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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 travel 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!
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, 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 the contents of your bag 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 backpack locked up in the hostel luggage room 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, (It would not be a good idea to go hiking with a rolling backpack).
3. 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!
4. Often too large for carry on. (Although we have tried our best to include plenty of bags that are within carry on limits in this list!)
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 Southeast Asia Packing List!
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
If you also fancy giving those shoulder straps a rest, these are for you! Here are your top recommendations!
8 of the Best Roller Backpacks
- Cost: $259USD (65L) / $239USD (36L)
- Capacity: 65-litres / 36-litres.
- Net weight: 2.9kg (65L) / 2.5kg (36L).
- Carry on size: Yes but only the 36-litre version.
- Straps: Padded shoulder straps and hip belt, chest strap.
As with all rolling backpacks there is substantially more weight to carry than the original backpack versions of these bags but considering you don’t really have to carry them all that often, it shouldn’t matter too much. When the time to carry your bag does come, Osprey have included a mesh suspension system to help balance out the extra weight.
It is a quick job to unzip the back panel, pull out the straps and attach this backpack with wheels to your person but it can take longer to put the straps away again. Some users report that this can be quite a fiddly task.
Internal and external compression straps help to keep your bag as compact as possible, making it easier to transport through busy city streets such as the ones you will find in Kuala Lumpur. The main compartment opens like a suitcase and is large enough to be packed easily, especially when combined with packing cubes. There is a small top pocket which is perfect for quick access items such as your passport or wallet.
The two different capacities of this pack mean there is enough variation to suit all travel styles. For the light packers out there who want solely hand luggage, the 36-litre version of both the Farpoint and the Fairview are more than enough but for those of you who don’t mind checking a bag and want a few more luxuries, check out the 65-litre version.
- Cost: $380USD (75L) / $349USD (60L)
- Capacity: 75-litres / 60-litres
- Net Weight: 4.4kg (75L) / 3.9kg (60L)
- Carry on size: Sort of… Read below for more information.
- Straps: Padded shoulder straps. Chest strap.
Advertised as being carry on size, this bag is not quite telling you the whole truth. Whilst the 60-litre version of this rolling backpack does fit hand luggage regulations, it only does so once you remove the detachable daypack. The 75-litre version cannot be taken as carry on.
Aside from some weird wording when describing the carry on capabilities, Osprey have once again created a great bag.
Let start with the removable day pack. This is a 20-litre bag that attaches to the front of the main pack and can be used for carrying items on buses, trains and planes when your main pack is stowed out of reach. It is also plenty big and durable enough to face up to day to day use while you are out exploring.
There is even a 15” padded laptop sleeve within the removable day pack to keep your computer or tablet safe from the odd knock!
The straps for the main pack neatly tuck away in a hidden zippable rear panel and internal compression straps hold your clothes firmly in place. There are four separate mesh pockets to keep everything organised and easy to get to.
The main downside with this bag is the weight, at around 4kg it is already a large chunk of your baggage allowance and it can make for hard work carrying it when it is full.
Almost all users of this bag note the build quality, especially around the stitching and zips, even when full to bursting this bag will not fail you! One thing to note though, if you do fill this bag to its maximum capacity, it can be difficult to attach the day pack.Also comes in a 60-litre size.
- Cost: $339USD (80L) / $310USD (60L) / $299USD (45L)
- Capacity: 80-litres / 60-litres / 45-litres
- Net Weight: 4kg (80L) / 3.8kg (60L) / 3.4kg (45L)
- Carry on size: The 45-litre version fits within most carry on limits but weight can be an issue.
- Straps: Padded shoulder and hip straps. Chest strap.
Much more of a suitcase with straps than a backpack with wheels, the Sojourn is particularly well rated amongst travellers. With its large compartments, suitcase style opening, internal compression straps and external straight jacket straps, this wheeled backpack is easy to pack, easy to organise and compresses down as small as possible.
Osprey have listened to their customers who wanted a more sturdy handle than the one stem design seen on a lot of their backpacks with wheels. This time they have committed to the double stem design, which is more comfortable to grip and offers more control over rougher terrain. Combine this with the large, rugged wheels and there is no city this bag cannot conquer.
At the 80-litre size, you won’t want to be carrying the backpack-cum-suitcase on your back for long periods of time. A traditional backpack, without the added weight of wheels, is much more equipped to do this job but the option is there for when you need it!
When such a situation arises, the suspension system and well designed straps help to distribute the weight of your gear in an effective manner. If you are short on space then these suspension components can be removed to add extra packing room but be aware, it will severely diminish the carrying experience to do so!
- Cost: $134.99USD
- Capacity: 50-litres (including day pack)
- Net Weight: 2.9kg
- Carry on size: Yes but only with the day bag removed.
- Straps: Thin shoulder straps only.
This bag is a wheeled backpack, a suitcase 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 backpack straps behind a hidden back panel, as well as handles which make lifting your bag out of overhead lockers easier.
The removable day pack is great to carry valuables on long bus journeys, or for your day to day items whilst wandering around taking in the sights!
Many travellers say that it is very durable with strong material and sturdy wheels and straps. It’s cheaper than the Osprey but still gets good reviews.
On the negative side though, there were complaints about the bag being uncomfortable to wear on your back due to a lack of padding or suspension, 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!
