase is worked out using the following formula:

Volume (liter) = Height (cm) x Width (cm) x Depth (cm) ÷ 1000

Manufacturers recommend the following technique for working out the correct volume for buyers.

  1. Collect together all of the things that you wish to pack in the suitcase and make them into a right angle.
  2. Use a tape measure to measure the height, width, and length of the contents.
  3. Use these measurements and the formula above to work out the necessary volume.
  4. This calculation gives you a ballpark figure from which you can orientate yourself when buying a new suitcase.


Just as with the weight, knowing the exact dimensions of a suitcase are important for meeting airline regulation. Although road trips offer slightly more flexibility, the size of a suitcase is also important here.

Airlines set their own strict limits for the dimensions of cabin bags on their flights. Make sure to visit the website of the airline and get informed in advance. The following table shows cabin bag restrictions for some of the most popular airlines (April, 2018):

AirlineCabin Bag RestirctionsWeight Restrictions (in kg)
Air France55cm x 35cm x 25cm12 kg
British Airways56cm x 45cm x 25cm23 kg
Condor (Economy)55cm x 40cm x 20cm6 kg
Delta Air Lines56cm x 35cm x 23cmNo limit
Easyjet56 cm x 45cm x 25cmNo limit
El Al (Economy)56cm x 45cm x 25cm (no separate hand or laptop bag)8 kg
Eurowings55cm x 40cm x 23cm8 kg
KLM55cm x 35cm x 25cm12kg
Lufthansa55cm x 40cm x 23cm8 kg
Ryanair55cm x 40cm x 20cm10 kg
Each airline has its own regulations concerning cabin bag dimensions.

Airlines are constantly changing their restrictions on cabin bags. It pays to check the airline website while planning your trip to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Some airlines tend to be accommodating when it comes to hand luggage. This is, however, not the case with budget airlines, for whom space quickly becomes a problem if passengers attempt to bring too many bags into the cabin.

Tipp: Those looking to buy a suitcase that will be suitable as a cabin bag should orientate themselves on the following dimensions: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. Most airlines allow bags up to and including these dimensions.

What About Combined Dimensions?

Even for bags that need to be transported in the hold, airlines usually have certain requirements. Combined dimensions of 158 are the usual standard. This measurement is measured by the combined height, width, and depth of a suitcase. Those looking to take their suitcase on a plane should be aware of these dimensions.

What to Look Out for When Buying a Suitcase

The weight, size, volume, and hardness of a suitcase are not the only important purchase criteria. Once you have made the choice between a hard or soft suitcase, you still have many different materials to choose from, each with their own attributes. Before making your decision, you should also contemplate the number of wheels, the handle design, lockability and the way in which compartments are arranged.

Suitcases with wheels improve mobility and comfort

Once upon a time, heavy lifting was an important part of all kinds of travel. Thankfully, we now have suitcases with wheels! These kinds of suitcases are also frequently referred to as “trolleys”. Trolleys are available in both hard case and soft case versions. The colour, as well as the pattern, can also vary enormously.

The first decision the customer is presented with is the choice between models with two or four wheels. Both models allow you to transport your suitcase easier and quicker. Particularly when you are travelling by plane or by train, having a suitcase with wheels is advantageous. If there is no shuttle service available, the route from car park to terminal can sometimes be extremely long. Not to mention the energy output necessary to carry your belongings over such a distance. Heavy lifting can also cause you trouble in terms of catching you flight on time. A suitcase with wheels improves both the comfort and your range of mobility.

What to Look Out for, When Buying a Suitcase with Wheels

When it comes to suitcase wheels the manufacturing quality is of utmost importance. Make sure that the wheels turn in a smooth and straight fashion without wobbling or getting stuck. Rubber wheels tend to be comfortable and user friendly. Protective edges add to the longevity of the wheels. When choosing a suitcase with wheels, you should make sure that the telescopic handle matches your height. A handle that is too short will result in you having to bend while pulling the trolley.

