Updated April 13th, 2018.
You gotta roll with it!
The wheel. An invention that changed the path of humanity. So why do so many backpackers fail to appreciate the genius of this creation? Why do so many backpackers still carry everything around on their backs like a turtle carrying its home?
Before I went travelling to Southeast Asia the first time, as a 23-year old naïve traveller, I went straight to the outdoor shop in my home city and bought myself a 55-litre backpack. (I was going to be a backpacker, I needed a backpack right?)
I figured I’d be walking a lot around towns and villages in Southeast Asia, getting on and off buses and boats – it would be easier to have everything on my back.
At times it was definitely easier… Hopping on the back of a motorbike when arriving in a new town, going down a huge staircase to a metro station, or arriving on a tropical island stepping right onto the sand… in all of these situations, wheels actually make your life harder!
However… at times, especially as I accumulated more and more things as I went along and my backpack became much heavier, there were definitely times when I wished that my regular backpack would turn into a backpack with wheels!
Well folks, nowadays – you can have your backpack and roll it!
We’ve all seen kids rolling their school books behind them in a rucksack with wheels. We may well have envied them (it wasn’t an option back in my day).
What many of us haven’t realised is that there’s been a quiet revolution in the world of backpacks with wheels for adults. The wheeled backpack for travel is here! No longer do you have to decide between having a backpack or taking a wheelie suitcase. You can have everything in one!
In our recent Readers Poll about the best luggage to take to Southeast Asia, we were given some excellent recommendations for the best roller backpacks out there. Here are your top recommendations!
Read our Reader’s Comments on Why They Chose Wheeled Backpack Luggage:
“I prefer a backpack with wheels when I travel. Not the most comfortable to wear, and I do prefer to use the wheels, but it’s easy to pop on your back when walking through sand or mud. I bought it from Kathmandu about four years ago. It was quite pricey but has been on so many trips and hopefully, I will get another few years out of it!” – Fiona Cunningham
“The first couple of times I went travelling, I went with a backpack, then I realised that I need very little, so all my following trips I’ve been taking a small cabin bag with wheels that I can easily lift when I need to. I can’t stand the sweaty back, and everything is tidier – it’s like putting things in a drawer.” – Ilaria Coser
“Wheels forever (spine problems).” – Cler Stel
I prefer a backpack (that opens flat) with wheels. Straps are covered and when you need them just unzip the cover and hey presto! Mine was a Berghaus. – Monica Megraw
7 of the Best Roller Backpacks
1. Osprey’s Ozone Convertible 75L / 50L
This “go everywhere bag”, taken from the convertible range by Osprey, is described as a travelling chameleon by the Osprey brand themselves. It’s a wheeled bag with a hidden backpack suspension system – plus, it has a detachable daypack. At this size (75-litre) it’s as lightweight as it possibly can be, with a lightweight aluminium frame so that it won’t break your back when you have to hitch it on and wear it like a backpack.
There are also handles on the side and the top for when you need to lift the bag onto a train or bus. The bag has loads of compartments and lockable pockets to keep your belongings safe and organised. And, it opens just like a suitcase, rather than at the top like a backpack, so that you can get easy access to your stuff without having to rummage through everything. The daypack also has zippered pockets and a scratch free exterior slash pocket to protect glasses or electronics. Also comes in 50-litre size.
2. Osprey’s Meridian 75L / 60L
Designed to fit in the overhead compartment on your flight, this bag doubles up as a carry-on, a backpack and a wheeled bag. The straps are neatly tucked away in a hidden zippable rear panel. It has internal compression straps to hold your clothes firmly in place and four separate zipped pockets for toiletries and liquids in case anything spills, as well as your valuables and other belongings.
Like the Osprey Ozone above, it comes with a detachable daypack. Many people report how strong the zips are even when the contents are almost busting out! Also comes in a 60-litre size.
3. Osprey Soujorn 80L / 60L / 45L
The most expensive wheeled rucksack in the Osprey range, the Soujorn is rated for its durable wheels and tyres. At the 80-litre size, you won’t want to be carrying the backpack-cum-suitcase on your back for long periods of time, as a traditional backpack without wheels and a proper suspension system is much more equipped to do this job. Nevertheless, the option is there if you need it!
