Soft Luggage vs. Hard Luggage – A lesson of 9 years
Few things get discussed as ferociously as the question of Soft Luggage vs. Hard Luggage on Motorcycles.
I used to think that Hard Luggage was always the way to go no matter how and where you travel. The ultimate best choice, solid metal boxes that can be used as a chair or table, “somewhat” safe from easy break-ins and no issues in bad weather and whatnot. Of course, they would be heavier than a classic softbag setup but the bike could handle that easily.
Skip forward 9 years and a trip from Alaska to Bolivia and im cured of hard luggage for good.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think it has its merits for certain types of travel but something that includes any amount of serious offroading shouldnt be done with anything but soft luggage.
However if you merely wish to take a 3-week trip through the alps, for all intents and purposes go for hard luggage, it certainly is a better and more convenient choice.
But let’s go over the points one by one.
- Metal bends(++ Soft, — Hard)
Kind of a “duh” statement but it sums up one of the biggest downsides of hard luggage. Even a minor tipover can make your boxes bend badly. I had such a tipover on my 2nd day on the road in Alaska. At Yukon Camp, I was parked to get some gas and the ground was extremely soft from heavy rains. While I stepped off the bike the sidestand sunk in and the bike tipped over. Not a big deal except for the fact the pannier landed on a small concrete pillar which left a slot of about 2cm between pannier body and lid, and that was just from a minor tipover. I managed to bang them back into form with a hammer but the box never was fully waterproof again after that.
This kept on happening on the following 9 months. You tipover, you crash in the sand, etc. etc. the boxes will absorb the hits but eventually, it will be too much). I don’t know how many tipovers and spills it took but eventually both of my Touratech panniers were no longer waterproof and about 2 months before my trip ended the inner walls of the panniers where the pucks were mounted just cracked.
This stuff just doesn’t happen with softluggage, which leads me to my next point
- Metal is rigid(– Soft, + Hard)
Hard luggage bends, we established that above, but, at the same time, it’s still more rigid than a softbag which makes for better protection of the stuff that’s inside the pannier. Carrying a notebook or a camera inside a side mounted softbag isnt a great idea. you land hard on a rock and that 1000$ piece of equipment inside will just break. Of course, there is a remote chance that this will also happen with hard luggage but the odds are pretty slim.
You’ll just have to find alternatives to carrying your valuable electronics. A pelicase as a topcase may be a good choice here or just carry it in your tankbag(or leave the laptop at home altogether).
- Waterproofing(++Soft, +Hard)
This is where both are sort of on the same level until you crash for the first time. Most softluggage will have a typical rollbag setup at the top which makes for a bombproof water resistant setup(had my Ortlieb rackpack exposed to every kind of weather for 9 months and not a single drop of water got in there). The 2nd type will mostly be water resistant on the outside and have a drybag(again with the rolltop) on the inside. Both setups are great for waterproofing.
Hardluggage, by nature, will be waterproof if the build quality is any good but once they start to bend that usually goes out the window fast.
- Safety(-Soft, +Hard)
Saftey is the only point where hard luggage can really distinguish itself from soft luggage. No matter how shitty the locks are on your boxes they will be better than having no boxes at all. They arent there to hold off a determined thief, he will get in there no matter what you have, they are there to stop thefts of opportunity. It’s just a hell of a lot easier to just open up a rolltop and take the stuff that’s in there versus having to jimmy open even the most simple lock.
However, I need to point out that I often times left things unattended on my bike in my tankbag(including my Olympus camera and gopros) and nothing ever get stolen so judge for yourself how important that actually is.
- Practicality(-Soft, +Hard)
By now you can tell we are getting to the minor points. Softluggage doesn’t have a lot of uses outside of being, well, luggage. Hard Luggage, on the other hand, can serve multitple purposes. You can use it as a chair, small workbench or even as support for the bike when push comes to shove. Of course that comes at the price of increased weight vs. soft luggage. Another advantage of metal boxes is that it’s easier, imo, to actually organize things in them compared to a softbag.
So, these are the key points in my opinion that present the major differences between soft and hard luggage.
As you can tell there is no real clear winner here, as always, the best tool for the best purpose and if you want to go road touring just go for a set of Aluminium panniers but for anything dirt oriented get a softbag, you will be much happier in the end.
To end this here are a few choices of hard and soft luggage, I’m in no way affiliated with any of them, these are just products I happen to like.
We all know these, made by Touratech in Germany they will cost you around 1000€ for a full set including the mount.
After my trip, not a huge fan of them considering they bend VERY easily, id suggest going with either of the following instead.
Same principle as the Touratech Paniers above but in my opinion somewhat more sturdy and also cheaper.
You can get a set of these including the bike specific mount for about 900€.
Certainly the most sturdy of hard luggage that I know but also the most expensive by a long shot.
A set of these will spring you between 1300€ and 1700€ for a set which in my book is a way to expensive but there are people out there that seem to like them and are willing to pay the price. on the upside, they at least look better than Jesse luggage.
On to the Soft Panniers
There are a ton of motorcycle drybags out there from pretty much every manufacturer you’d want, Givi, Kriega, Ortlieb, and every bike store will most likely have their own brand in stock. These things will spring you around 300€ in total if you go expensive. No Point linking anything in particular here. Just head to your local bike store and see what they have on offer or just browse amazon for these.
There are 2 types of softbags that I would like to mention in particular.
These are made of heavy-duty vinyl with a rolltop and are a bit more expensive than the ones mentioned above but also offer what, imo, is the best manufacturing quality. So if you’re looking for something that’s suitable for more than just a weekend ride this might be your choice.
These, just like the metal mules, are among the most expensive in their category but they do offer a ton of features and Mosko Moto also offers a wide variety that will fit anything from a small 250 to a big 1200.