My first real luggage was a pair of soft side suitcases I got right after high school. Unfortunately, they didn’t last very long. Within a year, two wheels on both of them had cracked, jammed, and then ground down to dust.
Now I’m a bit pickier in my choice of suitcase. I’ve learned that it’s worth investing a bit more to get gear that will last.
I’m still a huge fan of soft sided luggage, though. It’s lightweight, flexible, and usually has more pockets and organization than hard shell suitcases. In my mind, the best soft side suitcases should capitalize on these strengths by being easy to pack, having accessible outside pockets, and having a tough, durable construction that can take some abuse.
I’ve searched hard to find the suitcases that fit those requirements. Here are my top 10 soft sided luggage picks. I’ll dive into the details on each, give you the pros and cons, and help you find the best one for your next trip.
In 1987, airline pilot Robert Plath invented a suitcase design that rolled upright on two wheels with an extendable handle: the first rolling luggage as we know it today. He started building durable, high-quality rollaboard luggage for flight crews, and his business grew into Travelpro: now one of the best luggage brands out there.
Travelpro started out with soft sided luggage, and now they build some of the best in the business. If you’re in the market for a soft sided suitcase, it’s hard to go wrong with one from Travelpro.
The Platinum Elite 25” is part of Travelpro’s higher-end luggage collection for travelers who want the best function, durability, and style. This soft shell suitcase is built with quality materials, refined styling, and smart features for easier packing.
One of the biggest advantages of softside luggage over hardside is the ability to have more flexible packing options. It’s just easier to manufacture softside luggage with extra pockets, organizers, and expandability. The Travelpro Platinum Elite suitcase really capitalizes on this with tons of organization built in.
On the outside, you get one small zippered pocket and one larger zippered panel pocket. Exterior pockets are one of my favorite things about softside luggage because they make it easy to keep essential items accessible.
The organization on the inside is even more impressive. There is a large mesh zippered pocket, a clever compression system (with two more small pockets built in), and a removable waterproof pouch for toiletries or liquids. I love having a place for everything, and the Travelpro Platinum Elite really delivers that.
One of the most outstanding features of thai case is the folding garment holder for hanging clothes storage. If you ever travel with a suit, dress, or other more formal clothing, this system works super well to keep it wrinkle-free on your trip.
The whole suitcase is also expandable, giving you about an inch of extra depth. The ability to open up more internal space makes this suitcase very versatile for trips where you need to bring more.
In addition to all the neat packing features, you get a TSA lock, sturdy aluminum handle, and ultra-smooth spinner wheels.
The Platinum Elite Spinner is more expensive than most softside luggage. If you don’t need all the fancy features and don’t care as much about the level-up styling, you can get similar performance for less money. Travelpro’s more affordable Maxlite 5 is a great alternative at about half the price.
Travelpro Platinum Elite 25″ Specs:
|Dimensions||28″ x 18.5″ x 11.8″|
I definitely understand needing to stick to a tight budget on travel gear. If I bought all the nice things I want, I’d be up to my eyeballs in debt. Travel can be expensive, partly because of how much luggage and other travel gear costs.
Fortunately you don’t have to pack a bulk case of ramen noodles to save money while traveling. Luggage can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re willing to give up a few of the perks of high-end suitcases, you can find affordable luggage that works fairly well. Let’s face it: you probably don’t need the absolute best of everything.
The AmazonBasics Expandable Softside Spinner is a perfectly functional softside suitcase that manages to hit an amazing price point. To be fair: it’s definitely basic. Don’t expect premium materials, unique features, or the absolute best durability. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, though, this is a good choice.
There are cheaper bags out there for sure, but I’ve found it’s better to spend just a bit more money to get a case that won’t fall apart after a few trips. The main fabric is fairly thick and tough, and the zippers glide well without snags.
It rolls on four spinner wheels that are impressively smooth. Spinner wheels are one of the first things to break on luggage, and these should hold up well under normal use. If I expected to be traveling over rough surfaces like cobblestones, I’d probably look for something more durable.
I was pleasantly surprised by the organization of this AmazonBasics suitcase. You get a big external pocket for anything you want access to without opening the main compartment, three internal pockets, and a set of compression straps. The compression straps are flimsy elastic straps, so not super effective, but they do work to keep clothes from shifting all over the place.
