The best hard shell luggage offers a practical, strong and aesthetically pleasing solution for carrying your personal belongings on a vacation or business trip.
These larger hard shell suitcases are ideal if you are away for a week or more, or need to take a lot of your effects on a shorter trip. Whether you are using for checked air baggage, train, car or coach journeys there is a suit case for you. But there are so many on the market that it is easy to be overwhelmed by choice.
In this round-up I will review five of the best:
But what should you be looking for in a good hard shell suitcase? Here are some of the most important questions to ask before buying:
Durability and quality are vital if you want to protect your belongings. Checked-in suitcases go through a lot of strain. They’re thrown around by airport workers, crushed under the weight of other suitcases and are subject to Cold temperatures within the hold.
Sometimes they get wet out on the tarmac. This is why hard side luggage is particularly popular, because it more readily protects items from stresses and waterlogging than soft-fabric cases.
However, you want to make sure your hard side luggage is made of the right material to avoid visible damage like cracking, dents and scratches. Aluminum used to be the traditional choice, but these days it tends to be expensive.
Today, polycarbonate thermoplastics are highly popular, because they’re scratch-resistant, light and cheaper than aluminum. They also come in a variety of colors and they can flex to absorb impact, avoiding dents. ABS, another kind of thermoplastic, is lighter than polycarbonate, but not as tough. It can be added to polycarbonate to get the best of both worlds, making your case light, durable and cheap.
When thinking about durability, you have to consider the toughness of the case’s wheels and handle. Because they stick out, they are most susceptible to damage. These days, ‘spinner’ wheels on all four corners of the suitcase are popular because they take the load off your arm, and can spin effortlessly through queues and crowds.
However, because they’re exposed, they’re more liable to break off compared to the traditional embedded two-wheel arrangement. It’s important to look for good quality makes to avoid having to laboriously scrape your case along the footpath.
The weight of the case is also important if you want to keep money in your pocket. Airlines have weight restrictions, usually of between 50lb and 70lb for flights in and out of the US. Because airlines are under pressure to offset increasing fuel costs, if you want to take more than the limit, it can cost you a pretty penny.
Additional fees for overweight bags start from $50 for most airlines. The lighter the suitcase itself, the more of your own belongings and souvenirs you’ll be able to take with. You’ll also be less likely to injure yourself lifting it off the conveyor belt.
Suitcases can range from $60-70 all the way into the thousands. You need to consider how much you’re willing to spend, what you’ll be getting for your money, and how often you’ll be traveling. Just remember that a higher price does not always equal better quality.
You should also consider how well the case will separate and fix your belongings, to avoid the interior turning into a kaleidoscopic mess. Good-quality cases will have a strap system or netting to keep your neatly ironed shirts and pants flat.
They’ll also have smaller pouches and zippable compartments for shoes and underwear – no-one wants their bra straps tangled up with their shoelaces.
Besides this, you’ll want to consider if the case packs evenly on each side, like a clam, or in a ‘front-loader’ style. The clamshell case can only be packed when it’s completely opened, meaning you’ll need a bed or a large patch of floor.
The front-loader can be packed in tight spaces or on luggage racks, although it may be more difficult to access items at the bottom of the case.
The Samsonite Winfield 2 is a classic middle-to-upper-range case that will suit the needs of most travelers. It’s made of good-quality polycarbonate and expands by 1.5”, allowing you to bring home those souvenirs and presents you bought on holiday.
It also has a TSA-approved zipper lock, four spinner wheels (single castors), and multiple pockets, straps and mesh separator for organizing clothes.
A major pro of this case is the paintwork. Its brush-stroke texture hides the inevitable scuffs your case will weather with the rigors of travel. It comes in a wide range of colors: including Brushed Anthracite (shown in header) burgundy, orange for the fashion-conscious, and deep blue for a more classic look.
A downside is that at 15.5lbs, it is on the heavier side, although not by much. Moving through the airport, the smoothness of the spinner wheels will compensate for the weight. The Samsonite Winfield is a highly popular all-purpose suitcase, a well-balanced trade-off of quality and price.
The Lucas ABS Large Suitcase is one of the best value cases you can buy whilst still getting some quality from the product. Style-wise, it looks just as sleek and modern as the more expensive designer cases. The diamond-patterned textured finish also helps to minimize scratches, keeping it looking new for longer.
The internal separating partition for folded clothes is loose enough to allow you to close it easily even when full – in other suitcases, these partitions are often too tight and can rip when over packed.
