Getting your important gear and belongings from Point A to Point B isn’t always a breeze. Some small bags start bursting at the seams with seemingly nothing more packed than a pair of gym shoes and a T-shirt. On some backpacks, the shoulder straps can dig into your shoulders even when there is barely any weight inside.
If you’re familiar with those frustrations, you may be ready to find the best duffel bag that will work for your lifestyle. The best large duffel bags can fit your gear, often separating dirty or wet clothes from clean garments as well as keeping shoes in a sealed-off compartment. Choosing the best duffel bag doesn’t have to be a challenge; this guide can help prepare you for the task.
- BEST OVERALL: Carhartt Trade Series 2-in-1 Packable Duffel
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Gonex 60L Packable Travel Duffle Bag
- BEST FOR GYM: FocusGear Ultimate Gym Bag 2.0
- BEST FOR CAMPING: G4Free 40L 3-Way Duffle Backpack
- BEST WEEKENDER: Herschel Supply Co. Novel
- BEST BACKPACK: MIER Large Duffel Backpack
- BEST WITH WHEELS: AmazonBasics Wheeled Travel Duffel
- BEST LEATHER: Aaron Leather Goods Leather Travel Duffle Bag
- BEST WATERPROOF: YETI Panga Airtight, Waterproof and Submersible Bags
Types of Duffel Bags
There are different types and styles of duffel (sometimes spelled duffle) bags, so it’s worth thinking about which one will work best for you. You’ll find descriptions of each type of bag below. Read through to determine which fits with your style and would be best for toting your gear to the gym or to pack for a weekend getaway.
Rounded and barrel style duffel bags are the most traditional styles. These bags have military origins, with sailors and soldiers using them to bring their belongings back and forth from station to station or on furlough. They offer a ton of storage and are usually made with a strong canvas material that resists ripping and tearing. They’re most often without pockets or compartments.
The barrel or rounded duffel is just as at home in civilian life. Many manufacturers make smaller barrel-style bags that look great and hold quite a bit of gear. These are usually free of large logos and overly synthetic-looking materials. They can be used for weekend trips and everyday activities.
Most square duffel bags are the variety you’ll find at gyms and sport’s locker rooms. Their design also offers ample storage. They usually load from the top and offer room for shoes or other items in pockets, located both inside and out. Often, they come with a large logo on the side and have a much sportier look.
Many travelers use square-style duffels as well. Because they offer so much storage and have separate compartments for shoes and other items, they make organizing your essentials a little easier than with a military-style bag. They also sit on airport conveyor belts without rolling around.
For the ultimate in storage and convenience, wheeled duffel bags offer the storage of a larger bag with easy transportation. They allow you to really load your bag with whatever you need without having to worry about lifting it and carrying it across an airport to baggage check.
But wheeled-style duffel bags are more than just large bags with built-in wheels and metal frames with rigid handles. Most have outer pockets for organizing smaller items, making them often preferable as luggage. These pockets allow you to retrieve smaller items without having to empty your entire suitcase, which is a big help if you’re using your wheeled duffel as a carry-on bag.
For the most rugged approach to duffeling, the backpack duffel allows you to carry a large, heavy bag on your shoulders with ease. Backpacks have thickly padded straps that distribute the weight evenly, so you can wear the burden comfortably. Many have chest and waist straps, making them an excellent choice for backpacking or hiking.
If you’re always on the go, a backpack duffel might be your best choice. You’re able to carry your bag hands-free, giving you the ability to dig into your pockets for a bus ticket or cash without dropping your bag on the ground.
The padded straps also make a huge difference when it comes to carrying weighty loads. If you’re not used to carrying heavy loads on your shoulders, you may still tire a bit, but you won’t have to worry about thin straps digging into your neck or shoulders.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Duffel Bag
Now that you’ve considered the style of duffel that will work best for you and your travels, there are important features that you may want to keep in mind while shopping. The following section outlines some of the most important factors and features to look for when choosing the best duffel bag for your travels.
The purpose of your duffel bag definitely makes a difference. If you’re looking for a bag to bring to the office, you probably don’t want a large logo emblazoned on its side. A classic design with a more subdued look is usually more fitting for an office. Likewise, if it’s a simple gym bag, you might prefer synthetic materials that don’t hold onto moisture or odors.
Traveling is another concern. If you’ll be taking your duffel to the airport for long trips, you might want to consider a wheeled or backpack version made of tough nylon material. These bags hold up really well, even in the rough-and-tumble world of baggage handling.
While shopping for the best beg, you’ll certainly want to keep the material in mind. Some materials are lighter than others, while some are more water- and stain-resistant.
Generally speaking, synthetic materials like nylon, polyester, Cordura, and ripstop nylon will be extremely tough, water and stain-resistant, and very lightweight. They aren’t considered classically attractive, but you might prefer a sportier-looking bag with these characteristics.
