Beginner’s guide to luggage
No single piece of luggage is perfect for all trips, but a versatile baggage made of lightweight and resistant materials can make traveling more comfortable. To choose the best travel bag for your upcoming journeys, you have to consider several factors, from the type of trip you will take (adventure, business or family trip), to the bag’s size, weight and versatility. If you plan to go snorkeling or cycling you will need a different travel bag than during a family trip in which you plan to visit museums and historic sites for example.
By getting familiar with the different types of travel bags out there as well as with their characteristics – materials, dimensions, safety features, accessories and structure – you will be able to find the perfect baggage for any trip. The Beginner’s guide to travel luggage is created mainly for those of you who have only basic knowledge about travel bags, but is an useful read for anyone planning a trip.
LUGGAGE TYPES BY MATERIAL
We can classify travel bags into two main categories based on the materials they’re made of: softside luggage and hardside luggage. Some add a third category for leather travel bags, but these can be included into the softside baggage type.
As the name implies, hardside luggage is made of hard, rough materials, like polycarbonate, polypropylene, ABS, aluminum or Curv material; softside travel bags on the other hand are made of soft fabrics that are more flexible and lighter but less resistant than materials used in hard shells, such as nylon, polyester, polyurethane, neoprene, leather and polyamide, with or without reinforcements and detailing.
Hardside travel bags
Hardside bags tend to be more efficient in protecting fragile items like electronic gadgets or bottles of fragrance, and in keeping your clothes free of wrinkles. The most expensive hardside suitcases have cushioned interiors and extra pockets or compartments for shoe or wet items, and some come with garment sleeves included. But you can also find affordable bags in this category with soft interiors made of foam or similar materials, that keep your belongings safe during the trip.
These bags tend to weigh more than soft-sided suitcases, so if you travel with a single hand luggage and want to bring some presents back from your trip, it may be better to opt for a soft-sided bag. On the other hand, if you’re not concerned about the extra weight or you’re looking for a suitcase to use as checked baggage, it is more important to pick a resistant and rough bag than a lightweight or stylish one.
Luckily, some bags with hard shell are both lightweight and resistant, and are sized to fit most airplane cabins. The exterior shell is rigid, and usually doesn’t bend, but it may flex under extreme stress. Depending on the producer, the locking mechanism and the number of wheels and handles may vary, but most hard-sided suitcases provide the same features as soft-sided travel bags. Luggage made of Curv for example is extremely light but also resistant and fashionable, as the material is slightly shiny and has a discreet, elegant texture.
Common features of hardside luggage include adjustable wheel handles, smooth wheels – two or four, depending on the model, side handles and bottom grips, interior compartments separated through divider pads, and ribbons for keeping the clothes in place during the baggage handling procedures.
Being heavier than fabric luggage, bags with hard cases tend to be more durable, but are also more prone to scratches and cracks than fabric baggage, so it’s very important to choose your travel bag carefully, especially if you’re a frequent traveler who loves adventure trips.
Keep in mind that hardside luggage is built to last, so functionality is more important than style in this case. The purpose of these bags is to protect your belongings, so even if they weigh slightly more than softside suitcases, and they are more rigid, if you want to travel free of worries, it may be worth to invest in a high quality hard-shell suitcase.
Now let’s take a look at the different materials used in hardside suitcases and see which one is the best and why. Curv material is an innovative composite made of highly drawn polypropylene, which mixes the versatility of thermoplastics with the impact-resistant performance of fiber-reinforced composites. It’s appreciated especially for its lightness, high energy absorption, shock-impact performance and esthetics.
Polypropylene is an oil-based plastic material with excellent chemical resistance, which creates tough surfaces and is very strong, therefore withstands heavy impacts as well as the temperature changes that occur during air travel. Polypropylene luggage tends to be heavier than Curv bags and less stylish, but is perfect for classy suitcases and elegant travel bags, as well as for business trolleys.
ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) is less resistant than polypropylene, being made up of plastic and a rubber substitute. Although strong enough to protect your belongings during a trip, ABS may crack in case of a violent impact, and has poor chemical resistance, but is more affordable than the other mentioned materials. It doesn’t have the elegance of Curv or the classy appearance of polypropylene luggage, but may still look good. Most often ABS is used in travel bags where function and price are more important than appearance.
Finally, polycarbonate (PC) has excellent impact strength and mechanical properties, which can be molded easily, but its chemical tolerance is poor. Shells made of polycarbonate are rigid and strong, so they protect the packed goods very well, and are durable as well as lightweight.
Polycarbonate travel bags are good for transporting electronic gadgets as the hard shell will keep the luggage from compressing the items. However, some dislike bags made of PC because they are inflexible, can’t be squeezed into the overhead bins of airplanes and don’t accommodate extra belongings. Another drawback is that polycarbonate is more susceptible to scratching when compared to Curv or polypropylene.
Softside luggage characteristics
Softside bags are made of flexible panels, being easier to store and lighter than hard-shell baggage. They can be cleaned, feature more compartments and pockets than hardside bags, can have expandable compartments and are available in more colors and styles. Also they’re more resistant to wear and tear and can be squeezed easier into tight airplane bins. Materials used for making softside luggage include polyester, nylon, cotton, leather, vinyl and other fabrics that are lightweight, durable and flexible.
