Wheeled Carry-On vs Travel Backpack: Which One to Bring?

Regardless of whether you travel to your destination by air or some other form of transportation, the type of luggage you bring with you affects how easy it is for you to get around once you arrive. There are many types and sizes of travel backpacks and wheeled carry-on luggage available today. Before you start your journey, whether it’s a business trip, international vacation, or day hike, you need to consider the pros and cons of a wheeled carry-on vs. backpack and explore all your options so your travel experience will be the best one possible.

Wheeled Carry-on Vs. Travel Backpack: What You Need to Know

Wheeled Carry-On

wheeled carry on vs travel backpack

A wheeled carry-on is the most common type of luggage. They will have two to four wheels on the bottom and have a retractable handle. They are easy to roll through an airport and are designed to fit within the size restrictions to be able to store them in the overhead storage bin on airplanes.

Pros: Wheeled Carry-On Bag

  • Easy to Transport — A conventional wheeled carry-on bag can be quick and easy to roll through airports and other places that have long stretches of hard, flat surfaces. Pulling the weight of your belongings by an extendable handle can be much more comfortable than carrying it in your hand or on your back, especially for long distances through multiple airport terminals. If you have any physical or mobility issues, easy transportation becomes even more critical to the enjoyment of your trip. If you need maximum mobility without having to carry the bag yourself, this factor can make the wheeled carry-on vs. travel backpack decision a little easier.
  • More Luggage Protection — Some wheeled carry-on bags provide a lot of support for your luggage. This support includes a rigid exterior made of relatively inflexible materials. This helps protect the contents from being bent, crushed, broken or otherwise damaged on impact in bags made of lighter materials. This is a major factor in choosing a wheeled carry-on vs.a backpack.

Cons: Wheeled Carry-On Bag

  • Difficult on Rough Terrain or Stairs — While most conventional wheeled bags roll well on flat, hard surfaces, the wheels aren’t designed to handle stairs, rough carpeting, dirt roads, cobblestone streets or other types of uneven surfaces.
  • Difficult to Compact Luggage —  Wheeled carry-on bags are too large to fit underneath airplane seats, so they have to be stored in the overhead bins where they’re less accessible during the flight. If your plane is full, you’ll probably be competing for overhead space. You may end up storing your bag in a bin that’s far from your seat.
  • The Wheels and Handle Mean More Weight and Less Space —Depending on the design, a wheeled carry on bag may also have less room inside than a travel backpack because of the space taken up by the extension handle and wheel mechanisms. In the wheeled carry-on vs. travel backpack debate, your winner might need to be chosen based on weight and space requirements.

Travel Backpack

travel backpack vs wheeled carry on

A travel backpack is very similar to a large hiking or backpacking backpack. Travelers love them for their durability, flexibility and a large amount of storage space. For this reason, they tend to be the staple of the “backpacker” type of long-term traveler.

Pros: Travel Backpack

  • Versatile Sizes — Travel backpacks come in all different sizes. Some are small enough to fit underneath a standard airline seat, while others will fit in the overhead compartment as carry-on luggage. Others will need to be checked. If you opt for one that fits under your seat, you can keep it handy and insight during a flight.
  • Compact — Because most travel backpacks are soft-sided, they can be pushed or crammed into various types of spaces to fit your needs.
  • Lightweight — Most travel backpacks are lightweight and made from very flexible materials that quickly adapt to the shapes and sizes of your belongings. A travel backpack can easily be worn on your back or also on your front, even if you have relatively heavy objects in it. This flexibility is a winner for some people in deciding between a wheeled carry-on vs. travel backpack.
  • Mobility — A travel backpack tends to give you more freedom for spontaneous travel than a conventional wheeled carry-on bag. You can easily slip a backpack on your back or sling it over your shoulder. Also, you don’t need a smooth surface for it to roll on all the time. A travel backpack is ideal for hiking, biking, beaches or motorcycling trips for the same reason.

Cons: Travel Backpack

  • Poor Luggage Protection — Because most travel backpacks are lightweight and made from very flexible materials, the contents may be more at risk of damage or breakage from bag impacts unless extra padding is added. Because most travel backpacks are too large to be carry-ons, they will be stored and stacked with other luggage beneath the plane. The weight of other luggage and rough handling from airline staff can damage the contents of the backpack.
  • No Wheels — Conventional travel backpacks usually don’t have any wheels or extension handles built in for those times when it would be preferable to roll your bag instead of carrying it or wearing it. A backpack can become cumbersome when you walk through large airports or lug it on long walks to your hotel in the summer.
  • Most Too Large for Carry-On — While a big backpacker-sized travel bag may be ideal if you’re embarking on a backpacking expedition when you reach your destination, you’ll lose the benefits of carry-on luggage if you bring it with you. By stowing your backpack in the plane’s cargo hold as checked luggage, you won’t have access to it during the flight. If you are not sure how much your backpack weighs, look at digital luggage scales. You do not want to be surprised at the weight of your backpack when you are already at the airport. Also, you’ll have to wait in potentially long lines to check it in and retrieve it at each end of your trip. This can be a major deciding point between wheel carry-on vs. travel backpacks.
  • Fees — For most travel backpacks, you’ll need to pay high checked luggage fees. You’ll also be at risk of the backpack being misplaced, lost, rummaged through by security and possibly damaged by baggage handlers along the way.

READ MORE: Packing Tips to Avoid Checking Bags

The Best of Both Worlds: Convertible Luggage

convertible luggage

You can also choose to get the best of both worlds by choosing convertible luggage. This allows an easier alternative than having to choose between a wheeled carry-on vs. a backpack. Convertible luggage will look like a typical soft-sided wheeled carry-on but will have the option to convert into a travel backpack by unzipping or attaching backpack straps to the back of the wheeled carry-on.

This is a great option as it allows you to roll your luggage most of the time but also give you the option to use as a large backpack when needed. This is also a great option if you’ll be going on any extended outdoor excursions. The wheeled carry-on can be converted into a large backpack with plenty of space for picnics, camping, beach trips or other adventure.

Examples of convertible luggage are the Hypath 2-in-1 Convertible Travel Bag or the Osprey Ozone Convertible Bag.

Both of these options have a panel on the back of the wheeled carry-on that can be unzipped to reveal two backpack straps and a hip belt. This way, the luggage can be worn as a backpack when needed and provides the versatility to be rolled at any time as well.

The Final Choice Between Wheeled Carry-ons Vs. Track Backpacks

It’s important to take the time to think about which luggage type is best for you. If you will want to roll your luggage most of the time, the wheeled carry-on a great option. For longer, more rugged trips, the travel backpack is great as it can be carried anywhere and has tons of space. Of course, you can always choose convertible luggage to reap the benefits of both luggage types depending on your needs.

Which do you prefer? Let us know what luggage option is the best for your needs!

wheeled carry on vs travel backpack

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