The 4 best wheeled backpacks for travel

It was in Valencia, a few years ago, that I decided that my travel backpack was no longer suitable for every single trip I went on. I remember collecting my backpack at the baggage carousel in the airport after a much delayed arrival when I realised that I had a matter of minutes before I had to get to the metro. Easy, I thought. But oh how wrong I was, it was nothing short of a pain in the arse throwing my heavy travel backpack on my back and running for my train.

One missed train and twisted ankle later I decided maybe it was best to get a wheeled backpack for my travels.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a lover of a good ol’ travel backpack, but sometimes I just want my backpack to be on wheels. Who doesn’t? There definitely arises the occasion where I just cannot be bothered to lift and swing round my heavy pack onto my weary back and would instead prefer to glide it effortlessly behind me.

Therefore, when this desire overcomes me a wheeled backpack is the best choice for me that fuses comfort, versatility and style, which is great for shorter city trips and flights, especially when you just want to bring carry on luggage - perfect for those cheaper budget flights that charge you for breathing, eating and hold luggage.

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What Exactly is a Wheeled Backpack?

A wheeled backpack is the perfect hybrid. Imagine this - a backpack meets some carry on luggage and they have a baby. Low and behold they have created a backpack on wheels! They are the ultimate transformer, the Optimus Prime of baggage.

To go from a simple backpack to a rolling backpack that can also serve as your carry on luggage is nothing short of genius if you ask me. Hidden within the backpack you will find the trolley handle and on the other end of the bag a handy set of wheels.

You might think this is an unnecessary gadget, especially if you have a hardcore gap year trip ahead of you, but you would reconsider when you are running late for the next train and all you want is to give your shoulders a rest. Over the last few years I have discovered that wheeled backpacks are best for inter-railing, hostel-hopping around Europe, and generally if you are using any public transport often.

Of course, the wheeled backpack works best on smooth surfaces, which means it’s great for cities and towns, though not so great for rocky unpaved roads, beaches, deserts, mountains - well you get my drift. What I say though is why carry a backpack on your back if you don’t need to?! I whip mine out whenever I get the chance.

“But” I hear you cry “what is the best wheeled backpack?”. Well my friend, let me tell you, after all I’ve tried and tested a few on my European trips. I’d like to think I have sorted the riff from the raff:

My Best Wheeled Backpacks for Travel

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How to Choose the Best Wheeled Backpack for Travel

Because of the peculiar structure of the back, which needs to accommodate the extractable trolley handle, this kind of backpack will offer less back support than, say, a hiking backpack. But that’s because it is not made to spend nearly as much time on your back – if you go for this kind of pack, you presumably would like to pull it like a trolley most of the time!

While looking for the best wheeled backpack for travel you should look out for:

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Padded shoulder straps

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Strong zippers that are lockable

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A proper belt that does up

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A good grip and height on the trolley handle

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Sturdy wheels that can deal with a variety of terrain

As with all other bags, durability and lightness of the materials are paramount. This will ensure that your stuff stays dry in all weathers and that the pack itself is as comfortable to carry as possible.

A big pro of the wheeled backpack is that it packs exactly like a suitcase, with one big zipper that gives you access to all of your stuff. Any backpack worth talking about, whether a hiking backpack or a wheeled backpack, should have this feature in my opinion.

Is it a Bad Idea to Take a Wheeled Backpack on a Trek?

Well, that depends. If you are going to trek from a basecamp where you can leave your backpack, or even be able to carry it through the trek, then no problem at all. But if you envisage having to carry the pack on your back all day, then this might not be the best choice for you.

Equally, wheeled backpacks are not permitted on some light aircraft such as those used for island-hopping. The rule is that bags have to be soft sided, so no wheels or frames, therefore you would be better off with an average travel backpack on this type of adventure.

That said, while the wheeled backpack’s strength is definitely city travel and hostel-hopping, I have met people who have used it throughout places such as South-East Asia and India and loved it.

