Rucksack vs. Backpack vs. Knapsack – What’s the Difference?

Last Updated on May 20, 2021

VENTURE 4TH Premium Black Military Tactical Backpack for Men | Large Assault, Water Resistant, Survival Rucksack and Molle Bug Out Bag | Ideal for Hiking, Camping, Trekking, Outdoor and Hunting Many people don’t know the difference between a rucksack, backpack, and knapsack.

And while the terms may be interchangeable, they mean different things.

Among the most common of the three terms is a backpack.

The three terms have a history behind them, and each may be popular in a particular region or time.

Regardless, it is important to know the difference between three to gain a better understanding, especially when it comes to make a choice.


What is a backpack?

Backpacks are bags that strap on your shoulders and which you carry your belongings when on travel.

In most cases, backpacks have two straps that make it easy to take whatever you are bringing to the hike or any other place.

What is a backpack used for?

Backpacks are quite versatile, and people use them to carry books, computer, digital devices, and camping equipment.

You can use backpacks while traveling across town or on a camping trip. There are different types of packs, and so each is ideal for a specific activity. SwissGear 1900 Scansmart TSA Laptop Backpack - Black

If you’re a hunter, a hunting backpack is more suitable for you. The same case applies for other activities like camping and hiking. What differs between the different types are the design and the material.

Generally, you will find the most appropriate backpack, with the right features to help you doing a particular activity successfully.

For example, a picnic backpack will have numerous pockets at the compartment for carrying snacks and cutlery among others.

What does it mean to backpack a country?

The term backpacking is loose, and it can mean traveling independently as a form of enjoyment. Backpacking involves a variety of activities such as hitchhiking, camping and mountain climbing. It is a way that people can choose to enjoy nature on their free time.

Backpacking can include local travel, wilderness camping and hiking across the country. To backpack a country, therefore, means to engage in activities such as mountain climbing, camping and walking to see the nature and other features with a particular country. It can be your own country or another country.

Whatever kind of backpacking you are engaging in, a backpack, with all the necessary items that you will need in you travel is usually a common feature.

What is rucksack?

The terms rucksack and backpack are often interchangeable.

You can use the same name to refer to the same item. Therefore, the term rucksack means a fabric item that you strap on your shoulders and carry a few of your belongings when on travel.

But unlike backpacks, rucksacks are a bit bigger. They have more significant capacity and can carry many things. Rucksacks can fit big items such as a tent or a blanket.

What is the use of rucksack?

Given the significant capacity,  rucksack can carry a substantial amount of items compared to a backpack. And based on their size, rucksacks are ideal for camping and hiking.

Rucksacks make your travel much easier because you can bring all the requirements for convenience and ease of travel. However, you cannot use rucksacks to carry small items such as school books.

What is a military rucksack?military rucksack

A military rucksack is a type of bag that is durable and has significant capacity. These types of backpack have a bigger capacity than a day bag. Another common feature with military rucksacks is the MOLLE.

Ideally, the MOLLE allow you to pack more than you would, with other types of bags. They can carry a higher capacity than you can manage with any other bag. Military rucksacks have the design that underscores strength and durability to take any terrain and stress.

Why is it called a rucksack?

In general, a rucksack is typically a backpack. You can use the terms interchangeably. However, the genesis of the term rucksack and use is what distinguishes it from backpacks.

The term is originally from Germany. Typically, the loanword is common in the western military. It generally means a backpack used by the military men and women. Rücken means back, and sac means a big bag.

Rucksack, therefore, means a bag that you can carry on your back. It is a backpack by all standards. However, it usually refers to something bigger than a backpack.

Is rucksack American or British?

It is no secret that some words mean different things between the American and British. Also, the American and the British may use different words to mean the same thing. In that regard, the term backpack is typical with the Americans.

In contrast, the British use the term rucksack to mean the same thing as the Americans. Therefore, the rucksack is British, and a backpack is American.

There’s a tendency to use the word rucksack to mean a bigger bag than a backpack.

What is knapsack?

A knapsack is a type of bag that is highly durable and used commonly by the military or hikers.

The material on knapsacks is usually highly durable canvas to withstand constant use and a variety of environments.

It is usually weatherproof and ideal for outdoor use. There are similarities between a backpack and a knapsack. For example, both a backpack and a knapsack come with straps and are suitable for back carry.

However, knapsack is not a common word in contemporary society. It is a term that was common before the 20th century to mean a backpack or rucksack.

Why is it called a knapsack?

And similar to a rucksack, the term knapsack is German. In particular, knap is German for a bite. Sack in German means a bag. Therefore, it means a strong bag that has the necessary durability to overcome stress and related high level of use.

How big is a knapsack?

In the majority of cases, knapsacks are the same size as backpacks. They can be perfect substitutes. The only difference is the use of the term and the place that they are familiar.

For example, you will find that Canadians use the term knapsack more than a backpack. But it is mostly the same thing. And so is the size, most of the times. However, knapsacks may be smaller than backpacks and have a distinct shape.

What is a knapsack used for?

Knapsacks may have a few pockets than a backpack. Therefore, the uses between them may also vary. For example, knapsacks are ideal for carrying something that does not need you to have a lot of pockets, such as, gym clothing.

