Having the right type of luggage, pack or bag for your travels can make packing up and hopping on a plane or hitting the road easier and less stressful. But with so many styles to choose from, deciding which one is right for you can be a challenge. This article breaks down the different types of luggage and offers advice on choosing the right size, weight and level of durability. It also goes over features like wheels, laptop compartments and carry-on compatibility.
Types of Luggage, Bags and Packs
There are three broad categories of luggage: wheeled luggage, travel packs and travel duffels. When deciding which one is right for you, it can be helpful to think about things like where you’re going, how you’re getting there and what you plan to do when you get there.
The obvious advantage of luggage, packs and bags with wheels is how easy they are to transport through the airport and down smooth streets and sidewalks. There are three types of wheeled luggage: rolling luggage, wheeled duffels and wheeled backpacks.
Rolling luggage: Designed for traditional travelers, rolling luggage is what you see most people pulling behind them at an airport. They come in a range of sizes and typically feature sturdy construction made to handle the rigors of luggage transport systems. They are generally best for business travel, family visits, road trips and travel to urban areas.
Wheeled duffels: Nothing swallows up gear like a duffel bag, and one with wheels is a good choice for multisport travelers. If your adventures frequently require gear of widely varying sizes and shapes, a rolling duffel is a smart way to corral it all. For light packers, a carry-on wheeled duffel offers less space but allows you to forgo the time and expense of checking a bag. Wheeled duffels are a good choice for adventure travel requiring bulky or odd-shaped gear, family trips and road trips. To learn more about duffel options, read about travel duffels below.
Wheeled backpacks: Popular with adventure travelers, these combine the convenience of wheeled luggage with the mobility of a backpack. You can transport lots of gear with a simple pull of the extendable handle. Facing heavy foot traffic or a long flight of stairs? Strap on the shoulder straps and hip belt for hands-free carrying convenience. Wheeled backpacks are typically best for adventure travel and road trips. To learn more about backpacks, see the travel packs section below.
These range from basic duffels that you throw over a shoulder to wheeled duffels with extendable handles (to learn about wheeled duffels, see the Wheeled Luggage section of this article.) The primary advantage of duffels over other options is their simple design. They’re easy to use and generally feature one large space for packing your gear and clothing. Of course, this could be a disadvantage if you’re the super-organized type who needs separate pockets and compartments to stay sane. (One way to stay organized in a duffel is to pack your things in travel cubes or stuff sacks.)
Duffel bags are available in many sizes, from compact carry-on bags that have a capacity of 20–30 liters and will hold a weekend’s worth of clothes on up to massive duffels that hold 100 liters or more for adventures that require tons of gear.
Traditional duffel bags that don’t have wheels might seem old-fashioned given how easy wheels can make transport. But, for adventures to remote places with bumpy, unpaved streets, wheels will be more trouble than they are worth, and they will add several pounds to the overall weight of the bag. Not only are traditional duffels lighter, they are also more pliable than those that have wheels, making them easier to stuff in the backs of cars, load onto roof racks or strap to a pack animal. These duffels are also easier to store (no rigid parts, so they fold up smaller) and typically less expensive. They are a great option for climbers, adventure travelers and people on a budget who need to haul a lot of gear.
These travel-friendly backpacks excel where wheeled luggage cannot: on gravel, cobblestone streets, stairs and other uneven terrain. Travel packs are like other backpacks in terms of how you wear them and the support they provide, but they have travel-specific features, such as organization pockets, hideaway hipbelts and shoulder straps, and built-in security features, like lockable zippers. They are ideal for travelers who want to be very mobile and are okay with carrying everything on their backs.