Nobody likes handing over their worldly goods to the attentions of the baggage handlers when they travel, so hard-sided luggage, with the extra durability and protection it affords, is a consistently popular choice for the cautious traveller. However, the material your hard-sided luggage is made from can significantly influence how well (or how poorly) it performs. Hard-sided luggage is available in a number of materials, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the material most suited to your travelling needs can make the difference between a brief trip to the luggage carousel and an absolute nightmare.
Aluminium was once the material of choice for constructing hard sided luggage, and this traditional material still has its fans today. Aluminium luggage is an excellent choice for those seeking the last word in protection and is prized by travellers who routinely carry expensive or delicate items with them on their journeys.
However, aluminium's strength and durability is offset by one key weakness: weight. Falling foul of maximum luggage weights and being forced to pay extra casts a dark cloud over any journey, and while aluminium is relatively light as metals go, it will still add a significant amount to the overall weight of your luggage, reducing the amount you can carry without paying extra. Aluminium luggage's weight can also make it a real chore to drag around airports, and while wheeled aluminium luggage is easier to transport, the wheels add even more weight.
Polycarbonate, a type of plastic polymer, has supplanted aluminium as the standard hard-sided luggage material in many ways, and it's not difficult to see why. Though not quite as strong as aluminium, it provides comparable strength while being significantly lighter and easier to carry. Polycarbonate also has an advantage over aluminium with its flexibility, which allows it to bow slightly under pressure and impact stresses, reducing the likelihood of cracking and splitting.
This flexibility increases the durability of the luggage itself; however, large, delicate objects that would survive in a rigid aluminium case may be damaged or crushed inside a squashed polycarbonate case. Polycarbonate luggage is also very popular, and while this may not sound like a disadvantage at first, it can lead to embarrassing and awkward mix ups between identical cases at airports and docks. You should take pains to make your own polycarbonate luggage distinctive with stickers or decals.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (commonly known as ABS for obvious reasons) is another plastic polymer, but while polycarbonate's strength lies in its flexibility, ABS is prized for its lightness. Even a large ABS case destined for hold luggage can be remarkably easy and light to carry around, especially when wheeled. As such, it's ideal for smaller cases, particularly hand luggage.
However, ABS gives up a lot of strength to achieve such lightness, and while it can still take a decent beating before failing, it is not as durable as either aluminium or polycarbonate. ABS also lacks durability against knocks and impacts, and without the flexibility of polycarbonate it can be damaged or split as it runs the gauntlet of the cargo hold.
Keep these considerations in mind when shopping to buy luggage online or in stores.