What is the difference between a knapsack and a backpack?

Many different words are used for a bag that is carried by people over their shoulders but the most commonly used term is a backpack. However, we have also heard knapsack/rucksack to be interchangeably used by people. Although these words are synonymous to backpack but they still do not mean exactly the same.

That is why; many wonder what the difference between a knapsack and a backpack is? There isn’t any major remarkable difference between the two bags as both are used to carry necessary items only. To make things little clearer, let us examine both in their literal definitions, physical characteristics and flexibility in usage:

Literal, dictionary definitions:


  • Backpack:


As pointed earlier, by dictionary definition, the backpack is any bag that can be carried on both shoulders. Definition of a backpack as a verb is travel or hike carrying travelers belonging in a bag.


  • Knapsack:


It is a bag that is carried on back with the help of shoulder straps and is made from canvas or any other waterproof material.

Apparently by dictionary definition they seem same and interchangeable terms for a bag carried on shoulders with a strap. However, a knapsack differs from a backpack in terms of its historical origin. The term knapsack has its origins in early 17th century from Middle Low Germany. When the word is broken in to two facets from German lingual standpoint; knapper means to bite and Zak means sack. However, the work knapsack was used till the 20th century and due to having a chronological link; it has a more historical feel in its connotation. Backpack by contrast has a modern feel and refers to a bag that caters to a broad application of usage and its flexibility in carrying items according to needs.

Physical Difference:


Backpacks can be of any size and quality. Majority of them have a square shape form, have more pockets and other outward features that makes it a highly accommodating, useful and a handy bag that give user a secure fix on their backs through the shoulder straps.

Backpacks are handy as they allow an easy carriage of heavy equipments or loads depending on the nature of the traveler. They can a easily accommodate a sleeping bag, tent, first aid box, insect repellents, torch, MP3 players, shoes, light clothing and many other accessories for a camping trip. The best thing about backpacks is that they despite of their ability of having a capacity of 10kg or more you can easily load them on your back without giving yourself a back sprain because of its design and structure. Most of the weight is off loaded from your shoulders and back with the provided paddled hip belts. So basically the shoulder straps are just used for stabilizing the bag and its weight. Some backpacks are like frame packs; they can carry up to 40 kg weight for a yearlong backpacking trip.


Knapsack are natural colored bags that tend to give a shabbier and a tattered feel. Because of its primitive origin, its historical roots are evident in its less accommodating structure whereby we do not see any comfort in its space given that knapsacks have less pockets and have only big section in put the belongings in it. Thus, it’s much smaller and have a capacity to withstand weight from 1kg to 5kgs only. With two shoulder straps it is made of nylon, canvas or leather. Because of its smaller size it is only use for a regular everyday use and have enough space to withhold the essential catered to that purpose.

After reading the main features and difference, you might now have a clearer idea of the two bags. It can easily be said that a backpack is a more reliable and convenient form of bag that can be used by travelers and backpackers.


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