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 . Lets look at the advantages and disadvantages of both and maybe consider the practicality of choosing a suitcase instead.
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 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.
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 Farpoint 70L Travel Pack Osprey Farpoint 55L Travel PackOsprey Farpoint 80L Travel Pack
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
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 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.
This Samsonite Winfield Suitcase on Wheels is a best-seller on Amazon
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.
Lets Take a Look at My Travel Pack, I Love It!
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.
( You can read about my old, much-loved, trekking pack here, she did great on the Annapurna Circuit and the Inca Trail)
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.
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?
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