Are you a rolling suitcase person or a backpack person? Chances are, you didn’t hesitate before answering. Whichever camp you’re in, though, it’s worth considering—at least in certain situations—the merits of the other.
Both hold your stuff when you travel, but each has unique strengths that go a long way toward solving specific travel problems. And each has specific weaknesses that can make travel a lot harder in certain situations. So it’s worth it to be flexible.
When to Rock a Suitcase
The great thing about a rolling suitcase—especially a carry-on size—is that the wheels are doing the heavy lifting 90 percent of the time. That means you won’t be slowed down if you need to sprint through the airport to make a connection, and it’s also very useful for anyone with back or joint problems.
Suitcases offer another benefit that many backpacks don’t: Greater packing flexibility. The zip-open capability of suitcases makes it easier to pack in ways that minimize wrinkles and maximize easy access.
When to Don a Backpack
To fully understand the allure of the backpack, you’ve got to first admit the weakness of rolling suitcases. If you’ve ever tried to roll your suitcase over cobblestones, or down a dirt road, or up endless flights of subway steps, you’re already aware that rolling suitcases are terrible (yes, even the ones with four wheels) on anything other than flat, smooth surfaces. And that means you end up carrying your suitcase around at a decidedly bad-for-your-back angle any time the terrain challenges the wheels.
A backpack entirely removes twisting and lugging from the equation. Granted, you’re carrying your stuff all the time, but you’re doing it ergonomically, symmetrically, and securely. And you can take stairs like they’re no big deal, squeeze through subway turnstiles efficiently, and navigate cobblestones, dirt roads, and cracked sidewalks like a champ.
Style and Gravitas: The Backpack Problem
If you already embrace backpack style, feel free to skip this section and go get a snack instead. But stick around if you’ve got a sneaking suspicion that a backpack is used as a profiling tool, an announcement to gate agents that you probably don’t wear deodorant so should not be upgraded, and to hotel front desk staff that you’re going to be washing your underwear in the sink and hanging it to dry over the upholstered chair, so should not be given a nicer room.
The big question here is, can a backpack be classy? The answer is yes. You can achieve this two ways: Go for a retro-rugged look or opt for sleek lines. Both options solve the tethers-everywhere, ultra-outdoorsy, high-tech backpack look that’s perfectly at home in an alpine setting but decidedly out-of-place on the streets of Paris or New York.
There are plenty of options out there, but here are a few that fit the bill nicely:
- Timbuktu Aviator Travel Backpack: This pack has an urban bike-messenger vibe, comes in two colors, and has pack-away straps in case you want to make the backpack look like a suitcase.
- Igabar Multifunction Vintage Durable Backpack: If Hemingway were looking for a new backpack, he might choose this one. Its retro-rugged look comes at a very reasonable price, and it gets good reviews.
- Hynes Eagle 40L Backpack: A sleek backpack that, like a suitcase, zips fully open.
- Kaukko Travel Hiking Backpack: This rucksack-style backpack comes in two colors and is waterproof.
Next time: Never the ‘twain shall meet? Hardly: We road-test a rolling backpack suitcase hybrid.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Ultralight Rolling Carry-On Bags Under 5 Pounds
- 6 Best Packing Cubes Ever
- Best Foldable Rolling Suitcases for Easy Storage
Christine Sarkis has upgraded travel packing from necessity to hobby. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.