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Rucksack vs Backpack: What's Really the Difference?

Person Hiking with a Rucksack

Is Your Bag a Rucksack or Backpack? Here's How to Tell

Rucksack or backpack? It's all pretty much the same, right?

Not quite.

Rucksacks do have specific differences that set them apart from backpacks. That doesn't mean they're better for every circumstance, just that they're designed differently. In order to use each for its intended purpose, it's good to know how to tell the difference between a rucksack and a backpack and know which one you've got.

What's the Size?

A rucksack is typically built bigger than a typical backpack. Depending on what you're aiming to use it for, this could be a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, it could be useful—but on the other, it could get in the way.

Not every rucksack is big, though. Size isn't the only component that makes a rucksack a rucksack. Even small rucksacks may fall into a different category than backpacks if they were designed with a certain storage capacity and purpose.

What Can it Hold?

The size of a rucksack, compared to a backpack, also gives it an advantage when it comes to capacity. While a backpack can carry books and clothes, a rucksack is usually designed with enough capacity to carry specialized items, like hiking gear or gym gear.

As more of a utility item, rucksacks also tend to have many compartments. Backpacks might have one large compartment with a few smaller parts, but a rucksack will likely have a variety of pockets.

If it's a hiking rucksack, then those pockets will be designed for outdoor gear. But there are also laptop rucksacks, which are designed for work and travel. These bags might have pen compartments, passport pockets, and spaces for various electronic devices.

Rucksack or Backpack: Think of the Purpose

Rucksacks are typically thought of as hiking or camping gear. In the military, they were designed for practicality first, and that basic idea has carried on through newer versions of the rucksack today.

We can see this practicality in the special features that some rucksacks are equipped with, like a waterproof exterior or expandable size. No matter what a rucksack is used for, it will likely have a specialty aspect that backpacks lack.

Backpacks have a multitude of uses, but they aren't as utility-built as rucksacks. They are more of a go-to bag when you need to do something simple, like carry books or groceries. For something like this, a rucksack might weigh you down or be inconvenient.

Final Word

So, is your bag a rucksack or backpack? If it's on the smaller side, with the capacity to hold an armful of loose items, it's probably a backpack. And if it's big and spacious, with a lot of compartments, chances are it's a rucksack.

Neither one will do the job of the other perfectly, so it's good to know which one you're dealing with. If you just have a backpack but need something specialized for hiking or travel, check out our selection to find a rucksack that works for you.