Backpacks with Wheels: Pros & Cons + The 7 Best Rolling Backpacks

Backpack with wheels in airport

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 of us insist on carrying everything on our backs all the time? 

I know what you’re thinking. Suitcases aren’t practical and backpacks with wheels either look awful or perform terribly, right?

Wrong.

Wheeled backpacks used to suck, there’s no denying that. But nowadays, a backpack with wheels is a genuine option for travellers. They’re practical and actually look pretty fly.

So why aren’t more of us using them?

We’re told over and over again that we’re backpackers — which means we must use a backpack…

Backpack and yoga mat.
Backpackers use backpacks, right?

Backpacks are great for walking along dusty roads and broken pavements. They make it easier to get on and off buses or boats. They feel almost purpose-built for jumping on the back of a motorbike and they’re perfect when you’ve got to climb five floors to your dorm room. However, depending on who you are and where you’re travelling to, a backpack with wheels might just be a better option for you…


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Are backpacks always easier?

Not necessarily. If you accumulate a lot of stuff as you travel, your backpack can become a burden. You’re not jumping off a long tail boat and straight onto the beach that often! 

Sometimes the paths are smooth and there are no stairs to your room. Here, a wheeled backpack comes into its own. It reduces the strain on your back and shoulders, allowing you to admire your surroundings instead of wincing with every step! This can be a life-saver for backpacking grannies or backpackers with bad backs! Trust me, a bad back should NOT prevent you from being a backpacker!

A backpack on wheels also makes rushing around airports just a tad easier — those shiny floors are purpose-built for wheels!

Airport departures at Kuala Lumpur airport
Those silky smooth floors are built for wheels!

But when the terrain is tough, it takes only a minute or two to prepare most modern rolling backpacks for being carried. Simply pull the straps out, adjust them to your preferences and you’re good to go. 

So if you’ve made the decision that it’s time to invest in a backpack with wheels, or you want to see what they’re all about, keep reading to see our list of the top 7 rolling backpacks!


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Quick Answers!


A Rucksack with Wheels – The Pros and Cons

Pros

1. You’ll be able to use the wheels more than you think. There’s plenty of pavements, roads and smooth(ish) surfaces all over the world, why not take advantage of them?!

2. You can walk longer distances without getting hot and sweaty. Plus you’ll save money on taxis!

3. Wheeled backpacks that open at the side, instead of at the top, are great for organising your contents and are easy to live out of for long periods.

4. They do have straps – for those times when it’s impossible to roll with it!

Boats at Krabi
You’ll need the straps when jumping off a longtail boat onto the beach!

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!


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 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’ve tried our best to include plenty of bags that are within carry on limits in this list!)


Reader’s Comments on Why They Chose a Wheeled Backpack:

“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 Rolling Backpacks For Travel

1. Osprey Farpoint/Fairview Wheels                               

  • Price Range – $$$
  • Best Feature – Fully adjustable straps and back panel
  • Feature To Improve – The mesh bottle pockets are hard to use when the bag is full

Osprey’s original Farpoint and Fairview backpacks are considered some of the best travel backpacks ever made. So it’s no surprise that the Farpoint & Farview Wheels make it onto our list of the best rolling backpacks. 

The Farpoint is designed for men while the Fairview has been built for women. On each model, the straps and hip belt are shaped differently. Each features a unique padding layout to ensure everyone gets a bag that’s as comfortable and as customizable as possible!

Both are available in 65 and 36-litre models. The 36-litre version is carry-on compliant, making it a great choice for light packing travellers who like to breeze out of the airport after a flight. The 65-litre bags will need to be checked. 

When checking the bags, or pulling them along on wheels, the shoulder straps and hip belt can be stowed away behind the zipper panel. This prevents them from getting snagged, which reduces the risk of damage. 

The rugged wheels have a large diameter. This allows them to handle uneven or cracked pavements with ease. Don’t expect the bag to be easy to use over anything rougher though, that’s what the backpack straps are for! 

The handle is a single stem, T-handle. It extends telescopically from the centre of the bag at the back. It’s comfortable to grip and offers a good level of durability. If you’re travelling with a full bag, especially if you’re using the 65-litre model, this single stem doesn’t offer the same bag control as a double would. However, for the 36-litre version, it makes very little difference. 

