Can’t decide between polypropylene and polycarbonate for your next suitcase? Then you’ve come to the right place because this detailed guide has all the information you need to figure out which is the better option for you.
The differences between polycarbonate and polypropylene luggage aren’t drastic, but they exist. In this guide, I’ll compare polypropylene to polycarbonate, and explore the main pros and cons of each material, in order to help you decide which luggage material is best suited for your travel needs.
Polypropylene and polycarbonate are both plastic composites used for manufacturing luggage. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages, and we’ll cover all the most important ones in this section.
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Polypropylene is a light thermoplastic polymer used for manufacturing suitcases. It’s the lightest of all plastics that luggage is made from, so it’s usually a popular option among travelers who find the weight to be the most important feature of their suitcase.
The plastic also has a high tensile strength, so all luggage manufactured from this material is going to be very durable. When compared directly to polycarbonate materials, polypropylene has slightly worse durability mostly because it is not quite as flexible as PC.
Polypropylene is also easier to manufacture than polycarbonate, which means that it costs less to produce it. Luggage manufactured from this plastic is usually more affordable than luggage made from pure polycarbonate, and it’s generally the better option for travelers on tighter budgets.
PP is also very heat resistant, as it can withstand temperatures up to 90 degrees Celsius, and even limited exposure to temperatures up to 110 degrees Celsius. But it’s worth noting that polycarbonate has even higher heat resistance.
One of the main downsides of polypropylene is that the plastic has very low UV resistance, which means frequent exposure to sunlight will cause the plastic to fade. The plastic also scratches quite easily, so polypropylene luggage doesn’t have the best resistance to scuffs and marks.
But it’s the same with polycarbonate plastic, and polypropylene actually has slightly better abrasion resistance than PC. Your luggage might not look brand new for too long, but you can always protect the case with a luggage cover.
The main advantage of polycarbonate is its flexibility. This type of plastic bends upon heavy impact, which makes it highly resistant to impact damage. More often than not, if your polycarbonate luggage gets dented, you can just pop the shell back into place.
This is the main feature that makes polycarbonate extremely durable, and it’s precisely why it is considered one of the best materials for luggage. Also, keep in mind that polycarbonate is used for manufacturing many other items in addition to suitcases. It’s the material used in the production of safety goggles, mostly because of its outstanding impact resistance.
Polycarbonate is also scratch resistant to a degree. It has better scratch resistance than polypropylene, but ABS plastic is more scratch resistant than both.
The weight is also an advantage of polycarbonate. Plastic is generally very lightweight, and much lighter than aluminum, which is the only more durable material used in luggage manufacturing. But when compared directly to polypropylene and even ABS plastic, polycarbonate is the heaviest of thermoplastic polymers.
Polycarbonate is the most expensive plastic composite used in luggage manufacturing. As a result, suitcases made from polycarbonate are usually significantly more expensive than their polypropylene and ABS counterparts.
That’s mostly because low-budget brands don’t use this component to manufacture luggage, and instead, they stick with cheaper plastics that are widely available. However, that doesn’t mean you need to look for a designer suitcase to get a polycarbonate bag.
You can usually find excellent PC suitcases for the same amount of money you would pay for an ABS bag – it’s just a matter of knowing what to look for.
Another downside of polycarbonate is that it doesn’t have the best abrasion resistance. The plastic is prone to scuffs and scratches, so your luggage won’t look brand new for too long. However, it’s only cosmetic damage that doesn’t impact the performance of luggage in any way, and you can always protect it by adding a luggage cover to your bag.
When it comes to durability, few other luggage materials can compete with polycarbonate. Its flexibility is what makes it a heavier-duty plastic, especially when compared to ABS luggage. Polycarbonate has excellent impact resistance, and a polycarbonate suitcase is one of the best options when it comes to checked luggage because of its great durability.
This isn’t to say that polypropylene isn’t durable at all – the plastic is very durable and it should last you quite a while. But if you were to perform the same stress tests on two suitcases made from PC and polypropylene, the polycarbonate suitcase would undoubtedly come out on top.
It’s worth noting that polypropylene has a degree of flexibility as well. It’s also a sturdy material, but it is generally less flexible and less durable than polycarbonate.
Only aluminum suitcases are more durable than polycarbonate ones, but those tend to be very expensive and quite heavy.
Durability is usually the most important factor when choosing checked luggage, and I would recommend polycarbonate cases in this scenario. Their overall impact resistance is truly amazing, and they will easily survive being thrown around by baggage handlers.
If weight is the only thing that matters to you, then polypropylene luggage is the way to go. Polypropylene plastic weighs 0.93 g/cm3 on average, which is about 10% lighter than polycarbonate. This makes it a great option for travelers who tend to overpack, and need the lightest suitcase available so they don’t max out the weight allowances for baggage that easily.
That being said, it ultimately comes down to how well the suitcase is made because you can easily have two suitcases of identical sizes with the polycarbonate one being lighter overall.
The weight of the plastic used to manufacture the case isn’t the only thing that you need to take into the equation – the weight of the wheel handle, wheels, grab handles, and all the other additional features of the case also matter quite a bit!
Weight is usually the priority when choosing a carry-on suitcase, and I would recommend polypropylene over polycarbonate in this scenario, simply because the luggage tends to be quite a bit lighter. This allows you to pack more items inside the bag without going over the weight limit, which can save you quite a bit of money in fees and penalties.
In terms of luggage design, it’s not that easy to tell the difference between polycarbonate and polypropylene luggage, at least not by looking at it. The two plastics look very similar, and most luggage manufactured from these materials features a textured shell.
This is because both plastics are prone to scuffs and scratches, and the texture on the shell helps hide these from the naked eye. This in turn makes your suitcase appear new for longer, but if you look closely at the shell you will notice the various scuffs.
One thing I’ve noticed is that polycarbonate and polypropylene luggage is rarely manufactured with prints and designs on the shell. ABS suitcases, on the other hand, are often produced with fun prints and in brighter colors. Also, ABS suitcases are usually easier to tell apart from the other two types, because more often than not, they have an entirely smooth shell.
Polypropylene is easier to manufacture and it is usually less expensive than polycarbonate. There’s also the fact that polycarbonate is often used by mid-range and high-end brands, so luggage made from this plastic tends to have a higher price point. Polypropylene, on the other hand, is used by many brands, and you can find PP suitcases in virtually any price range.
But there are always exceptions to these rules. Samsonite has quite a few polypropylene suitcases in their product range, some with higher price points than their polycarbonate cases.
Also, I recently managed to snag a 24” polycarbonate suitcase for just some 60 Euros, so it’s all about knowing what to look for and where to shop, to find the best deals. You can just as easily overpay for PP luggage as find PC luggage with an awesome discount.
When you look at the product range of the best luggage brands, you’ll notice that most of their hardside luggage is manufactured from polycarbonate. That’s because it’s very hard to compete with the durability and flexibility of PC, and such great quality allows them to price the luggage higher.
Rimowa, Tumi, Monos, Away, and even Samsonite have dozens of polycarbonate suitcases in their product ranges. It’s worth noting that Rimowa was the brand behind the first polycarbonate suitcase ever, so it’s not too surprising that their luggage is the most expensive out of the bunch.
Polypropylene, on the other hand, is more often found in budget and mid-range brands, so American Tourister, Samsonite, Rocklife, Coolife, etc. This doesn’t mean that the suitcases are poor quality or, frankly, that they’re cheap. Samsonite sells some of their PP suitcases for more than $250, and I wouldn’t call that an affordable price point.
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!