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Backpack vs wheeled suitcase

We’re traveling to Ireland and packing somewhat lightly….16 lbs at this point.
Anyone have strong opinions about the benefits of using a backpack (Rick Steves) vs the wheeled suitcase. I’ve recently been diagnosed with an arthritic knee but managing it so far with lots of walking. Thanks in advance.

Posted by
9114 posts

Indeed, you will find that people have very strongly held opinions on this issue !!

Posted by
6431 posts

I’ve always used a 2-wheel carry on suitcase, but this year I switched over to a backpack style. Here’s a short part of the summary I wrote afterwards. I was carrying 13 pounds, including the backpack itself. I’m in my 60’s and was traveling for a month.

“Loved the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L! It was much easier to walk than leading a roller bag. I usually was waiting for my husband to catch up when we had our baggage (he has the previous style RS roller bag). I also really liked that I wasn’t picking it up with one shoulder/arm going up & down stairs at train stations as I had with my roller bag. I think the overall balanced feeling across both shoulders was better on my body.”

I spent a lot of time deciding which backpack to buy, and I’m very happy with it!

Posted by
10497 posts

Backpack vs wheeled suitcase

There no objective right/wrong choice; it is a matter of what works for YOU. Some experimentation may be involved to figure out what that is.

My wife and I used roller bags and have never wished we had a backpack. It's what works for us.

Posted by
1109 posts

I’m in Barcelona now on an extended 5-week trip with both a carryon roller-suitcase and a traditional backpack.
I , too, have a bad knee and spinal disc nuisances, so carrying too much undivided weight is a problem. Some internal flights within Europe only allow 18 lbs in the wheeled carry-on which is impossibly light and will not accommodate all my things as the case itself weighs 7 lbs and I usually bring books and notebooks with me. When that’s the situation, I place the overflow weight into the checked backpack ( maximum weight allowed by airlines is 35-50 lbs). along with my shoulder bag and its contents.
This has worked out well for me. The choice of luggage is no longer an A or B choice— as today there are products such as the Hynes Eagle rolling backpack available. Amazon.com has photos of what they carry and you might want to check it out.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
2 posts

What is your trip like? Is it a tour? Are you driving yourself? How many 1 night stays requiring you to carry luggage in and out of the hotel? Have you tested carrying the full pack to see how you hold up? I can’t weigh in on the last question, but on the others, we did an 18 day trip last year with a rental car. Most stays were 2-3 nights. I was happy with our choice to use a wheeled suitcase with our personal item as a day pack backpack. Easy enough to get into the car trunk and bring into B&Bs and hotels.

Posted by
324 posts

Like a few others have said, it depends in part on the type of travelling you're doing.

Most of the travelling I have done involves going to a city, then settling in a hotel and then exploring the city and surrounding sites over a few days without changing hotels. In that case, it's neither a benefit nor hindrance to use either wheeled suitcase or backpack.

There have been several trips I've taken in which it was undoubtedly advantageous for me (considering also my physical ability) to use a backpack over a wheeled suitcase. One trip was in sub-Saharan Africa taking local bus from one major city to another, then from another city to a national park. A backpack (it was an internal frame pack, the kind that mostly sits on your hips) was undoubtedly better as it made going from bus stop and from one place to another much easier. You cannot drag wheeled suitcases on unpaved bumpy roads.

Another trip which was in Japan, I travelled from the eastern part of Japan to the western part in about a week, with several stops along the way. That again was much easier to use a backpack because of navigating public transportation and having to pack up and go every one or few days.

So think about the kind of travelling you'll be doing.

Posted by
5099 posts

There no objective right/wrong choice; it is a matter of what works for YOU. Some experimentation may be involved to figure out what that is.

What Joe said. I'm one who has tried both. In fact, I bought the same backpack that Jean (above) did and loved it. I still have it and will still use it - but not in Europe. The biggest problem for me was at the airport and getting to and from hotels. It was just too cumbersome for me, especially trying to bring a personal bag along as well. I like having a spinner suitcase at the airport, as it is so much easier to walk with and I can put my personal bag on top using the trolley sleeve.

I will keep the backpack for road trips as it is easy to take in and out of the car and encourages me to pack light (not that I pack heavy with my carry-on). But for any long trip by air, I will stick to my TravelPro MaxLite 5 wheeled spinner. 😊

Posted by
6431 posts

Maybe the easiest decision is answering how much weight you can comfortably carry on your back. My limit is around 14 pounds. Borrow someone’s backpack, fill it with your equivalent planned weight and take a long walk around your neighborhood, including up & down some stairs. Backpack designs may change what feels better, but this will give you the basic “go/no go” for using the backpack option vs. wheeled luggage.

Either way, have a great time! Pick whatever gives you the best travel experience!

Posted by
404 posts

There's no right or, wrong with this one, some are more vocal or, evangelical than others.

I do both, just keep in mind a few things.
1) Location. Does the destination you're going to demand or, would be much better if you utilized one method over, the other? If you're visiting known, well-worn destinations, then there's a very good possibility that rolling luggage will not be a hindrance. Lots of stairs, and trails...a backpack is nice to have.

2) Mobility & Awareness. Wearing a backpack-type to carry your gear, you need to be mindful when utilizing public transportation that you're not knocking people over and shoving them aside when you turn/rotate your body and your pack gets shoved into their face. If you don't carry a carry a backpack much, your situational awareness may not be tuned-on and you're likely to annoy/anger someone. The flip-side, with a roller, if you're apt to allow your bag to drag behind you where it appears you're pulling a train, there's a likelihood you're impeding or obstructing someone else's travel, thus you're causing problems, particularly if you abruptly stop in the middle of a thoroughfare or, walkway.

