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Isn't Hardside Luggage Heavy & Out of Fashion?

Updated on August 16, 2013

If you have been to an airport or luggage store anywhere in the world lately, I believe you will find out that Hardside Luggage is back! Well, this is certainly a new breed of hardside luggage, and the biggest difference is weight & durability. When we started in this business back in the 1970’s Hardside Luggage was a staple, and that included products made from:

  1. Polypropylene (PP) Plastic
  2. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) – a very common thermoplastic
  3. Aluminum

If you are a baby boomer or older, chances are you’ve owned a Samsonite, American Tourister, Delsey, Carlton, Roncato or some other brand of Hardside plastic luggage. If it had a metal allow frame and a fabric lining, there is a good chance it was made of ABS plastic. This type of plastic was durable, generally required some type of metal allow frame to incorporate the lock and closure mechanism. Finally, this suitcase had a glued-down fabric lining with dividers and pockets. These ABS bags started out without wheels in the early stages and eventually included 4 wheels on the bottom of the suitcase (with suitcase in the vertical position) and some brands developed two corner wheels, allowing you to tilt-up the suitcase in a 30 degree angle and wheel it much like a wheelbarrow. Why did these become obsolete? To start with, they were excessively heavy! Additionally, wheeling a suitcase in the horizontal or tilted position with a narrow wheelbase will obviously result in a ridiculous wobble. So you can’t be in a hurry with this type of construction. Finally, this ABS plastic may have been comparatively strong, and gained strength when fully (not overly) packed. Yet, ABS plastic was also susceptible to cracks, so chances are you had a few cracks on your ABS suitcase if you were well traveled.

The luggage industry welcomed Polypropylene (PP) Plastic, as the properties of this plastic were far more flexible and pliable than that of ABS plastic. Additionally, this plastic had the capabilities to mold a frame, right into the suitcase. Therefore, there was no need for a metal extrusion frame, only the addition of hinges and locks to join the two PP plastic luggage shells and offer a closure and security measure. Since this type of plastic was very high in petroleum content, you didn’t see fabric linings in the original PP plastic suitcases, they simply had a color coordinated interior. If you attempted to glue-down a lining as was common in the ABS plastic suitcases, the linings would certainly work themselves loose. Best of all, the manufacturers of this suitcase boasted the flexibility and strength of Polypropylene suitcases. In fact, our luggage sales associates would jump on the suitcase to demonstrate how these suitcases would withstand damage and spring right back to their original form. So what was the problem? These were heavy, had the same wheel stability issues as I described with the older generation ABS plastic suitcases, no linings, and this type of plastic scratched and showed scratches easily.

If money was not an object, there was always the option of purchasing Zero Halliburton or Rimowa Aluminum Luggage. Of course, this was a status symbol and still is, and Aluminum is quite light considering the durability and aesthetic appeal. However, today the airlines are charging for the weight of your checked luggage. In fact, many carriers will charge on domestic flights for anything over 50 lbs. This weight limit is inclusive of the suitcase. If you can afford an Aluminum suitcase, you probably aren’t concerned about whether you have to pay a penalty for exceeding 50 lbs. However, the vast majority of travelers wanted a lighter alternative to comply with the airline carrier weight standards.

Long before these airline weight restrictions were in place or enforced, the luggage industry gradually evolved from mostly Hardside Luggage to a lighter weight Softsided Luggage alternative. Performance materials such as 420 pack-cloth nylon, Cordura and Ballistic Nylons all became prevalent in our industry. These cases were generally loaded with exterior pockets, and even pockets on top of pockets. In general, these products were far lighter than the first generation of Hardside Suitcases described above, they had much better organization, and in fact they were also durable. Wheels were still a problem, they were exposed, protruding, wearing down, spilling ball bearings, and unstable like the typical wheel barrow. Goodbye Hardside Luggage!

Softsided Luggage is vastly improved, and an airline pilot commercializes the upright trolley (2-wheel) suitcase with the telescoping handle. Now that the wheels have enough wheel base spacing, the case maneuvers beautifully and quickly. This concept catches on quickly, and within light speed every Softsided trolley suitcase being developed ultimately has some version of a telescoping handle and inline skate wheels. Durability becomes paramount and the performance fabrics get better and stronger, and the metal frames get upgraded to high impact honeycomb plastic frames. Over time, all Softsided Luggage with integrity and durability is heavy once again. The only apparent advantage of Soft vs. Hard luggage is now the organization of extra pockets and expansion features, yet these suitcases are H-E-A-V-Y!

It’s now official; the airline carriers are weighing suitcases and charging penalties for exceeding 50 lbs. The luggage manufacturers have a call to action from the retailers who are hearing the pushback from the ultimate consumer. Now for the first time ever, durability has taken a back seat in priority to weight. It has got to be L-I-G-H-T! This is the first and only concern, until the passengers find out that bags without integrity (framing, durable fabric, appropriate construction) fall apart like a paper bag. So the luggage manufacturers now have another challenge and another call-to-action. They knew they had to develop light that still was durable. Kudos to our Luggage Manufacturers and the product engineers and designers that made it happen. Today, we have fiberglass, honeycomb, and Polycarbonate featherweight frames that are remarkably durable. We also have a new class of performance materials that are much lighter than fabrics used in the past. However, if you still want a senior grade denier of quality ballistic nylon, you really can’t get totally away from the weight issue. A business traveler using Softsided Luggage will need to balance their priorities and most likely will need to stick with the premium fabrications even if it adds weight. Fortunately, the suitcase frames are vastly improved and no longer heavy!

