Which is Better | Wheeled Backpacks vs Backpacks

Perhaps third on our staff’s frequently asked questions list is should I take a wheeled backpack or a backpack, and what’s the difference? We’ve delved deep into the Wheeled Backpack vs Backpack argument.

This is the latest in our “Which is better” posts – in case you missed it our earlier posts, find them here:

Hard vs Soft suitcases’  and ‘2 Wheel vs 4 Wheel Suitcases

wheeled backpack vs travel kpack

Images via Osprey Packs

For once this FAQ has a clearly defined answer. It’s simple: will you need to carry this pack for trekking or extended walking (full day of intense walking or 3+ days of easy walking) at any point on your trip?

Yes > A travel pack is the way to go

No > A wheeled backpack is your answer

So that should be that right? Wrong! Backpacking or adventure trips are rarely that cut and dry – take for example the person travelling for one year with a 3 day trek booked in the middle, do they really have to cart a pack around for 362 days simply so they are more comfortable on the trek? Well yes and no, read on!

wheeled backpack vs backpack

The Pro’s and Con’s of a Wheeled Backpack

PROS

  • It’s like a suitcase you can take off road. And for this reason they are ideal for more than just gap years. When the terrain becomes too much for the wheels to handle, simply pick it up and put it on your back. This is not limited to just walking to a campsite – dirt roads in off-the-beaten-track towns, cobblestones, stairs, railways & subways, packed sidewalks, rainy, muddy or snowy conditions or sea adventures are all examples of conditions that may cause your suitcase to be less helpful and more of a liability.
  • They combine the best bits of a suitcase – the wheels and handle (obviously) but also the packing structure – they generally open out like a suitcase making them easy to pack and find what you’re after.
  • And the best bits of a travel pack – many models come with a removable day pack, giving you options when you travel, plus they feature things like compression straps, tie ons and quick access pockets just like a travel pack would.
  • The quality and range of wheeled backpacks has really improved in recent years, models on the market now have terrific support and excellent padding and comfort when being carried, so they can be carried more readily and for longer than earlier generations of wheeled backpacks.

CONS

  • When using it as a suitcase you do lose a lot of space and some weight to the harness. Some wheeled backpacks do have the option of a removable harness, which cancels out this negative – Osprey’s wheeled backpacks all have this option).
  • When using it as a backpack you have the additional weight of the handle and wheels to carry – and also the discomfort. The handle is a rigid pole that runs down the back of the case – it takes quite a bit of support and padding to ensure the pack is comfortable and supportive despite this straight metal rod.  The wheels whilst often wide set; can only be so far apart, they can dig into your hips after a while.

osprey-Wayfarer-70-womens-tavel-pack.jpg

Photo by Nat Saggers of Checkin-Out 

The Pro’s and Con’s of a Backpack

PROS

  • The latest batch of travel packs and backpacks offer such great support and comfort with such a range of sizes and packing options available. Osprey Packs even have packs especially designed for men and women, meaning your pack is fitted perfectly and you’re ready for even the longest on foot adventure.
  • If you’re trekking or walking on your trip, a travel pack is most definitely the way to go. A comfortable and suitable design allows you to enjoy your adventure and not be weighed down and miserable with an ill-fitting or too heavy bag.

CONS

  • Perhaps the biggest downside to travel packs is they are really only suited to trekking or walking trips, which can often mean they are a single trip purchase, where a wheeled backpack can be used for all sorts of travel.

 

So now you know what type of bag you’re buying, how do you then know which one to buy? Our advice here is to match the bag up to the length and ruggedness of the trip. It may seem counter-intuitive to advise a backpacking student to send $300+ on their bag, but well, they should. They live out of their bag for months at a time, drag it and throw it, wear it, sleep on it, rely on it. Their bag is their life – and if it breaks, well then, their life is broken. Maybe not so dire, but it will feel like it in that moment when you’re zip is broken, clothes are leaking and the next main town stop to get it repaired is 3 weeks away.

So our main tips are these:

  • The longer your trip, the better quality the bag should be.
  • The more rugged your trip, the better quality your bag should be.