Even though it’ is aimed at the lower end of the market price wise, it comes with five-year manufacturer’s warranty, highlighting the producer’s faith in their product quality and covering you if anything does break.
A potential downside is that it is made of ABS, meaning that it is more likely to crack than a polycarbonate case. This material, combined with the aluminum retractable handle, does however make the case very light for its size: only 9.6lbs.
You won’t have to worry about paying overweight luggage fees, and in combination with the four-wheel spinner system, it’ll be a dream for your back.
In addition to the steel blue design shown in the title the Lucas is also available in purple, charcoal and steel blue as shown below:
The Delsey Helium Aero Suitcase is lower price point range for a mid-range product. It’s reasonably light, at 12.5lbs, and combined with the spinner wheels this makes for easy maneuverability. The wheels have double castors, meaning they will last longer. Made of 100% polycarbonate, the shell is also very durable.
But the Delsey’s major strength is its capacity – it can expand a sizeable 2”. It’s one inch less that the airline maximum, giving you the maximum space without having to pay oversize fees. The shell also has a bit of give, enabling you to fit even more than you’d think. This does mean that you have to be careful not to overpack and pay overweight fees.
The case also has web straps for keeping your shirts flat, some pockets for accessories and a TSA-approved zip lock. The design is streamlined and modern and it also comes in a variety of colors (three shown below), giving you choice about your style. A downside to this case is that the shell isn’t very scratch resistant, meaning that it might get scratched if handled roughly. The case comes with a 10 year warranty.
The Victorinox Spectra 2.0 suitcase is a upper-price-range case with a sleek design and matt finish. Its standout feature is its expansion capabilities. It expands a whopping 4.3 inches, allowing 47 percent greater packing capacity. It comes with external compression straps to help customize your packing space, for when you don’t want the maximum or the minimum expansion, but somewhere in between. This will keep your clothes in place and stop them from getting jumbled.
The Spectra is very durable. The shell is 100% polycarbonate and scratch-resistant, and it has internal compartments made of a tough material that will compress your clothes in place. It’s a ‘front loader’, meaning you don’t have to fully spread the suitcase open to access belongings, making it good for tight hotel rooms or if you’re packing on a luggage rack. Its dual-castor spinner wheels make for good maneuverability.
A standout feature is Victorinox’s customer support. You can register your bag’s Tracking ID, and if you lose your bag in a busy airport and someone picks it up, they can call a special hotline and Victorinox will return it for you. Furthermore, you can register your TSA lock combination, so if you forget it (who hasn’t?), you can log in to request the code.
A downside is that adjusting the expander with the compression straps can be finicky. And with so much space, it’s too easy to over pack. It is also significantly more expensive than our other picks. This case comes in a three colors, the black shown in the header and the Red and Navy shown below:
The Flieks Aluminium Frame suitcase is on the middle-to-lower end of the price spectrum. It’s made of a combination of materials, aiming for a mixture of lightness and strength. The shell is a ABS and polycarbonate composite, and the frame is aluminum-magnesium for extra-strong structural durability, stopping the shell from flexing and decreasing the risk of cracking.
The standout feature of this case is its unusual design and a variety of metallic finishes – it’ll be impossible to miss on the baggage carousel. It has double-castor wheels and weighs a reasonable 13.4 lbs.
The internal separators are unusual in that they don’t seal to the edge – rather, they have straps that can be adjusted to the amount of clothes. If you like to stuff your case to the full, you don’t have to worry about the separator ripping from the pressure.
A downside is that using an ABS layer does make the shell weaker and more likely to crack than pure polycarbonate. Compared to the 100% polycarbonate Delsey, which is the same size, it’s actually slightly heavier and the prices are relatively comparable.
The Fliek Aluminium cases comes in 5 colors, black, gold, gray, space silver and white.
Even though these cases have their pros and cons, all of them are good quality and will be suited to the needs of different people. You need to decide for yourself which one would be just right for you.
On pure quality the Victorinox is difficult to beat, but we’ve picked the case we think will suit the needs and budget of the majority of travelers. If you want a durable, lightweight and high-capacity case, you can’t go past the Delsey Helium Aero.
Though not the cheapest case on the market, we think it represents the best mixture of value for money and quality. As long as you don’t mind some superficial scratches, we think this is the hard-shell case to buy for the average traveler.
Enjoy your case it’ll be your home-on-wheels for days, weeks, months, or even years to come…. Happy travels!