- Cost: $80USD – Significantly more costly in Europe.
- Capacity: 30-litres
- Net Weight: 2.2kg
- Carry on size: Yes
- Straps: Padded shoulder straps only.
The Samsonite brand is well-known for making heavy duty, strong and durable bags and this backpack on wheels 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 straps show signs of wear and tear very early on in the bag’s life. It’s one of the cheapest wheeled backpacks in the list so check out the reviews yourself!
Due to the number and placement of compartments within this bag it can be hard to pack for longer trips. Instead, this is more of a daypack on wheels rather than your primary backpack.
The padded laptop sleeve will keep your electronics safe and there is even a mesh pocket on the side for easy access to drinks, sweets and snacks. You will find the top pocket makes it super easy to quickly access your passport, phone or boarding pass but some users note that the zip for this pocket gets jammed easily.
- Cost: $224.95USD (78L) / $179USD (30L)
- Capacity: 78-litres / 30-litres
- Net Weight: 4kg (78L) / 2.7kg (30L)
- Carry on size: 30-litre version only.
- Straps: Padded shoulder straps. Chest strap. Hip strap only included in the 78-litre version.
Eagle Creek are big names in the travel game and as such, I was not surprised to find such a well rated wheeled backpack within their collection.
The massive 78-litre version of this rolling backpack opens like a suitcase and has enough room to fit everything you could need on an extended trip. Even if you plan on visiting varying climates, the compression straps will keep all your bulky items small and secure.
The external water bottle pocket and front stash pocket mean you can have quick access to all your important items. As well as having lockable zips (you will need your own lock for these) there are also the secure zip toggles which allow you to keep the zips as secure as possible without a locking system. This is a god send if you need to take your eyes off your bag for just a moment in a busy environment!
As well as shoulder straps, the bag has a padded hip straps and a padded back suspension system to help distribute the weight and make it more comfortable for carrying. If the bag is anywhere near full to capacity you will be thanking your lucky stars for these additions when heaving it onto your back!
If it is full and you don’t have to, why would you carry it? The rugged wheels are housed within a tough chassis built to tackle any sort of ground you are likely to cover.
Caught out in one of Thailand’s famous downpours? Don’t worry. All Eagle Creek bags are water resistant, which gives you time to get undercover before the rain penetrates all of your belongings!
The 30-litre version of the Eagle Creek Expanse has a few less bells and whistles than its larger sibling but this is not to its detriment. It is lighter and small enough to be taken as carry on, still has one large compartment, complete with compression straps and the zips can still be secured using their secure toggle system.
Be aware, the smaller version does not have hip straps to help distribute the weight so evenly but for the light traveller out there, this really could be the best wheeled backpack you will find!
- Cost: $240USD (70L) / $200USD (50L) / $180USD (32L)
- Capacity: 70-litres / 50-litres / 32-litres
- Net Weight: 3.5kg (70L) / 2.2kg (50L) / 2kg (32L)
- Carry on size: Only the 32-litre version.
- Straps: Padded shoulder and hip straps. Hip straps are not included in the 32-litre version.
The Hybrid range from Kathmandu is varied enough for all travellers to find the wheeled backpack they are looking for.
All three sizes open up like suit cases, although not quite as effectively as some of the Osprey rolling backpacks we talked about earlier.
Whether your trip is for a week, a month or a year, there is plenty of space within the main compartment of the bag for everything you could need and the front pocket makes for easy access to your important items. The main compartment has a few mesh pockets within it to assist with organisation but ideally you will want packing cubes so your clothes don’t all get jumbled!
The zips for the main compartment can be locked to the locking point at the base of the bag, providing you have your own lock. This way you can be sure the bulk of your belongings are safe on long bus, train or plane journeys.
The grippy wheels make pulling this pack a doodle, even on slick surfaces but for those situations where wheels really aren’t practical it is quick and easy to convert into a backpack.
The larger two versions of this rolling backpack come with great padded shoulder straps, a padded hip belt and a really nice back suspension system to help carry heavy loads. The 32-litre version only comes with the padded shoulder straps but as the weight is unlikely to be anywhere near as much this isn’t a problem.
Finally, the two larger versions have anchor points for the Kathmandu 18-litre daypack on the front of the bag. This means you can easily wheel your daypack on the main pack without fear of it falling off or going missing.
- Cost: $36USD
- Capacity: 28-litres
- Net weight: 2.4kg
- Carry on size: Yes.
- Straps: Padded shoulder straps.
This budget rolling backpack from Everest comes well rated from users.
It has a multitude of pockets, both internal and external, for easy organisation and quick access to items you need in a hurry. The main compartment is roomy enough for the main bulk of your belongings and providing you have packed light, it will easily fit within airline carry on limits.
The compression straps help to keep everything in place, even on the roughest of journeys!
Some users have noted that the zips could be higher quality with a few even claiming the zipper broke after just a few days of use.
The wheels and plastic base are rugged enough to take on towns and cities without a problem and the straps tuck away with ease when not in use.
With this wheeled rucksack being only 28-litres a lot of travellers will struggle without a second pack to carry all of their belongings so if you are not a light packer, this might not be the bag for you.
Although reviews are mixed for this rolling backpack, for such a low price you can’t go wrong!