Arming yourself with the best hard shell luggage should be your first priority if you want to properly protect your belongings on getaways. Compared to soft shell luggage, hard shell suitcases are far superior at deflecting knocks and blows. They also last longer, as the solid shell can handle more wear and tear.
Investing in high-quality hard shell luggage is one of the best ways of guaranteeing that your luggage will make it through any trip unscathed. However, not all hard shell suitcases are made equal, so selecting the right suitcase is essential.
Mattis Oppermann, a Swedish luggage product designer and the co-founder of luggage brand Carl Friedrik, explains that hard shell luggage should provide sturdy and reliable protection for whatever you’re carrying. “Ideally, the luggage will be made from lightweight, durable materials which can withstand exposure to the elements,” said Oppermann.
“Cheaper hard shell luggage [will] typically be made of ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and it’s not designed to last you years. This is often the material that you’ll find a crack in from one return trip,” Mattis Oppermann, luggage product design and co-founder of Carl Friedrik.
While budget-friendly models with an ABS hard shell may be cheaper, we’d only recommend them to those who act on their wanderlust every now and then. Polycarbonate, polypropylene or aluminum hard shells are the best bets for more frequent travelers, as they help to protect valuables and last longer.
It’s not just the shell that sets apart the best hard shell luggage from the weak. The first thing we’d recommend looking for are suitcases with four 360-degree spinner wheels, which are a dream for maneuverability and provide a backup if one wheel breaks. Other handy features include a TSA-approved lock, well-organized packing compartments and a lightweight but spacious build. A long warranty is desirable too.
We’ve lined up the top hard shell luggage that you can rely on, whatever your budget or requirements.
The best hard shell luggage
1. American Tourister Airconic: The best hard shell luggage overall
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When it comes to great hard shell luggage, the American Tourister Airconic has many of the key ingredients covered. The hard shell is constructed from polypropylene, one of the most robust suitcase materials out there. It’s kitted out with four single spinner wheels, which not only glide in all directions but also provide a backup if one wheel breaks. The shell is also scratch-resistant, which should help to keep your suitcase looking new even if you scrape past a bench or a suitcase trolley in the airport, train station or other place of transit.
If your suitcase takes any additional blows on its journey, the polypropylene shell should absorb most of the impact so that your belongings don’t have to. The contents are also protected by a TSA-approved lock, which will give you peace of mind that prying hands won’t be able to get inside your case when it’s away from your side.
With 33.5 liters of space, the American Tourister Airconic doesn’t have an exceptional capacity. However, most people should find this amount of space more than satisfactory for a week-long trip. The bonus is that the suitcase only weighs 8.2 lbs, which is light enough to not fret too much that you’re going over airline weight limits. It also comes with a pretty lengthy 10-year limited warranty and a good-looking but minimalist exterior.
If you’re looking for somewhere to store a book or tablet, there is an outer pocket, but it's so thin that it’s not suitable for laptop users, a downside for business travelers and those who travel with tech.
2. Samsonite Elevation Plus Large Spinner: The best for long or business trips
Designed by Samsonite, one of the most well-known luggage brands, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Samsonite Elevation Plus Large Spinner is an excellent hard shell luggage option. We rate this suitcase as the best pick for those who need plenty of packing space for longer trips. Its biggest strengths are its spacious interior packing space and handy organization elements. With internal packing dimensions of 27 by 19.5 and 13 inches, the suitcase is pretty roomy.
Given the generous packing space, it makes sense that the suitcase has plenty of packing features. There are two main packing compartments, along with dual zippered pockets, including one waterproof pocket option. There’s a laptop sleeve, which is especially handy for those who often travel with their tech. A TSA-approved combination lock and an ergonomic handle are other useful features designed for users’ comfort and safety.
Often, a spacious interior results in a heavier suitcase overall. Weighing 10.3 lbs, the Samsonite Elevation Plus Large Spinner may require a little more elbow grease than smaller suitcases. However, it’s surprisingly lightweight considering its size and the high-quality polypropylene shell, which weighs much more than cheaper materials such as ABS. The single 360-degree spinner wheels will take some of the load off.
We reckon that all of the handy organization features combined with the spacious packing space and high-quality shell are a good trade-off for the heavier build - just make sure that you keep an eye on your airline’s luggage weight limits.
