The best hard shell luggage, tested and reviewed

Written by Travel Adventures

Sleek, light and zippy, hardside suitcase styles are quickly becoming the norm when it comes to investing in a suitcase. The current styles on the market utilise the latest in polycarbonate, polypropylene or similar materials – sometimes recycled – to create a strong and durable yet lightweight shell, making them a breeze to lift and manoeuvre. They’re more water-resistant than softside offerings and increasingly becoming more stylish via chic colour schemes that are easily spotted on the baggage carousel.

Why choose a hard-shell suitcase?

As we mention in our guide to the best luggage brands, we prefer using a hard shell suitcase for our check-in luggage. While they tend to cost more, hard-side suitcases are designed to be more durable, offer better protection and are easier to clean than soft fabric styles. While for carry-on luggage, we prefer softside styles or hard shell luggage with outer pockets.

What to look for in a hard-shell suitcase?

  • The suitcases on this list come with the following features as standard:
  • 360-degree spinner wheels
  • Expander zippers
  • TSA-approved locks
  • Zip up compartments
  • Telescopic handles
antler clifton cabin pocket

How we choose the best hard shell suitcases

Every case on this list has been independently tested and reviewed by our editors, Charley Ward and Lauren Burvill, or our colleagues from Traveler US. We run each hard shell suitcase through a test in office, and then pass the cases on to members of the wider team to take with them on a flight for further testing. When testing, we look for overall quality, spinner wheels, TSA-approved locks, design features such as exterior pockets, charging ports or laptop compartments, and value for money. We also assess the weight and size, overall function and visual appeal. Below are the stand-out cases we’ve taken on our travels.

Here are some of our testing criteria:

  • How heavy or light is it when empty?
  • What is the interior like – are there useful pockets and compartments inside?
  • How much can it fit? Enough for a three-day weekend, or a weeklong trip?
  • How sturdy is the exterior? Did it scratch at all in transit?
  • How easily does it roll when full?
  • What is the handle placement like? Is it easy to pick up when placing in a car, on a train, or in the overhead compartment of a plane?
  • Is it aesthetically pleasing and well-designed?
  • Is it worth the price point?
  • Does it have any unique features that make it stand out from other luggage you’ve tried?

The best hard shell luggage tested and reviewed

Emma Fishman

The best hard shell luggage tested and reviewed

Emma Fishman

Keep reading for our editors’ picks of the best hard shell luggage – or, jump straight to the size you’re shopping for:

Hard-shell checked luggage

Antler Stamford large

Pros: The price, removable packing divider
Cons: Prone to scuffing and scratches
Dimensions: 81.5 cm x 54cm x 34.5cm
Weight: 5.1kg
Warranty: 10-year warranty

The largest of Antler’s popular Stamford range, the large case can store the brand’s medium and cabin bags inside, making buying the set an ideal option if you’re in need of multiple sizes. As with the whole Stamford range, the case is made from sturdy polycarbonate, and features high-quality 360-degree spinner wheels. There’s plenty of room in this generous large size case, but if you need more, the expandable zip offers 5 centimetres of extra space. Inside, there are three zip-up compartments on one side, as well as a divider on the other that sits under the compression straps and is fully removable. For those who want even more organisation, the brand also has a range of packing cubes designed to fit perfectly.

Nere Stori 75cm Suitcase

Pros: The price, the colour range
Cons: ABS can be prone to scuffing
Dimensions: 75cm x 47cm x 31cm
Weight: 4.8kg
Warranty: 10-year warranty

Our best budget hard-side luggage

This is the largest suitcase from Nere’s bestselling Stori range, providing ample storage for two-week plus trips, and it’s further expandable to help you squeeze in all the souvenirs you’ve picked up throughout your travels. An ABS hard shell outer should keep belongings well-protected in the hold, and there are two additional pockets inside, as well as roomy clothing compartments. It comes in the full array of the brand’s signature pastel colours, and there are matching smaller cases – including full luggage sets – that can be stored neatly inside when not in use. A TSA lock provides extra peace of mind, as does the 10-year warranty – impressive given the very reasonable price point. If you’re looking for an inexpensive case that will see you through longer holidays, this one’s hard to beat.

