Luggage systems: Backpack or trolley? This is (not) the question.

Whenever I travel, I ask myself the same question: How do I pack, what do I pack?

As for the how, there are two options: Trolley or Backpack.

My answer quick anser is usually simple. Most of the times I prefer the backpack over the trolley. But not always.

The Backpack

The large backpack loaded with gears is the classic stereo type of backpackers style.

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of a backpack

  • Hands are free: The main reason is the flexibility when walking around, I have both my hands free and can run for the train if necessary. Even just hopping on and off public transportation is easy.
  • Weight distribution is favourable to your health: Given that you have a good backpack with the necessary carrying system – is that you have all your weight on your legs instead of your shoulders. So it is good for your long-term health due to less one-sided load of one arm and shoulder.
  • Hassle free through uneven terrain: You can go everywhere without thinking about uneven flooring, obstacles and similarily hasslesome terrain which stops you from rolling in a trolley.

Disadvantages of a backpack

  • Complicated packing: The disadvantage is the time loss when packing and unpacking a top loader, I need to unload most of the stuff before I get to the item I want.
  • Takes more space: With all the extra straps and the carrying frame it takes more space then a compact trolley
  • Constant load on your body: Unless you put it down, which also takes some time due to the fastening of the carrying system, they weight stays on your body. But then it’s a good way to train yourself.
  • Limited weight load: the largest backpack I have with 70 I manage to load it only a bit more than 20kg unless I pack a lot of high density stuff in it like books. If you have a check-in allowance of 32 kg you waste 12 kg. So it’s not for your next shopping tour.

The Trolley

Dispised by some backpackers, a trolley does have some advantages over a backpack, of which the most important one is the simplicity of organizing your stuff.

Advantages of a trolley

  • Weight is mostly on wheels: You just need to pull it, and if you stop, the weight is completely on the floor
  • Easy to pack: You just completely open it and have direct access to everything in the trolley at once.
  • Large volume: Good external dimensions to packing volume ration, simply said it is just a square box with wheels.

Disadvantages of a trolley

  • One sided strain of your body: You can only pull it with one arm, so on the long-term you will strain either side of your shoulder. This could lead to long-term health issues from strained muscles to a bad back.
  • You have to lift it in situations with no even flooring, thus straining your muscles with periods of intensive use of strength

Mixed forms: combined backpack / trolley

This form put a backpack carrying system into a trolley. It aims at those who want both of two worlds: Simple to organize your stuff and free hands. The disadvantage is that the two systems in one take away packing space and add weight.

I recently bought a Victorinox CH 20 Tourist, which is a trolley with so I can bring it on board a flight. Let’s see how it is in practical use next time I go on a semi-business trip.

Conclusion for the right luggage

There is no true answer as it depends on the travel profile. But one thing is sure: using a large trolley all the time does potential damage to your health.

I still remember very bad shoulder aches from the time I had those large Samsung trolleys. And I was an active decathlete at that time! Still it was tiring and straining – imagine what it did to all those people who didn’t do sports.

I use them at home now for storing books. I was just lugging them around to take this photo below, and I am happy I don’t use them anymore then for storing. But I must say they are indestructible, I have them for 25 years already and they were thrown around a lot in the 80ies and 90ies.

Two classic vertical trolley from Samsonsite, 80ies hardcase model

Classic trolley from the 80ies (Samsonite)

Me for my part I prefer the backback due to flexibility and health. Aside from the one-arm pullig you need to lift it over an obstacle every time you can’t roll it. That might be countless lifts I personally would like to save myself from, especially when I travel in areas with no even flooring, which is mostly the case. As I don’t go on extended shopping tours anyway, the largest advantage of a trolley – it’s large volume – is for nil.

My backpack is always on, so I do not need additional energy to lift it to some level of energy. As you may remember from your physics class is that you don’t need to put energy into a system when an object remains at the same height. You only need to invest energy in accelerating the backpack forward, but you don’t to lift it up every time you can’t pull it.

If I really want some flexibility, I will go for the combined backpack trolley system, which I still can carry with balanced weight on my back. At least I will not have to constantly pull it thus avoiding one-sided straining of my body.

I personally use a Osprey Argos 70l backpack plus a 20l daypack from Salomon, which I can fold and put it into the Osprey if I don’t use it. Also here, it is about having as less pieces as possible. So one backpack on the back is great, two free hands and less items to worry about.  The next time I go on a short weekend trip I will try my trolley-backpack system of the Victorinox, no more check-in luggage and the best of two worlds.

What luggage system are you using and what do you think what system is the best for your purposes?