I have used a backpack as my carry-on bag / personal item for years. It was just the most comfortable way for me to travel. Unfortunately, my backpack has been getting heavier with all the photographic and video equipment I need for this blog! I was getting tired faster and I was starting to get worried about back problems down the road. I decided that buying a wheeled backpack was the way to save my back and make travel easier. Backpacks with wheels are becoming more popular and there are a lot of models to choose from. In this post, I want to explain why you need a rolling backpack and help you choose the best wheeled backpack for travel for you.
If you are one of those people who goes out all day with just a wallet-sized purse, maybe you don’t need a rolling backpack. We usually need our camera, GoPro, tripod and other camera accessories (i.e. lenses, gimbal, selfie stick), battery charger, iPad, and some water and snacks. Even with a lightweight backpack for travel and a lighter tripod, it gets heavy especially if we are out all day exploring. I started just wanting to sit down and rest rather than keep walking. It can’t be good for long-term health.
I wish I could be better at packing light, but in most cases, we needed all the gear. Maybe we could have managed without the snacks – but we don’t want to risk anyone getting hangry! We needed to figure out a better way and that’s when I decided the best backpack for travel is one with wheels!
Choosing the Best Wheeled Backpack for Travel
People have different priorities and preferences when they travel. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution that meets the needs of every traveler, so choosing a backpack for travel can be difficult. The best rolling travel bag for you depends on your specific needs. There are a few basic questions to consider when you are ready to buy a backpack for travel.
The table below goes through the different considerations and provides a few recommendations. You can click on the pictures of the backpacks to get more information on Amazon or keep reading this post for more detailed information.
What to Look For
Do you want it to be the one bag you take?
You need a backpack that is big enough to hold everything you need. You may also want to choose one with a detachable day pack for even more flexiblity.
Are you traveling for business or with a laptop?
You need a stylish rolling backpack that will protect your laptop.
Would you like the flexibility to not always have to carry the whole bag with you?
You want a backpack with a detachable day pack. Alternatively, you could buy a foldable backpack (like this one) to carry inside your luggage.
Does it need to be small to meet strict airline (i.e. European low-cost carriers) luggage rules?
Check the carryon baggage rules for the airlines that you usually fly on and make sure the backpack you choose meets the requirements.
Are you on a tight budget?
You can find lower-priced backpacks with wheels, they may not have all the different pockets or other features that more expensive backpacks do.
Will you be packing a lot of photographic equipment?
You need a backpack that has space for all your photography gear and will make sure it does not get damaged.
Is the backpack for kids?
You want a bag that is lightweight that your kids will like. Choose one that fits their personality or interests.
The same thing applies with choosing the the best backpack brand for travel. Different brands specialize in different types of backpacks. Osprey, High Sierra, Samsonite, Targus, Everest, and JanSport are some of the best rolling backpack brands.
Top of the Line, Best Rolling Backpack for Travel
The Osprey Ozone is the best backpack with wheels for travel on the market. The bag has handles on three sides so you can easily grab or carry it, and it also can be used as a backpack. It’s one of the lightest rolling backpacks you will find. The ergonomic handle and large rolling backpack wheels make it easy to maneuver.
The Ozone bag unzips fully so you can access things at the bottom of the backpack and the back pocket has a drain port for damp storage. The detachable daypack has storage for a laptop, tablet, and extra clothes or food. There’s also a front panel pocket and a zippered pocket for small items. You will be impressed with how much you can fit in this bag.
The Ozone adult rolling backpack model is available in five sizes: 36L/18″, 46L/22″, 50L/22″, 75L/28″, and 80L/28″. There are a few differences you should be aware of with the different sizes:
- Only the 50L and 75L have the removable day pack.
- Only the 50L, 46L, and 36L can be used as carry on luggage.
The 50L is the only size that has a day pack and can still be used as a carry on, so that one is ideal. If you need a large rolling backpack and don’t mind having to check it, the 75L model is the best option. The 36L model is a great small backpack for travel.
