Choosing Your Luggage – Suitcase vs Backpack, Which One Is Better?

by | Last updated Mar 24, 2023 | Gear, Luggage + Packing

Buying a travel backpack or suitcase is an important purchase for any traveller. With so much choice of luggage out there in the market place what do you choose? Suitcase or Backpack? Which one is Better? Having travelled with both a suitcase and a backpack I feel I can offer you an insight into which luggage could suit you best. Here are my suggestions on choosing the best luggage for your travels.

 

How to Choose Luggage

 

My best advice when choosing luggage is to choose luggage that suits the travel you will be doing. I think an overnight bag or a suitcase is great if you are going away for a weekend or on a two week beach holiday. And I think the versatility of backpacks and travel packs are great when you will be backpacking for a month or so. And when moving to a new location every couple of days. So ask yourself the following questions to help you choose the right luggage for you in your quest of backpack vs suitcase.

 

Where are You Going?

 

You need to know where you are going on your travels before you can pack for them. Have you decided to backpack through many Asian countries or Eurail your way through Europe? Maybe you plan to sit on a beach for a while or perhaps work abroad doing a season in the snow. This is the first thing to answer and think about.

 

How Long are You Travelling For?

 

Next question to answer is how long are you planning to travel for? Are you planning a long weekend away, a one week, two week or 1 month long holiday or longer. Perhaps you are going to live abroad on a working holiday visa or work and travel as a digital nomad. You will want your luggage to be durable and last the distance of your trip.

 

What Kind of Trip are You Taking?

 

The type of trip you are taking should also be considered before you decide on what luggage to take. I have taken all different sorts of trips over my years of travelling. I have gone on organised tours with companies such as Contiki. Then I have done independent backpacking travel using buses and trains. For each trip, I work out whether a suitcase or a backpack would suit the trip. For the Contiki tour, my transport was by bus and it was always nearby the accommodation, so I never had to carry it far. So I opted for a suitcase on wheels. Then when I travelled through Europe by Eurail, I knew I would be hopping on and off trains and needing to carry my luggage from the train station to my accommodation, which could involve catching a taxi or local transport. So I found a backpack easier to carry around for this situation.

 

What Is Your Travel Style?

 

Everyone’s travel style is unique and only you know yours. It isn’t really related to budget or luxury travel but what things you do. What I mean is, are you the person who doesn’t mind carrying your bags on public transport from the airport and walking the streets to get to your accommodation. Or are you the person who likes to get off a plane, straight into a taxi to your accommodation. If you are the latter, then it doesn’t matter if you have a suitcase or backpack. However, if you are the first kind of traveller, your luggage needs to be easy to carry around.

 

What are You Bringing?

 

Lastly, ask yourself are you bringing any special or specific items on your trip that need a particular type of luggage? If you are a digital nomad you will have your electronic tech  equipment with you. Or will you be taking business attire such as a suit, shirt and tie with you that you need to ensure is wrinkle free. More things to consider before choosing the best luggage to travel with. Before you make the decision on whether to travel with a suitcase vs backpack here are some pros and cons of suitcases vs backpacks.

 

Pros and Cons of Suitcases vs Backpacks

 

Once you know the type of travel you will be doing you need to weigh up the pros and cons of suitcases vs travel backpacks.

 

Suitcase Pros

  • Wheels make them easy to move around.
  • Made of material to protect your belongings.
  • Can be carried or pulled along with one hand allowing your other hand to be free or to carry something else.
  • Come in different sizes and small ones can be used as carry-on luggage.
  • If you overpack, it is easier to sit on the lid of a suitcase to push it down while zipping it closed.

 

Suitcase Cons

  • Can be heavy and hard to get in and out of transport regularly.
  • Not always made from flexible material.
  • Can be heavy and can make your muscles ache particularly if you have to drag them up and down stairs or over gravel.
  • Make you lopsided.
  • You can tend to overpack.
  • If you are somewhere with a lot of people around you, they can get annoyed at you if you need to stop. A suitcase seems to take up more space than a backpack in crowds.

