Backpack vs Rucksack – which should I buy?

Brown Backpack

Whether you’re taking a hike, travelling across country or you simply need of a bag for your day-to-day essentials, we imagine that the words backpack or rucksack are probably coming to mind.

And while many think this is just two different words for the same thing, there is actually a difference between the two and this difference will determine which one you should buy.

A backpack has been adapted for style and everyday life, whereas a rucksack is larger and is designed for rugged terrain and is usually weatherproof.

Let’s explore these differences in a little more detail.


You may be thinking a backpack is pretty self-explanatory; it’s a pack that goes onto your back. But there are a few noticeable differences between a backpack and a rucksack that are worth looking out for.

Backpacks have two back straps, a fastening at the top and should have a hip belt to fasten around your hips bones – so the weight is distributed onto legs rather than just your shoulders.

A good backpack should be tear-resistant and water-resistant, but with so many being designed with style as the main focus, the backpack’s original purpose has become a bit less clear, and this is where the main difference is.

Rucksacks aren’t designed for fashion, they’re designed for function, and their features reflect this.

While backpacks can be durable and can carry a fair bit of cargo, you should think about using one for light travel and socialising or commuting to work where you need an easy way to carry a laptop and folder around. You’re probably not going to get more than a day’s worth of clothes and a packed lunch in there, so you don’t want to be choosing a backpack as a means of survival.

Some backpacks are made with features that are more fitting to modern-day life such as a pen compartment or a laptop sleeve – which, as we know, isn’t essential when hiking up a mountain.

The backpack is great for every day because it’s so versatile and doesn’t look out of place in an office or when you’re out with the guys, but walking into a bar with a heavy military-grade rucksack might get you a few looks instead.


These bags are great for when you need to get out of town and go on the run or, less dramatically, if you’re thinking of taking a camping trip. The rucksack is essentially a larger, sturdier backpack that prioritises practicality over style. They’re often designed with weatherproof materials like waxed canvas, durable nylon and top grain leathers and many rucksacks come with features perfect for walking such as emergency whistles and loops for trekking poles. Rucksacks are less streamline than backpacks with more pockets on the outside and extra buckles for a tighter seal.

They’re usually bigger and bulkier, providing enough room to carry essentials and clothing for several days. And while they’re a similar design to backpacks with two back straps and a hip belt, they often come with an added chest strap for extra security and better weight distribution since you’ll usually be carrying a heavier load.

While the top can be a zip, you can often spot a rucksack from it’s rolled up the satchel-like lock at the top or a cinched closed top that’s pulled together by two strings.


In a nutshell, the difference boils down to quality and durability. Backpacks are generally used for more casual use, whereas rucksacks are used for rough terrain and trekking.

But since companies use the two terms so interchangeably, it’s less important to focus on the title of the product and more useful to look for the special features you need as well as the sturdiness of the material and whether the support straps will be sufficient enough for its purpose.

The decision to choose between a backpack and a rucksack is simply to think about what you’re carrying and what you’re using it for. If you’re buying a bag that’s incidentally going to help you survive, then a rucksack is your guy.

If you’re looking for something that can carry your laptop around in the week and a bottle of water and sandwiches on the weekend – all while looking good – then a backpack is for you. But if you are thinking of using it for electricals, it may well be worth choosing one with durable material as well.