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Best Cheap Rolling Backpacks

Price Range

$20 Cheapism $35
Mid-Range $60
High End ...+

Rolling backpacks -- that common-sense design innovation -- are the perfect choice for students of all ages, travelers, sales people, business people, and just about anyone needing to cart around heavy cargo. They're doubly convenient because they can easily be transformed into a traditional backpack when rougher terrain is encountered. Rolling backpacks costing $60 or more are easy enough to find; locating a good cheap rolling backpack requires a bit more effort. The good news for thrifty shoppers, though, is that $35 or less will buy you a backpack that's roomy, sturdy, and stable.

Cheap Rolling Backpacks Buying Guide

In this product category, higher prices get you brand names like JanSport, Samsonite, and The North Face without guaranteeing more in features or functionality. That said, the assortment of good cheap rolling backpacks is comparatively limited in terms color, design, and style, and the warranty is usually shorter or may even be nonexistent. Labels to look for include the likes of CalPak and Olympia, along with several other lesser-known brands.

Rolling backpacks are pretty basic items. Standard components include a center compartment that zips completely, outer pockets that zip or have a flap, in-line skate wheels, a retractable double- or single-rod pull handle, and shoulder straps. Many of the best cheap rolling backpacks also feature self-repairing zippers and padded straps for comfort. An exterior water bottle holder is fairly common and a laptop compartment is a nice, but unusual, perk. Fabric with a high denier (a measure of the fiber's weight) or ripstop fabric is desired for durability. The size of the cheap rolling backpack also matters. Consider the dimensions and what you'll be carrying on a regular basis, as well as the weight when not full; most models weigh in the neighborhood of 5 pounds.

Our research found that rolling backpacks in the cheap price range come and go with a fair amount of frequency. There are always new market entrants and always stalwarts on their way out and priced for clearance. Reviews for cheap rolling backpacks are sparse in general and particularly so for the latest models. We made our picks for best rolling backpacks based on the best available information.

We identified two worthy contenders for the top spot on our list. The Travelers Club Metropolitan Rolling Backpack (starting at $33) is the largest of our picks and the only budget-friendly model we found that includes a separate padded laptop compartment; additionally, its two-year warranty is a rarity at the budget end of the market. Standing right alongside is the CalPak Awestruck (starting at $24), a tad heavy at 7 pounds, but the ripstop fabric speaks volumes about its durability. Pulling up behind is the Olympia 18-inch Rolling Backpack (starting at $27), which boasts all the must-have features and garners its share of compliments from users for ease of use. The Port Authority Wheeled Backpack (starting at $28) fails to qualify; users gripe about the wheels and the specs don't disclose the weight or zipper type.

Kids' Rolling Backbacks

Rolling Backpacks Fabric.

The body of a backpack is usually made of some type of polyester. The apparel industry scales fabrics by the weight of their fibers; the measure is called "denier." Fabrics with a higher denier are heavier and thicker and tend to be more durable, a prized quality in a product meant to hold a lot of weight and undergo a fair amount of knocking about. Some cheap wheeled backpacks specify a denier measure, while others use different descriptive terms. Although a high denier is desirable, Overstock.com also notes that ripstop fabric is equally suitable because it's manufactured to withstand high stress without ripping. The fabric on the Olympia 18-inch Rolling Backpack (starting at $27) is described as "supreme polyester" and on the CalPak Awestruck Double Compartment Rolling Backpack (starting at $24) as ripstop polyester. The Travelers Club Metropolitan Rolling Backpack (starting at $33) and Port Authority Wheeled Backpack (starting at $28) both feature 600-denier polyester.

Adults' and kids' rolling backpacks come in a variety of designs and colors. School children can choose among special kids' rolling backpacks that feature popular cartoon characters, such as Pokémon or The Little Mermaid, and among colors such as sky blue, purple, pink, orange, and camouflage. Then there is Bag Republic, which offers the Clear Backpack with Wheels (made from clear PVC, and starting at $28). This kids' rolling backpack so thrilled one youngster, according to a mom posting on Amazon, that he wanted two. Adults may have to settle for the standard red, navy, grey, or black when choosing a cheap wheeled backpack unless their inner child starts screaming for attention. An outlay of another $15 or so opens the door to a wider assortment of styles, colors, and patterns but lifts you out of the cheap wheeled backpack niche.

