backpack, duffelbag or suitcase, which carry-on luggage to choose?

Whenever I go on a city trip that involves a flight I commit myself to only take hand-luggage. It saves time at the airport, fees on your flight and as an added bonus it is just easier to get around. It also just feels damn good to be able to get off your flight, walk past the luggage belts and sarcastically smile at the passengers waiting for their overloaded trunks to arrive, while you head straight onto the airport transit.

What options do you have?

Generally speaking, there are three types of carry-on luggage to choose from. A small backpack sometimes called daypack, a duffel bag or any medium sized bag that goes over your shoulder and the hardshell carry-on suitcase.

Up until two weeks ago I always tried to go with just the backpack but often ended up taking a duffel bag. I sort of despise a hardshell suitcase because it always looks clumsy and doesn’t make me feel like I am properly travelling. On my recent trip to Vienna, I thought, fuck it, and tried out a carry-on suitcase. Considering I now tried out all options I thought it would be nice to do a little comparison on the pros and cons of each bag. So whenever you are going out on a city-trip, here are the things to consider when deciding on what kind of bag to take. 

The small backpack, the suitcase and the duffel bag

The daypack

The small backpack, rucksack or daypack is the smallest of the three options and the easiest and most comfortable to carry around. I almost always take a small backpack with me when I am exploring during the day so if I can limit myself to just taking this one I have virtually no excess things to carry around. As an added bonus I think it is safe to say that it will never be selected as checked luggage. This often happens on fully booked flights with budget airlines as everyone is trying to avoid baggage fees by bringing a big suitcase as hand luggage and hence overloading the cabin storage capacity of the aeroplane. 

Disadvantages? Firstly and most prominently its size. An average daypack has about 15-25L of volume, which is not a lot if your packing for three days. Another disadvantage related to this is that if you happen to pack everything you need in it you need to totally unpack it again at your hotel to be able to use it as a daypack on your trip. I always ignore all closets in hotel rooms and use my bag as my luggage storage and if you just have your rucksack you need to spend a little time at packing and unpacking.

Pros & Cons

+ small size
+ will never be selected as checked baggage
+ comfortable and easy to carry around
– little storage place
– requires extra time for packing and unpacking at your hotel

My choice of daypack

I use a Deuter ACSphere 20. I love the Deuter brand because their packs are very comfortable and durable. Deuter however truly stands out from most of its competitors because they are more innovative. All Deuter bags have been designed with a lot of thought featurewise, meaning they have strategically placed extra small pockets, an air ventilation zone between the rucksack, and your bag and the straps are placed just right. The Deuter ACSphere 20 has recently been upgraded to the Deuter Airlite 22, which has even better features, so I recommend getting that one.

The inside has an elastic ‘secret’ sleeve to store important stuff (like your passport) there is a ventilation zone between the back and the straps to keep your back from getting sweaty.
A removable divider in the main compartment gives you the option to use a part of the main storage place as a separate compartment to store things that you want to be within quick reach.

The suitcase

I must admit that I was surprised by how much I loved travelling with a suitcase. It is definitely big and clumsy, but the four wheels allow for moving around without much effort. Although stairs and escalators are less convenient. It keeps all your clothing from being wrinkled and you got heaps and heaps of space for all your stuff. Also, it keeps everything very organised, so you are never scrambling around in your bag looking for a clean pair of boxers.

AND what I was most fearful of did not happen. I was flying on a flight that was almost booked full but I was not requested to check in my bag even though I was one of the last persons to get on the plane. I was however not flying with a typical budget airline and am convinced that if your flying with Easyjet or RyanAir you’re gonna be finding yourself waiting at the luggage belt.

Pros & Cons

+ lots of storage space
+ clothes keep from being wrinkled
+ easy to organise your stuff
– clumsy to move around
– high chance to be checked in on full flights

My choice of suitcase

I recently got the American Tourister Curio Spinner because of its slick design and its durability. The hard shell keeps all your stuff secure and the addition of a code lock keeps its safe. A great feature is an option of zipping open the middle part of the suitcase which opens up additional space but more importantly breaks the airlock. This way air can flow in and out of your suitcase keeping your clothes smell a lot fresher than otherwise would be the case.

The code lock keeps your items secure while the middle zipper allows the suitcase to ‘breathe’.
The interior got cross straps to secure all your luggage and a divider to keep everything organised.


The duffel bag

Most often I choose the duffel bag (duffle bag?) as my weekender for city trips because of its versatility. It is easy to carry around, spacious and its flexible shape allows you to ruffle it up a bit in order to avoid having it checked in on a busy flight. This option screams compromise, however. It is at least as spacious as a suitcase but it does not prevent your stuff from getting wrinkled. You can easily carry it around but it is not nearly as comfortable as a rucksack. Keeping your stuff organised is possible but you need to use some packing cubes or plastic bags in order to keep everything tidy. 

Pros and Cons

+ lots of storage place
+ small chance to be selected as checked baggage
+ easy to carry around
– not too comfortable
– hard to organise your stuff 

My choice of duffel bag

I have been carrying around my Converse for over five years and still like it. Its very light and very spacious with a large zipper to easily get your stuff in and out. You can fold it up to a small package allowing you to take it with you in a big backpack where you also want a smaller carry-on with you. I use it for both sports as well as my luggage for city trips. Its made out of canvas meaning you should be careful with sharp objects. I was not and ripped it in the first week I bought it. An advantage of the canvas is that you can easily repair it yourself with a small sewing kit. I did and the repair has lasted ever since. 

The big advantage of this duffel bag is its foldability. I know, I am unreasonably hateful towards checked baggage.


So which one to pick? The lame and disappointing conclusion would be: whichever you like best based on what you find important. But considering I am writing my own travel blog I can be opinionated!. YES. PICK THE DUFFEL BAG, but if you don’t need much, go for a daypack. Having your items organised on city trips is not very important. You are not carrying around that much stuff anyway so it will never take you too long to find what you need. Also, most clothes can be rolled up and stay reasonably wrinkle-free. If you really want a crisp shirt you can always iron it at your hotel.

The only time I would opt for a suitcase is either when I am travelling for business and need to take a suit or when I am going on a trip where I know I will not be moving around a lot with my luggage. For me, an additional advantage of the suitcase is that it keeps your laptop and camera items stored safely. But if you are not travel writing or going away for business, you really should not be bringing your laptop in the first place.

So its really simple: pick the duffel bag! it’s the best choice. Don’t agree with me or feel I left out an important part of the comparison? Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment! Also, I wanted to point out that this article contains affiliate links. If you buy something using such a link I get a small commission while you pay nothing extra! This does in no way influence my thoughts about the items I recommend. The commission helps me with keeping this website online and running, so thanks for the support! 

Looking for more information on what to use and take on a trip? Check out our travel resources page!