Please sign in to post.

Backpack vs. Roller suitcases - opinions?

Looking for advice. I have two “roller” suitcases (one with 2 wheels the other with 4), both of which meet RS Tours requirements for size. I would only bring one of them. But instead of the suitcases, I’m considering buying the RS Convertible Carry On backpack. I’m thinking that even if I pack suitcases lightly which I intend to do, a backpack might be easier for stairs and uneven surfaces. I’d especially like to hear your opinion if you are “vertically challenged”. I’m 5’2” and also have a petite build and the typical backpack is not made for a person my size. I’m not dying to spend $100 on a new piece of luggage but if anyone has strong opinions either way, I’d like to know. Thanks!

Posted by
2145 posts

There are extremely strong and a multitude of opinions expressed frequently here on the Forum. Read past entires under this section and do a Search of the topic here. You will find enough reading to last for a few months! Safe travels!

Posted by
1133 posts

Hi Jessica. I'm a 5'4" female and have used the Osprey Fairview 40 Women's backpack so far for 2 domestic trips, one of which I got on a train from the airport and then walked through a city to my hotel. It's designed so the straps are narrower than the men's. I'm planning to use it for my upcoming EU trip (carryon). I won't say I had a 100% perfect time with it, but it's not as bad as I feared it might be. I only sometimes felt like I might fall forward ;-) I think it's going to depend on how heavy yours will be. I walked around the store with it (empty) and thought it felt OK and it's generally been fine as long as I don't have to walk miles with it. For trips where I won't be changing hotels a lot I will probably do a rolling carry-on, but for getting on and off trains between cities multiple times I like this better.

If you can try on a backpack at a store I think it'll be a big help.

Posted by
26 posts

If you go the backpack route goto an REI where you can try several on and have them put weight in it. Then walk around the store for a bit and see how it feels. My wife and I did this and settled on the Farpoint (mine) / Fairview (hers) 40.

Posted by
11439 posts

Find someone you know that has a travel sized backpack. Fill it up with everything you would take on your trip. Then go take a walk. Not a short walk. At least a half hour.

Only then can you decide if the backpack is for you. It doesn't matter what anyone else's experience is, the only thing that matters is if it is right for you.

As was stated earlier, there are dozens of threads on this topic. You will read pros and cons on all types of bags.

Of the three type of bags you mention, regardless off what others say, any one would be fine. It's completely personal choice.

Posted by
8833 posts

I use a rolling carry on. ( 2 wheel)

Never had a moment on an RS tour where I had the thought "I wish I had a backpack"

Posted by
6784 posts

I'll just say this. The RS "backpacks" are not like typical camping/hiking backpacks made to be carried on your back over rough terrain all day long. They are basically like semi-shaped duffle bags with shoulder straps. You'll be basically carrying them for short periods of time (to/from airport, into and out of hotels, and to/from the bus). You can always carry by the handle. The advantage to me of a backpack is that both hands can be free, and the weight of the bag is less because there is no frame or wheel assembly, so more space for stuff. But 5'2" wife prefers her two-wheeler, as it seems do most of folks I've seen on RS tours.

Posted by
202 posts

Im 5'4", a big fan of backpacks and love my RS carry on/convertible one. However, it lacks sternum straps to take the pressure off my shoulders, so I'm buying a set on Amazon for less than $10. Despite not having sternum straps, the backpack is very good quality and worth every penny.

A backpack is nice when you have to run to a train or a plane, up/down steep stairs when there isn't an elevator in the hotel, and around cobbled streets. Even with a day bag on my front, my hands are free to use my phone to navigate or otherwise.

On my last tour (GAS 2019), there was a couple who brought two large suitcases with enough clothes for two weeks. Honestly, they looked overwhelmed by the weight of their luggage.

I should also note that I'm very prescriptive about how I pack and have a luggage scale so I don't go over a certain amount of weight that I can handle. I've also been working out and lifting weights so I'm prepared. I just turned 50, so I'm no spring chicken. 😉 I've also thrown a bunch of random stuff into my backpack so that I can get used to walking around with the weight.

Sidenote: I do not check my bags because I don't want them to get lost or stolen. If I checked a bag and it went missing, I would be completely screwed for my trip!

