7 things to consider when buying a suitcase

Gear expert Phoebe Smith reveals the seven most important things to look out for when you're buying a suitcase with wheels, including the size, material and the so-called 'extras'...

6 mins

1. Look at the material

There are two main options: soft-sided and hard-sided luggage. Soft-sided bags have more give, so are good if you intend to cram them to full capacity (or a bit over). Check that there is a waterproof lining on the inside, to keep things dry.

Also, bear in mind that even very durable fabrics can rip – though they are often easy to repair with duct tape or similar. Some travel companies insist on soft-sided bags, especially if you’re doing a trek or overland trip where packs are carried by animals or put on top of vehicles.

Hard-sided cases are usually strong and made to withstand hard impact. However, they can be heavier unpacked and harder to close if you’re stuffing in extra souvenirs.

2. Count those wheels

In the past, wheeled luggage typically had two wheels, but now many bags have four. Four wheels gives you the option to push as well as pull your bag in multiple directions with ease; each wheel may be a ‘double’, which gives extra stability.Note: all those on test here are the four-wheeled variety. 

The advantage of the two-wheeled bag is that once you tilt it to upright, it stays still and won’t roll away – not a deal breaker but useful when you’re standing on a slope. Also, two-wheeled bags may fare better over rougher ground. 

When trying a wheelie bag on a smooth shop floor, remember that you may want to use it on rougher ground or cobbles – will it be tough enough for that, too?

3. Check how much it weighs

The average hold luggage limit on long-haul economy flights is 23kg, so the weight of the case itself is key – every kilo the bag weighs unpacked is one less you have for your kit.

4. Think about the handle you need

Telescopic handles are the most common type – they fold away when not in use. However, this means that the handle system takes up some bag capacity, so a bigger system means less packing space. Single-pole handles tend to be more sturdy; double-pole handles offer better balance.

Check handles are made from strong materials, so they won’t break easily, and that the handle length suits you, so you don’t have to stoop to use it.

5. How does it look inside?

Some cases are divided into multiple compartments, which is handy for staying organised but will add weight. Vented sections are particularly useful for separating clean and dirty clothes. Look for compression straps, which help to pack things in.

6. Does it have pockets?

Usually found on the outside of soft-sided cases, pockets offer extra space, though they are not suitable for valuables as they are not lockable.

7. What extras does it come with?

Some models will come with extra features, such as a built-in combo lock that secures zips to the case, or a tracking device. These can be welcome but will increase the weight of the luggage and possibly the cost, so consider whether you really need them...

Watch Wanderlust's guide to suitcase-buying...

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