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's Luggage Buyers Guide

I see a luggage purchase in your future (5165 bytes)

Use this handy guide to take the mystery out of buying luggage.  There are many luggage products that are poorly constructed and designed.  Let's face it, we do not buy luggage very often and most consumers do not know what to look for and what to avoid when selecting new luggage.  Luggage is an investment, if done properly, that should last many years.          "Invest wisely and you will buy less often."  



Fabric(soft-sided luggage)/Shells(hard-sided luggage)

The durability of the outside fabric or shell of a piece of luggage is extremely important since this is the area  exposed to the most abuse, wear and tear.

Soft-Sided Fabrics There are a variety of fabrics in use by luggage manufacturers. The most popular include nylon, polyester, jute, canvas, ramie, tapestry, denim, and vinyl.  Leather, although not a man made fabric, is also widely used by luggage manufacturers.

These fabrics are available in a variety of price points and generally speaking you do get what you pay for. Different fabrics have different advantages and disadvantages. (For example canvas is a strong fabric but it is susceptible to mildew, polyester is lightweight but not as strong as some other fabrics)

Check the denier of a fabric if possible. The denier is a measure which refers to the size of the yarn in the fabric. Generally speaking the higher the denier the more durable the fabric.  (Be careful however when comparing deniers.  You must compare the same fabric)

Most fabrics will have a urethane backing to make them water

Leather is strong and durable (note: There are a variety in the types of leathers in use by manufacturers.  We recommend a good leather in garment bags and most smaller pieces of luggage; however, be careful if you decide to invest in a larger piece of luggage made of good quality leather. Durability is not a concern but leather by its nature will scratch and scar over time particularly when it has to be constantly checked through the airlines, so appearance may be a concern. Be aware of this if investing in leather luggage. Due to this reason most luggage manufacturers only offer leather items in smaller luggage items which would be considered carry-on pieces. 


We strongly recommend either Cordura nylon© (a fabric manufactured by Dupont) or a ballistic nylon. Very rarely will we see instances where these fabrics have actually been worn or torn through. These quality fabrics have an extremely high wear and tear strength.  Check to make sure the fabric is water resistant and has been treated with some sort of stain repellent. 

Hard-sided Shells

Hard-sided cases generally offer good protection for fragile items assuming those items are properly packed within the case.

Perhaps the two most common materials found in hard-sided cases today are ABS plastic (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene- say that ten times fast) and Polypropylene.

The shells of hard-sided cases are quite durable and resistant to heat and stains.

 A drawback to many ABS hard-sided cases is partly related to the weight and partly related to the plastic itself. On larger cases there is a tendency for the corners of these cases to crack or dent should they receive a severe blow.  Hard-sided case, by their make-up, are usually heavier than a comparable  soft-sided case.    Click here to see examples


If selecting an ABS case make sure the shell of the case is fairly thick.  Quite a number of these cases use a thin shell which is not as resistant to severe impacts.  

Generally speaking the shells of Polypropylene cases rarely break.  A disadvantage to the polypropylene case is that it tends to show surface scratches and wear over time. 

Another type of less-common hard-sided case is an aluminum case. Probably the most well known producer of these types of cases is Zero-Halliburton®. From attachés to larger suitcases these sleek looking products are available in a variety of finishes (gold, black, silver) These cases are extremely durable and we would highly recommend them for anyone carrying expensive equipment (e.g. cameras, portable computers, electronic devices...)

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Over recent years some manufacturers have dramatically improved the durability and design of luggage frames.  Unfortunately many manufacturers have not.  Look on the inside of a suitcase to determine what type of frame is being used

Frames may include steel, wood, aluminum, spring steel, spring wire, or some type of plastic...often PVC (Polyvinylchloride).  Metal frames and Plastic frames are most commonly used today.

