Roller Bag vs Backpack – Which Is Better? Review Before Switching

Roller Bag vs Backpack: Before switching from backpacks to roller bags just over a year ago, we never expected the impact this seemingly small change would have on our travels.

Practically every year since 2008 we’ve bought new backpacks, constantly downsizing, going from 95L to 45L and finally carry-on sized roller bags, and each change has brought a new experience with it.

There are positives and negatives about each of them, and we thought we would sum up some interesting experiences we’ve learned through the years…

Roller Bag vs Backpack

The “Better Backpacker”

two huge backpacks, a 7kg tent bag, sleeping bags and daypacks… need we say more? (2008)

For some reason, a lot of “backpackers” seem to think that the only “real” travelers are those actually wearing a bulky, heavy backpack.

If you’re not carrying around a backpack but a roller bag instead, people immediately assume that you’re not a long-term traveler.

I don’t think many people who have seen us rolling our small roller bags down the street would think that we had been traveling for years.

A lot of backpackers simply have that look that says “I’m so cool, because I’m backpacking off the beaten path with my backpack”, smirking at us with our little “weekend bags”.

I would never have thought that the type of bag you used mattered to anyone but yourself, but for some people it really does. For us, we like the backpacks from Wenger suitcase. They are well made, sturdy, comfortable and conveniently designed. You can see a full selection of Wenger Suitcases HERE

Standing Out & Fitting In

Likewise, another consideration for the Roller Bag vs Backpack is you get judged in a different way from hotels and staff depending on your luggage.

While we most often like to find affordable and budget friendly hotels where anyone “fits in”, we used to get very surprised looks when arriving at a fancy hotel with backpacks.

Personally I love to mess with peoples’ assumptions so I quite enjoyed the confused looks, but when we traveled with roller-bags nobody in the staff at fancier hotels would raise an eyebrow.

Roller bags look more professional and usually blend in and fit easier anywhere, while backpacks often take up a lot of space when you squeeze into trams, trains and buses.

Physical Struggles … Roller Bag vs Backpack

1 month after the first photo in 2008

Backpacks:

- We were tired of always being soaked in sweat after carrying our backpacks for an hour, and after some time my shoulders and back started to hurt and I ended up with a very bad posture.

I was sure that a few months longer with that and I would look like Quasimodo’s sister..!

+ On the plus side you have both hands free and can walk up stairs easier, and you can get away with over-packing easier as they tend to give more space to expand.

Roller Bags:

- Trying to drag a roller bag through a layer of snow or on extremely big cobble stones is just a ridiculously hard task, and after a few weeks of hardcore traveling I actually had started to get calluses on my hands..!

+ With the roller bag, I don’t get a sweaty back and don’t have to actually carry the weight even when standing still.

Convenience

The main reason we decided to switch to roller bags was because we wanted to be sure that our bags could be brought as carry-on with flights like Ryanair. We choose Delsey luggage for their spacious light weight design and bang-for-the-buck quality design. You can see a full selection of Delsey Luggage HERE

When traveling with our backpacks as carry-on, we were always worrying about whether the bag would be too big for their sizing, while the roller bag will never expand in size and therefore guarantee that it fits.

This has made traveling by plane more convenient, although it sometimes sucks having to throw stuff out every time you buy something new.

Backpacks are great for hiking and trekking, but since we’re not hikers we found that most places we traveled to had at least a dirt road to the hotel where we could unload our stuff.

Which do you prefer – roller bag vs backpack?

14 Responses to Roller Bag vs Backpack – Which Is Better? Review Before Switching

  1. Katie November 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    I traveled with a 55L backpack and a smaller daypack for my 13 month career break trip. I hated it and will never travel with a backpack again. I particularly hated arriving anywhere a sweaty mess, especially in the summer but even in the wintertime if I had to carry the pack more than a couple blocks. And, as you mention, the weight just weighed on me after a while – I swear I still have neck/back issues from the backpack (despite having it professionally fitted for me).

