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Anyone use convertible carry on backpacks instead of spinners?

Apologies if this has already been asked in a previous forum.
I'll be taking Spain My way tour next year and I'm starting to look for a good lightweight luggage as mine is super old and worn out. All of my travels so far I've only used a spinner bag as I have always stayed in one place but with the tour we'll be moving around a bit and I'm looking for options that would make mobility easier (i found myself having to lug my spinner bag up several escalators in Amsterdam as they were not functioning on my way to catch the train to the airport... that was super BRUTAL....
Anyone actually use a convertible carry on bag like the one that Rick advertises? I've seen several brands, TopoDesigns, Osprey, Colipax etc.... just wondering if anyone finds these super helpful and convenient when traveling?

My thinking is to have the backpack just for my clothes then have a small day bag that would act as my personal item where I can store essentials like wallet, book, makeup bag etc.

Interested in hearing the pros and cons of those who have used both and which they prefer.
Happy Travels Everyone!

Posted by
843 posts

I use the RS original backpack bag. For the last 20+ years. I have never owned a roller. It works for me. I always check it and only carry a small bag on p,and with essentials like snacks, water, jacket.

Posted by
1912 posts

Yes, many forum regulars do! Whether or not right for you depends on a number of things. Personally I strongly prefer to pack light and use a travel backpack over a suitcase. Reason being higher degree of absolute mobility.

Of course the relative ease (usually) of pulling a suitcase is a much better fit for some people. My family and I are still relatively young (mid-50's parents) and kinetically active. It feel good to me to put some mild weight on my back and stomp along. For other though rolling bags are a great fit.

A few things. If a spinner hasn't been adapting enough for you over chunky terrain (like stairs), you could go to a two wheel roller bag. The big wheels tend to clunk up and over things (like stairs and big cobbles, thresholds, etc) more easily. But just by fairly minor degrees.

Similarly backpack run a spectrum from "soft suitcase with mostly ceremonial shoulder straps" to "full on wilderness backpacking." We have a few.

In the soft suitcase end we have eBag's convertibles, which are typical convertibles. They are good quality and shoulder straps pretty useful and functional. Open and pack more like a suitcase, look less outdoorsy. They come to Europe probably 6 times, and many other trips.

We also use Mountain Smith Mayhem backpacks. Ours are an older model that's a little sleeker looking, but opens wide the same way with long zippers. They are far better/easier to walk with than a convertible, much more stable and you feel the load a lot less. The look is less buttoned down, but nowadays we ourselves pretty obviously belong in whatever hotels we are walking into, and things in general have become more casual. Wife (30 liters) and daughter (40 liters) opted for these on the trip we just finished over the convertibles, and looks matter to the two off them. Both decided that optimal easy mobility was the most important thing to them. Third time these bags have come to Europe, first time though that we didn't use them to trek from hotel to hotel. Most other outdoor brands that do backpacks have similar "adventure travel" backpacks. Osprey Sojourn is popular, if pricey.

So anyway, there's an array of choices with varying strength depending on who you are and what you want. It all works!

Posted by
15 posts

Thank you both for your quick response- it's greatly appreciated. Have you had any issues getting on the plane with the backpack as a carry on? I've heard some airlines like to give people a hard time but as long as it's the correct dimensions and it fits into the overhead I don't see why they would make it an issue. My other concern/dilemma in going with a backpack is the issue of possibly not having the space to fit my items even if going with the 40/42L. While I aim to pack as light as possible, I know some spinner bags will offer extra zipper that allows to extend the bag a bit for more room not sure if this is the case with the backpacks.

I'll keep searching the web and doing my research- worst case I buy a few brands to compare and just return what I don't think will be a good fit.

Posted by
7465 posts

Something that might help narrow down your choices. Take everything you would be packing and carefully place all of it in a black garbage bag. Then weight the bag by standing on the scale with it and subtracting your own weight.

If the weight of the filled bag is more than 13 or 14 pounds, using a backpack which will add a few more pounds itself is probably going to be too heavy to comfortably carry, so just look at 2-wheel bags.

Posted by
51 posts

I used the RS backpack suitcase on my very first RS tour of Eastern Europe in 2008. I think I was just imitating Rick from his tv shows😏but he is a fairly tall man ;). I wasn’t a big fan of the experience with it. It doesn’t have a frame to give it the structure and support that a good hiking backpack does. When set up for use in the hotel, the top section didn’t self-support even when leaned against a wall.

I am a 5’ 10’ woman, healthy and active. At the time of that trip I was 56 yo, and I did find it heavy and uncomfortable to carry it if the hotel was a longer distance or uphill from the bus drop-off point. (Remember buses on RS tours often don’t drop you right at the hotel and you are responsible for carrying your own to and from hotels and up stairs, etc.)
I have used the RS Ravenna rolling bag for a number of years now and have been very happy with it. It is 21” inches in length which is the carryon requirement of many airlines overseas. It is expandable, has a balance of structure and ‘give’ to it and has inset wheels so you don’t lose capacity inches to external spinner wheels.

