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Backpack vs Suitcase

By George Meredith

Last updated: 18th March 2016

It’s the age old question, handed down from traveller to traveller since the dawn of time: What shall I take on my gap year -a suitcase or a backpack?

To answer this question we’ve organised the battle to end all battles: an almighty slugging match between the two titans of baggage. Finally, we’ll know the truth.

Here we go…


The Backpack – This gap year classic can take a hearty 65 litres of travel bits and bobs. Equipped with a padded hipbelt and shoulder straps, this bag may seem gentle enough but in a packing scenario it pulls no punches. With a waterproof cover, sleeping bag straps, and easy-access water bottle cradles, the mighty backpack won’t give up its title as gap year champion without a fight.

The Suitcase – Trundling into the ring from airports around the world is the modern suitcase. This family favourite may be a heavyweight, but with four 360° wheels and a multi-extendable handle you’d hardly notice.  Complete with two zips, an internal mesh compartment, and those straps that hold your clothes down, this case offers awesome packability. It’s tough too – its hard shell casing means a lorry could roll over this bad boy and two dozen eggs would come out unscathed.

Let battle commence!


The huge advantage of a suitcase is you can fill it with absolutely anything and everything.  You can keep those laundry trips to a minimum with enough clothes for several weeks, and keep well stocked with gadgets and home comforts.  Plus –it’s all on wheels so you’ll have no trouble carrying it all.

With the backpack it’s more of a cramming situation. You have a choice between constantly packing and repacking, or resorting to stuffing and digging for the majority of your trip. And unless you have a fancy front opening panel, you’ll spend a lot of time sliding your arm down the insides of your bag, shoulders-deep.

Plus, if you pack too much, you’ll soon start regretting it. Your shoulders will ache, your posture will sag, and as the day wears on you’ll be more and more likely to topple over. There’s nothing worse than knowing you have a long day ahead and a massive pack to carry.

Result: A clear win for the suitcase. If you’re taking loads of stuff, this is the bag for you.


On first landing at the airport, suitcase supporters may be feeling pretty smug. While the Backpackers shoulder their loads, you Suitcasers will glide through duty free with a spring in your step and a song in your heart. “Keep up slowcoaches” you’ll cry, sweeping your suitcase back and forth.

Get into the real world though, and things will quickly go downhill (or rather, upstairs). You’ll screech to a halt in front of the hostel steps, and while the backpackers rush ahead taking the steps two at a time, you’ll clatter up to your fifth floor dorm room inch by infuriating inch. And if you’re on a tour, or travelling from place to place, your activities will soon suffer. You don’t want to be the one untangling your suitcase from a tropical bush while everyone else is taking photos.

Backpackers, meanwhile, will calmly stroll from place to place with everything they need on their back, taking in the sights, delving through the forests, peering over mountain peaks, pausing only to wait for a suitcase tugger to catch up.

“Hold up at the front. Bridget’s got her wheels stuck again.”

Result: The backpack cruises to victory with its on-the-move practicality.


Now for the decider- what looks best?

The rucksack is the classic gap year look – and for good reason. Nothing is easier on the eye than the attractive ripple of a backpack silhouetted against the sun. You’ll look good in all landscapes – you’ll be the urban explorer, the jungle adventurer, the mountain conqueror – and rucksacks look just dreamy in a cover photo.

The suitcase meanwhile is not an attractive accessory. Besides the inevitable look of frustration (a sure sign of a suitcase puller), you can forget about throwing your arms around your new mates for that final group photo – you need one hand spare for your suitcase.

Result : The backpack struts on to the winner’s podium in the looks department.



For all your gap year needs, the mighty backpack is surely the way to go!

Do you agree with our verdict? Are you #teamsuitcase or #teambackpack?

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