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What do UK Call backpacks?

Backpacks are an essential item for many people in the UK. They allow you to carry your belongings with you conveniently while keeping your hands free. But what exactly do people in the UK call these handy bags? The answer is not as straightforward as you may think.

The Main Terms Used

There are three main terms used in the UK when referring to backpacks:

  • Rucksack
  • Backpack
  • Knapsack

Let’s look at each of these in more detail:


Rucksack is the most common British English word for a backpack. It dates back to the early 20th century and comes from the German word Rückensack meaning “back bag”.

A rucksack is a bag made of cloth or leather that you carry on your back. It usually has two shoulder straps and closes with a flap or drawstring at the top. Rucksacks are casual and practical bags used for hiking, camping, school, travel, and everyday use.


Backpack is the standard American English term for a rucksack. Backpacks have become increasingly popular in the UK over the past few decades.

While backpack is gaining ground, rucksack still remains the more common choice in British English. However, younger generations of Brits seem more likely to use backpack than the older generations.


Knapsack is an old-fashioned word for a rucksack or backpack that is now rarely used in the UK. It comes from the German word Knappsack.

Historically, knapsacks were bags made from coarse sackcloth and were often part of a soldier’s kit for carrying supplies. The word evokes imagery of travels in bygone eras. While knapsack is archaic, some Brits, particularly from older generations, still occasionally use the term.

Regional Variations

There are also some regional variations in the words used for backpacks across the UK:

  • Northern England – Some areas of the North, including Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria, use the term ‘backet’ instead of rucksack or backpack.
  • Scotland – In Scotland, ‘bag’ or ‘schoolbag’ are common generic terms for a backpack.
  • Wales – Welsh speakers may use the word ‘bachan’ instead of rucksack.
  • Southwest England – Parts of Devon and Cornwall use the term ‘carriage’ for a backpack or school satchel.

So in summary, while rucksack is the most universal term across the UK, there are some regional colloquialisms that also refer to backpacks.

Differences in Backpack Styles and Names

As well as the general terms above, Brits also use more specific names for different backpack styles and designs:


A daypack is a small lightweight backpack used for short trips and daily use. Daypacks are popular among students, commuters, walkers and cyclists.

Hiking Backpack

A hiking backpack has an internal frame with hip and sternum straps to properly distribute weight. It allows you to carry heavy loads over long distances.


While rucksack is a general term, it also refers specifically to a large backpack used for camping, trekking or military purposes. These robust rucksacks have external frames to handle heavy loads.


A satchel is a bag with one main compartment and a flap closure. School satchels carried over one shoulder are common for students in the UK.

Messenger Bag

A messenger bag is worn across the body with a long adjustable strap. Messenger bags have become trendy urban bags for carrying laptops, documents and other items.

The Contents of British Backpacks

Now we know the various names for backpacks in the UK, what do Brits actually carry around in them on a daily basis?

The contents vary depending on the individual’s lifestyle and needs. But here are some of the most common items found in British backpacks:

  • Laptops – Most professionals carry a laptop in their backpack for work.
  • Tablets and phones – Mobile devices are everyday essentials.
  • Notebooks and folders – Students carry books and folders for school.
  • Water bottles – Hydration is important when on the move.
  • Snacks – Brits love to have snacks on hand for hunger pangs.
  • Umbrellas – Useful in Britain’s rainy climate.
  • Wallets and purses – Stashing cash and cards is a backpack basic.
  • Keys – Keeping keys handy but secure.
  • Pens – Writing implements are backpack staples.
  • Packable jackets – Outer layers for changing weather.
  • Cosmetics and medications – Handbag essentials also end up in backpacks.
  • Reusable bags – Foldaway bags for shopping and groceries.

So in general, British backpacks contain tech gadgets, work or school supplies, food and drink, organizational tools, protective items like umbrellas, and personal items that would otherwise be carried in a handbag or briefcase.

Backpack Trends and Popularity in the UK

Backpacks have seen a surge in popularity in the UK in recent years. Here are some of the key trends:

  • Active lifestyles – More people using backpacks for commuting by bicycle or walking.
  • Sustainable choices – Using backpacks instead of disposable plastic bags.
  • Urban living – Backpacks suit city living where people travel light.
  • Travel – Backpacks are a popular luggage choice for their portability.
  • Work bags – More professionals opting for backpacks over briefcases.
  • Anti-theft – Backpacks now have more tech features like GPS tracking.
  • Fashion – Backpacks are a fashion accessory with stylish designs from luxury brands.

Backpacks are now a £200 million market in the UK. A 2019 survey found 65% of 16-29 year olds and 48% of 30-44 year olds had bought a backpack in the previous year.

Tech developments are making backpacks even more convenient and useful. Keyless locks, solar panels, built-in batteries and other smart features are emerging.

With backpacks now a fashion item as well as a practical one, their popularity looks set to keep rising in the UK.


While rucksack remains the quintessentially British English word, backpack is becoming more widely adopted amongst younger Brits. Regional colloquialisms also reveal local variations in backpack terminology.

From practical school satchels to sleek commuter designs, backpacks are a common sight across the UK. And their contents reflect the busy, urban lifestyles of modern Brits.

With backpacks gaining fashion kudos alongside their convenience, the British backpack scene will continue to evolve. The handy backpack looks set to keep Brits’ hands free for generations to come.