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Backpack, Travel Pack or Suitcase? Which to Choose.

I’m sure you all know what backpacks and suitcases are, but many won’t know about travel packs. They are my preferred luggage, I’ve been carrying the same travel pack around the world since 2012 and it’s still in great condition. But how to choose which style of luggage is best for you? To a great extent, the choice of backpack, travel pack or suitcase is one of personal preference but it’s also a decision that should be taken based on the style of travel you prefer and the destinations you will be visiting.

If you’re taking a short business trip and will be travelling by taxi to your hotel, the choice is easy, suitcase. For backpacking or most budget travel where you’ll be using your legs regularly, switching locations, using public transport and exploring on foot, go with a backpack. But maybe a travel pack would suit you better?

My choice for most travel situations is a good quality travel pack, a backpack that zips open around its circumference combining the advantages of suitcases and backpacks. My husband always prefers a classical top-loading backpack. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of both and maybe consider the practicality of choosing a suitcase instead.

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One for Dad and one for me. Backpacks or travel packs are what you need for our style of travel. India.
One for Dad and one for me. Backpacks are what you need for our style of travel. India.

Remember that men and women have different body shapes and proportions, so you’ll probably be better choosing a gender-specific backpack or travel pack.

This post is under maintenance today, sorry, some elements will be missing.

Backpacks

This is a Lowe Alpine Women’s Backpack. It’s the best seller on Amazon in the size range I would recommend for travel. Lowe Alpine is our brand of choice, their quality is superb and none of our Lowe Alpine gear has ever failed us.

My travel pack is 60L. I find that a good size and a good weight for me as a fairly small woman. I’m 5 foot 4 inches tall and 50 years old. It’s easy to carry even for fairly long distances

Advantages of Backpacks

You can carry them easily and comfortably, keeping your hands free at all times, on any surface and up steps.

All those side pockets and compartments make organisation easy.

Secret hiding places and pockets are often build in, they help you distribute valuables and elude thieves.

You’ll stay fitter carrying a pack and may build some muscles.

Disadvantages of Backpacks

All those straps and harness parts could get caught in airport machinery. Bag them to avoid this. Some backpacks with less traditional designs feature a zip away harness compartment.

Backpacks may not be fully waterproof. Avoid this with a waterproof rain cover. Some, like the one above, come with a rain cover built into the pack, others can be bought separately.

Backpacks usually aren’t lockable, although some are these days. Find an example of a carry-on sized lockable travel backpack here.

If you have physical problems, carrying a backpack isn’t for you.

Contents will always end up being compressed to some extent, soft items can be squished.

Choose a Backpack If:

You need to be able to move around, on foot with your bag.

You will be backpacking, ie. moving from location to location during your trip.

You are strong and fit enough to take the weight. To give you an idea, my pack weighs 15-19KG depending on the trip, I can carry that weight very easily. I’m small, past my prime and female.

You like lots of external pockets to organise your stuff.

Travel Packs

Unfortunately, Lowe Alpine have changed their design since I bought my pack. It seems to no longer be available, which is a shame, it’s a brilliant design. The new orange and black packs look great, but they are slightly larger than my Lowe Alpine Travel Trekker ND60, that’s the one you’ll see in my images, below.

A new addition is front AND top opening. That’s interesting! The Large main compartment still has the internal compression system and accessory pockets. Side expansion pockets for drinks have been added and the buit in rain-cover and lockable zips are still there.

I’d buy it, but my old Lowe Alpine travel trekker is still good as new!

Other Travel Packs Available.

It can be hard to track down travel packs so I’ve done some of the hard work for you. Also take a look at these, in various sizes. They have great descriptions and images on these pages including the harness and internal pockets, scroll down to the bottom.

Osprey also make smaller travel packs but I really don’t see the point, just one good day pack would do instead and you’d be looking at cabin baggage size, carry-on only travel.

Advantages of Travel Packs

 the best travel packs are lockable. I love this feature!
travel packs are lockable. I love this feature!

You can carry them comfortably like a regular backpack.

The zip around the outside makes packing and unpacking easier, they zip completely open like a suitcase.

Finding things without pulling everything out is much easier.

They tend to have zips which can be padlocked shut for me this is THE big advantage of  travel packs.. ( many full-time travellers don’t worry about padlocks as they don’t stop some thieves. I always padlock mine to deter opportunists)

Travel packs have harnesses that can be zipped away to avoid the need to bag packs at airports or risk fouling on airport conveyor belts.

Alternate carrying points are usually built-in, a carrying handle and detachable shoulder strap.

 Travel pack with inside pockets. Backpack, Travel Pack or Suitcase?
Travel pack with internal pockets and compression straps. Backpack, Travel Pack or Suitcase?

