Wheeled Backpacks: Why They’re the Best, and Tips for Buying One

In 12 years of full-time travel, my backpack/suitcase/whatever has assumed the functionality of my “house” (and then some) – keeping all my possessions safe while enduring the hard knocks of travel.

I’ve lived out of a bag for over 12 years.

Or rather, a few bags.

And I’ve determined (and demonstrated by example) that wheeled backpacks are the best for travel – any kind of travel.

(And I’ve done most kinds).

I've traveled for years with wheeled backpacks. Here's a review of why they're the best for long term travel, reviews of the different ones I've had, and my best tips for buying the perfect one for you. #WheeledBackpacks #PackingTips #Luggage #WheeledBackpacks #TravelGear #FullTimeTravel #TravelPlanning #BudgetTravel #TravelTips
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While this post was originally published in 2012, it is constantly updated with relevant information and links.

I started with a backpack…

…as many budget travelers do. Actually I started my full-time travels with my second backpack, thinking I was smart for ditching the first one. (This turned out to be a smart move, but sadly not smart enough).

My First Backpack – Lowe Alpine

My first (pre-full-time traveling) backpack was a Lowe Alpine 60-80L trekking backpack.
It was a pretty simple, bare bones deal, that I took to South Africa for a month.

There, I realized three impracticalities of this bag:

  • Walking into fancy hotels with a backpack is no fun (it was a pretty swish trip).
  • Accessing the contents from only the top or bottom is painful. I usually couldn’t see what I needed in the dark abyss of bag contents, and had to remove everything just to find it.
  • The total lack of extra pockets or reasonable ways to segregate gear further exaggerated the above problem.

So I ditched the backpack…

…and bought another backpack. (I still had a few lessons to learn about why backpacks suck).

I applied the above lessons by getting one that had a zipper for side-access (as well as top and bottom), and some extra pockets. As for traipsing into swishy hotels with a backpack, I didn’t think my full-time travels would allow much luxury so I conceded to the “practicality” of a backpack.

My new pack of choice was the Gregory Deva.

Although this backpack was great for proper mountaineering and trips into the wilderness, it sucked for travel. Or rather, it sucked for me – and I realized that I hate large backpacks in general. Here’s why:

  • They kill your back. Hoisting them on and off is awkward, uncomfortable, and rarely graceful.
  • Two words: airport lineups. You either have to wear your pack the whole time you’re in line (which can be hours), or you have to unceremoniously kick it along, two feet at a time.
  • They’re incompatible with daypacks. I need a daypack to house my laptop and other carry-on essentials. So it means I’m one of those dorks with a big backpack on my back and a daypack on my front. (Sorry if you’re one of those “dorks” – but I think it looks ridiculous, and I know from experience that it’s hot and uncomfortable, and it irrefutably labels – and targets – you as a tourist).
  • No matter how many zippers they add, I still couldn’t find what I needed, and regularly had to pour out all the contents to find it. (can you feel my aggravation building?)
  • Rogue backpack straps and airport conveyor belts do not play well together. I was perpetually worried that my bag would be ripped to shreds (with all my precious contents) on every flight.
  • Lastly, although I hadn’t anticipated luxury in my full-time travels, it has happened from time to time. I’ve received sponsorships and travel opportunities through my freelance writing career, and I just don’t like lugging a backpack. It’s a stigma. And when first impressions count I like to look professional (as any Professional Hobo should!); doing it with a backpack is an uphill battle.

My journey to the wheeled backpack

Living and volunteering in a hostel in Kona, Hawaii was a great way to suss out gear and destinations through recommendations from the steady stream of travelers. I saw so many bags come through that place, and then one day, accompanied by a beacon of light and angel-song, I saw this:

wheeled backpacks

It was love at first sight.

The news got even better when I discovered it was very inexpensive at under $200, and solved so many of my problems!

The High Sierra Overpass (unfortunately, discontinued)  rolling backpack with detachable daypack changed my life because:

  • The main bag opens completely up, allowing me to easily see and access the contents.
  • There are a few mesh dividers and such to help keep stuff separate.
  • The zip-away straps are available for use whenever wheels are inconvenient (for example on rough terrain or when navigating a lot of stairs).
  • It has a matching daypack that zips onto the main bag meaning you only have one ultimate bag to cart around (though admittedly I usually preferred to wear my daypack since it had my laptop in it).
  • The wheels….oh my….the wheels. Although I was doubtful as to how much I would use the wheels (somehow I felt they’d be impractical), I ended up using them all the time. In fact, in the three years that I lived out of this bag, I used the straps….twice. Yup, twice. (Once in Spain when I had to walk for 45 minutes on a cobblestone street, and once in Malaysia when I had to walk on a non-existent road).

Given how rarely I used the backpack straps, you might wonder why I bothered getting another wheeled backpack when this one bit the dust after three years of abuse. But I have to admit, straps are still a practical feature to have in a bag, to help you get through whatever craziness your travels might throw at you.

A Note about Carry-On Wheeled Backpacks…

…They don’t do it for me. When it comes to traveling with carry-on luggage, I prefer to maximize space and lose the straps. If I need to carry it by hand (up some stairs for example), it’s light enough that I don’t need straps.
Check out this post to determine which type of luggage best suits your style of travel, and then this post to select the best carry-on or checked type of bag for you). 

My next wheeled backpack: Osprey Wheeled Travel Packs

When traveling, a warranty policy is only as good as the nearest dealer, which is rarely around the corner. So when the zipper irreparably broke on my High Sierra bag while in northern Sweden, I had a week to buy another bag before immediately putting it through its paces on the Ultimate Train Challenge.

There wasn’t much choice, and nothing was cheap (it’s Sweden). But the Osprey Sojourn (since replaced by the Osprey Farpoint for men – only available at Osprey – and the Osprey Fairview for women – available at Osprey and Amazon) ended up being a pretty good option:

It doesn’t come with a detachable daypack, but the Osprey Daylite daypacks (at Osprey, Amazon) are compatible so you can attach them to the front.

And although the Osprey wheeled backpack is only a hair larger at 65 litres, it feels like it has way more space.

When I don’t pack it to the gills, the outer compression straps reduce the overall bag size.

It’s very sturdy, and feels solid. And while that meant the Sojourn was heavier, Osprey fixed that and the Farpoint 65L wheeled travel packs weigh only 6 pounds.

Osprey Wheeled Backpacks

Wheeled Backpacks: The Good

The wheels are invaluable – and almost always usable. My compadres on the Ultimate Train Challenge were immediately enamoured with the bag, whilst lugging their backpacks around Europe and Asia. They both vowed to replace their packs with something similar to mine.

The straps are there if you need them. And sometimes, you do.

Because of the easy access to contents, they’re a dream to live out of.

Wheeled Backpacks: The Bad

They’re heavier. This is the price you pay for having wheels on your pack. As a point of comparison, Osprey’s compatible-sized travel backpacks (no wheels) weigh 4 pounds, in comparison to the 6 pounds their wheeled backpacks weigh.

Don’t expect to go hiking into the wilderness with the backpack straps on, or even walking super far, because wearing the straps can be uncomfortable. Both of my wheeled backpacks were murder on the lower back with the hard base and wheels at the bottom.

So if you’re a traveler who enjoys trips to the wilderness, bring along a lightweight (ideally waterproof) summit pack. It is one of my favourite pieces of travel gear.

(For a packable daypack that weighs less than a pound, check out the Free Spirit 30L Adventure Backpack, by one of my favourite travel gear companies. Here’s a video review I did). 

Tips for Finding Your Own Rolling Backpack

Look for padded shoulder straps, as well as a proper waist belt and chest strap. The waist belt is imperative, otherwise you’ll destroy your shoulders and back, and the chest strap keeps the pack closer to your body so you aren’t pulled backwards.

Look for really sturdy side and top handles (yes, you need both); they’re imperative for lifting and carrying the bag – which you’ll inevitably need to do.

Check those zippers; they’ll be the first thing to go, so make sure they’re solid to being with.

Water resistant is good, since you never know when you’ll be stuck in the rain.

With any bag, try to limit the number of zippers accessing the main contents. I use a TSA lock on my bag (for general security on the ground, as well as when flying). Too many zippers means either a ridiculous number of locks, or compromised security.

UPDATE: My luggage strategy has changed again! Although I still stand by everything in this post, you may want to see how – and why – I’m now a roll-aboard girl only, and what criteria you need to decide what’s best for you. 