3) Comfort. You're the one responsible for your gear, traveling engenders a level of self-reliance, can you carry your own kit? If you have medical or physical concerns, then choose the method that'll work for you. It's ok to ask for help when lifting things but, you also don't want to be the one that is entirely reliant on others to get through the day as well. I took my parents (75+ yr old) on a 2wk trip and insisted they use 20" rollers; after visiting parts of Italy, they were entirely thankful that they heeded my advice and packed light. I had no issue with giving them an assist and their luggage was entirely manageable for them once on a sidewalk/walkway.

Posted by
274 posts

I vote for backpacks. My husband and I are fit for “senior citizens.” I will only use backpacks from now on. Hands are free. We are not prisoners of cobbles, slow or non working elevators, or curbs. We use Osprey. I love the women specific and they offer a petite frame. Packing it properly and using the hip belt and shoulder straps- not a problem. I had a broken arm too.

Backpacks are liberating.

Try it out. REÍ has a generous return policy. Get a Backpack fitted for you. Fill it with stuff, walk around the neighborhood and see if it works for you. I don’t know if the RS backpack would be women specific and it maybe one size fits all. There were people on our tour who were using the RS roller bag and loved it. It is a fine choice too.

Posted by
2679 posts

I did the backpack once. I will never do it again. I’m sorry I was miserable every time I put that stupid thing on my back. I hated it. I have actually backpacked in the wilderness but it just didn’t work for me at all in Europe.

I went and bought one of those rolling carts and threw the stupid bag on the rolling cart and rolled around Europe. So now I just take the wheelie bag because I’m not doing the backpack.

Oh, and if you do do the backpack when you get on the plane please don’t turn around and hit people with it. Nobody wants to be hit in the head with your 45 pound bag bag😂. You have to remember that you’re taking up twice as much space as you normally do when you turn.

Posted by
6915 posts

Well, I took the different tact, I went with the Osprey Farpoint 36 liter bag. It is wheeled (nice decent size wheels) but converts to a backpack if needed.

It is on the small side, but still enough for me since I pack pretty light. I wheel it most of the time, but it is nice if we get to rough cobble streets or lots of steps to sling it over my shoulders. It works well. My wife went with an Osprey travel backpack, she seems to think it is OK, though I do have to guide her a bit in congested areas, she'll spin around and bump things until she gains spatial awareness.

Posted by
3134 posts

I will repeat: There is no right or wrong way. So many factors go into the choice or just one: what feels better in which ever way.

Before wheels, I packed in a backpack sometimes. However, I always used one of those little luggage carts, which fit in the pack on the plane, so not really using a backpack. My high school graduation present was a set of luggage, which I picked out. (Perhaps where I got my luggage addiction from.) Luggage always made me feel better, more put together, and comfortable. Recently I walked on the Camino from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela so, obviously, I needed a good backpack. Mine was the 34 liter Osprey Sirrus. I have to say I love this backpack...for trekking. I'm sad to see it hanging on the wall of my closet due to this emotional bond. LOL. But there it will stay until another trek, because I do not feel comfortable in an airport, entering a hotel or while in transport wearing a backpack. Vainly (a word?), some of it is the look of a backpack on me...backpacks are not flattering to extremely, non-flat chested women...(or attract unwanted attention no matter what your age). When I travel, I want to look more put together; not in a fashion icon (that would never happen) or make up, dress up person manner, just in what I consider an appropriate manner for me in public. And I want to fly under the radar, which I don't feel said backpack allows me. It has nothing to do with strength as I imagine it doesn't for many people. It is just a preference. I understand the sense of freedom (I actually think it is a sense for many of us of being young again. LOL I get that.) So I think...our choice of luggage is purely psychological. It has nothing to do with strength or inconvenience. In my lifetime, I have never traveled in a location where I could not easily wheel my bag and in all kinds of weather, other than upstairs, and one carries the backpack upstairs as well.

So walk around for a while with both, envisioning the various scenarios as you test. What do. you want? No one can tell you that. AND then enjoy some recreational packing...

Posted by
583 posts

The basic question you have to ask for this choice is, how much does your junk weigh? If you are over 20# go with wheels. Using a backpack you have to get it on and off. So less than 20# is real good.
Someone posted above about hating backpacks and later in their post mentioned 45#. Well, that would be a problem even if you were backpacking with a pack designed for heavy loads.
Since OP only has 16#. That’s nothing.
When you checkin at an airline counter, just take a look around you. You will be amazed at the sizes of luggage people bring. I have always wanted to ask, what exactly do you have in there? But I never do. And actually, it seems that a majority of people do travel with very large bags. All you have to do is see the limits of bag weight (usually 50#) and you can see that the airlines are way liberal. I could not imagine taking 50# of stuff.

Posted by
5 posts

When it comes to backpack vs. wheeled suitcase, it's like choosing between sneakers and flip-flops – both have their perks.
With the knee thing, I'd say the wheeled suitcase might be your buddy. It's easier on the knees, and you won't have to play backpack Tetris every time you need your toothbrush.
But hey, if you're feeling adventurous and your knee's up for it, rock that Rick Steves backpack like a champ. Just remember to pack light, and you'll be golden!
Have a blast in Ireland, mate!

Posted by
3468 posts

LOL, Kim, that made me laugh. I am sure people look at my daughter and her very large luggage (and excess # of pieces) every time she moves countries and has to take all her personal and teaching stuff with her. 🤣