Knapsacks vs. Backpacks: Is There Really A Difference?

How is a knapsack different from a backpack? Or are they essentially the same thing? The queries come to mind since people often use these different words to refer to the same products. But since that's not true, the backpack vs knapsack argument becomes a valid one. And finding a solution to it is important for bag resellers and customers alike.

To resolve the knapsack vs backpack problem, consider the design and purpose of these carriers. Knapsacks are lightweight, flexible sacs with rudimentary straps. It's fit for carrying the minimum items you can't do without. Meanwhile, backpacks are designed to be a complete carrier for your belongings during everyday work or traveling.

Why Is A Backpack Called A Knapsack?

The words Backpack and Knapsack are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing. Backpack is a more modern and American term. It's so popular that Americans prefer to think of all strapped carriers as some kind of backpack. Henceforth, they call knapsacks backpacks.

The knapsack vs. backpack confusion clears up if you consider the origin of the words. Backpack comes from the action of packing. It’s a back where you can pack in several different items together. It’s a convenient container or vessel for your belongings during a journey.

Meanwhile, knapsack comes from the German word knappen. It literally translates to 'take a bite.' This refers to the historical origin of these carriers.

German soldiers used them to carry snacks and provisions during their war trials. The knapsack was something they always had on their person. So, it had a more minimalistic, lightweight design.

However, knapsacks can be weighted too. For instance, in the U.K., knapsacks or backpacks are commonly called 'Rucksacks.' The name comes from the military activity of 'Rucking ' or walking with weight. This also shows the Knapsacks' exclusive association with the military.

From this aspect, knapsacks are older than backpacks. You might even consider them their predecessors. In today's reality, professionals carrying numerous accessories for their work need backpacks. Meanwhile, those who move around more on their foot and carry only the bare minimum benefit from a knapsack. 

An Overview Of Knapsacks

Modern knapsacks are noticeably triangular. They look more rugged and vintage compared to the modern design of backpacks. Their main feature is the simplistic, minimalistic design. Usually, a knapsack doesn't have any compartments or pockets. It is more like a string-assisted sac that you can wear.

The preferred materials for Knapsacks are leather or canvas. However, modern knapsacks are made of nylon, too. When choosing materials, manufacturers prioritize weather resistance. Knapsacks are designed to withstand the type of conditions you might encounter on a wild hiking trail.

In the urban setting, Knapsacks are popular with gymgoers. You can pack a little towel, water bottle, and a few other accessories and be on your way. The simple design makes it easy to quickly pull your things out. Meanwhile, you don't have to carry a bulky bag around for just a few things.


  • It's ideal for carrying a few items on your back.
  • There is no chance of overloading the sack, thus reducing the likelihood of lower back pain.
  • The simple, minimalistic design can reflect your fashion and lifestyle thoughts.
  • Easy to move around with during adventures.
  • Buckle or drawstring closures let you readily access your items.
  • Quick to pack since you don’t have to arrange things in compartments.


  • It is not good for traditional traveling since you can only pack the bare minimum.
  • They are easier for thieves to tamper with
  • No compartments means you can’t organize the items
  • Disorganized items can result in uneven weight distribution and cause shoulder pain
  • You cannot carry heavy items.

An Overview Of Backpacks

The most important feature of backpacks are the multiple pockets and compartments. This lets you organize your items in the best possible manner. It also makes finding or accessing smaller items like pens or USB drives easier compared to keeping them in a sac. It also makes it the ideal carrier for students and various professionals.

Backpacks also feature more robust and prominent straps. These are usually broad and padded for equal weight distribution and convenience. A backpack has additional straps, a hip belt, and an internal and external frame. All these features contribute to the ergonomic qualities of the carrier.

Most modern backpacks are made from polyester and nylon. There are also leather and canvas backpacks, which are more elegant and stylish. The polyester or nylon bags are designed for affordability and resistance to environmental factors like sunlight, rainfall, and dust. It also ensures the capacity of the backpack for heavier loads.


  • The ideal carrier for organized traditional traveling
  • Usually, the weight distribution is even and therefore reduces shoulder strain
  • Zippers, belts, and locks make the bag more secure and difficult to snatch
  • Ergonomic design helps when you are riding a cycle or bike.


  • An overloaded backpack can cause lower back pain
  • Its design makes it too bulky to carry around in crowded spaces
  • A backpack takes longer to pack
  • Cleaning, repairing, and maintaining a backpack is a lot of work. 

Backpack Vs. Knapsack: How Are They Different?

You might have understood by now that backpacks and knapsacks are fairly different. However, people continue to use one word to mean another one. Differentiating between the two are important for retail bag seller and online customers.


Indeed, you can find the same materials in both carriers. However, Backpack materials are usually more synthetic, like nylon or polyester. Meanwhile, Knapsacks are typically made of organic materials, such as leather and canvas.

Read how to clean canvas bags.

In both cases, the manufacturers have chosen the bags’ material for long-lastingness. However, backpacks are intended for everyday use and need to be affordable. Meanwhile, knapsacks are becoming more of a collector’s item. The leather or canvas makes them more appealing to the target customers.

Straps are another important feature that helps you differentiate between the two products. Usually, Knapsacks have a thin and single strap. Meanwhile, backpacks always have prominent and padded double straps for optimum carrying.


The knapsack and backpack significantly vary in their purpose. If your work or school requires you to carry a whole set of devices and related accessories, you need a backpack. It will help you keep track of all the items. Plus, it is designed to accommodate the increased weight of numerous items.

