Travel Pack vs Backpack vs Suitcase for Travel

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I’m sure you all know what backpacks and suitcases are, but many won’t know about travel packs. They used to be my preferred world travel luggage, I carried the same travel pack around the world for many years before switching to a regular backpack and now, sometimes, just a carry-on bag. The choice of backpack vs suitcase should be easy if you read our post, but what about travel packs? We’ll talk about that here. How to choose? Which style of luggage is best for you and your travel style? To a great extent, the choice of backpack vs suitcase is one of personal preference but it’s also a decision that should be taken based on the style of travel you prefer, the destinations you will be visiting, and what you will be doing there. We include tips on how to travel with a backpack.

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 or travel packs are what you need for this style of travel. Backpacking in India.

Backpacks vs Suitcase vs Travel Pack

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 world 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? What if you’re going trekking and what about flying? Do backpacks work well as luggage?

My choice for most travel situations is often a good quality travel pack, a backpack that zips open around its circumference combining the advantages of suitcases and backpacks. This will be my main luggage and I also carry a smaller day pack or other carry-on bag.

My husband always prefers a classical top-loading backpack, plus small backpack as carry-on. My kids have one of each style of travel bag. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of both and maybe consider the practicality of choosing a suitcase instead.


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 built-in, they help you distribute valuables and elude thieves.
  • You’ll stay fitter carrying a pack and may build some muscles.
  • The weight isn’t on your hands, arms and shoulders, it’s distributed down through your core and legs. You can carry more, further.
  • If you will be trekking and carrying your own gear, you absolutely need a good quality, well-fitting, trekking pack.

Disadvantages of Backpacks

  • Straps and harness parts could get caught in airport machinery. Bag them for flights to avoid this. Some backpacks with less traditional designs feature a zip away harness compartment. These are a good feature when using a backpack as world travel luggage.
  • Backpacks may not be fully waterproof. Avoid this with a waterproof rain cover. Some come with a rain cover built into the pack, others can be bought separately.
  • Backpacks usually aren’t lockable, although some are these days.
  • If you have physical problems, carrying a backpack maybe isn’t for you. I have friends with knee, hip, or back pain who just can’t carry a pack any distance.
  • Contents will always end up being compressed or tightly bound to some extent so packed items must be suitable.
  • Thieves have been known to slash backpacks and steal contents, on trains, buses, even while you’re walking. It’s rare but it happened to us once. Anti-theft backpacks have steel mesh or similar to prevent this.

Men’s and Women’s Backpacks

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. That said, I carry a man’s Osprey Farpoint often. It’s small and I don’t trek with it, so exact fit doesn’t matter so much in that instance.

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
  • You want your hands to be free.

Backpacks With Attached Day Packs

I don’t like the many backpacks on the market that come with an attached or detachable day pack. In my opinion they are in no way practical. I have never been in a situation where I’ve needed to attach my day pack to my backpack and the day packs are too small to be useful. You may be able to find a model that suits your needs but I have bought one and I would never buy one again.

Travel Packs

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 a travel pack comfortably for shorter distances 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 of your bag is much easier.
  • Travel pack style backpacks tend to have zips which can be padlocked shut. For me this is a big advantage of travel packs but 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 often 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.
 Travel pack with inside pockets. Backpack, Travel Pack or Suitcase?
Travel pack with internal pockets and compression straps. Backpack, Travel Pack or Suitcase?

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

Disadvantages of Travel Packs

  • Travel packs will not be as perfectly designed for carrying ease as a regular backpack. This makes them suitable for travel, not trekking carrying your own gear. A porter could, however, carry a travel pack.
  • Extra compartments, pockets, and harness covers add weight and bulk.
  • The zip could break.
  • Travel packs tend to have fewer external pockets than backpacks, so accessing something from your pack may involve full opening, which isn’t ideal at the airport.

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.
  • You aren’t going to be trekking or hiking with your world travel luggage.


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 won’t 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.

My Travel Pack and Why I like 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 Online

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

  • 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.
  • Go for a fully adjustable harness. Mine is, I’m really happy with the fit.
  • 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. However, don’t always trust sales people, they have a job to do and have given me crazy advice. I’ve been to Everest Base Camp carrying a backpack and visited over 50 countries, they usually haven’t.
  • Go for a good quality brand, if the brand has a good reputation, it will be a much safer bet.
  • Shop around, compare prices and postage from outlets all over the world. Search for discount codes for the shopping outlet you choose, they can save you a good chunk of money.
  • Read as many reviews as you can find.
  • 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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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

40 thoughts on “Travel Pack vs Backpack vs Suitcase for Travel”

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

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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

    • 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.