The Best Luggage for Long-Term Travel: Backpacks vs Rolling Luggage

…and even more recently:

Checked vs. Carry-On Luggage (and Why Checked is Best) – with a comprehensive overview of and recommendations for different types of checked and carry-on luggage. 

And if you’d prefer to do the carry on backpack thing, here are the Best Carry On Backpacks for One Bag Travel.

Want more Travel Gear Ideas? Check out…

The Ultimate Packing List for Full-Time Travel

Pro Packing Hacks – Best Travel Accessories for Maximizing Space and Organizing Your Stuff

My Travel Capsule Wardrobe: Best Wrinkle-Free Travel Clothes for Women

My Search for the Perfect Travel Sandal

All of my annual Travel Gear Review Posts

Anatomie Travel Clothing Made me Throw Out My Jeans

Here is why wheeled backpacks may just be the best luggage for longterm travel, including tips for buying the perfect wheeled backpack for you. #traveltips #travelluggage #travelbackpacks #travelpacks #wheeledbackpacks #osprey #highsierra #TheProfessioalHobo #eaglecreek #carryonluggage #carryonbackpack
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168 thoughts on “Wheeled Backpacks: Why They’re the Best, and Tips for Buying One”

  1. Great article. Last month I went camping with a group of people on a trek to a remote hot springs high up in a canyon in the Baja. While we were gathering and getting ready to cross the border, a small woman from Italy rolled up with her rather large suitcase. I wondered what she might have been thinking. She did know where we were going, right? As I struggled with my “manly” 80 lb pack across the border, she casually wheeled across. When we got to our destination and had chosen our campsites – hers being the toughest spot to get to – I asked her if she needed any help getting her “suitcase” up the cliffs. She said no, unpacked the straps and up she went. My jaw dropped and I knew what I would be buying in the near future. Thanks for the recommendations. I think the expandable models are more what I’m looking at – a backpack/daybag can always be attached to the outside with some quick release straps. Thanks for the timely article.

    • Hey Jack – What a great story! I wouldn’t want to go camping with a wheeled backpack….that lady is gutsy! But it’s further testament to the versatility of a wheeled backpack. Glad you agree!

  2. Let me start off that I knew I wasn’t the only person to have discovered the joys of a wheeled backpack. I’ve been a long time traveller that went through similar experiences with eventually finding the right bag for city hopping as well as long stays with short side trips.

    My golden moment is when I found the North Face Doubletrack.
    Here’s a youtube review for it latest incarnation:

    I’ll tell you right now I love this bag and I’ve had this thing all over Europe. Up/down stairs, cars, boats, buses, dirt and cobblestone roads, and when I needed to, on my back very comfortably. Not only were the straps comfy, most of the weight rested on the hip strap that wasnt cheap by any means. Held the weight well, and for having that bag just completely maxed out weight wise for the trans-atlantic flights it wasn’t always fun.
    The day pack is the best feature other than the comfy shoulder and the solid extendable handle on the bag itself. The removable daypack fit my 17″ laptop plus camera stuff, documents etc and its been my motorcycle back pack for 4 years now, such a great daypack.

    I’m going to receive the North Face Longhaul 30 soon and compare it to the Double Track. Should be a great addition as well to go with it.

    Highly recommend checking the Doubletrack out 🙂

      • My Doubletrack is 25″ high and yes there is a medium and small version of the Longhaul. I got the 30″ because its strictly for taking things to a homebase overseas and leaving it there while out and about trekking.
        And speaking of the zippers, they are top notch and the North Face warranty is great on their packs. In the past when the outer restraint clips broke from the airlines thoroughly thrashing them, TNF sent me new ones.

  3. Funny thing: I searched your website (that I discovered very recently) a couple of days ago to find an article about what backpack or suitcase you used – so imagine my (happy) surprise when I found this post on my rss feed 🙂
    I’m looking for the perfect bag and am currently completely lost: I had my eye on the Osprey Meridian, but the wheels seem to add so much weight, and even then I don’t know what size to get. But your article did help, so thanks!

  4. Oh, and do you know that you can contact Osprey about your broken zipper pulls? I read online an article about someone who had the same problem, Osprey apparently mailed them replacements.

    • Hi Mina – Good luck in your search for an appropriate pack. The extra weight of wheeled backpacks are only a problem in two ways:
      1) If you pack enough (heavy) stuff in it that you have trouble keeping it within airline’s standard weight limits (which range from 15kg-23kg depending on the airline)
      2) If you plan to try and go hiking with the pack.
      Otherwise I haven’t noticed the extra weight, since I can wheel the pack around just about everywhere!

      And thanks for the tip about Osprey. It’s good to know their after-care service is better than what I experienced with High Sierra.

  5. Hi Nora,
    Conrad and I use rolling duffles which have tons of room and come which a detachable shoulder strap. Then we have our carry-on-size backpacks with padded computer pockets — and those double as our main luggage when going on side trips.
    Works for us old folks!

    • Hey Josie – I’ve often looked at rolling duffles as an option, and the shoulder strap solves the problem of going hands free if you need to. Sweet!

  6. Ah yes, after 30+ years of travel, it is the dear WBP (Wheeled BackPack – with straps and zip-off rucksack) that gets my vote every time.

    Yep, the wheels add a smidge to the weight, but waaaaay make up for it in wheelability. Indeed, on any given trip (and I travel pretty much off the grid much of the time), those wheels can be utilized close to 95% of the time (the zip-off rucksack goes on short overnight forays, hikes, etc.)

    Just a little surprised though – you say 60 ltrs, plus your mention of “…backpack straps and airport conveyor belts do not play well together”.

    Surely you don’t normally check baggage? My wheely with zip-off rucksack (the latter holds my electronics when checking in/going through security at airports) is just 50 ltrs and qualifies for carry-on. It hold all I need (incl. a net book, Kindle, camera, etc.) for – no matter, 3 weeks or 3 months – on the trail.

    • Hi Dyanne – Since I’ve been traveling with everything I own for six years (and have wanted to be relatively prepared for a number of destinations and climates, I haven’t quite managed to travel with carry-on only. (Both of these wheeled packs are just larger than allowable carry-on size).
      But I’ve had a few occasions to travel for up to 3 months and leave my main pack behind. In those instances my daypack (with my computer etc) and my OR Summit Sack (with clothes etc) has more than sufficed.

  7. Aha! Finally a point on which we differ.

    Pre-full time travels, my first bag was a wheeled duffle, which was quickly destroyed on cobblestones and dirt roads in the Australian Outback, returning home with a giant hole in its bottom. I swore off wheel bags ever since.

    Of course, as you alluded to in your post, it all depends on how you travel. I frequently find myself walking with my pack on for long stretches and needing my hands free at the same time for directions, dog wrangling, etc., so a really comfortable backpack that distributes the weight properly on my hips and shoulders is a must for me.

    And I find it kind of amusing to show up at a nice hotel with my hiking pack. I try to wear a dress while wearing it. That really confuses them. 🙂

    • Gigi – Agreed (on disagreeing)! Add the dog-wrangling pictures, and I can imagine you need to be hands-free. I wondered if the bottom of a wheeled duffle would be durable…I found the reinforced bottoms of the wheeled backpacks are quite sturdy.

  8. Nora,
    This is a great article and you have solved one of my biggest problems as far as getting the right gear is concerned…I’m going for it …I like the sounds of the High Sierra Overpass and they are about $ 99 something on amazon….love the day pack, cause just like you, I need my lap top almost 24/7…great stuff…thank you Nora.

  9. Great post! I too have went through this same situation and ended at the same solution. I went through about 4 different backpacks and a large duffel before I realized that I no longer wanted to be a walking target with the front/backpack thing going on. Now the only bag I use is the Eagle Creek Switchback 25 (they also have a 22 model that is carry-on friendly). It has a detachable daypack (with padded laptop section), padded backpack straps, and amazing warranty. If you ever need to buy luggage again, they are the brand to get. It is pricey at first but if you look at it as an investment, well worth it. They have a ‘No Matter What’ guarantee for most of their bags, which will cover repair or replacement for the bag, even if it switches owners. I have yet to need a repair and I’ve had my Switchback for 3 years and toted around 3 continents so far. I pretty much tell everyone I know and even those I don’t, that Eagle Creek is the only brand of luggage you will ever need.
    *Honestly, I do not work for Eagle Creek. I just LOVE their luggage!