You also get a TSA-approved lock to secure the main zipper from any unwanted intrusion. A TSA lock is not a foolproof theft prevention, but it does offer some peace of mind. This is something you usually don’t see on budget bags, so it’s awesome to have it included.
AmazonBasics Expandable Softside Spinner Specs:
|Dimensions||23.2″ x 15.7″ x 9″|
Here’s another fantastic product from Travelpro. There’s a reason Travelpro shows up multiple times on this list: they just do a really good job with softside luggage.
For carry-on luggage, I want something lightweight, smooth-rolling, and with external pockets for electronics, passports, books, or anything else you want to keep handy. My carry-on also gets a lot more use than checked bags, so I want to be sure it’s durable enough to last for hundreds of trips.
That’s why rolling carry-on luggage is my favorite choice. Rather than spinner luggage (which has four swivel wheels), rolling luggage has two bigger, beefier wheels that can take a lot more abuse.
The Travelpro Maxlite 5 22” Carry-On doesn’t really look like anything special at first glance. To be honest, there isn’t anything particularly extraordinary about this bag. It’s design is fairly basic, with standard features. The materials are good, but nothing special. The styling looks good, but definitely doesn’t stand out in a crowd.
Still, this may be my favorite suitcase on this list. Why? Because it just works… really well. There are no unnecessary frills to overcomplicate things (or break). The construction is impressively durable without being heavy. Best of all, it’s surprisingly affordable, but doesn’t sacrifice quality or performance.
This softside suitcase rolls on two oversized wheels with thick rubber tires. I personally am not a fan of spinner wheels (ever since destroying a pair of spinner suitcases in Europe), so this is a big win in my book.
While four-wheeled spinner luggage is more popular these days, two-wheeled luggage is vastly more durable, rolls better over rough surfaces, has more room inside the main compartment, and even has better ergonomics. Better yet, these bigger roller wheels are easy to repair or replace if you ever do break them.
Sorry for going on a bit of a rant here, but I’m a strong believer in two-wheeled luggage. Spinner wheels seem high-tech and fancy, but if there’s any chance you’ll be leaving perfectly smooth airport concrete behind, luggage with only two wheels is better.
There, now that my rant is done, we can get to the rest of the features of the Travelpro Maxlite 5 Carry-On.
There are two external pockets: a small one for your phone, passport, charging cables, or Altoids mint box; and a big one that has a padded laptop sleeve. I love external pockets on a carry-on.
My biggest complaint is the lack of internal organization. I love pockets, and this simple bag just doesn’t give me enough. There’s one big mesh pocket on the lid and a pair of flimsy compression straps. That’s it. Come on Travelpro, give me something to work with here!
The overall construction is simple, but well-done. The Travelpro Maxlite 5 Carry-On is very durable and should last for many years of travel.
Travelpro Maxlite 5 22″ Carry-On Specs:
|Dimensions||23″ x 14.5″ x 9″|
Db is a Scandanavian travel brand that originally focused on luggage and gear for traveling with ski and snowboard equipment. Their product range has expanded since then to include an array of bags suited for any adventurous traveler.
Checking luggage can be stressful. I’m always worried about whether my checked luggage will arrive at the right destination. Worse yet, I’ve seen some pretty gnarly damage to suitcases at the end of a trip (airline baggage handlers aren’t known for being gentle).
One place where softside luggage typically falls short is in protection. Hard shell luggage is just inherently better when it comes to protecting your stuff. The Db Hugger Rollerbag changes that with an innovative reinforced construction designed to offer great protection without unnecessary weight and bulk.
This big checked bag definitely looks different from most soft-shell luggage. Rather than a standard boxy rectangle, it has a tapered profile that’s designed to be easier to pack and distribute the weight better. There’s more space for heavy, bulky items at the bottom. This large capacity bag opens up fully and is super easy to pack (though there isn’t a ton of built-in organization.
A unique feature of this bag is the innovative “rib-cage” construction. It has a series of lightweight yet strong ABS plastic ribs sewn into the fabric layers. This adds a lot of rigidity and structure to the bag without any unnecessary weight. The Db Hugger is much more protective than most softside luggage while being lighter than most hardside luggage.
The exterior of this luggage uses a highly waterproof PVC-coated polyester in a variety of thicknesses. They put the most durable fabric in high-stress areas and use lighter materials where the strength isn’t needed. I love the attention to detail and intentionality in the design.
