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Backpack vs. Wheeled Suitcase

I leave for 2.5 weeks in Italy on Wednesday and am debating over a bag to take. I have your standard (carry on size) wheeled suitcase, the Rick Steves convertible bag (that I'd wear mostly as a backpack and don't find to be all that comfortable, but has good space) and an older Eagle Creek backpack that has great padding on the shoulders, hip, etc, but it bulkier. We'll be riding the train for the majority of the trip and renting a car for a few days. Any suggestions/recommendations are appreciated!

Posted by
638 posts

Personally I go with the RS convertible, I use it too, it may not be ideal for long hauls or hiking but I prefer it over a bag with wheels in that they work great on smooth surfaces but if you get to a city in Europe with cobblestones then you have to carry it, carrying your things on your back versus carrying with your arms,which is more preferable to you? I also feel I am more mobile with the backpack option, that is I can move through crowds and traffic easier. With the Eagle Creek bag, can you fit all you things in it and are you going to have to check it.

Posted by
2040 posts

Amy, I was sort of in the same quandary you are....I hurt my shoulder a few weeks ago and am debating purchasing Rick's Roll-Aboard & Avanti Flight Bag, just in case at the last minute before we leave, I decide that I won't be able to manage my backpack because of my shoulder. But I don't want to give up my backpack! To me a backpack is so much easier to haul around and to run with (to catch trains!) than a rolling bag.... there's just no comparison!
Comfort is very important so I would tend to go with the more comfortable bag....but will you have room for any purchases? You might consider taking an empty Civita bag in your backpack to use on your return flight as a carry-on for extra space and put your backpack in cargo.

Posted by
389 posts

Amy, I bought both the wheeled and backpack from RS and packed my stuff for the trip. The backpack definitely held more or at least held it better. For Europe I did the first 2 or 3 trips with a large REI convertable backpack with zip off day bag. After the first trip I realized it was too big, carried too much and was way more than I should be carrying around. The 2nd was with a baby and he and I packed together (obviously) so I wore it while pushing his stroller through Europe. The 3rd was practically a move to Europe to visit family and take them a lot of stuff for a new baby. I then moved to a roll aboard which was a bit easier on my back, but lots more work in the long run. I've gotten smarter with every trip (I think) and I'm looking foward to the lightest year ever (Flying Ryan Air - 33 lb max) and think I'm leaning toward the convertable carry-on. I can move from Train station to hotel and back without worries about curbs, cobble or stairs.

Posted by
26 posts

When I traveled last year by train, I had 1 small wheeled bag and another slightly larger wheeled bag (both were carry on size) I had a lot of problems maneuvering on the train holding 2 suitcases and could not really wheel either of them one the train. This year when we return to Europe, I will have a backpack and the small wheeled suitcase so I'll always have one hand free to open doors, etc. I guess what I'm trying to say is that either type of suitcase works, but only have one of each.

You could always "test drive" the backpack by finding an old backpack and filling it with books - then try walking with it to see if your back/shoulders can take it.

Posted by
221 posts

I love to travel and am kind of a bag junkie. I have some shoulder and back problems too so this is an interesting question for me. last year I did a week in London with a friend and then a week in Ireland by bus alone. I took my Rick Steves convertible bag and a lightweigt (less than 2 lbs) fold out wheel cart with bungie cords. It was the perfect combination. I could use the cart where it worked and do the back pack thing and carry the fold up cart where it didn't. I put the cart in the overhead bin and checked my bag for carefree airport travel. I don't care what Rick says about always taking your bag on the flight in the overhead, I think it is a pain (literally) if you are changing flights. this worked for me! Samsonite makes a light fold out cart and I got mine for $20. I love it.

Posted by
160 posts

I've used an REI Alpine backpack on my two trips to Europe. On my next trip, I'm using a larger Gregory Baltoro pack because I'm hiking the Camino pilgrimage and need to carry extra gear.

I get nervous about the wheeled bags for a couple of reasons. 1) try pulling one on a cobblestone or otherwise rough surface (or uphill), and 2) if the wheel/handle breaks, then what? Plus, they look so...touristy? Not trying to slam anyone who's into them, but that's the impression I get. A backpacker gives off a more self-reliant vibe to me.

Of course, a backpack strap can break as well. But a strap is easier to repair with duct tape than a more complex moving part.

Anyway, just my two euros. I've shlepped a backpack in some form or another for so long (military, student), that I'm used to one. Others have done just fine w/wheels, especially those who have back issues.

Posted by
12546 posts

I have no back or shoulder "issues" and happily carry a 30-pound or heavier backpack when I am hiking and camping out. But for travel I prefer the wheels. I have an Eagle Creek 22" "convertible" bag (wheels and backpack straps) that has made around 8 trips to Europe, plus other places. The only time I have used the backpack straps was to carry it up 4 or 5 flights of stairs in a hotel with no elevator. It's usually possible to avoid cobblestones, but if faced with a short stretch, I find it easier to just lift the bag and carry it with the handle rather than pull out the backpack straps. Getting on and off trains is difficult with a backpack on because it makes you so "thick"---you have to be careful not to turn and hit people with it, or get stuck going through a narrow door. So---bottom line, I just bought the new RS wheel-only bag for our next trip to Switzerland. It's lighter and has more space without the backpack straps.