Wheeled Backpacks Zippers.

One of the most critical components in any type of luggage, but one that's often overlooked, is the zipper. Think about it -- you won't get very far with a wheeled backpack that won't zip. Luggage experts at Howtoadvice.com stress the importance of choosing a backpack or piece of luggage with self-repairing zippers, which have the ability to repair themselves even when a bag is overstuffed. Traditional metal zippers may buckle under the strain, but a self-repairing zipper is made of synthetic components that can accommodate the stress, with teeth that can be realigned by pulling on the zipper tab. Both the CalPak Awestruck and Olympia 18-inch are equipped with self-repairing zippers.

Wheeled Backpacks Handles.

The handle used to cart around a rolling backpack should retract and open easily and lock into the open or closed position. Some cheap wheeled backpacks come with a single-rod handle and others feature a double rod. One is not necessarily better than the other -- user preference should be the guide. For example, the Travelers Club Metropolitan Rolling Backpack has a single-rod telescoping handle and the CalPak Awestruck has a double-rod retractable handle; both get excellent user reviews.

Pay attention to the length of the handle. A handle that's too short could trip you up at your heels; one that's too long could be difficult to control. Few adults' or kids' wheeled backpacks specify handle length, but user reviews occasionally provide guidance. Better yet, test out the rolling backpack at a store.

Rolling Backpacks Wheels.

The handle alone won't get you very far, so this is where the wheels come in. They should roll and glide smoothly, and for this task, in-line skate wheels are the best choice. In-line skate wheels have become the standard on most rolling luggage, including rolling backpacks. All the rolling backpacks we researched feature in-line skate wheels.

Wheeled Backpacks Straps.

Although wheeled backpacks are intended to roll from place to place, there are no doubt times when you must carry your load. Kids' rolling backpacks should come with a shoulder strap and/or traditional backpack straps; most models include the latter. The Port Authority wheeled backpack, for example, offers two carrying options: the handle on top lets you carry the bag as a briefcase and the double straps put you in backpack mode. For extra comfort, look for padding in the shoulder area to cushion some of the weight. The Travelers Club Metropolitan, the CalPak Awestruck, and the Olympia 18-inch all feature padded backpack straps; the Travelers Club Metropolitan also has a padded carrying handle at the top.

Large Rolling Backpacks

Small vs. Large Rolling Backpacks.

In our price range, wheeled backpacks generally have about a cubic foot of interior capacity, although actual dimensions vary. The Travelers Club Metropolitan, a large rolling backpack on our list, shows off its best backpack chops with a roomy 20"x14"x11" (more than 1.5 cubic feet). Lagging behind are the Port Authority at 20.5"x13"x7.9" (more than one cubic foot), and the CalPak Awestruck and Olympia 18-inch, both smaller than a cubic foot with measurements of 18"x13.5"x7" and 18"x13"x6", respectively. The Bag Republic Clear Backpack is the smallest of the bunch; with its 11"x6"x16" dimensions, though, the size is just right for a kid's backpack.

Multiple compartments are common both on the exterior and interior of cheap wheeled backpacks. As anyone who has ever packed a bag knows, compartments are helpful organizational aids in large rolling backpacks, keeping separate things like your heavy schoolbooks and easily smashed lunch. Additional design elements include mesh outer pockets for a water bottle, extra zippered pockets both inside and out (is that a cell phone we hear ringing?), and holders for pencils and keys. All the cheap wheeled backpacks we reviewed feature multiple compartments, including an outer water bottle holder. The Travelers Club Metropolitan steps it up with a rear padded compartment that can hold a laptop up to 15.4 inches.

Rolling Backpacks Weight.

