How is a rucksack and a backpack different?

When it comes to a layman, rucksack and backpack does not hold much of a difference. However, in linguistic terminology each has its own usage and implication. Commonly both the words are used interchangeably to describe a bag carried over the shoulders during travel. However, if we really want to find out how is a rucksack and a backpack different, we need to understand and look upon certain noticeable dissimilarities. They include:

  • Difference in size, form, shape and material
  • US and UK perception of backpack and rucksack.

So let us explore how a rucksack and a backpack different from each other:


  • A rucksack is essentially large, rugged backpack. It is often used for camping or hiking. It has pockets and belts that are used for holding more substantial amount of gear compared to backpack. So as a big hiking bag with immense capacity that allows you to carry your tent and sleeping bag, is called rucksack.

  • Backpack has two shoulder straps that actually carry very little weight. The weight is transferred from shoulders to hip as the padded hip belts allow your leg muscles to carry most of the load.


  • In terms of organization, a rucksack is a large open bag that has a main entry way at the top which is normally tied or clinched closed. Despite of spaciousness, a rucksack doesn’t allow you to carry your stuff in an organized fashion due to lack of pockets and compartments inside the bag. Instead, it has many pockets and belts outside that are used for holding different essentials in a convenient manner. This makes them a preferable choice of bag while camping, trekking and hiking.
  • Whereas a backpack has a more organized and a neat structure from inside. When you open the main back zipper of an anti-theft backpack or a front zipper compartment of any other backpack, you will see that it generally has several smaller areas or pockets that are zipped closed. This gives you an advantage of neatly organizing your books, gadgets and other accessories. It also has pockets on the shoulder straps to make it easier for you to carry small, delicate items while giving smooth access.

Origin of words:

  1. Rucksack has a German origin; der rucken meaning back and sack means bag.
  2. Backpack has an English Origin meaning a sack carried on the back

Rucksack as a military bag:

A definite difference is that the rucksack seems to be a term more commonly used for military gear. It is because rucksacks are essentially created to keep in mind the factor of durability and sturdiness. In this way military rucksacks will never put you down when they encounters severe situations of wear and tear. Furthermore, with hip belts and chest belts, the weight is evenly distributed to your back and that’s how the comfort element is provided. Some military rucksacks do not have zips that make it easy for you to utilize their maximum capacity. Some of them have additional small pockets on the outside that help in storing small essentials such as knives, bullets, matches or emergency kits.


A bag that carries your stuff on your back is called;

  • A backpack in US vocabulary
  • A rucksack in British English

People of United Kingdom consider rucksack as a smaller version of backpack that is used during short trips for hiking or camping.

So, in the nutshell we can conclude that there isn’t much difference between a rucksack and a backpack. It’s just the origin of word and the way people perceive these bags. Nowadays, we refer to rucksacks as military bags that are designed in such a way that they can cater to any hardcore adventure. Backpacks are rendered as camping bags.


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