Each backpack features a series of small pockets as well as the large main pocket. The main compartment opens up like a suitcase, giving you full access to all your luggage. Inside there are compression straps to help keep everything in place. These also help cinch your stuff as small as possible, making the pack more streamlined and less intrusive. 

When worn as a backpack, the Farpoint/Fairview is comfortable and well-padded, albeit a little on the heavy side. Without any luggage, the 36-litre bag weighs 2.4kg and the 65 weighs 2.8kg. 

There’s an adjustable back panel and Airspeed suspension system, which allows you to customise the fit to your exact torso length. This also offers plenty of airflow and helps distribute the weight of your gear across your whole body. 

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2. Osprey Sojourn

  • Price Range – $$$$
  • Best Feature – The 45-litre model can be taken as carry on
  • Feature To Improve – The bag feels too heavy 

The Osprey Sojourn is more of a rolling suitcase with straps than a backpack with wheels. It’s easy to pack, can be squashed down thanks to the compression straps and features the excellent Osprey HighRoad chassis. However, it’s a heavy bit of kit. The full-sized 80-litre model weighs in at almost 4kg, while the smallest model (45-litres) is still 3.4kg!

When used as a wheeled backpack, the Sojourn is excellent. The HighRoad chassis provides exceptional stability, which is only improved by the double stem ErgoGrip retractable handle. 

Big wheels offer plenty of ground clearance and the sealed bearings mean you can easily roll through puddles without damaging ruining your bag or its contents. 

The internal compression straps allow you to make efficient use of space and prevent your belongings moving around in transit. However, there’s no dedicated laptop sleeve within the bag which may put some travellers off. 

Osprey’s famous StraightJacket compression system features on the outside of the bag. This allows you to protect your gear and keep your pack as streamlined as possible. It also wraps all the way around the front of your bag when it’s not full. 

The outside of the Osprey Sojourn has accessible pockets for liquids or valuables. It’s home to grab handles that help manoeuvre the bag into a locker or off luggage carousels or overhead lockers. Daisy chains on the front allow you to attach more gear if required. 

When you want to convert the bag into a backpack, simply unzip the back panel to release the straps and hip belt. The straps are ventilated but feature very little padding. This is fine for short stints but it quickly becomes uncomfortable if you wear it for too long. The hip belt is similar, reducing the overall bulk of the bag and ensuring the straps can be zipped away easily. 

In contrast to the straps is the AntiGravity inspired mesh back system. This trampoline style suspension is super comfy. It protects your back and helps distribute weight across your body. It also breathes well, reducing the build-up of sweat. 

The shoulder straps and hip belt can be removed. If you’re certain you won’t need them, it’s worth the extra weight saving. 

The Osprey Sojourn is available in 45, 60 or 80-litre models and is compatible with both the Osprey Daylite and Daylite Plus

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3. Jansport Driver 8

  • Price Range – $$
  • Best Feature – Rolls well and is easy to manoeuvre
  • Feature To Improve – The comfort and durability of the straps – as well as the laptop sleeve placement

The Driver 8 by Jansport is a 36-litre rolling backpack meaning that it can be taken as a carry-on. It weighs 3kg and features four separate compartments for keeping your gear organised. The small front pocket is ideal for quick-grab items while the adjacent compartment houses small internal pockets for organisation. The two main compartments are big and easy to access. If you’re a light packer, they’ll easily house the majority of your gear. 

The largest compartment also has a padded 15-inch laptop sleeve built-in. However, rather than being up against your back, the sleeve is closer to the front of the bag — directly next to the other large compartment. This means the bag’s centre of gravity is not located in the ideal spot and you may feel your laptop throwing you off balance while using the bag as a backpack. 

More importantly, though, the placement of the laptop sleeve means your computer is sandwiched between all your gear. This means you have to pack super carefully to ensure nothing hard or sharp presses against it. 

With its 80mm wheels, the Jansport Driver 8 can comfortably glide over everything from uneven pavement to smooth airport floors. It features a retractable, padded T-handle that is adjustable, making the bag more usable for tall and short users.

