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Luggage Shopping Guide
Nine Ways to Evaluate Your Prospective Luggage Before You Buy

1. Fabric
Is your luggage  "thick-skinned" to resist abrasion, water, stains and tearing?

Quality luggage should come with a product information tag or a comprehensive description that includes a fabric denier which scientifically measures the outside fabric's resistance to abrasion and tearing.  These two factors affect a fabric's long-term durability.  Compare deniers before you purchase, but understand sometimes larger deniers do not always equate to better material. 

Please take note of the following:

  1. Definition: Denier - A unit of fineness for nylon and polyester fibers, based on a standard mass per length of 1 gram per 9,000 meters of yarn.  In short, a technical textile term for measuring the bulk of a fiber.
  2. Larger denier, polyester luggage is not stronger than a smaller denier, ballistic nylon fabric made with a two-by-two basket weave.
  3. Ballistic and Cordura nylon materials are superior to polyester fabrics.
  4. American-made Dupont material is superior to ballistic or Cordura nylon bags made overseas.  Understand however, luggage made with slightly less quality, foreign-made, ballistic nylon is still a great value and worthy of our endorsement.  The truth is Dupont produces the highest quality luggage fabric in the world today.

Take note of the following guidelines regarding individual luggage prices and relative luggage fabric quality:

  • Top level quality, higher-priced luggage generally $250.00 and up - Dupont ballistic or Cordora nylon material
  • Middle level quality, prices generally from $100.00 to $250.00 - Foreign-made ballistic nylon material
  • Lower level quality, prices generally under $100.00 - Polyester materials manufactured overseas

2. Frames
Is your wheeled luggage tough from the inside out?

The stronger the frame, the more likely your new luggage will survive years of rough handling.  Premium luggage utilizes space-age composites that combine lightweight frames with strength and rigidity.  Most quality, lightweight frames are designed with a honeycomb composition to create the flexibility and memory needed for a frame to bounce back into it's original form after enduring an impact.  Example: airline luggage handling....  Honeycomb technology allows for air "pockets" to make for the lighter weight quality.

3. Zippers
Will zippers stay zipped on your new luggage?

One of the quickest ways to judge luggage quality is to check the quality of the zipper.  Zippers are a component where size does matter and it is best to have a zipper with larger "teeth".  Zippers are rated on a one through ten-scale to indicate the size specification.  Zipper teeth which measure a ten are the largest made for luggage.  The size of zippers grow smaller and generally less expensive as the size of the teeth are reduced.
Keep in mind, even the best zippers can be installed poorly and placed in the sure-to-wear-out locations.  Make sure the zipper is installed with multiple rows of lock-stitch stitching and off the corners of the luggage.  A danger sign is if the zipper is poorly installed on the edge of a bag's corners without additional reinforcement or on top of a hard frame.  A zipper such as this is almost guaranteed to be worn out within a shorter time span than a quality bag made with the zippers off the corners.

4. Wheels
Does your new luggage have quality wheels and corner wheel protection?

Here is how to check to determine if your wheels have been engineered properly:

  1. Are the wheels manufactured with a durable polyurethane material?  Most quality luggage possess in-line skate wheels or wheels which are made of the same high-tech resin.  This type of wheel is capable of rolling on pavement for hundreds and hundreds of miles without wearing out.
  2. Does the luggage have wheels which are mounted to the case with screws?  Screws have a stronger hold-rating than rivets.  Not a tremendous difference in their ability to stay intact, but a superior rating nevertheless.  Plus, rivets cannot be repaired when screws are obviously capable of replacement.
  3. Full-corner protectants are superior to bags which have partial or no corner-wheel protection.  The higher quality lines of luggage will be made of high-tech plastics such as thermal plastic rubber or the same plastics comprising car dash boards or the bottom of ski's.  No matter what type of hard material is used to make a full-corner protectant, it is best to have a full rather than partial protectant for corner wheel designs.

5. Telescoping and Grab Handles
Are the telescoping handle tubes mounted inside or outside a solid frame or just hidden behind thin plastic sheeting or foam?

You may have to open the interior lining to visually inspect the telescoping handle.  A real danger sign is if the manufacturer makes it difficult to open the lining to check this out.  Most luggage these days have an interior lining with an access zipper to the handle components.