    • Hi Mae – I looked at the Eagle Creek option when I was in Sweden, and would have preferred it, but there were none available and no time for shipping one in. Mental note: Eagle Creek! Thanks.

  10. I don’t do any remote trekking with all my travel gear, so I’ve stopped using backpacks. (I have a small one for my computer and day use, but nothing that holds all my gear.

    I use a hard shell Samsonite suitcase and it is fantastic. It is durable, water resistance, easy to clean and can’t be easily opened (when using a strap and/or lock). The extra large wheels make it easy to roll over the worst roads. I will never go back to a backpack again.

    Most novice backpackers carry so much stuff with them, that they can’t do any trekking anyway. Why carry all that stuff on your back when you can roll it?

    • Hey John – Amen, brother! I have actually considered moving to a 100% rolling option (no straps) myself, but for the few times I have needed the straps, I’ve been glad they’re there.

    • Hi Jonny – It’s all about the style of travel you prefer. But…do you hike with everything you own/have? Or do you leave some stuff behind? Because if the hikes aren’t multi-day full-on camping experiences, I still think you can get away with a smaller light summit sack that fits into your normal luggage when you’re not using it.
      But I’m not trying to convince you….happy to agree to disagree! 🙂

      • Hi Nora.
        I always walk around with everything I have as I’ve become a bit nomadic!! Once I get to a hostel though if I’m doing a day hike/sightseeing I will just take my small bag for that of course and leave the rest in the hostel! A normal backpack with clothes and essentials should weigh no more than 10 kg, my smaller bag normally weighs half of that – I don’t see much need for anything heavier. My heaviest items are a laptop and a guide book, plus a bottle of water. I wear my only pair of shoes and carry my flip flops! Each to their own and my smaller bag does fit into my bigger one if need be 😉 Happy New Year!! Jonny (http://dontstopliving.net)

        • Hey Jonny – So this begs two questions in my mind:
          1) Do you travel to places with cold climates at all?
          2) What shoes do you have? (Having one pair that can fit all purposes is quite a feat. I spent years looking myself)….

          • Hi Nora – 1. Yes I do cold places a lot as well. I was in Antarctica back in 2010: http://dontstopliving.net/antarctica and recently did parts of Korea and China in winter. Having a ‘base’ to leave clothes etc. is something I rely on I must admit (I rented some of my Antarctic clothes and posted some to my family from Argentina after the trip). For a while I used Australia and Montevideo as a base to leave stuff, I now use Hong Kong as my base! 2. My shoes are simply Adidas blue shoes – I have used them for hiking before, BUT when I am working in PR or as a teacher I have my black shoes which I wear for those jobs then ditch them when I move on again. Will explain my travel ways in my forthcoming e-mail! Jonny

  11. It’s always a great debate – the luggage. I’ve always used a antler wheeled suitcase (alas no straps) and an osprey day pack and both have served me well. I was thinking that I might have to move to a ‘backpack’ for longer journeys BUT after reading from the experts here I might change my mind and advance to a “wheeled backpack”.

    Just a word about Osprey – that blessed airport screener did some major damage to the straps and Osprey replaced them no charge, even though it wasn’t a product fault, apparently they have a lifetime guarantee, might be worth a try?

    • Hey Jo – Thanks for the advice about Osprey. I don’t doubt they’ll have a decent warranty program (it’s just a matter of getting in touch with them and trying to have something delivered to wherever I am).
      What surprised me was how quickly the zipper pulls broke (like, in the first month). On a bag that otherwise seems very sturdy, this essential design element seemed lacking.

  12. I think this post should really be called “I never bought the right kind of backpack.”

    Why in the world would you ever travel with a top-loading backpack meant for hiking if you were traveling around the world? You need a proper travel backpack that zips open in the front and has a separate compartment in the bottom. And with those you zip the straps into a a hidden flap and walk into your fancy press trip hotel with a suitcase, no problem. I’ve been doing that for 20 years now. And I’m not so young now.

    I travel with a wheeled backpack or suitcase when I’m on assignment just going from airports to hotels in taxis, but knew that would be a nightmare when I was in SE Asia for three weeks with my family this summer. We watched SO many people struggling with their wheeled suitcases in Vietnam in was a running joke, even for my 12-year-old daughter. It was fun to watch, but kind of sad too.

  13. Hi Tim – I concede; I do know of better designed travel backpacks (which you describe) that solve many of the problems of the other (top loading) backpacks – but I hold staunch that the wheels have been way too good for me.
    (Let’s not forget the straps on the wheeled backpack; there’s no reason to wheel around Vietnam if the conditions are bad. And I don’t plan on hiking endless miles through the city streets of Vietnam before I check into my accommodations anyway, so any discomfort of the wheeled pack is minimal).

    Incidentally, I don’t disagree that a properly designed travel-centric pack as you describe is an ideal option. But why don’t more travelers have them? Why do I continue to see a prevalence of top-loading hiking-style packs?

  14. While the wheeled backpacks seem interesting, I think they are mostly suited to urban travel and would probably stick with a traditional pack if it was going to be on my back for any length of time. Not sure I’ll be switching just yet but thanks for a good article.

  15. Are you aware of packs designed more for wilderness trail travel, ones like the dixonrollerpack.com ?
    Supposedly there’s a handful of mom/pop operations who make these things and I’m trying to track them down. So far dixon is the only one I’ve seen, besides a french guy who’s made something called a trekkady (youtube) but hasn’t found anyone to manufacture it. Anybody else you’re aware of?

    • I’d never heard of those before! They look very interesting, and great for backcountry camping or multi-day treks – but not so practical for travel purposes, I think. Then again…

  16. Interestingly, those Dixon roller packs can convert within 60 seconds (so I’m told) to an external frame pack, with the wheel pointing downward! Other than “looking funny” as you stroll around because your pack is bigger than most others, or has a longer frame than others, it can function in both urban and wilderness settings.
    I’m going to order one today…

    • Will you be using the pack for travel or trail hiking? Post back here once you’ve had a chance to use it….let us know how you like it!

  17. Yes, I’ll do that! I just ordered it yesterday. The plan is to use it to hike the 600-mile Israel National Trail this fall. It will be “interesting” to see how I can manage boarding buses and whatnot when I’m using the rollerpack in its folded-up “external frame pack” configuration, since it’s about 50″ tall (which I think means about 2 feet of metal extends over my head).

    • Lynne – A 600-mile hike? Wow! Given how much easier the trek itself will be with this pack, I think/hope any inconvenience of a larger pack frame for traveling on buses and such will be minimal.

  18. I am also researching a wheeled backpack for an up and coming 7 week trip to Sth America….so far I like the Osprey line but have recently come across a Macpac Koru, which is a bit pricey but looks and sounds good ( I am after one without the day pack). Wondering if anybody has traveled with the Macpac and how did it go

    • Hi Helen,
      I don’t have any experience with Macpac, but I’ve seen a few being put through their paces by friends, and it’s a solid piece of gear.
      Let us know here what you go with and how it weathers your trip!

      • Hi …purchased the Macpac, was lucky to buy online in a clearance sale, about half the RRP and free shipping from NZ to Australia. Will let you know what its like when it arrives and also give an update of how it stands up to the rigors of my trip. 🙂

  19. Here is my impression of the Dixon Rollerpack, having had it for a few weeks and logging a few dozen miles on local dirt roads and trails:
    1–It’s hard to “forget” it’s there. In fact, it’s constantly reminding you by its constant tugging at your waist and shoulders. Every rock and bump creates a vibration that’s transmitted through the frame onto your body.
    2–Steep hills (I mean more than 15% grades) are tough to negotiate as the unit will “trap” your feet underneath if you’re not careful. I tried a steep hill littered with rocks which I had to leap from one to another. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I suppose I should have mounted it on my back from the get-go.

    I’m stuck with it. I think there are trails tailor-made for this pack, like “The Way” in France/Spain where it’s mostly roads. The smoother the roads the better. I’m not sure it’s what I should be using in Israel. I’ve been told the southern 200 miles, the Negev desert, has about 100 miles of terrain requiring conversion to a backpack. Ugggg. However, the northern 2/3rds, 400 miles, are mostly roads or well-groomed trails. Yes! What to do???

