Even though luggage has always been one of the most important travel gears, but many of us have always wondered about the type of travel luggage to use. A travel backpack or a suitcase? Which one should you get?
It appears that a travel backpack might be a better choice than a suitcase while travelling for a number of reasons. However, there are also a number of situations where a suitcase might just turn out to be a better overall deal than a backpack. Like everything, there is no right or wrong answer.
After using both travel backpacks and suitcases for long and short vacations and journeys while traveling alone, or with family, as well as while traveling with my elderly parents, I realized that a list of diverse factors determine whether a backpack or a suitcase is the right choice.
Let us go through these points in detail one by one.
1. Carrying Comfort and Mobility
It is better to support your load on both shoulders as well as your waist with a backpack, rather than putting all the strain on one of your hands with a suitcase, or on one of your shoulders with a duffle bag, isn’t it?
Well, suitcases admirers may argue that we don’t always keep lugging the suitcase, do we? Suitcases have wheels, and it is so much easier to just drag them behind with the wheels.
But what about stairs? Have you ever tried changing platforms in railways stations or metro stations where you need to go up and down long stairs? And what if you are in a hurry and need to run?
How many people have you seen running with wheeled suitcases? You will curse yourself if you have a heavy suitcase with you in such situations. It is much easier to run with a backpack than with a suitcase.
If stairs are the number one enemy of wheeled suitcases, the number two is cobblestone paths and muddy roads!
Believe me, it is not fun dragging those wheeled suitcases over uneven surfaces like cobblestone.
Add to that the irritating sound it makes and the unwanted attention it draws towards you from people around, and the experience quickly becomes tiring and frustrating, mentally as well as physically.
And in the case of monsoons and muddy roads, those wheels are completely useless.
With a travel backpack, you just don’t care what type of ground you encounter. The backpack is not designed to be on the ground, it is meant to be on your back!
Another reason I love using travel backpacks is that it frees up both of my hands. It is also convenient in crowded places where movement can be severely restricted if you have a suitcase to drag around. Moreover, those wheels on suitcases that are so useful in open areas create problems in crowds by crashing into other people’s toes and ankles.
2. Ease Of Packing
No matter how good you are at packing, certain types of clothes just cannot be packed in travel backpacks without making them unwearable later on. Think of formal wear like suits, dress pants, and shirts. These will always come out of a travel backpack looking weird and wrinkled.
The hard body and shape of a suitcase just hold clothes much better than the soft, somewhat formless body of a travel backpack.
Going to attend a wedding? You know that you need a suitcase to keep your clothes wrinkle-free.
Some people roll their clothes in backpacks instead of folding them to reduce wrinkles. Some use packing cubes. But no matter how you pack, it is much easier to pack your clothes in a suitcase.
On top of that, certain types of items just cannot be packed safely in a travel backpack. Soft items will get squished, fragile items will break. If you have such items which need some sort of protection, it is always better to use a suitcase than a travel backpack.
Most travel backpacks are designed with organization in mind, and hence you will find a lot of sleeves, pockets, and compartments meant for specific things.
All travel backpacks have specially designed compartments for your electronics. You will find a padded compartment for your laptop, and probably even separate sleeves for your tablet and Kindle. Some even have dedicated pockets to store other accessories like cables, headphones and power banks.
Apart from these, almost all travel backpacks have compartments to store items like pen and paper, passport and other important documents. And of course, there is the water bottle holder, something which you won’t find in suitcases.
Some travel backpacks even have hidden zippered pockets where you can keep your valuables.
The type of organization that a travel backpack provides makes sure that all your basic items and accessories are within your reach in case you need to get them out of your bag quickly. This sort of organization is seldom seen in suitcases.
4. Built quality
The material used in suitcases is much tougher than that in travel backpacks. All suitcases have a strong internal structure and maintain their form whether full or empty.
They can stand on their own, and you can even sometimes sit on them.
If you want something stronger, go for hard-side suitcases. These provide the best protection for your belongings during travel. Suitcases are also fairly water-resistant compared to backpacks.
In fact, if you check-in your luggage during air travel, it better be a suitcase, as the strong built quality will make sure that it can endure being thrown around by the airline staff.
Compared to suitcases, travel backpacks are made of lighter materials and have minimal to no internal frame. They are not suited for rough handling, so you should avoid to check-in your backpack and take it as carry-on luggage.
5. Weight of the Luggage
The sturdy built quality of a suitcase also makes it heavier than a backpack of equal capacity. You will notice that a suitcase sometimes weighs almost twice as that of a backpack when empty. The trolley system attached to the suitcase plays a big part in increasing the weight.
This may not be an issue if you check-in your luggage, but in case you carry-on your suitcase, it will eat into the maximum weight limit. With your suitcase itself weighing around 3-4 kgs, it will be very difficult to carry even only the essentials if the carry-on weight limit is only about 7-8 kgs.
Also, in situations where you cannot use the wheels, say while going up staircases or muddy roads, you will curse that extra weight. Especially, when the weight is not of your belongings but of the luggage itself.
Suitcases are pretty theft-proof, especially the hard-side ones. All suitcases have a main central zipper that can be padlocked shut.
Also, the thicker material of the suitcase makes them much harder to be cut or slashed by sharp objects.
Backpacks, on the other hand, are difficult to lock completely, as you will need multiple locks for the numerous zippers that a backpack has. Also, backpacks are also pretty easy to slash open.
