Hard shell luggage has a certain air about it. The clean lines and, in some cases, shiny, lacquered exteriors just look better than most duffels and soft-sided roller bags. But hard shell luggage can be more expensive, and everyone seems to know someone who says hard shell luggage just isn’t worth it because it inevitably cracks.
That said, if you’re ready to treat yourself to some hard shell luggage for the first time, or need to replace hard shell luggage that didn’t stand up to travel as well as you’d hoped, here are some of the most popular sets, plus a buying guide that outlines the individual factors you should consider when making your choice.
The Best Hard Shell Luggage
If you’re after hard shell luggage because you want something that will truly stand out on the carousel, your interest may be piqued by COTRUNKAGE’s unique suitcase lineup. Unlike the more mod-looking options we’ve explored thus far, COTRUNKAGE’s hard shell suitcases speak of a bygone era of travel that you might get to relive just a little as you maneuver through the hotel lobby and airport terminal in style.
This two-piece luggage set comes with a 20-inch rolling carry-on; a 13-inch train case, which will fit cosmetics and other small items, with a shoulder strap; and a detachable hanging bag that snaps into the 20-inch suitcase.
The luggage’s TSA locks require keys, which at least one buyer said were missing or locked inside when her purchase arrived. And while 85 percent of reviewers give the set four or five stars, many note that the suitcases are small, so buy with that in mind!
- Unique vintage-inspired aesthetic
- Matching, detachable hanging bag included
- Multiple mesh organization compartments
- Keys to lock can be lost or misplaced
- Small size isn’t well suited to longer trips
- Leather-look synthetic exterior
- Built-in, TSA-compatible key locks
- Small, 360-degree spinner wheels
- Brand: COTRUNKAGE
- Pieces: 3
A hard shell carry-on with a dedicated spot for your java? Yes please!
That’s right -- coffee lovers (or any traveler who’s committed to staying hydrated en route), rejoice! Wrangler’s three-piece Smart Hardside luggage set includes a carry-on with a built-in cupholder and a USB charging port. The internal organization system is fairly straightforward, with a zippered divider (not mesh, so you can’t see through it), adjustable straps, and a zippered pocket.
Not all buyers are fans of the push-button handles, which some say can be a bit wobbly and dent easily. That said, almost 85 percent of reviewers give the set four or five stars, and only one reviewer (out of nearly 200) reported one of their suitcases cracked during transit.
- Available in 4 colors
- External drink holder on carry-on
- Zippered expander
- Charging brick is not included
- Handles may feel wobbly
- USB port
- Small multidirectional spinner wheels
- Zippered divider and internal pocket
- Brand: Wrangler
- Pieces: 3
Hard Shell Luggage Buying Guide
If you’re considering investing in a hard shell luggage set for the first time, here are a few things to consider in addition to overall quality.
The type and size of your hard shell luggage wheels will contribute to how smoothly you’ll roll. Some pieces of luggage are built with rubber or inline skate wheels, which are known for being especially smooth and quiet. Smaller, plasticky wheels will be louder and not as smooth. Some travelers actually buy replacement wheels for their luggage, but obviously this entails additional expense and time.
Set Or Individual Pieces
A lot of hard shell luggage is sold in sets, but you only have two hands. Can you really manage three roller suitcases? Purchasing a set could be a good idea if you’re buying for yourself and a travel buddy, or if you take different kinds of trips and can use different pieces for different getaways. Otherwise, purchasing your hard shell luggage by the piece may be best for you. If you buy from a trusted brand that offers a lineup you like, odds are, you can get another piece in the same color and style if you decide to expand your collection later.
Size And Expandability
This brings us to size and expandability. Unlike soft-sided luggage and duffel bags, there’s a limit to what you can pack inside of hard shell luggage that isn’t as easily … tested (anyone who’s sat or stomped on their suitcase while zipping it up knows what I’m talking about). Make sure you get a hard shell suitcase that’s big enough, but not too large to fit wherever it needs to go (again, hard shell cases that legitimately cannot be overstuffed also cannot be squished down without the risk of cracking).
Some hardshell options, like Wrangler’s Smart Hardside Luggage, actually do expand thanks to a zipper system that affords optimistic packers a little wiggle room, but this is not the norm.
Locks Or No Locks
Part of the appeal of hard shell luggage is that it keeps whatever you pack inside safe and secure, and TSA-approved locks can contribute to this, too. Some hard shell luggage comes with locks — either combination or key — built in, and you’ll want to make sure they’re TSA approved to avoid frustrating delays (and potentially having to unpack and repack … somehow) at the airport. Keep in mind that you’re in trouble if you forget your combination or lose your luggage key, and that if you like a hard shell luggage set that doesn’t involve locks, you can always buy some to attach to the zippers as needed.
Overall Aesthetic And Upkeep
Most hard shell luggage looks sharp and either streamlined or a little new age. That’s probably partially what’s attracted you to it. There are also some vintage-inspired options, like COTRUNKAGE’s luggage sets. Whatever look you decide on, understand that just as soft-shell luggage can buckle and fray, hard shell luggage can scuff and scratch, and eventually it may sustain a few cracks or dents depending on the external material and how many miles and carousel rides you put on it.