It’s made with a combination of 420 denier nylon and 600 denier polyester. These materials are thick and durable enough to handle the rigours of travel. They also possess a good level of water resistance. While you wouldn’t want to be out in a storm with this bag, it will keep your luggage protected from errant rainfall. 

The bottom of the bag features protective skid rails. These extend the lifespan of your bag by reducing contact between the fabric and the ground. 

For those occasions where the ground is just not suitable for a rolling backpack, you can convert the Driver 8 into a backpack. All you need to do is pull out the lightly padded shoulder straps and clip them to their mount points. From there you can carry it around as a standard rucksack. 

The back panel is padded for extra comfort but this isn’t the most comfortable bag on our list. The straps are very thin, even with the padding, and the lack of hip belt makes the bag feel very heavy. The shoulder straps aren’t the most durable we’ve seen in rolling backpacks either. 

If the shoulder straps do break, or you have any other issues with the bag for that matter, contact Jansport directly. They’re well known for their excellent customer service team and lifetime guarantees that rival the likes of Osprey. 


4. Eagle Creek Expanse

  • Price Range – $$$
  • Best Feature – Very easy to load and unload thanks to the suitcase opening style
  • Feature To Improve – The large model feels very cumbersome while the smaller one isn’t comfortable as a backpack

The Eagle Creek Expanse comes in two different sizes. The smaller model is 30-litres and fits into carry-on specifications for most airlines. The larger model is a whopping 78-litres but features an excellent suspension system for carrying it like a backpack. 

Both models open and load like a suitcase, making them super easy to pack. This also makes it easier to find what you’re looking for without having to pull everything from your bag. They feature large treaded wheels, a sturdy chassis and a solid twin stem handle — the perfect combination for dealing with uneven terrain. 

For securing your bag, each model includes a central lock point. This allows you to lock the zips into place, preventing pickpockets or opportunistic thieves getting to your gear. 

The 78-litre model weighs 4.3kg — a lot for a backpack but still reasonable when compared to an average suitcase. However, because of the weight, Eagle Creek have included an excellent adjustable suspension and carry system with the larger Expanse bag. 

When not in use, it can be zipped away to prevent it getting snagged on anything as you roll the bag from A to B. But when you encounter stairs or rough terrain, the breathable shoulder straps, padded hip belt and ventilated back panel make carrying the bag a real joy. They evenly distribute the weight of your gear across your body, reducing the strain on your back and shoulders. 

The smaller 30-litre bag weighs comparatively little at 2.8kg but that’s still much more than an average 30-litre backpack. It’s super manoeuvrable thanks to its low centre of gravity but doesn’t perform as well when worn as a backpack. 

Lacking the hip belt and suspension system of its larger relative, the 30-litre Expanse features only lightly padded shoulder straps and a sternum strap. It’s not comfortable to wear for prolonged periods but it’s not designed to be worn for long distances anyway — that’s what the wheels are for!

Both bags are reinforced with Bi-Tech Armor Lite to ensure abrasion resistance in areas of high wear. They also both feature internal and external compression straps. The internal straps keep your gear organised and prevent it from moving around en route. The external straps can be used to attach extra gear or to keep your pack streamlined in transit.


 5. Hypath 2 in 1

  • Price Range – $$
  • Best Feature – Fully convertible 
  • Feature To Improve – The zips come open a little too easily

The Hypath 2 in 1 Convertible Travel Bag offers maximum utility to travellers. This combination of detachable daypack and backpack with wheels allows you to breeze through airports and bus stations with ease. 

The main bag has a 42-litre capacity and fits within most carry on specifications. It’s essentially a suitcase with straps, as the bulk of the bag is made up of one large, rectangular compartment. It opens much like a suitcase too, allowing you to reach the bottom without emptying everything onto the floor. The internal compression straps keep everything cinched down and organised, allowing you to find what you need without having to dig through everything. 

Thanks to its standard shape and sizing, the main bag fits perfectly into an overhead locker without taking up too much room — something your flying buddies will appreciate!

The Hypath daypack is just 23-litres and can be carried onto most airlines as your personal item. The bag will easily fit under your seat and has storage for all your important items. 

Be aware, budget airlines like AirAsia can be very strict about personal items and some won’t let you take any at all. 