    • Hi Lynne,
      Wow. I was worried the pack wouldn’t be practical, but my concerns were about the size and possible awkwardness of using it in transit. I didn’t expect it wouldn’t be good on the trails!

      A dilemma indeed. I would say if you cringe every time you look at the pack, then taking it to Israel is off the list! Your bag becomes a part of you and is one of the few constants on such a trip…you need to be good friends with it. 🙂

    • I know it’s an old post and article but I thought it raised some interesting points on choosing things that are fit for purpose.

      If you’re not going to trek and will be travelling in places where you can wheel something, a robust suitcase would be better (like John Bardos’s Samsonite above). IMHO using straps twice in 3 years probably indicates to me that a tough suitcase would have been a better choice and you probably wouldn’t have gone through them as fast. But I get you are a professional hobo so you do need ultimate versatility.

      Using anything other than a well fitting backpack with a frame for a 600 mile sounds crazy to me. I can see that something like that roller pack may be useful if you have knee problems (although it does seem a bit faddy). IMO if you choose a pack that fits you, your back, and pack the weight correctly it should most definitely NOT “kill your back”!

      I’ve got an uber serious framed MacPac because when I went backpacking I had quite a few periods of intense trekking carrying reasonable weights. It wasn’t really that practical for general hostel-type stuff, but it was the most comfortable one FOR ME and I figured that was the priority so I compromised. A friend I met used a wheeled suitcase with a proper framed backpack packed inside. For the treks she used the backpack, everywhere else she got by with the suitcase.

      Anyway, my point is that I think people should consider what THEY need and choose the right tool for the job. Practice and experience obviously help, but IMO there is rarely “one bag”. 9/10 most people are usually better off having a few options and then choose according to the trip.

      • Hi AH,
        Great observations, and a great point: the perfect pack is a very individual thing.
        Indeed; my own style of travel has changed enough over the years that, if and when I get my next pack, I’ll save myself the hassle of the straps and just get a nice wheeled case. I’ll still insist on side and top handles (the two handles together make it much easier for carrying up and down stairs).

        But I must counter one point you made; even a well-fitting pack will most certainly “kill your back”! I don’t know how old you are; I’m closer to 40 than 30 – which isn’t old, but is an age where ridiculous things like throwing out your back can happen with weights and situations much more sedentary than hauling a heavy pack onto my back!
        Traveling with a backpack in general is a thing of the past for me, as it presents unnecessary strain on my back.

  20. My backpack has the best of both! It has wheels and a detachable day pack but the wheeled backpack also comes with a waist and shoulder straps so you can easily carry it if you are in situations you can’t roll. I ran into that quite a bit in SE Asia where rolling wasn’t really an option. Finding a backpack that works for you though is a process like finding the perfect pair of jeans haha.

    • Hi Jessica – That was exactly what the High Sierra pack was, as you described. It was awesome!
      And indeed, everybody will love their packs in different ways (like the perfect pair of jeans); you MUST love your pack since it’s your most constant companion on the road, and can make or break your trip!

  21. Update…I did go to Israel but without the rollerpack. Instead I used my trusty Jansport Scout external frame pack. Reason being, if I did need a rollerpack (not the Dixon style but one called a monopack made in Germany) there was someone who owned one in Israel. He was willing to let me use it if I wanted.
    Turns out I tried it out at his house but decided against it. (Yes, the issue of climbing on and off crowded buses was one concern. It would have been stowed underneath but I just didn’t want to call attention to myself or deal with the hassles of something so “odd” and relatively cumbersome.)
    No matter, the weather was so unbelievably hot (over 105 F) I cut my journey short, pledging to return in a cooler season (Dec., Jan., Feb.) So the jury’s still out on roller packs. I think I’ll try mine on some local trails and get more familiar with it before hauling it overseas.

    • Hi Lynne,
      Good for you for flexing with whatever travel! throws at you! I had my doubts about traveling with the rollerpack, but it does still look like a pretty good trail companion (depending, as we’ve discussed, on the terrain).
      Happy traveling….and packing! 🙂

  22. There are so many things to this topic! Love this post. The main thing is to define your style of travelling just as you say.
    I did 2 months in the states (i’m from Sweden, so no cheap bags for me..) and I wanted a pack that looked decent, could haul A LOT (going to burning man) and at the same time being lightweight, cheap and have both backpack straps and wheels. Not easy but my choice became snugpak kitmonster 110l. At $100, approximately 4 punds, back straps, wheels AND shoulder strap it was perfect for a trip of city life+road trips+burning man. It swallows everything and is quite sturdy. I had about 30kg packed most of the time and then a weekend bag with a backpack in it for carry on stuff. Packing a bag in another i find really handy. I am extremely style focused but obviously would never use this for any form of trekking. The backpack i had in the weekend bag would work for that at around 30 litres. However this is not at all my normal life on the road. I have a flat in stockholm and one in gothenburg and commute to the capital for work. I need a backpack/roller that fits about a weeks worth of stuff, but sometimes also a lot more when for example there is a need to move wardrobes. This is a hard one but through the comments here i found the eagle creek morpheous that could actually be my perfect bag in combo with a messenger bag. I have been looking at timbuk2 wheeled aviator whick could work for me both stylewise and sizewise, but its quality doesn’t seem to hold up. Guess that should work with a lifetime warranty.
    Ideally I’ll also like as high waterproofness as possible since its always raining in gothenburg. Tough decisions…

    • Hi Jonas,
      Tough decisions, but you seem to have done very well with your choices! And you’ve pinned the idea even further with task-oriented stuff.

  23. Breaking news (posted to one of the longest blog topics ever…ha ha)…I took off the hard plastic 9 ” wheel that came with the Dixon roller pack. I replaced it with the inflatable 15″ front wheel off the front of my recumbent bike.
    What a difference that makes. It’s quiet now and it doesn’t get caught on the smaller bumps or rocks like the other tire did.
    Plus I had Bob Dixon send me a different harness, an “H” pattern instead of the “Y” suspenders that come with it. Again, it made a noticeable difference.
    I think if I keep tweaking this thing, I will eventually get it to where it works for me. Hey, I invested $300 in this thing. I don’t want it to end up in the attic and then a yard sale where it goes for a dollar.

  24. I found your article while searching for a rolling backpack for my petite teenaged daughter. Thanks for the information. I use a Patagonia wheeled backpack. I have used the straps more than I thought I would. The wheels are perfect for the airport or for long city streets but when I’ve had to rush, climb up and down stairs, or travel where there are no paved streets, the straps have been a lifesaver. My daughter does not like the suitcase because she is a teenager and doesn’t want to keep wearing the same things (I only pack 3 tops, 3 bottoms etc no matter for 1 week or for 3 months) so this Patagonia wheeled backpack is too small for her. I’ll look into the pack you suggested (maybe a newer version since this post is dated now but still extremely useful). Thanks so much!!!!

  25. I second the nomination for the Eagle Creek. I’ve taken one on numerous plane trips to several continents and it has performed like a champ for years. The detachable daypack is wonderful for a laptop/carryon and in larger planes you can often get away with carrying the whole thing on. The main pack has several different pockets/zippers to keep stuff properly organized and easy to find. After all the beating the airlines have done to it mine is still in the best shape of any luggage I’ve tried. The only wear that is visible is the tail end of one of the straps which looks a bit chewed. All the zippers are still perfect, no tears nothing! I love it and it is well worth the “high” price when you figure how long it lasts. If I was traveling all the time I would get a bigger one but that’s about it.

    • Hi Tim,
      Thanks for the input! I think I’ll try out Eagle Creek next time. VERY interesting that sometimes you can carry it on; what size is it? Is it legal carry-on size?

  26. Nora, Mine must be one of the smaller ones. I just measured it while empty and from the tip of the wheels to the top of the carrying handle (not the pulling handle) it is 25″ it is 15″ wide and 7″ thick but if you Stuff it full I’m sure this would bulge out to about 10″ or so. That is without the daypack which zips onto the front and has extra straps as well. So I think this is the carryon size and they have much bigger ones. Here’s my Amazon affiliate link to one similar to mine (but mine is much older) . On mine the daypack is much more obvious on this one it just blends right in. They say this one is 22″ which is about what mine is without the handle. While writing this comment I decided to post an article with some pictures of my older version. You can see it here: P.S. I also included a link to this article. 🙂

    • Hi Tim,
      Thanks for the link, and the voyeuristic peek at your luggage! 😉
      Having now taken quite a few trips (up to 3 months long) with carry-on only, my big clunky Osprey (and all the “stuff” I used to put into it) seems superfluous. Having said that, there are a few mementos and warmer clothing items that I “need” for full-time travel, but can leave behind if I have a base. Still looking to make the official transition to carry-on only.