 

Travel Backpack Pros

  • Easy to carry around. As it is designed to be on your back and not on the ground you don’t have to drag it over different surfaces like up and down stairs or over gravel.
  • Has lots of compartments to store different things.
  • The weight is even on your back.
  • Because you are carrying the backpack you tend to pack less – because you know you have to carry it around.

 

Backpack Cons

  • They are on your body and can make you hot.
  • You cannot see your backpack, because it is on your back, so cannot see if anyone is trying to steal from your backpack as you are moving.
  • When I see people wearing backpacks I know they have their whole life on their back and maybe its just me, but I feel that a safety issue.

 

What to Consider when Choosing a Travel Backpack

 

A travel backpack is an essential purchase for any traveller heading off travelling. The backpack, once seen as the budget traveller’s best friend, has evolved making it the ideal companion for the modern traveller. It is more than just a backpack, it carries your whole life’s possessions as you travel. So what do you look for in a pack? Here are some important features you need to consider.

Size: New travellers are notorious for filling their luggage with clothes they might wear and knick-knacks they might use and so purchase the largest pack possible. Big is not always best. The bigger the pack, the more likely you are to over pack and end up with a very heavy pack which can hinder your well-being while travelling. Most packs are measured by their litre capacity which, if you’re like most, doesn’t mean very much at all. Therefore, a visual evaluation and some guidance from an attendant in a specialist travel/adventure accessory store will be your best bet.

Comfort: Not everyone is the same height or size so try the pack on first. The only thing worse than a heavy pack is an uncomfortable heavy pack. Your pack should fit you like a glove because the more comfortable you are the better you travel.

Versatility: As well as being the right length straps should be adjustable and storable in a compartment in the pack. Most packs have straps and handles enabling you to carry the pack like a suitcase.

Style: A pack that unzips like a suitcase is much easier to pack and re-pack than top-opening ones mostly used by hikers. This is because people with top opening ones may have to dig deep or unpack their belongings to find what they are looking for.

Detachable day-pack: Many packs come with a detachable day-pack which will be handy for overnight stays and for carrying knick-knacks around. Some packs include a removable toiletries bag.

Quality: The quality of the pack will determine its strength and sturdiness. In particular, a lot of strain is exerted in the zip area. A pack with a heavy-duty lockable zip is a good investment.

Price: Packs can and do vary in price so it is really up to you to do your research and purchase a pack that will suit your needs. Speak to staff in adventure gear, camping and disposal stores.

 

TIP: If you can, head to a store that sells travel backpacks and try different models on before you purchase.

 

Best Travel Backpacks on the Market

 

There are loads of travel backpacks out there in the marketplace. Some notable brands to look out for include, but are not limited to, Osprey, Pacsafe and REI. Here are some of the best travel backpacks on the market. I have put this list together after visiting a number of stores that sell backpacks. While in the stores, I spoke to sales consultants and the consensus is the following travel backpacks are the best on the market at this time for their versatility, durability and a number of other reasons.

 

Best Men’s Travel Backpacks

 

Osprey Farpoint 40L

Pacsafe Venturesafe X40 Travel Pack

North Face Terra 65

Osprey Aether AG 60

Best Women’s Travel Backpacks

 

North Face Terra 40

Osprey Fairview 40 Travel Pack

Eagle Creek Global Companion

Osprey Ariel AG65 Pack

What To Consider When Choosing a Suitcase

 

There are various sizes of suitcase available. The size you will need will depend on luggage limits such as on transport and also what type of travel you are embarking on.

Size: Suitcases are available in a number of sizes. It is best to match the size required to the type of travel you are embarking on. If you are only going for a weekend away then a small suitcase will suffice. If you are heading away indefinitely then a larger one with wheels and a telescopic handle would suit. It is important to look in to any restrictions of size with the transport ie. airlines, bus tours, etc. that you will be going on to ensure you comply.

Comfort and Versatility: There aren’t many comfort options for suitcases. I would suggest you get one with a telescopic handle that you can adjust to your height to make it easier on your arms when you are dragging the bag behind you. Also ensure it has wheels. Before purchase I would do a quick walk around the shop to ensure the wheels roll smoothly.