There’s a laptop sleeve against the back of the day bag. This means when it’s carried alone, the centre of gravity is in the right place, ensuring you remain comfortable while on the move. The front of the bag features a ton of organisational pockets for small, often used items like cables, headphones, chargers and passports. There’s also a USB charging port so you can charge your phone or other devices on the move — you’ll need your own power bank though as there’s not one included. 

The combined capacity of the two bags is a whopping 65-litres. Incredible when you consider it’s within most hand luggage specifications!

When using the two bags together, there are several ways to transport them. They can be attached together and rolled along as one bag, or you can slide the daypack over the twin stem pull handle. You can also opt to carry the bags together as a single backpack or pull the main pack along while carrying the daypack. 

The 42-litre main bag has comfortable shoulder straps and a hip belt made of webbing. Carrying a full load isn’t exactly a pleasant experience, the bag weighs nearly 3kg alone, but it’s not impossible. 

The daypack weighs just 600g and is comfortable to wear even when full. It also features a stowable rain cover so you can protect your valuables in case you get caught in a downpour! 

The original model of the Hypath 2 in 1 had some issues with durability and storage and security, but as of 2020, Hypath released an updated version which fixed these problems. The stitching is now stronger and the materials are more durable. There’s also more organisational pockets. The rain cover and USB port on the daypack are also new additions to the 2020 model.


6. Samsonite Sonora 

  • Price Range – $$ 
  • Best Feature – Massive 17-inch laptop sleeve
  • Feature To Improve – Internal laptop sleeve takes up a lot of storage space

Samsonite are known for their build quality and comfort. And the Samsonite Sonora laptop bag with wheels is no exception. It’s made using Recyclex, Samsonite’s proprietary material created from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Recyclex is as durable as the polyester blend Samsonite previously used in their bags — meaning you get the same high-quality product while protecting the planet. 

The bag has a 30-litre capacity, offering plenty of room for light packing travellers — we suggest pairing the bag with a small daypack if you find 30-litres isn’t quite enough. It fits onto most airlines carry-on specifications but be aware of weight limits. The bag weighs 2.1kg, which is light compared to other rolling backpacks, but it could still bump you over the airline weight limits if completely full. 

This is especially true if you make the most of the laptop storage. The Sonora with wheels can hold a 17-inch laptop, making it a great choice for commuting professionals, travelling workers or digital nomads. Very few rolling backpacks accommodate a computer of this size. The downside is that computers are heavy. A 17-inch machine combined with the weight of your pack will be almost half your carry on limit for budget airlines! 

The front compartment contains some organisational pockets and a key clip. This allows you to have all your small, important items to hand. It also has room to store books, files or even rolled up clothes and extra layers if required. 

Large diameter wheels make easy work of most surfaces but they don’t have a ton of ground clearance. This can mean cobbled streets or particularly uneven paving can prove to be a challenge. The single stem T-handle helps save weight but reduces the manoeuvrability of the bag compared to bags with a twin stem handle. 

To convert the bag into its backpack form, take the shoulder straps from the zip pocket on the back and connect them to the mounting points near the wheels. You’re then good to go. The straps have a little padding but they’re not the most comfortable we’ve come across.


7. Kathmandu Hybrid

  • Price Range – $$$
  • Best Feature – Getting the straps out or away is quick and easy
  • Feature To Improve – No specific laptop sleeve

Kathmandu’s Hybrid backpack with wheels comes in three different sizes. The carry-on friendly 32-litre model, as well as 50 and 70-litre models. This means there’s an option for almost any type of traveller!

All versions open like a suitcase and feature a bright internal lining. This helps you find what you’re looking for without having to pull everything out. They also all feature internal compression straps and a mesh pocket to prevent your gear moving around as you travel. Although, if you want to keep things really organised, consider investing in a set of packing cubes

Each model houses a single stem T-handle which saves weight but limits your control over the bag to an extent. This is most obvious when the bags are full. 

The wheels on all three roll smoothly on a variety of surfaces. However, they’re all quite exposed when compared to other convertible backpacks. This means they’re more likely to get knocked and potentially damaged — especially when you consider you’ll have to trust airport baggage handlers with the larger two models!