  27. Thank you google for getting me HERE! Great blog and much needed on my end. I’m a chronic multi-tasker and so i carry my 17 inch laptop PLUS ipad and the accessories that come with that oh plus the accessories that just come with being a GIRL (I cant get away from carrying a brush – trust me – bald? was not a good look for me) and I’m always on the go. Would you recommend the High Sierra for someone like myself? Im always on the lookout for that JUST RIGHT wheeled backpack.

    • Hi Triniti – I SO hear you! I really liked the High Sierra; one of my best wheeled backpack choices, especially if you’re in need of a daypack as well.

  28. Great conversation and information on bags, I appreciate everyone’s input. I am looking for a replacement wheeled/handled bag and need straps for the sand streets in Caye Caulker, the cobblestone of La Antigua or other incidental poor surfaces where I can’t wheel the bag. I just returned from 3 weeks in Belize where I had to drag around a failed High Sierra wheeled duffel. The solid plastic bottom which holds the handle structure and the wheels in place became brittle and continued to break to the point the wheels floated out of position. This bag wasn’t more than a couple years old and the damage wasn’t accidental or traumatic. I talked to High Sierra and wasn’t satisfied of any manufacturing or design changes. My input: don’t try to save money, dragging a defective bag around on a dream trip isn’t worth the savings.

    • Hi Ron,
      You make a great point about crappy terrain…it’s murder on any wheels. This is where the backpack straps shine.
      And you’re also right about paying for quality gear; I sing off the same hymn sheet.

  29. Hard sided wheeled backpack is what I’m looking for. My Eagle Creek wheeled backpack has lost its wheel and I’m looking for a replacement. It must be checkable as airline luggage and have good wheels. I need straps, for example while walking up stairs while carrying a tower PC (I do yearly presentations in Tokyo and soon maybe Shanghai, and part of my 10-minute trek involves some long unavoidable staircases).

    • Hi Ben,
      Any reason why you’re looking for a hard-sided pack in particular?
      Would you go with Eagle Creek again?

      • Hard-sided just seems more robust when they’re tossed around in the airports. I use the straps rarely so don’t care much about comfort. In Tokyo and Shanghai last time I was there, street-level crossing was just inappropriate – due to irregular surface, or insane drivers. Lugging a backpack up a long staircase is not fun. Anyone know of hardsided with straps?

  30. Ben,
    I have an “Atlantic” Clamshell with only the two wheels that I liked pretty well. I did have to get them to send me replacement latches which they did quite easily. (I may have stuffed it a bit too full). Unfortunately Atlantic doesn’t make anything similar anymore. They all have the 4 swivel wheels which I think is just an accident waiting to happen. I much prefer the two larger wheels. I found this one which is similar to the one I had. http://tinyurl.com/hardside .

    When I was traveling with a big server I had a custom made hard side case with foam padding all inside. It was great but it guaranteed that I would be stuck at customs absolutely every time and I had to pay oversize luggage fees every time.

  31. Pingback: Jansport Rolling Backpack – Comfort In Flexibility | MBS Alliance
  32. I agree with comments about wheeled backpacks. I purchased an Osprey. Great but things broke on first trip. would not buy again. companion had a cheap supermarket chain wheeled bag and that still looked like new. The Osprey did not!

    • Hi Tim – I believe Osprey has a warranty program, so they will either repair your bag or replace it. I didn’t have that luxury when my zipper pulls broke on a train in Siberia (!), but it’s worthwhile to look into, given the cost of Osprey….

    • Hi Florenz,
      That looks like a great case!
      Sheesh….10 flights in 4 weeks….I would go with carry-on only if I were you! Since writing this article, I have indeed transitioned everything I own to carry-on only, and I haven’t looked back. It makes the “travel” part of traveling a breeze! 🙂

  33. Great advice everyone.
    I have travelled in the past with a full frame backpack and love the hands free aspects of a pack. Whether taking a photo, dragging out the passport or looking after my wife’s big suitcase, not having to keep track of my own suitcase is just one less thing to worry about. And of course it easier when faced with stairs, unpaved roads, etc.
    On the other hand, why carry it when you can wheel it!
    I’m going to look for a wheeled pack.

    • Hi Mark – awesome! I do love wheels….and so does my back! Then again, I don’t have a wife with a large suitcase to manage either… ha ha!

  34. Great discussion. It is interesting how your solutions have evolved over time and are still continuing to evolve. Now that you are a 100% carry-on traveler, what luggage solution are you now using? Do you still use a bag with wheels? I too have learned that wheels are a must for me (especially for standing in line and packing anything over 15kg through airports and train stations) but the backpack straps are very useful going up and down long flights of stairs and while accessing the subways in major cities. Lately I’ve been thinking about eliminating the extra weight and and loss of space of the built in wheels on my carry-on and getting a bag like the Red Oxx Air Boss or Tom Bihn Tri Star and adding a light weight luggage cart if needed. Any thoughts on that solution?

    • Hi Tamba,
      I’ve gone the other way from your idea of cutting out the wheels with carry-on only…instead I’ve eliminated the straps! With a carry-on case, it’s just not that heavy, and with good side and top handles, I have no problem picking it up to manage stairs and other areas where the wheels won’t work. Thus, I’ve opted for the extra space lost with backpack straps and chosen a carry-on bag with wheels only.
      My current bag of choice is the Pacsafe Toursafe 21. So far, I love it, and it’s very light weight despite the wheels and extra security protection of the theft-proof anti-slash (etc) options.

      • Nora, I understand how you feel and I thought the same in theory but a found the real world throws at me the 3 city blocks covered with windblown sand or some other impediment where those wheels won’t work. The straps are insurance I will get where I’m going without the need for lumbar adjustment when traveling. I bought the Eagle Creek as an “expedition bag” to get to where I want to go and then day bag from there. I had too many HIgh Sierras frames supporting the wheels fail me and the Eagle Creek is being discounted heavily. I bought mine for less than this but this 50% off isn’t bad http://www.rei.com/product/869979/eagle-creek-flip-switch-wheeled-convertible-luggage-28-2013-overstock

        • Hi Ron,
          Again – if I wasn’t going with carry-on only, I’d still very much be in the wheeled backpack camp! But with a carry-on only bag, it’s just not that heavy to carry by hand, even for 3 city blocks….but those straps take up very valuable carry-on real estate! If I were looking to buy a checked bag again, I really like your choice in the Eagle Creek.

  35. Why can’t the manufacturers keep these bag in stock, improve them and make more! I travel 2 weeks out of every month, and love these bags. Currently I am using a High Sierra AT6 which they discounted and changed styling. They are not the best material but functioned great going up and down train platforms and airports when needed. The bag that give a detachable day pack are the best, when on vacation they are great to pack lunches or towels for the beach, for business I can store my computer in it for meetings. Looked at the Ospery which is a good bag, but loved the Northface doubletrack 21 just can find these bag to buy them! Wish these manufactures would see that there is a market for these bags and keep them in stock!

    • Hey Chris,
      I hear ya. You find something you love, and when you need another one, it’s discontinued or otherwise changed to no longer suit your needs. I mean – really! 😉

  36. Hello there, well took me half the night to read this blog hahahahaha but it was very informative and quite fascinating to see where you all have traveled. I am in the course of traveling through Colombia, I find that the size of a suitcase is handy, (only carry on size) but I am in need of a backpack for weekend trips from a home base. I love the idea of a roller back pack with a day bag, does anyone one know of one that has a decent day bag for more than a day hahahaha.

    Thank you all.


    • Hey Hugh,
      If you’re looking for a day-pack backpack that fits more than a day’s worth of stuff but can also fit into your suitcase when you’re not using it (and take up almost no space) I’d highly recommend the Outdoor Research DryComp Summit Sack (mentioned in my article above). It’s really a superb and versatile piece of gear!