If you’re looking for a unique checked luggage solution that combines the best of both worlds, the Db Hugger is a big bomb-proof checked bag that will keep your most important belongings safe from point A to point B.
Db Hugger Rollerbag Specs:
|Dimensions||33.4″ x 19.6″ x 11.8″|
Briggs & Riley is one of the most respected luggage brands in the world. Their suitcases are some of the top choices among pilots, flight attendants, and other professional travelers. They have a reputation for being nearly indestructible, and the Briggs & Riley lifetime warranty is one of the best in the business.
The tradeoff? Cost. Briggs & Riley Baseline luggage is expensive.
I’ve said before that I’m not the biggest fan of spinner luggage. It’s convenient, yes, but I usually won’t trust it to stand up to the abuse of travel.
Briggs & Riley is one of the few exceptions to that. Their spinner wheels are incredibly well-built, and with their awesome warranty, I know that if I break one, they’ll fix it for me. The Briggs & Riley Baseline Collection includes both carry-on and checked spinner luggage that is bomb-proof, stylish, and loaded with features.
These cases start with an aerospace-grade aluminum handle and proprietary shock-absorbing spinner wheels that Briggs & Riley designed from the ground up to have the best performance on a wide range of surfaces. Of all the suitcases I’ve tried with four wheels, these are by far the smoothest and most confidence inspiring when I leave smooth concrete behind.
The Baseline luggage is fully expandable for times when you need extra space. Unlike other bags with expandable designs, the Briggs & Riley Baseline doesn’t use a wraparound zipper to add extra space. Instead there are a pair of sliding brackets. You push the buttons to unlock the sliding action and lift up to expand the depth. Most expandable bags I’ve used tend to be a bit floppy and unstructured, but this design keeps its rigidity even when fully expanded.
The built-in garment holder is perfect for packing suits, dresses, or other hanging clothing. It holds garments securely in place to keep them crisp and free from wrinkles.
One downside to all these extra features is added weight. The carry-on weighs 10 lbs and the biggest checked bag weighs almost 14 lbs. That’s not a huge deal for the checked suitcase, but I prefer carry-on luggage to be as lightweight as possible without sacrificing functionality.
Whether you need a big checked bag or compact carry-on luggage, the Briggs & Riley Baseline Collection is some of the best out there. You’ll have to be ready to cough up some cash though.
Briggs & Riley Baseline Collection Specs:
|Dimensions||21″ x 15″ x 9″|
Osprey is a legendary brand in the outdoor adventure community. They are best known for their hiking backpacks, but they also make a wide range of capable luggage for adventurous travelers.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of two-wheeled rolling luggage (as opposed to four-wheeled suitcases). Luggage with two wheels can be incredibly durable and work well on rough surfaces. I often find myself traveling pretty far from the beaten path, so that’s a big deal.
The Osprey Shuttle Wheeled 100L is a massive rolling checked bag that’s ready for any gear-intensive adventure. With bomber durability and the strength to handle heavy loads, this big bag is a great pick for those times when you need to bring everything but the kitchen sink.
To be clear, this isn’t your typical suitcase design. It looks a bit more like a rolling duffel bag. It’s definitely not the ideal choice for everyone. If you’re on a business trip or need to carry hanging garments, this probably isn’t the best choice. If your trip involves a lot of outdoor gear, or clothes for three kids, this is an awesome pick.
My favorite feature is the massive overbuilt wheels with sealed ball bearings and chunky rubber tires. These wheels are tough enough for dragging them over unpaved paths in Southeast Asia, and they can definitely take a beating.
That theme is continued over the entire construction of the bag. Everything feels bomber and built to last. It has a sturdy ABS and aluminum frame that helps this bag keep its structure even with massively heavy loads. The burly ballistic nylon shell is durable and highly resistant to wear.
This definitely isn’t a sleek suitcase for urban travel, but if you need to haul big loads, it’s hard to go wrong with the Osprey Shuttle.
Osprey Shuttle Wheeled 100L Specs:
|Dimensions||30″ x 16″ x 14″|
Bric’s is a family-owned Italian brand that started selling quality hand-crafted leather travel bags in 1952. They emphasize the balance of style, functionality, and craftsmanship in all their designs.
I always like to cut down on weight whenever I can, especially in my carry-on luggage. I hate hauling around more weight than necessary, and a few pounds can make a big difference the fifth time I lift my bag into the overhead bins. The best lightweight luggage manages to eliminate excess weight without sacrificing durability.
