Last Updated: July 25, 2023

Polycarbonate vs ABS: Choose the Best Luggage Material

Figuring out the difference between Polycarbonate and ABS luggage is not as complex as it may seem.

Both materials are great for creating rugged, long-lasting luggage, but there are some key differences.

Differences between Polycarbonate vs ABS

  • Polycarbonate is more robust than ABS
  • ABS is cheaper than Polycarbonate
  • Polycarbonate is very impact resistance

Polycarbonate vs. ABS

Polycarbonate and ABS are the most common types of plastic used in suitcases on the market. Polycarbonate is more flexible than ABS and has 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.

Image DETAILS
ewt-table__imageSamsonite Evolve SE Hardside
  • Dual-sided full zipper mesh divider
  • Combined ABS & Polycarbate shell
  • Mutli-stage handle system
SEE ON AMAZON
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American Tourister Stratum XLT
  • Ruggged ABS Shell
  • Expandable
  • 10 year warranty
SEE ON AMAZON
ewt-table__image
Rockland Luggage 20 Inch 28 Inch 2 Piece
  • Expandable
  • Multi-directional spinner wheels
  • Sturdy zippers
SEE ON AMAZON
ewt-table__imageRockland Vision Kids Hardside
  • Stylish design
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to assemble and use
SEE ON AMAZON
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Samsonite Centric 3pc Hardside
  • Scrath-resistant
  • Lightweight
  • 360 Spinner wheels
SEE ON AMAZON

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is an amorphous polymer (ie. plastic) with properties that make it ideal for hard side luggage. It has excellent transparency which 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 molded 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 (reducing repairs) and has the highest level of strength of all luggage materials.

Some examples of luggage using this material include the Samsonite Winfield, Samsonite Omni and Delsey Helium

Sale
Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Checked-Medium 24-Inch, Brushed Anthracite
  • 24" SPINNER LUGGAGE maximizes your packing power and is the ideal checked bag for longer trips

ABS

ABS is a blend of three kinds of plastics, each with its own unique characteristics.

  • Acrylonitrile provides chemical and fatigue resistance, hardness, and melt strength.
  • Butadiene provides good impact resistance.
  • Styrene provides heat resistance, processability, color and hardness.

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 properties.

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 screwdrivers, 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. Most luggage makers, however, use ABS combined with other materials to make a stronger suitcase overall. Be on the lookout for this in the product descriptions or specifications.

Kenneth Cole’s Reaction series of ABS luggage is a great place to start.

The Best Luggage Material

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.

Price

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.

Rockland Melbourne, CHAMAPGNE, 28"x17"x12"
  • Target Gender: Unisex.Number of wheels:8

Usage

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.

Brand

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.

Samsonite Centric Hardside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Teal, 3-Piece Set (20/24/28)
  • SET INCLUDES 20" Carry On (meets carry-on size restrictions for those traveling domestically and looking to stay light) and 24"/28" Spinners (maximize your packing power and the ideal checked bags for longer trips)

Choosing the Right Luggage

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.

If you are interested in choosing the right luggage material, you may also enjoy our articles on Soft vs Hard luggage or our review of the best hardside luggage.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

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!

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