Monos Check-In Large

Pros: Lightweight, very large, sleek appearance, plenty of colour options
Cons: Scuffs easily, lighter colours show dirt quickly
Dimensions: 76 x 53 x 28cm
Weight: 4.7kg
Warranty: 100-day trial, free repairs, limited lifetime warranty

Monos, the Vancouver-based premium luggage brand, has been winning fans with its minimal selection of duffels, backpacks and suitcases since its inception in 2019. It’s not style over substance, either: aerospace-grade polycarbonate shells and recycled elements feature wherever possible, and it’s the first luggage brand to earn Climate Neutral certification, meaning it’s achieved net zero carbon emissions as a company. The brand’s largest check-in size case is a winner for our team, too. Commerce writer Charley Ward rates it as one of the best suitcases she’s ever used, thanks to its large selection of overpacker-friendly compartments, compression system and dividers, which make squeezing in yet another just-in-case outfit a breeze. The Rose Quartz colour is lovely and makes it easy to spot on the baggage carousel, but it does show scuffs quickly – the case was marked up noticeably on its first outing. If this bothers you, a cover might be a worthy investment.

Away The Large Flex Suitcase

Pros: Multiple colour options, comes with a wash bag and leather luggage tag
Cons: Prone to scuffing, colours sell out quickly, on the heavier side
Dimensions: 73.7cm x 52.1cm x 31.8cm
Weight: 5.6kg
Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty

Trendy brand Away is probably best known for its sleek carry-on case, but its large suitcase is equally impressive. One of our writers actually used this case when she moved countries and particularly loved the in-build compression pad, removable interior lining and the leather luggage tag that it comes with. Another clever feature worth noting is the addition of a handle underneath, allowing for easier grip when you need to lift it, plus the expandable zip that allows for an extra 4.45cm of space.

Paravel Aviator Grand Checked Luggage

Pros: Carbon-neutral, interior compression, unlikely to scuff, stylish design
Cons: None that we can see
Dimensions: 71.7cm x 46.3cm x 27.9cm
Weight: 4.6kg
Warranty: 10-year limited warranty

Our best eco-friendly hard shell luggage

The look of Paravel’s Aviator luggage collection alone is enough to make it a winner – a textured shell available in five different shades with contrasting leather trim, plus the option to add a monogram to the trim as well. But in addition to the aesthetic, this case is also the world’s first carbon-neutral suitcase. Not only are most of the materials recycled, from the lightweight polycarbonate to the aluminium handles, the zippers and even the vegan leather but the brand offsets all carbon emissions generated by creating and shipping the Aviator Grand to you, as well as the estimated emissions of its first trip with you.

Travelpro Maxlite Air Hardside Expandable

Pros: Both sides can be fully zipped up
Cons: No compression straps, handle can be temperamental
Dimensions: 77.4cm x 49.5cm x 30.4cm
Weight: 4.5kg
Warranty: Lifetime limited warranty

A great value case, Travelpro Maxlite’s comes with all of the classic features (TSA-approved lock, 360 degree spinner wheels), but with a few extra impressive bells and whistles as well. One clever addition is the polycarbonate hard shell has an impact absorbing finish on it (essentially a 3D-stripe texture), designed to help reduce scuffs and scratches. We also love that the interior lining is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.

Briggs & Riley Medium Expandable Spinner

Pros: Secure compression panels, unlikely to scuff
Cons: On the heavier side
Dimensions: 68.5cm x 47cm x 29cm
Weight: 5.5kg
Warranty: Lifetime guarantee

With three jewel-tone shades to choose from, this Briggs & Riley looks great on the outside. Inside it’s even better, particularly if you like to stay organised with multiple pockets. On one side there are three zip-up mesh pockets – one large and two small. On the other are very clever adjustable garment compression panels. Instead of the usual zip style, these open out into two flaps and are easily secured together with two buckles, so it’s easier to fit more while still neatly securing everything in place.

Rimowa Check-In Medium Suitcase

Pros: Lightweight, unlikely to scuff
Cons: Expensive price, the shell will dent – although admittedly that is part of the charm
Dimensions: 67cm x 45.2cm x 24.1cm
Weight: 4kg
Warranty: Lifetime guarantee

As part of the LVMH group, German designer luggage brand Rimowa has some of the slickest suitcases on the market. While they’re probably best known for their aluminium cases, the check-in medium case is made from an ultralight polycarbonate shell that comes in four different glossy shades and one matte. While not every traveller will be open to the high price tag, if you’re a frequent flyer looking for the best in looks and function, this is a worthy investment. As well as being one of the most durable cases on the market, it’s also the lightest hard shell check-in suitcase in our guide.

