Sunday, 13 July 2008

When you take a vacation, your luggage goes to work. Finding the right suitcase is as important as keeping your undies from spilling out all over the airport floor. We talk to the experts about the different types of luggage to find out what will withstand the abuses of travel and still give you good value.


The Basics

  • The most important things to look for in a bag are durability and size. You want to make sure it holds up to travel rigors, and also fits everything you need, with some room to spare for souvenirs.

  • Pay attention to the zippers:

    • A large zipper with strong teeth is optimal.

    • Smaller, thin, nylon zippers often don’t hold up and will split of your bag is tossed or stuffed too much.

  • Material is also key to keeping your personal items contained:

    • Nylon is light- to medium-weight, strong, durable, abrasion-resistant, and tear-resistant. Often used for coverings and linings, nylon is graded by thickness (denier). Look for a denier minimum of 400, and protective coatings like Scotchguard or Teflon to repel water and stains.

    • Ballistic nylon is the toughest available, used for high-quality luggage, and bullet proof vests.

    • Vinyl (plastic) is moderately-priced, easy-to-clean, tear-resistant. However, experts say it can actually tear easily.

    • Moulded plastic cases create a hard, seamless clam shell that is extremely durable and resistant to crushing. ABS plastics, however, can crack if dropped.

  • There are a few different styles to choose from, depending on the size and material:

    • Hard-sided cases are usually plastic, or plastic-blend material with a wood or metal frame. They offer the most protection and often have combination or key locks built-in. However, they can be quite heavy.

    • Semi-soft cases are partially framed and have soft, slightly expandable tops and bottoms. They are typically made from nylon, vinyl, polypropylene, or other strong woven fabric. Lighter than hard-sided cases, semi-soft still offers some protection.

    • Soft-sided bags like duffels or backpacks are lightweight and expandable, but offer no protection from crushing or impact.

    • Garment bags, similar to a small, portable closet, are designed to hold only a few clothes and help keep items from becoming wrinkled in transit.

  • Features to look for in a piece of luggage include:

    • Carry handles that fit your hand comfortably. Softer handles that flex with the weight of your case are more comfortable to carry than hard plastic handles. Even more comfortable is an extension handle (see next point).

    • Extension handles (which let you pull your luggage on wheels) should be extendable with one hand, mounted using a metal or metal-reinforced base, and riveted or screwed to the frame of the case itself.

    • A piggy-back strap allows you to attach a smaller bag and use your main bag with its extension handle as a “trolley”.

    • Wheels that are large, inline-skate-style, and inset are the most durable style. Sometimes they’re retractable or removable too.

    • Corner protectors made of metal, leather, or vinyl provide added protection.

    • On soft-sided cases, corner supports make it easier to zip up.

    • Expansion gussets that you can unzip allow you space for extra stuff. Remember, however, that most carry-ons fail size restrictions with the gusset opened.

    • Inside and outside pockets are good for storing items that you need to reach quickly.

    • A bottom grip or handle makes hoisting big bags easier.

    • If your suitcase doesn’t have an extension handle, a pull strap is another option. Make sure the strap is well-constructed and durable, and also well-mounted.

  • Purchase luggage to meet your most demanding travel needs, both business and leisure.

  • Make sure it’s not too big that you can’t carry it when it’s full. If you’re worried about size, it may be better to buy two smaller cases than one large case.

  • Remember to always label your bags, no matter where you’re going.

Be Aware

  • Automated baggage handling systems in airports can create a lot of wear and tear on zippers, locks, straps, and corners.

  • All baggage is subject to inspection during national and international travel.

  • If your bag gets damaged, report it immediately at the airport. DO NOT leave without reporting it or the damage may not be covered.

  • Different airlines have different weight and size restrictions, so be sure to check before you leave.


We tested these suitcases for features, maneuverability, and toughness:

  • Lynx (polyester, 3kg (empty)): $100
  • Skyway (2400 denier polyester, 5kg): $175
  • Delsey Seascape (ABS plastic, hard case, 7kg): $285
  • Samsonite Alliance (ballistic nylon, with piggy-back strap, 5kg): $360
  • Victorinox Mobilizer (ballistic nylon, big zipper, 6kg): $700

Maneuverability Test

We dragged each bag, stuffed with 22kg of clothes and stuff, through an obstacle course to see which was the easiest to maneuver.

  • The models with inset wheels fared the best since they weren’t too tippy and cornered easier.

  • The models that had a button release for the extension handle also were easier to use.

Durability Test

We jumped into some bumper cars and did a crash test on each piece of luggage:

  • Both ballistic nylon bags, Samsonite and Victorinox, survived well.

  • The Delsey hard case cracked right open.

  • The Lynx and Skyway polyester fabric ripped, though the Skyway wasn’t as frayed as the Lynx.


If you travel a lot on airlines or if you carry fragile items, we recommend the ballistic nylon cases with a smooth, simple design. However, they are also typically the most expensive. If you don’t travel very often, a durable nylon case may be your best option.


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