      • Hello Alyson
        Thanks a lot for your feedback.
        One more thing, from what we have researched it seems that Cambodia has a higher cases of dengue, and some people are advising not to stay longer there with a child of 4 year old, what do you think from your experience travelling with kids there?
        We are also thinking of getting an open jaw ticket, arriving in Vietnam and departing 4 months later from Bankok (if we are passing or not staying that much in Cambodia we decided to go to Thailand, what you think is it doable? We want a slow pace travel: Vietnam for around one month stay, Cambodia (if it is safe to travel with a child we stay there a little bit longer arounf 3 weeks, if not we stay much less or even do not go), Laos (around 3 weeks), and now we are thinking of going to Thailand around 1 month. Waiting for your feedback. Thanks a lot! Hugs from Lisbon

        • It depends which countries are having Dengue outbreaks. Check online. We were in Laos in a massive Dengue epidemic, it worried me, sure, but when you’re on the ground surrounded by perfectly healthy people your fears will dissipate.

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

  6. 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.

    • 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.

      • Hi Toneand chez. We’re travelling with 7 and 9 year olds at the moment. They both have their own packs, dunno how big they are as just using their old school rucksacks, prob around 15-20l, no hip straps etc. They carry them most of the time, all their clothes and some toys; we carry anything heavier. The 7 year old sometimes ‘gives up’. My travel pack attaches the day back on top, so when necessary I can then carry her bag on my front. Hope this helps. Xxx

        • Yes, we used to do the same, I would clip boo’s little REI bag on the front of my harness. After a while I just ditched his bag and put his stuff in my big pack, he really didn’t want to carry it. Now they’re older, we usually just have 1 carry-on sized backpack ( the Mountain Heardware one) for both of them and D carries it. Now he’s in puberty it’s a macho think, he enjoys carrying a big bag or even carrying mine sometimes. I think avoiding having too many bags is a bonus, the kids don’t normally have 1 each any more, they don’t need them.

          • Hi Alyson and Carol. Thanks so much for your replies. Since we are planning a few mini practice trips we have already got the boys (will be 8 and 5) kids Osprey packs with hip belts 18L and 15L and our 3 year old a tiny little 12L REI one. It is amazing what a small amount of space and weight their light summer clothes take up (less than half the space in their little bags). Our 3 year olds bag will fit easily into my husbands big pack (much like her own packing cube) and I can clip the 6 year olds pack on my 40L when needed. If it doesn’t work we can just ditch a bag and use a packing cube in my husbands pack. So now that I don’t need to think about bags anymore, I have started getting worried about our budget for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. We were very happy last time we traveled staying in extremely basic accommodation, taking the cheapest transport and eating on the street but I’m now worrying that with three kids our daily budget of US$75 is too low. I’m hoping that taking inflatable mats for the kids will help and the Asia part is 8 months so we can travel very slow. I know at times you were spending only $40-50 a day Alyson but at other times the budget in Asia was blown. Do you think a $75 average is realistic? This amount is not for flights, insurance etc, just daily living, buses and visas etc. I’d love to hear what you think if you have time.

            Loving the ‘living differently’ posts and the one about the kids schooling was amazing. I was almost in tears. You have very very lucky boys. One day my boys might be doing their maths in a coffee shop too.

            • Cherryl, I think you’ll be OK so long as you find accommodation on foot rather than trying to book online. Places for 5 people will be scarce and you’ll have to find owners happy to take you all in one room, without extra for the kids. We did OK on less, but time has marched on, I’m not sure about exchange rates, if they’re better or worse now, that makes a huge difference. For the whole world we came in at around $100/ day, so for Asia I think you’ll manage. Just don’t drink as much beer as us! And stay out of the expensive bits. If I had my time over, I wouldn’t buy the kids backpacks now, I’d just put their stuff in my pack I think. But…everyone tries it, everyone is different, each child is different. Bon voyage!

      • Hi Alyson, don’t know if you’ve tried their stuff, but I’m using an Osprey ladies travel pack Farpoint 70 and I LOVE it. Perfect size, comfy and easy access. I love that the day pack is big enough for my laptop (no extra bag!) and can zip on back or clip onto front shoulder straps, great for more even weight distribution and safety in crowds. Day pack also has pack-away straps. I’m so happy with it!