5. Horizn Studios H5 Check-In Luggage: The best premium suitcase for frequent flyers
Smart, vegan and sustainable, the Horizn Studios H5 Check-In Luggage is a wise choice for those who don’t want to compromise sustainability for comfort. First of all, the suitcase has a fully-recycled polyester interior lining and a partially-recycled shell made from sturdy polycarbonate. That’s a good start in terms of sustainability and durability, and it's followed up with the addition of 360-degree Japanese spinner wheels, considered by luggage experts to be the gold standard of suitcase wheels.
Unlike any suitcases in our round-up, the Horizn Studios H5 Check-In Luggage also has a built-in charger with two USB ports. They pack 10,000 mAh of power, a dream for those who are worried about tracking down airport charging points.
Granted, priced at $455, this particular suitcase doesn’t come cheap. However, the high-quality polycarbonate build should mean that the suitcase will last you years, even as a frequent flier. Some users have commented that the shell accumulates scratches fairly easily, especially when it comes to the lighter-colored models. However, it might be worth letting that slide considering that your goods are protected by an aerospace-grade shell.
With a TSA-approved lock and a water-resistant lining to provide extra protection and an ergonomic handle fitted with four different height settings to cater to your comfort, there’s no doubt that the Horizn Studios H5 Check-In Luggage is worth the heavier price tag. That’s especially true for any frequent travelers and those who take long journeys where their devices’ batteries might need some TLC.
4. Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner: The best for savvy travelers
The Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner is a stylish, streamlined suitcase whose biggest bragging rights are that it’s lightweight and easy to maneuver despite being strong and sturdy. It weighs 8.5 lbs, which is pretty decent for a suitcase with a robust polypropylene hard shell. The double spinner wheels move in all directions too, so you shouldn’t have any trouble navigating your belongings around the airport or the streets.
Savvy travelers will be pleased to find that the suitcase is organization-friendly too. There are dividers and cross straps provided so you can successfully section your different garments and keep them as crease-free as possible. This comes along with several pockets, which provide a home for smaller loose items. With an expandable design, you’ve also got some extra leeway if you pick up any souvenirs or gifts while on holiday, and there’s also a TSA-approved three-digit combination lock to keep them secure.
The main issue faced by users of the Samsonite Freeform Medium Spinner is that the zippers feel fairly flimsy in comparison to the rest of the suitcase. Expect a little wear and tear too, as while the exterior appears stylish and matte, it picks up marks quite easily. If you’re worried, you might want to opt for a darker-coloured model, such as the blackout suitcase. If you do encounter any big issues with the product, there’s a lengthy 10-year warranty to protect your purchase.
5. Monos Carry-On Plus: The best lightweight carry-on
If you tend to travel light, the Monos Carry-On Plus is a great choice. As a 23-inch suitcase, the bag is suitable as a carry-on, meaning that you can skip the hassle of bag check-in and pick-up. It only weighs 7 lbs too, so whisking it on and off the plane shouldn’t require much elbow grease at all.
The lightweight build is even more surprising when you consider that the shell is constructed from polycarbonate, a sturdy material that will help your suitcase to last year on year. While the surface isn’t scratch-resistant and may pick up some marks while you’re on the move, it still provides more than adequate shock absorption, helping to protect any sentimental or valuable items. Let’s just say that you’re unlikely to leave the airport with a crack in the shell, as the construction is aerospace-grade.
The Monos Carry-On Plus features anti-microbial technology, a fairly unique but useful feature when you’re traveling through new territories and public spaces. Also in its favor are four 360-degree Hinomoto Lisof Silent Run wheels, which let you cruise silently through the airport.
Add vegan leather detailing and a TSA-approved lock into the mix and you’ve got yourself a smart, durable and lightweight suitcase, exactly what you want out of a carry-on. Just be prepared for the marks that might come with regular travel, because the eraser provided has a hard time removing scuff marks. 48 liters is also a relatively small capacity, but this comes with the carry-on territory.
6. Amazon Basics 30-inch Hardside Spinner: The best budget pick
The Amazon Basics 30-inch Hardside Spinner is the ultimate budget-friendly hard shell case. While the ABS shell can’t compete with the sturdiness of polypropylene or polycarbonate cases, realistically, it should be able to deal with any light knocks encountered during your journey. This makes it a good pick for those who travel a couple of times a year and just need a sturdy-enough case to transport their things from A to B.
While the Amazon Basics 30-inch Hardside Spinner may be lacking features such as a TSA-approved lock and compression straps, there are some great features that you don’t get with most other budget cases. The main compartment has one divider so that you can sort your belongings into two sections. These come with three easy-to-access zippered pockets, ideal for storing any little items. The most important thing is that there are four double spinner wheels attached to the suitcase, so you won’t have to haul your suitcase around on two wheels.