 A large number of soft-sided cases have a steel frame approximately 1-3" thick that runs around the inside of the case. Most of these frames will have four plastic corners or plastic inserts surrounding the entire frame. These steel banded frames will bend when excessive force is applied to the outside of the suitcase.   Click here to see example

These thin plastic corners or inserts are the cause of major problems.  The thin edges of these plastic frames usually have a fairly rough sharp edge.  Over time these thin plastic frames can actually wear through the fabric of the case.  Most suitcases with this style of frame mount the zippers directly on the edge of the frame.  After some use it is very common to find excessive wear and damage on the outside corner portion of the zippers.  Zipper replacement is very expensive.   Click here to see example 


Some of the best constructed cases use a full honeycomb frame.  This frame, often made of PVC, has air pockets running within the frame allowing the frame to flex should it receive a major impact or blow.  These frames are extremely durable yet fairly lightweight.  This substantial type of frame offers protection to the case contents.  It is also advantageous if the frame edges are covered with a foam bumper or a fabric to reduce possible zipper wear, as mentioned above.

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Zippers are always a concern when it comes to luggage. Obviously the zipper is what allows you to open and close a soft-sided suitcase.

Two types of zippers are commonly found on today's suitcases

1.  Coil Zippers: A coil zipper is made of one continuous strand of nylon or polyester which is wrapped and stitched onto a zipper tape. This type of zipper is the most common used by luggage manufacturers.

2. Molded zippers: Metal or molded plastic zippers generally have individual teeth which have been applied individually to the zipper tape.  (Metal zippers are becoming increasingly rare)

 Many manufacturers use zippers which you commonly would find on clothing items.   Obviously a suitcase is subject to much greater stresses.  Try to avoid smaller sized zippers

A common problem occurs on suitcases where the zipper is mounted around the very edge of the suitcase. The edge of the suitcase is a vulnerable stress area particularly on the corners. The corner portions of the zipper may be worn over time or the stitching which holds the zipper to the case may also be worn causing the zipper to fail. This problem is compounded by the frame of the case.  Unfortunately many frames simply consist of a 1" - 3" metal or plastic band which runs around the side of a suitcase.  Most of these frames use a very thin piece of plastic which forms the rest of the frame.  The edge of the frame has a fairly sharp edge against which the zipper is usually mounted.  Consequently, damage to the corner portions of zippers is greatly increased.  (Damaged zippers are a huge problem on many cases of this design)  This type of damage does not occur immediately, but after several trips zipper damage on these cases begin to appear.


Look for oversized zippers.  (Many manufacturers are using these oversized zippers which obviously are more durable)

Look for zippers which are inset away from the edge or seam of a suitcase. Even an inch of material between the edge and the zipper can make a substantial difference in the amount or wear and stress that is subjected to the zipper.  

Look for a more substantial frame system than the one mentioned above to prevent zipper wear and damage.  (See the section on frames for more details)

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Wheels allow heavy loads to be carried with ease.  Most upright suitcases with a pull-out handle are two-wheeled.

Beware of wheels and wheel housings which are completely exposed on the case. They are far more likely to be cracked or broken from the case. 

Beware of wheel systems where both wheels and feet on the case are one complete unit. Often if only a small portion of this system is damaged then the entire system will have to be replaced thus making the repair more costly.

Small  wheels on a case, if pulled over a substantial distance, may heat up the wheel axle and melt the plastic wheel housing to which they are attached


Look for wheels which are fairly large in diameter mounted on substantial wheel housings.

Look for wheels that are inset into the case only allowing a portion of the wheel itself to be exposed. This style of wheel is less likely to be damaged

Most better wheels incorporate ball-bearings allowing the wheel to rolls smoothly over a variety of surfaces.  Ball-bearings also extend the life of the wheel.

In the store, it's difficult to get a good idea how a fully packed suitcase will roll in real situations.  Even cases with inferior wheels will roll smoothly with an empty suitcase on a flat showroom floor.

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Telescoping Handles

This term refers to the handle system which is common on most suitcases today. These retractable handles allow even heavy suitcases to be easily wheeled.

Beware of handle systems using round steel tubes mounted on the outside of the suitcase. The handle actually pulls out of these tubes. It does not take much force to either bend these tubes or put a small dent in them. Once damaged or bent the handle system is often disabled. 