However, the fact that you have your backpack attached to your back makes it much harder to be stolen. Suitcases, on the other hand, can be grabbed off your hand.
7. Location and Nature of Travel
The destination of your travel and how you plan to travel there can determine what type of luggage you should take with you.
Are you are going somewhere with good roads and sidewalks? Are you staying in a hotel that has elevators? Are you going to take a cab which will pick you up at the airport and drop you at the hotel? Are you planning to stay at one destination for long until your return? A suitcase will be best suited for you in such situations.
You may also prefer a suitcase if you are sure you will always have a vehicle with you wherever you go.
I always take a suitcase when I go home during the holidays. I know I won’t be required to drag the suitcase everywhere. Also, if I need to attend ceremonies like weddings, I will have my dress shirt neatly packed with me in the suitcase.
On the other hand, you may plan to walk a lot during your travel. and plan to stay at budget accommodation. Your itinerary may consist of moving from one place to the other quite frequently, taking flights, trains, buses and all sorts of other public transport.
For this type of travel, a backpack specifically designed for travel is the best luggage you can have.
While vacationing in a new destination, I always prefer a backpack. It allows me to move fast and travel in whatever way I prefer.
8. Health issues
Older people may find backpacks quite challenging, as carrying around 10-15 kg of load on your back for long is not an easy task. Also, people who have back problems should avoid backpacks.
The problem with backpacks is that it is not so easy to quickly get the pack off your shoulders. If the pack is fully loaded, it is quite a challenge to put the backpack on and off. I have seen some people always requiring help from others to do so. Are you fit and strong enough to lift your backpack and put it inside the overhead bin in the aircraft?
The point is, if you are not physically capable of handling your backpack yourself, better avoid it and go for a suitcase. It is not worth it. Just imagine, if you fall over with your backpack attached to you, will you be able to get up yourself?
If you are a fit person, a backpack will help you stay fit. It will put less strain on your body as the weight is evenly distributed, unlike carrying a suitcase. But if you already have physical problems, a backpack will further aggravate those problems.
I will carry a backpack as long as my body and age allow me. Then I will shift to a suitcase with wheels.
9. Carrying Options
Backpacks are designed for ease of use, hence you can alter the way you carry it based on your comfort and liking. Most well-designed travel backpacks provide multiple carrying options.
In most backpacks, you will find that you can:
Some backpacks even may have a handle by which you can carry it as a duffle bag.
If you are carrying both a backpack and a suitcase, you may also be able to attach your backpack to your suitcase for easier carry. This is possible in some travel backpacks which has a trolley sleeve.
So if you don’t want to look like a backpacker always, you may just use one of the other carrying options with a travel backpack.
A suitcase, on the other hand, does not have that many carrying options. You can either carry it as a suitcase with one hand or drag it with its wheels as a trolley. The problem is if the wheels break, you will have a horrible time throughout your entire journey.
10. Appearance and Looks
For business travel, it is preferable to carry a suitcase as it can give you that professional look.
If you are too much concerned about how odd you will look with a backpack strapped to your back, a suitcase might be a better option for you.
Some people think that a suitcase makes them appear more lady-like or business class. If you are one of them and you dig that look, just go for a suitcase.
There are plenty of designs to choose from, you may just find one that goes along with the look you want.
11. Storing Your Luggage
Backpacks are made of a softer material with little to no internal frame. As a result, they are easier to store in tight storage spaces. If you have a carry-on size travel backpack, you can almost certainly store it in the overhead bins in planes, buses or trains.
Most travel backpacks have outside compression straps which you can use to cinch the backpack even more to reduce the overall size of the backpack.
This is very handy while traveling by air, as you may pass off an oversized backpack as a carry-on. You may even be able to fit a travel backpack underneath the seat in case there is no room in the overhead bins.
Backpacks have a definite advantage as carry-on luggage during air travel. I have seen people allowed to carry-on their oversized backpacks, but people with suitcases told to check-in their luggage.
I guess the formless nature of the backpack is the reason behind this, as they can be squeezed into smaller storage spaces. You can even pack a backpack inside a suitcase, but the opposite is almost impossible.
Suitcases have a strong internal structure and hence they maintain their shape and size whether fully packed or empty. While it may protect your belongings better, it may sometimes pose issues while storing the suitcase itself.
During air travel, if there is not enough space to store your carry-on suitcase inside the overhead bins, you may have to check-in your suitcase.
If you plan to go hiking during your vacation, you can do so with your travel backpack.
Granted a travel backpack is not the same as a hiking backpack, but for short trips, they will do just fine.
However, if you have only a suitcase with you, you may just have to skip that hiking trip.
A better option is to pack a small backpack inside your suitcase or buy a backpack at your destination. You will have to leave your suitcase at the hotel to be picked up later.
Choosing between a travel backpack and a suitcase is as much about your attitude and personality, as it is about the nature of travel you prefer. Both have distinct advantages and disadvantages, but some people just swear by backpacks, while others prefer suitcases.
The one you choose may say a lot about what kind of traveler you are. But no matter which one you prefer, it is always better to keep your options open and choose the right travel luggage based on the above points.
Don’t stress yourself too much while deciding between the two. Choose the one which gives the minimum stress and maximum adventures and lifelong memories to cherish.