A rolling backpack's weight includes the body, wheels, and handle. Experts at TravelGuideline.net advise that the weight of a rolling backpack when full should not exceed 20 percent of your body weight. The average cheap wheeled backpack weighs approximately 5 pounds, empty. The Bag Republic Clear model is super light, with a reported shipping weight of just 4 pounds (the backpack itself, obviously, weighs even less). The Travelers Club Metropolitan and the Olympia 18-inch both weigh 6 pounds when packed for shipping. The CalPak Awestruck is a large rolling backpack that's a bit on the heavy side, weighing in at 7 pounds. We did not find a weight listing for the Port Authority backpack.

Wheeled Backpacks Warranty.

In general, frugal shoppers seem to agree that a year of solid use is a fair expectation for a cheap wheeled backpack. There is, however, no defined life expectancy for cheap rolling backpacks and many don't come with a warranty -- a perk that's far more likely in higher-priced models. That said, extremely cost-conscious consumers will appreciate that the Travelers Club Metropolitan offers a two-year manufacturer's warranty.

Best Rolling Backpack

There are two words that pop out in rolling backpacks reviews: maneuverability and durability. The reviews we read strongly indicate that the best rolling backpacks should roll easily and smoothly, function on a variety of terrains (e.g., cobblestone and gravel), tackle curbs, and not flop around when moving. In addition, the best rolling backpack should be able to stand up on its own and not tilt forward due to its weight. Cheap rolling backpacks reviews also stress the importance of durability. That is, users want a rolling backpack that will last at least a year, and that expectation extends to the fabric, zippers, wheels, and handle.

Rolling Backpacks in Motion.

Being frugal about your backpack purchase doesn't mean settling for a model that leaves you dragging. Regardless of a backpack's size and features, maneuverability and stability are top priority qualities. Consider this user of the Port Authority Wheeled Backpack who writes in a rolling backpacks review on Amazon about struggling with a full pack that flipped and flopped from side to side rather than rolled; a more recent review on the same site generally pans the wheels. On the opposite side of the road is the CalPak Awestruck. Reviews on Luggage.com compliment its smooth rolling over different surfaces and ability to mount curbs. Right alongside the CalPak is the Travelers Club Metropolitan, which wins endorsements from users in reviews on Walmart for its easy mobility, roominess, and stability, which includes not tipping forward when packed to the gills. Leaning while full and at rest is a common problem with rolling backpacks, and is one of the few critiques users have of the Olympia 18-inch rolling backpack, according to reviews on Overstock.com. Otherwise, backpacks reviews say the wheels on this model roll and smoothly and the handle glides in and out with ease.

Rolling Backpacks Durability.

The durability of the best rolling backpacks largely depends on the quality of construction and the frequency and type of use. Weakness in the fabric, seams, zipper, wheels, and/or handle can easily derail operations. The consensus among users, according to backpacks reviews, is that the best rolling backpacks on our list stand up to normal wear and tear, whether from the weight of multiple textbooks or the stresses of frenzied travel.

Garnering exceptional feedback for durability is the Travelers Club Metropolitan. One of our best rolling backpacks picks, the Travelers Club Metropolitan wins praise for its high quality materials, including hard-wearing wheels, a sturdy handle, and easy sliding zippers. Despite a couple of gripes about sticky zippers, the CalPak Awestruck is another best rolling backpack lauded by users for its solid build; in a rolling backpacks review on Amazon, one user singles out the hard bottom as a sign of durability, noting that it ensures that the pack can stand up to heavy loads. The Olympia 18-inch also ranks high for durability. Reviewers of this almost-best rolling backpack at Luggage.com and Walmart like its overall value; that is, sturdy dependability for a low price. We found only a few complaints about this model, including one concerning front legs that broke under heavy weight, leaving the backpack unable to stand on its own. On the other hand, the Port Authority model disappoints users. Several rolling backpacks reviews say the wheels jam up on tough surfaces and one reports that a wheel fell off.

Raechel Conover

Raechel Conover is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Yahoo, blogs, and other websites. She's a self-confessed shopaholic and frugal mom, always scouring the sale and clearance racks for deals and taking full advantage of free community activities and events with her husband and young sons.

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