Is there a difference between a backpack and a rucksack?

Backpacks and rucksacks are two words often used interchangeably to describe a bag that can be carried on your back. The term ‘backpack’ was first used in the US in the 1910s, before it was literally translated by the Germans to the word ‘rucksack’. Backpacks and rucksacks are both used for a number of different things; from carrying all your essentials to the skatepark to packing up everything for a hike. Used by people all over the world, you’ve likely come across a backpack or rucksack in your lifetime, but is there a difference between the two?

In this article, we’ll take a look at the differences between the two terms and settle the war of words between backpack and rucksack once and for all.

Is there a difference between a backpack and a rucksack?

It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific difference between a backpack and a rucksack. It largely depends on features and what you intend to use it for. In other words, rucksacks are large and durable bags suitable for heavy loads and backpacks are that and everything else.

With both terms used to describe any bag that can be carried on your back, you’d be forgiven for thinking that whichever word you use is down to personal preference. However, there is a minor difference between the two when it comes to functionality.

The term ‘backpack’ is the general umbrella term used to describe all bags carried on the back, whether they’re being used as a school bag, on a flight as hand luggage or to carry with you for a day out with friends. Rucksacks, however, are more frequently used for specialist activities like camping or hiking. In a nutshell, rucksacks are ideal for any event where a heavy duty material and additional features are needed.

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.

When you get down to the nitty gritty, the small difference between backpacks and rucksacks is functionality. In reality, there is very little difference between the two terms. When shopping online, you’ll often find that both terms are used to describe the same bag anyway.

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.

What are the different types of backpacks?

The humble backpack has been adapted over the years to become a ‘bag for everything’. As such, there are now a number of different types on the market; including daypacks, rucksacks and the traditional backpack. Better still, there is a whole range of shapes and sizes to choose from.

Let’s start with the backpack as we know it; a sturdy bag carried over both shoulders and seen absolutely everywhere. The backpack itself has been adapted so much that you can pretty much buy one anywhere. From trendy mini versions to large ones with multiple pockets and accessories like the Vans Disorder Plus, the options are endless. There’s even hybrid backpacks like the Vans Confound Ruckpack, ideal for carrying heavy items in a number of different scenarios.

The daypack is a small backpack, and as its name suggests, it’s perfect for using on a short day hike or spending time in the great outdoors. Daypacks are usually lightweight, but big enough to carry all the essentials you need for a day out.

Rucksacks are generally used for more specialist activities and make for perfect hiking backpacks. Made with tough and durable materials, rucksacks tend to offer greater weather resistance than a regular backpack. Additional anti theft features and easy access compartments are also common features of a rucksack.

What are the best backpacks for men?

When it comes to finding the best backpacks for men, it’s important to consider what matters most to you. Some of the best backpacks for men incorporate everything, from extra pockets and zipped compartments to durability and water repellent material.

As well as getting to grips with what you’ll use the bag for, there are a few non-negotiable features. Lightweight is always good, because who wants to carry unnecessary weight? Adjustable shoulder straps are also essential - comfort should come above anything else.

Additionally, water resistance is also a good feature of any backpack. You never know when you’re going to get caught in a shower! Here are a few of our favourite backpacks for men:

Old Skool Check Backpack

The Old Skool Check Backpack is a Vans classic. This high quality backpack is great for everyday use, whether that’s work or play. It features a large zipped compartment with laptop sleeve and a front zip pocket with an integrated organiser. In addition, it’s available in a wide variety of colours and designs.

Obstacle Skatepack

Made with CORDURA fabrics that offer resistance to abrasion, tearing and scuffs, the Obstacle Skatepack is the one for durability. Its large main compartment benefits from an anti-odour treatment and the ergonomic shoulder straps make for optimal comfort. This backpack also features several compartments and pockets, as well as hideaway skate straps for your board or jacket.

Disorder Plus Backpack

The simplicity of the Disorder Plus Backpack makes it a popular choice for men. Covering all the essentials, it includes a large main compartment with integrated organiser, a laptop sleeve and mesh water bottle pockets. The ergonomic shoulder straps and waffle mesh back panel also ensure you stay comfortable all day.

What’s a good backpack for traveling?

Whether you’re planning your next backpacking adventure, heading off for a city break or just need a sturdy backpack for your hand luggage, finding a good travel backpack is essential. But ‘good backpacks’ really depend on what’s important to you, from size and material to features and colour.

Size and weight are two of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a travel backpack. Depending on the length of time you’ll be living out of your backpack, you’ll likely want something lightweight. However, it’ll also need to be big enough to store all the essentials.

The Vans Ranger Plus backpack is a great option for traveling. It’s lightweight and has a 22-litre capacity, perfect for carrying everything you need for your adventure.

If you’re looking for the perfect backpack to fit under your seat on a flight, but one that also looks good when walking around the airport, opt for something that fits both fashion and functionality.

The Vans Realm Classic backpack comprises a main compartment and an internal laptop sleeve. It’s also available in a variety of colours and designs to help you stand out from the crowd.

The Backpack Guide can help you find the right bag for your travels.

Backpack vs Rucksack

Now you know the difference between a backpack and a rucksack, finding your ideal bag should be no more difficult. Whether you opt for a daypack, skatepack or classic backpack like the Vans Old Skool Backpack, our selection of backpacks and rucksacks has got you covered.