Choosing the right luggage is always a tough one. There have been many innovations in material, design, and function over the years. First, figure out if you want a softside or hardside luggage. If you’ve already found your way here, that means you’ve decided that hardside luggage is your best bet.
Now for the next step: material. And there are two main materials you’ll find everywhere: Polycarbonate and ABS.
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Polycarbonate and ABS are the most common types of plastic used in suitcases on the market. Polycarbonate is more flexible than ABS and has a higher impact resistance. As a result, it makes for a stronger suitcase. ABS suitcases are cheaper than Polycarbonate ones, but they are often heavier and do not last as long.
Here are even more details about each material – it gets a little technical, so if you want to skip down to the best options for each material, I don’t blame you.
Polycarbonate is an amorphous polymer (ie. plastic) with properties that make it ideal for hardside luggage. It has excellent transparency that means it is easy to make in different colors and patterns. It also has high degree of hardness and impact resistance making for durable luggage. Polycarbonate is also highly temperature resistant and has some nice self-extinguishing properties. All good things for luggage, right?
This also means it can be moulded pretty easily into different luggage shapes, making it very flexible and able to take a beating during travel.
Polycarbonate is also popular to use in luggage because it’s so lightweight. It can bend and dent and will easily go back to its original shape. It is almost impossible to break and has the highest level of strength of all luggage materials.
ABS is a blend of three kinds of plastics, each with their own unique characteristics.
Together, ABS is great for impact resistance (ie. luggage handlers), easier processing (making into shapes) and has great mechanical properties: high heat distortion temperature, and gloss property.
This makes ABS ideal for a broad field of applications, including piping and fittings, instrument and appliance housings, tool housings such as hand drills, electric screw drivers, automotive instrument panels and home appliances.
In luggage, ABS is the cheapest hard material used. It’s also very light and makes ABS luggage cheaper than most, but unfortunately it’s also not the most durable. For most luggage makers, however, they use ABS combined with other materials to make a stronger suitcase overall. Be on the lookout for this in the product descriptions or specifications.
It may look like a clear choice: Polycarbonate hardside luggage is the most durable luggage you can choose. However, there are several factors that can affect your purchase, even when talking about materials.
The biggest difference is the price. More often than not, you can buy a full set of ABS luggage for the price of one medium-sized Polycarbonate suitcase. Well-built Polycarbonate luggage will never be below $100.
Fortunately, you will also find a blend of Polycarbonate and ABS in certain luggage options. This brings the price go down to the mid-range level and still be reliable.
If you’re a frequent traveler, your best option is Polycarbonate. You’ll simply waste money on purchasing pure ABS luggage and having to replace it more often.
However, if you’re buying luggage for your kids, ABS is not a bad option. It’s way lighter and they’ll grow out of their luggage soon.
If you’re just looking for spare luggage, ABS luggage can still function as you need it to without setting you back too much on the price. The lightweight characteristics also give it an advantage for budget travelers conscious about weight limitations on flights.
You won’t find your trusted travel brands like Samsonite or Delsey producing pure ABS luggage. Known for creating high-quality luggage, these brands won’t use ABS because of its weaker build and less durable characteristics. Given that, Polycarbonate luggage is more easy to find.
Brands producing ABS luggage are usually less known and focus more on affordability than durability.
When it comes to travel, you really need to make sure you have the right luggage. There are several factors that will affect your decision, but durability is one of the most important characteristics you should look out for. Nobody wants to arrive at the luggage carousel with broken luggage and your stuff strewn along the belt.
There really is no best material for any one piece of luggage. The important thing is that you find one that will make traveling easier and more enjoyable for you.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!