Travel gear upgrade: The 3 best wheeled backpacks on the market

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Modern Nomad is a weekly column dedicated to mobile gear, must-see world destinations, tips for life on the road, and traveling better through technology.

Luggage hasn’t truly evolved in close to five decades. Sure, suitcases are lighter and now feature fancy “zero-weight” spinner wheels. Beyond that … not much has changed. Although standard suitcases will often get the job done, they’re easily bogged down when traversing rough terrain. Plus, there are always areas where it’s easier to simply shoulder your luggage and carry it.

Fortunately a number of manufacturers now offer hybrid luggage that blends the best features of rolling carry-on bags and more traditional backpacks. What’s more: you needn’t look like a hippie backpacker to travel with and enjoy the benefits of a backpack. These wheeled packs are three of the best, most versatile we’ve ever tested.

ECBC Pegasus Wheeled Backpack

ECBC Pegasus Wheeled Backpack

For the distinguished business traveler who’s happy to hit the road with more traditional luggage, there’s ECBC’s Pegasus Convertible Wheeled Backpack ($399). This is as simple and streamlined as wheeled backpacks get. It’s a standard piece of rolling carry-on luggage, but with a hidden back panel that opens to reveal backpack straps. There when you need them; tucked neatly out of sight when you don’t.

There are two more reasons we love this bag. First is ECBC’s FastPass system that allows travelers to unzip the dedicated gear compartment, lay it flat on the security belt, and zip through the checkpoint without unpacking your laptop and cables. Second, the Pegasus’ Portable Power Pack is a built-in, quick-charge backup battery with enough juice to keep small electronics — smartphone, tablet, camera, etc. — charged for hours.

Osprey Meridian 28” Rolling Duffel and Backpack

Osprey Meredian Rolling Backpack

For the traveler who values design that’s more rugged than handsome, Osprey’s Meridian 28” Rolling Duffel and Backpack ($359) is your man. It’s the most hardcore backpack of the three bags mentioned here with ultra-durable wheels, a removable backpanel suspension system, and a dedicated, clip-on/clip-off daypack for shorter, around-town adventures.

Make no mistake: at 28” the Meridian is a sizable pack that will likely prove too large for minimalist travelers. There’s room enough here for a comfortable round-the-world trip. On the upside, Osprey manufacturers some of the world’s best backpacks and guarantees each one with a lifetime warranty.

Eagle Creek Morphus 22

Eagle Creek Morphus 22 Wheeled Backpack

On the evolutionary chart of wheeled backpacks, the Eagle Creek Morphus 22 ($395) sits neatly between the aforementioned Pegasus and Meridian bags. It looks like the perfectly hatched hybrid of a traditional roll-aboard and a modern laptop backpack. There’s plenty to love about this maximum carry-on sized bag.

First, the exterior is constructed of Bi-Tech fabric that’s ultra-durable and weather-resistant. The bottom features a “bathtub” design that protects your gear in the event the bag is resting in a puddle. The two-in-one design is perhaps the most clever of the three bags reviewed here as the zip-off gear bag fits neatly and seamlessly inside the rolling bag for better storage and/or increased flexibility while traveling. Lastly, Eagle Creek’s “no-matter-what policy” means the company will replace or repair your bag if it’s ever damaged for any reason.