Another Good Rolling Backpack With a Day Pack
If you think the Osprey bag is too expensive, you may prefer the High Sierra Wheeled Backpack. Similar to the Ozone, you can use this bag as a backpack, wheeled luggage, or only use the small day pack. When comparing this bag to the 22’ Ozone model, it is a few pounds heavier, but actually has a slightly larger capacity. The main compartment unzips completely and has interior straps to hold clothes in place. The removable day pack has a zippered accessory pocket, dual-side water bottle pockets, MP3 player headphone port and a back strap so that you also can slip it over the extended handle of the main bag. This could be the best backpack to travel with as long as you are not bringing a laptop. Unfortunately, this High Sierra bag does not have a slot or straps for a laptop.
Best Rolling Backpack for Business Travel
The weight of your laptop and other business supplies add up and can make it uncomfortable to carry on your back or shoulders. A rolling backpack can be a good option for business travel if you choose the right one. You will need to make sure it looks professional and will keep your laptop safe. If you have a larger laptop (16-17 inches) finding the best rolling backpack laptop bag may not be as easy as it sounds. I read product descriptions that said the backpack would hold a 17-inch laptop followed by reviews with people complaining that it actually did not.
I think the best rolling backpack for a laptop is this one made by Targus. It has room for your laptop (up to 16 inches and MacBook Pros up to 17 inches), a change of clothes, a tablet, and all your gear. Unlike some of the other wheeled backpacks, this Targus Rolling Backpack remains standing upright and doesn’t fall over. When you carry it like a backpack, you will appreciate that It’s 20% lighter than similar rolling bags for travel and has a fold-away wheel cover to keep your clothes clean. All Targus bags come with a Limited Lifetime Warranty.
The only thing this laptop rolling bag is missing is a USB port. It’s hard to find a rolling backpack that does. The only rolling backpack that I know with a USB port is this one, but it is a bit pricey. It’s probably best to make sure you bring along your portable battery charger, like this one.
Best Backpack for Camera and Travel
Much of the weight in our backpack is our photography/video gear. Photographers and aspiring photographers know that you can’t just throw your equipment in a bag and go. It needs to be protected, the equipment is expensive and fragile.
Unfortunately, there are not very many wheeled backpacks aimed at photographers. I did find this camera rolling backpack from Amazon. It can hold a DSLR camera with the lens attached and has 11 additional configurable compartments for lenses, chargers, batteries, filters, and more. The dividers are all velcro and can be removed so the bag can be used as a regular backpack. This sturdy rolling backpack also has a padded compartment for a tablet or 17-inch laptop, front pockets, side straps for a tripod, and two side pockets for memory cards.
It’s a large travel rolling backpack that is still within the carry on bag dimensions for most airlines. The bag converts easily from rolling case to a backpack. It has wide-base wheels and the handle extends 39 inches, so it’s suitable for taller individuals too. The photography backpack also comes with a rain cover to protect all your gear in bad weather.
Best Budget-Friendly Rolling Backpack
If you are looking for a lower priced bag, consider this Everest Rolling backpack. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the other more expensive bags, but if you are looking for a small rolling backpack it will do the trick. It has multiple zippered pockets so you can easily access your gear, but keep in mind, it doesn’t have a sleeve for a laptop. At this price point though, it’s the best rolling backpack.
The Best Rolling Backpack for Kids
I know a lot of parents have had their children switch to rolling backpacks for school because they are worried about the damage it could be doing to their backs. I think the same thing applies to travel. For young children you can’t give them a rolling backpack for adults, you are going to want a lightweight rolling backpack for kids.
When looking for a children’s rolling backpack, the most important thing is that they like it! Luckily, there are plenty of different options on Amazon so that you can find something that your child will be excited about.
Best Rolling Backpack Cooler
A wheeled backpack cooler may not be the best bag to travel with if you are flying. For a road trip though, it could be ideal, especially if you plan on picnicking or spending a day at the beach. I like the Travelwell rolling backpack cooler.
