When I first mentioned to Josh that I wanted a backpack with wheels, he looked at me with a combination of pity and confusion.
“Why would you want a backpack with wheels, when we will be trekking, taking trains and buses, and walking over generally crappy, uneven streets most of the time?”
So, I scrapped the idea of a wheeled backpack for travelling and got a traditional backpacker’s pack instead. Yay. Not.
But Then I Realized A Backpack With Wheels Would Have Totally Freaking Worked…
When we headed to Thailand for the winter, whilst ungracefully hauling my no-wheels backpack around, I quietly took note of just how often the ground was suitable for a rolling backpack.
Know how often that was?
A good backpack with wheels would have worked fine and dandy about 95 percent of the time. Really. Rolling backpack luggage is a solid investment.
And for the other 10 percent of the time, with a crossover style rolling backpack (a rolling backpack with optional shoulder straps) I could heft that thing onto my back from time to time.
Wheeled Backpack for the Win
I am a smaller framed person and my shoulder gets hella tight when I pack too much around for too long, so it seriously impacts how much fun I’m having. You know what?
Wheels damnit. I needed wheels.
So, at the risk of destroying any backpacker cred I may have had (as if) I decided to try a wheeled backpack on our next adventure. And boy am I glad I did. Game. Changer.
My Convertible Rolling Backpack – The Best of Both Worlds
Spoiler alert: After searching high and low, I decided on an Osprey Meridian (more on this later). With my new rolling backpack of delight, I can now breeze through the airport, and most streets and areas I traverse are no problem.
And, at times when I need the pack to be on my back, the wheels come up and the shoulder straps came out, no problemo.
But, there are a few different rolling backpacks to consider, and here I review the best ones.
SIDENOTE: Josh is still a purist when it comes to his backpack, but he also says he could hike with a garbage bag as his pack, so you can tell he generally requires far fewer creature comforts than me.
Finding a Good Rolling Backpack Isn’t So Easy
It was harder than I’d imagined to find a backpack with wheels that fit all my criteria. And where to buy a good backpack with wheels? Things are all over the place online. Reviews are a bit sketchy and many of the bags they list are more for business travelers, not for actual backpacking situations.
Many of the rolling bags online are also only available in Europe or in Canada. And many of these wheeled backpacks, sorry, just suck. I bought more than a few and returned more than a few before I found several I would recommend.
A Backpack With Wheels Needed a Few Vital Components to Even Make My Shortlist:
- Front loading. A bag that opens all the way around (like a suitcase would) is your best friend on the road—trust me, you don’t want to be hauling all our stuff in and out every time you need to find something.
- Strong zippers and a good system of pockets
- Somewhere convenient I can hold a water bottle.
- It needs to be between 50-80 L in capacity, anything else is too small or too big for backpacking style travel, in my opinion.
The Nitty Gritty: My Top 6 Convertible Rolling Backpacks
After a slightly nerdy amount of research, asking all my savviest travel buds, and trying a bunch of backpacks that roll myself, I have compiled an up-to-date list of the cream of the crop, THE top 5 best backpacks with wheels.
Organized by price, here we go:
Mountain Warehouse Voyager
Price at time of writing: $55 USD
Size: 29.5” long 13.8” W 9”D
Carry on Friendly? No (Well, “technically” no, as it’s too long. However, it looks a bit like a duffel bag, so you might get away with it sometimes).
Bang for buck. This bag is a sweet budget savvy option in the rolling backpack department. It’s missing a few bells and whistles but if you’re on a tight budget, consider it.
Here we have front load access which as I mentioned is essential in my books… you can see and organize your stuff properly and not lose your mind when you need to find something.
The zipped pocket in the inside front flap is another great organizational element. It’s a perfect place to throw in all your cords and wires, portable battery, etc. or maybe even use as your “underwear drawer”.
There’s a lockable zip system and four compression straps at the sides, and one smaller zipped compartment near the top.
At 50 litres, this rolling backpack it is on the smaller side for a ‘backpacking’ bag, but hey… it’s still a very respectable amount of room and it is great motivation to pack a little less.
One awesome feature about this bag is that it stands up straight without tipping—most backpacks fall right on over the minute you let them go, which is pretty annoying.
The main negatives about this rolling backpack are that it doesn’t have a detachable daypack or the most advanced back support pads for long hiking excursions. But for shorter walks, it will be absolutely fine.
Some reviewers mention they wish it had more pockets, but I think this is easily solved by using a packing cube or two.
And, at the lower price point it is slightly less heavy duty than our other picks, with wheels and zippers that are completely functional, but perhaps not as ‘big-boy’ sturdy as the other rolling backpacks we’re looking at here.
Bang for buck, this is a great backpack with wheels that will see you through all your basic travels smoothly.
Price: $229, though at the time of this writing on sale for $115
Capacity: 50L+ 20L
Size: Wheelie: H 75 x W 35 x D 23 cm
Carry on Friendly? No
Behold, the Mountain Warehouse Voyager Wheelie 50 + 20 L Rucksack. This is basically the same backpack just mentioned above but this one comes with a daypack.