As previously mentioned, the smaller 32-litre bag fits well within carry on limits. It has shoulder straps that can be zipped away when not in use. It only takes a minute or two to get the straps set up when necessary. There’s no hip belt or sternum strap so you’ll feel it in your shoulders if you try to carry the bag too far. 

Both the 50 and 70-litre versions feature a full foldout backpack harness. The shoulder straps are well-padded and have small ventilation holes to increase airflow. The hip belts have a small amount of padding but are mostly made up of webbing. Both bags also have a thick back panel made up of foam ridges. These not only protect your back and help distribute the weight of the bag, but they also improve airflow and ventilation. 

However, even with so much comfort technology, neither of these bags are particularly comfortable to carry for long distances. They’re designed to be on wheels most of the time, with the backpack features being a last resort. 

The 50-litre and 70-litre models also feature attachment points for the Kathmandu Gluon daypack which is available to purchase separately. To be honest, with both bags being so large, you’re probably better off getting a collapsible daypack that you can just fold away when not in use. 


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What to Consider when Buying a Backpack with Wheels

Durability

There’s no point buying a backpack with wheels if it’s only going to last a few months. A good backpack isn’t cheap so you want it to stand the test of time! 

Thankfully, if you’re already investing in a bag made of good quality materials, you’re most of the way to having a durable pack. Ensure the stitching looks clean and well done. Visible problems with the sewing are a sure indicator that more problems are hiding out of sight. 

It’s also worth looking at the zips, clips and buckles to make sure they’re high quality. 

YKK zippers are the most common high-quality zips — if you see these, you’re onto a winner. Even if the zips aren’t branded, it’s simple to check their quality. Just use them. Open and close the zips a few times. Do they slide smoothly or get stuck on anything? Do they feel robust or a bit flimsy? 

Plastic buckles and clips should feel tough. You want to be able to close and undo them easily. If they get caught or stuck, reconsider your choice. You also want to make sure they’re rugged enough that they won’t break at the first sign of stress.


Material

As with all travel gear, the material your backpack is made from will have a big effect on the usability of the product. If the fabric is too thin, you’re likely to get rips and tears. Too thick and you’ll be dragging a load of extra weight around all the time — rolling backpacks are already heavy enough! 

Look out for bags that use ripstop fabrics. These prevent any small holes growing and becoming a big problem. 

It’s also worth choosing a bag with a good level of water resistance. These will protect your gear should you get caught in an errant downpour. Plus, water-resistant fabrics are usually easier to keep clean!


Capacity

This one is down to you. What size backpack you need comes down to personal preference, how long you’re travelling for and where you’re travelling to. 

If you like to take a ton of stuff with you while travelling, a rolling backpack means you can go from A to B without having to carry 80-litres on your back! 

But if you prefer to travel light, there’s plenty of wheeled backpacks that are small enough to take as hand luggage!


Comfort

In theory, you’ll spend most of your time pulling your backpack with wheels behind you. Make sure it’s got a comfy handle that doesn’t dig into your hand. 

There will also be times that you need to wear the bag as a backpack. Ensure you try it on before you go travelling! Some rolling backpacks have a fully adjustable back system and hip belt, while others come with little more than a couple of thin shoulder straps.

With poor quality bags, the wheels and frame can be uncomfortable — or even painful — when wearing the pack. They dig into your hips and back, leaving rub marks, bruises and even cuts. Avoid these bags at all costs!


Usability 

If your rolling backpack is hard to manoeuvre, uncomfortable to carry or difficult to pack, you’ll get fed up with it quickly. 

Test the backpack out before committing to taking it travelling. And make sure you pack it full for the test! Often, you’ll only notice the bag’s weird quirks when it’s full and heavy. 

Backpacks that open up like suitcases are great because they’re easy to pack and even easier to unpack — they save you having to pull everything out just to get to the bottom. 

When it comes to manoeuvrability, a handle with a double stem tends to be the best option. This gives you more control over the bag as you pull it along behind you. It’s also a more durable option as the forces are being split between the two stems. 

Do you travel with a rolling backpack? Let us know which is your favourite in the comments below!

Tim Ashdown | Gear Specialist

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since then, he has travelled Southeast Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and backpacked South America. His first book, From Paralysis to Santiago, chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident and will be released later this year.

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