At 5 lbs, the Bric’s X-Travel Montagne Trolley is an incredibly lightweight carry-on, and it doesn’t skimp on functionality. I also love the styling, which is both adventurous and refined at the same time.
The exterior fabric of this carry-on is a highly durable nylon with a PVC coating to make it waterproof. I definitely wouldn’t drop this in a lake, but you can count on it to keep your stuff dry on rainy walks from the airport.
It rolls on two sturdy wheels that are much bigger than spinner wheels. Also, the way the bag is designed around the wheels gives you significantly more capacity than most carry-on bags.
One thing to be aware of is that this isn’t the most protective carry-on bag out there. Because it uses lightweight fabric and construction, it wouldn’t be my first choice for fragile items. It also can feel a little overwhelmed if you’re packing it to the max with a really heavy load (so leave the canned chili at home and try the local food).
Overall, this stylish carry-on is a great option for anyone looking to minimize weight while traveling.
Bric’s X-Travel Montagne Trolley Specs:
|Dimensions||20″ x 13″ x 8″|
Okay, I know that this is the third Travelpro product in this roundup, but it’s here for good reason. If you need multiple pieces of luggage, buying a luggage set is a great way to save a bit of money (and get color-matching gear, of course). The Travelpro Maxlite 5 Breakaway Set delivers solid real-world performance and tremendous bang for your buck.
This set includes two softside suitcases: a 22-inch carry-on and a 25-inch checked bag. With a combined packing capacity of 137 L, this combo gives you all the interior space you need for longer trips. The carry-on nests perfectly inside the larger bag, so they take up less of your precious storage space when you aren’t traveling.
All the bags roll on smooth 360-degree spinner wheels. This makes them super easy to maneuver through the airport, something that’s even more important when you have two bags to lug around.
These bags are also impressively lightweight. The carry-on is 5.4 lbs and the checked bag is 7.3 lbs.
Most importantly, the Travelpro Maxlite 5 suitcases are just really well built.
The main downside is the interior storage. I really like pockets and dividers, and it would be nice to have more included here.
If you’re looking for even more affordable options, check out our list of the best cheap luggage sets.
Travelpro Maxlite 5 Breakaway Set Specs:
|Dimensions||23″ x 14.5″ x 9″||27″ x 18.5″ x 11.7″|
|Weight||5.4 lbs||7.3 lbs|
Eagle Creek is a brand that specializes in highly durable travel gear for people who venture off the beaten path. Their designs may not be the most sleek and stylish, but they’ll get you where you need to go.
If you just need a massive amount of space, the Eagle Creek Expanse gives you a cavernous main compartment with 105 L of gear-swallowing volume. It’s big, it’s bad, and if you need more space, you might want to start looking into freight shipping.
This big bag cuts out any extra frills for a simple, no-nonsense design that’s easy to pack. You get one small outer pocket, one internal mesh pocket, and an elastic compression system. Other than that, it’s wide open, ready to be filled. I definitely prefer to have some organization built in, but it’s hard to argue with the versatility of a main compartment this big.
The construction is bomber, and you also get Eagle Creek’s awesome “No Matter What” warranty. If you ever do manage to break it, they’ll cover replacing or repairing it.
Eagle Creek Expanse Specs:
|Dimensions||30″ x 16.5″ x 14.2″ (30″ x 16.5″ x 16.25″ expanded)|
|Capacity||105L (119L expanded)|
Samsonite is without a doubt the most well-known luggage brand out there. They’ve been building suitcases for over a century, and they sell a solid range of functional products at many different price points.
The Samsonite Theorym Medium Spinner is a pretty basic, but very functional checked soft side bag. It has a fairly standard feature set, but the overall build quality makes it stand out.
One unique feature of this bag is the ZipWash removable lining. You can undo a zipper around the inside and then remove the entire interior lining, which is machine washable. This is a fantastic way to keep your suitcase fresh after long trips.
This thoughtfully designed suitcase gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t. It’s not the fanciest one out there, but it is durable and gets the job done.
Samsonite Theorym Medium Spinner Specs:
|Dimensions||28″ x 18.5″ x 11.5″|
How to Choose the Best Soft Side Luggage
There’s a lot more to choosing a new suitcase than just finding one that looks nice and fits your budget. It’s important to consider airline size restrictions, materials, and features.