Quality telescoping handles are generally made with light-weight aluminums and have the length taller travelers need.  Please understand, multi-staged handles are more stable than originally meets the eye.  Once the bag is pushed or pulled, the multi-stage telescoping handle is firm and manageable.  Locking handles which stow away flush with the suitcase or in it's own zippered pocket, are the most protected and are of higher quality.

Top quality grab handles are screwed into the frame of the bag and also stow relatively flush with the luggage.  Handles should be ergonomic and easily accessible to allow for quick, on-the-go handling.

6. Sewing and Thread
Is the thread for sewing together the luggage corners, pockets and seams top-quality?

Superior luggage is made with multi-ply, twisted nylon and is made with lock-stitch stitching.  Always check how much material is left below the seam line: the more, the better.  Look for seams which are bound with the appropriate material to prevent wear.  Bound edges made of vinyl is found in inexpensive luggage and is sure to crack and wear faster than bound seams, made of nylon material. 

As an extra precautionary measure against split seams, quality luggage will have edges turned and sewn in to maximize seam durability.  You can look into a bag's pockets or main compartment to witness the interior bound edges.  On the outside, look for luggage with added welting on the corners and edges where impact occurs the most.  Understand with less expensive luggage, seams are usually made of mono-core polyester.

7. Luggage Accessories
Does your luggage have the features and added accessories you need for most of your travels?

If your suitcase includes a dress/suit carrier, can it be removed to provide extra packing space for casual vacation trips?  Your luggage should offer as much packing flexibility as possible.  Luggage accessories such as suit fixtures, vinyl wet pockets, identification tags, luggage locks, toiletry kits and organizers and other paraphernalia are included in luggage as "added" features relative to the cost of luggage.  Usually the higher the price of the bag, the higher the quality the case will be, but with more accessories included. 

Purchase luggage with accessories which make sense to you: If you don't travel on business you probably don't need an elaborate suit fixture.  If you already have a toiletry kit or cosmetic bag you like, you obviously don't need the organizer feature.  Beware of gimmicks that come at the expense of durability: Specialized pockets are useful, but anything can be overdone.  Do you really need a pocket to pack one pair of socks?

Additional luggage accessories can sometimes add two pounds to your luggage so be sure they can be easily removed and detached. 

8.  How to put a Price Tag on Quality
Quality luggage is defined by two words: Durability and Reliability.
Here is a tip from the PackingLight staff:  Divide the number of trips you expect to make with your new luggage into the price of the bag.  For example, a $150.00 wheeled suitcase that can reliably be used for at least 50 trips really only costs $3.00 per trip.

Since well-engineered luggage is built to withstand the rigors of the road for years, the small premium paid for quality usually pays for itself within a year or two at most.  A lower-priced/lesser-quality bag that falls apart the second or third time you use it, will actually cost you much more when you figure "cost-per-use."

9.  Luggage Manufacturer's Warranties
Luggage manufacturer warranties are almost all worded the same: Luggage is warranted against defects in workmanship and materials for the duration the manufacturer declares, and does not cover damage due to mishandling by the airlines or otherwise.

Meaning travelers should always inspect their luggage immediately after retrieving their luggage off the luggage carousel.  Once you discover damage you must report it to the airlines immediately and seek compensation from the airline for the damage inflicted upon your luggage. If you report the damage after you have left the airport you cannot seek damages.

General wear and tear can occur over many years of checking baggage on the airlines or perhaps having your baggage tossed on top of rickety old buses in Peru and shaky trains in Mongolia.  However the wear has occurred, the luggage manufacturers (and reasonable people in general) can determine the life of the bag by looking at the model year and the condition of the piece.  If after ten years a suitcase is completely frayed, slashed, wheel-less and not capable of repair, the manufacturer may surmise the bag has had it's best days and is done.  PackingLight and our home store have never met one single customer in twenty-six years who hasn't come up with the same conclusion as the manufacturer when the time arrives for all to agree the luggage is irreparable.

Understand that even if you are one of those unlucky few who have purchased a quality piece of luggage which was damaged within the first few trips, (and we've seen it happen, albeit rare), you should have a reputable manufacturer and merchant (either on-line or as a brick and mortar store) who can have that bag either replaced or repaired within the guidelines and duration of the warranty.  Know that lifetime warranties are supported for the "lifetime" of the bag and not our own lifetimes and that the manufacturers have the discretion to ultimately determine the bag in question.  Meaning if one were to travel every day of the year, the life span of the bag they are using has a shorter life span than a bag which only gets used once a month.