What do you think was the most revolutionary invention of all time?
Penicillin? The internet? The light bulb?
What about the wheel?
Since circa 3,500 B.C., these round, rotating contraptions have allowed us to get from point A to point B with ease. From horse-drawn chariots to locomotives and automobiles, the humble wheel has transformed how we travel in the modern age.
Would you believe we put a man on the moon before we put wheels on a suitcase?
And it took a great deal longer to attach them to a backpack.
These days, of course, wheeled backpacks are a well-established travel accessory.
Explorers can now simultaneously enjoy the benefits of both the suitcase and the backpack. Roll your bag effortlessly across smooth surfaces before hoisting it onto your back to navigate rough terrain.
But with so many wheeled backpacks out there, selecting the right one can be a daunting task.
Check out our buyer’s guide for all your hybrid baggage informational needs.
Why buy a wheeled backpack?
The age-old debate of the backpack versus the suitcase continues to rage. After all, each has its distinct advantages and disadvantages.
But for travelers who want something in between, the wheeled backpack is hard to beat.
- It can be easily dragged over a long distance on a smooth surface.
- It’s simple to switch to backpack mode for rough terrain or going up and down stairs.
- You don’t have to carry it on your shoulders in the event of injury and sunburn.
- You can arrive at your destination without your back being drenched in sweat.
- It’s simple to roll along in those dreaded airline check-in queues.
- It’s a point of conversation at the hostel common room. (Wheeled backpackers are still relatively novel!)
- It’s heavier than a traditional backpack.
- It can be uncomfortable to carry over long distances.
- It’s bulky with an awkward size and shape.
- It’s rigid rather than malleable.
- Sometimes it’s hard to squish into tight spaces.
Outdoor enthusiasts will want to steer clear of wheels. The heavier and bulkier rolling backpack is utterly unsuitable for long distance hikes.
Click here to join our team!
Things to consider when buying a wheeled backpack
So you’ve settled on buying a backpack with wheels. Keep the following in mind when perusing your local luggage retailer.
As with all products in the open market, some brands produce better quality merchandise than others. Opting for a well-known, reputable name will drastically reduce the chances of purchasing a lemon.
The following are some of the better rolling backpack manufacturers out there:
With the cost of a decent wheeled backpack ranging anywhere from 80 to 350 USD, price is clearly an important deciding factor.
Even if you have a modest budget, think twice about picking up the cheapest option. Chances are you’ll become a travel addict—if you aren’t already—and will want to use this trusty bit of kit time and time again.
If treated with a little tender love and care, a high-end backpack could last you a decade or more. On the other end of the spectrum, the cheaper models tend to fall apart alarmingly quickly.
You might meet a few hardcore backpackers on the road who’ll look down at your highly practical wheeled contraption as if it were some kind of adventurer’s fashion faux pas.
Obviously, you shouldn’t pay any attention to these wannabe fashion police.
However, it’s still important that you feel confident walking around with your bag. Our luggage should reflect who we are, and you should like the way your bag looks!
Everyone has their distinct tastes, so opt for something that best suits your personal style.
The best packs feature durable materials for added longevity.
Look for a sturdy nylon fabric with extra thickness around those delicate seems. A rigid aluminum frame is best, both for its light and sturdy properties.
Finally, polyurethane wheels can take much more of a beating than those made of brittle plastic.
Some wheeled backpacks are designed for business travelers, while others are more suitable for backpackers. Ensure the model you choose aligns with your intended use.
Most wheeled backpacks can hold between 40 and 80 liters (L), which refers to the amount of space inside. The ideal amount depends on your strength and how much stuff you think you’ll carry.
As a rule of thumb, between 55 and 80 L is a reasonable range for long-term travel. Less than that is okay for shorter trips. Depending on your needs and what you’re carrying, a larger bag could be an option.
One might assume the lighter the better. However, a super lightweight bag will likely sacrifice comfort and durability.