Brics Bellagio four-wheel suitcase

Pros: Classic look, three-position adjustable handle
Cons: Leather trim requires more maintenance to clean, no compression straps
Dimensions: 76cm x 53cm x 29cm
Weight: 4.6kg

If we had to pick our favourite luggage in terms of timeless looks, it would be Brics’ Bellagio range. The classic cream case with tan leather trim – even the enlarged spinner wheels are tan – is the epitome of Italian elegance. While the case looks timeless, it does feature a range of modern details, such as a water-repellant zip with a TSA-approved lock and an adjustable handle.

Arlo Skye The Zipper Check-In Medium

Pros: Super roomy, lightweight on its own, Arlo Skye carry-ons nest inside for easy storage
Cons: Scuffs pretty easily
Weight: 4kg
Dimensions: 69 x 45 x 28cm
Warranty: Five-year limited warranty

A sturdy yet lightweight case that’s great for longer trips (think one to two weeks). This Arlo Skye check-in is especially great when paired with Arlo’s Zipper Carry-On if you’re short on storage space – the carry-on nests inside the larger case when it’s empty. Inside, you’ll find two even-sized compartments; one-half zips closed and has a large zippered pocket built in to secure items like hats, bathing suits, belts, or bags. The other side is secured by compression straps, but still has two smaller zippered pockets to hold undergarments or socks.

Herschel Heritage Hardshell Medium

Pros: Reasonably priced, made of recycled materials, mesh storage sleeves, built-in locks
Cons: Limited colours
Weight: 4kg
Dimensions: 68 x 40 x 30cm
Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty

You’ve likely spotted a Herschel backpack on a plane, train, or city street, but don’t overlook the brand’s suitcases. This medium-size roller fits a ton, Kenny says: “I packed everything I needed for a two-week trip and definitely had a little bit of room to spare. It fits a lot more than most suitcases I’ve used before. It’s very durable, doesn’t scuff too easily, and has plenty of compartments to keep clothes organised.” Its four-wheel design rolls easily and quietly, too, even when the bag is full and gliding over bumpy streets.

Monos Check-In Medium

Pros: Compatible with Monos’s leather duffel and backpacks, which slide right onto the handle of the suitcase, preventing it from bopping around as you race through an airport
Cons: Scratches fairly easily
Weight: 4.3kg
Dimensions: 66 × 45 × 25cm
Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty

One of the younger brands on this list, Monos launched in 2018 with a “fewer, better” perspective and a desire to create beautiful, timeless pieces at an accessible price point. They’ve succeeded—global digital director Arati Menon has taken this bag to Copenhagen, London, and Italy, and is a fan of the brand’s backpacks and duffels, too. Of the checked bag, she says this: “It feels light, looks great, glides like a dream, and is super functional to boot. I’m close to pulling the trigger on a matching large size.” She uses it in tandem with Monos packing cubes, and stores shoes and accessories in the bag’s interior pockets. As for its durability, Menon says: “The shell has been prone to dings and scratches, but honestly, which hard shell bag isn’t?”

The best hard shell luggage tested and reviewed

Emma Fishman

The best hard shell luggage tested and reviewed

Emma Fishman

Hard-shell carry-on luggage

Forgoing the checked bag life? We hear you. For those who like to travel light, look to these carry-on spinners, which have all impressed our editors in our tests. For more of our top picks, see our full guide to the best carry-on luggage.

Antler Clifton With Pocket

Pros: Multiple internal pockets, outer pocket expands, great value price
Cons: 1cm over the height allowance of some airlines, including Ryanair
Size: 56X35X23cm
Weight: 3.3kg
Warranty: Lifetime warranty

The zippy and lightweight Clifton cabin case is one of Antler’s best sellers. The rolling polycarbonate suitcase has all that you could need for everyday travel – twist-grip handle, double lock, waterproof and mesh pockets inside – but what makes this stand out from other classic hard cases is the external soft shell front pocket. It features multiple compartments as well as a padded slip pocket that can fit a tablet or 15.6-inch laptop, allowing easy-to-reach storage for all of your on-the-go items – we like to keep our toiletries in here for easy access at security. For us at Conde Nast Traveller, it’s a go-to piece of luggage that we reach for over and over on trips away – see here for our full review.

