Popular Luggage Materials Explained
On this page we'll illustrate the features and the history of the most popular materials used by high-end travel bags brands
When one thinks of ballistics, weaponry is most likely the first thing to come to mind. Bullets, rockets, and miscellaneous projectiles all fall under the ballistics category. So what do weapons have to do with luggage?
Ballistic nylon was originally used in the flak jackets of World War II airmen to protect against debris and fragmentation caused by bullet and artillery shell impacts. In the mid 1980s, Tumi was the first company to incorporate ballistic nylon into luggage. Other brands like Victorinox, Hartmann, and Briggs & Riley soon followed.
Since its debut in the travel industry, this tough-as-nails material has proven to be one of the most trusted and durable fabrics used in luggage manufacture. When considering baggage materials, ballistic nylon fits the bill for the regular traveler. If your bag is made from ballistic nylon, you are choosing a material that can take a beating.
Ballistic nylon’s “filament” yarn makes it a step smoother and stronger than common nylons like cordura, which is less compact and features a rougher weave. The other major identifier of a ballistic nylon is a two-ply weave, adding the extra stability needed to handle rough conditions. This durability and fine texture have made it a popular choice for business travelers.
Dating back to the 13th century, canvas is one of the most trusted materials around. Although historically made from hemp, modern canvases are made of either cotton or linen. Canvas also has two basic types: plain and duck. The only difference between these two designations is that duck canvas is threaded more tightly than plain canvas, adding to its durability.
There are also various subtypes of canvas: waxed, waterproof, water-resistant, stripe, printed, fireproof, and dyed. In the United States, canvas is classified by both weight (ounces per square yard) and grade. In the graded system, the numbers count down, so a number 10 canvas would be lighter than a number 5.
Canvas is used for many things: painting, sails, tents, signs, backpacks, and of course, luggage. There is a reason canvas has been used in luggage for such a long time, and that is because it has been proven to be a strong, durable fabric. Although not the lightest fabric around, canvas offers plenty of protection for your belongings.
Choosing canvas luggage material is committing to a look that embodies a return to a natural, organic, and traditional fabrication. This material has seen it all, and is always desirable and in fashion. If you want luggage that is protective, rugged, and packed with character, canvas should be your material of choice.
The practice of utilizing animal hides has been around since the dawn of man. However, early rawhides had a tendency to dry out quickly, thus rendering them useless. In modern times leather has taken rawhide a step further via the tanning process that fortifies the material and prevents it from drying and cracking.
Leather is generally sold in four forms, although other forms exist: full-grain, which has not been buffed to remove imperfections; top grain, in which only the surface is buffed; corrected-grain, in which an artificial grain is applied to the surface; and split, where the leather is created from the fibrous part of the hide left over from the removal of the top grain.
Two other common leathers that you will see among our brands are belting leather, and napa leather, which can be found in collections from Tumi, Hartmann, and Filson. Obviously, leather has stuck around so long not only because it lasts, but also because the processes developed for its production give it both beauty and class.
When you choose to invest in a leather bag, you are acknowledging that you want the appearance of your bag to evolve with each trip you take. Leather will develop character as it ages and each piece becomes unique to your experience with it. As one of the most sought after materials on the market, leather continues to be a favorite for business travelers, frequent flyers, casual vacationers, and many other types of traveler.
Nylon has been used in luggage for quite some time. Initially developed by the DuPont Corporation in 1935, nylon took a few years to be commercialized before becoming one of the most in-demand materials in the world. First used in toothbrushes, nylon can now be found in items such as clothing, machinery, musical strings, rope, carpet, and luggage to name only a few.
One of the great things about nylon is that it is such a strong, adaptable material. Nylon can be used as a matrix material in composite materials with reinforcing components such as carbon fiber or glass, which increase its durability exponentially. When mixed with such materials, nylon can rival the durability of most metals.
Nylon is the no-fuss material for the traveler who likes a bag with easy upkeep. Not only is it washable, nylon is also incredibly lightweight. Additionally, it tends to be the fabric offering the largest range of colors, with brands like Lipault, Tumi, and Swiss Army all manufacturing fantastic collections with colorful finishes.
