Trying to understand the difference between a backpack and a rucksack is like trying to figure out the difference between “pop” and “soda.” Basically, we’re all thinking of the same thing, we just call it something different.
The term “rucksack” is borrowed from Germany (where “der rucken” means “back” and “sack” means “bag,” or, well, “sack”) and is mainly used in Europe and the UK instead of the word “backpack” (which is the preferred term in the United States). While the terms can be used interchangeably, it’s generally accepted that rucksacks are constructed a bit more simply than your more hardcore backpacks.
The lack of bells and whistles account for a more lightweight, unstructured pack, which is exactly what you’re looking for on a long hike or endless shopping trip with your girlfriend. So, we’ve rounded up 20 of the very best rucksacks to sling over your shoulders, wherever you’re heading. Load up your gear and get going.
Herschel Supply Co. Little America Backpack
Canadian outfit Herschel Supply Co. makes a ton of different styles of bags in a seemingly endless parade of patterns and colors. This is a good thing. The Little America Backpack pairs a classic rucksack’s silhouette with favored features found on most backpacks. The pack features an internal media pocket and padded laptop sleeve that can accommodate up to a 15” laptop, an easy-access front pocket with a hidden zipper compartment (perfect for valuables), and exterior leather straps on the front to keep everything secure.
GORUCK Bullet Ruck
The rucksack has its roots planted firmly in militaries of many different countries, mainly because of its versatility. The US military developed a lightweight rucksack in the 1960s specifically for troops trudging through the jungles of Vietnam. The point? If there’s anyone who knows about hauling gear, its people who have served in the military. That’s why GORUCK bags are so high quality—because the company was founded by military vets. Made from indestructible special-forces-grade material, the bag is water-resistant and has two main compartments—one for all of your gear, and one made specifically to hold the brand’s three-liter hydration system (sold separately). If you don’t want to pony up the extra cash to stay hydrated, that compartment is perfect for books, magazines, or a folded up rain jacket. Clocking in at under $100, you’ll be amazed that a bag like this can be so affordable.
Chrome Industries Welded Rucksack
Founded in Colorado but now based in California, Chrome is known for creating indestructible products that are guaranteed to last for life. The Welded Rucksack is made from the same technology used by the US Coast Guard, which means that it’s on track to be the most waterproof bag you’ll ever own. Featuring a removable padded laptop sleeve (with pockets to keep things like pens and your phone organized) and straps that can be modified to however you want to carry it, it’s just as perfect for a weekend adventure as it would be for your daily commute to the office.
Duluth Pack Classic Rucksack
Duluth Pack has been creating quality USA-made outdoor gear since the late 1800s in its home and namesake of Duluth, Minnesota. Made from a combination of rugged canvas (available in a rainbow of colors) buttery leather, and brass hardware, it has enough space to carry whatever you need for all of the adventures the day holds, whether they’re exciting as a hike in the mountains, or as mundane as your normal trudge to work. Need another reason to buy? It’s guaranteed for life.
Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21
Fjallraven was founded in Sweden in 1960 (its name translates to “arctic fox”), and since then, the brand has been making durable, functional bags like the No. 21 Rucksack. Crafted from durable, waxed fabric (it’s treated with Greenland Wax for eco-friendly wind and water-resistance) and natural leather (and available in a variety of different colors), it features a padded bottom to keep your breakable stuff unbroken, and a removable seat pad so you’ll be comfortable while your buddies are sitting on the bare ground.
Skagen Frandsen Rucksack
Made by Denmark-based Skagen, the Frandsen Rucksack might be the most elegant rucksack you ever own. Embodying minimalist modern Danish design, the Frandsen will look at home on the trail just as easily as it will look at home in an art museum or a more formal city setting. Mesh pockets on the side will hold water bottles or umbrellas and the roomy interior pocket can fit up to a 17” laptop.
Topo Designs X Woolrich Rover Pack
Colorado-based Topo Designs has teamed up with venerable American heritage brand Woolrich to create a rugged rucksack made froma combination of durable Cordura and Woolrich wool. Two sturdy buckles on the front keep the pack’s roll top securely closed while exterior zipped pockets allow easy access to valuables. The color profile of the bag is classic but not stuffy, and you’ll appreciate the two side pockets for water bottles and the padded shoulder straps that ensure extra comfort while carrying.
AliteXBoreas Collab Pack
San Francisco-based Alite was founded by Tae Kim, a former designer for The North Face. During his time at the popular outdoor brand (as well as during his childhood in Alaska), Kim learned a thing or two about what you need and don’t need in outdoor gear. That’s why—in this collaboration with Boreas— Kim has created the ultimate rucksack, perfect for your daily commute and beyond. Made of durable waxed canvas and featuring Boreas’ road-tested Supertramp Suspension System, it’ll keep your back cool and your stuff secure, wherever you’re headed.