Comfortable Transport—The Telescopic Handle

Make sure that your new suitcase is equipped with a grip stable enough to hold during transit. Higher-quality suitcase models often have several handles placed on different sides of the suitcase. This allows the user to choose the right handle for any given situation. This could be in order to lift a suitcase into the overhead storage, when going up and down stairs, or simply when rolling the suitcase through the departures-hall.

If you have opted for a trolley as hand luggage for your next trip, you should make sure that the luggage comes equipped with a telescopic handle. A height-adjustable handle allows you to set the length depending on your individual dimensions and your mode of transport. Pay particular attention to the construction of the metal poles. With lesser quality models, these poles are liable to breakage if put under pressure.

Safety Precautions: Lockable Suitcases

Together with practicality and mobility, certain safety aspects also need to be considered when buying a suitcase. A built-in suitcase lock offers more protection than a simple zip. This is important if you are transporting items of value. The travel destination also plays a role in what kind of safety precautions you are obliged to take. Those travelling in the EU simply need a small padlock that can be fastened to the zip. Lots of manufacturers offer something akin to this upon purchase.

A TSA lock is recommended for a trip to the USA. TSA stands for Transportation Security Administration. This is the US governmental agency responsible for security on public transport. The use of TSA locks began as a reaction to the September 11th attacks in 2001. The locks are recognisable from their red logo. TSA officers possess master keys for this kind of lock, allowing them to open up suitcases that they have deemed suspicious.

TSA lock

Be Aware: TSA locks are recommended for trips to the USA. If a suitcase is fastened with a non-TSA lock, the authorities have the right to break the lock if they deem the suitcase to be suspicious. If there is any damage to the contents of the suitcase or delay to the baggage collection, the passenger themselves must bear the cost. The US authorities are not liable for any damages incurred.

This system is, however, not without its faults. Templates of the master key are in circulation on the internet and can be easily reproduced with the help of a 3D printer. It is possible that a thief could be in possession of such a key.

Appearance: Colour and Design

The first thing that stands out about a suitcase is its design. Lots of models on the market simply employ an elegant-black or a cool-grey colour scheme. In more recent times, however, hard and soft case suitcases with patterns, metallic coverings, and colourful additions have entered the market. Designers have the creative license to do what they like with suitcases.

Brave souls who venture away from the traditional black, blue, grey single colour designs also have the advantage that their luggage is instantly recognisable at the baggage reclaim. This also minimises the chance of mistaken identity.

For those who see their luggage as an important part of their image, designer luggage offers a taste of the luxury lifestyle. Famous brands like Louis Vuitton have become synonymous with a certain image of travel as a glamourous pursuit. Creatives have long seen luggage as a new horizon for artistic output.

luggage on conveyor belt

The Porsche Design Roadster HC suitcase series offers another taste of elegant travel. The design is based on the famous Rimowa model, as well as cult classics like the Heys suitcase, all of which combine colour, as well as extravagant and fashionable components into must-have products.

Extra Compartments Increase Practicality

Extra pockets and compartments offer another useful way to store belongings in a suitcase. These are far more commonly found with soft case suitcases than with hard case models. Such compartments allow you to stow important possessions like travel guides, maps, and plane or train tickets. This allows you to keep important documents close to hand during trips.

Materials: Lightweight and Protected

Manufacturers can be very creative with their choice of materials. Their most important differentiating factor is hardness. Regardless of the specific material, hard case suitcases are generally robust and protect the insides very effectively, whereas soft case materials are more flexible and lightweight.

Hard Case Suitcases: Sturdy and Weatherproof

Hard case suitcases are primarily made from different plastics, each with their own specific stability, weight, and elasticity. The main materials for most hard case suitcases are ABS, polycarbonate or polypropene.

ABS: Rip-Proof, Durable and the Environmental Choice

ABS stands for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Lots of manufacturers choose this material for their suitcases because it is particularly rip-proof, durable and able to withstand high temperatures. ABS is highly resilient to fat and oil and is well-protected from weather conditions. What’s more, ABS can be melted down and recycled for use in other products. Given the current conversation around the environment, this is something important to bear in mind.