        • My job for this morning was actually to research what other travel packs are out there! We’d see a lot of Osprey in Australia, not so much here in the UK. Will look, cheers. I have a special laptop pack now too, it’s great, a specially designed one, plenty of padding. The shoulder bag was always a pain but it’s Kippling and I really didn’t want to ditch it. I’m still carrying it.

  7. Did you ever consider going with an international size carry on bag + small backpack? I know some families that have done that with good results.

    • You mean 2 pieces of carry on? We have to be able to carry everything, so bags on wheels are out of the question. We will never travel carry on only because we don’t have a home base to leave stuff at, everything we own comes with us. Also I don’t like having to replace, nail scissors, penknives, shampoo etc. every time we fly. We are currently carrying 3 Swiss army knives, OK, we only need one, but we need them, I hate not having things we need when we need them. We’re currently using the mosquito nets to improvise a fly screen on our window in India, the sheet sleeping bags are forever useful. I like being well equipped!

  8. We are preparing for 7 weeks in Europe, so not a massive trip and easy to buy anything needed. I know what bag I would buy if it is just me and I’d love to buy a new backpack for the next 20 years as my last much loved one just wore out, but what I would choose long term is smaller perhaps than needed travelling with my husband and three kids – 13, 11 and 9. YPlease can you let me know the type of bags you got your sons, and the size of all four packs? I have an idea of how much we will take but just don’t know how much the kids can carry – not that ours will be identical to yours, but any bit of information helps!

    • My elder son now, at 10 has 30 something L but it’s not full. Originally they both had 18L from REI, but I wouldn’t recommend the packs as they don’t fit well and the straps don’t stay tight. My pack is the one shown here I couldn’t go any smaller but could carry bigger. It’s still going very well after 2 years on the road. My husband’s pack is huge, I think 90L. But because we don’t have a “home” to leave stuff at, we carry a lot more than most people and we have clothes for just about any climate.
      This one may be helpful too.

  9. Another option I have seen is the TORTUGA travel pack. Unfortunately they were out of stock when I was looking for a carry on travel pack. Again this is a 40ltr. It’s amazing just how much can fit into a 40ltr. I hate seeing these travelers with their 80ltr packs, knowing what they are doing to their backs 🙁
    Sorry, don’t think they have pink


    • My husband’s pack is ENORMOUS, not sure how big. But he’s an Ion Man, he can cope. There is no way we could travel as we do with just carry on, totally impossible. We will always need 2 packs in the hold, the kids are only 18L so they are carry on. With all the computers we carry our carry on bags weigh a ton, we’re always very happy to ditch those big packs.

  10. Another alternative is to look at REI they have a great selection of travel packs.
    My new backpack is a 40ltr carry on. So far it has seen Townsville, Brisbane, K.L., Bangkok, and soon to see a lot more places.
    And yes, I do believe that I saw pink travel packs there also 😉


    • The kids packs are from REI Pete, we got them shipped over. They still worked out better value than anything we could get locally, even with the postage. They’re still going strong 12 months down the line but they’ve never been comfortable, I end up strapping them to the front of mu big pack.

  11. I appreciated learning about important bag features to look for, but I’m also wondering, (maybe write a new post): what essentials did you pack IN it for the trip? What did you not leave home without, or what do you wish you had brought? Hope your trip is still going well!

  12. I’m looking at this same bag w/o daypack – Can it be used as a carry on? Thanks.

  13. Hi Alyson!
    We are planning to start traveling on November and I was looking for a post just like it. I LOVE this backpack!
    I’m enjoying reading you 🙂

    P.S. We are still planing in secret…shhh… But we will start writing in English as well once everybody knows. Hope you follow are adventure too!

    • OOOH! secrets, I love secrets Lorena, looking forward to seeing what you’ve got up your sleeve. Glad I could help you out with some backpack decision making. Took me weeks to decide which one to buy, but I’m very happy with this travel pack.

      • I keep looking and always come back to this pack. I like the way it opens and the back support.

  14. “Let go of the pink thing already.” <– That's pretty funny. I'm really enjoying reading your updates as you prep. The closer you get, the more excited I get. =)

    • Thanks so much Suzi, there are still 4 months to go, almost. I’m sure the excitement levels will get even higher, once my PINK packing cubes arrive I’ll be packed and ready to go.

  15. I dare you, just dare you, to mention pink one more time and I’m after you!

    • Them’s fighting words Melanie! You do realise I’ll be looking out for every piece of travel related gadgetry in pale-red from now on, AND taking photos of it just for you 🙂

      • Note to self: THINK before posting, it’s always been my downfall! I love pink, I love pink, I love pink, I love pink………nope, not working.


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