Style: There are many styles available which have a soft or hard casing. Softer casings can expand more than hard casings as well as have outer pockets (hopefully zipped) where you can store things.

Quality & Price: Both quality and price can vary with suitcases. It will probably depend on your budget as to how much you wish to spend but really all you want is something that will last the distance.

 

Best Brands of Suitcases To Consider

 

Like travel backpacks, there are a number of notable suitcase brands that have a great reputation. These include, but are not limited to, Samsonite, a favourite of mine, American Tourister, Delsey and Travelpro.

 

Samsonite Luggage

Delsey Luggage

How About Both? Let’s Talk About the Backpack Suitcase Hybrid

 

There are always times when it would be great to have both a backpack and a suitcase as you travel. Well, now you can with a backpack suitcase hybrid. What are they exactly? Well, basically it is a backpack on wheels. So you will have the flexibility of a backpack that you can turn into a rolling suitcase by having wheels and a telescopic handle. But coming with this flexibility is weight. And when weight matters while travelling, you will need to decide if the extra weight of around 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) is worth it.

 

Suitcases vs Backpacks Which One is Better?

 

I don’t think that one is better than the other. Both suitcases and backpacks have a place in travel. However, I do think that suitcases are fine if you plan on going straight to your hotel and not moving at any point during your holiday. While I find the convenience and versatility of a backpack way better on travels where you move around a lot. What do you think? Are you team backpack or team suitcase or both, like me? Let me know in the comments below.

No matter whether you choose a backpack, suitcase or hybrid backpack don’t forget travel insurance. You never know when you chosen luggage may go astray. Check out World Nomads and SafetyWing for the appropriate travel insurance coverage.

 

READ MORE: If you want to keep your packed items in order consider packing cubes. These really useful bags allow you to categorise your items making them so much easier to find. Read all about packing cubes in my Guide To The Best Packing Cubes – Keep Your Luggage Organised

 

Person Looking Into Sunset With Their Chosen Luggage. A Travel Backpack On Wheels Like A Suitcase.

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Sharyn McCullum Sailing Through The Panama Canal With Storm Chasing Boat.

Sharyn McCullum – Travel Writer / Blogger, Remote On-line Worker, sometime Digital Nomad and Travel, Live and Work Abroad Expert. Is a chocoholic, coffee connoisseur and lover of ’80s music. Been travelling all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. Lived in London 4 years on a working holiday. Has holidayed in Hawaii over 15 times and currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. Is inspiring others to get the live work play travel lifestyle with this blog. Read more about Sharyn here.

5 Comments

  1. Linda (LD Holland)

    No matter how hard I try I can’t get away with something as small as a backpack. And I generally don’t want to carry the weight on my back. But when we wander in old towns with cobblestone streets I sure have wished we only had backpacks. Your post gives a great view of the pros and cons. And provides some good guidelines for choosing a backpack or suitcase. This should help people undecided.

    Reply
  2. Leah

    As a backpacking gal, I think I would struggle to go back to a suitcase! There’s nothing more annoying than the sound of suitcase wheels over cobbled streets!
    Suitcases are a lot more convenient for shorter trips though so thanks for such a good pros and cons list of each I will definitely use this when deciding on my luggage choices for my next trip.

    Reply
  3. Hege

    I do love my red way too big backpack for indefinite travels because I have lots of room!! I know many people try to travel as light as possible, but quite frankly, I find it incredibly useful to have a bit of extra space. And I need my shampoo bottle anyway so I might as well check-in 🙂 Needless to say, the backpack is my favorite, easy peasy to carry, and I only bring my small carry-on for really short trips where I don’t think I will want to do any shopping on the way!

    Reply
  4. Josy A

    I like having both. Suitcases are great for travel to cities… but if you plan to go hiking, I always like carrying a backpack for those adventures.

    Reply
  5. Krista

    I try to travel with a backpack where possible but sometimes my things just won’t fit so I need to opt for a suitcase. Lots to consider when choosing which one to bring and on what trip!

    Reply

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