 

What to look for when purchasing a wheeled backpack

  • The key things for a wheeled backpack are the same as on a suitcase. The zips, wheels, material, handle and warranty
    • Zips – they should be rugged, large and lockable (on all pockets if that’s what you need)
    • Wheels – wheeled backpacks always have 2 wheels, so look for large wheels with a durable tread, preferably on an axis (avoid smaller roller blade wheels) and a generous kickplate and protective plastic housing around the base of the case. This will absorb the impact of being dragged upstairs and so on, rather than wearing through the fabric.
    • Material – rip stop nylon, water resistant, thick and highly resilient.
    • Handle – the poles should be sturdy – a warped pole can mean a handle that stops going up and down so the poles should be sturdy and have adequate protection from getting damaged.
    • Warranty – the warranty is generally a good indicator of quality, 1-3 years would be sufficient for a shorter and less rugged trip, 5-10 years is ideal and lifetime means the company really back their product – look for lifetime if you really need something high quality (Osprey’s lifetime warranty is a good example!)
    • Pack comfort and support – if you are purchasing the wheeled backpack just so you can catch a train or get across the odd paddock then you can get away with something simpler and lighter, it should always have a lumbar or chest strap though if it’s over 50L. For anyone who will need to actually carry their pack, look for adjustable shoulder straps with great padding and comfort, test it out in the shop or before you go with the bag weighted to check the support.
    • Features such as a removable day pack, raincoat, mesh panels and so on are dependent on your specific needs for your trip.

 

What to look for when purchasing a backpack

  • If possible, visit us in store and try some on. The harness systems on travel packs are very sophisticated now, and its best to get matched up and test it out.
  • If that’s not possible, give yourself time if buying online. We allow refunds for 100 days – so you can order it, test it out at home and then swap it if need be.
  • In terms of quality indicators, zips, material, harness and warranty will be your biggest clues;
    • Zips – they should be rugged, large and lockable (on all pockets if that’s what you need)
    • Material – rip stop nylon, water resistant, thick and highly resilient.
    • Harness – the more sophisticated the harness is the more comfortable the bag will be – things such as height adjustable straps, breathable mesh panels, lumbar and chest straps, even weight distribution and so on will make a huge difference 7 days in to your trek.
    • Warranty – the warranty is generally a good indicator of quality, 1-3 years would be sufficient for a shorter or lighter trip, 5-10 years is ideal and lifetime means the company really back their product – look for lifetime if you really need something high quality (Osprey’s lifetime warranty is a good example!) When your comfort and back health are in question, buy the best quality you can afford.
    • Features such as size, capacity, removable day pack, tie downs, raincoats, packing style and so on will all depend on what sort of trip you’re doing.

So there you have it – our comprehensive guide to wheeled backpack vs backpack, a seemingly simple question!

And to answer the question we posed earlier about the traveller with a 3 day trek booked in the middle of their year long trip – the best option would be a wheeled backpack with a generous removable day pack. Take the day pack on the trek and leave your bigger case behind.

OUR TOP PICKS

Wheeled Backpack: Osprey Sojourn 28 Wheeled Backpack. This top of the line wheeled backpack features a fully loaded harness (which is removable), high clearance trolley system and superior wheels. It’s also backed by their lifetime warranty, it’s one of the toughest in the game.

RRP: $399.95   $319.95

Wheeled Backpack Honourable Mention: Caribee Fast Track 75 Wheeled Travel Pack.  Caribee have really knuckled down in understanding how people use this bag, it’s got loads of great usable features including a detachable day pack, integrated show bag and internal organisation.

RRP: $445  $311.50

Mens Backpack: Osprey Waypoint 80 Men’s Travel Pack. RRP $349.95 $319.95
Women’s Backpack: Osprey Xena 70 Womens Travel Pack  RRP $449.95 $369.95
Both are specifically designed for optimum comfort and weight distribution for men or women and are loaded with features that make even the most intense trekking paths easier to navigate.

Shop our range of Wheeled Backpacks HERE

Shop our range of travel packs and backpacks HERE

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