Luggage: Backpacks vs Suitcases – Which is Better?

Team Suitcase or Team Backpack? And why does it matter? Without doubt, this is a long-standing debate. I have come across this rousing topic time and time again. A variety of websites, blogs, and travel articles state that a suitcase is the only viable option yet others tout that backpacks are the only way to go. The fact that there even is a debate seems a bit ridiculous. I’m not talking about the enthusiasm one has for their preference of baggage style. I’m one of those people. I have my favourite luggage type and would gladly explain my reasoning. No, I’m referring to a staunch belief that one is better than the other, without question. The truth is that it comes down to one thing and one thing only — whichever you prefer!

There you have it! It truly is as simple as that. Use whichever type of luggage that you want.

I could end my post here, however the reason for this post is not only to proclaim that luggage type is a personal preference, it is also to discuss the pros and cons of both luggage styles and some considerations for each. So let’s take a look!


A suitcase is basically defined as a case, often with a handle and attached lid to carry and transport one’s personal items and clothing. Over the years they have evolved alongside changes in modes of travel. The early days of travel saw trunks, cases, and bags constructed of wood, metal, wool, or leather. The common rectangular suitcase shape we are now familiar with gained popularity in the late 1800s which was designed as a case to tote along one’s suits. As time flowed on changes in styles and features came about. Today suitcases are usually constructed from various forms of polymers and come with features such built-in adjustable handles, 360° spinner wheels with collapsible handle, zippered closures, and various compartments.

Let’s take a look at some aspects of suitcases:

  • Easy to organize and access
    • Their rectangular shape and large, hinged lid allows for ease of access and organization of belongings
  • Everything remains safely inside
    • All compartments are either inside the suitcase or are closable (often zippered) on the outside so less chance of losing items and no straps and buckles dangling or catching on items
  • Items are well protected
    • Suitcase often have reinforced corners, durable zippers that can be secured with luggage locks; and have frames of sturdy materials that help prevent compression
  • Easy to maneuver (short distances)
    • Most modern suitcases have 4 spinner wheels that allow for easy movement and handles for those times you need to carry or lift it
  • Good for airline travel
    • If checking your bag the uniformity of suitcases allows simple transfer on baggage ramps as they are not considered oversized or bulky baggage that needs to be specially tagged or put into a container
    • If carrying-on they are simple to store in overhead bins or under seat fronts
  • Awkward to maneuver (long distances)
    • Can be difficult to use for longer distances on sidewalks or cobblestone
    • Must be carried when using stairs
    • Having more than one suitcase may be labourious and unmanageable
    • Inconvenient in public transit fare gate areas
  • Not waterproof (unless hard-sided)
    • If you get stuck in the rain for any reason you suitcase and belongings may get soaked
  • You are not hands-free
    • You will only have one hand free while pulling your luggage
    • If you have 2 + suitcases you are not hands free at all


A backpack is a style of bag that is carried on one’s back by use of two shoulder straps. Also referred to as rucksacks or knapsacks, these bags comes in various sizes, styles, and functions. Students often use small backpacks for toting books and laptops to school. Hikers and campers find larger packs with hip belts and compartments a convenient way to store and transport their gear. Travelers also utilize backpacks, either similar ones as hikers or travel-specific styles. It is common for backpacks to be made of nylon or canvas (or both) with numerous compartments, straps, and hooks. Many come with adjustable frames and can be personally fitted to the user.

Here’s a look at backpacks:

  • Hands free
    • Since it is on your back it leaves both your hands free
    • opening doors, using your phone, grabbing handrails, etc is much easier without having to pull your suitcase along
  • Has plenty of compartments
    • Both travel and hiking style backpacks have numerous compartments
    • Many are on the outside so you can access them without having to open up your pack
    • Straps and hooks allow for much used items to be easily stored or reached
  • Multipurpose and sturdy
    • Backpacks can be used for hiking, travel, camping, pilgrimages, etc.
    • Smaller ones can be used for day trips or everyday use (work, school)
    • Many backpacks are made with durable and sturdy materials that can withstand rigours of use
  • Waterproof or water resistant
    • Several brands of packs are made of waterproof or water resistant material
    • Others come with a rain cover that fits the pack and is easily stored in the pack when not in use
    • If a rain cover does not come with a backpack it can be easily purchased
  • Ease of travel
    • Can provide less strain on the body as hip belts can lessen the weight on the shoulders
    • Those with adjustable frames and shoulder straps allow for added comfort and proper fit
    • Stairs are easier to ascend and descend as there is not fumbling or carrying luggage with hands
    • Walking longer distance is easier
  • Most backpacks are top loading so accessing items can be bothersome
    • Searching for items may involve removing other belongings to reach what you want
    • Note – travel backpacks are designed to open like a suitcase
  • Needs to be fitted
    • To get the best use and to avoid strain on the body backpacks should be properly fitted
    • Torso length, hip belt placement and shoulder strap adjustment are all considerations
    • Best to try with weight in the body of the pack
    • Many sporting goods stores offer bag fitting
  • May need to be considered a special or oversized baggage on flights
    • Pending the size of the bag or because of the numerous straps dangling it may need to be wrapped or put in a container
    • This will vary from airline to airline
    • Note: Travel backpacks have a zippered flap to conceal and protect straps

That is my summary. Both have their good points and downsides so again, it really is up to you. As for myself I do have a preference. Before I let you know my luggage type of choice I want to mention that I do use both suitcase and backpacks. I decide which I will use depending on the the type of trip. Generally, I will use a suitcase if I am visiting family and friends or staying in one destination. Otherwise, I utilize my backpack. Overall, my preference is to use a backpack. I love being handsfree and manoeuvring easily as I make my way to wherever I am going. The pros definitely outweighs the cons for me. Backpacks all the way! Well, most of the time.

Happy travels (when we can do so safely) with whichever style of luggage you opt to use.

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