If a trolley system is mounted on the exterior of the case then some sort of protection is essential to prevent the system from being damaged. There are very few manufacturers who do mount the handle system on the outside of the case and do provide adequate protection for the system.

Beware of handles which do not lock in the down and up positions.  Many handle systems work by friction, which over time have a tendency to loosen.  (It can be difficult to easily maneuver heavy case where the handle system constantly pulls in and out as you stop and go.  Also imagine what can happen if a handle accidentally pulls out during an airline trip


Generally speaking we would recommend a handle system mounted on the interior case unless the handle system is exceptionally well-protected.

The handle system should have an adequate locking mechanism to ensure that the handle does not accidentally pull out during transit. (This is important particularly with checked baggage)   If the handle also locks in place when fully extended, you will find the case much easier to maneuver.

When not in use the handle should store flush with the suitcase. (The top portion of many handle systems sit on top of the suitcase increasing the likelihood of damage)

Make sure the handle system operates smoothly and extends to a height allowing the case to be comfortably pulled.   

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Look carefully at the stitching on the bag. After all the stitching is what holds the bag together. 


How far apart is the stitching and how uniform does the stitching appear? A well constructed bag should have even stitching. The closer the stitching is together the better.

Any stress points on the case (particularly handles/shoulder strap posts) should be reinforced with extra stitching and/or rivets to ensure durability.

Check the seams of the case where the material is actually stitched together. Poorly constructed suitcases may only have a small amount of material which overlaps the stitch line making it more susceptible for the material to pull or tear loose from the bag. Unfortunately it is not always possible to determine this by examining the case.

Check the hardware on the bag (locks/handle posts/zipper pulls/etc..) It is not always easy to tell how durable the hardware is but look for heavy solid metal construction.

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Obtaining Parts

Unfortunately a great many manufacturers import bags for sale but do not provide any replacement parts for their products.  If possible check with the manufacturer, a repair facility, or the salesperson to see what can be done if the product requires repair. (It is ridiculous to think that many consumers are often 'stuck' with useless suitcases simply because an inexpensive repair cannot be completed because the manufacturer does not provide replacement parts.)


Airline Damage

Airlines are becoming stricter in enforcing the types of damage they will be responsible for, therefore it is extremely important that you buy a well designed/constructed suitcase. Many airlines for instance will not cover damage to wheels, outside handles, zippers etc..   It is more important than ever to invest in quality luggage that can withstand abuse.

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The following myths/facts may address some concerns and beliefs that you may have concerning luggage


Myth: Why should I buy more expensive luggage? The airlines will only damage it, I might as well buy cheap luggage. Fact: Today the airlines are handling luggage better and more efficiently than they ever have. Clearly the airlines do damage luggage but the majority of airline claims for damage do not result from baggage mishandling but from cheaply constructed luggage which literally breaks, tears, and falls apart through normal usage and handling. 
Myth:My luggage has a lifetime warranty so if the airlines damage my luggage my warranty will cover the cost of repairs Fact:No manufacturer warranty (2yrs, 5yrs, lifetime) will cover any airline damage or what would be considered normal wear and tear. A warranty will only cover manufacturing defects.
Myth:Famous designer names are well respected names and thus they produce high quality luggage Fact:Indeed these names lend themselves to many quality products, but in the luggage industry this is not always the case. Many of these types of luggage are shoddily manufactured using poor design and low quality materials. Examine carefully what you are buying.  Don't assume.
Myth:Some of the most recognizable names in the luggage industry provide quality "Made in the USA" merchandise Fact:This statement was true many years ago but today these household names manufacture many of their products overseas. Do not assume that a company with "American" in their name produces their product in the U.S. To be sure check the label on the inside of a suitcase to find where the bag was made.
Myth: Most luggage is alike, it doesn't really matter which one I buy. Fact:The truth of the matter is, yes, most luggage is constructed in much the same manner. It is the better designed piece of luggage which stands apart from many of these look-a-likes.

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