This bag along with a day pack backpack have provided all the capacity I’ve needed over 14 RS tours and up to 21 days overseas and have still been able to avoid checking in luggage.
Safe travels!

Posted by
168 posts

We've used Osprey Porter packs for 8 years now. We used them as backpacks only. They have worked well for us, but this year (one of us turned 70) we bought carry on suitcases with wheels. We will try them in the spring with our next Europe trip, but we're not getting rid of the Ospreys.

Posted by
4689 posts

Wheeling is always easier than carrying in my experience, even when going up or down stairs. Your back may thank you...mine did (did the backpack thing in my 20s-30s, and getting rid of it was a revelation).
Whatever you get, test it thorough while completely packed.

Posted by
245 posts

I use a RS travel backpack (the convertible carryon) and like it (husband and I both have them, we’re in 40s-50s and used to carrying stuff in our everyday lives). I’ve never had any airline staff question its size (only experienced domestic carriers and British Airways) and I’ve always used it as a carryon. You do have to be careful about overpacking, because I think it could get overstuffed and possibly not fit in a sizer if you went overboard.

As someone else mentioned, it is unstructured. I manage this by using packing cubes. Otherwise I think it would be a mess!

In terms of comfort, I don’t think the RS backpack is built with ergonomics in mind. It’s basically a suitcase shaped bag with backpack straps. Mine does have a hip belt, but I admit that I’ve never used it. I would imagine one if the more expensive name brands you mentioned might be better designed if that’s a concern. For me, it’s fine for short treks through the airport or from transportation to hotel. Definitely not for hiking or backpacking. I’ve been considering upgrading to one of these nicer brands now that I know I like the backpack style.

I use the travel backpack as my main carryon, with either a large crossbody purse or a small, packable backpack as my carryon.

Compared to my similar sized spinner, I feel like my RS backpack can hold more. And I think it’s much lighter weight (it weighs about 3 lbs) than a wheeled carryon. But if you’re not comfortable carrying the weight on your back, it doesn’t matter how light the bag is😏.

Posted by
19170 posts

I carry roughly 10#- in a eTech 2.0 Weekender Jr. (or course, no longer sold). It weighs 2½#, so my total carried weight is about 12#, maybe a little more.

I love the convenience and freedom that a backpack gives me, but I've found that keeping down the weight so you can use a backpack requires more discipline than the average traveler possesses. Take only what you know you will need, not what you are afraid you MIGHT need.

My backpack came with a waist belt. At only 12# I don't need it, so I don't use it, but I found that when I tried it, I could completely loosen the backpack straps so that none of the weight was on my shoulders - it was all on my waist, so I know the complaints that "my shoulders can't take the weight" are nothing more than excuses.

I started in 2000, committed to carrying on, with an RS convertible. As I learned to travel with less, I went to the famous OPEC bag. It weighed only 1¾#, but was too big for what I was taking and the load sagged badly. I looked at adding cinch straps, to tighten the load, to the OPEC bag, but couldn't find a way that worked. That's when I reluctantly switched to the Weekender Jr., which weighs a bit more but has cinch straps that work. It also came with a waist belt, which, as I mentioned above, I never use.

I prefer to fly Lufthansa for the service. Their carry-on weight limit is 8kg - 17.6#. With a 2½# backpack, I could take 15# of "stuff" if I wanted to. With a 6# roller, I would be down to less than 12#. Spinners are heavier than rollers, so I would be limited to even less weight, and the lost space under the wheels would be even more limiting.

Posted by
2267 posts

I have three “travel packs”—35, 65 and 90 liters.

I rarely, almost never, do “carry-on only” for any this longer than a few days, including going to Europe. I use the two bigger ones most, and they’re always paired with a “global” size rolling carry-on—the smaller one I’ll use as carry-on if I check my larder rollaboard. The reality is that I never walk more than a half mile or so with all my luggage, and I find it far more comfortable to lug the heavier load on my back, especially over uneven ground/paving or up stairs. The setup also feels more maneuverable in trains, subways and their stations.

I definitely suggest you look at bags that have some element of structure to them, including compression straps (inside, outside, or better, both. A bag with out the structure is like carrying a 40lb wet noodle.

PackHacker and OutdoorGearLab are review sites that cover the category well.

Posted by
15714 posts

Before you commit to a backpack, try these steps:

If you know someone who has a travel backpack, borrow it. If not, pick one up that is easy to return.

Once you have the bag pack it as if you would for your trip. Then put it on and take a walk. At least 20-30 minutes.

After the walk. You will know if the backpack is right for you.

Posted by
5063 posts

We used the RS original convertable bag for years and loved them. Plenty of room and they could be "squished" to fit overhead bins. The only down sides were that they didn't have a waist belt and they weren't really sized for short people. Both of those problems were been corrected in later versions, and we used the newer ones for years. We only stopped using them due to back problems.

As long as you do not have physical issues that preclude using a "back pack", they are great.

We now use two wheel roller bags and while they are not as flexable, they are a lot easier on old bones.

