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Parts of a Suitcase: An Illustrated Guide to Luggage

One of the keys to purchasing a perfect suitcase for your travel style is knowing the parts of a suitcase. Knowing the names of common luggage parts helps us decide exactly what kind of suitcase you need. As I mentioned before in my post on choosing the right suitcase for your travel style, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all suitcase. Getting the right bag requires some knowledge, experience, and research- starting with knowing about suitcases and the names of parts of a suitcase. 

Whether you are purchasing a suitcase, repairing a suitcase, or just troubleshooting issues with your luggage, knowing the names of the parts of a suitcase can help you shop, research, or repair your luggage.

For this article, I used my doodling skills to whip up a basic infographic designed to help everyone understand common suitcase and luggage parts:

A hand illustrated detailed drawing of blue suitcases propped open and standing closed, with parts labeled.

Reasons to Know the Parts of a Suitcase

When you need to know the parts of a suitcase: repairing a suitcase, shopping for a suitcase, or troubleshooting a part on your suitcase that isn’t working. Here’s more information on these three reasons.

Knowing Part Names Helps Us Shop for a Suitcase.

When we’re ready to shop for a suitcase, most of us have a pretty good idea of the type of luggage that we want to purchase. We may know that a duffel bag is our preferred bag or already be convinced that 360-degree roller wheels are the only way to travel. Although I try to make myself try a couple of different suitcases styles out for a spin, I often know the type of suitcase I want. (And confession, I’m usually buying my suitcases at the cheapest place I know to buy luggage)

Knowing the parts of a suitcase can help me communicate with a salesperson or even with a search engine to find a bag with the exact features and parts that I want. For example, not every suitcase has a combination lock, telescoping handles, or 360° spinner wheels. Knowing in advance that those parts are important to me, I can use those keywords to help me find the perfect suitcase without wasting time wading through suitcases that don’t fit my specifications.

Knowing Suitcase Parts is Key to Repairing a Suitcase

Often, people don’t learn the parts of a suitcase until they are faced with a situation in which they have a broken suitcase needing repair. Forty years ago, it would have been easy to take a broken suitcase to a local cobbler and have the repair performed professionally. These days, it’s difficult to get anything repaired- even analog objects like suitcases. Despite mending being mostly out of fashion (with the notable exception of visible mending), it’s still very possible to repair suitcases.

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In fact, with interchangeable parts and modern glues and adhesives, It could be argued that buying replacement parts and repairing a suitcase is easier than ever. Really good suitcase brands like Samsonite and Tumi offer replacement parts that can easily be swapped out using basic tools. A few excellent brands, like Eagle Creek and Briggs & Riley even offer free repairs or replacement parts at no charge.

Knowing the parts of a suitcase is key to performing repairs yourself or hiring someone else to do them for you.

Knowing Suitcase Parts Helps us Learn & Troubleshoot our Luggage.

I’m certain that I’m not the only person who has owned a suitcase for a year, taking it on a few trips, and suddenly discovered a feature I didn’t even know existed!

When I set out on my first solo international trip in 2017, I used a borrowed Eagle Creek bag for the 3-week trek. The bag had so many hidden pockets and secret features that 2 weeks into the trip, I found a pocket containing an iPod that the bag’s owner had been looking for for months!

If you take the time to learn the parts of your suitcase before shopping (or at the very least before your first big trip), you can maximize the value and usefulness of the suitcase that you travel with (and, apparently, prevent lost teach devices!)

Even if you don’t need replacement parts for your suitcase, knowing the parts of a suitcase can help you use your bag more efficiently. For example, knowing how to use the pocket in a suitcase liner or the best way to clean a suitcase, starts with knowing about the parts of your suitcase and the kind of care and maintenance it needs. Taking a few minutes to learn about the anatomy of a suitcase can help improve the quality of your travels to come.

Parts of a Suitcase: Illustrated

In this first illustration, I have labeled the parts which make up the anatomy of a closed, hard shell suitcase. While hard shell suitcases are slightly different than soft suitcases or cloth carry-ons, the differences in structure are mostly minor. This hard shell suitcase illustration should apply to most full-size and carry-on-sized suitcases.

Parts of a Closed Suitcase 

A hand illustrated detailed drawing of a blue suitcase zipped and standing upright, with parts labeled.

