If you’re traveling and suddenly a wheel comes off your luggage, your trip suddenly becomes a little harder. Same goes if the zipper gets stuck and you can’t close the case or if the fabric tears, perhaps leaving your belongings exposed. There’s not much you can do if anything of these things happen. You can, though, reduce the risk of such incidents by purchasing the most durable luggage you can find.

More CR Coverage of Luggage

Durability, it turns out, is the single greatest predictor of overall satisfaction with luggage, according to a survey of Consumer Reports subscribers. In fact, among the 27,000 readers who participated in our brand ratings, 61 percent said that durability was most important factor when choosing carry-on or midsize/large luggage. A small fraction of our readers felt that style and brand name were most important.

Just how important is durability? That depends on how you plan to use your luggage. The best luggage you can buy might depend on whether you’ll use it for cruising, say, or air travel when your luggage could take more of a beating

What Makes Luggage Durable?

Here’s what to look for when buying a durable suitcase.

Zippers. The zipper might be a proxy for the durability of the entire bag—so take a close look. The most durable zipper is a metal chain zipper, which has two sets of interlocking teeth. Chain zippers are stronger than the other common type, the coil zipper, which slides on two parallel polyester coils. Chain zippers don’t break easily. Coil zippers can be pulled apart with a ballpoint pen. The zipper brand YKK is widely believed to be the most reliable zipper on the market and could be an indicator that the bag you choose is the best luggage when it comes to durability.

Wheels. The wheels on your luggage should roll smoothly and stay in place. Gently jiggle them with your hands to make sure they are firmly attached. On four-wheelers, check that the wheels are attached with screws, which are more secure than those attached by rivets. When looking for the best luggage for your needs, keep in mind that a two-wheeler is less vulnerable to breakage because the wheels are partially recessed and they only roll in two directions—forward and backward. They also are likely to hold up better on urban sidewalks.

Handles. The best luggage—and the most durable— will come with a handle that is firm, with little to no wiggling as you wheel the bag. A handle that retracts completely inside the bag is less likely to sustain damage. Also, check for smooth movement as you pull it up and retract it.


Check our luggage buying guide and our retailer ratings to find the best places to buy luggage.
 

Construction material. There are two basic choices when buy luggage: hard-sided or soft. In the past, hard-sided luggage was considered the best luggage—it was more durable and heavier. But today you can find durable soft fabrics and lightweight hard materials so the gap between the two has narrowed. If you prefer soft-sided luggage (it’s pliable for stuffing into car trunks and overhead airplane bins), make sure it is a high-denier material. (Denier is a measurement of fabric weight.) If your highest priority is protection from rips and protection of your packed items, a hard-sided bag has the edge.

When looking at the materials, hard-sided luggage is made with plastics such as ABS and polycarbonate. These are both lightweight and durable, though ABS is the lighter of the two and polycarbonate is the more durable option. If you really need the most durable luggage possible and aren’t concerned about the weight, bags made from aluminum will meet your needs. Keep in mind that flat, rigid luggage stacks easily, making it ideal for cruise ships, which stack baggage in the belly of the boat before departure.

Warranty. The best luggage might come with the best warranty. A lifetime warranty for repair or replacement is, of course, the best option and a good indication. But make sure to check for exclusions, such as for airline damage.