Posted by
1793 posts

After the invention of roller bags, I can’t imagine ever going back to a backpack

Posted by
5511 posts

I was on a tour with a woman who had purchased this backpack. She regretted it by mid-tour because the lack of structure made it awkward for her. I think careful planning with packing cubes might mitigate the lack of structure, but she was certainly not happy with her choice.

Posted by
34 posts

Petite person here. I am totally 100% team Roller Bag, even after a few times carrying it up 3 exceedingly narrow flights of stairs. You will spend a lot more time walking on a flat surface than times you need to carry it, so wheels are ideal. And you will likely already have a day pack on your back.

Posted by
21 posts

Since you asked ;)…………In my 15 years of touring with RS, I have used 3 different bags. On my first tour I used the Convertible Carry on Backpack. Like the woman that Carol now retired mentioned, I regretted it. I am 5’10 and in reasonable shape (54 yo at the time). It is way too bulky and unstructured and I think probably designed with an average male physique in mind. I actually tweaked my knee slightly in Plitvice and then found carrying that added weight on my body did not help with recovery. I then moved to the 22” Rolling Bag. It works great on US Airlines but if your flying within Europe, many European airlines require a 21” carryon. Also, the top of that bag has no structure to it. I don’t unpack everything out of my bag at each hotel and like to prop the top of my bag up against a wall to access the pocket in it. The 22’ bag top would just slump down. Sooo, I finally purchased the 21” Ravenna rolling bag when it became available. It has added hard shell pieces and the top remains upright when I need it. It’s been my favorite so far!

I do own another brand of four-wheel spinner bag, but personally find that it only really rolls smoothly on flat, smooth flooring. It gets hung up on carpet and any rough surfaces, in and out of elevators and awkward on escalators. Then, I just end up dragging it on two wheels anyway. Also you give up internal square inches for those wheels extending out as the airlines include the wheels when measuring for acceptable length.
You might well ask why I’ve only used RS bags, but I’ve got to give them 5 stars for durability! The zippers have held up great and after dragging them all over Europe’s cobbled streets for 15 years, I have never had a wheel break. :)! Safe travels!

Posted by
1133 posts

and I think probably designed with an average male physique in mind.

100% this.

Posted by
18375 posts

After learning to pack really light, I can't imagine ever needing to a use an overweight, rolling bag.

Despite my encouragement to take a backpack, my partner insists on taking a roller. Unfortunately she can't handle it herself. so when we're traveling by train and having to change trains at a station, the following scenario unfolds.

Before that train stops, I put on my backpack. Then I deploy the handle on her rolling bag and take it to the vestibule. Often, it's a double decker train, and I have to carry her bag up or down stairs to the vestibule. After the doors open, I lift her bag over the gap and roll it to the stairs. At the stairs, I fold the handle and carry the bag down to the tunnel, where I either redeploy the handle and roll it to the next stairs or, if the distance is short enough, just carry it. When I get to the stairs to the next platform, I carry the bag up the stairs, redeploy the handle, and drag it to the next train, where I have to lift it over the gap, then roll or carry it to our seats. Then I take off my own backpack. I can't believe how much less work changing trains is with just a backpack vs a roller bag.

So, if you have the discipline to keep your carryon weight down to about 10-12 lb, you'll really love a backpack. If you have to have 20 lb of stuff or more, then you'll probably need a 5 lb rolling bag, and it will be much heavier when you do have to lift it.

I love the freedom of packing light and having a light-weight backpack, but it does require some compromises. I had to build a wardrobe of cotton-polyester shirts and underwear that I can sink wash and will dry overnight, and I have to have the discipline to rinse out a couple items of clothing each night. But the freedom it gives me is well worth it.

Several posters have commented on the lack of structure of a backpack. (My exwife solved that problem by stuffing it so full it was rigid.) As I developed techniques for packing lighter, I, too, found that a partially full backpack lacked structure and sagged badly. I eventually gave up ¼ lb for a pack that had cinch straps to tighten the load, and that fixed the structure problem.

Posted by
6784 posts

Several posters have commented on the lack of structure of a backpack. (My exwife solved that problem by stuffing it so full it was rigid.) As I developed techniques for packing lighter, I, too, found that a partially full backpack lacked structure and sagged badly. I eventually gave up ¼ lb for a pack that had cinch straps to tighten the load, and that fixed the structure problem.

Lee is spot on. I wouldn't use my backpack without packing cubes to manage the space.

