A soft case can provide more flexibility when packing. Picture: Rob Duncan

Hard v soft suitcases

The more popular option in Australia, soft suitcases are generally lighter and less expensive than hard cases.

Soft cases also tend to offer better flexibility with packing, and are more likely to be expandable to provide additional space.

If you're buying a cabin-sized bag, you may find soft cases easier to fit into overhead lockers on the plane.

Soft cases also tend to have a larger variety of styles available, such as duffel-style bags with wheels, or wheeled bags which can double as a backpack.

Hard luggage offers better protection for fragile items, and is more secure - thieves can simply cut through soft cases.

If you're heading to wet or snowy climes, hard cases tend to be more waterproof, and are easier to clean.

Though strong and generally more durable, hard cases can be vulnerable to cracking and scratches, which will be more noticeable than on soft cases.

Mixed semi-soft cases are also available.

General luggage tips

Pay attention to size. As a guide, the total dimensions (i.e. sum of width, height and depth) for a carry-on case should be no more than 115cm, and no more than 158cm for checked cases, although the latter in particular can vary considerably depending on your airline and destination.

Look for high-quality materials, such as ballistic nylon for soft cases or polycarbonate for hard cases, fibreglass inner frames and moulded polyurethane wheels.

Zippers, wheels and telescoping handles are the components most likely to fail, so these should be sturdy and well attached to the case. Check how much space the handle system takes up inside the case.

Reinforcement around the zipper and seams will make your case more durable. Larger zippers tend to be easier to use and last longer.

You'll have the choice of two or four wheels: two-wheelers are often lighter but four-wheelers tend to be steadier and easier to manoeuvre.

In the shop, try wheeling the case on both carpet and smooth flooring, and picking it up as though placing it in a car boot or on a shelf - see if it is comfortable for you.

Cases get knocked around a lot, especially if you're a frequent traveller, so don't forget to ask about warranties.

What we use and why

Gemma Nisbet: "My regular, soft case has a green and grey colour scheme - easy to spot on the carousel. I also use a wheeled carry-on that fits my camera gear and has a padded laptop pocket for easy access at security."


Niall McIlroy: "A hard case puts my mind at ease that my belongings will arrive in one piece. Samsonite has a good reputation and my spinner is strong, light, easy to manoeuvre, and I picked it up at a great price."

Stephen Scourfield: "My trusty case (Casey) is as soft as they come. I like to be able to cram a soft case into the boot of a car or wedge it in the back of a truck. (Of course, Casey's a bit soft emotionally, too.)"

The West Australian

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