For a more classic style, you might consider a leather or canvas bag. While they’re not typically water and stain-resistant, they’re both very tough. A canvas bag is most likely machine washable, and you can use a waterproofing spray to increase its weather resistance. Maintaining a leather bag requires a leather conditioner, but great bags will patina over time and look better with age.
Duffel bags come in a wide variety of sizes. Some bags aren’t much larger than a toiletry Dopp kit, while others can carry an entire wardrobe, complete with a few pairs of shoes and your favorite travel pillow. Manufacturers sometimes describe their bags’ capacities by volume, using liters (L) as the unit of measurement.
For example, most gym bags are in the 40L range, while large travel duffels can hold more than 80 liters. The ideal size comes down to how you’ll be using your duffel. A large duffel may hold everything you need but be a hassle to check-in when flying or to carry on a bus.
There are a couple of things to consider when it comes to weight and duffel bags which might have some bearing on your decision.
The weight of the bag itself is a consideration. If you’d prefer to keep your gear as lightweight as possible, you may want to avoid heavier leather bags or materials with heavy, waterproof coatings. While the difference may only be a pound or two, a few pounds can make a big difference when it comes to a smaller bag.
You also need to consider how much weight you’ll want to load into your duffel bag. While manufacturers rarely provide weight limits, you can guess how much weight you’d be comfortable carrying in the bag by examining the handles and shoulder straps.
Arranging your items into smaller pockets can help you stay organized, making packing stress-free and traveling just a bit easier. Many models have pockets built into the interior of the bag, allowing you to sort cash, passports, wallets, keys, and other items safely inside. Other models have pockets on the outside of the bag, so you can keep a bit of cash, a small book, or a pair of headphones within easy reach without opening and shuffling through your bag.
Many gym bags have pockets and compartments for separating dirty clothes, swimsuits, or shoes from the rest of your clothing. This is definitely a feature worth having if you plan on taking your duffel to the gym.
Separate shoe compartments are also important for business travelers with expensive dress shoes. A separate compartment will keep leather shoes looking great and protected from scuffing.
Straps and Handles
A duffel bag won’t do you any good if you don’t have a way to carry it comfortably. The best duffel bags include several different ways to carry the weight. Many have handles on the top of the bag as well as an additional handle on the end. They also include shoulder straps that allow you to strap the bag across your body to carry your bag hands-free.
Backpack style bags often have a few different options. They’ll have padded shoulder straps for throwing your bag on your back but might include a cross-body strap or a side-mounted carry handle as well. This flexibility allows you to carry your bag in the way you’re most comfortable, while also providing a few different ways to lift it into a vehicle trunk or luggage rack.
There are times when a big duffel bag gets so heavy that carrying it just isn’t a good option. For these sorts of loads, a duffel with wheels can make a huge difference. These bags have built-in plastic or nylon wheels that roll across sidewalks and airports with ease.
These bags usually have top-mounted handles for maintaining a comfortable grip while you roll your bag across the parking lot. Many other bags have integrated metal frames with telescoping handles, allowing you to carry a lot of weight in your bag. These bags blur the lines between duffel and luggage.
There are some additional features that you’ll want to consider. For one, check the stitching along your bag. Single- or double-stitched seams might not be as strong as you’d like them. Triple and quadruple nylon stitching are available to ensure that your bag won’t tear if you throw some weight in it.
Zippers are another feature that can affect durability and ease of use. While bigger zippers often look tough and burly, they can be challenging to operate. Smaller quality metal zippers will last longer than low-end plastic options.
Many bags come with extras as well, like luggage tags and locks for keeping your gear safe and easy to identify. While you might not need these features when you go to the gym, a distinguishing tag at the airport can make a world of difference.
Our Top Picks
Now that you’ve considered the style of bag and the features you might prefer, you’re ready to start shopping. Compiled with the top considerations in mind, you’ll find the list of the best duffel bags below. Shop through these top products to find a high-quality bag to suit your needs.
If you’re looking for a great bag that you can pack away, the Carhartt Trade Series duffel bag is worth considering. This is a simple, barrel-style bag with a flat bottom, made from Carhartt’s tough polyester. It features the brand’s Rain Defender water repellent, which keeps your gear dry during a rainy day. It measures 21.5 inches long and 11 inches both tall and wide.
The Trade Series duffel has a large, zippered opening, allowing you to store plenty of gear within the bag. It also has a zippered exterior pocket and an adjustable shoulder strap, which is also removable. It comes with a utility pouch to store the bag when you pack it away, and can even double as a travel pillow if needed. You have a choice between brown, black, and gray colors.
A packable bag with plenty of capacity can be difficult to find, but the Gonex 60L Packable Travel Duffle Bag offers both at an affordable price. This nylon bag, with 60-liter capacity, measures 24 inches long by 14 inches tall and 9 inches wide, offering a ton of room for travel or gym use. It also features a suitcase strap, so you can attach it to your bigger, wheelable luggage.