Posted by
29 posts

Thanks everyone. Based on these responses, I'm just going to stick with one of my two roller suitcases!

Posted by
13713 posts

Just curious,

How many on RS Tours stayed in a hotel with no elevator? And even then had to go up more than one flight of stairs?
How many on RS Tours encountered more than lets say more than a single street crossing on cobblestone?
How many on RS Tours had a total of not less than 10 minutes walking through airports coming and going, and at least that much time on sidewalks.

Posted by
2742 posts

What’s your day bag situation? Do you carry a small backpack around sightseeing or do you use a purse/crossbody/tote bag? If you use a small backpack, will it fit in the bigger backpack? If not, how do you plan to carry both backpacks?
I use a crossbody and can wear it with a backpack luggage, but still prefer rollers. I’d rather have to lift and carry the roller on rare occasions like stairs but be able to roll it 90% of the time to give me a break instead of on my back all the time.

I’m 5’3 and average weight with narrow shoulders. I can lift and carry a packed suitcase by the handle with little difficulty but heavy backpacks are uncomfortable. So try before you commit.

Posted by
31 posts

Personaly I prefer backpack; it allows me to move fast and can fit in overhead compartment better (wheels eat into the overall airlines carry-on dimension limits). But if you are going with roller suitcase; then 2-wheeled suitcase is better than 4-wheeled on cobblestone street (less risk of breakage and easier to maneuver) and it has slightly more packing space.

Posted by
292 posts

My sister and I both used roller backpacks on our last two international trips. Although we don't do carryon, they are of a size for that. I have a Rick Steves and she has a Hyapath. Her backpack has not stood the test of time and has one broken zipper. She likes it but thinks she'll need a new one before our next trip. My RS bag has held up well but an expansion zipper would be nice. Hers doesn't have any internal structure which makes it lighter but everything fragile went into my bag. We didn't use them as backpacks this trip but it was very convenient on our first trip when it was rainy and we didn't want to wheel them through puddles. Carrying upstairs wasn't a problem. I would have liked having a case with four wheels. Pushing it next to you can be more convenient than pulling it behind.

Posted by
581 posts

I have a roller bag in the attic collecting dust because I haven’t used it in so long. Once I learned to pack light I have been using a carry on size back pack. I think that there will always be a situation where you have one type of bag and find yourself wishing you had the other. I always wish I had a roller bag in the airport. Overall, I prefer the backpack because when you have to run for a train, walk up several flights of stairs, or cover any distance over cobblestones, it’s just so much easier to throw your bag on your back and go. A well made backpack will have the internal structure to make it sit right, and be comfortable to wear. My 33 litre backpack has two rods that make it sturdier, and they can be removed if you don’t want to use them. I also have a bag made by Tom Binn that converts to a backpack. It is not as comfortable to wear, but I still use it a lot as it’s a bit bigger, and much better quality. I just came back from the RS Athens and the heart of Greece tour, and there were hotels without elevators, and one long walk from the boat dock in Hydra to the hotel. I was glad I could just throw my bag on my back. After the Greece tour I went to Venice for a week. Venice is a city fill of bridges, stairs, and narrow alleys. Not a place for a roller bag! Definitely see if you can find a store where you can try one on and put some weights in it to see how it feels. Try to think of all the places you will travel to with the bag, not just the next trip.

Posted by
11439 posts

James E.......I took three RS tours in the past:

How many on RS Tours stayed in a hotel with no elevator? And even then had to go up more than one flight of stairs?

About half of the hotels had no elevator. In a few I have had to climb 2 or even 3 flights of stairs.

How many on RS Tours encountered more than lets say more than a single street crossing on cobblestone?

For some hotels, the bus can't park in front of the hotel. In some cases, it was a good 10-15 minute walk. Usually a mixture of cobblestone and pavement.

How many on RS Tours had a total of not less than 10 minutes walking through airports coming and going, and at least that much time on sidewalks.

It all depends on which airports one is traversing.

On all my RS tours, I used a roller bag. It was before I switched to a spinner.

Posted by
3713 posts

I started out with the RS Convertible Backpack but after 2 trips, I switched to a spinner. My knees couldn't take the extra 20 pounds on my back. My husband still uses his. I agee that they are not designed for women, even 5'8" ones like me. After 3 trips with the spinner, I switched to a 2-wheeled bag.

