One of the most common debates I see amongst the travel forums is the argument over whether its best to travel with a rucksack or a suitcase. It seems to be quite a heated debate too and one which I’ve finally resolved my own personal dilemma over. So as part of my ongoing feature on planning your gap year (Part One – “Where in The World” can be found HERE) I’ve decided to look into which is best:-
Backpack or luggage?
Both methods have their own pros and cons – some of which will be of importance to you, some of which are mere after thoughts.
Backpacks are seen as the icon of travelling – after all it is also called backpacking! For a lot of people having a backpack visually and mentally separates them from holidaymakers, who for the most part use suitcases. For me this is simply a by-product of marketing, a stereotype that has come about and to some extent a lot of travellers are judged upon. In my opinion it’s also a rubbish way for people to determine your motivation and style of travelling!
But if your worried about the stigma attached to your method of lugging things around this will be of importance to you – and by all means go with it if that’s your motivation!
Rucksacks do offer a lot of pros on a practical level though. In far-flung places being able to have everything on your back means you can literally take it everywhere. Better still it leaves your hands free to deal with maps and all manner or things you might need them free for – like holding on to precariously attached poles on buses as you hurtle through mountain roads!
On the flip side though luggage these days is more well built – especially if you do your homework – and a lot of places you may wish to travel wont be dirt tracked and pot holled, allowing you to easily wheel everything around behind you, particularly if your heading to Australia, New Zealand or America.
Size is also a massive determining factor in this argument too. If your travelling light then a backpack is a no brainer. If however you’re taking your whole life and the kitchen sink it becomes a different matter. You can get backpacks of all shapes and sizes, most of this is measured in litres. For example I took a medium sized bag with a detachable day sack which came in at 70+20.
This was absolutely fine for my initial pack and I fitted everything in with a bit of room to spare (although admirably I could’ve done with the extra 10 litres in the main bag). All fully packed this weighed in around 15kg. As a fairly fit, 6 foot male carrying this around airports was no problem. Over longer periods this did take its toll though – and despite fitting it correctly and balancing out the weight I did find it taking its toll on longer walks or on transport. It would’ve been even more of a problem if it weighed anymore or I wasn’t as fit.
Luggage on the other hand more often than not comes with wheels, allowing you to pack it as heavy as you need to with minimal exertion when transporting it from place to place – great for those travelling with half a wardrobe with them!
With rucksacks you have 2 options; the toploader and the suitcase style.
The toploader is great for those cramming in heaps of stuff and who are pretty organised, but it’s a nightmare for those who want everything easily accessible. The suitcase style is a great mid waypoint but still has limitations as rolling is the order of the day and things can still get pretty messy when reaching capacity!
Luggage can be a dream when packing on the other hand. Many have dividing compartments which allow you to organise everything into easily found pockets – main clothes in one, electrical in another and beach stuff in another. Great for when you need to get at things quickly and without hassle. The fact that these sections are usually self contained means that you wont be turfing half of your kit on the floor in your mad rush to the beach and that you don’t have to open it in a certain way to avoid everything exploding out into the dorm room!
The main restriction with a lot of luggage is capacity though. A lot of luggage can come in a hard rigid casing – the first disadvantage to this is the overall weight of it even without being loaded. The second is the fact these cases leave little or no room for expansion – meaning it’ll fit or it won’t!
The best way to overcome these problems is fairly simple though – if you think either will be an issue you can simply buy softcase luggage – which is much lighter in comparison and much more forgiving with cramming things in!
The cost of backpacks and luggage
A lot of people also bring price into this argument.
Some argue luggage can be bought cheaper. But in my experience “you buy cheap you buy twice“. Budget is down to personal preference – if you want a top of the range rucksack it can easily set you back over £100 ($160 US). If you want designer luggage it can go even higher.
With both though you do have a good range to suit every budget and of course, taste.
Why I chose luggage
After taking all these into account and having travelled for a year out of a rucksack I have decided to swap camps and from now on I am opting for luggage. I found that in Australia at least I didn’t use my rucksack on my back enough to warrant the disorganisation and hassle of taking it on and off. And when I did use it properly the weight of everything made me realise why people go for wheels!
Sure you can get free wheeling rucksacks – but with most things when something tries to implement too many features it usually fails at being great at any of them! So after a lot of shopping around I have purchased a Dakine 110 litre split loader.
My final decision over which brand and size to go for were influenced by a number of things.
I know him reasonably well and he actually directed me to the cheaper of a couple options. Advise from those that deal with a range of luggage on a daily basis is often worth listening to.
After the slightly disappointing result of my rucksack this was important (I’ll blog about that later). Dakine came through with a 2-year world-wide warranty – and the shop told me they hadn’t had any issues yet with any sales.
The dakine bag open into two section – the left-hand side is a large section whilst the right is 3 – two small and one central medium sized compartments.
In my head this equates to clothes on the left, electrical in one small section, shoes/flip flops in the other small section and the medium part will easily store my summer wetsuit/boardies/towel! It also has heaps of smaller pockets inside and out – perfect for storing travel documents and random bits and bobs.
As you may realise surf was the main motivator for most of my travel and purchasing decisions.
It feels strong yet light. And the materials all seem up to the challenge – as do the seams and zips.
It came in a range of styles, so I got to pick the one that suited me best – not a major thing but an added bonus!