Roller Bag vs Backpack – Which Is Better?

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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…and of course a great Travel Pillow.

Roller Bag vs Backpack – Which Is Better?

The “Better Backpacker”

Two huge backpacks, a 7kg tent bag, sleeping bags and daypacks… need we say more?

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

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

Roller Bag vs Backpack
Roller Bag vs Backpack

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

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.

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Choosing the Right Travel Rucksack

When you’re planning the trip of a lifetime, you’ll need to think of what travel gear you’re going to need.

A good quality travel rucksack is without a doubt going to be at the top of your list, but which one will be best suited to your needs?

The following tips will have you ready to choose the right type of rucksack for your travels.”

Travel Rucksack
Travel Rucksack

What is a Travel Rucksack?

Travel rucksacks are tailored to meet the needs of backpackers and travelers, with a range of key features that set them apart from hiking rucksacks.

Travel Rucksack Side Opening

The first feature to look out for is side access to the rucksack’s main compartment, this is commonly via lockable zips and is similar to the opening you would find on a suitcase.

Removable Day sack

The second feature you will find is a detachable day sack, this is a smaller sized rucksack that is attached to the front of the bag.

Day sacks are normally attached to the main bag by zip or clip fastenings and are great for day trips or for using as hand luggage on flights.

Concealed Straps

Finally, you will find that the rucksack’s shoulder straps are concealable by way of a zip panel.

This panel helps to protect the rucksack’s back system during flights and other journeys, preventing material snags and other damage.

Which Size Do I Need?

If you’re travelling for a long period of time, you may well think that buying the largest travel rucksack on the market is the way forward.

This is not necessarily the best option, as larger rucksacks can put too much strain on your back and tempt you to pack far too much gear.

Travel rucksack sizes range from 40 liters in size to 100 liters, with anything smaller than 40 liters verging on day sack territory and most definitely not suitable for a round the world trip.

When choosing your travel rucksack, consider your height, the activities you plan on doing during your trip, such as trekking, and what gear you intend on packing.

These three simple steps will make selecting the right bag a much simpler exercise.

When it comes to packing, lay out everything you want to take then start eliminating the things you could do without.

Rolling your clothes is a well-known tactic used by many travelers to optimize the packing space inside their rucksacks.

Handy accessories such as compression sacks can also help to minimize the size of your clothes and travel gear.

Travel Rucksack

Key Comfort Features

Most travel rucksacks on the market are fitted with adjustable back systems, made up of shoulder straps and a hip belt for added support.

Rucksack back systems are often padded with an air mesh material for breathability, helping to reduce sweating and provide a more comfortable carrying experience.

The back system’s hip belt is designed to bear most of the weight from the rucksack and take the strain away from your shoulders, helping to avoid back injuries and discomfort.

Lowe Alpine introduced the concept of a length-adjusting back system back in 1967.

Since then many outdoor gear manufacturers have come up with their own designs and styles of adjustable back systems.

Ensuring your rucksack is fitted correctly will ensure you don’t injure your back when travelling and make carrying it around much more comfortable!

Women’s Rucksacks

While women are able to opt for standard rucksacks, a female specific option may be a better choice, particularly for the more petite among you.

Women’s rucksacks are designed with a shorter back length, as women have a shorter torso compared to men.

Other features you can expect from a women’s rucksack include additional padding on the hip belt as well as more contoured shaping on the shoulder straps and hip belt.

Some women may not feel the need to opt for a shorter back length, but may want something that looks more appealing, compared to plain black rucksacks.

For these travelers, other colors of rucksack are available, the Vango Freedom 60+20 comes in either black or plum and Karrimor offer a range of colors from pink to blue.

Wheeled Rucksacks

If you don’t think your back could take the strain of carrying a rucksack around for the duration of your trip, a wheeled rucksack is a feasible alternative.

Wheeled rucksacks give you the option of carrying the rucksack on your back with shoulder straps or wheeling it along using over sized wheels and an extending towing handle.

However, due to the presence of an aluminium telescopic handle on most models, the back systems on wheeled backpacks tend to be fairly basic and are rarely adjustable.

There are some wheeled rucksacks with adjustable back systems, but they don’t come with a towing handle, which isn’t always very convenient if you’re on the tall side.

Rucksack Accessories & Extras

Giving your rucksack some TLC during your trip is essential to keeping it in good condition.

There are many accessories on the travel gear market that help to protect your rucksack and improve its performance.

A Backpack Transit covers is a great way to protect your rucksack during flights and other journeys, this completely covers your bag and stops it getting damaged on airport conveyor belts and carousels.

No rucksack is completely waterproof, so a rain cover is a good investment if you want to keep its contents dry and protected from the elements.

Hydration bladders are a must have if you’ll be trekking during your time away, allowing you to stay hydrated via a handy tube that feeds through the top of your rucksack.

Many models of rucksack feature specialized pockets and tube ports for hydration bladders and will be described as ‘Hydration compatible’ if they have this feature.

If you consider the above points, you will hopefully have a much more comfortable and less frustrating time with your travel rucksack, allowing you to enjoy your time away with minimal disruption and discomfort.

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14 thoughts on “Roller Bag vs Backpack – Which Is Better?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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..!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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 😀

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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.

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