Are Front Loading or Top Loading Backpacks Better for a Long Trip?

Are front loading or top loading backpacks better for a long trip? Front loading can also be called panel loading. This means that the main compartment opens similar to a suitcase. Whereas, top loading means you pack the bag just like a backpack, from the top. Some bags will have side zippered or bottom zippered access too which makes it more convenient.

There is no defined answer on which is better, when I was looking for a backpack for my year long trip I was fairly certain I would want one that opened up like a suitcase, just seems more reasonable for me. Before I get into the pros and cons of each I want to share my biggest backpack mistakes with you. 

My biggest travel backpack mistakes:

I went on a 5 week backpacking trip through Australia in 2012 and had a top loading backpack and by the end of the 5 weeks I hated it with a passion. Why did I hate it so much?

  1. It was a MASSIVE backpack – not sure exactly but probably around 70 L and I was only 120 lbs.
  2. It was a borrowed backpack – thought it would be fine but turns out it is worth the investment to get your own so it fits just right.
  3. I packed it completely full – definitely did not need THAT much stuff for 5 weeks!


So, are front loading or top loading backpacks better for a long trip? you have to looks at the pros and cons of each and decide what’s best for you. I definitely could’ve made a top loading backpack work if it was smaller with less stuff.

Front Loading Backpack

Pros of a Front Loading Backpack:

  • Easier to pack and unpack – repacking is faster and easier, there is more access to all of your things without having to unpack all your contents.
  • Keeps belongings more secure – front loading backpacks have zippers, whereas top loading have drawstrings. You can’t lock a drawstring, and if the bag falls or tips over and the strings aren’t tight enough you could lose some items.
  • Better shape – tend to be a little shorter from bottom top and a little wider from side to side. Meaning the weight is better distributed.


Cons of a Front Loading Backpack:

  • A little heavier – front loading packs tend to weigh a tad more. This is the difference of a pound or so but it might make the difference to the overall weight of your bag overtime carrying it around.
  • Less able to “stretch” – because of the large suitcase-like opening it can be hard to “stretch” your bag if you need to fit more items throughout your travels.
  • Zippers break more easily – it’s no surprise that zippers are more likely to break than a drawstring. However, good backpacks generally come with good Zippers.
 Top Loading Backpack

Pros of a Top Loading Backpack:

  • Drawstrings less likely to break – comparative to zippers.
  • Shape fits taller people – the generally longer and narrower shape is well-suited to tall people.
  • Smaller journeys – if you are taking a small backpack (40L and lower) this might be a good choice as you will have minimal items to sort through.


Cons of a Top Loading Backpack:

  • Usually no separate compartment for securing a laptop / electronics.
  • Smaller access – it can be a struggle packing and unpacking your items daily. Try and get one that has top and side access if possible.
  • Items are less secure – can’t lock a drawstring.


Ultimately the decision is up to you, but when I asked myself the same question “are front loading or top loading backpacks better for a long trip?” I decided to go with a small front loading pack. Front loading simply for the ease of access and I chose to go with a small size in order to be able to carry it on (45L). 

Comment below if you have any pros or cons you want to add to either front loading or top loading backpacks!

** Besides a backpack you might need some other things – check out this list of top 7 items under $30 **

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.