Depending on the producer and material used, softside luggage can offer good protection against bad weather condition and can be waterproof, but this isn’t always the case. In general, bags made of soft fabrics are more affordable than those with hard shells, but the majority of softside baggage doesn’t have the firm outside structure of hardside luggage, therefore in case of an impact these bags aren’t the best for protecting fragile items.
Nylon is the toughest of all these materials, being more resistant to abrasions and cuts, more durable than polyester and usually with a slightly shiny finish. It’s more expensive than polyester or canvas but more affordable than natural leather, and is a versatile material which can be used for business bags, travel luggage, duffles, backpacks and any other type of softside bag. Also, nylon can be used for linings and coverings in hardside baggage.
Polyester is inexpensive, so bags made of this fabric tend to be more affordable than those made of nylon. It’s lightweight and resistant to abrasion, and comes in a variety of colors. Has great durability and is more resistant than fabrics and canvas, but is more susceptible to scratches and cuts than nylon.
TRAVEL BAGS BY MODEL
Spinner luggage is equipped with four wheels and comes in various sized, from cabin luggage to larger bags that are suitable as checked baggage. Spinners usually have two or more compartments, of which one larger interior compartment with ribbons for clothes, and a second interior compartment separated through a divider pad, ideal for storing documents or small tools and beauty products.
Spinners are appreciated mostly for their ease of mobility, being more comfortable to transport on various surfaces; models equipped with multi-directional wheels work flawlessly in most terminals, so if you’re a frequent traveler who changes trains and planes several times during a trip, a spinner trolley may be a good choice. These travel bags are perfect for subways and escalators, as well as for navigating busy and crowded terminals.
The drawbacks of spinner luggage are that the size on labels doesn’t always include the wheels, and that they’re less stable than upright trolleys. In trains or when going up or down a hill, a spinner may easily slide, especially if fully loaded. Not to mention that the wheels on spinners are usually smaller than those on upright bags, so they’re more prone to wear and tear.
You can avoid such issues by choosing spinner luggage from top brands like Samsonite or American Sierra, which use space-boosting wheels that maximize space and design solutions that ensure a better stability of the bags. For increased mobility, some spinners are equipped with side handles, and feature bottom or side studs for stability. Depending on the manufacturer and model, spinner luggage may have front pockets, internal pockets for wet items, shoe bags and even laptop compartments.
Upright baggage is similar to spinners, except that instead of featuring four wheels, this type of travel bag is equipped with only two bags, and has bottom studs or a bottom grip for stability and easy lifting. Just like spinners, upright bags can be sized to meet the requirements for cabin luggage or can be larger, perfect as checked baggage. They can be made of either soft or hard materials, and can feature several pockets.
The main advantage of these travel bags is that the wheels are larger and usually integrated in the bag’s frame, so they’re more spacious and less likely to exceed the maximum allowed size for cabin baggage. Upright luggage is, in most cases, a better fit for overhead bins, and doesn’t protrude as much as spinners.
Rolling totes are intended for cabin use so the softsided ones almost always feature front pockets for tickets and travel documents, as well as larger compartments for snacks and water bottles. The advantage of these travel bags is that they can be used as cabin baggage, offer great mobility and stability, are spacious enough for accommodating your travel essentials during day trips and can also be used on a daily basis if your job requires you to carry several items with you when meeting collaborators or clients.
Garment bags are ideal for business trips, their main purpose being to keep clothes neat and organized and to minimize wrinkling. There are several types of garment bags, but most of them have some aspects in common: they’re large enough to accommodate a suit or other essentials for a short business trip, and they’re made of soft and flexible materials that offer good protection from unfriendly weather. Garment bags can be either wheeled or non-wheeled, the former being usually larger while the latter are sized for cabin use. If you only need to pack one or two formal items, a garment sleeve may be a better choice than a garment bag, as it takes less space and may fit into a larger trolley.
Duffle bags are very popular for traveling but also for gym use, so you may want to consider investing in this type of baggage if you’re a fitness practitioner. Duffles are made of soft fabrics, have top handles and usually only one main compartment, plus some smaller interior or exterior pockets. Some duffle bags are equipped with shoulder straps, while others are wheeled, so there are plenty of models to choose from. Being spacious, these bags are a popular option for longer trips, but keep in mind that some may not be sized to fit airplane bins.
Backpacks are preferred by young travelers, by adventurers who love exploring various destinations and by those who travel for short term and prefer to have their hands free for a camera or some delicious local food. They’re ideal as day packs for hikers, and may also be used as cabin baggage for leisure or business trips if you need a bag with incorporated laptop compartment but don’t want to invest in a laptop trolley.
Backpacks are extremely versatile travel bags, being equipped with shoulder and chest straps, with pockets for snacks and water bottles, for writing items, electronic gadgets, as well as with larger compartments for clothes. However, note that for business purposes it’s preferable to have an additional bag – garment bag or checked baggage – for transporting a suit, shirts and business documents, as it’s unlikely for your clothes to look free of wrinkles if carried in a backpack.
Ready to start shopping? Here are our recommendations for cabin luggage!
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