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Choosing a new form of travel luggage is a big investment. You need this travel gear to be reliable, comfortable and to keep your items dry and safe. With more models than iOS updates, it is daunting when it comes to choosing between a rucksack with wheels, backpacks with straps only and convertible hybrids cases. This review will discuss the pros of taking backpacks with wheels on your trip, the differences between the best rolling backpacks on the market and, as a wee backpack bonus, a look at the option of adding detachable wheels for backpacks.
Rucksacks with Wheels Guide
Choosing Between a Backpack, Rucksack or Suitcase
I’m a UK native so the term backpack tends to lean towards a day bag and rucksack is reserved for the big 40-80 litres you go backpacking around South America with take on a long weekend.
My American friend advises me that rucksack is used to describe army-style bags and backpack refers to a UK rucksack.
For this review guide, the terms backpack and rucksack will refer to a bag that goes on your back which includes straps. The size of bag will determine what type of traveller is suited to the item.
A suitcase, naturally, comes with wheels, a retractable handle and is mostly used by holidaymakers who tend to stay in one or two locations during their vacation. Today, the lines between suitcases and rucksacks are becoming blurred!
New designs have crafted a rucksack and suitcase fusion where bags unzip like suitcases and have wheels to make transitioning between transport and accommodation easier.
Should You Buy a Rucksack with Wheels?
For my second backpacking trip back in 2011, I bought a rolling backpack and it ended terribly!
I was doing a West to East Coast USA group camping trip and by the time we had reached New York I had lost straps, the retractable handle was hanging on for dear life and one of the wheels was a bit wobbly.
My issue? I cheaped out. I picked up a $50 rucksack with wheels at a budget luggage store after enviously checking out my friend’s wheeled backpack which she had spent a few hundred on for a trip to Australia. Moral of the story? You get what you pay for.
- The best-wheeled backpacks can be three bags in one! Many have the hybrid backpack and suitcase option plus a day bag.
- The best quality ones have adjustable and supportive backs, durable fabric which won’t tear off as the result of being thrown into the back of a bus multiple times and sturdy wheels that can cover a variety of terrains.
- A wheeled backpack avoids having to swing 15kg+ on over your shoulder every time you move between destinations.
- They look great – this suits travellers who are doing a mix of hostels and hotels; believe me, I was not comfortable being the only tourist at Avanta Resort in Florida with a dirty rucksack! When you are on the road for a while you will want some luxury in your life and when luxury hotels in Koh Samui are as little as $30 a night, why not?!
- Airports and backpacks are annoying. That inch by inch movement to get to the front of check-in involves dragging your backpack without wheels along the ground and then there is the spaghetti fight with the straps at the luggage drop.
- Rolling bags let you carry a day bag and wheel the bigger bag.
- When there is awkward terrain and there is a call for no wheels (like a lack of paved roads in some areas of Colombia), travellers can use the bag as a backpack.
- In cities, travellers can switch between rolling and backpack when there are crowds or cobbles.
- Wheeled backpacks are also popular among sports fans and for school kids with long journeys using public transport.
- Wheeled rolling bags are heavier. For example, the popular backpack creator, Jansport, has a rolling rucksack coming in at 3kg compared to other rucksacks without wheels at less than 1kg. Naturally, you can’t take the wheel-less bag for a spin, you are responsible for carrying the full weight on your back.
- The backs tend to be pretty stiff.
- The wheels are often uncomfortable, especially around the waist and hips area.
You may also like our cabin sized bags luggage review
How to Choose a Rolling Backpack
When researching which wheeled backpack luggage to purchase you should consider the following categories:
First up, you want the materials of the rucksack to be strong, durable and to function as a backpack when it’s on your back and a suitcase when it is being wheeled. In both instances, you need the material to be water-resistant and somewhat wipe proof (you will just have to accept that airlines have no respect for your baggage regardless of how much you spent on it).
It has to be breathable too. The zip tracks and pulls should be sturdy as well as the telescopic/retractable suitcase-style handle. A strong wheel frame is obviously required and good stand to stop the bag falling over when upright. The majority of the rucksacks discussed in this review are made from nylon which is a strong, durable material which wears well.
