Backpack vs Rucksack: What’s the Difference?

Backpack vs Rucksack: What's the Difference?Pin

Through the past years that we have been writing brands and compiling selections, jackets and brands that make great jackets have been the focus of our work.

It is time to change things up a bit and start looking at other outdoor gear that are essential for having a safe and enjoyable time when out in nature.

Today it is a discussion on bags that are meant for travelers, hikers, campers and everyone else who has something to carry when out and about.

As per the title, we will be looking at backpacks and rucksacks. Our intention is to compare the two and to learn more about their history, use and determine which one you should go for.

This is in continuation to our previous piece on how to best clean and care for a North Face backpack.

Without any further ado, let’s get started!


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1. Backpack vs. Rucksack: Comparison and Difference

Is There a Difference?

This is the first question that many people ask when the terms rucksack and backpack are mentioned. The answer would be that there are differences between the two. However, with that being said, they are technically the same thing.

What we mean by that is that a rucksack is a type of backpack, but with a couple of additional features.

A backpack itself is a cloth sack that is meant to be carried on the back, as its name dictates. While that is the case for the name, in actuality a good backpack should not put the weight on the back, instead it should be on the hips to not harm and overload the back.

This is the reason why there are hip belts attached to large backpacks that are meant to carry over 22 lb (10 kg) of weight. However, there are smaller sports backpacks that also feature these belts.

Backpacks are used by many people, not solely limited to adventurers, traveler or hikers, but also school students or those carrying laptops.

A rucksack is a bigger backpack, which is meant to carry more and to also be sturdier and more durable.

Typically, rucksacks have a large main compartment and additional smaller compartments and pockets that are meant for carrying gear.

man with rucksack on snowy streetPin

Unlike a backpack, which can come in many shapes, rucksacks tend to have a more advanced carrying system as they include spaces for sleeping bags, canteens and other belongings.

Aside from that, rucksacks are accessible from the top and have a cinched or tied opening that makes access easier.

Backpacks generally have zipper openings that are accessible on both sides and come with features such as a lock space on the zipper handles for security.

As you can see, they differ in size and accessibility, which is why the terms are often used interchangeably.

Origin of Name

Backpack, as a name, originates from the United States around the 1910s and was used to refer to large packs, formerly known as packsack. Backpack clearly indicates what this type of pack is like, meaning that it is a pack for the back to carry.

Rucksack means exactly the same thing, not just in what it refers to (a large pack). Rucksack is a German word that literally translates to backpack. Rücken is German for “back” and Sack is “bag”, hence Backpack.

Depending on the country, both terms are used interchangeably. However, there are other countries, such as Canada, that use the term knapsack, whereas often “pack” is used to refer to backpacks and rucksacks.

Typically, in the US backpack is the preferred term, whereas the UK use rucksack.

Another instance where rucksack is most often used is in the military. Because rucksacks have so many features for carrying a number of different gear, they are the bag of choice for the military.

You might also like: The Best Men’s Camping Jackets Reviewed (+ How To Choose)

In our comparisons, we usually prefer to include popular designs in order to give you a clearer picture on what we are discussing and, who knows, maybe one of them will be the product you are looking for.

For this comparison we have chosen four designs in total, two backpacks and two rucksacks. Let’s take a look!


The North Face Unisex Jester Backpack

The North Face Unisex Jester BackpackPin


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The first backpack is Jester by The North Face. One of the most popular backpacks by the brand, Jester is a 28-liter design that makes carrying and organizing your gear easier. The main compartment features a padded laptop sleeve and enough space for carrying books or any other gear.

It comes with an outer pocket that includes several smaller pockets on the inside, which give you space to safely carry your phone, tablet and other belongings.

There is an elastic bungee system on the outside, which is meant to carry your helmet, jacket or any other belonging that does not fit inside the bag, and on both sides there are also two mesh pockets for water bottles.

It features 360 degrees reflectivity to keep you visible in bad lighting and sternum straps for easier carrying.

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Osprey Packs Quasar Daypack

Osprey Packs Quasar DaypackPin


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This second design is Quasar, a daypack by Osprey. Suitable for everyday use or for an overnight trip, Quasar is a comfortable backpack made of polyester, which comes with a large main compartment and an organizing smaller compartment.

It features a visibility system that keeps you safe in bad lighting and it includes a blinker light attachment, too.

