Bookbag vs backpack: what’s the difference?

Bookbag vs backpack: what’s the difference?

When I started Futliit I had no idea there were so many different terms for a bag that is carried on your back – what I know as a backpack. It turns out that round the world there are lots of different terms in English for backpack: bookbag, rucksack, day pack, school bag. Confusing!

I thought it might be useful to write a post explaining the differences between them all so that when you’re searching for your ideal backpack or choosing the best school bag, you know what you are looking for and understand the differences.

Bookbag vs backpack

Bookbag vs backpack is the most confusing. Broadly, both bookbags and backpacks are designed to carry books, your lunch, water bottle and other important belongings you might need during the day but the difference comes in how they are carried and how much they can hold.

It also seems that there is a big difference in how we use the terms here in the UK where Futliit is based, and in the US (where of course Google and other internet companies are based).

Here in the UK, a bookbag is the sort of simple bag that primary school children carry. It’s a very straightforward design, slightly bigger than A4 in size with one main compartment. It has a flap over the top to keep the contents safe and is normally secured with velcro or occasionally small poppers. Bookbags are most often made of heavy duty nylon; a more modern version of the leather satchels we used to have in the 80s!

The crucial difference between bookbags and backpacks is the way they are carried. Bookbags have a handle at the top for carrying them by your side and the very fancy ones sometimes have a shoulder strap. Bookbags have enough space to hold a couple of exercise books and reading books (and in my daughters’ cases, there was normally a crumpled school letter or party invitation that they had forgotten to hand over to me and a selection of small stones and other treasures they had found in the playground!).

a primary school bookbag 

Photo: a standard primary school bookbag

So far, so straightforward, particularly if you live in the UK.

However, it seems that in the US, the term bookbag can also mean a simple version of what we would call a backpack. A backpack is a larger bag with two shoulder straps that is always carried on your back with your arms looped through both straps.

Backpacks have a large, capacious zipped main pocket, often with a padded sleeve for a laptop or tablet, and normally have at least one smaller zipped pocket at the front of the bag to hold essentials such as keys, phones, pens etc.

Backpacks often have at least one dedicated water bottle pocket at the side and the better ones have a padded back to ensure that whatever you’re carrying won’t dig into you. Backpacks can hold a large quantity of books, your device, your lunch and often your trainers or PE kit too.

Teens wearing Futliit LED backpacks

Photo: our Futliit light up LED backpacks are ideal for secondary school

Why are backpacks better than bookbags?

As we’ve seen, bookbags are either a very simple bag carried by your side or a very simple bag that’s carried on your back with shoulder straps.

If you’re looking for a bag with more features, then you need a backpack. Backpacks have more compartments and pockets for storing your belongings. They are made of sturdier materials and often have much better durability and water resistance, which is particularly important if you are walking or cycling to school or to the office.

The biggest advantage of backpacks lies in the way they are carried. By carrying weight on your back, the load is spread evenly across your back and backpacks with padded straps and a padded back will ensure that you can carry even heavy loads comfortably over longer periods of time. If you sling a heavy bag over one shoulder or constantly carry a heavy bag in one hand, over time you will develop pain in your back and shoulders and in some cases, do permanent damage.

Backpacks also mean that you have both your hands and arms free with no fear of your bag falling off. This is particularly key if you need to hold on if you’re travelling on a train or bus or indeed, if you are riding your bike.

What should you look for in a backpack?

Think about what you want to use your backpack for. Do you need to carry a water bottle? If so you’ll want a bag with deep water bottle pockets either side. Do you need to take your laptop or tablet with you? If so, you’ll want a backpack with a padded device sleeve to keep your tech safe during the day. Do you have to walk or cycle in the dark winter months? You’ll need an LED light up backpack.

Futliit’s LED light up backpacks were particularly designed for secondary school kids walking to and from school, particularly in the dark winter months when visibility is poor. They have two strands of bright LED lights which light up to make sure you can be seen by traffic and other road users plus additional reflective panels for additional visibility. Futliit light up backpacks also have a host of other features such as padded straps and padded back panel for comfort plus a key minder to make sure your teen never loses their keys!

Futliit LED light up backpack viewed from rear
Photo: Futliit's LED light up backpack

Backpack vs rucksack (and where do daypacks come in?)

So we’ve sorted out the difference between a bookbag and backpack, so let’s have a look at the difference between backpacks and rucksacks. Although again they’re both used for carrying loads on your back, the big difference between backpacks and rucksacks is size and what they are used for.

Rucksacks generally are a much bigger version of a backpack and are used for activities such as camping or hiking. As such, they are much more specialised pieces of equipment with additional pockets, chest straps and hip belts to help carry heavier loads over rougher terrain.

A group of hikers wearing rucksacks

Photo: Rucksacks are ideal if you are hiking or going on an expedition

Rucksacks often have specialist attachment points for things like roll mats or hiking poles and may have added features like adjustable back systems or whistles for attracting attention. They are made of tougher and more durable materials and offer much greater weather resistance – some even come with their own waterproof covers which can be rolled out from the back of the top pocket and cover the entire bag whilst it is being worn.

Ok, so where do daypacks come in? Well, they are smaller versions of a rucksack – the sort of thing you’d carry on a long day hike in the hills where you need a hip and chest strap and somewhere to store hiking poles, but a large rucksack would be overkill.

So in short, for rucksacks think Duke of Edinburgh expedition type backpack. For backpack, think the type of backpack you’d use on a commute to work or to carry your books to school.

I hope this has helped you to get to grips with the terminology and to understand the differences between backpacks, bookbags and rucksacks. The key thing to remember is to pick a bag designed for what you want to do. If you want a backpack with full features and you’re worried about your visibility walking home from school, then look no further than our Futliit LED light up backpacks.

As always, if you have any questions about our backpacks or need any help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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