Travel Packs often come with internal pockets and compression straps to organise and stabilise your gear. You may find dirty laundry or shoe compartments. Mine has two pouches built into the compression straps and a zipped compartment in the lid.

Disadvantages of Travel Packs

They will not be as perfectly designed for carrying ease as a regular backpack, it’s never been an issue for me.

The zip could break.

They tend to have less external pockets than backpacks, so accessing something from your pack may involve full opening, not great at the airport. ( they have fixed this problem by adding top opening to the travel trekker)

Choose a Travel Pack If:

Perfect harness fit and weight distribution aren’t so essential to you.

You need to be mobile and are strong enough to take the weight, as for a backpack.

You like to be able to padlock your bag and access your clothes without rummaging to the bottom of a pack.

You like internal pockets to organise your stuff.

Suitcases

It has a stylish, durable polycarbonate shell, a fabric lined interior with dividers and pockets and closes with a lockable zip.  The lock is actually built in. If I wasn’t such a big fan of carrying, rather than dragging, luggage, heck I’d buy it! It’s gorgeous.

Advantages of Suitcases

With a suitcase on wheels, you won’t have to carry it.

Easy, at a glance, access to all your belongings, no rummaging in the bottom of a pack.

Special or bulky clothes may have a better chance of arriving at your destination less wrinkled and if appearance really counts for you, you can easily pop in a travel iron.

If you splash out on a good quality hard suitcase, your belongings wont get squashed and are very well protected.

Suitcases can make you appear more professional, lady like or business class. Catch that free upgrade!

Heels are far easier to carry in a hard suitcase.

Disadvantages of Suitcases

If you encounter rough, uneven surfaces or steps, wheeled suitcases become useless.

At least one hand will be busy with your suitcase and your body will probably be leaning awkwardly stressing your back and shoulders.

Choose a Suitcase If:

You won’t be walking anywhere with your luggage.

You tend to spend your entire trip in one hotel or have a taxi or motor vehicle to take you from place to place.

You have fancy clothes and shoes that need some protection.

Let’s Take a Look at My Travel Pack, I Love It!

 harness on lowe alpine travel pack, best travel packs
The Harness on my Lowe Alpine travel pack is well cushioned and adjustable. A great fit! It also zips away to protect it when not in use.

My backpack of 3 years now, actually a travel pack, had to come from the USA. We lived in the top right-hand corner of Australia, the pointy bit, so shops were few on the ground and most purchases had to be made online. That’s not an ideal situation with backpacks. Really you should try them on with some weight in them to see if they are comfortable and check they are exactly what you want.

As I picked a great, good quality brand in Lowe Alpine, I was confident the harness would be good, it is, no problems with fit or comfort.

Buying a Backpack on The Internet

I can give you a few suggestions if, like me, you need to buy your new backpack online.

1. If you are a  lady, go for a lady’s pack. A small man’s pack may be fine for you, but without trying it on, you can’t be sure.

2. Go for a fully adjustable harness. Mine is, I’m really happy with the fit.

3. Know what is important to you in a pack. Have a look at whatever you can find in the shops, see what design features appeal to you and which don’t. If you can find a shop that will measure you for fit, even better, use those measurements in your online shopping.

4. Go for a good quality brand, if the brand has a good reputation, it will be a much safer bet.

5. Shop around, compare prices and postage from outlets all over the world. Search for discounts codes for the shopping outlet you choose, they can save you a good chunk of money.

6. Read as many reviews as you can find.

7. Decide how much gear you need to take, how much weight that will translate into and how many litres of volume you will need. You may want to consider taking less gear and getting a smaller pack that can be taken as airline carry-on luggage to avoid extra baggage fees. ( Note: my 60L Lowe Alpine Travel Pack weighs about 15Kg fully packed, for me, a small lady, that’s easy to carry.) Personally, I hate travelling carry on only, we only do it for short trips, read our post on flying carry on only here.

Do You Need a Backpack or a Travel Pack?

Technically, my new pack is a travel pack, that means it zips open around the middle and the harness zips away. That’s just me, it’s what I like. I’m not talking about packs for trekking, I wouldn’t use a big travel pack for that, my travel pack is “luggage”. It is how I carry everything around the world from bus to airport to guest house to train. For trekking in Everest recently I used a small, cheap, lightweight backpack that we often use as hand luggage. It did the job just fine. It’s a Mountain Warehouse Extreme pack and does for older kids and adults.

I went for a Lowe Alpine Travel Trekker Pro ND 60 +16

The 60 +16 means that it is a 60L pack with a detachable 16L day pack.

The Travel Trekker Pro has an outer clam shell design pocket that takes the 16L daypack, securely strapping it in. I can use that to carry one of the boys’ backpacks if they aren’t feeling strong, so I’m petty pleased with that design feature, too.