Just Porter Sable Rucksack
Just Porter was started in 2006 when its founder was doing humanitarian work in the Philippines. The company’s humanitarian focus manifests itself via its commitment to providing one backpack filled with school supplies to a child in need with every bag purchased. That alone would make you feel glad you bought it, but the bag’s features are amazing, too. Made from military-grade, weather-resistant tarpaulin, the bag sports a slim silhouette even though it has roomy zipper pockets on the outside and a fully-removable laptop compartment. Top all of this off with magnetic straps and buckles for fast access, the Sable Rucksack is sure to be one of the best bags you’ll own.
Mission Workshop The Sanction Rucksack
San Francisco-based Mission Workshop seeks to make handmade goods for people in motion, which is why the Sanction Rucksack might be the most durable bag you’ll ever owned. The bag is made with waterproof fabrics, is available in multiple colors (black, gray, charcoal, and olive), and has a zippered interior pocket that fits up to a 15” laptop. Need more convincing? The folks at Mission Workshop are so convinced their products are made to last that they come with a lifetime warranty.
Established in 2010, San Francisco-based Dsptch knows a thing or two about building sturdy bags that will stand up to whatever you throw at it. Its all-black Ruckpack is based on traditional military design, but it’s slimmed down for modern use. Made from ballistic-grade nylon, the bag has a rigid polyethylene and aluminum back support, a separate padded laptop compartment, and several zippered and open mesh pockets to keep your stuff organized.
Cote&Ciel Isar Rucksack
Côte&Ciel translates to “coast and sky,” in French, and you’ll see influences from nature in all of the Paris-based designer’s products. Sporting a unique shape that’s sure to win you compliments from bag fiends, the brand’s all-black Isar Rucksack (made from the brand’s signature fabric, Eco Yarn) has two compartments—one accessible from the front, and one accessible from the back (it’s a padded laptop compartment), making it the perfect bag to haul to and from the office.
Millican Dave the Rucksack
Started in 2008 by a husband and wife team who love backpacking, Millican is a company dedicated to creating quality bags for outdoor life. Dave the Rucksack is one of the brand’s best offerings—constructed out of weatherproofed organic cotton and recycled polyester with leather accents (and available in slate green or antique bronze), the bag has a ridiculous number of internal and external pockets, attachments for walking poles (if you’re into that sort of thing), a hydration pack hook-up, and a built-in rain cover.
Archival Clothing Rucksack
Oregon-based Archival Clothing boasts its quality, made-in-the-USA craftsmanship, and its rucksack is a prime example of everything the company stands for. Made from wax-treated cotton twill to protect it from the elements, it’s rugged enough to keep for years, but elegant enough to take to the office.
Seattle-based Filson is a true American heritage brand, making outdoor gear since the late 1800s, which is why this water-repellant rucksack is a good bet. Available in navy, olive, or yellow, it’s constructed from rugged cotton twill and features bridle leather straps. The roll top protects a roomy interior compartment (that’s zipped for extra protection) and the exterior has two button-flapped compartments for easy access. Bonus? It meets standard airline carry-on requirements LINK, so you can take it from the trail to the TSA with no problems.
Ignoble Cora Classic Rucksack
Constructed from military-grade ballistic nylon with a fully-lined ripstop fabric interior, the Cora features padded straps and a ventilated mesh backing to reduce back sweat. The cinch top also expands to fit more gear inside, if needed, but perhaps the most unique feature is the bag’s strap system—it’s adjustable so that it can quickly be converted to a duffle-style bag for easy carrying.
Brooks England Dalston Backpack
A British brand founded in the late 1800s as a biking brand, Brooks England knows a thing or two about making quality bags for guys who are on-the-go. This elegant, all-black bag sports a slim profile, but can actually accommodate a lot of stuff, making it a great bag for a long weekend. It’s made from waterproof canvas that’s trimmed with studded leather for extra protection, and features an interior laptop sleeve and tearproof bottle pouch.
Tanner Goods Wilderness Rucksack
Portland-based Tanner Goods is known for making quality leather goods (like wallets, belts, and the like), but its series of rucksacks are some of the brand’s best products. The Wilderness Rucksack was field tested out in the elements, so you know that it’ll stand up to miles—whether they’re the frequent flyer or the trail variety. Constructed from durable waxed twill canvas, wool felt, and English bridle leather, it’s as handsome as it is sturdy.
Lexdray Mont Blanc Pack
Lexdray is relatively new to the bag game, but its offerings are impressive. The olive green Mont Blanc Pack is made from water-resistant, ballistic nylon fabric, features military-grade hardware, as well as a dizzying amount of pockets (9 exterior, 2 interior). Throw in a designated laptop compartment, waterproof cover, and a removable padded waist strap, and you’ve got a quality bag for whatever you’ve got planned.
Ernest Alexander Fuller Rucksack
Ernest Alexander was started 5 years ago with the mission to create the perfect men’s messenger bag, and since then, the brand has been churning out quality men’s bags perfect for work and play, like this elegant Fuller Rucksack. Made from cotton twill with black leather straps, it’s decidedly more sophisticated than most rucksacks, making it an incredible commuter bag. The zipped pocket on the roll top is a unique feature, and great for the times you need to quickly grab your wallet, boarding pass, or keys.
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