The weight will also depend on the capacity. For a 55 to 80 L wheeled backpack, somewhere between seven and 10 pounds (3 to 4.5 kg) is ideal.
Above all else, comfort is the most critical factor.
If you expect to carry your bag on your back most of the time, insist on a pack with adjustable straps and foam padding around weight-bearing regions, such as the shoulders and hips.
The frame should be snug around your torso, with a breathable mesh to provide adequate airflow in hotter environments.
Keep Rollin’! The 5 Best Wheeled Backpacks for Travel
One for the nomadic techie, the Pegasus Convertible from ECBC has been designed with all your favorite gadgets in mind. Throughout the pint-sized 50 L interior are several padded compartments which can snugly holster a laptop of up to 15 inches, tablet and smartphone.
Frequent flyers love that it’s small enough to squeeze into the carry-on luggage bin, not to mention its FastPass System, which allows the laptop to be scanned by TSA without being removed. It even comes with a 4500mAh in-built power bank to keep all your devices fully charged on those long airport overlays.
While great for tech-crazed business travelers and digital nomads, this isn’t ideal for an extended backpacking trip. Limited space means you’ll be forced to pack light while a lack of suspension, a hip strap and breathable mesh make it uncomfortable to carry long distances.
Many rolling backpacks focus functionality on the wheel mode, with the backpack being little more than an added extra. The Expanse Convertible, however, has taken a different route.
The bag has an advanced zip-away suspension system. Combine this with an adjustable shoulder and a padded hip harness, and this 78 L bag is the flagship Eagle Creek model. Especially for travelers happy to hoist it on their shoulders for extended periods of time.
In fact, ample interior space and load stabilizing straps make it about as close as you’ll get to a traditional rucksack with the added bonus of rolling wheels.
The downsides? It’s relatively pricey and won’t pass the carry-on check.
Outdoor adventurers carrying a heavy load tend to prefer an easily wheelable duffel with ample interior space. And this specially-designed AT Kit Bag from Lowe Alpine is just what they had in mind.
The massive 90 L pack can fit a heck of a lot of kit. A solid build of tough rip stock nylon and metal load locker buckles ensures it won’t burst under the strain. Tamper-proof zips are great at keeping prying hands at bay as well.
Although it isn’t suitable for long hikes, the shoulder straps are comfortable enough in a pinch and can be tucked away when not in use. Three separate aluminum handles make it a cinch to unload.
Budget luggage shoppers rejoice, for the High Sierra AT3 offers three-in-one functionality for a very reasonable price. Aside from serving as a backpack and a wheeled suitcase, the AT3 features a detachable daypack for smaller excursions.
Premium airlines will allow the entire 50 L contraption in the overhead compartment, although most low-cost carriers will require you to check it in.
Some users complain it’s a little heavy and the daypack is a pain to take on and off. Nevertheless, for such a modest retail price, the AT3 is a budget option that’s hard to beat.
Osprey is a major player in the world of wheeled backpacks, and the highly-lauded Sojourn is their most popular product yet.
A key to its success is that the bag is an ideal introduction for seasoned backpackers making their first foray into the wheeled backpack scene.
Notably, the pack boasts a fully-featured zip-away suspension system, ample mesh ventilation and padding around the hip and shoulder straps. As a result, it’s comfortable enough on the torso to keep an old-school backpacker content.
Even so, it works wonders on wheels, as well. A high clearance chassis makes cruising along bumpy surfaces a breeze, while removable shoulder and hip straps can significantly reduce its weight.
The Soujourn is pricier than most models, but a lifetime guarantee goes to show how much confidence the makers have in their product.
Haven’t found a favorite yet? The above is just a small sample of the dizzying array of rolling backpacks out there. Many more options are available, each of which caters to the needs of a distinct style of traveler.
If none of the above tickle your fancy, try browsing the websites of the manufacturers we recommended along with a couple of corresponding reviews.
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.