hat Gives? What is the difference between all of these soft side luggage materials!?

Does anyone really know the difference between ballistic, denier and Cordura nylon is? Ugh..

This was the narrative that went through my brain when I was first considering buying nice luggage.

When it comes to luggage materials, more often than not companies don’t bother explaining what their bags are made of!

Not cool.

Especially when what your suitcase is made of makes a big difference. Well, look no further

Soft side Luggage Materials Guide

Here’s Your Definitive Guide to Soft Side Luggage Materials!

Alright, so let’s get this started.

Softside luggage is super common among some of the best brands.  Why? Because by comparison to hardside luggage, soft materials are flexible and offer more wiggle room. Wiggle room as in more leeway to cram more stuff or shove your suitcase into tight spaces. This can come in handy if you end up on a small airplane or tend to overpack.

Also on the plus side, softside luggage materials are less likely to be permanently dented or damaged than hardside materials.

Click on the Table of contents to skip to the information you want to read the most!

Common Soft Side Luggage Materials:

Table of Contents

Soft-Side Luggage Material:
Briggs & Riley
Saddleback Leather Co.
the softside luggage materials guide! So.. what material is this anyway?


First up on our Softside luggage materials guide is Nylon ( because you see it just about everywhere ). When you see nylon luggage, think ” easy upkeep.”

Nylon washes easily and conceals scuffs and wear.

Easy cleaning is a huge plus since most soft-side luggage materials need dry cleaning when seriously stained.

For the most part, this type of luggage is also lightweight and gives you the most color variance. Can you tell I’m a fan of Nylon Luggage?

The only drawbacks when it comes to this type of luggage is that they aren’t all that stylish and their color tends to fade. Due to how the cloth is dyed ( acid over solution dyed ) your Nylon bag is likely to fade over time.

    Click below to find examples of Nylon luggage on Amazon


  • Many Color options
  • Easy to clean
  • Won’t fray
  • Water repellant
  • Heat resistant
  • Resilient
  • Mildew Resistant


  • Style can be lacking
  • Color tends to bleach over time 

2. Ballistic NYLON

Ballistic nylon, yup, it’s tough like weaponry. This version of nylon has a two-ply filament yarn weave.

Smoother than Cordura and tougher than regular nylon, ballistic nylon is the top choice for constant travelers.

The ballistic weave offers a higher tear and abrasion resistance, which has some serious perks. Though, on the downside, ballistic nylon is hard to dye.

So you will often find this type of luggage dyed a dark color. Since this fabric is difficult to dye its acid dyed rather than solution dyed.  Unfortunatley, this means your Nylon bag is likely to fade over time.

    Click below to find examples of Ballistic Nylon luggage on Amazon


  • Super Resilient
  • Easy to clean
  • Won’t fray
  • Water repellant
  • Heat resistant
  • Mildew Resistant


  • Mainly Dark color options

3. Cordura

Just like the first two types of Nylon we’ve discussed, the DuPont company also invented Cordura. By comparison to regular and Ballistic Nylon, Cordura is softer, weighs less and is easier to dye.

So, Yay.. Hello color options!

Since Cordura is lightweight you will often find lightweight Cordura.

It is also interesting to note that while Ballistic Nylon is more tear resistant than Cordura, Cordura is more abrasion resistant.



  • Strong
  • high tensile and tear strength
  • Durable like regular Nylon, but softer


  • Lower tear resistance than Ballistic Nylon
designer organizing softside luggage materials
example softside luggage materials fabric book

5. Canvas

Canvas has been around ages. When it comes to traditional suitcases you’d be hard pressed to find a canvas spinner. Though you will find some pretty awesome backpacks, duffles and totes! 

Modern canvas bags are made of their linen or cotton and come in two forms, plain or duck. Plain canvas is looser and less durable than Duck canvas which is made with a tight weave.

After these two most important distinctions Canvas.This material comes in some other options: 

  • Waterproof
  • Water Resistant
  • Printed, Painted and Dyed
  • Waxed
  • and…Fireproof ?!!

In the United States canvas is ranked by both weight and grade with 1 being the heaviest canvas and 10 the lightest.

Although canvas is not a lightweight luggage material option, it offers a unique style.

  • Salvatore Ferragamo
  • MCM
  • Louis Vutton
  • … And More!


  • Stain resistant
  • Cool features like Waxed and Fire proof canvas!


  • Heavy
  • Typically only used for carried travel bags
if you want to keep a bag made of softside luggage materials looking good be careful to keep it away from dirt and water!

6. Leather

No softside luggage materials guide would not be complete without mentioning leather. Leather is probably one of the oldest bag materials around today.

Ever evolving, the process of tanning leather now keeps leather bags lasting longer than ever.

Leather bag and suitcase materials come in six main forms:

  • Full-grain
  • Top Grain
  • Corrected-Gain
  • Split leather
  • Belting Leather
  • Napa Leather

Among premium brands, you will often see Napa and Belting leather.


Leather is not the most durable luggage material. But, it is one of the most luxurious. As leather ages, it develops a unique character.

When you invest in high-quality leather products, you are making a statement of taste and success.

  • Too many to count! Almost all of the major brands and travel companies offer a leather product or two!


  • Ages beautifully
  • Luxury look
  • Moderately abrasion resistant depending on grade and treatment


  • Pricy
  • Less durable than other luggage materials
  • Tough to clean stains
  • Grade dictates material quality 

7. PVC

PVC is an excellent choice for those who either don’t like or won’t to wear leather.

For frequent travelers who find that leather does not offer enough durability PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is also an option.

Made of refined plastic, PVC is science’s alternative to leather. This material is increasingly common in the luggage world since it is less costly than calfskin, waterproof, and durable.

In feel and texture PVC appears like softened hide. If you take a look at Bric’s Luggage you will find perfect examples of gorgeous PVC luggage.

    Click below to find examples of PVC luggage on Amazon


  • Easy to clean
  • Looks like leather, but lower cost
  • Durable
  • Wide color options


  • Less breathable
  • Fades with UV exposure
Traveling by boat is wonderful, but not deal with softside luggage

8. Polyester

Last, but not least, polyester. Are you surprised to see this material on our softside luggage materials list? I know that I was at first, but once I looked into it, polyester is all over.

Polyester is the ‘cheapest’ soft material option and often the lightest.  So you will find that premium brands blend their polyester fabric to reinforce it.

Polyester’s quality can vary, so look at its denier rating to get a general idea of how durable the fabric is.

Remember, the higher the denier rating the thicker and heavier the material is. Keep in mind that a high denier doesn’t mean a better luggage material. To figure out if a polyester material is high quality, look at what its blended with.

    Click below to find examples of Polyester luggage on Amazon


  • Easy to clean
  • Looks like leather, but lower cost
  • Durable
  • Wide color options


  • Less breathable
  • Fades with UV exposure
We hope this softside luggage materal guide serves you like a road map to luggage!

Parting Thoughts: 

What are the best soft side luggage materials?  

Unfortunately we can’t recommend one luggage material over another. It would be hard to say that one material is better than another without knowing exactly what we are looking at.

Ultimately, the best soft side luggage materials really come down to what you are looking for.


Be sure to take a look at our Luggage Size Guide and the Top Secrets to Picking the Perfect Luggage for further guidance!
Soft side Luggage Materials Guide

Until the next time …

softside luggage materials thread

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