    From here on out, I will only travel with a rolling suitcase.

    • Sofia November 21, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      I know exactly where you’re coming from, the first backpack I ever bought was a 65L backpack and the girl selling it tried to make me buy an even bigger one..!

  2. Lee Power November 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    I’ve travelled with backpacks ranging from 40 to 90 ltr but have always preferred the backpack over a wheeled case especially when it comes to sand , rough roads and steps and on my travells I always encounter these. I only use a small wheeled case for short city breaks.

    • Sofia November 21, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      Dragging a roller bag over sand, snow and big cobble stones has certainly made me question my choice more than a couple of times.

      There really are advantages and downsides to both, and I think it really depends on where you are traveling. So far a roller bag has been better for us most of the time, although arriving in a snow covered Norway made me wish I could carry the bag instead.

  3. Vicky from acoupletravelers November 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Definitely debated this for a while before we got going. In the end we went with backpacks and every now and then I curse myself for not choosing the roller bag or at least a backpack with wheels. I really do hate carrying the backpack all the times, especially when it’s more than 20 minutes at a time.

    • Sofia November 21, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      you don’t really realize what a big decision it is until you’re out there on the road. We have bought so many backpacks and bags trying to find the perfect fit until we finally switched to roller bags.

      I think the backpacks with wheels could definitely be a good alternative worth looking into.

  4. Addison S November 22, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    Backpack all the way, but nothing ever bigger than 40l. I can’t imagine trying to negotiate the crowds of Delhi’s Paran Ganj with a roller bag whilst looking for a hotel. The conveince of throwing a backpack over the shoulder far outweighs anything the roller could offer me.

  5. Peter Lee November 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    I agree with you roller bag is more comfortable while traveling when you go in airline or bus. It is very easy to carry in your trip. But if you are going for a tracking or a long trip than backpack is the best option because in backpack you can carry a lot of things and it is best suited on uneven roads and mountains.

  6. Adam Sommer at Visit Flyover Country November 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    I’ve often had this debate with myself, and have carried every type of bag too. I like rollars (small ones) for long-haul travel. Eventually my back just can’t take carrying the bags, even if light. Being able to roll is so much easier.

    Nice write-up!

  7. crazy sexy fun traveler December 1, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    I agree with the weird looks at ”better” hotels, I always used to get them. In North America and Europe I don’t even consider using a backpack, but then in South America and Asia I prefer it. Depends also on if I plan to do any hiking there.

  8. Chanel @ LaViajeraMorena December 10, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    I personally wear a backpack on most of my trips (even though I get a little sweaty) because I hate lugging a suitcase around. I do however bring a suitcase when I go on more ‘vacation’ trips, such as to Hawaii or Puerto Rico :D

  9. Ruth December 13, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    You bring up some great points. I carried a backpack during my last trip to Europe, and as nice as it was to have my hands free, my back was positively aching by the time I got to each of my hostels or hotels. Being in Italy in August, I can’t even begin to explain how much sweat was involved with that backpack. I also fought many a verbal battle with flight attendants trying to convince them that yes, my backpack could scrunch up enough to fit in the overhead bin. I think you’re right–rolling bags might be the easier, more practical solution here. You’ve got me convinced.

  10. Rebecca January 29, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    you make some amazing points here! I always had a backpack in mind until I was sold on the roller backpack… simple… best of both worlds I can now pick and choose and to be honest, I have never once needed to take my roller backpack off wheels

  11. Paul March 7, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    Never a backpack. A wheelie is a must when you are standing in line to check in, no picking up and putting down a backpack. Same with waiting in line to board a plane or a train and especially trying to get through customs at LAX. A wheelie wins hands down during a three hour wait walking around an airport between connecting flights. It’s good to hear that most travelers eventually discover the benefits of a wheelie. Happy pain free travels.