Posted by
996 posts

No. I have not tried the kind of backpack that you are asking about, the kind that would fit my extra clothes and everything b else. My current luggage consists of 2 pieces: an approximately 24 inch heavy-duty ballistic nylon bag without wheels, with one shoulder strap and two other little straps that allow me the option of carrying it with one hand - but this isn't a backpack; I use this for my extra clothes. I carry everything else in a Jansport school-backpack - it has no wheels either. It has a leather bottom, padded back and padded shoulder straps, and more than one zippered compartment.

Posted by
155 posts

My other concern/dilemma in going with a backpack is the issue of
possibly not having the space to fit my items even if going with the
40/42L. While I aim to pack as light as possible, I know some spinner
bags will offer extra zipper that allows to extend the bag a bit for
more room not sure if this is the case with the backpacks.

I have the Rick Steves backpack as well as the Travelpro spinner. A couple of months ago, I made a rather unscientific packing experiment with 4 bags I have: the Rick Steves backpack, the Hynes 28L backpack, a hard-shell roller I was gifted and my Travelpro roller.

When I packed the Travelpro, I put in the following: I2 narrow and 4 small square blue packing cubes (eBags ultralight) and one IKEA packing cube. I also had a quite full quart ziplock bag (toiletries), a Sea to Summit toiletry bag, a foldable, packable hat, a "wet bag case" that fits either my Kindle and iPhone a baggie of laundry pods, some small bags with vitamins and three pairs of shoes (Teva sandals, skechers go walks and a pair of black flats).

However, when I then packed the Travelpro, it fit all that PLUS an electronics bag, a small jewelry case, black flip flops, a red packable tote, an umbrella, a gray packing cube with a travel blanket and an Eddie Bauer packable windbreaker. (It wans't necessarily stuff I was using for that trip, but rather just travel stuff I sometimes use)

My point being, for about the same size, a backpack will allow you to bring more things for the outside dimensions essentially being the same.

I hope this may help you out.

Posted by
531 posts

I typically only bring my RS convertible backpack and daybag as my 2 carry on bags. However, for my next tour, I am also bringing a small spinner for souvenirs, which will be checked. The spinner is also serving as overflow for liquids that I can't carry on because of stringent security rules at Schiphol, where I will be connecting.

Posted by
2797 posts

We have used the RS Convertibles only, beginning in 2010. We have found them to be incredibly convenient, and packing reasonably have done almost all two-week trips, with a couple going to 3 weeks plus. We have made Lufthansa's 8 kilogram limit, and no issue going heavier with AA/BA. Trains and buses have never been an issue. For short bus rides from transit they can be held in our laps, for long distance they go under the bus.

General disclaimer -I am 5'10"+, and have been in shape. My partner at the time was 5'1". We had both backpacked some earlier in our lives, and began to travel in at 55+. I will now be 70 and never had an issue carrying this for distances, which has included some walks upwards of 2 miles to get to lodging from transit. Properly adjusting the straps so that the weight is transferred to the hips via the waist belt is imperative.

We have never had to check them. The only question was a gate agent stopping my partner in Frankfurt boarding Croatia Air and telling her the bag was too big, based on eyeballing it on her back against her short height. I stopped where Iw as, which was already past the gate, and offered to switch packs since mine was fine on me and was the exact same size and weight, nd we then proceeded with our bags. We also carry inside one of the bags a small rolled-up pack for daytime use.

Needless too say, your mileage may vary.

Posted by
908 posts

Tom Bihn make travel backpacks, also, and I have the Aeronaught 45. They are more expensive, but extremely well made, and well thought out. I have not used any other bag since I got mine, and it is the largest carry-on bag. There is a smaller size, also.

Posted by
1536 posts

I have used an Osprey Porter 46L backpack since 2016. I am now a not so fit 58F. I used to pack the bag fairly full which would weigh as much as 22 pounds. I didn't have any trouble carrying this. I have become a much more efficient packer. If I take a second pair of shoes, my bag weights 15 pounds, if not only 12 pounds. My stuff would certainly fit in a smaller pack, but I love my neon green bag so much I just cinch it down. This also gives me more room to play with during the trip.

I recently took an 8 day domestic trip with DH. For this trip I used a small spinner and a small duffel (it fit on top of the spinner). It worked beautifully for airports. We rented a car and didn't have to walk in neighborhoods or get on trains/buses.

I will still use my backpack for International travel or when using public transportation.

My experience is that gate agents think that backpacks are smaller than roller boards. I have seen them insist on gateway checking small roller boards for small commuter planes and letting me pass even when my bag was larger than the roller board. A few times I had to take things out of my pack and stuff it under my seat to get it to fit in the overhead bin. Not anymore as my pack is smaller.

Posted by
15 posts

Well after weeks of videos and online searching I think I found the best bag for my traveling needs. I was considering the RS convertible carry on but the reviews regarding the shoulder padding was a red flag for me. I just purchased the eagle creek TOUR TRAVEL PACK 40L M/L. It has the same soft material as the RS but better cushioning on the should straps. Also didn't seem so geared to tech travel. when I travel I just bring my phone and charger nothing else. I found that other brands were super expensive and their bags had all of these compartments which added a lot of weight to the bag. The Eagle creek was only 2lbs which is reasonable.
Thanks all for your suggestions.