I now have four 2-wheeled bags. My 22x14x9 Eagle Creek one weighs 5.5 pounds. The EC international one weighs 4.5 pounds. The other 2 are Ospreys, an international one and a 22x14x9 one. Each weighs 4.5 pounds.

I'm not sure which of those bags I'll use on my trip to Ireland and Wales this summer, but no matter which one it is, it will not weigh more than 20 pounds, fully loaded. I'll have a small backpack (Eddie Bauer Stowaway 25 L Pack) as my personal item. As a solo traveler, I have to manage my luggage myself and pack accordingly.

The questions below made me think a bit. My responses are below them.

"How many on RS Tours stayed in a hotel with no elevator? And even then had to go up more than one flight of stairs?

How many on RS Tours encountered more than lets say more than a single street crossing on cobblestone?

How many on RS Tours had a total of not less than 10 minutes walking through airports coming and going, and at least that much time on sidewalks."

I've been on 5 RS tours (Istanbul, Village Italy, Scandinavia, Portugal and Spain). Plus self-planned time attached to them and trips totally on my own not built around a tour.

My basic answer to those questions is that I've experienced these challenges on every tour and every self-planned trip.

An elevator of any kind is a luxury. Many places I've stayed had none and some flights of stairs are verrrry long with no landings.

If I always took a taxi door-to-door, I probably wouldn't spend so much time on cobblestones, but I take public transportation or walk much more often than getting a taxi and that usually involves longer walks to where I'm staying. And as someone else said, the RS bus often has to park a good distance from the tour hotel.

I've been in many airports, both foreign and domestic, where the walks have been much longer than 10 minutes.

Some lodgings on RS tours have neither paved access to them nor sidewalks of any kind. Sidewalks themselves are sometimes cobbles, not paved and smooth.

My 2-wheeled bags have very sturdy wheels. They can handle just about any terrain and they roll up or down stairs and steps well.

I do chuckle at myself when people talk about how they prefer a backpack so that they can run for trains or up and down stairs. I'm about 35 years beyond my ability to do that at all, much less with a pack on my back. 🥴

Posted by
963 posts

Backpack. Reason? I have what might be considered an unhealthily large selection of backpacks but don’t possess a roller or spinner. Or for that matter a suitcase. Never regretted using backpacks. OK, my knees may now have a different opinion on that front as they’ve not been tested with a large, full backpack for a couple of years, but I suppose I’ll find out in a couple of months!

Ian

Posted by
4590 posts

Hi Jessica, I asked a similar question about a month ago. I’ve always taken a 2-wheel carry-on suitcase and wondered if I should bring a backpack instead since this trip would be many more trains. The deciding response for me was saying the backpack can make your back sweaty. I definitely didn’t want to need to change out a shirt when I’m packing so few!

I am halfway through my trip, and I don’t regret using my roller for this trip. By the way, I saw one of the little wheels from a 4-wheel suitcase broken & left on the curb of the street across from the Milan Central train station. I certainly would make sure you have sturdy wheels on whatever you bring!

Posted by
177 posts

I have to agree with Frank II. On our recent RS Greece tour several of our hotels were multi-story with no elevator.
The bus could not navigate in many of the narrow streets; in Hydra and Nafplio we had quite a distance from the port uphill to the hotel. And I wish I had tried walking with my backpack and duffel as he suggests before the trip; I came home with back problems. My husband has begged me to go back to a wheeled bag, and since I have actually found one that is sized appropriately--21"x14"x'8"--with 2 wheels, is lightweight, is collapsible for storage, and is also distinctive/attractive I am going to oblige him.

Posted by
938 posts

Really depends on whether or not you're planning to go carryon-only (and that topic tends to degrade into religious fervor quickly). You can research the topic endlessly here and on other travel sites. The pros and cons of using a non-roller, expressed here on the forum, are opinions and anecdotes only. Your experiences will be completely different. The suggestion that you try to borrow a travel pack and test it out for a few days is quite sound.

My carryon-only setup is a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45L, which I carry slung over a shoulder or by its suitcase handle far more than by the backpack straps.

Try to have fun doing the research and then make an informed purchase decision. Be aware that RS will offer a refund but you will pay for return shipping.

Posted by
938 posts

Thanks everyone. Based on these responses, I'm just going to stick with one of my two roller suitcases!

Awwww, you gave up way too easily. It was just getting interesting.

