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What Is The Difference Between a Backpack and a Rucksack?

BY Buffalo Jackson Insight
BY Grit Media

Revised 9/17

Ah, the rucksack/backpack debate. If you’ve tried to nail down the difference between a rucksack and a backpack, you’ve likely found more answers than you bargained for. We’ll do our best to clear it up for you.

Bottom line: a rucksack is actually a kind of backpack.


As the name implies, a backpack is a pack you carry on your back. Although Americans didn’t invent the backpack, we did coin the term. In the U.S., we often refer to a child’s schoolbag as a backpack, but in a broader sense, a backpack will be an adequate pack for a day or weekend trip. 

A backpack has two shoulder straps—but on a true backpack (not just a child’s schoolbag), the shoulder straps actually carry very little of the weight. Instead, the load is mainly diverted to padded hip belts. Why hip belts? Worn properly, hip belts transfer the weight of your backpack from your shoulders to your hips, allowing you to carry most of the load with your body’s biggest muscles—your legs. But to be effective, especially with heavy loads, the pack’s hip belt must be long enough to wrap around the front of your hip bones, not up at your waist.

A good backpack for adventuring will be crafted of waxed canvas or a technical fabric. But, you can also find daily-use backpacks for adults. Find one crafted with premium leather and a laptop sleeve, and you have an exceptional pack for campus or the office. Or, if you use your backpack for traveling, explore our other leather travel bag options.


A rucksack is essentially a large, rugged backpack. The word “rucksack” is derived from the German, “der rücken,” meaning “the back.” A rucksack is a pack often used for camping or hiking, and a good one can be crafted of durable waxed canvas or technical material. This type of pack has pockets and belts used for holding heavy loads and accommodates a more substantial amount of gear than a backpack. Rucksacks can also have hip belts and often chest belts as well. A large rucksack is an ideal pack for anything from an extended hiking and camping adventure to travelling around the world. Discover other travel necessities when you browse our leather dopp kits and duffle bags

As interchangeable as the terms are, one particular distinction we’ve found is that “rucksack” tends to be a term more commonly used in a military application, and rucksacks also tend to have a main entry point at the top of the pack which is normally tied or cinched closed.

Both backpacks and rucksacks allow you to carry heavy loads more easily than is possible in a handbag or on the front of your body. Choosing between packs is really a matter of how much stuff you need to carry and how long you need to carry it.

Shop our backpacks and rucksacks here.

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