Those who are frequent flyers might want to pass by the Amazon Basics 30-inch Hardside Spinner and invest in a sturdier piece of luggage made from polycarbonate or polypropylene. However, if you’re looking for a reliable case for trips every now and again, this is it. There’s an adjustable telescoping handle and if you run out of space, the suitcase expands to create 15% more space. Just bear in mind that if you need to lift the luggage into a taxi boot or an overhead compartment, it weighs just over 12 lbs, and that’s before your belongings have been added into the mix.
7. Away Travel The Large Suitcase
With a capacity of just over 99 liters, the Away Travel The Large is a stand-out in terms of packing space. That makes it one of the best hard shell suitcases for those who take longer trips and need to carry a lot of belongings with them on their travels. However, it also makes it one of the heaviest suitcases, weighing in at almost 12 lbs.
Once you have filled the suitcase to the brim, it may prove to be a challenge to lift the bag. However, the suitcase is easy to transport on the ground, as it has four 360-degree spinner wheels. The main challenge will be keeping an eye on the overall weight of your suitcase, not just to make sure that you’re capable of lifting the suitcase, but also so that you don’t exceed any airline baggage weight limits.
The Away Travel The Large isn’t exactly a budget-friendly case, but it comes with a good range of standout features. There’s a water-resistant laundry bag to keep wet and used clothes far away from your fresh garments. A TSA-approved lock will provide protection from thieves. In addition to that, there are two compartments and a compression mechanism, which presses down your clothes while you’re packing and helps to keep them wrinkle-free.
With a strong polycarbonate shell, a black leather luggage tag and a minimalistic design, the Away Travel The Large doesn’t forsake style for durability either.
8. American Tourister Moonlight Hardside Expandable Luggage: The best for organization
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly suitcase, and one that can fit a lot of belongings, the American Tourister Moonlight Hardside Expandable Luggage With Spinner Wheels is a worthy contender. Despite being a 30-inch suitcase, the bag shouldn’t be too cumbersome once you mobilize the four 360-degree spinner wheels. These allow you to gently push your luggage from A to B, but there’s also a sturdy handle should you need to pick it up.
Weighing 11 lbs, the American Tourister Moonlight Hardside Expandable Luggage With Spinner Wheels is quite heavy for an ABS suitcase. Compared to polycarbonate and polypropylene, ABS is less robust, meaning that your suitcase is slightly more prone to cracks or other damage, and might not last as long. However, for those who want a spacious budget case for the occasional trip, this is it.
There’s a TSA-approved lock to keep your belongings safe even when they’re not right by your side. Organization-wise, the bag opens up like a book, meaning it’ll be a breeze to rifle through. There’s also a mesh divider, a modesty pocket to store any small valuables and cross straps to keep everything in place.
Users all praise the maneuverability and spaciousness of the suitcase. However, many have reported that the suitcase has a strong chemical scent upon arrival, which might be a deal-breaker for some users. Additionally, while some might find the bag pleasingly spacious, the layout could be improved, as the handle gets in the way of the packing space in the clothing compartment. Scratches are also tough to scrub off.
What to look out for in a piece of hard shell luggage
There’s a process to selecting a lasting, high-quality piece of hard shell luggage. The last thing you want is to invest in a suitcase, only for its condition to quickly deteriorate. Your chosen hard shell luggage should be able to stand the test of time, but also tick boxes in terms of functionality, safety, space, style and maneuverability.
“It’s important to get the best hard shell luggage you can afford as the initial investment means you should not have to replace cracked material after one or two trips. This is especially important if you are transporting anything of value or want to bring home some souvenirs that may need all the added protection they can get,” said luggage designer Mattis Oppermann.
“For those on a low budget, ABS is probably your best option. However, if you can afford it, it’s better to invest in sturdier hard shell luggage made of polycarbonate, which is designed to handle drops and damage. On top of that, it’s also great at keeping the color of your luggage and not getting washed out by UV rays,” said Oppermann.
When it comes to wheels, Oppermann adds that four wheels aren’t just handy; they’re essential. “Not only do they provide a backup if one breaks, but they make the luggage far easier to maneuver around airports and in between transport. Japanese Hinomoto wheels are preferred, as they’re silent during use, and they use a unique material developed in partnership with Mitsubishi Motors”.