Posted by
4716 posts

I'd prefer it if everyone used roller cases, at least then I wouldn't get swiped in the head when people wearing backpacks turn around in the aisle. People tend to be completely oblivious to the extension on their back.

Posted by
74 posts

When the zipper of my last one broke; I bought my current backpack (Eagle Creek with a detachable 2-wheel frame) for my 2015 BOE tour and have been using it ever since. I travel without the wheel frame so it meets the 22x14x9 carry-on dimension limit; and weighs only 2.5 lbs (5 lbs with everything). All the design elements just make sense; I hope it will continue to accompany my trips for years to come.

I used to fly Air France back to the US; I packed 18 lbs on the way to Europe so I could bring home 8 lbs of chocolates :) Now I start to fly Delta as it does not check weight for carry-on bag.

Posted by
245 posts

I have the RS convertible carry on back pack and did three trips with it recently.

Major Pros: the design is fantastic - pockets, chains, small things i really missed in other luggages. On cobbled streets in europe and boarding trains etc, its super convenient.

Major Cons: as someone said above, pack really light! Anything above 8 kg and i am regretting those kgs on my back as i walk miles through airports and from train stations to hotels. U better have a strong back. The other con is its shapeless (so it can pack huge volumes) but i solved it by using packing cubes.

I am considering the backpack-roller combo. Heavier but what the heck, i can roll it thru miles of airport walks (hello MAD, FRA) or long queues (hello LIS) and then put it on my back on cobbled streets.

Posted by
963 posts

Mike - if you fell somebody with your backpack they are already too close to you!

JC - the Ying to your Yang is that I’ve almost been felled dozens of time by people dragging their rollers behind them directly into my path/line, oblivious to the fact that I’m there. Same for the missus, so it’s not just me being overly tetchy!

Posted by
1 posts

I'm 5'4" and once had to run through an airport with my stuffed domestic sized carry on backpack. My back went out the next day and it was excruciating for the next few days. I now use a small 2 wheeled roller (High Sierra Endeavor; it's small enough for international carry on) and I supplement with a small (think RS Citiva) backpack. The roller is small/light enough that I can carry it up stairs without a problem.

https://shop.highsierra.com/travel/carry-on/endeavor-wheeled-underseat-carry-on/1039576657.html?gclid=Cj0KCQjwhqaVBhCxARIsAHK1tiO9FmSgbQITxflFhVS9jy2tGrcljSRXbM3gqT6d1I9XYjZvz3zD_UgaAvriEALw_wcB

Posted by
5149 posts

JC, we call roller bags "ankle bangers," and yes, we've been tripped and run over and into by them.

I think all off us, backpackers and wheelie bag users, need to pay more attention to how much room we take up. Mea culpa, and definitely my-husband-culpa.

Posted by
2 posts

I have been hit in the shin, back of leg, and had my foot run over so often by wheeled bags, I have lost count. I have also been hit several times by people hoisting their wheeled bags into the above seat storage because they weren't really strong enough to do so and have good control.

I have been hit by backpacks, too, but they are usually a lot softer so the bonk is easier to take

I'm a 64 year old woman who packs light and can travel for weeks during shoulder seasons requiring clothes for all types of weather in a backpack weighing about 16#. I can carry it comfortably for hours because I work out to keep my back strong for travel, backpacking, cycling, etc.

I am sad Timbuk2 discontinued my particular bag. A smaller version of the Wingman. I like that it is smaller and, thus, can meet the size requirements of the discount airlines. And that it is narrower so you can walk down narrow aisles without it brushing the seats and bonking people's heads and shoulders.

I haven't traveled with the burden of a heavy, wheeled suitcase for years. I realize as I agree, I might be forced to do so at some point but I hope to head that off for as long as possible.

Posted by
11973 posts

I've always skipped rollers because they take up more space and weight. I limit myself to no more than twelve lbs. (including the weight of the bag) so three extra lbs. can be 25 percent of my entire luggage. With 12 lbs. (usually, I'm at ten), carrying your bag is no big deal. You can hop on and off buses, trains and metros, or scamper up/down steps, without batting an eye. My choice right now isn't even a pack, it's a small shoulder bag that meets any airlines carry-on restrictions.

I know plenty of people who love their wheels. They work well on flat surfaces, not so much crossing train tracks or climbing stairs.