What’s The Difference Between a Backpack vs a Rucksack [Ultimate Guide]

Ah, the rucksack vs backpack issue. If you’ve tried to figure out what’s the difference between a backpack vs a rucksack, ut failed. Then right now you’ve likely found more answers than you higgled for! You should read this article to figure that out.

The Story Behind Writing This Article

I was browsing through some travel gear sites and I noticed that some of them advertised ‘rucksacks’, not backpacks.

Now what made this interesting was that one leading brand, Berghaus, have a number of different backpack options. However, many of these are called rucksacks while others are given the name backpack.

This made me find out what is the difference between a backpack and a rucksack. So, I did a little investigation and I wrote this article to let the readers like you get their answers.

Bottom line: A rucksack is actually a kind of backpack!
The terms backpack and rucksack are mostly used interchangeably, but generally, they relate with size. A backpack is smaller but a rucksack is larger than a backpack.

Difference Between a Backpack vs a Rucksack
# A Backpack #

So, What’s the Difference Between a Backpack vs a Rucksack?


“Backpack” is often used in the United States for large packs (50 liters and above capacity), used by serious hikers. In that context, smaller packs (20–30 liters capacity) are usually known as “Daypacks” (to carry only what you need for a day-long excursion). However, these come under the universal term of the backpack as well.

If we look at Backpack, well there isn’t a big difference now is there, except in the English language. It is obviously a sack (pack) & bag made for holding on your back. As the name indicates, a backpack is a bag you carry on your back. Although Americans didn’t invent the backpack, we did coin the term. In the U.S., we often think a child’s schoolbag as a backpack. But in a broader sense, a backpack will be enough for a day or weekend trip.

A backpack generally has two shoulder straps. But on an ideal backpack, the shoulder straps actually carry hardly any of the weight. Instead, the weight is mainly diverted to cushioned hip belts. Why hip belts?

If worn properly, hip belts can transfer the weight of your backpack from your shoulders to your hips. Letting you carry almost all of the load with your body’s biggest muscles, your legs. However, the hip belt must be long enough to cover around the front side of your hip bones, not up at your waist.

There are many kinds of backpacks. Like a tool backpack or a common backpack like Tumi backpack or Herschel backpack.


A rucksack is actually a large, rugged backpack. The first place to start is to check out the source of these words. Doing that I found that Rucksack has the German origin. ‘Rucken’ means “Back” in German and ‘Sack’ (means “bag”) obviously means a sack. So, a bag for your back actually. A rucksack is usually used for camping or hiking and has many pockets & belts used for holding a more significant amount of equipment compared to a backpack. Rucksacks will also have hip belts and frequently chest belts as well. A large rucksack is well suited for anything from an extended hiking and camping adventure to traveling around the world.

As compatible as the conditions are, a definite difference we’ve found is that “rucksack” seems to be a term more commonly used for the military application. And “rucksack” also tends to have the main entryway at the very top which is normally tied or cinched closed.

Both backpacks and rucksacks give you the chance to carry heavy loads more easily than a handbag or bags on the front of your body. It’s actually a matter of how much stuff you need to carry and how long you will need to carry it.

difference between backpack and rucksack
# A Rucksack #

US vs UK, are there any differences?

I was curious concerning if there were any differences between US and UK. And from what I can determine, in terms of how these words are used, there are not many differences really. It seems that many people use both conditions interchangeably. Generally speaking, when looking at hiking gear providers in the US, the term backpack seems additionally used. However, as stated in the reviews below, it seems the US military services may use the word rucksack a lot. I have no idea about military equipment but it would make sense that they might need very useful backpacks/rucksacks.

I saw one point that a rucksack is a middle-sized pack used for multi-day camping hikes of up to a week, and a backpack is different in conditions of size and use for the reason that it is bigger than a rucksack and can be used for very long treks and outings into the wilderness, so for weeks to a few months. I couldn’t find much to corroborate that though. On searching around, there seem to be similarly large options, some referenced as a backpack others as a rucksack.

The UK also seems to lean towards the use of the term backpack instead of the rucksack, however, in terms of hiking gear, it did seem that rucksack could be more commonly found than in the US.

<<Best Tumi backpack>>


So, there you have it. It seems that in terms of backpacking or hiking, there isn’t really a whole lot of difference in how people use both terms backpack and rucksack. In the US, it seems that the term backpack may be more commonly used in terms of hiking gear. However, the term rucksack is also popular.

In the UK, it also seems this can be a different word for the similar thing. The only reference to a difference I came across in the UK was that a rucksack is a smaller version of a large backpack used for shorter hikes and backpacking travels. However, as stated, I couldn’t really concur that in any practical way so I won’t take it as Gospel.

Overall, it seems that in terms of usage, many people use the terms backpack and rucksack interchangeably. With regards to hiking gear, it also seems that the term backpack is additionally used.

Now, I am hoping I have got this right and my research is accurate. If not, please feel free to correct me in the comments below. I’d be interested to listen to any thoughts.

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