Cross Body vs. Backpack: Which is Better?

Stacey Ebert

If you’ve found it – you’re in luck. Most travelers spend years attempting to find that perfect bag. You know the one: the one that suits your travel style, works with your body type, holds whatever you’re looking to bring on the journey, manages your rough and tumble lifestyle (I mean, let’s be real – how kindly do you treat your bags?) and one you can tote around on all of your adventurous pursuits. If you’ve found it – pat yourself on the back because many of us are still on the hunt!

It’s difficult to find a single piece of luggage that’s suitable for all kinds of travel. How you travel, your destination, what you often carry with you, and the modes of transport you’ll be taking all factor in to the bag you choose. Then, of course, there’s who you are, your sense of style, your own limitations, and preferences, right? I’m 4’11’’, so some bags are way too big for me. I have scoliosis so I need to consider how I balance the weight over my back and hips that are often angry with me (another reason for more yoga in my life). Because of those issues, I rarely carry a handbag on one side of my body. Instead, I opt for crossbody bags that allow for an additional backpack and don’t fling weight onto one side or another.

There are pros and cons to both styles of bag, but what if there was a strap that made allowed you to convert your travel backpack’s carry style in seconds?

Carry Options for Luggage

For the most part – there are only three ways people carry their bags:

  • Cross body duffles, (sometimes with wheels as an option on the big ones)
  • Backpacks
  • Wheeled suitcases

These carry styles are the same, whether you’re checking a bag or carrying it on, but of course actually carrying giant checked bags is harder, due to their unweildy size and weight. Savvy travelers often make the switch to carry on backpacks for the ease convenience of moving through an airport unencumbered, the speed at which we can board and deplane, and because we’d rather spend our hard earned money on an experience, not a checked bag fee.

Once you move away from wheeled suitcases and commit to traveling carry on, what you’re probably looking for is a ‘do-everything bag!’ If we could have it all when it comes to carry on luggage, we’d look for that convertible bag. One that gives us freedom of a hands free carry that is both comfortable and versatile, packs like a suitcase, allows easy mobility, but is both stylish and rugged enough to take whatever the journey throws at it.  Sound like a mythical beast? Keep reading.

Backpack vs. Cross Body Bags

Most people are traveling with an office and closet on their backs. Granted, they’re the miniature versions of both, yet, everything we’re toting with us is useful, necessary and vital to our journey. So what kind of bag should we put it all in?

Backpack Benefits

Backpacks have come a long way in the last twenty years. Once the bag of choice for outdoor adventure or school kids, now, some of the best carry on bags are travel backpacks made for urban travel.

The pros of a backpack include:

  • Weight distributed properly to your hips, not your shoulders, for a comfortable and ergonomic carry.
  • Freedom of movement: from breezing through the airport, to commuting between your Airbnb and an afternoon café or co-working space.
  • Hands are kept free for whatever else you might be carrying, from a child to Google maps on your phone.

To maximize the benefits of a backpack, it’s important to wear it properly:

  • Wear the backpack on both shoulders and adjust straps so to center the load and keep it tight to your back
  • Adust the load lifter straps and shoulder straps so that the weight drops to your waist and is distributed through the hip strap
  • Use the chest strap to keep the bag tight to your body and centered to reduce sway

Choosing a Backpack

Your backpack is often, literally, attached to your hip. It contains your necessities and becomes your home away from home. Sure, you want it to hold all of your belongings, but if it’s not going to fit correctly, and pack smoothly, it’s going to be a continual frustration.

Here’s what to consider when choosing a travel backpack:


  • Weight distribution: how it rests on your hips and shoulders
  • Padding: of the weight bearing straps
  • Adjustability: in straps and maybe even torso length

Ideally, fully packed, a daypack weighs no more than 10% of a person’s body weight; this changes for travel backpacks to approximately 20%. Keep that in mind when choosing what to pack.



  • Fabric: does it need to withstand serious rain or just occasional showers?
  • Details: things like zippers, pulls, clips, and the “little things” matter more than you think


  • Fit: Look for adjustable suspension systems that can change depending on the length of your torso 
  • Capacity: 45L is maxiumum carry on sized for most airlines, but some people prefer to travel lighter
  • Organization: Do you want a bag that is more flexible, with a big open space, like a suitcase? Or something optimized for organization?

Outbreaker Travel Backpack ($299)

The fully featured carry on for organized travelers, this travel backpack is made of waterproof sailcloth, to take whatever the road throws at you. YKK zippers, a height adjustable harness for a more comfortable carry, obsessive organization on the inside are just a few of the finer points. It packs like a suitcase and carries like a dream.