You can also use a knapsack to carry a variety of belongings when moving from one place to the other. It is human nature to be mobile.

Where did the word knapsack come from?

The term knapsack is German by nature. It means a small and rugged bag. Knap means a ‘bite, ‘which can also indicate a small thing.

Rucksack vs. Backpack:  What is the difference between a backpack and a rucksack?

backpack vs rucksack

backpack rucksack
 Size  Average  Bigger
 Origin of the term  American  German
Where it is common  America  Europe, US military
 Straps  2  2

The backpack is a common term, and it means a kind of bag that you can carry on your back.

A good design backpack will have two shoulder straps, but that does not mean all the weight goes to the shoulders. Some of the weight will you go to the hips through the hip belts.

If worn correctly, backpacks are more comfortable to carry. That is because the hip belts transfer the weight to your hips, and you use some of your strongest muscles to carry the load.

One of the most significant differences between a backpack and a rucksack is their size. A backpack is smaller than the rucksack. In that regard, rucksacks are appropriate for carrying many supplies than a backpack.

They may also have more pockets and compartments that long distance hikers and campers functional. And like the backpacks, rucksacks will have hip belts. But to make them even more comfortable to carry, they have chest belts.

The different kinds of straps and belts help distribute the significant weight in the rucksack to all parts of the body. It becomes easier to carry than when you use only the shoulder straps.

Therefore, rucksacks are common among hikers and campers. It is also ideal for traveling around the world. Some of us are adventurous, and they want something that can prove versatile as well as functional. And nothing best describes that better than a rucksack.

Regarding commonality, the term backpack is quite standard as opposed to a rucksack. Many Americans use the term backpack also to mean a bigger bag that you can use when backpacking. Regardless, the term rucksack is quite standard in the US military.

The term rucksack can mean a more functional bag than a backpack – the kind that the military need.

Manufacturers will also use the term rucksack to mean a bigger than average bag. It is the kind that you use when backpacking or camping. Sometimes you will need something that can carry more significant items such as a tent and other equipment that you may need for the outdoors.

Using the term backpack may mean something smaller. And that may not be what you are looking for. A rucksack will mean something bigger.

However, that is not always the case. For example, some communities in the United Kingdom use the term rucksack to mean a smaller version of the backpack. Therefore, it is not strange to find someone saying that they need a rucksack as opposed to a backpack because the former is a more convenient and smaller version of the backpack.

It is also important to mention that the term rucksack is German. It loosely means a backpack. On the other hand, the term backpack implies a type of bag that you use for the outdoors and when traveling.

Rucksack means the same thing, but it depends on preference and how common it is. However, both rucksack and a backpack are terms that are entirely interchangeable.

But the main takeaway from the two terms is that both indicate a bag that has shoulder straps in other features to make your outdoor experience or travel easier.

Knapsack vs. Backpack: What’s the difference between knapsack and backpack?


  backpack Knapsack
 Straps  More than 2  One or two
 Shape  Rectangular/ square  Mostly triangular
 Application  Versatile  Handy for small items
 Colors  Wide variety  Mostly natural
 Term  Common  Not very common


The difference between knapsack and backpack includes the origin of the term and history.

Knapsack is rich in history compared to a backpack. It is a German word that means a small bag.

Therefore, it is quite handy for small applications such as carrying a few personal items. It is also appropriate for people that want the look to keep it low profile.

Knapsack carries a more natural color compared to a backpack. However, the design is not cast in stone. It can be versatile depending on preference and the manufacturer.

You may also notice that knapsacks have a kind of triangular shape.

In contrast, backpacks are more rectangular or square. Backpacks also have more pockets than their counterparts. Therefore, backpacks are ideal for carrying books and other personal stuff that requires good organization.

Knapsacks, on the other hand, only have a few compartments and pockets. That makes them appropriate for low profile carry of items such as gym clothing or a change of clothes that you need when on a short journey.

Knapsack may sometimes seem like a duffel.

There may also be a difference in the number of straps that each has. Backpacks have a minimum of 2 straps that make it easy to carry the bag. A knapsack may have only one strap.

But that does not mean you cannot have a knapsack that has more than one strap. Two strap bags are standard because they are easier to carry.

You will also find that the term backpack is quite standard. It is the official term to mean an item usually made of fabric and which used to carry other belongings or items when going from one place to the other.

The term backpack is American and most common in America and other places around the world.

In contrast, it is quite challenging to find the use for the term knapsack. However, you will often run into it occasionally. For example, when reading a book with a more ancient or futuristic theme.

Which one is best for me?

The choice between a backpack, rucksack or a knapsack depends on the needs and preference.

The three terms may seem interchangeable, but they sometimes have some differences. A backpack is quite standard and is quite versatile regarding applications.

For example, people will use a backpack when going out to travel. However, rucksack sometimes means a bigger bag than a backpack.

It is more functional and ideal for hiking as well as camping. A person going across the states or to other countries may opt for a rucksack as opposed to a backpack.

On the other hand, a knapsack may be ideal for those people that a need a low-profile pack to carry a few personal items. Some factories can produce knapsacks with one strap.

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