Backpack or Suitcase? How to Choose the Perfect Bag for Your Next Trip

The terrain around you should help you make the correct choice.

Quick Answer:

The decision to choose between a backpack and a suitcase largely depends on the location you plan on traveling. 

If you plan on traveling in developed towns or cities with concrete everywhere, then it’s often best to choose a suitcase with small wheels so you don’t need to carry anything.

If you plan on traveling in the countryside where there’s less pavement, then it’s best to choose a backpack or rucksack, as there is no pavement which would allow you to pull a suitcase with wheels.

Weight also plays a large role. A 50lb bag (22 kg) bag would be almost impossible to carry, using a suitcase with wheels would be easier. But a small bag weighing only 10 lbs (4.5 kg) would be simple to carry on your back without the need of pulling something behind you. 

Hopefully the information below will help you decide whether to take a backpack or a suitcase.

Planning on staying here? Definitely bring a suitcase.

Where Will You Spend Most of Your Time?

This undoubtedly is the biggest factor that you should consider when trying to choose between a backpack or a suitcase.

As mentioned in the quick answer above, if you plan on traveling in areas where there are very few paved sidewalks, then I would highly advise that you bring a backpack or a rucksack.

If you plan on traveling around towns and cities for the majority of your journey, I definitely recommend a suitcase that has wheels on the bottom. This will allow you to pull the suitcase on the paved sidewalks rather than carrying the heavy bag.

Pulling your bag is definitely much easier as all of the weight is on the ground rather than on your shoulders. I would love to be able to pull my bag everywhere that I walked. But unfortunately, where I travel, that just isn’t possible. I spend a lot of time in villages. The ground is often muddy or uneven and I would not be able to pull a suitcase. A large backpack is the best option for my particular scenario.

Long or short, you will still be annoyed with the wrong bag.

How Long Will Your Trip Be?

Many people talk about length of travel as a factor…but I disagree. To me, it’s all about convenience.

Imagine you are only spending one week in the countryside and you brought your suitcase with wheels. Still, you’ll have to awkwardly carry your bag in your hands, walking like a penguin to your hotel because you don’t want to let the bag touch the muddy ground. You will wish you would have brought a backpack, instead.

On the flip side of the coin, now imagine you are spending about a week in the city. You packed a heavy backpack / rucksack and you need to carry it on your shoulders to and from the hotel. At that moment, you would have wished that you brought a suitcase with wheels so you could simply pull it everywhere since cities have sidewalks and pavement everywhere.

It doesn’t matter if it’s for a one-year trip around the world, or simply a week, you will be frustrated if you have the wrong bag.

If you plan on traveling from country to country, but only spending time in cities and towns, I think a suitcase with wheels would be just fine. But if you have been bitten by the culture bug, then you will want to visit the countryside quite a bit. In that case, choose a backpack instead .

The Pros and Cons of Backpacks and Suitcases

To help you determine which bag is the better choice for your upcoming journey, I have listed quite a few advantages and disadvantages of each. Take a moment and read through them. Take note of which ones are most relevant to your situation. To get deeper information, be sure to read the detailed descriptions of each of the pros and cons of backpacks VS suitcases.

Some good things about backpacks.

Backpack Pros:

  • Allows You To Be Hands Free
  • Easy Mobility
  • Good Durability
  • Lots of Storage
  • Many Styles to Choose From
  • You’ll Get Stronger
  • Sense of Adventure
  • Security
  • Minimalist Lifestyle
  • Light Weight
  • Harder for Thieves to Take
Backpacks are not always the better choice.

Backpack Cons:

  • Must Carry it Everywhere
  • Can Strain Your Back
  • Harder to Pack and Unpack (learn how to pack like a pro!)
  • Difficulty Accessing a Specific Item
  • Weight Distribution
  • Not For Business Environments
  • Wrinkly Clothing
  • Usually Not Waterproof but resistant
  • Necessary Repairs Are More Common
  • Not Designed for Electronics
  • Balancing Difficulty
  • You May Bump Into People
  • Will Make You Sweat
  • Destroy Your Shirt and Coat
  • Expensive

Wheeled Suitcase Pros:

  • Easy to Maneuver
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Automatic Wheels (Battery Powered)
  • Large Capacity
  • Easy Organization and Access
  • Security
  • Many Styles To Choose From
  • Reduce Physical Strain
  • Suitable for a Business Setting
  • Don’t Need to Carry It
  • No Clothing Wrinkles
  • Protects Items Inside

Wheeled Suitcase Cons:

  • Problems on Uneven Terrain
  • Bulky
  • Wheel Oiling Maintenance
  • Not Waterproof
  • Can’t Carry Easily
  • Easier For Thieves to Take
  • Expensive
Big bags and rucksacks can be a bit frustrating to pack and unpack.