Setout Travel Backpack ($199)

The maximum sized carry on for city travelers, this bag is “just right” for most cultural explorers. With a stylish heathered fabric and a water resistant coating outside, as well as a cavernous interior, there’s enough room for everything you need and a few souvenirs coming home. As for those two mysterious D rings on the exterior… keep reading.

Cross Body Carry Benefits

Adding a cross body bag, like a packable duffle, to your arsenal is a travel game changer! It provides different access, makes a great personal item, and allows a traveler to layer a backpack easily on top of the cross body strap. If you haven’t considered a cross body carry bag, perhaps you should?

Pros of cross body style bags: 

  • Often have larger interior compartments best suited for bigger gear, or more of it
  • Contents are easily accessible, right by your side
  • Because your bag is beside or in front of you it’s easy to keep an eye, and a hand, on it at all times, in crowds this might keep your stuff safer
  • If you’re carrying another bag as well, the cross body bag strap can be layered under backpack straps reasonably comforably
  • Sometimes more stylish than a traditional backpack, and still hands free

Cons of Both

Is there really one perfect bag? Do your research, know your options, and consider your requirements before you commit to a bag. Having the ability to swap from backpack to crossbody (sometimes mid trip) is without question the best of both worlds. Think peas and carrots, chocolate and coffee, or rice and beans: on their own they’re good, but, without question, they are better together.

Cons of Cross Body Bags

  • Never provides the balanced comfort of a backpack
  • The sling option if worn for long distances and with heavy weight can compromise posture and put strain on shoulders, neck, hips and back

Cons of a Backpack

  • Often bulky in width and depth, particularly on trains or in close quarters
  • Hard to put down for just a second
  • People with back, or mobility issues may not be able to carry them

What’s the Right Type of Bag for You?       

Sometimes when you go to the library, you pick the book based on the color of the cover, the name of the author, or because the title grabs your attention. Other times, you’ve done your research, chosen carefully, and might even have to pop your name on a waitlist to get the one you want. Travel bags are no different.

It’s not just about the color and the fabric, the fit, or the features. Sometimes our physical limitations become a factor, other times, it’s the trip itself that dictates a need. And those limitations and needs sometimes change suddenly, in the middle of a trip. 

My friend Christine raved about the cross body option over the backpack. She said that after growing up in New York City, it was a security thing and allowed her to worry less that there were, unbeknownst to her, sticky fingers unzipping that backpack. 

While how we carry a bag often comes down to personal or situtational preference,  wouldn’t it be nice if our bag carry style could shift mid trip, along with our circumstances?

Setout Backpacks: One bag, Two Carry Options

With clips sensibly placed along the seams and one simple strap added to your packed gear, a carry style swap mid-trip is possible. Change it up whenever you feel like it. Give your shoulders a break and let your hips take the weight when you’re in transit. Crammed into a metro train? Snap on the shoulder strap and convert to a duffle style carry instantly.  

Benefits of Converting Carry Style

  • The ability to carry two bags at one time, one across your body, the other on your back
  • Flexibility in how you carry in different travel scenarios
  • More options to take into account your body’s needs on a given day
  • Better access to the things you’re carrying
  • Increased flexibility and freedom, which are always good things.

Ta da!

The beauty of carry on backpacks is ergonomic, hands free freedom, but sometimes, a duffle is just easier. If you’re serious about maximizing the usefulness of your luggage and carry experience, the crossbody strap (coming soon!) is an incredibly useful tool.

At Tortuga, we build gear to make travel easier for anyone who wants to live on their terms. That includes building options into our most popular bags to give you more options in how you carry them.

Both the Setout travel backpack and the Setout Divide (coming in August) have the ability to convert from a traditional backpack carry harness to an over the shoulder, or cross body, duffle style carry with the addition of a simple strap that clips into the built in D rings on the sides of the bag.

Talk about the best of both worlds!


Until now, you had to choose between a traditional backpack carry, or a cross body duffle style carry. Not any more! The crossbody strap, specifically designed to work with the Setout collection of backpacks, gives you options in how you carry your bag.

 The cross body strap:

  • Allows for a mid-trip swap from backpack to duffle style carry on Setout travel backpacks
  • Provides flexibility in how you access to your stuff and mobility options on different modes of transport
  • Give you the choice between two types of bags for the price of one
  • Changes the game, allowing a second piece of luggage to be added to your now free shoulders
  • Provides options – who doesn’t love options?

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