The Travelwell rolling cooler can hold up to 48 cans, so it’s a good size for a small group The interior is insulated and it has two mesh side pockets. It’s the best cooler to use when you have to walk over rugged terrain since it can convert easily to a backpack. If you want to use it as a backpack, tuck away the handles and pull out the straps.
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Pros of a Wheeled Backpack
It will save your back! Nothing is more important than your health, serious injuries are the worst. You will be able to do more because you won’t be as tired.
The flexibility to rolled the backpack or carry it on your back if needed is a useful feature. I remember one night in London we realized we were going to have to run if we wanted to catch our train. Russell quickly converted the straps so he could put the backpack on his back and we ran. Yes, we did make our train.
Some of the best rolling backpacks for travel also still fit under the seat and meet the strict carryon rules of even the cheapest airlines.
Cons of a Rolling Backpack
Like just about everything else in life, even the best rolling backpacks for travel are not perfect. There are a few points you should consider:
- You won’t be able to roll your backpack on uneven ground. In other words, a wheeled backpack is not ideal for hiking.
- Wheeled backpacks are a bit heavier than normal backpacks. The good news is that you won’t be carrying them as much because they have wheels.
- Unfortunately, the same anti-theft features that you will find in regular backpacks don’t seem to be available in rolling backpacks (yet!). I couldn’t find any rolling backpacks with the RFID blocking technology, which helps protect you against electronic pickpocketing and identity theft. Some wheeled backpacks have a concealed pocket for valuables like your wallet and a few other anti-theft features. Hopefully, someone will start making an anti-theft rolling backpack luggage soon. In the meantime, maybe invest in a TSA-friendly lock like this one?
We have both a wheeled backpack and a regular backpack. That way we can choose the best bag for the situation.
Using Your Wheeled Backpack
In order to get the longest life out of your new rolling backpack, there are a couple things that you should keep in mind:
- Don’t overfill your backpack. I read some rolling backpack reviews where people are having issues with zippers. In many cases, I think it is because they try to fit more into the backpack than they should.
- Don’t roll your backpack when the surface is rough. This will damage the wheels and they won’t roll as smoothly or last as long. If you are dealing with rough terrain, it might be best to use the straps and carry it as a backpack.
Rolling Backpack Accessories
As I mentioned, some rolling backpacks don’t have the same number of features as other travel backpacks, so you may want to consider purchasing some of these affordable accessories:
- Foldable day pack – If you know that you are going on a day hike or some other adventure where rolling your backpack is out of the question and you don’t want to carry along everything you have in your bag, you might want to take a smaller bag for the day. You can find a backpack that folds up tiny and will fit inside your rolling backpack like this one.
- Portable Charger – These days I am so dependent on technology, I don’t want to risk being without power. It is much cheaper to bring along a portable charger than pay for a rolling backpack with a USB port. We use this one.
- TSA Lock – Until the rolling backpacks add some anti-theft features, you might want to spend a few dollars for a lock. I would recommend getting a TSA approved lock – like this one – just in case you have to check the bag.
- Backpack Cover – If you travel with a lot of electronics or photography gear you want to make sure that it is protected from the elements. While most rolling backpacks are water resistant, few are waterproof. You don’t need the best waterproof backpack for travel. Instead, you can get a backpack cover like this one if it is not included with the backpack when you buy it.
- Luggage Scale – Some airlines even have weight limits for carry-on bags! If you are worried about getting hit with the dreaded overweight baggage fees, you might want to get a luggage scale like this one. Then you can check the weight before you get to the airport and make adjustments if necessary.
The Best Backpacks for Travel
I made the investment in a rolling backpack and it has definitely made my travel easier. If you are looking for a good backpack for travel, try one that you can also roll. Your back will thank you for it.
What kind of backpack do you like to travel with?
Expert Tips for Choosing the Best Backpack Travel Bag
- You need to know your priorities and preferences to choose your backpack bag for travel. There is no one right answer.
- Know the carry on rules of the airline you are flying. If you are traveling internationally or in Europe, they may be stricter than in the US. These bags can be checked if needed, but you will need to remove all valuables.
- Consider purchasing some accessories to complement your wheeled backpack.
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