My Best Wheeled Backpack for Travel Reviews

The following are my best wheeled backpack picks based on my own experience and that of other professional travellers:

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Samsonite Paradiver Light Duffle with wheels 55/20 Strictcabine, 55 cm, 48,5 L, Jeans Blue
  • Durable PU coated 600 x 600 denier polyester
  • Carrying handle on top for easy access and easy lifting.
  • Removable shoulder strap; Product Dimensions: 20.0 x 55.0 x 40.0 cm
  • Material Info : Softside. Wheel Handle Monotube. Wheels : 2 wheels. Ergonomic backpack straps.Ribbons in the main compartment.
  • Cabin baggage meets the IATA recommendations and can be taken on board an aircraft. Recommend checking with your airline for the latest cabin luggage allowance. Integrated ID tag. Zipped main compartment.
  • Cabin luggage approved for Ryanair (not exceeding 55x40x20 cm), Easyjet and British Airways (56x45x25 cm)
  • Nachhaltiger 600 x 600 Denier Polyester mit Polyurethan-Beschichten
  • Tragegriff an der Oberseite für leichten Zugriff und einfaches Heben

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

This pack comes in four different sizes, the smallest of which (55cm) fits cabin bag requirements. It comes with durable, sturdy exteriors and has two zippered side pockets for additional storage options. The main compartment is frills-free and gives plenty of room, even in the cabin size version and is by far the roomiest wheeled backpack/carry on bag that I have used.

The zippers are lockable and the many handles give you flexibility in carrying and lifting, which is great when you are looking for a smooth transition from rolling it along to carrying it down escalators and stairs.

It doesn't have an adjustable harness with a hip belt, and for that reason I would say it isn't suitable for longer travels, but this is definitely the best wheeled backpack for European travel. If you are looking to do some city hopping than this pack is comfortable enough.

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Vaude Teco Rail Bag - Marine, 80 Litre
  • Large, easily accessible compartment with continuous zip
  • Separate bottom compartment
  • Zip pocket in the lid
  • Versatile: This bag isn't just for hiking or trekking, it makes for a quality camping rucksack as well thanks to the high storage capacity. the included rain cover also turns it into a waterproof rucksack to keep your belongings dry
  • Excellent air circulation through mesh windows and vents

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

This backpack is a closer friend of the travel backpack, as it comes with a sturdy harness with a padded hip belt, which are stowable, and side compression straps as well as a zip pocket on the lid for flexible storage. Its 65L capacity is also closer to a flexible travel backpack.

The added perk of this backpack is the detachable daypack, which is handy for those days where you want to leave your backpack behind but still need to take along a few essentials.

The interior is roomy with a zippered mesh compartment to separate your load. This is a more expensive option than the competitors, but the level of comfort the harness provides makes it a valuable investment

Osprey Sojourn 80 rolling case grey 2016 suitcase
  • Adjustable trampoline suspended mesh backsystem
  • StraightJacketTM compression
  • Osprey HighRoadTM chassis
  • Retractable handle with ErgoGripTM
  • Zip and Clip daypack attachment

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

Once again Osprey deliver on pure awesomeness - this is by far one of my favourite wheeled backpacks. It looks really cool, each element has been thought about and designed with comfort, durability and style in mind.

With a fully stowable and removable padded harness and hipbelt, internal compression straps, and its generous 80L capacity, this pack is designed to give you as much comfort and capacity as possible.

​The retractable trolley handle has excellent, ergonomic grip and the wheels are sturdy and adaptable to different terrain. It does not come with a detachable daypack but it is compatible with Osprey’s Daylite.

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Mountain Warehouse Voyager 50L Wheelie Rucksack - Organiser Pockets for Passport and Tickets, Shoulder Straps & Robust Wheels for Easy Movement - 75cm X 35cm X 23cm Black
  • Capacity - The Voyager can hold up to 50 litres
  • Composition - Designed in hardy PU coated polyester
  • Shoulder Straps - Padded and easily adjusted for comfort
  • Compression Straps - Used to reduce the bulk of the rucksack. Also aids balance
  • Robust Wheels - Durable and smooth, the wheels allow you to move your luggage quickly and easily

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

This backpack is a great multitasker: with 50L capacity, it stores plenty of stuff, while remaining light with its PU coated material. It also has many clever internal pockets for valuables, as well as an external zippered pocket.

The shoulder straps are padded and adjustable, and the compression straps on the side keep it nice and snug.

It doesn’t come with a daypack, but this pack is arguably the best value for money on the list and is big enough for up to a months travel.

And the Winner of the Best Wheeled Backpack for Travel is...

My selection of the best wheeled backpacks are all incredibly clever and they all have their purposes. You can probably tell that each one is different and will suit different occasions, but I think that the Osprey Sojourn 80 is the standout choice, with its excellent materials and sturdy construction.

This backpack is ideal for those of you who are spending your gap year travelling through Europe, hostel-hopping in South-East Asia, or just working in the city. However, if you are a first time traveller or taking a shorter trip you may want to test out some of the cheaper or smaller options first.