Coke or Pepsi? Dogs or Cats? McDonald’s or Burger King? Rick or Morty? We could go on. There are some debates that will continue to rage until kingdom come, as there’s no accounting for taste, personal preference or opinion. Regardless, we thought we’d delve headfirst into travel’s continuous conundrum and tackle the ongoing question – which is better to travel with – a backpack or a suitcase? Yes, the struggle is real and the decade’s old conflict shows no signs of a peaceful resolution. We’ve had our experiences of both, so here’s our totally unbiased guide to the advantages and disadvantages of backpacks and suitcases, so you can make up your own mind. Ready? CHARGE!
The very definition of the word “backpacker” implies that you’re going to be travelling with a backpack, and if that’s the sort of long-term trip you’re on then look no further. When push comes to shove – it really is all about what type of journey you’re undertaking.
With a backpack, you’re much more mobile. You can do all kinds of physical feats with it strapped on your shoulders, including legging it through airports to make your next connection, climbing over walls on a hike, or running from the police. There’s a greater mobility with a backpack that a suitcase just doesn’t deliver – like that horrifying moment the wheels catch on something and it spins around. The stuff nightmares are made of.
Backpacks come with lots of really useful pockets, zips, bells, knobs and whistles. There really is nothing so beautiful as well organised, functioning, practical backpack. Put your passport in that pocket. Put your camera there. Roll up your underwear in that zipper. First aid kit where you can reach it. Something you rarely use stuffed at the bottom. Once you’ve got the hang of it – it’s a well-oiled machine.
The pack is on your back. It’s a backpack. Your shoulders bear the weight, which – with a decent model – should be evenly spaced, and then your hands are free to hold other useful stuff – like water bottles, cameras, maps, or an attractive person’s hand.
You can use a backpack to go on a business trip, and you can use a backpack to hike the Appalachian Trail. A backpack is a lot more versatile than a suitcase, and you can definitely take it into a wider range of environments. You’re not going to get humiliated carrying a backpack into a cloud forest – try that with a suitcase as see what happens.
The suitcase will win hands down if you’re on shorter trips, business or work-related travel and you’re not hiking Machu Picchu. Best used when heading to one destination and you’re not going to be jumping around all over the place.
Ease of Access
Oh, my goodness yes! The fact that you can nicely arrange everything in a neat little pile and pretty much see all of it when you open the thing is sensational. No more rummaging around and having to pull everything out in a rage of frustration just to find those comfy socks. Re-packing a suitcase is much less of a hassle too.
It’s all about Protection
Even with the best backpacks on the market, you’re not going to get the same kind of protection a hard-shell suitcase offers. These things are watertight and solid as a rock. You can throw them all over the place and your stuff will (hopefully) not get shattered inside – if you’re carrying stuff that shatters of course. Invest in the best you can afford and they’ll take a beating.
It’s got wheels. Well, it should have wheels, anyway. Although you’re giving up a free hand – actually not that big of a deal – wheeling a suitcase is much more comfortable than lugging a heavy backpack and your poor back will thank you for it. But you’ve got to take into account the terrain. Certainly, traversing through an airport is a breeze with a suitcase, but maybe not down a dirt road in Bolivia covered with Llama poo.
Generally speaking, you’re clothes and other belongings are not going to get so messed up and riddled with creases when packed in a suitcase. This is perfect if you need to be looking your best at the other end. See what happens when you pull your rolled-up dress shirt out of your backpack instead.
A Handy Guide
If you’re still stuck and you can’t decide on your choice of luggage, simply answer these handy, helpful questions below.
Q1. Are you traveling for business, a single destination holiday, a visit home or a road trip?
NO: See question 2.
Q2. Are you doing a round-the-world trip, more than two weeks of travel, outdoor adventures or multiple destinations?
NO: See question 1.
There you have it, folks, it’s as simple as that! Conclusive proof that in the battle of the backpack or suitcase, it entirely just depends on where you’re going. Make some informed, educated choices and you won’t go far wrong. Personally, we’ve used backpacks for a number of years when we were on our long-term adventures, but recently we’ve opted to go full suitcase, as they make much more sense for the kind of travelling we’ve been doing. But who knows? Maybe we’ll mix it all up again – or just get someone to carry all our luggage for us!