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Backpacks With Wheels For Hiking: Are They Any Good?

Backpacks with wheels sound like a great idea. After all, pulling a pack instead of carrying it can take a lot of strain off your back. But can a rolling backpack really be comfortable on a trail? Knowing if a backpack with wheels is right for your hiking trip is key to making the right purchase.

A backpack with wheels isn’t a good idea for most hikers. While they are practical on paved surfaces, it’s difficult to navigate a wheeled backpack over rough terrain. It’s uncomfortable to pull them behind you for long distances, and the uneven ground of a hiking trail can damage them.

While they aren’t ideal for the majority of hikers, a backpack with wheels does have some benefits. To make the best choice, it’s important to know what they have to offer. Read below to discover everything you need to know about rolling backpacks, so you can decide whether they’re right for you.

What Are Rolling Backpacks?

Rolling backpacks are backpacks with wheels. Instead of strapping them to your back, you pull them along behind you with a handle. They come in all shapes and sizes, from smaller cases just for computers, to gargantuan backpacks meant for transporting lots of heavy gear.

Chances are, you’ve already seen a rolling backpack in action. They are a very popular option in schools nowadays, where heavy books can cause discomfort and even injuries to students. Many travelers like to use them while zipping through the airport, and you might even catch a glimpse of one gliding around the city sidewalks as its owner searches for a coffee shop.

It’s important to note many rolling backpacks don’t have the same shape as a regular backpack. Some will have a squarer shape, which allows you to pack computers and textbooks more easily. Specialty rolling backpacks can be shaped to hold specific gear like an instrument or photography equipment as well.

A Lesson In Comfort

The big selling point of a rolling backpack is that it takes the weight off your shoulders. Instead of carrying your equipment, you simply roll it along behind you. It isn’t as cumbersome to carry gear in this manner, and rolling the bag eliminates a lot of stress on your body.

By alleviating all that extra strain on your back, a wheeled pack allows you to transport supplies comfortably. You can carry larger and heavier loads with a rolling backpack because you won’t have to pick it up. This can give people a lot more leeway on their travels. Without so many weight constraints, you can pack a lot more supplies.

Are Rolling Backpacks Any Good?

In some instances, rolling backpacks can be good. There’s a reason this type of pack has become so popular. Comfort is a big factor, with many preferring to wheel their pack behind them rather than heave it on their shoulders. Speed, agility, and customization are also things to consider.

Fast Travel

A heavy pack isn’t such a big deal when your pace is leisurely. But travelers often find themselves late for trains, planes, and buses. A backpack is a big burden when you need to pick it up and haul it off at a moment’s notice. In a situation where you have only seconds to catch your flight, it’s going to be a lot easier to run with a rolling backpack than with a strap-on pack.

Since you won’t have such a heavy load to carry, you’ll be able to go from point A to B much more quickly. Instead of lumbering around the landscape like a sasquatch, you’ll be practically prancing without the added weight. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your wheels won’t work on every surface.

A rolling backpack doesn’t go so fast on areas that aren’t paved. You’ll move much slower if you’re out on a hiking trail, as the wheels are not designed for off-road use. Your backpack won’t roll smoothly over the uneven ground. Loose dirt and rocks can get stuck in the wheels, halting your progress and causing major headaches.

Easy Transport

It’s easier to walk with a rolling backpack than with a gigantic bag strapped to your body. It can also be easier to maneuver and more convenient for areas where you need to make frequent stops. If you’ve ever been part of a backpacking adventure, you know the struggle—once you get that pack on, you don’t want to take it off.

When you unstrap a backpack, you need to go through a lot of the adjustments again. You’ll also have to pick it up, which can be difficult if the pack is heavy. With a wheeled pack, you just grab the handle and get going. This makes transportation infinitely more manageable. It takes a lot less time and effort to get things moving and lugging your luggage doesn’t seem like a monumental task.

However, navigating with your rolling backpack on a hiking trail will make for more difficulties. It can be very jarring to drag a rolling pack where wheels are not meant to go, and the vibrations can be quite uncomfortable. Lots of ups and downs can imbalance you and even injure the arm you use to pull the backpack.

Options Galore

Modern rolling backpacks come with tons of options. Of course, the features you choose depend entirely on you. You can get a less expensive backpack that’s just a bag on wheels, or you can go with a higher-end backpack that has added features for comfort, stability, and convenience.

The best rolling backpacks will be made of strong, weatherproof nylon, just like a hiking backpack. You can get them with double-sewn seams and no-rust zippers for added durability. You’ll also have your choice of sizes to choose from, with smaller ones suitable for airplane carry-on and larger ones perfect for a week-long jaunt out to the countryside.

You can find rolling backpacks with compression straps to control the size and volume of your load. Some have tons of extra pockets or outside compartments for storing all your essentials within easy reach. No matter what your priorities are when it comes to backpack features, you’ll be able to find them in a rolling bag.

Are Rolling Backpacks Better For Your Back?

Rolling backpacks are easier on your back than a regular backpack. Many experts agree that it’s a bad idea to carry more than 10-15% percent of your bodyweight in a backpack. Many backpacks can carry over 40 pounds, which is wayover the recommended load size for most people.

