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When it comes to luggage, travelers are generally either team hardshell or team soft-sided. While both have their perks, soft-sided suitcases rarely get the praise that they deserve. If you’re in the market for a new piece of luggage, you may want to consider a soft-sided suitcase for flexibility and durability while traversing airport terminals, narrow cobblestone streets in Europe, and beyond.
When shopping for soft-sided luggage, you'll want to consider the materials each piece is made with, the overall design—including the wheels and zippers—and the capacity that the bag can hold. We've done most of the legwork for you, though, testing out a range of popular soft-sided suitcases to bring you a list of 10 excellent options.
This article is part of Condé Nast Traveler's first-ever Luggage Week, for which dozens of suitcases, backpacks, and weekender bags were road-tested by our editors.
What is the best material for soft-sided luggage?
According to Consumer Reports, soft-sided luggage is often made from woven nylon, but each nylon style has its pros and cons. Cordura has more texture and can hide scuff marks and abrasions better. Ballistic nylon has a smoother texture, but can show wear and tear faster, though the slight imperfections won’t compromise the overall strength and durability of the fabric.
Is soft-sided luggage better than hard-sided?
This depends on personal preference and how you travel. Soft-sided luggage can be ideal because of the ample amount of exterior pockets that hard-shell suitcases typically don’t have. The flexible fabric can also be maneuvered into small overhead bins or car trunks easily.
Is soft-sided luggage durable?
In most instances, soft-sided luggage is extremely durable. Be sure to look for a suitcase that uses high-strength nylon and has strong zippers to ensure that your suitcase doesn’t rip as it’s tossed around by baggage handlers at the airport.
The best soft-sided luggage:
Dimensions: 23" x 16" x 10"
Weight: 8 lbs.
Pros: Compression straps, removable packing cube
Cons: Wheels can glide too easily allowing the suitcase to roll away
After using it on a weeklong trip to Boston and Connecticut, senior commerce editor Madison Flager was impressed with this soft-sided expandable suitcase from Travelpro. It features one main compartment that has compression straps to keep all of your clothes and valuables secure while traveling. There is also a built-in and removable packing cube that can act as a second compartment if needed. "I like the included packing cube, and that they have other accessories you can swap in to suit your needs. I’m personally eyeing the Zip-in All-In-One Organizer to add smaller pockets for undergarments and socks," says Flager. It’s a great starter soft-sided piece for those who want to swap from a hard-sided suitcase and tend to overpack.
Dimensions: 31" x 22" x 13"
Weight: 17.9 lbs.
Pros: Smooth wheels and zippers, includes a garment bag
Cons: 18 pounds on its own, it can be heavy to lift, plain exterior can be hard to spot on a luggage carousel
If you’re willing to splurge on a soft-sided suitcase, the Tumi Extended Trip Packing Case may be the right fit for you. Research director Alexandra Sanidad loves this suitcase for its smooth wheels and zippers, the overall capacity, and the zippered pouches to keep items separate. With its hefty price tag, Sanidad admits it is a luxury suitcase, but the inclusions of a garment bag, a zip extension, compression straps, and a TSA-approved combination lock all make this piece stand out. Thanks to its large capacity, Sanidad says you could easily pack this suitcase with everything you would need for a month. "We packed as much as we could up to the 50 pounds per bag limit, but you can definitely fit more if you're driving around with this or on a vehicle with no weight limit," she says.
Dimensions: 22" x 16" x 9"
Capacity: 42 liters
Weight: 11.1 lbs.
Pros: Large capacity for a week's worth of clothes, included garment sleeve, easy to clean
Cons: Heavy before packing, its size can be confused for a checked bag
Travelers looking for a piece of luggage that will look as good as new for years should try out the Tumi Alpha Continental Dual Access carry-on. Former Traveler editor Alex Erdekian has used this carry-on for trips all over the world, including Italy, France, Mexico, and Boston. The bag can fit a week's worth of clothes and has a zip divider, plus a large mesh zip pocket and a garment sleeve to keep all of your outfits organized. And if the suitcase gets scuffed, it’s easy to clean with a paper towel. While she appreciated how much the Tumi carry-on can fit, Erdekian noted she had to check this bag at the airport on two separate occasions because it appeared to be too big for some airline’s carry-on requirements. At just over 11 pounds while empty, it is on the heavier end, and Erdekian found it could be hard to lift into the overhead bin once packed.
Dimensions: 17" x 16" x 8"
Weight: 5.97 lbs.
Pros: Neatly fits under an airline seat, protective cover for the handle
Cons: Zippered pockets don't expand very far
If you’re on the hunt for a suitcase that’s both visually appealing and can hold a lot of clothes, the Delsey Paris Chatelet Air 2.0 underseater is a great option. This lightweight suitcase features a small protective cover that can be zipped over the suitcases’s handle to protect it while in transit. The underseater has two small interior pockets, one large interior zippered pocket, and one large exterior zippered pocket. It was tested by Paige Baker, who used it as a suitcase for her two-year-old daughter on a one-week trip to Jackson Hole, Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park, in which she had to account for a wide temperature range and varied activities (hiking, wedding events, etc.). “If you're looking to use this for a small child's suitcase or a weekend trip, it is an excellent size and very suitable,” Baker says. She did note that the compartments don't expand much, but found it helpful to “keep the packing minimal and straightforward.”
Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 9"
Capacity: 50L not expanded, 60L when expanded
Weight: 9.06 lbs.
Pros: Large capacity, able to expand and collapse, cushioned top handle
Cons: Only good for shorter trips
If you’re looking for more capacity out of a carry-on-sized suitcase, the Béis soft-sided collapsible roller is a great option. Flager recently used this bag on a four-day trip and had plenty of room for all of her necessities. One of the major pros to this suitcase is that it’s completely collapsible—so after you unpack at a hotel or home, it can lay flat to fit under a bed or in a closet until it’s needed again. The collapsible roller is stain-resistant and has an expandable zipper, which can be put to use from the get-go or to add room should you buy a few souvenirs on vacation. The outside of the bag has a laptop sleeve and a small pocket to store a portable charger. Another major perk is that the top handle has a soft hand cushion that Flager says is akin to a keyboard wrist rest.
Dimensions: 14" x 9" x 22"
Weight: 10 lbs.
Pros: Automatic expander, designated pocket for passport and tickets
Cons: Overall look is a bit simple and industrial
Senior features editor Rebecca Misner says, "as a proud overpacker (I live by: you never know, might as well throw it on in), I’m highly suspicious of carry-on suitcases for any trip longer than about two days or as anything other than overflow from my maxed out checked bag." When she tested out the Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential carry-on, she was able to fit everything she needed for a three-day trip, including running shoes and large evening dresses. One draw to this bag is that the expander isn’t zippered—instead, you press a button and then pull up on a lever so that the sides automatically expand. Another nice perk is the “SpeedThru” pocket, which holds passports and tickets, and has an orange lining so you know when it's open or closed. This bag’s sleek style is ideal for frequent business travelers. Bonus: It comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Dimensions: 14" x 9" x 22"
Weight: 7.16 lbs.
Pros: Affordable, can fit a week's worth of clothes
Cons: Does scuff easily, needs more zipper access for pockets
The Thule Aion carry-on spinner is a well-made, affordable option that can carry a week’s worth of clothes. According to frequent traveler Patrick Thompson, the suitcase has a sleek look, with two useful outside pockets for storing smaller items like phones and chargers. The suitcase has straps that make it easy to pick up and place into cars or toss into an overhead bin. While traversing the globe to Italy, Argentina, Florida, and beyond, Thompson noticed that the bag does scuff easily, but loves its nutria (tan) color.
Dimensions: 16" x 22" x 10"
Weight: 9.9 lbs.
Pros: Keeps clothes looking neat, suitcase has a lifetime warranty
Cons: Only has two wheels
If you’re traveling with special clothing items, for weddings or business trips, and want to keep the wrinkles to a minimum, pack the Travelpro rolling garment bag. Traveler's global associate director of audience development Lara Kramer has used this bag on a trip to Italy, Croatia, and Montenegro, and it held up well. "I was able to pack a few nice dresses and my husband fit an entire suit, all of which remained wrinkle-free, which was a game changer,” she says. The bag is made from high-density nylon with a duraguard coating, which keeps the suitcase looking new for years. It also comes with a lifetime limited warranty that covers the cost of repairs from airline damage. The one downfall some may see with this bag is that it only has two wheels, which can make it a bit more challenging to maneuver within crowded airports or city streets.
Dimensions: 13" x 22" x 14"
Weight: 4 lbs.
Pros: High capacity for a week's worth of clothes, wide color range
Cons: Doesn't quite lay flat against your back when fully packed
Travelers searching for a soft-sided piece of luggage that also doubles as a backpack will love the Baboon to the Moon Go-Bag Big. Senior editor Megan Spurrell recently took this bag on a weeklong trip from New York City to Phoenix, Arizona, and Denver, Colorado. She says the bag is heavier than a backpacking backpack, but lighter than a rollaway carry-on, and can fit everything you need for a week with several outfit changes or a ski weekend when you’re packing thicker, heavier items. The wide color range makes this a fun option for those who are bored of basic black or navy, with bright options like bubblegum pink and melon green. This luggage is best for active travelers, but it’s not Spurrell’s first pick for comfort when it’s fully packed. “I had expected this to be a cool upgrade to my worn Gregory backpack, which I’ve used for everything from traveling around Southeast Asia for six months after college, to a multi-stop week in Kenya that included a few days on safari, a few at the beach, and a couple in Nairobi. While I could definitely pack for the second trip with this bag, it would be heavy to carry for extended periods of time,” Spurrell says.
Dimensions: 15"x 29" x 15"
Weight: 8.07 lbs.
Pros: Enough capacity for longer trips, sustainably made
Cons: Only two wheels, no interior pockets, zipper can get stuck
Flager brought this duffel-style piece on a two-week trip to the Mediterranean where she was on an Oceania cruise, then went directly to Florida for a few days. While rolling a two-wheeled bag took a minute to adjust to, Flager loved its versatility: The large, main compartment can be used as a single compartment or be broken into two spaces, and she was able to get two weeks of clothes into the suitcase—and still had room to spare. “I preferred to keep the two parts separate, so that I could put shoes and dirty clothes in the smaller one,” Flager says. Another perk: the exterior fabric and the interior lining are made from recycled water bottles.