One of the first things you need to decide when shopping for luggage is what size you need.
Carry-on dimensions are generally restricted to 22” max height for domestic flights or 21” for international flights. If you want one carry-on that can fulfill multiple uses, you’ll want a smaller one that can be used for all airlines.
Checked luggage is generally restricted to 62 total linear inches. You get the linear inches by adding the depth, width, and height together. For example, a bag that measures 30” x 18” x 9” would be a total of 57 linear inches.
It can be possible to check larger items, but they may require additional fees.
This lists of luggage size restrictions by airline can be super helpful in determining whether a given suitcase will work for your travels.
A suitcase can have the best features and design in the world, but if it falls apart after a few trips, it won’t be worth it. Here are a few of the top things to keep an eye on when looking for a durable suitcase:
- Durable materials like ballistic nylon fabric and aerospace-grade aluminum handles will be the best at surviving the abuse of travel.
- Wheels are one of the first things to break, so look for sturdy wheels that use steel ball bearings.
- YKK zippers are the most snag-resistant and durable zippers on the market.
Two or Four Wheels
There used to only be two-wheeled suitcases on the market. Now, luggage with four spinner wheels is the norm.
Four-wheeled spinner luggage is smooth-rolling and easy to maneuver through crowded airports. Unfortunately, spinner wheels are much more likely to break with rough use.
Two-wheeled rolling luggage is typically more durable and performs much better over rough surfaces like cobblestone streets. It is less convenient though.
Softside vs Hardside
I know, you’re reading about the best softside luggage, but if you’re still on the fence about whether hard or soft luggage is better, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each.
Softside luggage is typically lighter weight, offers more flexible packing options, and is more likely to have external pockets (a huge advantage, especially for carry-on luggage).
The main advantage of hard shell bags is that they offer the absolute best protection for your stuff. If you’re carrying fragile items, hard sided luggage is definitely the way to go.
Soft Side Luggage Accessories
You’ll need more than just luggage to be ready for travel. Here are some of the best accessories you can get to make sure you’re fully outfitted for your trip.
It can be challenging to keep the main compartment of your suitcase neat and organized. It seems that no matter what you try, it always turns into a jumbled mess.
These zippered packing cubes are fantastic for keeping your suitcase organized. They come in sets of four or six with an array of different sizes to hold everything from socks to shirts.
The mesh front panel on these packing cubes makes it easy to see what is inside each packing cube.
If you want to up your organization game while traveling, these are a fantastic choice.
This small zippered bag works well for keeping all your toiletries organized and in one place.
One external zippered pocket and a transparent internal divider make it easy to see and access all your toiletries. Though it’s definitely compact, you’ll be surprised at how much fits in this little bag.
The small size is perfect for light packers, but if you need a bit more space, you can check out Away’s Large Toiletry Bag.
It can be hard to keep track of small electronic items like cables, headphones, and chargers. I usually find myself stuffing them into my pockets or losing them deep in my luggage and having to dig them out.
This little case gives you a dedicated place for those small, easy-to-lose items. With room for earbuds, chargers, cables, a USB battery bank, and a pen/stylus, you won’t have to worry about losing anything.
The transparent plastic case protects your electronics while making it easy to see what’s inside, while elastic holders keep everything secure and organized.
Why Trust TravelFreak?
The TravelFreak team is made up of avid travelers, and we’ve tested dozens of suitcases on our own adventures over the years. Rather than taking luggage into a test lab, we take it out into the real world and see how it performs when we are relying on it.
Through this process we’ve had our own fair share of luggage fiascos, and we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Those real-life experiences inform the recommendations we give to you.
It’s important to us to recommend products we actually support and feel good about, and every item on this list is something we would be happy taking out on our next trip.
Soft Side Luggage FAQs
What is the best material for soft side luggage?
High-density ballistic nylon is the hardest-wearing, toughest material for soft sided luggage.
Do airlines prefer hard or soft luggage?
Airlines typically prefer hard checked luggage because it’s less likely to snag on equipment.
What are the pros and cons of soft-sided luggage?
Softside luggage pros: it’s lightweight, flexible, and has more pockets. Cons: it’s less protective and can tear.
Is softside luggage lighter than hardside?
Yes, softside luggage is typically lighter weight than hardside luggage.
What type of luggage is most durable?
Two-wheeled rolling luggage is the most durable. Hard and soft luggage have tradeoffs in durability.