This wheeled wonder has a good amount of space for your luggage but isn’t too big, and the detachable daypack is great for side day trips. As a bonus, the day-pack can also be clipped on to the straps so you can carry it on the front if you want to.
The daypack here has mesh side pockets—perfect for shoving in that extra thing or two you need easy access to like sunscreen, mosquito repellent, water bottle etc.
One thing I love about this bag is that it has plenty of pockets, plus a separate a zipped compartment at the bottom. It even comes with a free raincover, which doubles as a way to keep all the straps tidy if you check it in at the airport.
For me personally, the height of this bag isn’t ideal. It comes up pretty high behind your head. And due to that height, it doesn’t qualify as a carry on size.
Also, though many say they’ve used and abused this bag for 5+ years, in my opinion it’s not built quite as solidly as the other bags in this review in terms of bulletproof wheels etc.
At the end of the day, this is a great value for money backpack with wheels choice that gets the job done quite competently and has a detachable daypack as a big bonus. However, if you want something that is sized in an ideal way for your shape, be sure that the added height won’t bother you.
Helloooo packing space… they didn’t call this bag the “expanse” for nothing. Eagle Creek’s backpacks are a bit of a cult favorite among travelers, and are basically built like little (or not-so-little) travel tanks.
Though less well known than a brand standard like Osprey, Eagle Creek quietly sells a lot of bags and garners great reviews. Their luggage has been a go-to brand for many experienced world travelers who swear by it.
The main thing to note about this bag is its massive, easy to pack main compartment. At 78L of space, you will have room for the whole kit and caboodle in here.
And Eagle Creek’s No Matter What™ Warranty offers repair or replacement due to product failure during the product lifetime, regardless of the cause, which is a nice bonus.
But it’s doubtful you’ll need many repairs, this is a bag that will hold up over time. It has super heavy duty threaded wheels that can handle the most wobbly of cobblestone surfaces, a padded hip belt (missing in many other rolling backpacks), sternum strap, and load stabilizer strap.
Organizationally, here we are in pocket heaven—you’ve got a large zippered pocket inside, an external stash pocket, lash points, and a side water-bottle pocket, basically a multitude of nooks and crannies and easy access for all your stuff.
The Expanse Convertible can morph from rolling case to backpack with just a few quick zips. The snaps are all heavy-duty plastic and the zippers have a self-correcting function that means you can squeeze in extra stuff—not that you’d need to at this size of bag!
In a perfect world (ok now I’m getting greedy) this bag would come in a slightly smaller sized option too, as it’s pretty big…some might dare even say a tad bulky. And, it would be luxurious if we could roll it without having to incline the bag. But honestly, I have very few complaints here, this is a versatile bag with loads of room, perfect if you don’t need major bells and whistles and want a good amount of packing space.
Pick this bag if you want a mid-range cost and you need lots of packing space, paired with durability, but you don’t need a detachable daypack.
We have arrived at the promised land. I have searched high and low and scoured traveler forums and internet review back alleys for you my friends, and there’s simply no doubt about it. The clear brand winner in the rolling backpack department, if you’re willing to drop a buck?
Osprey. And they have a few versions of their lightweight rolling backpack, depending on your size needs.
Osprey creates bags that dominate the rolling trolley category.
This Osprey Meridian 60L bag is what I have settled on as the perfect rolling backpack for travel for me, and it’s been my constant companion over the last couple of years.
Does that mean it will be the perfect bag for you?
Not necessarily, but it’s definitely worth considering. In my opinion, the 60L version of the Osprey Meridian wheeled backpack is hands down THE go-to pack if you’re looking for a decent sized backpack with wheels that you can still carry on the plane.
Oh, it’s also beautiful, with its eye-catching contrasting internal and external colors. You won’t look out of place in either a hostel or a luxury boutique hotel; this backpack roller bag blends well in any setting.
Osprey also provides a no questions asked lifetime guarantee—the best in the business. They will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge. If they can’t they’ll replace the bag or give you the current model closest to your original purchase, so buying one of these is basically buying a bag for life.
Yes, it’s most definitely on the pricier side. For me, since it includes a lifetime warranty and I live out of my bag for part of the year, it was an investment worth making.
Reason #1 I Love This Convertible Backpack: It’s Awesome at Airports
My Osprey Meridian 60L fits perfectly in the overhead compartment on almost all airlines I’ve travelled (with the exception of the smaller airlines like Thailand’s Nok that make everyone check their carry-on luggage anyway).
Now, I will say here that when I read a multitude of reviews about this bag a handful of people said the bag was too big for carry on on their airlines, when it was stuffed-to-the-gills full. Seems to be Australian airlines that are more picky. However, this size has worked awesome as a carry on for me in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia for years with no issues.
Narrow is Good. Another point to note—the bag is narrow enough for airplane aisles so you won’t have to do that embarrassing lug, tug, smile lift, roll thing that I often see people with overly wide bags doing when they’re trying to board or de-plane. The top and side handles are also padded and sturdy so it’s really easy to lift up into the overhead bins.