  37. Hi Nora, great post-very informative! I was hoping maybe you could give me some advice. I will be traveling Europe for 25 days, visiting 9 different cities. We are not staying in any city more than 3-4 days, and will be staying in hotels, so I can leave my main bag in my room and take a “day pack” out for the daily exploring. The only real trekking of my suitcase I’ll have to do is up and down stairs at the hotels, through some streets, and on and off the buses we will be taking for travel between locations. Would you recommend a traditional suitcase or a rolling backpack? I am leaning towards the rolling backpack just simply for those few times I may need the straps, but for 25 days I will need a decent amount of room for belongings. I definitely don’t want to over pack. The cheaper the better, and I definitely don’t want to have to buy a new one while I’m there so I would like for it to be sturdy. What do you think?

    Thanks! …Sarah

    • Hi Sarah,
      Great questions! Okay. This largely depends on how much stuff you (think you) need to bring. For me, the lighter the better, since it’s so much easier to schlep small light bags around than large heavy ones – backpack straps/wheels or not. And with the amount you’re moving around, you don’t your bags to weigh you down (pun intended).
      So this begs the question: are you willing/able to do laundry along the way? Either by hand washing and drying things overnight, or by going to a laundromat? If so, then you don’t need to bring 25 days worth of stuff…which is a lot.

      Here’s the deal: when I wrote this post, I still used a bag large enough that I had to check it in on flights. This meant when navigating stairs and cobblestones, the wheels were a pain, and it was a wee bit heavy to carry. So – backpack straps were good.

      But now, I use a carry-on bag (with wheels) only. To have straps on my bag would mean sacrificing space – which is sacred since there isn’t much of it. So my bag is a wheels-only case. Also, being a carry-on bag, it’s not as heavy, so it’s much easier to carry by the handle when the wheels won’t do.

      Does this help?

  38. Hello all,
    my Brazil trip is drawing closer and after some consideration (and your kind comments) I have decided not to go for the backpack option but rather buy:

    1) a big (70-80l – I will unfortunately travel with more than carry on size) travel bag without the shoulder straps and
    2) a small lightweight summit pack for the day trips.

    Can you give me specific suggestions for any of the two?

    My main criteria are light weight, excellent quality (especially for the weels). Price is not that great an issue. I understand that North Face, Osprey and Eagle Creek are good (?)

    Many thanks for any help you can provide!


    • Hi Florenz,
      Choosing such a large wheeled bag without straps will occasionally be problematic for you, especially if you move around often, since there will be times that you’ll have to carry it (up and down stairs, over rough roads, etc) and that will be a large load to carry by hand. However it’s possible, depending on how strong you are.
      As for brand names to shop for, yes – those three produce high-quality bags. You might also want to take a look at Pacsafe – I find their luggage very sturdy and high quality, with the added benefit of a number of security features.
      Happy hunting!

  39. Great piece on the gear. I am with you as I started in 1993 with a big old used US Navy Sea-bag that I bought at a surplus store. That served me as I traveled Asia and Europe, but it was a pain i the @S#. Now I always use my Caribee Skymaster 70, it is the best bag I have found and unless I find the holy grail pack. I will stick with it. Great article, glad you found the wheeled backpack!

  40. Just checked out the http://tinyurl.com/CaribeeSkymaster70 and it looks pretty cool! It has the detachable daypack that I like although some reviews said it was too small to hold a laptop? A couple of people complained about the quality have you had any problems with yours?

    I just bought another Eagle Creek for my wife for her birthday last month since I liked mine so well. It has some nice improvements over the old version. The wheels are a bit bigger and the daypack doesn’t look like a baby Koala hanging on it’s mother’s back. Instead it looks more integrated. See http://tinyurl.com/eagle-creek22

    • Hi Tim,
      Both bags look solid! I’ve never heard of Caribee but it doesn’t mean it’s bad. The Eagle Creek one looks great – is it carry-on sized?

    • I have a MacBook Pro 15in. and it fits. It wouldn’t fit a 17in. My last two trips though, I have only taken a 7inch tablet with bluetooth keyboard since it is easier to trek around with. As for quality, it is top-notch. Had no issues, but it also has a complete guarantee, that they will fix it anywhere for you. Haven’t had to use it yet, but that is nice. I have only heard good things recently about the Eagle Creek. My brother got the High Sierra and has not been impressed by the quality, but the price is significantly less.

  41. I have carried the old version on. On some smaller planes they made me put it underneath but then returned it on the gangway on arrival. In those cases I would move my laptop to the daypack and give them the big half. It worked great. I think technically it is oversized, if you have the big part and the daypack stuffed full. The whole thing is too thick to fit in most overhead bins. Then I just unzip the day pack and put them in separately. It is definitely pushing the limit but I’ve done it many times.

    • Hey Tim,
      Do you take another daypack as well for carry-on? If not, then you probably still fit the carry-on regulations with the big bag and the day pack if they were separate. But if you do take another daypack for carry-on, then – sneaky! (And cool)!

  42. Usually I don’t have another carry-on but I do wear a “fanny pack” which always gets through in addition to whatever I’m carrying. I was really loaded up once and heard one ticket agent question the other about what I was carrying and the senior one said no fanny pack doesn’t count because it is “attached to his person”.

    • Hey Tim – Ooh that’s a great travel hack! Wear a fanny pack to get extra stuff through carry-on security. There are some lovely hand-crafted bum bags here in Peru….maybe I’ll pick one up!

  43. I wear mine in the front, it always has my passport (in a separate zipper closest to me). It also has Tylenol, band-aids, chewable Pepto, antihistamines, misc. over the counter remedies, mini sewing kit from a hotel, dental floss, small pack of Kleenex, roll of camping (travel) toilet paper, pen and paper, toothbrush and mini-toothpaste, etc. Most of those things take surprisingly little space. The biggest is probably the TP which is about the size of an empty TP roll since there is no roll inside.

  44. I think I got mine in Ecuador. It looks like it is probably Leather, has lots of zippers.
    1) the one hidden in the back closest to you (for passport)
    2) One straight across the top to access the main compartment without spilling stuff.
    3) One that curves around the top for full access to the main compartment.
    4) One across the top of a small compartment on the front.
    5) one across the front of the small compartment with a separate section that only holds a few thin things ( I keep a sheet of Dramamine pills there) for quick easy access without hunting.

  45. Hello fellow traveler. My cousin and I are traveling South America for about 5 months. I read your article about wheeled backpacks. That’s definitely what we’re going to buy. You said you wouldn’t buy the Osprey again. Which other backpack would you recommend? Do you have an article that talks about what clothes to take and how much of it? I would love to get a woman’s perspective on things. You’ve been doing this for many years so any advice would help us. Thanks for your help!

  46. Hello! Thank you for all the info here … I travel a lot but I am not a backpacker … Im finally venturing in october to do a backpacking type trip to southeast asia (vietnam, thailand and cambodia) … Im short … 5″1′ … Not very strong … I dont hike really and if i did it would definitely be a day trip with no need for the big luggage … So with that said i definitely think the wheeled backpack is for me … Although I see they come in different sizes … I will do my best to keep it very light but … What size can you recommend for the bag I get? Thank you thank you!

  47. Really useful post. Thanks. They may not be of use to you but thought it worth a mention. Did you know you can get daypacks with a detachable wheel and handle frame thingy. When you want to wheel it you just attach the daypack to the base and the handle goes through like a back pocket thing specially designed for it. I’ve had no problems with mine and it’s lasted for ages. I, too, have rarely used the straps. Actually I don’t think I’ve ever used them. So you could leave the detachable frame in your hotel room when you know you’ll be trekking on rough terrain. Or keep the frame in when you’re having a wheely day.

    My mum bought it for me. Though if I see one that’s not bright barbie pink and snoopy I’m definitely changing it. That’s the only downside-colour and brand wise-it’s just not my style :/.

    • H – Ha ha ha! You don’t like bright barbie pink and snoopy? Aw, c’mon – where’s your sense of adventure?! 😉 I don’t find I need a wheely-thing for daypacks, which I rarely fill enough to be really heavy; I just chuck the daypack on my back (for now)…

    • Hi H,
      Can you tell me what the back packs with the attachable wheels/frame are called or send me links to them? This sounds ideal for me! Thanks, J

  48. Thanks for the great life experience sharing. Been researching a lot on which type of backpack/luggage bag should I get for my next trip.
    Since my cabin luggage can only allow for 7KG, normal hard luggage bag of 3KG seems too over, while backpack lighter, wheel backpack seems to be the best fit of both world with bit extra weight but convenient to move around, at least light for my back.