However, the same student or professional will use a knapsack when carrying a few books or documents. There is no point in sporting a bulky bag.

You should also understand that knapsacks are more about fashion nowadays. Its typical style can complement certain outfits and enhance your appearance. Meanwhile, backpacks might slightly diminish your style and are more about function.

Shape and Frames

If you’re still having difficulties telling backpacks and knapsacks apart, you can consider the shape of these carriers. Backpacks are usually rectangular or square in shape. This allows the user to pack their things into the carrier uniformly.

In comparison, knapsacks are usually rounded or triangular in shape. This makes them feel cozier. Also, it prevents the user from overpacking the bag.

Also, many backpacks have internal and external frames. This adds an extra degree of sturdiness to the bag. It helps the backpack retain its shape and protect the content when you stuff it in the compartment of public transport. Frames also ensure the bag doesn’t tear under extreme loads.

Who Should Use A Knapsack?

There shouldn't be a doubt in your mind about the difference between a knapsack and a backpack. Due to the unique features of the knapsack, it isn't suitable for everyone. Meanwhile, for some people it might be the best carrier.

Military Personnel

As mentioned, Knapsacks originated in the military. For those same reasons back then, these carriers could help soldiers during their expeditions in the untamed outdoors. However, modern rucksacks are a combination of a backpack and a knapsack. You have the benefits of compartments and heavy carry, but it is still flexible and less bulky.

Knapsacks made of classic material, design, and color can help military personnel with camouflage in the jungle. It is also associated easily with a soldier's vest and belts.


If you are walking along a forest or mountain trail, you would want optimum mobility. Knapsacks can be the best thing for these situations. The bag's minimalist design encourages you to pack only the bare minimum. At the same time, the flexible shape and design can almost blend with your back and move with ease.

During Reenactments

The historical appeal of knapsacks is like no other carrier. If you are creating a film or stage drama in the old war days, the knapsack is a must. It will glue all the historical elements of a scene together. Although it doesn't draw attention to itself, the knapsack will hit the viewer at a subconscious level and make the reenactment more believable.

Minimalist Lifestyles

If you are into the minimalist nomadic lifestyle, Knapsacks are your perfect companion. You would never be carrying any unnecessary items. You would only spend money on those few things your knapsack can hold. Not to mention, it makes it easy to quickly move between places.

Who Should Use A Backpack?

For most people with typical lifestyles, the leather backpack is the best option. They can safely and comfortably carry around the various items their work requires daily. Here are some of the people who can benefit much from carrying backpacks.


Students who carry heavy textbooks and documents to their schools must use a backpack. The sturdy design, double straps, and frames of a backpack can evenly distribute the weight of the books and prevent shoulder or lower back pain. Plus, the material saves your notes and textbooks from rain damage.

You can also use the different compartments of the backpack to carry water bottles, pens, wallets, keys, snacks, etc.

Shop leather school backpacks and canvas school backpacks.

Office Goers

Do you have to carry laptops, tabs, chargers, USB cables, pen drives, and documents to your office daily? Then, the backpack is what you should invest in. The different compartments will help you properly organize the device and its accessories. Also, it helps you move fast with these items when catching the bus or subway.

Shop Men's Office Bags and Women's Office Bags.


Travelers or tourists must pack their entire lives for the few days they will spend abroad. These include clothes, toothbrushes, cash, passports, devices, etc. A sac isn't going to hold or keep these items organized. The backpack can serve you well in this case.

Shop Luxury Travel Bags and Cute Travel Bags.

Photographers and Artists

Photographers and Artists are inclined to travel light and move freely. However, a professional photographer can't keep all the necessary items in a knapsack. For instance, the cameras, lenses, tripods, memory cards, batteries, and other relevant items can't stay organized unless in a backpack.

The same is true for the nomadic artist. Carrying sketchbooks, paints, pencil cases, and other art supplies in a knapsack is inconvenient. The artist will overloaded when he moves around. In comparison, the backpack ensures proper organization and weight distribution.


Hopefully, this discussion solves the backpack vs knapsack argument for you. These are closely related items but have many different purposes. When buying or reselling them online, you must ensure you aren't getting the wrong ones due to the confusion. It's especially true for resellers who don't want to deal with returns.

Whichever carrier you choose, always ensure you know what you are going to do with. For instance, there are different backpacks for sports gear and laptops. Similarly, a nylon knapsack can be good for daily use, but a canvas variant will complement your style more. Start by checking out our wide collection of knapsacks and backpacks. 

Key Takeaways

  • Knapsacks and Backpacks have interchangeable uses. In the U.S., the backpack is the preferable term. Americans might refer to knapsacks as small or light backpacks. Meanwhile, in the U.K., they call these the Rucksacks.

  • Backpacks have emerged in the modern industrial age. It has evolved to help civilians carry around books, documents, and devices they need for school or office. Meanwhile, Knapsacks have a more historic military origin.

  • The difference between the two carriers has to do with mainly material, design, and weight carrying capacity. Knapsacks’ materials include mainly leather or canvas and are perfect for light, minimalist travel. Meanwhile, backpacks are polyester, have frames, and are bulkier to accommodate heavier loads.

  • Soldiers, hikers, historical reenactments, and minimalist nomads can benefit from using knapsacks. Meanwhile, backpacks are for students, office workers, photographers, professional artists, and travelers.

  • Knapsacks has become more about fashion, and many wear them as part of their outfit. Meanwhile, backpacks don't do a great job at creating fashion statements but are excellent for function.

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