Nylon won’t fray like other luggage materials, and its synthetic fibers have the added bonus of repelling water. This is in contrast to standard canvasses and other threads that take in water and tend to soak more easily. If you are looking for a versatile material that retains durability, nylon is the fabric for you.
Polycarbonate refers simply to a group of thermoplastic polymers containing carbonate groups. In short, a synthetic material that can be easily molded. Polycarbonate has a high impact resistance and is incredibly lightweight: two very important factors when considering new luggage. In 1955, NASA started using polycarbonate for its helmets and visors, but it wasn't until the new millennium that the German luggage maker Rimowa started making luggage from polycarbonate.
Today, virtually every luggage brand has a line made from the material, and while there are many grades and types of polycarbonate, luggage is only made from a few of them. Rimowa Luggage, Antler, and Victorinox Luggage use grade A, 100% virgin polycarbonate. Other brands use grade B or C recycled polycarbonate. This means that an already existing piece of polycarbonate has been reduced to pellets, ground, and re-molded into another polycarbonate product.
A quality polycarbonate case can be pretty pricey, but for a very good reason: it's one of the strongest materials luggage is made from. Some common items made of polycarbonate include bulletproof glass, compact discs, safety goggles, and helmets. In addition to being incredibly impact-resistant, polycarbonate is exceptionally light; with some carry-on pieces only weighing 4 pounds, and some 32-inch cases weighing around eight or nine pounds.
For those who require that their luggage be lightweight, scratch resistant, and can stand up to the rigors of travel, polycarbonate is a great choice. Polycarbonate will not only help protect your possessions from damage while in the cargo hold, but it will also help you to keep the weight of your luggage to a minimum.
For some, leather is not an option due to religious and/or personal reasons. For others that travel often, leather simply does not hold up as well as synthetic materials. PVC is a more resistant leather alternative. It was accidentally discovered at least twice in the 19th century by Henri Victor Regnault in 1835 and Eugen Baumann in 1872.
Today, PVC is the third most widely produced plastic behind polyethylene and polypropylene. PVC is mainly used as a construction material, as it is strong and more efficient than traditional building materials like wood and metal. PVC is also more commonly used in the making of luggage, because it is waterproof and much cheaper to manufacture than leather.
When manufactured to a high standard, PVC also has an incredibly beautiful feel and aesthetic, with some comparing it to suede. The Bric's brand stands out within the Kaehler collection for its use of PVC and a cotton blend that appears in some of their most desirable pieces of luggage.
If you’re thinking about buying a PVC case it is because you are looking for a stronger alternative to leather that will withstand scratching when you check your luggage. PVC is also for the traveler who is looking for a unique material that has a softer and more luxurious feel than standard nylon designs while at the same time proving to be a durable alternative to leather.
Tegris is one extraordinary material. Developed by Milliken & Company, and making its debut within the Tumi Luggage collection in 2012, Tegris is the wonder kid of composite materials. Tegris starts out with a series of tape-like strands of polypropylene. Polypropylene, similar in its make-up to polycarbonate, is another material with incredible strength.
The strands of polypropylene are woven into a fabric-like sheet. This sheet is then heated, pressed, and stretched to form one piece which can then be molded. Depending on the product, there could potentially be many more layers pressed together. The outer layers are melted together to form a type of resin coat, which gives the product an exceptional finish.
Institutions using Tegris include NASCAR, which uses over 100 layers of Tegris in its Aero Splitter bumpers; the US Armed Forces, which employ Tegris to protect the troops in Humvees; and Riddell which uses the material in football shoulder pads. Tumi also picked up the Tegris trend, crafting a new line of luggage: Tegra-Lite. Its success exceeded anticipation and the line sold out everywhere within the first month and a half of being in stores.
Tegris is the luggage material choice for the traveler who is looking for a different hard-case exterior. The woven fabric is light and flexible, which means that you can pack even more. The flexibility of Tegris means it will actually perform better when fully packed as its exterior becomes that much more rigid. On top of this, Tegris fabric can be dyed in extravagant and rich colors that are truly beautiful to behold.