Hopefully, your travel wanderlust doesn’t end with one trip, so you want your rucksack of choice to last longer than your tan. This is when durability comes in, which has a knock-on effect from the materials used and how the bag is structured too.
Keep your bag in good health by avoiding packing full to the brim and letting it air when possible. Try to keep dirty shoes in a separate bag inside the case or attached to the outside.
The size of the bag really is up to you. If you are a light packer or shopping for a long weekend bag with wheels jump to the air travel section.
Please be aware that the wheelhouse and structure create additional height to already large bags so an 80l wheeled bag feels bigger than an 80l bag without. The IATA dimensions for carry-on bags are 22″ x 18″ x 10″/56 x 45 x 25 cm. When comparing the backpack sizes to this standard measurement remember that if you pack it full, it might go over the stated sizes below and that most airlines actually have tighter restrictions.
Unless you are lost, or you choose to hike with one of the larger rucksacks, it is unlikely that you will be wearing a rucksack for more than an hour or two.
The better brands will offer an adjustable back structure to cater for different heights. The lower back section of the bigger bags should have a slight bend at the lower back too and flexible material should allow for movement. As mentioned above, breathability and padding is always a positive indication of a good bag as well as adjustable hip and chest straps. A final factor to consider is the comfort of the wheels against your hip when wearing it as a rucksack.
Aesthetics are very important to me. If I am investing in an expensive piece of kit I want it to look good as well as feel nice and fit my clothes and electronics.
Would I choose a different colour if it was on sale? Possibly! I prefer dark colours to avoid getting dirty too quickly. Lesson learned after buying a light grey IT suitcase. Although the brights are easier to find on the conveyor belt.
6. Ease of Packing
In the olden days, rucksacks used to open from the top and you had to dive into Mary Poppins’s bag to find anything. It was useless. Thankfully now most rucksacks unzip like a book opening which makes packing and unpacking much easier.
Best Wheel Backpack Review
1.Cabin Max Greenwich 44L
The Cabin Max Greenwich 44L measures in at 40 x 20 x 55 cm and weighs 1.7kg, making it the lightest in this list. The main material is 600D PU polyester, which is said to be showerproof.
The bag opens up like a rucksack with a zip track and pulls, unzipping around the bag to reveal the storage space. The zips have space for a padlock, go for a TSA approved one, as they are thin enough for most lockers too.
Inside of the main storage area, there are straps to compress your clothes or packing cubes. Clips close over the main compartment, securing the lip and zips.
There is a top outer pocket for easy to reach items such as a passport, documents, and electronics, however, one reviewers says it doesn’t fit a laptop when packed full of clothes.
There is a one tube telescopic handle with grab handle at the top of the backpack. This moves in and out so it can be stored away if using as a backpack.
The backpack has two straps, and a chest strap – all of which are adjustable. The straps zip into the back of the bag discreetly.
There is also a grab handle on the top of the bag for lifting while it is upright and one on the side for retrieving from airport conveyor belts or overheard/under bed storage. There is no grab handle at the wheels.
There are two wheels and two small feet for standing position.
As with most hybrid backpacks, reviewers say they usually use the Cabin Max Greenwich 44L as a rolling bag, with the backpack version feeling a little rigid on the back.
- Pros: 3 year Cabin Max manufacturing fault guarantee.
- Cons: Stiff when used as a bag, limited space
2. Ligsan 45L
The Ligsan 45L wheeled convertible pack measures in at 50 x 34 x 18 cm and weighs 2kg, slightly heavier than the Cabin Max.
The main material is polyester, while the rolling wheels are made from silicone.
There are two wheels and two small feet for standing position. There is one main compartment with compression straps for clothes, and an internal pocket for a laptop and iPad, which also features a velcro strap to stop electronics sliding out when the bag is open.
The bag unzips three quarters of the way, so you can easily access the main compartment.
There are two pockets on the front of the bag that are accessed by zip.
The main one can store an iPad and other accessories. The smaller pocket has compartments for battery packs.
There is a grab handle on the top of the bag.