Note: The best thing about Osprey bags is that they offer a LIFETIME GUARANTEE. (They clearly know that their product is good.) If your bag breaks, they will offer to repair it for you whether you bought it last year or twenty years ago! And, if they can’t repair it they will replace it.
4. High Sierra AT3 Carry-On Wheeled Backpack
This bag is a wheeled backpack, a larger backpack and a daypack – all in one. The large compartment of the main bag opens like a suitcase and has straps to hold down your clothes and keep them in place on bumpy bus rides! There are padded backpack straps behind a hidden panel on the back of the bag, as well as handles to lift the luggage on and off modes of transport.
Many travellers say that it is very durable with strong material and sturdy wheels and straps. It also comes with a detachable daypack. It’s cheaper than the Osprey but still gets good reviews… On the negative side though, there were complaints about the bag being too heavy, as well as people saying that the zippers broke far too easily – and you just haven’t got that lifetime guarantee that comes with buying an Osprey!
5. Samsonite Wheeled Backpack
The Samsonite brand is well-known for making strong and durable bags and this rolling back pack is made from ripstop fabric that is resistant to tears and rips. But does it live up to its name? Well, reviews are mixed with some people saying that the handle mechanism is poorly made and that the bag began to show signs of wear and tear before it should have done. It’s the cheapest bag in the list so far – check out the reviews yourself!
6. Lowe Alpine AT Roll-On 40-litre
Excellent size for carry-on luggage on most airlines, this rolling pack gets great reviews. It has a tough outer material and lockable zips to keep your belongings safe, as well as a roomy front pocket, which opens up and contains two zipped pockets for your passport/money etc.
There are also adjustable straps inside to stop your clothes and toiletries moving around, as well as a separate zipped section for smelly laundry or dirty shoes – so that your clean clothes stay clean (for a while). Again, this bag is primarily a wheeled suitcase until you unzip the hidden straps at the back of the bag and turn it into a rolly backpack! It’s not cheap – but it’s very good quality!
7. Eagle Creek Load Warrior
Eagle Creek is another good make in backpacks and travel bags. This bag has good reviews for being very durable, waterproof (nice touch) and you can fit a lot in it! Like the others, the backpack straps are concealed in a zippable compartment at the back of the bag and it has handles for lifting it on and off buses, boats, trains, planes and tuk-tuks! The back piece is also padded in an attempt to make it that bit more comfortable to wear.
A Rucksack with Wheels – The Pros
1. If you’re travelling in Southeast Asia especially, you will be able to use the wheels more than you think therefore saving your back all those hours of strain! (There are plenty of flat surfaces like pavements and roads in Southeast Asia, why not take advantage of them?)
2. You can walk longer distances without getting hot and sweaty and save money on taxis!
3. Wheeled backpacks that open at the side, instead of at the top, are great for organising your contents and easy to live out of for long periods of time.
4. They do have straps – for those times when it’s impossible to roll with it!
5. If you’ve had an injury that makes it difficult to bear weight on your back, a backpack on wheels is your new best friend.
6. Wheelie backpacks are not a hindrance to the activities you’ll want to do. If you plan on going trekking for a few days, you can leave your rolling back pack at the hostel luggage safe, and pack your day pack with your essentials. Easy!
7. No sweaty back!
A Rucksack with Wheels – The Cons
1. They are heavier.
2. Because of the wheels, the back of the backpack is rigid, rather than curved, so wheeled backpacks can be uncomfortable to wear when you are walking long distances.
3. It would not be a good idea to go hiking with a rolling backpack, but for short stints when necessary, they do the job great!
4. Cool factor. “Are rolling backpacks for adults?” “Oh here comes grandma/grandpa!” Yes, your mates will definitely take the piss – but do you care? When you arrive at your hostel with a dry back whilst your mates are dripping with sweat – they’ll be the jealous ones!
If you think you may be more suited to a traditional backpack, check out our Readers Poll of the best backpacks for travelling. And if you’ve already bagged that bag – why not head over to our 5-step packing guide here!
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