Hello, new breed of Hardside Luggage! Here comes an army of new materials, at least new to the luggage industry. As I’ve learned every industry seems to borrow good ideas from other industries. So here comes Polycarbonate (PC) plastic. Wow, this material has been used for bullet proof glass, and the weightless glass used for eyeglasses and sunglasses. It’s very durable and very, very lightweight! I have other hubpage articles that address the quality levels and difference in performance between the different grades of Polycarbonate Luggage. Yet, in general this product has all new properties that make this product sleek, lightweight, durable, and exotic in appearance. Some of these products actually remind me of very expensive race cars. Many of the brands now have outside pocket options. All of a sudden this new class of PC Hardside Luggage gives a very good reason to consider retiring your old Softsided Luggage and buying this new Hardside Luggage. Really, are we ready to go back to the 70’s when Hardside Luggage was King! Apparently so, all you have to do is put a set of spinner wheels on my sexy Hardside Suitcase, and now my suitcase maneuvers like a grocery cart. Boy, the Luggage Industry must have dealt a real blow to the Hotel Bellman Industry and forget the Skycaps. We’ll just wheel this suitcase ourselves, even two suitcases side by side. Much easier indeed than the 2-wheel, inline skate wheel trolley made famous by Travelpro.

The Luggage Industry is not through with developing product yet, in fact they just got started. One of the industry leaders in the luxury category of luggage, Tumi has a proprietary agreement with a product called Tegris®. This Polypropylene (PP) thermoplastic composite developed by Milliken® is actually used for body armor and NFL football helmets and shoulder pads. The stuff is virtually unbreakable from what I’ve seen. Tumi introduced their exclusive new Hardside called Tegra-Lite™. Although, some people might group in into the category of Polycarbonate Luggage (PC), I believe it well deserves its own recognition. Initially the Tegra-Lite™ Collection by Tumi came out in the T-Graphite collection (think of the carbon fiber Stealth Plane). Now they have Black Carbon, Bordeaux, Indigo Blue and even a retro-inspired Toffee Stripe. Damn, this stuff looks awesome!

So what are you waiting for, do you have an old fashion suitcase that is Softsided and doesn’t have 4-wheel spinners? The truth is none of my Softsided Luggage was in need of replacement, in fact it was in perfect condition, buy hey I’m in the Luggage Business so I simply had to ‘get with the program’ and purchase my new L-I-G-H-T-W-E-I-G-H-T and D-U-R-A-B-L-E Hardside Spinner Luggage! I apologize for the length of this article, yet if you have the patience to read and digest the contents, you probably can get a job in any luggage store in the country. I wish you all safe and enjoyable travels!

I would like to dedicate this article to Dr. Tilok and Dr. Ralph, both of whom believe in my brother Eddie and I. You have supported us over the years, and always grace us with your valuable time and appreciated business. The pleasure is all ours, and we are honored to earn your business and friendship. Both of these doctors have coincidentally moved into the classification of 4-Wheel Lightweight Hardside Spinners. They didn't wait for us to suggest it, they simply travel a great deal and recognize the improvement of function and feature benefits!


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    • 4TRAVELTIPS profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      Dear Martin A G,

      Thanks for you nice comment and your question. The Samsonite Curv and the Tumi Tegra-Lite are both very fine products. We don't see much of the Samsonite Curv in our US market, as it is part of the Samsonite Black Label collection. This category is much stronger in the Europe, Asia, South and Central America and other parts of the country. However, this material is unique, lightweight and durable thermoplastic developed by Propex. Which is a very reputable company. This particular plastic is also known as Polypropylene or PP. The product in this application is lightweight, durable, and extremely practical. However, a PP plastic will normally show scratches more readily than that of a Polycarbonate PC plastic. Not seeing much of the Samsonite Curv in our market, I don't have personal experience as to whether the application that was used on this product gives it extra scratch protection. The only negative on the Samsonite Curv from my 'seasoned - traveler' habits, are the single telescoping handle. I seem to attach my tote or business case to my double telescoping handle as a matter of practicality. So I will tend to lean towards the Tumi Tegra-Lite. Tumi is now going through a transition on new colors. You might still be able to find a few of the recently discontinued colors at better prices. However, if price is not an issue, I must say that the new Tegra-Lite colors are off the chart attractive. Both of your choices will offer a great solution for a frequent traveler. Despite, what some may believe, you do get what you pay for in luggage. If you make the proper investment, your luggage will generally last longer than you may desire. Just like cars, the industry does there best to make your product obsolete before it is worn out. Better wheels, better handles, nicer fabrics or materials, lighter weight, etc.

    • profile image

      Martin A G 

      4 years ago

      Hi, excellent post.

      I note that you didn't mention anythig about Curv material or Samsonite curv luggage.

      Which do you think is better: Cuv or Tegra-lite?

      Thank you very much.


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