  49. In almost 10 years of travel I’ve finally decided I’ve had it with backpacks after my new one got a puncture after I waved it off to be loaded on its maiden flight. I’ll be looking at a wheelie when I finish this trip for sure.

  50. Hiya Nora, such a great review very useful I move travel a lot around London and with various bits and bobs. Some day are more of a practical event where I need to carry extra protective clothing or just a gym day. The Osprey seems like a great option but I also found this item from North Face so I thought I’d return the favour lol. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJEtO18o7QE The North Face – Doubletrack 28″ ’09 SKU:#7285327.

    Good Luck

  51. Thank you so much for this post. My bf and I are about to set out on a 4 month trip around SE Asia. The pressure from people to get backpacks is crazy. We have really great wheelie suitcases that are carry-on size but peoples shock at wanting to use them is making me doubt the decision. They are sturdy with only one access point but not water proof which is my main worry. It’s not rainy season when we go but do you think this will be a big problem?
    Thank you for this post. It has helped a huge amount.

    • Hi Tania,
      Your challenges in Asia with a wheelie suitcase might be the terrain – with rough pavement (and often no pavement at all), it might be difficult to wheel around when going to from your hostels. However if your bags are carry-on sized, they won’t be that heavy, so for particularly rough patches you can just carry it by hand. I’ve done this in Malaysia and Vietnam (and Europe and elsewhere) – no problemo.

      As for waterproofing, sometimes it rains at just the “wrong” time when you’re enroute to your hostel! I guess it depends on how *not* waterproof your cases are….I’d probably chance it since it’s not all that often that you’re wheeling around. If the rain is really hard, you can just take cover until it lightens up.

      Glad this post helped, and happy travels!

    • You are crazy. I’ve lived and travelled in SE Asia for more than 8 years. Wheeled suitcases are completely inappropriate for any kind of trip that isn’t whisking you in a taxi from one 4 star resort to another.

      Get small backpacks that can be taken carry-on (30L or so). The weather is hot so you don’t need bulky winter clothes in most places, and supplies are plentiful. You can buy anything you don’t have.

      Trust me on this, you’ll feel and look pretty dumb about two hours after arrival with wheeled suitcases.

      • Well, there you go, Tania – Mark has spoken, with lots of experience under his belt. (I’d still take my wheelie carry-on, as I have before, and will again).
        And although I don’t usually taxi from one 4-star resort to another, Mark has a good point: travel is different for everybody. Your own travel style might determine your best luggage choice.

        • Thank you so much everyone for your advice. It’s so great to get some first hand perspectives from long time travelers. You have all definitely given me something to think about.
          I live in Asia right now and have already traveled to Thailand, China, Taiwan and Japan with them as well as Europe, but for some reason it feels different when talking about a constant 4 month long haul instead of a few weeks here and there. I may risk it and take them since they’ve been so great in the past on the Beijing streets and Thai beaches…and they are only small (I think they/re the equivalent of 38L) but Mark you have definitely given me more to think about. Thank you so much lovely people.

      • Hi Mark,

        Happy to read someone’s experienced opinion on this subject. Still hesitating though, so hoping to get your advice. My husband and I are planning to take our two kids (2 & 5 years old) to SEA for 7 months of travel. We will probably not be staying at luxury hotels but at the same time we will most likely be taking taxis between airports and hotels with little venturing in between, just to make it easier for the kids. So not planning to walk around a lot with our kids, or to move around tons, more go from airport to hotel/hostels and do day trips without or main luggage from a base. So we were definitely considering wheels, as its easier at airports (unless there’s trolleys), within hotels, etc. just thinking it’s easier than putting on a backpack each time you need to move. I am also ridiculously feeble with a bad back, so that’s another reason wheelies seem attractive. With these points in mind, would you still say it’s pointless to get a wheelie for SEA? I’ve read a few posts about people not using their backpack straps if they’ve had a combined bag, but that hasn’t been for SEA specifically… hope you get a chance to reply despite it being long since your post! Thanks in advance!

        • Hi Susanne,
          I don’t know if you’re looking for my opinion (the author), or Mark’s opinion (a reader). But I’ll answer with my 2 cents anyway….
          I would still go with wheels. There will always be trolleys in airports, but that only gets you so far, and they’re not generally in bus and train stations – which you’ll surely be experiencing some of on your trip.
          So in your shoes, I’d still go with wheels, especially if you have a bad back! Better to be upright and (possibly) inconvenienced with wheeled luggage, than flat on your back missing out on your own trip because you’ve tweaked it. 🙂

      • Carry on or hardshell suitcase for check in. That’s my experience. A softshell with zipper gets broken into at the airport. Either to steal things or to hide drugs and using your luggage as a mule which could get you into serious trouble if their contact person can’t get it out before customs.
        My last years travel in SEA was either for business requiring a suit, or visiting in-laws requiring lots of gifts to carry. Hence hardshell suitcase all the time. Samsonite, wheeled, and sturdy enough to pull over any street or path or muddy walkway with stones in between. One European airline has managed to break a part off. I bought it in Hong Kong in 1998. And have never since seen it anywhere again.
        The design is different. You can’t tip it over when pulling. It’s more like a tank. And without TSA lock probably classified weapons grade in the US. But it served me well over 20 years.

  52. I wouldn’t worry too much about waterproofing. Most decent cases should be fairly water resistant. There’s a good article on carryology about the difference and it points out that most of the time when it rains heavily you just take shelter. http://www.carryology.com/liking/industry/waterproof-vs-water-resistant/

    I’d get a cannoe bag with a strap and keep anything that might get damaged, like electrics, in that. If you get one with a strap it can double as a beach/day bag etc.

    You could also get some waterproof spray to give your bags some extra protection… Not sure if it would definitely make much difference, but it’s usually cheap.

  53. Hi Nora
    Great post (and I thought I was the only one anal enough to preach the virtues of wheeled backpacks)
    Being 65 now and spending a lot of my dotage travelling around Asia, generally travelling in 6-10 week trips. I used to travel with a cabin sized wheel on, it took me a couple of trips dragging the samsonite over cobbles and tracks before observing everyone else’s problems and solutions and here is what works for me
    For my passport, iPad and paper maps I have a lightweight leather shoulder bag.
    I now travel with 1 t shirt and 2 long/ short sleeve zipable light weight hiking shirts
    1 zipable lightweight shorts/trousers and one pair lightweight jeans, 1 pair of Merrell lightweight walking shoes and a very lightweight canvas shoes that fold and zip which I wear in the evening, all this packs easily into a BlackWolf Grand Tour 45 wheeled backpack ($99) this has never been checked in, always coming in under 7 kilos when checked.
    When flying I wear my heaviest clothes leaving the lightest in the carry on.
    As I find myself every now and then caught up in monsoon season I have sprayed the bag with silicon spray available from a yachting supply store for a few dollars.
    I hope this helps others even though much of it has been mentioned by others
    Cheers, keep travelling

  54. Hey,
    Thanks for this great post. I’ve been travelling a lot for the past 2 years and my bag is about ready to fall apart! I loved the techniques you shared, they are very helpful. Uber Park is actually giving away a folding backpack on their site and anyone can WIN.

  55. Ooooohhh I love you and I love this site! 🙂 I’m so glad I found this site and thanks for this fabulous article. ….I will be having more of a look through for other ideas.

    I have been travelling constantly for the last 11 years as a result of my previous career, which has now sadly come to an end. Problem is that I have come to love travelling so much that I’m finding it hard to be in one place for this long. I can’t do it anymore! ….. 🙂

    As a golfer I have gotten used to lugging around 50 kg’s of luggage, in 3 bags, so travelling with just one bag is going to be a, ummm, …holiday! lol

    I need to get out again and have decided that a backpack with wheels is the way to go for me. ….and also one with a detachable day-pack. I saw one the other day which was an Osprey (meridian – 70L) and looked pretty fab.

    One thing that does concern me is the comfort aspect for the times when I would need to carry it on my back, so I’m going to have to go in and try it out I think?