Carrying around a heavy pack can cause instant fatigue and achy muscles, two things you don’twant when you’re traveling. They can encourage slouching, poor posture, and can contribute to chronic back pain down the road. But the damages can be even more extensive than that. One study indicated that backpacks could cause nerve damage along the spine and shoulders if used improperly long-term.

A rolling backpack is a logical solution. It takes the load off your back and puts it on the ground, providing a more ergonomic way to transport your equipment. This is perfect for situations like school, work, and airport travel — but, unfortunately, not for hiking.

Even though rolling backpacks can save your back, they aren’t the most ideal option for health-minded hikers. Because rolling backpacks aren’t practical on the trail, bringing one on your hiking trip can cause major issues. But you also don’t want to bring a regularbackpack, since these can cause back pain. So, what are you supposed to do?

A Better Solution

A specially-designed hiking backpack is the best choice for trekking. Instead of dangling from your shoulders to put strain on your back, a hiking backpack cinches around your waist to keep the weight higher. It won’t hurt you like a regular backpack.

With a built-in suspension system that balances the weight, a hiking backpack eliminates your risk of spinal and shoulder injury. In a hiking backpack, you can safely carry around twice the weight as you can with a regular backpack — about 20% of your body weight.

Because of the suspension system and adjustable cinches, a hiking backpack can be tailored to fit your unique height and weight. It works with your body to help you carry the load and doesn’t fatigue you or wear your muscles down like a regular backpack.

Furthermore, a hiking backpack won’t impede you on the trail like a rolling backpack will. With your hands free to grasp and pull, you’ll be able to navigate much more easily. Water crossings, steep hills, and ledges will all be traversable with a good heavy-duty hiking pack. A rolling backpack would be a burden on such terrain.

What Is A Hybrid Rolling Backpack?

A hybrid rolling backpack is a rolling backpack that also has shoulder straps and waist straps, so you can convert them into a hiking backpack when the need arises. They are a combination of the two styles of pack and may seem like a great solution if you want to make your hike a little easier.

Major name brands like Osprey have begun manufacturing these convertible bags with lots of features, including a full suspension system that acts just like a hiking pack. With a fully hybrid roller pack, you can remove the attached straps when you want to pull it. When you want to hike with it, you simply reattach them and head out.

The Worst Of Both Worlds

A hybrid rolling backpack seems like a great solution. By allowing you to roll the bag on paved surfaces and backpack it over rougher terrain, you’ve got an all-in-one travel backpack that fits any situation. Unfortunately, they’re better in theory than in reality. You lose a bit of both worlds when you combine these two types of bags.

Often, the handle is not removable and sits uncomfortably on your back. You’ll see the same problem with the internal framing system. A traditional hiking backpack has an internal frame system designed for weight distribution, with many different points of adjustment to make it fully customizable.

Meanwhile, the frame of a rolling backpack is designed so that the backpack holds its shape while you’re packing it and wheeling it around. These hybrid bags feel more like a suitcase on wheels than a hiking pack, and the hard framing system isn’t kind to your body during hikes.

A hiking backpack and a rolling backpack are wildly different concepts, and it’s hard to combine them well. Carrying a rolling backpack like a hiking backpack can be very painful when walking long distances. However, hikers looking to take short and easy hikes could still benefit from them. It’s all about your personal hiking style, so examine your priorities before purchasing any backpack.

Are Rolling Backpacks Better For Hiking?

While a rolling backpack may sound tempting, it’s a piece of gear you want to avoid on the trail. These backpacks are better for travel situations where you’ll be traversing a paved road or an indoor pavilion area like a mall or airport, rather than streams, rocky trails, and uneven terrain.

The rough and uneven nature of a hiking path can cause a lot of problems for rolling backpacks, and they aren’t worth all the trouble you could run into. Just as a regular backpack can put strain on your back, a rolling backpack can put strain on your arms and shoulders.

Upper body strain from a rolling pack won’t happen much on smooth surfaces, but hiking trails are distinctly challenging. Rocks, dirt, and debris can easily cause the wheels to catch or even break. Your arm and shoulder can get a nasty jolt like this, and it doesn’t make for a very serene hiking experience.

The Pain Of Terrain

Furthermore, you’ll most likely face hills and valleys while hiking. You could even face mountains and ravines, with steep ground posing a big problem for anything on wheels. If you need to do any climbing or scrambling on rocks, it could be impossible to lug your wheeled backpack with you at all. The same goes for water crossings, which will be much more of a hassle with a backpack on wheels.

When the going gets tough, you’ll need both your arms for holding, climbing, and balancing. If you can’t strap your pack to your back, you won’t be able to balance well at all. This increases your risk of injury on the trail, so rolling bags are a big no-no. Instead, you need a hiking backpack that minimizes the risk of injury and maximizes comfort on your hike.

Final Thoughts

Rolling backpacks can be great for traveling, but they aren’t ideal for hikers. The wheels won’t work well on most hiking trails, and even the hybrid varieties won’t provide you with the same benefits as a hiking backpack. Hikers should invest in a durable, weatherproof hiking backpack instead.