Straps pack away and require clipping to the bottom of the rucksack when in use.
The Ligsan also has a telescopic handle.
- Pros: Large sleeve for laptop
- Cons: Weight
3. JanSport 36L
This 36L JanSport backpack by the well-known luggage company comes in at 53 x 35 x 25 cm and weighs 3kg. The main material is denier polyester.
This attractive bag has foldaway shoulder straps that connect to the bottom of the bag.
The two-stage telescopic handle makes wheeling comfortable and the padded grab handle sits at the top. There is a large mesh water bottle pocket the side too.
There rucksack has a double compartment bag.
The back section features a padded sleeve which fits 15” laptops. The front section has a pocket for phones and keys which are also zipped away.
No frills, this is a backpack on wheels if that meets your travel needs.
- Pros: Light cabin hybrid bag
- Cons: Basic backpack with wheels
The Yorepek is similar to the Ligsan aesthetically and structurally. It measures in at 49 x 34 x 24.1and weighs 2.26 kg.
The main material is polyester.
The main compartment fits a 15.6 inch laptop but the specifications do not state how many litres it can hold.
It does not open as wide as the Ligsan, making it trickier to pack.
One bonus is that there are two pockets on the front for electronics.
The bag also has two side pockets for bottles or umbrellas.
A nifty addition to the Yorepek is the wheel cover attachment, this is great for covering up dirty wheels while in bag mode.
It has a telescopic handle for suitcase situations, although one review states that there is a gap where the handle retracts from.
Padded straps hide away in the storage section at the back of the bag and are clipped when used as a backpack.
There are two wheels and two small feet for standing position.
One feature of the Yorepek that the other bags don’t have is the USB Charging Port.
- Pros: Attractive, simple
- Cons: Hard to pack, gap at handle
5. Matein 40L
The Matein differs to the above wheel rucksacks as it has four wheels.
It measures 22 x 34 x 53 cm and weighs 2.58 kg.
The main material is polyester and is said to be water resistant.
It is similar to the Yorepek in that the main compartment doesn’t open as wide as the Ligsan and it fits a 17 inch laptop.
It also has a wheel cover for when in backpack use.
Again, similar to others, it has a one pole telescopic handle.
Some reviews point out that the bag topples over when packed heavy, regardless of the four wheels.
- Pro: Four wheels
- Cons: Falls over when packed too heavy
6. Mountain Warehouse Voyager 50L
The biggest bag in our review is the Mountain Warehouse Voyager measuring in at 75cm x 35cm x 23cm.
No base weight is provided but the compartment is deep at 50L capacity. The main material is PU coated polyester.
Reviews are happy with the quality and price; with most using the rolling backpack for travel and sports.
The zips open all the way around the main compartment making it easy to pack, and there are compression straps to stuff more in!
There is a sleeve pocket on the front of the bag.
The padded straps are adjustable and store away behind a zipped section of the bag which means they do no trail when the bag is being used as a suitcase.
The bag also comes with a wheel cover.
There are multiple grab handles all around the bag for transporting between destinations.
Finally, the one pole telescopic handle has a grab handle at the top.
- Pros: Reviews happy with quality/price balance
- Cons: Too large for some uses
7. Mountain Warehouse Voyager Wheelie 50 + 20L
The Mountain Warehouse Voyager Wheelie 50 + 20L takes the above 50L rucksack and adds a 20L day pack to it!
Perfect convertible bag for longer trips that require more storage or the use of the backpack and day pack.
The 20L day pack attaches to the 50L wheeled backpack by straps and clips.
- Pros: Additional day bag
- Cons: As above
Detachable Wheels for Backpacks
Another option would be investing in a rolling attachment for backpacks. In all honesty, I’ve never seen this on the road, possibly due to the weight.
Take note of the weight of the bag and frame before booking carry-on luggage trips.
Deciding which of the above is the best wheeled backpack for travel is a tough choice to make. The answer really comes down to what capacity of bag your travel needs require, whether you like a day bag, what constitutes as aesthetically pleasing and your backpack budget.
Any questions or comments? Please leave below.