It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific difference between a backpack and a rucksack. It largely depends on features and what you intend to use it for. In other words, rucksacks are large and durable bags suitable for heavy loads and backpacks are that and everything else.
With both terms used to describe any bag that can be carried on your back, you’d be forgiven for thinking that whichever word you use is down to personal preference. However, there is a minor difference between the two when it comes to functionality.
The term ‘backpack’ is the general umbrella term used to describe all bags carried on the back, whether they’re being used as a school bag, on a flight as hand luggage or to carry with you for a day out with friends. Rucksacks, however, are more frequently used for specialist activities like camping or hiking. In a nutshell, rucksacks are ideal for any event where a heavy duty material and additional features are needed.
Backpacks typically comprise two shoulder straps, the same as a rucksack, but where they differ is in the features. Backpacks can come in all shapes and sizes. Some have a large zipped opening and nothing else, and others include a number of pockets, straps and other features.
Rucksacks, on the other hand, typically have additional pockets and chest or hip belts for carrying a heavier load. The word ‘rucksack’ comes from Germany and the term is frequently used in Western military forces, such as those in the UK and US. ‘Rucking’ is one of the most common military activities and so it’s clear to see how rucksacks get their name.
When you get down to the nitty gritty, the small difference between backpacks and rucksacks is functionality. In reality, there is very little difference between the two terms. When shopping online, you’ll often find that both terms are used to describe the same bag anyway.