What Is the Difference Between a Backpack and a Knapsack?

Have you ever found yourself standing in front of a shelf of bags, wondering which one to choose for your next adventure? Backpack and knapsack are often used interchangeably, but are they similar?

Think of it like this: backpacks and knapsacks are like cousins – they share some similarities but also have distinct differences that set them apart.

To help you choose which is right for you, let’s explore the unique characteristics of these two bags.

What is a Backpack?

What is the difference between a backpack and a knapsack?

A backpack is a bag carried on the back, typically supported by two straps over the shoulders. It is convenient for carrying personal belongings or equipment, especially for outdoor activities or travel.

A backpack typically has one main compartment and several smaller pockets or compartments for organization. The main compartment is usually accessed through a zipper or a drawstring closure.

The shoulder straps are adjustable and padded for comfort, and there may be additional padding on the back panel for support and breathability. Some backpacks also have a waist belt or a chest strap to distribute weight and improve stability.

Materials Used in Making a Backpack

Backpacks can be made from various materials, including:

  1. Nylon – This is a popular choice for backpacks because it is lightweight, durable, and water-resistant. It can be woven tightly to create a smooth surface or loosely to create a ripstop texture that resists tearing.
  2. Polyester – This material is also lightweight and durable but less water-resistant than nylon. It can be coated with a waterproof layer to improve its performance.
  3. Canvas – This is a heavy-duty material that is often used in backpacks designed for outdoor activities. It is tough and resistant to abrasion but can be heavier than nylon or polyester.
  4. Leather – Leather backpacks are stylish and durable but expensive and heavy. They require more maintenance than other materials to keep them clean and supple.
  5. Mesh – Some backpacks have mesh panels or pockets to improve ventilation and allow damp items to dry quickly.

The choice of material depends on your intended use of the backpack and your preference for style and comfort.

What is a Knapsack?

What is the difference between a backpack and a knapsack?

A knapsack is a type of bag typically made of a durable fabric or leather material and has two straps worn over the shoulders. It is used to carry personal belongings, such as clothes, books, or food, and is often used for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, or traveling.

Knapsacks are usually smaller and more compact than backpacks, and they are often designed to be worn close to the body to distribute the weight evenly.

Description of a Knapsack

A knapsack is a bag typically made of durable materials such as canvas, nylon, or leather. It can come in various shapes and sizes, but it is generally smaller than a backpack and designed to be carried on the back using two straps over the shoulders.

Some knapsacks have additional straps that can be attached to the chest or waist to provide more support and stability while carrying heavier loads. Knapsacks may also have multiple compartments, pockets, or straps for carrying water bottles or other accessories.

Materials Used in Making a Knapsack

Knapsacks are typically made of durable materials that can withstand wear and tear, exposure to the elements, and heavy loads. Some common materials used in making knapsacks include:

  • Canvas: A strong and durable fabric often used in making outdoor gear like knapsacks, tents, and backpacks.
  • Nylon: A lightweight and water-resistant material commonly used to make knapsacks and other types of bags.
  • Leather: A sturdy and durable material often used to make high-end knapsacks and other leather goods.
  • Polyester: A synthetic material that is lightweight and durable, often used in making outdoor gear and backpacks.
  • Ripstop: A woven fabric that is resistant to tearing and ripping, often used in making knapsacks and other outdoor gear.

Overall, the materials used in making knapsacks are chosen for their strength, durability, and ability to withstand the rigors of outdoor activities.

Differences Between a Backpack and a Knapsack

The difference between a backpack and a knapsack varies depending on several factors, which include the following:


The design of a backpack and a knapsack is one of the most noticeable differences. A backpack typically has two shoulder straps that allow it to be worn on the back, while a knapsack usually has a single strap worn diagonally across the body.

Backpacks often have additional features like chest or waist straps, multiple compartments, and external pockets, while knapsacks typically have a single large compartment with a flap that covers the opening.

Backpacks also come in various shapes and sizes, from slim and streamlined to bulky and multi-compartmental, while knapsacks usually have a simpler, traditional design.

Size and Capacity

The size and capacity of backpacks and knapsacks can also differ significantly. Backpacks are generally available in various sizes, from small daypacks to large backpacking packs designed to carry all the gear needed for extended trips.

They also come in various capacities, some holding just a few liters while others holding up to 100 liters or more. On the other hand, knapsacks are usually smaller than backpacks, with a capacity of around 10-20 liters.

They are more suitable for carrying smaller loads, such as books or changing clothes.

Purpose and Usage

Another difference between backpacks and knapsacks is their purpose and usage. Backpacks are often used for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and backpacking, as they offer support and stability for carrying heavy loads over long distances.

You can also use them for daily activities like commuting to work or school, as they are more versatile and can accommodate a variety of items.

Knapsacks, however, are more commonly used for casual activities like:

  • Shopping,
  • Running errands, or
  • Carrying small items like a camera or a water bottle.

They are not designed to carry heavy loads over long distances.


Durability is another factor that differentiates backpacks from knapsacks. Backpacks are typically designed to withstand the rigors of outdoor activities and are made of more durable materials like nylon or canvas.

They often have reinforced stitching and heavy-duty zippers to ensure that they can handle heavy loads and frequent use. Knapsacks, conversely, are usually made of lightweight materials like cotton or polyester, which may not be as durable as those used in backpacks. As a result, they may need to be more suitable for heavy-duty use or outdoor activities.

READ ALSO: Difference Between a Clutch and a Purse


In conclusion, while backpacks and knapsacks may seem similar at first glance, the two have several key differences. Backpacks generally have a more versatile design, larger capacity, and are more durable. This makes them suitable for a wider range of activities.

Knapsacks, on the other hand, are typically smaller, simpler, and more suited for carrying smaller loads over shorter distances.

Ultimately, the choice between a backpack and a knapsack depends on your individual needs and preferences and the specific activities you plan to use them for.