 Lowe Alpine Travel Trekker Pro travel pack. The Outer Clam Shell Pocket has been quite useful.
Lowe Alpine Travel Trekker Pro Outer Clam Shell Pocket has been quite useful for helping the kids or stashing shoes or wet towels.

UPDATE: 3+ years into our trip I still love my Lowe Alpine Travel Trekker, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Those internal zipped pockets are fabulous, look out for designs with this feature. I use the day pack every day, I also carry a laptop bag for airport, train and bus days. Everything is working out just great but I really wish I had a good day pack big enough for my laptop, the shoulder laptop bag is hard to carry.

Want more ideas on what travel gear you’ll need?

Go here, Travel Gear Essentials Tried and Tested Over 3 Years of travel.

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Alyson is the creator of World Travel Family travel blog and is a full-time traveller, blogger and travel writer. A lifetime of wanderlust and now over 7 years on the road, 50+ countries allowed the creation of this website, for you. She has a BSc and worked in pathology before entering the travel arena and creating this website. World Travel Family Travel Blog has been helping you travel more, better and further since 2012, when Alyson and James first had this life changing idea. On this site you can find endless travel information, tips and guides plus how to travel, how to fund travel and how to start your own travel blog.

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KateG

Tuesday 10th of March 2020

Hi,This article is so useful for me about backpack carrying system good job and thank you!!!

Rick

Wednesday 27th of September 2017

I'm going to have to check out the Lowe Alpine Travel Trekker in more depth, that bag looks pretty slick.

How often do you come to the US? I had a friend who lived in Sydney for years and he said he loved it there. I'd imagine you have some pretty nice trails there as opposed to the mid west US.

Looking forward to hearing back.

Alyson Long for World Travel Family

Wednesday 27th of September 2017

We left Australia long time ago, do our trekking in the Himalayas.

hugo

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

Hello Congratulation on the great content you are providing, very helpful! We are a family of 3, 2 adults and a 4,5-year-old daughter. We are initiating ourselves on a first long trip for 4 months into Vietnam, Cambodja, and Laos. Our plan is not to move that much, is to stay a long time in each place. We are dealing with a question, which is: which backpacks to buy for this trip, since we are 3, we were thinking of 1 carry-on bag of 46 L (the one we bring also our laptop to the airplane) like an Osprey Porter 46L and a then we would have another backpack a 70 L (like a Osprey FairPoint 70) to be checked in, and in this one we would some items you cannot carry on, like swiss knife, some sunblock, and other liquids. Also would be good to use the detachable daypack for day by day sightseeing. What do you think about this? Do you think the 2 sizes of backpacks are enough for us three, or too much. We will try to pack light. Looking forward for your feedback Kind Regards from Lisbon

Alyson Long for World Travel Family

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

Hi Hugo. I'm here in Vietnam right now. First of all check that your chosen backpack is in fact carry on size, we have the Osprey Farpoint and it's 40L. That's max European carry on size and a fraction too big for Air Asia and Malaysian. We've got away with it so far. As you're heading to Asia you're bound to use those airlines. See our post on Air Asia carry on sizes, it will be in the recommended posts, above. 70L is a good size. You can carry that easily. My pack is around 65, my husband's is a huge 90L, but he carries loads of Ironman gear. Use your detachable day pack as another carry on. It's always good to have a few things handy on the plane and if your luggage goes missing ( as is very common in Saigon, see our Saigon post for outcome, all was well). Yes I think that's a good way to do it. I don't think buying a bag for your little one is a good idea at all.

Cherryl

Thursday 1st of September 2016

Thanks for all your great advise Alyson. I really appreciate it. But lets not be silly, we both know how important the beer is!

Toneandchez

Wednesday 13th of January 2016

Hi there. I love reading about how you travel with the kids. My husband and I are planning on taking a year to travel Central America and South East Asia in two years when our youngest will be 3 and a half (also with a six and an eight year old). I am already emersed in planning just because it is so exciting and i cant stop thinking about it. I was wondering what packs you'd recommend for these ages. We hope the eldest will carry most of his own stuff. The six year old just his clothes and the three year old just a few toys. Does that should realistic? I have been looking at luckybums tracker ii 25l backpack for the 8 year old and maybe the six year old as it has a padded hip belt. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.

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Thursday 14th of January 2016

Quite honestly, I wouldn't now get one for the little ones Tone or Chez. I carry my younger son's bag 90% of the time STILL! And I always pack them. But I have boys, maybe girls would be different! The elder one doesn't mind carrying his and often helps carry mine, he's at the "manly" phase, but the younger one has never liked it. Depends on the child I guess. I think the fewer bags you have the better now. This time we're not even taking one for my 9 year old, his clothes are going in my bag. That would have been impossible previously, every bag was stuffed to the gills ( I hate that!) but we have more room now as we're not packing Lego and school bags any more. Good luck! I don't know the bag you mention, sorry.