Road Tested: The Battle of the Hard-Shell Suitcases

Paula Froelich
·Editor at Large

Until recently, I was a grab-a-backpack-and-go kind of girl. I traveled to places like Iraq, Mali, and Afghanistan, where paved roads are an anomaly — not the norm. And anyone who has rolled a wheeled suitcase over potholed, muddy dirt roads knows better.

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But then I became editor in chief of this lovely magazine you read, and things had to change. All of a sudden I was doing business trips and wearing things that needed an iron, and … I knew I had to buckle down and get a new suitcase. So I decided to road test five of the major brands for the businesswoman in all of us.

I also decided to go for a hard-shell suitcase, as my last wheelie (which broke in 2009) was soft-sided and after several years in several dodgy locales, it had started to smell. Soft shells absorb odors. Hard shells, not so much. And I also wanted something built to last because these things are expensive. Here’s what I found:

1. Halliburton, Zero Air II

Zero Halliburton
Zero Halliburton

Best For: Carrying on

Measurements: 15” x 8” x 21”

Weight: 4.8 pounds

Cost: $395

The Good: It’s light, it’s pretty, and it’s super easy to maneuver. Despite its small stature, it held everything I needed for a four-day trip.

The Bad: There is no inside zipper. It has a separator flap, but it clicks instead of zipping … meaning, if you have to take out something quickly, everything will fall out of the suitcase willy nilly as it did to me at Miami International Airport. Another issue: at MIA (well known to eat luggage alive), I had to check the bag. It arrived at my destination with the undercarriage looking as if a wild animal had chewed on it. There was also a small plastic bit by the wheels that got stretched out and looked like it would tear after several uses (or another trip to the dreaded MIA).

The Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

2. Rimowa Salsa Deluxe 29” MW


Best For: Checking in

Measurements: 29.1” x 18.9” x 10.4”

Weight: 11 pounds

Price: $695

The Good: Forget Louis Vuitton — that’s way too showy and crass. Rimowa is the bag that all the chic, rich Europeans and Japanese carry. This polycarbonate bag is sleek, easy to maneuver, and has two zip dividers on the inside, meaning nothing is going to fall out. It also has expanding panels on either side, so you can fit twice as much stuff. It also has a handy-dandy “add a bag” holder on top, which you can put your purse on, ensuring you won’t ever have a backache.

The Bad: It’s too big. Unless you are going on a three-week vacation, have a family of five, or are moving cross country, the size of this bag is not practical.

The Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Had it been a carry-on, it would probably have gotten a 4.5 out of 5. (Why not all 5? I need an outside pocket!)

3. Tumi Tegra Lite International Carry-On


Best For: Carrying on

Measurements: 21.5” x 14” x 9”

Weight: 7 pounds, 1 ounce

Price: $595

The Good: The carry-on was almost everything I wanted it to be. Light, easy to maneuver and, due to the inside zip on the top half, every time I had to open it, nothing fell out in a crazed fashion. It also comes in a variety of seriously cute colors.

The Bad: According to the Tumi website, “Tegra-Lite® is made from Tegris®, a revolutionary polypropylene thermoplastic composite material created by Milliken® for use in lifesaving armor, NASCAR race cars and protective gear for NFL players; it is exclusive to Tumi for travel and accessory products around the world.” With all that you’d think the suitcase could withstand a nuclear blast … or at least the Miami airport. Sadly, MIA is renowned for eating suitcases, and the Tumi was no exception. I got my bag back from MIA with a three-inch chip on the exterior and some serious looking wear, tear, and scratches. Despite the bag’s warrantee, I was seriously annoyed. Another complaint: it could use an outer pocket. My idea of the perfect carry-on is something I can pack my clothes in, with an outer pocket for my computer or iPad. I don’t want to have to continually open the carry-on to get my computer or iPad out.

The Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

4. Victorinox Dual-Access Global Carry-On

Victorinox carry-on suitcase
Victorinox carry-on suitcase

Best For: Carrying on

Measurements: 16.3”w x 21.7”h x 9.3”d

Weight: 7.94 pounds

Price: $349.99

The Good: It has an outside pocket

The Bad: Due to said outside pocket, the rest of the suitcase is unforgivably small. As in, I didn’t actually roadtest it because, as I was packing for a three-day weekend, I realized that only my toiletries and a pair of shoes would fit. Period.

The Rating: .5 out of 5 stars (I only gave it a half star for the outside pocket)

The Check in

5. Victorinox Spectra 2.0 26” Travel Case


Best For: Carrying on

Measurements: 17.5”w x 26.7”h x 10.2”d

Weight: 7.56 pounds

Price: $369.99

The Good: It stands out, for better or worse. It’s light, it packed everything I needed for a week and a half, and it wasn’t too big (see Rimowa).

The Bad: It ain’t cute. A coworker saw the suitcase at my desk and said, “Did you get a fridge?” I preferred to call it “my little stormtrooper.” It wasn’t as easy to maneuver as the other bags, and the uncovered wheels freaked me out — they’d be the first to pop off should I have traveled through MIA with it.

The Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

6. Atlantic 20” Solstice Hardside Spinner

Atlantic Solstice suitcase luggage bag
Atlantic Solstice suitcase luggage bag

Best For: Carrying on

Measurements: 20” x 14” x 9”

Weight: 6.4 pounds

Price: $99

The Good: Due to the color, this bag stands out on a luggage carousel like a Jolly Rancher in a sea of licorice. It’s light, with an inside zipper compartment and a zipper extender. For the money, it’s the best bang for the buck. Period.

The Bad: Like the Victorinox, the wheels are unprotected and look like they would be the first casualty. The color is … jarring. And the outside scuffed pretty easily.

The Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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