    Thanks again for the great tips 🙂

    • Hi Mianne,
      Glad you’re hitting the road again! You must be excited.
      As for the comfort factor of carrying a wheeled pack on your back, of the two that I owned neither were particularly comfortable – as in, I wouldn’t want to go hiking with it. It’s okay for the odd schlep here and there, though.
      And yes, if you can find a place that has a selection of wheeled backpacks to choose from, go in and try some on! Otherwise, have a peek at the user reviews on Amazon – I tend to find them helpful.
      Happy travels!

    • Hi Mianne,

      Did you buy the Osprey Meridian? I am thinking of buying it. What do you think of it? Do you like it? Did the zippers broke? 😉

      Thanks, Mianne! And thanks Mianne for this article! 🙂

  56. I been searching for wheel-backpack this review is just right on time i was looking at osprey backpack too maybe smallest version those with attachable daypack

    • Hi Liana,
      Cool! Glad this article came on time. Good luck in your wheeled backpack search! I don’t know if Osprey has models with detachable daypacks, but it’s worth a search. If worst comes to worst, you can use a separate daypack and put it on your front whenever you need to put the wheeled backpack on your back….

  57. Regarding one of the threads above about water proofing, I once took a paddle down the Missouri River in Montana through the Missouri Breaks for a week. Everything (including food) had to be prepared for a canoe going over through rapids, or sudden rainstorms in the middle of the Big Muddie. Aside from the usual little see-through sealed bags (especially for a camera), I had a plain old garbage bag fully twisted at the top that I used as a liner inside the packs. Didn’t get dunked, but I was well prepared.

  58. My husband and I were just debating about this when I stumbled upon this article. I just bought an Osprey Meridian 28 (I know larger than what most serious travelers recommend). He is insisting a backpack is the best way to go and if I want to roll my suitcase just get a roller. He talks about walking around with his backpack (years ago) in Europe for 3 or 4 hours and the convertible pack is not made for that. Well I don’t plan on doing anything where I have to lug a bag around for hours! My plan is roll the bag as much as possible and use it as a backpack if needed. I am going to test out my new bag on a short trip to Italy next week and it will get the real test later this year on a 6 week trip through Asia and Europe. I hope I made the right choice. Has anyone had to carry a convertible bag around as a backpack for an extended period of time ? If so how was it?

    • Hi Gwen,
      I had a convertible pack for years and never had to carry it for more than 20 minutes of walking. And I wouldn’t have wanted to carry it like that for much longer than 30 minutes.
      I just never need to haul a pack around these days! But it all depends on your style and pace of travel. Have fun testing your gear!

  59. My husband and I are going on a 2-3 month trip “around the world” and we will be getting on about 20 plane rides give or take with some very tight connections (wish us luck). Very similar to some of your other readers, we’ve been in disagreement about whether a backpack or wheeled backpack is best for me. I am 5’2 and pretty fit for my size, and the thought of me carrying a 50L+(Gregory Wander) bag on my back and a personal backpack in the front just makes me look ridiculous. My husband is taller so he doesn’t find it ridiculous for him of course. Because of the tight connections, we really are trying to avoid checking in any type of luggage so carry on only. I’ve been in search of a carry on approved wheeled backpack that can fit all of my essentials for 2 months and I have been struggling. I just can’t seem to find a carry-on wheeled backpack that seems big enough or airline approved. i prefer the wheeled backpack for the same reasons you had indicated about the ease of wheeling around especially we will be in so many airports. Do you have any suggestions. Durability and spacing is very important.

    • Hi Lily,
      The challenge (as you’ve probably already discovered) with carry-on sized wheeled backpacks is that you lose valuable packing space by incorporating both straps and wheels into the luggage. If I were to get a wheeled backpack that fits carry-on standards, Eagle Creek has one that would be the best in my opinion. But still, I’ve seen it in action, and it’s pretty sad on packing space.

      For me, wheeled backpacks are best used as checked luggage. For carry-on, I’m a big fan of a plain and simple wheeled case, no straps. Because of the size (and carry-on weight restrictions) it’s not so heavy that you can’t easily carry it by the handles when you need to. Here’s an article with more info on different types of luggage and why I choose a wheeled case for carry-on travel – along with my luggage recommendations for carry-on travel: https://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/best-luggage-long-term-travel-backpacks-vs-rolling-luggage/

  60. Hi there,

    great article! I’m embarking on a month long trip from Europe->Indonesia and im struggling with what luggage to buy. you’ve change my mind about the wheeled backpack.

    Can you suggest any others that are great? the Soujourn wont ship to me all the way up here in Canada!


    Diana 🙂

    • Hi Diana,
      That’s strange that you can’t get a Sojourn in Canada!
      I’m currently a fan of Eagle Creek luggage, and they have a few interesting-looking models of wheeled backpacks, depending on the size you’re looking for. Also, High Sierra has quite a few carry-on sized wheeled backpacks.
      Have a great trip!

  61. I got the sojourn (60) last month from Amazon. Yes, I think it’s worth it. I like the larger wheels. However, I doubt I will ever need the backpack straps for my style of travel. and also because the larger wheels it’s easy to drag around.
    In general, I’m anti-backpack. I dislike how people with huge packs on their back bumping around taking so much space without any consideration to the people around.
    I want to carry weight as little as possible so I check my bag.

    • Hey Kate,
      I suspect you’ll rarely use the straps, but I must admit, there are some times when the straps come in handy. Recently, with my roller-bag, I had to drag it up a gravel pathway and about 100 steps….I missed my straps! But for the most part, wheels are king. Glad you like the Osprey!

  62. Hi all. I got a free Soujourn 80 L via Osprey’s AWESOME warranty. I figured if I’m gonna check it why not have the real estate? After long time carry-on, I went crazy : brought 9 months of supplements, extra clothes and lo and behold, I’m lugging 25KG. This is a mistake. The key to travel serenity is light enough weight. The size or type of bag is less important. If carryon is too heavy, it’s still a misery.

    If I survive this trip, I’ll pack for no-bag travel like Reggie Elya, but put in the Sojourn. I’m happy with one change of clothes, phone + kindle, with the supplements and resistance bands as only quality of life extras. The advantage of an empty Sojourn is everything!-daypack,sacks,food, an onsite electric kettle will go in for non-flight travel and it’s still easy to lift. Man plans, God laughs.

    • Hi Laurence,
      I hear you loud and clear on the weight thing! I recently went back to checked luggage after traveling full-time with carry-on only, and although having some extra creature comforts is great, I regard my 20kg of luggage with no small degree of contempt when I have to pack it up and lug it around.
      Years ago, I coined a phrase, which I continue to live by: The weight of your bag is equally proportionate to your level of misery on the road.
      And so, it is. Ha!

  63. Thanks for all the tips about wheeled backpacks. I don’t travel often but am looking for one of these after going on a trip with somebody who has one. It was very flexible as a carry-on. I pack very light, taking about half as much as other people I’ve traveled with. A rolling backpack would give me much more flexibility on flights and the wheels shouldn’t add so much weight that I wouldn’t be able to carry it.

  64. The eastpack tranverz in a small size is the best carry on bag i’ve used and complies with the strictest size requirements. Durable, excellent wheels and has two main sections for packing convenience which you can fit loads in due it’s compression straps and finally it also looks good.

      • Hi Nora,
        I’ve been reading some of these comments with interest because I’m looking for a good wheeled backpack and couldn’t find anything suitable researching it until you mentioned the Doubletrack 28, which seems perfect for me. However, it seems to be sold out everywhere, I fear discontinued (why oh why do they stop making the best things??). I see it’s been a few months since you’ve been on here but you don’t happen to have any information about this backpack do you? To answer your question about Eastpak, no, they don’t have straps on any of their larger cases so they don’t compare to this North Face one. However, I do love Eastpak for their durability and functionality (and style). I have the 82L suitcase and love it, however, it is difficult to carry. Look forward to hearing from you if you are out there!
        Thanks, Chloe

  65. Size does matter. If you are taller (I’m 2.02 m) you will find that wheeled combo bags are often too short. Even with fully extended pullbars the pack dangles from your hands and the wheels instead of hitting the road hit your ankles instead.
    Hence I still use a wheeled bag with shoulder straps I bought in the 90s in Hong Kong, but need urgently now the wheels replaced. They are just worn down.

  66. Osprey Porter 46. It has a laptop sleeve opens completely, and you can attach their Daylight series day packs to them. That’s what I use when I travel.

    • Thanks for sharing, Carlos! I like that the day packs can attach to them, so you don’t have to wear one backpack on the front and one one the back.


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