Its scratch-free slash pocket keeps delicate items safe, whereas the bungee storage provides additional room for larger gear. There are two weight-distributing strap systems on this design, one on the sternum and the other on the hips.


Gootium 21101 Thick Canvas Rucksack

Gootium 21101 Thick Canvas RucksackPin


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The first rucksack we picked is by Gootium, the 21101 Canvas design. Made of 100% Cotton, with durable metal fastenings, this design is suitable for carrying heavy loads comfortably.

It features a top-opening main compartment, two side pockets and a front pocket for additional storage. It accommodates a 17 inch laptop and includes several organizing pockets to better store your personal items and gear.

To help distribute the weight better, it features waist belts that make it more comfortable to carry the rucksack.

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Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT 50 Rucksack

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT 50 RucksackPin


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The second design is the Highland Trail XT 50 Rucksack by Jack Wolfskin. Made of Nylon and lined with Polyester, this rucksack comes in a dual-chamber design that is meant to distribute weight in a way that will not overload the back and make it easier to carry heavy loads.

It has adjustable chest straps with signal whistle and comes with a number of attachments that make it suitable to carry helmets, trekking poles and ice tools. There are compression straps included, too, alongside a hydration system that features a duct and fastener for the bottle and the tube.

This is a 50 Liter design, with an additional 5 Liter carrying ability. The straps are all adjustable for Small to Large sizes and it comes with an X-shaped aluminum frame that helps with the carrying of heavy weights.

Key facts: Rucksacks | Jack Wolfskin

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3. Brands We Would Recommend

To conclude this piece, we scoured the internet for some of the best brands that make great backpacks and rucksacks.

Typically, brands that are renowned for high quality outdoor gear will also include quality backpacks and rucksack.

The 5 best brands that we would recommend are:


Renowned for the quality of their backpacks and with more than 100 years of experience, Deuter is the top brand when it comes to comfortable and lightweight designs.


A brand that makes functional and comfortable backpacks, which cater to people from all walks of life (website).

Must read: Osprey vs Deuter: Which brand is better?


Arc’teryx make some of the best outdoor clothing and gear out there for those who are especially interested in functional and high-performance designs.

Gregory Packs

A brand that specializes in backpacks and bags for outdoor adventurers, Gregory backpacks are functional and practical, designed to make it easy to carry heavy loads and keep your belongings safe.

Read next: Gregory Packs vs Osprey: A Comparison

The North Face

A brand renowned for the performance of their gear, The North Face also make impressive backpacks.

Read also: The North Face vs Osprey Backpacks: Which Brand is Better?


  1. At last, it’s good to see a clear definition!

    The British military went through various terms over the past 200 years: “Snapsack” to “Haversack” to “Pack”. In modern official parlance, a Pack has no frame. If a backpack has a frame it’s a “Rucksack”.

    A term that must have you Norwegians bemused is the term “Bergen Rucksack” greatly overused in the British military. It originates in WWII from the Pattern 1942 Rucksack that largely copied the Ole Ferdinand Bergan design. It’s surely the case that volunteers for the Free Norwegian Commandos (“Independent Companies”) had brought their original Norwegian Army issue Bergan rucksacks to Britain when they escaped the occupation. This design of rucksack became standard issue to British elite units from 1942 into the 1970s.

    Elite units continued using the term “Bergens” or “Bergans” for the rucksacks that replaced the 1942 Pattern Rucksack. In my unit (Airborne), the definition of a Bergen was that it was a large capacity MILITARY rucksack; it could be worn with the full set of belt pouches, and; it had a frame with a shelf that enabled the haulage of heavy stores that are too big for the sack itself (the sack removed or emptied and flattened).

    We also used “Daysacks” which typically were low capacity, frameless backpacks.

    Other units used the term “Bergen” when they were issued rucksacks from 1990 onward, wishing to use the slang/lingo of the elites to sound like elite soldiers. During my service, very few soldiers outside the elites seemed to know what a “Bergen” was. Curiously, civilans in Britain today are often found calling their backpacks “Bergens”, in turn trying to sound like experienced soldiers!

    You’ll have noticed that I’ve used the term “Bergen” and “Bergan”: NONE of the British military backpacks are made by “Bergans Of Norway” so they cannot actually be “Bergans”. As for “Bergen”, that seems to be a misnomer based on the city.

    It’s my belief that the Free Norwegian Commandos called their rucksacks “Bergans” and the slang term stuck…

    • Thanks for the detailed information Simon 😉 ! It definitely improved this article.

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