Telescoping handle. – The telescoping handle clicks up and down into place using a release button. When pushed all the way down flush with the top of the suitcase, the telescoping handle should remain in place with only the rigid handle visible. When the release button is pressed and the handle is pulled, the telescoping handle should pull upwards, allowing the bag to be rolled easily without stooping.

Telescoping suitcase handles may have one or two support pieces. These pieces slip into channels in the bottom of a suitcase, which can usually be felt under the suitcase liner when the suitcase is open.

Button to collapse roller handle – This part is especially important because it allows the repositioning of the telescoping handle. When a button to collapse or extend a telescoping handle breaks, often the pull-out handle has to be replaced or the suitcase repurposed for other uses (such as storage or as a secondary suitcase).

Outer Shell – Suitcases have various forms of outer shells. In the 2020s, hardshell suitcases are increasingly popular. While hardshell suitcases do a better job at protecting the integrity of the structure within (aka, not crushing that laptop you checked in your bag), there are some drawbacks.

Hardshell suitcases use a type of plastic that is especially difficult to recycle. Although we all hope to get many years of use out of our suitcases (something that can be achieved through proper storage, regular suitcase cleaning, and investment in a brand that values repair-ability), the reality is that all suitcases will eventually end up in a landfill and hardshell suitcases will be much slower to break down than soft-sided cloth suitcases.

Carry strap – It could be argued that the most important part of a suitcase. Most suitcases have a carry strap on two sides- the top and t on the side opposite the zipper’s hinge. These carry straps are really important. While you may not handle your suitcase by these handles often (most travelers use the telescoping handle primarily), the carry strap is what baggage handlers at airports, valets at hotels, and couriers for trains, buses, and group tours will use to move your suitcase around. For this reason, this part of a suitcase is important and needs to be especially sturdy.

Combination Lock – Many modern suitcases come with integrated locks. Unlike traditional travel locks, which have to be added to zippers after purchase and attached or detached with every use, many modern suitcases include an integrated lock. This lock provides a space for the zipper pulls to lock in place when closed.

This part of a suitcase is important because it helps our belongings stay secure during travel when our luggage is left in storage or freight areas.

Spinner wheels – Arguably the most important development in suitcase research and design in the last 50 years, spinner wheels are, in this pro traveler’s opinion, an important suitcase part. Spinner wheels, rather than set wheels (which only roll in one direction), allow you to maneuver around obstacles easily.

Pro traveler tip: When I’m shopping for a suitcase, I choose the suitcase with the largest spinner wheels possible. Big wheels roll over bumps, lumps, and uneven surfaces with less effort. If you think you might end up on cobblestones or even just rolling your suitcase up a busy city sidewalk, pay attention to the size and quality of this part when shopping.

Open Suitcase Parts.

Once you open a suitcase, there are more parts visible than can be seen from the exterior of a suitcase.

A hand illustrated detailed drawing of a blue suitcase propped open, with parts labeled.

Lid compartment. Not all suitcases have a lid compartment, but many modern suitcases include a zippered partition separating the lid compartment from the body of the suitcase. The lid compartment can be an easy way to organize your stuff during a trip. It also has a lesser-known feature: one that adds a level of security:

If the main zipper of your suitcase fails during transit and your suitcase arrives at baggage claim flopped open at the hinge (This happened to me once!), then a zipped lid compartment can ensure that your belongings don’t tumble out of your open suitcase. This often undervalued part of a suitcase is actually an important backup zipper.

Suitcase liner – Scratchy textured liners can:

  • wear clothing,
  • make it harder for your clothes to stay folded and storage,
  • and create static electricity.

A soft, smooth liner. It should feel slightly slick. High thread-count polyester fabrics can even provide a degree of moisture barrier between sections of the suitcase. This helps to keep that smelly, dirty clothes odor out of the main compartment when using the suitcase liner as a pocket.

Zipper to suitcase liner – The piece of a zipper that you pull in order to unzip the closure is called a zipper pull. In this case, pulling on the zipper pull often unzips the entire length of the suitcase liner and reveals a pocket between the liner and the outer shell. Many people don’t use this suitcase section to its full potential, but I wrote a whole article about how to use the suitcase liner pocket

Final Thoughts  on this Guide to Suitcase Parts

Knowing the parts of a suitcase can help you become a more savvy suitcase shopper, confident traveler, and repair-savvy explorer.

In this article, you have learned about the parts of a suitcase, where to find them, and why knowing the parts of a suitcase matter.