So I've spent the last two posts showing some of my gig bags and hybrid cases. If it's not pretty obvious or you missed me say it in one of those posts, I'd much rather use either of them than a traditional case if I feel like I have the option. When I was younger and much more of a snob in how I thought guitars should be treated and used, I would have laughed at anyone suggesting to use a gig bag because nothing beats a case, and a case should always be used. In the ensuing years, here's what I have learned.
Gig bags. No, they don't offer as much protection as a case. However, they're lighter, generally less expensive (maybe not some of the premium gig bags), and, if all I need to do is get the guitar from point A to point B, they tend to be more convenient. I still don't think I would get a low tier gig bag, but a medium tier (like that Gator Transit series) offers pretty good protection, lots of storage, and even has some add-on options that make it easy to carry extra gear if you need to. The premium tier gig bags offer a good bit more protection with those same options that you don't get with a case.
Hybrid Cases. These are still not going to offer as much protection as a good case, but they're going to give more than a gig bag. Remember, they're often just a case without the wood or molded plastic on the outside. From a weight perspective, they're not going to be that much more than a good gig bag, but they're going to be bulkier and more rigid. If you're traveling and want to carry a guitar, a gig bag will often take up slightly more space than the guitar, and you can squeeze it into whatever space is available. I can attest to being able to do that. Just shove that gig bag between the side of the car and the suitcases, and it'll fit. However, this one takes up enough space that you can't really just squeeze the guitar into your stuff. You'll have to budget space for one of these just like you would a suitcase or duffle bag. But it's a step up in protection and, with most having pockets on the outside, still gives some options that you don't have with a case.
Regular Cases. These are going to be the best protection, but they are also the heaviest of the three. They're also the most rigid when it comes to what you can do with them. No outside pockets, so, if it doesn't fit in the internal storage spot, you're carrying another bag. Bigger, heavier, (in most cases) more awkward, and, if you turn into someone's shin with a case, they're probably going to yelp in pain. However, I know someone that accidentally ran over the headstock of their guitar that was inside a case, and, while the case was crushed, they guitar survived unscathed. That's something that I'd wager isn't going to happen in a gig bag or even a hybrid case.
For me, the answer is pretty simple. Even when I am playing out on a pretty regular basis, I've never been in a position to have to do much more than carry my guitar across town (although "across town" may still be an hour and a half away). Also, I'm seldom in a situation where I'm not the one solely responsible for handling my gear. I pack it in, I pack it out, and no one is touching my gear except for me. Not that I wouldn't appreciate a good roadie sometimes, but the places I play everyone takes care of their own. All that to say, since I'm the only one handling my gear, I know that my guitar is not going to get tossed around places or roughly shoved around and other things like amps aren't going to be put on top of them. Because it's just me, the handling of my gear is going to be pretty controlled. I can get away with the lightweight and versatility of a gig bag. Even playing out, my electrics are all in gig bags.
For my acoustics that I play out, I do step up the game to a hybrid case. Still lightweight, but I've seen more bad things happen to acoustics than I have electrics, and the hybrid makes me think the vast majority of those things will be avoided. A little more bulk to the case means that it's got more padding, but it also means that those around me are going to be a little more aware that I'm carrying a guitar, and, hopefully, steer clear a bit.
Hard cases, for me, are reserved for when I fly with a guitar or am going to be in a situation where I think that extra protection might be needed. Oh, and also for that D-35 I've got that I've had for 30 years and couldn't replace if I wanted to.
That D-35 is also the guitar whose case is busted on the bottom edge because 30 years ago I was walking from work to band practice with it during the middle of winter. I decided to take a shortcut which took me through a little wooded stand where a creek ran through. I had jumped that creek a thousand times, but didn't think about the fact that it had just snowed and snow and ice were all over the ground. The creek only had a thin layer of ice on it. I got to the edge of the creek and jumped. My foot slid on the ice, and I realized mid-flight that I was only going to make it about half-way across the creek. As I went crashing through that thin ice into the freezing cold water, I instinctively held my guitar out so that it wouldn't end up in the water with me. It crashed onto the ice and bits of the roto-molded plastic (or whatever it's made from) went flying everywhere. Luckily the creek was only mid-calf deep, and I quickly jumped out. I realized then that, sometimes a case is the best option. As hard as my guitar hit that ice that day, I'm sure if I'd been using anything but a hard case, I would've had to find a luthier to repair the damage. But then a situation like I found myself that day was the exception and not the rule.
For me, gig bags whenever I can. Cases only when I have to.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 5 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.