(This post is mainly for travel but my two backpack recommendations, Osprey and Deuter apply for hiking/camping as well)
If I’m stateside I usually use a suitcase like most people and I haven’t really found a huge difference between the major brands. I have found that I like the four-wheeled one’s a little better than the two-wheeled one’s but basically, they are interchangeable for me. I currently own a higher end Briggs Riley for three-day business trips and larger but cheaper Northface if I’m headed somewhere for a week to golf or snowboard. If either was replaced with a Samsonite tomorrow wouldn’t impact me at all.
Backpacks are an entirely different story. When my family goes overseas we use backpacks exclusively. And not just the backpacks that you’re likely to find next to the suitcases at your basic big box retailer or luggage store.
**We have learned through trial and error that actual camping/hiking (what they call “technical”) backpacks are by-far superior to most of the stuff that is marketed to travelers where they are basically just throwing some straps on a rucksack.)
(You just about have to go with a backpack over a suitcase as soon as you travel abroad, or know that the trip involves possible terrain because you just don’t know what you’re likely to encounter. Better to have BackPacks.)
Of course, it’s easier to roll than throw a bunch of weight on your back but more often than you would think you won’t be able to roll it. The backpacks allow us to navigate stairs, public transport, rural area’s etc easily but you want to have the right one.
Trust me. I have had the bad ones!! I have also had midpriced ones. Done with that. Save money elsewhere. My family’s had the stitching come out, zippers break, straps come off, etc. Have had to just duct tape them up before and carry on to the next stop.
I have also now traveled with many people that have had bad (basic) bags. I’m talking about bags that don’t have suspension built in, can’t handle getting wet, and don’t have access to at least a few compartments. DON’T DO IT. Spend the extra hundred dollars or more and just get a bag you’ll use for the next decade (probably the next two the higher end ones are made so well these days).
It makes a HUGE Difference the first time you get off a train or out of a car and have to walk more than a hundred yards. Will save your back.
Beyond that, I realize that in theory, you are just stuffing stuff into them but unlike a suitcase that zips all the way open if you don’t have a pack you can access from multiple areas besides just the top you are going to hate life in a hurry. You want pockets that allow you to quickly get to things as well to secure the pack if you have to.
There are plenty of places to save money when you travel. This is not one of them. We’re literally talking about the thing that holds all your things.
Having said all that, I’ve used most brands and conversed with enough travelers and hikers to recommend two. Deuter and Osprey. My person bag is an Osprey Xenith 105 that has been all over the world and still looks like new. I have had 70 lbs worth of stuff in it, and it felt as light as the 45-pound rucksacks I had to haul around in the army.
My kids have small Deuter packs, that are a little more basic but still very rugged. Deuter has been making bags 1898, Osprey’s been at it about 30 years. Both companies manufacture their bags in Vietnam usually these days. They are the most well made, comfortable, I am aware of.