Tips To Choose Between Backpack or Suitcase

Below is a summarization. If you want additional information, be sure to read how to choose the right rucksack.

When Choosing a Bag – Be aware of:

1) Size:

choosing a backpack that is the right size is very important. Try to determine the essential items that you need to bring with you and then you can get an idea about how large your backpack or suitcase needs to be. A bag that is too big, is not good. And a bag that is too small for your needs is also not a good thing.

2) Comfort:

To be honest, pulling a bag behind me is far more comfortable than carrying a backpack on my shoulders. But unfortunately, in certain situations, it’s just not feasible.

So if you plan on purchasing a backpack, make sure there is a lot of padding and it is designed to help spread weight out evenly. Make sure that there is a waste buckle to offset some of the weight as well. Also make sure there is extra padding on the shoulder straps.

I used my first rucksack for about 5 years. When I bought a new one, I was shocked how comfortable it was. I wish I would have spent a few more dollars many years ago so I could have walked thousands of miles in comfort. Hindsight is 20/20, I suppose.

Choose comfort over beauty!

3) Durability:

Whether purchasing a backpack or a suitcase, make sure you get one with high quality materials. The first rucksack that I bought was rather low quality. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

If you are getting a suitcase, make sure the case and wheel housing is strong. Look at the bolts in the screws and make sure it’s not going to break after the first month of use.

4) Features:

Some suitcases and rucksacks have security features, some have special pouches or zippers, and some drive themselves (not joking!). Shop around and find something that suits your needs.

A bag that opens on the side and also the top is a huge benefit!

5) Brand Reviews:

Spend a few moments looking at the reviews. You can learn a lot from the truth that people type in the comments. Some comments are positive and some are negative. But both types will help you in your decision-making process. If you are shopping in a store, you can simly Google the brand reviews.

6) Multitasking:

If you are like me, and like to multitask, then rucksacks and backpacks will be a better option. Imagine pulling a suitcase behind you everywhere that you walked…you would only have one hand remaining to do another activity. 

If you need to use your other hand for something else, then you need to stop for a moment to do the other task.

I like the freedom of having both of my hands available to type messages on my phone or to do any other activity that requires both hands.

Try to think about how you would handle stopping often to do another task. If you don’t multitask very often, then a suitcase may be an OK choice.

Be ready to keep your bag on your lap if the bus is full.

Additional Things To Be Aware Of

a) Be sure to know the maximum dimensions that you can carry on a plane or a train before leaving home. Make sure you purchase a bag that is within those limits. Once your items are inside, make sure you do not go over the maximum weight, either.

Keep in mind, airlines change these every so often. Be sure to check before you book your flight.

b) Don’t bring more than you are willing to carry or pull. If you get in a predicament and need to walk for 2 km, will you physically be able to carry all of that weight? If not, you are packing too much. Be sure to check the list of solo traveling essentials checklist so you don’t overpack.

c) Budget isn’t a big factor when trying to choose between a suitcase or a backpack. There are expensive options for each, as well as cheaper options. Remember, if you plan on traveling for an extended period of time, comfort should be your priority.

Sometimes you need your hands to be free!

Personal Preferences and Needs: 

Though in my opinion, the biggest factor when making this decision is based on the general location you plan on traveling to, that’s not the only factor.

Despite spending a lot of time in a city, some people may prefer to carry a rucksack on their back. And there might be some people who travel to the countryside quite frequently, but they still want to waddle with their suitcase like a penguin.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference and/or needs. Choose whatever you think will make you the most comfortable.


Hey - I'm Brock. I grew up in the USA, and I have been a full-time Solo Traveler since June of 2016. I am also a Travel Vlogger on YouTube where my primary focus is to simply hang out with local people around the world. My full story is here: About Me

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