Carl Friedrik The Carry-on X

Pros: Won’t scuff or scratch, external zip-up pocket with padded laptop sleeve, internal compression pad, smart colour options
Cons: Minimal internal pockets and zip-up compartments, can be difficult to align the closure and clasp it shut when the case is full
Size: 55X38X25cm
Weight: 4.3kg
Warranty: 100-day trial, lifetime warranty

For a case that looks and feels like it means business, Carl Friedrik has you covered. Their carry-on case is all slick and shiny, from the studs lining the opening to the tan Italian leather handles and detailing. The snap-shut locks make this hard shell case stand out from the rest. Instead of fiddly zips, the case is secured with a unique aluminium lock frame – for extra security, you can use the combination lock feature. There is a zip on the external pocket, allowing for easy access and storage of your laptop and documents in the padded sleeve and additional compartments. Sophie Knight, our senior visuals editor, has taken this case on many travels, most recently to the Maldives. She rates the lock, which provides plenty of peace of mind, but overpackers beware: it does make it trickier to close if it’s full right to the brim.

July Carry On Light

Pros: Very light, very quiet, smooth action, scratch-resistant shell, good range of colours
Cons: No laptop sleeve, no additional pockets inside the main compartments
Dimensions: H54 x W36 x D19cm
Weight: 1.8kg
Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty

Best lightweight carry-on suitcase

July asserts that this is the world’s lightest double-wheel suitcase, and while we can’t verify this claim, it’s certainly the lightest one we’ve ever used. If you struggle to manhandle your case in and out of the overhead compartments, this is the best option for you. Its whisper-quiet action, even while trundling over a notoriously bumpy pavement, seriously impressed our commerce writer Charley Ward. It’s small but feels remarkably sturdy, comfortably fitting three days’ worth of items inside while remaining impressively lightweight even when full. You can also see our full review of this suitcase.

Away The Original Carry-On

Pros: Durable, easy to manoeuvre, compression pad and straps, comes with a laundry bag, multiple colour options
Cons: Colours sell out quickly, light colours are prone to scuffs and scratches, and 0.1cm over the height allowance of some airlines, including Ryanair
Size: 55.1×34.8×22.9cm
Weight: 3.2kg
Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty

Away’s recognisable original carry-on case is one of the best on the market – beloved by many of our editors and numerous celebrities, including Margot Robbie and Meghan Markle. We were struck by this case’s build quality, including the wheels especially, which made light work of bumpy terrain. Inside, both mesh compartments can be firmly secured – one with a zip, the other with a compression system with straps – so there is plenty of packing space and your case will remain neatly organised. It’s a bigger carry-on, with space for five to seven outfits, and is the suitcase of choice for our acting audience growth manager Abigail Malbon. Abbie zips back and forth from London to Lisbon often and rates the cases’ spinner wheels, which make navigating busy airports a breeze. Need more space? The brand’s Carry-On Flex is another editor favourite – we’ve been on ski trips where we’ve packed a full weekend’s worth of gear in – then comfortably fit in a newly-bought chunky winter coat as well.

Monos Carry-On Plus

Pros: External zip up pocket, removable compression pad, laundry and shoe bags
Cons: Scuffs but comes with a sponge for rectifying, front pocket zipper can be difficult to manage
Size: 55x35x22cm
Weight: 3.5kg

Here’s Monos’s carry-on style, which has three interior pockets and three zippered pouches, along with a very handy front pocket – a game-changer for business travel, giving you somewhere to keep your laptop, documents, passports and chargers easily to hand. Amber Port, Audience Growth Manager, has this case and this feature has saved her from rummaging through the case on the airport floor many times. Inside, a removable compression pad and a zippered pocket for flat items provide a safe space for valuables. But Amber’s favourite features are the silver ion-coated laundry bag and the two shoe bags, which both let you separate different clothing items and create an easy-to-manage laundry bag once you’ve reached your destination.

Horizn Studios M5 Cabin Luggage

Pros: Range of colours and finishes, zip up mesh screens on both sides.
Cons: No compression pad, outer pocket does not expand.
Size: 55X40X20cm
Weight: 3.4kg

Engineered in Germany, Horizn Studios specialises in luggage with a lifetime warranty, made from all-vegan materials, and sent to you using neutral shipping. There’s a lot to choose from – their Circle One range is made from a plant-based hard shell – but in terms of quality, price and function, our pick is the M5 cabin bag. This partly recycled hardshell case has a front laptop pocket, recycled polyester lining and enough space to last a five-day trip. The cabin bag comes with a luggage tag, and dust protector as standard, with the option to personalise the case or even upgrade to the smart version that comes with a removable charger and compression pad.

