Backpacks vs Rucksacks: Unpacking the Difference

Find out everything you need to know about what sets these two iconic pieces of luggage apart. Plus, learn when a backpack or rucksack should be your go-to hold-all.

In the world of easy-carrying style, two choices rule the roost: the backpack and the rucksack. To some, backpacks and rucksacks are pretty much the same. But to others, they’re different bags altogether. In this guide, we’ll unravel the differences for good, exploring just how these iconic accessories differ in terms of functionality and style.

Understanding the difference between backpacks and rucksacks

Despite their similar appearance, there is a definite distinction between backpacks and rucksacks. While they can be used interchangeably, knowing how to tell them apart can make a big difference – especially when it comes to choosing the best bag for daily use and outdoor adventures.


Backpacks typically comprise two shoulder straps, the same as a rucksack, but where they differ is in the features. Backpacks can come in all shapes and sizes. Some have a large zipped opening and nothing else, and others include a number of pockets, straps and other features.


Rucksacks, on the other hand, typically have additional pockets and chest or hip belts for carrying a heavier load. The word ‘rucksack’ comes from Germany and the term is frequently used in Western military forces, such as those in the UK and US. ‘Rucking’ is one of the most common military activities and so it’s clear to see how rucksacks get their name.

What are the different types of backpacks?

The humble backpack has been adapted over the years to become a ‘bag for everything’. And today, there are a vast array of different types available, in a vast range of shapes and sizes. Here, we’ll break down the different options

Classic backpack

Let’s start with the backpack as we know it: a sturdy bag carried over both shoulders and seen absolutely everywhere. From lightweight backpacks to trendy mini versions, sports backpacks and large hold-alls with multiple pockets and accessories, the options are endless.


Daypacks are compact, lightweight backpacks great for short trips and everyday use. They typically have a capacity of around 10 to 30 litres, offering the right size for essentials such as a jacket, books and water bottle.

Hiking backpacks

Hiking backpacks are designed for outdoor enthusiasts who need room for essential gear. They come in various sizes, ranging from 30 to 70 litres or more. They prioritise comfort, durability, and weight distribution for long journeys.

Travel backpacks

Need a backpack for your laptop, or a convenient piece of luggage for extended trips? Designed for frequent commuters and digital nomads, travel backpacks typically have capacities ranging from 40 to 70 litres, and often include zippered panels for easy access to the main compartment. Look out for bags with padded laptop sleeves and lockable zippers for security.

School/college backpacks

Off to school or college? School and college backpacks feature multiple compartments, padded laptop sleeves, and dedicated pockets. Perfect for organising books, stationery and electronic devices.

Fashion and lifestyle backpacks

These backpacks cater to the style-conscious and come in a range of designs, materials, and colours. You’ll spot them thanks to their unique prints, patterns and textures.

Is there a difference between a bookbag and a backpack?

The key difference between a bookbag and a backpack is the way in which we carry them. Bookbags are traditionally used by primary school age children and carried by two handles, much like a handbag. A backpack however is carried on the back.

Although they are different, the two terms are still used synonymously. This is especially the case in high school and college where backpacks are used to carry heavy books and learning materials. In recent years, manufacturers have designed backpacks with bookbags in mind. Water resistant rain cover and tough materials, as well as rectangular bottoms and reinforced straps for carrying a heavy load, are frequently used.

A backpack for every occasion

Whether you’re headed to school, are hanging out with friends or planning an outdoor adventure, there’s a bag for the occasion. Whether you opt for a daypack, skatepack or classic backpack like the Vans Old Skool Backpack, we’ve got you covered with options that blend style and function for the ultimate backpack experience.