Polycarbonate: Lightweight and Practically Indestructible

Polycarbonate is a popular choice for the manufacture of hard case suitcases. It is colourless, although this can be altered during the manufacturing process. The material is known for its impact resistance, strength, and stiffness. Polycarbonate is also resistant to water, oil, fat, different aqueous solutions, and acid. High and low temperatures have equally little effect on polycarbonate. A suitcase made from polycarbonate can withstand temperatures of -30° C to 100° C, and more.

Suitcases made from polycarbonate are considered indestructible for all intents and purposes. Even if the suitcase is accosted by a sharp object, it is very unlikely that rips, holes, or dents will appear. As well as being robust and stable, polycarbonate is also extremely lightweight. This is particularly useful for transportation.

ABS- Polycarbonate: A Cheaper Alternative

This material is a mixture of polycarbonate and ABS. For most suitcases made from this mixture, the outside is made from polycarbonate and the inside from ABS. Manufacturers are opting more and more for this combination, as it is cheaper than pure polycarbonate. The cheaper production is reflected in the price.

Manufacturers like National Geographic (Yes, that is the same National Geographic – they also produce travel guides and, more recently, travel accessories), SuitSuit, and Saxoline all prefer to use ABS-polycarbonate in their manufacturing process.

Polypropylene: Stable, Even at Minus Temperatures

Only a few years ago, nearly all hard case suitcases were made from polypropylene. This was mainly due to the fact that polypropylene is durable and hard, guaranteeing a robust outer shell. These outer casings were made using a process of injection moulding. The result was a suitcase which was resilient but lightweight. This meant that no extra stabilising components were needed.

Polypropylene had, however, one great weakness. In cold temperatures, the material would become brittle, resulting in rips, cracks, and other kinds of damage. This significantly reduced the efficacy of polypropylene suitcases and resulted in a general switch to other materials. These days, polypropylene is mostly used as a reinforcement element to help protect particularly sensitive parts of the suitcase.

That said, you can still find suitcases which are made completely from polypropylene. Here, manufacturers opt for special material combinations which ensures that the suitcase can withstand a temperature range from -40° C to 80° C. The manufacturer B&W has made inroads into this area of the market with their Copter and Outdoor cases. Polypropylene is also used in the Travellite Colosso-Series, as well as by Samsonite in what they call Flowlite technology.

Curv: The Flexible Alternative to Traditional Polypropylene

Curv is relatively new material, developed by the German company Propex Fabrics. Curv is made exclusively from polypropylene. During the manufacturing of hard case suitcases, Curv is woven together from fibres before being pressed into sheets. The material that is created through this process is renowned for its head-wearing and flexible qualities. Unlike with conventional polypropylene, Curv remains stable, even at low temperatures. It is most commonly seen in Samsonite suitcases. B&W also use this material for their bike case collection, Bike Guard Curv.

Aluminium: Almost Indestructible

Robust, durable, corrosion resistant and hard— aluminium really is blessed with all the properties you would want for your suitcase. It makes suitcases sturdy and almost indestructible. The material, meanwhile, is elegant and eye catching. Aluminium is, however, bendable. This means that, over time, dents can begin to form. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, a few dents can even add to the charm of a suitcase.

Even though aluminium is a light metal in comparison to other alternatives, it remains one of the heavier options for suitcase material. Moreover, manufacturing hard case suitcases from aluminium is relatively difficult. For this reason, aluminium is rarely used as a material for travel suitcases. Instead, it is seen far more often for briefcases and laptop cases.

metal travel case

Soft Case Suitcases: Flexible Materials Helps You to Pack More

Soft case suitcases employ a completely different type of material. Mostly, they are made from either polyester of nylon. You can also find soft cases made from leather. Soft shell cases have the advantage that they are often lighter than hard shell alternatives. It should be noted, however, that hard shell cases are increasingly becoming lighter. It used to be the case that the weight could differ by as much as a few kilograms. Additionally, materials like polyester and nylon are durable, mostly rip-proof and water resistant.