Paravel Aviator Carry-On

Pros: Smooth, sturdy spinner wheels and a textured finish add to its overall durability
Cons: No charger, could use a few additional pockets
Weight: 3.7kg
Dimensions: 55 x 35 x 23cm

As with the Aviator Grand, Paravel’s carry-on is beloved for more than just its retro Wes Anderson–style designs. It’s made using eco-friendly materials, like recycled zippers and a lining crafted out of upcycled plastic water bottles, and comes in beautiful shades like Scout Tan and Safari Green. Inside, one half zips fully closed and has an additional zip pocket of its own, while the other is covered by a compression board. It’s a favourite of US Traveler senior editor Megan Spurrell, who has brought it on trips to Mexico City, Lisbon, Los Angeles, and more.

Béis The Carry-On Roller

Pros: Comfortable handle, fairly easy to clean
Cons: Although the beige colour is incredibly pretty, it gets dirty very quickly; I would recommend a darker colour
Weight: 3.8kg
Dimensions: 58 x 40 x 25cm

While we’ve long been fans of Béis’ soft-sided suitcases and weekender bags, we knew we needed to test out the popular hard-shell suitcases. Unsurprisingly, both sizes were a hit. “I would recommend this for a traveller who is an exclusive team carry-on member,” US commerce producer Paris Wilson says. She managed to fit at least 14 outfits, plus four pairs of shoes and two purses, inside on a recent trip to the Florida Keys. The bag itself is easy to pick up – “I was able to bring it down from the overhead bin myself as well as move it in and out of the trunk of the rental car easily” – and easy to look at: “I got so many compliments on how pretty the carry-on was while in the airport and on vacation. I’d have to agree that the colour is beautiful, the size is ideal, and the ribbed exterior adds some really cool dimensions.”

Away Carry-On Flex

Pros: Smooth glide, TSA-approved combination lock, the expansion capabilities
Cons: Mistaken identity – given their popularity, get a unique colour or add your favourite sticker to the outer hard shell to help identify yours if you wind up checking it
Weight: 3.6kg
Dimensions: 56 x 36 x 23cm

For a little more space when you need it, choose the Flex. It gives travellers an additional 2.25″ of packing space when expanded, bringing the capacity up from just under 40L to 46.7L. Used by Kramer for trips including a one-week vacation to London, it earned points for rolling smoothly across almost any surface, thanks to its 360° spinner wheels.

Arlo Skye Zipper Carry-On Max with Front Pocket

Pros: Front pocket, a rarity for hard-shell bags, plus more internal compartments; comes with a removable charger
Cons: Not expandable, so less forgiving for overpackers
Weight: 3.6kg
Dimensions: 58 x 38 x 25cm

Used often by Spurrell, who has taken it on both weekend trips and week-long adventures, this bag has never let her down. She calls it surprisingly roomy, and notes its sturdy shell: “This suitcase looks sleek, but is totally durable. I’ve checked it on a few occasions, and it always survives being chucked onto the baggage carousel with little to no evidence of the journey.”

Amazon Basics Carry-On

Pros: Lightweight, durable, and easy to move around and lift
Cons: Only available in a few standard colours and there really isn’t anything that stands out about it to help you know it’s yours.
Weight: 2.9kg
Dimensions: 54 x 38 x 23cm

On the other end of the price spectrum, there is this hardside carry-on from Amazon. Thanks to its affordable price, roomy size, spinner wheels, and built-in TSA lock, it has racked up tons of positive reviews on Amazon. Kenny agrees with those reviews, calling it “an overpacker’s dream suitcase.”

Carl Friedrik The Carry-on

Pros: Compression straps and pad, easy to close, really good-looking
Cons: Not quite capacious enough
Weight: 3.9kg
Dimensions: 56 x 35 x 23cm

This particular designer carry-on may ring a bell for Succession fans – Carl Friedrik pieces were featured more than once during the show’s run. It’s also a go-to of Hobbs‘, who has brought it to Mérida in the Yucatan, his parents’ house in Connecticut for Christmas and Easter, to the North Fork of Long Island, and to Chicago. Outside, “This bag is gorgeous – beautiful contrasts between the grey of the polycarbonate shell and the delicious slivers of warm leather.” Inside, he says, “There are two very useful sets of compression straps and one (removable, also useful) compression pad which one might as I did mistake for a laptop case at first glance.” And perhaps the highest praise: “After nearly a year of use, it still looks brand new.”

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