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How to Choose Between Hard Case vs. Soft Cases

We know that the right luggage can mean the difference between a smooth journey and travel vexation, but how do you choose between a classic piece of hard luggage and the more flexible soft case? Both types are tried and true in the travel industry, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

With all the styles on the market and travel blogs touting one or the other as the ideal option, it may be hard to decide which one would work best for you. Fortunately, we have complied a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of hard case, soft case, and hybrid luggage to help you make the best selection.

What is Hard Case Luggage?

Hard cases have an exterior of polycarbonate or plastic, and sometimes even metal or wood for specialty equipment. The case usually opens in half, like a clamshell, and consists of one large compartment to store your belongings.

Custom Manufactured Hard Cases

Advantages of Hard Cases

Hard cases have a number of benefits that make it an excellent investment, including:

  • Hard Exterior and Frame for Protection.With a solid frame and outer shell, the hard case offers more protection if the case is dropped or jostled. This is particularly helpful for travel when your case may be transferred between locations and subject to air turbulence or a bumpy bus ride. Polycarbonate exteriors are especially useful for long distance travel, as the material is sturdier and more crack resistant than other hard case materials.
  • Moisture and Stain Resistant. Unlike soft cases, hard cases your belongings from moisture, so you don’t have to worry about traveling in inclement weather. In addition, it is easier to clean a hard case when it is splashed or spattered with mud. Many soft case materials, such as nylon and canvas, will absorb liquid spills and stain, while a hard case can simply be wiped clean with a cloth.
  • More Colors and Designs Available. If you are looking for a stylish and unique design, hard cases come in a variety of colors and patterns. Plastic and polycarbonate materials are easy to infuse with different hues, which allows designers to create more eye-catching styles.

The Disadvantages of Hard Cases

Depending on your luggage needs, hard cases may not be the best option for you. Some disadvantages include:

  • Less Flexibility. Hard cases are less flexible than soft cases. This makes it more difficult to squeeze into smaller spaces, like overhead compartments in planes or with other items in the trunk of the car. It also limits the number of belongings you can fit in the case.
  • Reduced Crack and Scratch Resistance. With a hard exterior comes a certain amount of rigidity, meaning your case is more likely to crack when placed under pressure or dropped from, say, a cargo hold onto the tarmac. The exterior is also more likely to show scratches and damage than its soft counterpart.
  • Fewer Compartments. Hard cases generally consist of one large compartment, sometimes with one or two smaller pockets tucked in the back interior. This can make it more difficult to contain or organize your belongings. If you intend to travel with small loose items, a more compartmentalized soft case may work better for you.

Hard Case vs. Soft Cases

What is a Soft Case?

Soft cases have a soft exterior composed of fabric, such as canvas, vinyl, leather, felt, and ballistic or PVC backed nylon. Soft cases generally sport two wheels and a telescoping handle for ease of transport. Like hard cases, soft cases consist of one large compartment, but it also includes separate side pockets and netting on the inside and outside for extra accessible storage.

Custom Soft Sewn Cases

The Advantages of Soft Cases

Soft cases have their own set of benefits, such as:

  • Increased Flexibility. With a soft case, you don’t have to worry about squeezing a soft case into small spaces, and you can pack it to the max. If you are traveling by plane with a carry-on, this can be especially helpful to fit your case into overhead or under seat compartments. A flexible soft case is also beneficial when packing into an irregular or crowded trunk, and it can be squeezed into closet storage when not in use.
  • Scratch and Crack Resistant. Since the exterior surface is fabric, you don’t have to worry about scratches or cracks that would appear on a hard case. Whether it is dropped from a height or squished into a crowded cargo hold, your case is less likely to reflect the hard knocks and rigors of travel. This means that in addition to maintaining structural integrity, a soft case will keep its brand-new look for longer.
  • Lighter Weight Than Hard Cases. Since they are made of thinner materials, soft cases are lighter and easier to transport than hard cases.
  • More Compartments and Pockets. Soft cases offer extra side and front pockets to make it easier to sort and access smaller items and paperwork you may need for the boarding process or during a flight.

The Disadvantages of Soft Cases

Some disadvantages to consider when choosing a soft case include:

  • Weaker Exterior Material. Your soft case exterior will be easier to cut through or tear than a hard case. In addition, less structure means less protection for fragile items, so if you are transporting anything breakable, a soft case may not be the best option.
  • Fewer Color and Design Options. Due to the different qualities of the cloth used, soft cases tend to have fewer design and color options than hard cases.
  • Readily Absorbs Water and Smells. The fabric exterior of a soft case is more likely to absorb and hold liquid and smells, and cleaning a spill on your case is more difficult than wiping down a hard case. This can be a particular disadvantage if you are traveling in inclement weather, when water can leak into the case and damage your belongings.

What is Hybrid Case?

If you are traveling light and looking for the best of both worlds, consider using a hybrid case. Hybrid  cases tend to be smaller, more portable, and composed of flexible weatherproof materials for those rainy days.

The Advantages of Hybrid Cases

With a variety of styles that blend hard and soft designs, hybrid luggage offers some distinctive benefits, such as:

  • More Portable Than Standard Hard & Soft Cases. You will find hybrid cases are smaller than the standard soft and hard cases, so they are ideal for carry-ons and short trips. Some hybrids are fashioned like backpacks, so you can easily sling them over your shoulder and go. Other hybrids come in compact case styles with wheels and a retractable handle to make them easy to pull.
  • Water and Stain Resistant. Hybrids have options with hard case exteriors of non-woven plastic to make them more resilient and water repellent like hard cases. Others are constructed from water-resistant soft materials, such as reinforced nylon, to keep your belongings clean and dry.

The Disadvantages of Hybrid Cases

Hybrid cases have a few disadvantages, including:

  • Smaller Size and Capacity. Hybrid cases tend to be smaller than standard cases, which means you can’t pack as much. For this reason, hybrids are better suited for short trips or as a carry-on option.
  • Less Protection. Since hybrid cases are smaller, they can still leave fragile items vulnerable, especially in cases that are constructed with softer exterior materials. If you need more protection for fragile belongings, you may want to consider a hard case style.

Luggage Options by Custom Case Co.

Since 1994, Custom Case Company has been a purveyor of fine custom cases in a variety of designs for all your travel and equipment transport needs. We are pleased to offer custom cases in soft and hard designs.

In addition to cases for travel, we create custom specialty cases for a range of materials and applications, including hard cases for musical and electrical equipment and soft cases for tools and fragile instruments. We are pleased to offer contract sewing services for original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to design and create cases with specific materials and dimensions as required for unique items. Our designs can be manufactured with customized wheels, telescoping handles, straps, pockets, zippers, and buckles to meet your every need.

For more information on our custom cases or to request a quote, contact us today!