Nylon: A Low-Stress Outer Casing

If you are looking to buy a suitcase with a soft outer shell, then look no further than nylon. Nylon is a type of polyamide, made from the interlayering of synthetic fibres into a versatile material. Normal nylon is hard wearing and water repellent, creating an ideal protective outer shell.

Newer versions of nylon have also proven to be very effective. Ballistic Nylon, for example, is so named due to its remarkable rip-proof properties. The manufacturer Samsonite uses this material for its products under the name Armoured Nylon. Before buying a suitcase made form nylon, you should be aware of the relative disadvantages. Nylon is considered water repellent, although it can have problems in wet conditions. Nylon is also comparatively light, meaning that it cannot protect the contents of the suitcase as effectively against wear and tear.

  • Highly elasticated
  • Extremely long lasting
  • Very stable
  • Rip-proof
  • Retains its form
  • Water repellent
  • Not completely waterproof
  • Contents not as protected as with hard case materials
Polyester: Durability and Tear-Resistance

Lots of manufacturers use polyester as the main material for soft case suitcases. Polyester is a synthetic material. There aren’t too many differences between nylon and polyester. Polyester is lightweight, durable, tearproof and mostly water repellent. Not all suitcases made from polyester are weatherproof. Furthermore, if polyester suitcases are not completely filled, they can easily lose their shape when squashed together with other suitcases at the airport.

  • Lightweight
  • Highly flexible
  • Frequently comes with extra pockets
  • Large volume thanks to flexible material
  • Not always waterproof
  • Potential change in shape, if not completely filled
Leather: Exclusivity and Functionality Combined

If the look of your suitcase is your primary concern, then leather is practically unbeatable. Elegant leather suitcases from brands like The Bridge are given an antique finish, helping them to stand out against the competition. If having a sporty look is more your thing, then leather trolleys from Tumi and Piquandro are great alternatives. This type of leather suitcase is designed with a sporty look in mind and come in flashy colours and modern designs. High-end leather suitcases are another option which unites a taste for urban vintage with the classical functionality of a travel suitcase. Leather suitcases from Harold’s and Jekyll & Hyde are sure to make a great statement.

leather suitcase

Modern leather suitcases are equally well designed and cared for on the inside. There are models with built-in laptop bags, tension belts, and more specialist compartments. Leather is also more robust and hard-wearing than you may think. Depending on the type of leather used, it can be durable, resistant, and even water repellent. If, however, you want to buy a trolley made from soft leather, you should be aware that it will not be as shock resistant as one made from a harder material. If your bag is subjected to rough treatment during a trip, it is liable to scratching and even breakage. For airline trips, you should opt for a case made with a hard leather exterior.

Suitcases Made from Canvas

In more recent times, suitcases made from canvas have entered the market. The name originally referred to the sails of a ship and is made from a tight and thickly woven material. Canvas can be made in differing strengths which are measured in deniers. Abrasion resistant canvas is usually made from natural fibres like linen, hemp, or cotton. It can also be combined with chemical fibres to create copolymer or polyester combinations. Depending on how and where it needs to be used, canvas is either woven, waterproofed, coated, or pre-shrunk.

Maintenance Tips: What to Look Out for When Cleaning a Suitcase

Hard case suitcases tend to be easier to clean that soft case alternatives. As long as the material is water resistant, they can simply be cleaned with a damp cloth. If necessary, you can also use a little washing-up liquid or all-purpose cleaner.

If your suitcase is instead made from a soft material, it is advised to only ever clean it with a brush. Occasional cleaning with a wet cloth is not completely prohibited, although you should be aware to not exert too much pressure and to wring out the cloth thoroughly before use.

Leather cases need a specific kind of maintenance. Make sure to get specific maintenance and cleaning products for leather cases from a specialist shop.

If your suitcase has wheels, we recommend using a coarse shoe brush to get rid of the dirt. Afterwards, the wheels can be cleaned with a wet cloth.