Backpack vs suitcase: which one is best for your trip?

Whether you’re going on a staycation or an overseas adventure it’s always best to travel as light as possible, so what's better, a backpack or a suitcase?

Backpack vs Suitcase
(Image credit: Getty / Antler)

Travelling light can sometimes seem impossible, but you’d be surprised how much you can squeeze into a backpack these days with all of the handy packing-hacks out there. But at the same time, sometimes having a suitcase on wheels is super convenient for carrying heavier items, and depending on the size, you can still use a suitcase as hand luggage when travelling on a plane. 

But which one is right for your journey? We take a look at some of the pros and cons of a backpack vs a suitcase, so you can understand which one is right for your packing needs. 

So should you buy the best backpack or the best suitcase? Let's dig into the details…

Backpack vs suitcase: Functionality

A backpack and a suitcase are both very convenient, depending on what you’re using them for. For shorter journeys and trips where you might only need a change of clothes, then a classic backpack can provide a simple way to travel. But if you need a bit more room for lengthier journeys, that’s not to say a backpack isn’t convenient. 

Hiking backpacks can offer just as much, if not more room, than a suitcase, with some even offering a zip-open panel that makes it easy to pack in your stuff, just like you would a suitcase. 

While backpacking has become a popular way to travel, if you don’t fancy carrying all your stuff around on your back, then a suitcase would be the better option for you. These days, suitcases have casters, meaning they are the easiest way to transport your belongings without having to carry any of the weight. So, if you’re someone who likes to take more than a couple of pairs of shoes away with you, then a suitcase would be your ideal choice. 

In addition to this, most suitcases are made with a hard shell, so if you’re travelling by plane, you know your belongings are protected if they’re being put in the hold. A backpack, on the other hand, is only made of fabric, and while durable, could be susceptible to rips and snags along the way, and any fragile items won’t be as well protected. On the other hand, if you’re going camping in a field, it’s quite likely that dragging a suitcase across grass and mud is going to be a bit of a slog, so choose wisely for your trip. 

Backpack vs suitcase: Style and price

Suitcases can be the smarter way to travel both when it comes to functionality and style. Suitcases can often look smarter, with either a fabric or hard shiny shell. Backpacks can also look smart, but if you’re going away on a business trip, you might look a bit out of place with your hiking bag on your back. 

Price-wise, some of the best backpacks can come in quite pricey, and the bigger the backpack, the more expensive it will be. Suitcases, on the other hand, are quite easy to come by, and small cabin bags are available for around as little as £10-£20. If you like your designer gear though, be prepared to pay well into the thousands for branded bags. 

Smart suitcases are also now really popular, offering phone charging points, tracking devices and smart locks, which ultimately put them at a much higher price point than your standard wheelie suitcase or backpack. 

Backpack vs suitcase: The verdict

Both the best backpacks and the best suitcases have their purpose. If you don’t fancy carrying heavy loads, a suitcase with wheels is an easy option for any trip length, however, you’ll still likely need a backpack or smaller bag to carry your more personal belongings such as keys, wallet and phone. 

With that in mind, you may wish to kill two birds with one stone. Travel backpacks often come with a detachable smaller backpack which you can use for those smaller personal belongings, which means you don’t have to carry two separate bags. 

Sarah-Jane Butcher
Sarah-Jane Butcher

Sarah-Jane is an experienced writer who has created reviews and buying guides for a number of publications including TechRadar, T3.com, Real Homes and TheRadar. She's a pro at finding the best products on the market and presenting them for your viewing pleasure.