Reason #2: The Detachable Daypack Is Easy to Clip On or Off, Has a Laptop Sleeve and Fits My Big Camera
Unlike with many brands, here the removable daypack is super easy to pop on and off. And it’s the PERFECT SIZE. It feels small, but fits a crapton of stuff inside. I usually keep the daypack attached while navigating the airport, then pop it off and take it to my plane seat with me when boarding.
I keep my laptop, earphones, iPhone, snacks, footrest and other essentials I need in there for easy access during long flights. It also fits my camera and long lens, which is perfect for daytrips that I want to photograph. I love that it’s got a padded laptop sleeve.
Reason #3: Osprey’s 60L Meridian Doesn’t Skimp on Actual Backpacking Features
Although this bag is a rolling pack, it still has great technical suspension–a sternum strap, a mesh back panel for ventilation and comfy shoulder straps. You can adjust the suspension system to fit a wide range of torso sizes or if you prefer, remove it entirely to add more room to pack. One thing to note is that there is no hip belt, but I understand why—adding that in would make this pack unnecessarily bulky in my opinion. When you need this bad boy on your back, I find that it’s actually really easy to pull the straps out and get them ready.
Reason #4 I Love this Backpack With Wheels: Organization Features
Now let’s talk organization. I love me some pockets, and this bag has four zippered side pockets inside to keep your gear in check, a zippered top pocket for easy access to toiletries (I actually use this pocket for my shoes, which fit in there like a dream) and a padded laptop sleeve and zippered tablet pocket inside.
It also has two mesh pockets for easy access grab stuff at the outside front and a mesh pocket on the outside to fit a water bottle. I pop my 24oz water bottle in there and it fits great.
I almost always travel with laptop and camera, and this bag has been such a winner for me when it comes to keeping them safe and not wanting to pass out from the weight they add. My 17” laptop fits in the daypack just fine when I want to have it in there. Basically, everything fits, the bag is extremely sturdy (and pretty sexy looking) and my shoulders don’t have to ache while I’m on the go. I love that it has high wheel clearance that makes it smooth to maneuver on either regular streets or bumpy rugged roads.
Overall, his is truly an awesome rolling backpack and to date the best piece of luggage I’ve owned. Its carry-on size, easily detachable daypack (just clips, no zips, hurrah), make it really convenient.
This 75L Osprey Meridian is basically the same as the pack mentioned above, however it is NOT carry-on friendly since it’s bigger.
Look to it if you’re doing longer trips and want a slightly bigger sized wheeled backpack and detachable daypack, but don’t care about being able to carry on your bag and would sacrifice that in favor of more packing room.
For me personally, the extra space isn’t worth losing the ability to carry my bag on if I want to, and the size is slightly too “hefty” for me, so this pack wouldn’t be my personal pick, but it was a close call.
For someone who really wants that extra room and isn’t planning to carry-on, this might be the perfect travel bag. It includes all the awesome features of the Osprey 60L, so if you want a bigger (yet still not gargantuan) sized rolling travel bag with more packing room, it’s quite nice to have the option, right?
Osprey Sojurn 80L Review
Price at time of writing:
Size: 28h x 14w x 14d
Carry on Friendly? No
Osprey’s Sojourn series comes in three sizes: the 80L, 60L and 45L. For the purposes of this article I’ll speak about the 80L.
Osprey Meridian Vs. Osprey Sojourn
So first off, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between the Osprey Meridian series and the Osprey Sojourn series, right?
Well, they’re actually really similar and share a lot of components, but the Cole’s Notes is that the Sojourn is meant for you if you:
- Don’t need a detachable daypack
- Will use this bag as a backpack quite regularly, rather than as a wheeled bag most often.
Though missing a daypack, the Sojourn has a more backpack-friendly set of suspension and features an adjustable back length and hip belt, two things that will making hiking more comfortable. It also has an AG (AntiGravity) inspired trampoline suspended back mesh system, which you can take off if you don’t need for certain trips. No daypack. Unless you buy a standalone one (the Osprey Daylite Daypack was designed to fit the Sojourn and a few other Osprey bags.) The Sojourn ends up being more expensive because you need to buy extras like the daypack, but if it works for you, by all means! If you’re wanting carry on friendly, be sure to go with the 45L or 60L as the 80L will be too big.
The Osprey Sojourn series is a really well engineered set of bags. They’re high end, durable and strong, and they offer the versatility of a true convertible, adjustable, hip-belt packin’ backpack: one comfortable hiking with for long periods and just as comfortable wheeling along over cobblestone streets.
For me, I still choose the Meridian over the Sojurn, but it’s a close call.
My reasoning is that I love the daypack that’s included with the Meridian, the size is perfect, and I find I am wheeling my back more than carrying it, so the Sojourn’s hipbelt is not necessary for me. But this is a personal decision.
The Sojurn is definitely a top notch bag worth considering, if it you’ll be wearing the pack a lot and don’t forsee the need for a daypack, or are willing to buy one separately.
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