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Cars & travel.

Updated: 30 Jun 2021

Hard or soft-sided hand luggage?

Expert advice on choosing between hard-sided and soft-sided hand luggage for your next holiday.
Which?Editorial team
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There are typically two types of suitcases – hard and soft. Hard-sided hand luggage has a rigid exterior that is stiff rather than flexible. Soft-sided hand luggage is made of fabric and has a flexible exterior. 

Many soft-sided suitcases will have some form of rigidity to give the suitcase shape. This can help to protect your belongings and may help to balance the suitcase.

There's often a perception that hard-sided hand luggage is more durable than soft-sided hand luggage. However, our lab testing of suitcases over a number of years has proven this not to be the case. Our results show that the best suitcases for durability can be either soft or hard-sided.

Here are some pros and cons of each suitcase type to help you make the right decision for you.

Hard-sided hand luggage


  • Can offer greater protection to fragile items
  • Tend to be more water resistant
  • More lightweight options are available than with soft-shelled hand luggage
  • Is perceived to be more stylish by some travellers


  • The glossy finish of some suitcases can be prone to scratching
  • There are fewer expandable cases
  • The non-flexible exterior can make them trickier to store
  • They are typically more expensive than soft-sided cases.

Ready to choose? Go straight to our reviews to find the best cabin bag for you.

Soft-sided hand luggage


  • Flexible fabric makes them comparatively easy to store
  • Many have expandable compartments to increase the suitcase's capacity
  • A number of lightweight options are available
  • Tends to be cheaper than like-for-like hard-sided suitcases


  • Fabric can be less water resistant compared with hard-suitcases
  • Fragile items may have less protection
  • May be perceived by some travellers as less stylish