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Backpack vs Rolling Luggage

by , September 16, 2019

For many travelers there are multiple decisions to make, from what clothes to pack to what gear to bring. Variables such as location, weather, length of voyage, and type of trip dictate what makes the most sense to accompany you. And that also means what you choose to carry everything in is just as important, bringing us to the age-old question: Backpack vs Rolling Luggage?

Anyone who’s had to wrestle roller luggage across cobblestones or had to pull a creased shirt from a backpack before a meeting knows the right choice can make a big difference.

Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ll attempt to break down the performance pros and cons of each to help you with your next trip.

Backpack vs Rolling Luggage

Why travel with a backpack?

The humble travel backpack has come a long way. Nowadays, they’re better-looking, easier to pack, and more widely accepted in formal situations, so you’ll most likely lean towards a backpack for most scenarios. Here’s why:

You’ll be more mobile

The major advantage of a backpack is its mobility. Typically lighter in weight and smaller in size, you can place them under the seat of an airplane, on your lap on a train, or sling them over your shoulder as you hike up stairs. All the while using both hands to scroll over maps or eat sandwiches or high ten your buddies.


You’ll be more versatile

Whether you’re going to the office, traveling, or hitting the gym, the backpack is a universally accepted companion. Some packs are adaptive, such as today’s sponsor Nordepack, which can be transformed into a small duffel complete with side handle and the ability to hide the shoulder straps. If you’re planning to go from the Subway, through the turnstiles, and right into the office, you have the ability to transform the pack for a more streamlined and professional look (and possibly avoid the dreaded shoulder and back sweat).


You’ll tackle different terrain more easily

Let’s be honest, the ground you’re traveling across makes a huge difference in your overall experience. If the ground is rocky, grassy, or otherwise not smooth luggage can prove to be more of a hindrance. Stairs can also become a challenge and inconvenience as you would need to either drag the luggage up or down flights of stairs or carry the load by one of the handles, and if you’re close to maximum weight limits then you’re getting a workout that you may not want. 

You won’t draw as much attention from airport staff

One thing I dread is having to gate check my belongings, often because I travel with expensive and fragile camera gear. I’ve never experienced having to check a backpack at the gate and believe, in my experience, that flight attendants aren’t as likely to look as hard at a backpack as they are for a rolling bag.

You’ll save money (most of the time)

A top-of-the-line backpack might cost you between $150 and $350, but a piece of top-notch rolling luggage can jump to $600 to $1000. There are, of course, good budget brands to look to for rolling luggage like American Tourister, for instance. But generally speaking, a good backpack is more affordable than a good piece of rolling luggage.

You’ll have more room to show some personal style

Backpacks come in multiple styles and can represent your personality and the activities you’re into. With the right pack you can signal if you’re into streetwear or photography or mountain biking. Whilst luggage… well, there’s only so much you can do with a box on wheels.

You’ll have your bag by your side, always

For some, there is an extra sense of security by having the pack attached to you at all times. Although, you should also know your surroundings as backpacks in some areas can become a target for theft. Some brands, such as Pacsafe, provide security measures to help avoid these issues while traveling. Hidden pockets can help stash important items, from cash to passports, in difficult-to-access locations for thieves.

You’ll have a daypack too (if your pack is compact enough)

Luggage pretty much ceases to be useful once you’ve arrived at your hotel or resort. Plus you look kinda crazy lugging one around as a daily bag, so your backpack can work double time here. Get to your location, dump off all the gear you don’t need, cinch it down (if your pack can do that), and then head off for a day of adventure.


Why travel with rolling luggage?

You’ll get better protection

Due to their typical lightweight construction backpacks tend to be less protective than their rolling counterparts. Rolling luggage can include internal skeletons or outer shells to absorb impact. So if you’re carrying expensive gear or fragile valuables, then a hard case will be the way to go.

You’ll be able to carry heavier loads with less pain

Despite the ergonomic design, innovations with lightweight materials, and thoughtful construction with padded shoulder straps, waist straps, and sternum straps – a loaded backpack can still kill your back. I have a bad back from years of participating in action sports and after a day of walking around with a loaded pack, and as I get older, I definitely feel the pain more. For me, I’d rather slump all that weight on wheels instead of my shoulders when making serious miles.


You’ll stay clean and crisp when it matters

I mentioned this earlier, but a loaded backpack + movement + heat = sweat.  Backpacks can leave often embarrassing sweat on your shoulders and back. Also depending on the materials of the shoulder straps and back of the pack, they can often ruin a t-shirt too. But luggage? Well, let’s just say it falls at the other end of the spectrum. If I need to look clean and crisp and shake hands with important folks, I’m rolling every time.

You’ll be able to pack more

When it comes to capacity, most backpacks aren’t purely square and don’t offer as much as a rolling case. The ‘box on wheels’ design of luggage is the perfect shape to make the most of your carry-on restrictions. So when you need to jam in another snow globe or collectible teaspoon, you’ll have plenty of room to spare. 

You’ll travel smoothly from airport to hotel

The main positive features of rolling luggage are the wheels and keeping things off your back. You can glide luggage on the flat polished floors of crowded airports, on busy streets, and navigate through hotels very comfortably. Where rolling luggage really shines is in an airport. The entire experience is made for a roller, from walking to your gate, to placing the carry-on in the overhead bin, and even waiting in line for security.

You’ll retrieve your suit or dress, unwrinkled

For those who travel with more formal clothing such as suits or dresses, your outfit probably has a better chance of arriving at your destination with fewer wrinkles in a piece of luggage’s clothing compartment. It’s compressed and protected from all angles and thus why they’re also called a ‘suit’ case.

Backpack vs Rolling Luggage

For those who can’t make up their mind, there is one more option. The hybrid rolling backpack, which is a compromise between a backpack and rolling luggage. These typically have wheels and a telescoping handle along with straps to carry on your back. Or to complicate things further there are also travel duffels, but we’ll save that for another time.

Perhaps the best solution for some would be to pair both a small backpack and rolling luggage for trips. Many backpacks now come equipped with a luggage strap to comfortably remove the pack and attach it to the handle of the luggage.  Also, if you want to go between a pack and luggage then I highly suggest the use of packing cubes as a supplement for travel. They have various uses and keep things organized and accessible, while making transitions quick and efficient.

Nordepack and Thule

Regardless of your choice, make sure to think ahead for your trip. There’s no right or wrong answer and this could be why many of us in the carry community own several bags, packs, and luggage as it really depends on the destination, type of travel, and personal preferences.

Nordepack and Thule

This article was sponsored by Nordepack.


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