Looking for a new luggage, but not sure which type to choose? With so many different varieties available, it is not always easy to determine which one works best for a particular trip.
Backpacks and duffel bags are popular choices, but there are some big differences between them. For many types of vacations, making the wrong decision could end up being physically painful and frustrating.
Here’s what you need to know about backpacks and bags, and how to choose between them.
Pros and cons of backpacks
Security: Depending on the model and type of backpack, its capacity to secure it varies between “something” and “none”. Having lockable zippers for the main compartment should really be a requirement, and the external pockets should also be lockable if possible.
Obviously, you don’t want thieves to steal anything inside your bag, but you also don’t want anyone to slip unwanted items inside.
Locked zippers won’t stop thieves from getting into your bag if they really want to, as a sharp knife or even pen can get into most backpacks, but they are a deterrent. When there are about a half dozen other bags to choose from, that deterrent may be all you need.
You also have the option of using a flexible metal cage like Pacsafe’s for added security, but they are relatively expensive, heavy, and bulky.
Transport: When it comes to versatility, it’s hard to beat a backpack. Stairs and rough surfaces aren’t a problem, and as long as your body is up to the task and you haven’t been overloaded, you should be able to easily carry a good backpack for a mile or two.
If your trip will never take you away from smooth pavements and willing valets, a rolling suitcase is more convenient. However, for other types of travel, a backpack gives you more flexibility and less hassle. A good travel backpack will include a zippered sleeve or case for the straps and harness, preventing damage in transit.
Capacity and Packaging: Backpacks can be found in almost any size, but you are limited by what you can actually carry. However, this helps you stick to the essentials, which is not a bad thing. Due to their shape and restricted openings, backpacks are more difficult to pack and unpack than duffel bags.
Like a duffel bag, a backpack is at least something “crushable.” This makes it easier to fit in closets, under beds, and on luggage racks on buses and trains.
Durability – A well-made backpack will outlast most of the things you travel within reach. Dirt, dust, and careless baggage handlers pose few problems. As long as you buy a bag made from a sturdy, water-resistant fabric, the contents should stay dry even during relatively heavy downpours.
If the backpack itself is not waterproof, many backpacks also come with a rain cover, or it is possible to buy one that fits. These extend over everything except the harness, preventing bad weather and at the same time allowing you to carry the pack easily.
Other than the zipper, there is little to break on most backpacks. However, look for high-quality YKK brand zippers and thick nylon or canvas outer material to ensure it lasts the distance.
Flexibility – It ‘s great to be able to use one item of luggage for multiple purposes. Being able to do a multi-day hike with the same luggage that you loaded into the taxi on the way home is very helpful.
We show you how to choose the best backpack for your trip.
Pros and cons of Duffels
Safety – Like backpacks, many duffel bags aren’t particularly safe. Again, when shopping for a duffel bag, look for models with suitable lockable zippers. If you can’t find one, run a lock or cable tie between the zipper holes as a half-baked alternative. Watch out for those outer pockets too.
Transport – If you need to toss a large amount of gear in a weatherproof bag and transport it relatively short distances, a duffel bag is perfect. For sports or dive trips, for example, there really isn’t a better option.
For more general travel, however, they are not a great choice. Most duffel bags become painful to carry within minutes, whether you use the handles or the shoulder straps. That’s an even bigger problem when you’ve loaded forty pounds of gear on them.
In recent years, manufacturers have introduced “travel bags” into the mix. It is essentially a canvas bag with wheels and a handle grafted on the back. While this makes the bag easier to transport, it’s still heavier and less practical than a backpack on most trips, unless you’re carrying a lot of bulky gear.
Capacity and Packaging: There is almost no limit to the size and shape of duffel bags – anything from carry-on luggage to over 200 liters (over 12,000 cubic inches) is easy to find. The equipment you carry will help determine the capacity you need.
While most duffel bags are cylindrical, a flat base and rectangular shape allow you to pack more gear in the same space. Soft-sided duffel bags will lose their shape when they are less than two-thirds full, making them more difficult to transport.
Durability – A well-made duffel bag is usually very durable, especially if it has a quality zipper and a lack of hanging straps or other accessories. Look for waterproof materials and very heavy handles and straps that can support the weight of the bag even when full.
If you decide to go for a bag on wheels, be careful – it is most likely to break on any piece of luggage and often difficult to replace.
Here’s how to choose the best duffel bag for your trip.
In addition to certain types of specialized travel where you absolutely need the extra capacity of a duffel bag, backpacks are a more versatile, comfortable, and easy-to-carry option, especially if you ever need to carry your luggage any distance.