The Gonex has plenty of organization as well. It has an outer shoe storage compartment and four exterior zippered storage pockets. It folds down into a small package, and can be stored in the included 10-inch by 11-inch pouch. It features dual top-mounted handles and an adjustable shoulder strap for flexible carrying options. It also comes in 13 colors for easy matching with your luggage or gym gear.
Bringing your gear to the gym and back doesn’t have to be a hassle. The FocusGear Ultimate Gym 2.0 offers plenty of organization, flexibility, and separation between items. This bag measures 20 inches long, 11 inches wide, and 10.5 inches high, providing plenty of storage for gym clothes, shoes, and toiletries.
The FocusGear excels in separation. It has an outer sneaker storage compartment to keep sweaty sneakers from smelling up the contents inside the bag. It also has a large main compartment that unzips in two directions to open completely, giving you full access to the gear inside. You’ll also benefit from two wet pockets, allowing you to separate your damp swimsuit and sweaty clothes from your clean gear.
It comes in five colors, as well as a smaller 15-inch version.
If you’re going to be hiking a bit into your campsite, you’ll need a sturdy duffel bag that can get all of your gear to the site in one trip without tiring you out. The G4FREE 40L 3-Way Duffle can do just that, with its large capacity and comfortable shoulder straps. It measures 24 inches long by 10 inches wide by 12 inches tall, allowing you to store your important gear and clothing for a weekend camping trip.
This versatile bag’s features include backpack straps, dual top-mounted straps, and a removable crossbody strap for flexibility. It also has an exterior compartment for storing hiking sneakers as well as additional exterior pockets, so you’ll have easier access to your smaller gadgets like solar chargers, maps, or a compass. You can choose among nine classic colors.
If you prefer a classic design for your weekender duffel, the Herschel Supply Co. Novel Duffel Bag might check the boxes. This weekender-style bag features a simple and straightforward design with a bit of modern flair. It measures 20.5 inches long, 9 inches wide, and 15.5 inches tall, providing plenty of storage for a weekend’s worth of clothing and gear.
The Novel’s classic design also means it’s rather straightforward with just an exterior shoe pocket for storing a pair of sneakers or other shoes away from your clothing and an interior pocket for storing a few items or documents. It comes with a removable storage strap and two top-mounted handles. You have the choice of 15 colors, so you should be able to find something to fit your style.
Searching for a great backpack duffel isn’t always easy, but the MIER Large Duffel Backpack might be the bag you’re looking for. The bag provides a lot of storage in each of the three versions. The mid-sized bag (60L) measures 25.6 inches long, 13.8 inches wide, and 13.8 inches tall.
MIER uses tarpaulin material for the body of this bag, meaning it’s extremely tough and water repellent. It comes with two heavy shoulder straps, a detachable cross-body strap, and four soft-grab handles on the sides. It also has three inner pockets and some outside storage, including a separate shoe compartment. It features an exterior ID pocket and comes in black or orange.
If you’re looking for a rolling travel duffel, the AmazonBasics Wheeled Travel Duffel might be worth checking out. This large duffel bag has an internal metal frame with a telescoping handle, enabling you to transport your heavy bag across a parking lot or airport with ease.
This bag blurs the lines between luggage and duffel, with a top-mounted handle like a duffel and flip-open, zippered main compartment like a suitcase. It has multiple zippered compartments and interior tie-downs, allowing you to keep your items stored safely in place. It also features two external pockets for storing smaller items while maintaining easy access. It comes in seven colors and three sizes, so putting together a matching set shouldn’t be an issue.
If you’re looking for a duffel bag with style, check out the Leather Travel Duffle Bag by Aaron Leather Goods. This weekender-style bag fabricated in top-grain, buffalo leather features plenty of interior space and measures 20 inches wide, 11 inches tall, and 9 inches wide. Both strong and durable, it has a classic look not likely to go out of style.
This traditional bag features a removable shoulder strap, two rolled leather handles with a button wrap for easy carrying, and a roomy, exterior zippered pocket. On the interior, you’ll find an additional zippered pocket, a leather pocket for devices, and storage for two pens and credit cards. It comes in several different leather variations, as well as in two-piece gift sets.
If your adventures sometimes take you to inhospitable places, you might want to bring the YETI Panga duffel bag with you. This massive bag features a 100 percent waterproof design, allowing you to take it with you in rain or shine. It provides considerable storage, as it is 32.5 inches long, 17 inches wide, and 12 inches high.
YETI uses its Hydrolok zipper system and a Thickskin nylon shell with a thick coating to create a waterproof and airtight bag. It has heavy-duty metal hardware and comes with both shoulder straps and four side-mounted handles, allowing you to choose between carrying it on your back or throwing it on the back of a four-wheeler with ease.
FAQs About Your New Duffel Bag
With all of the choices available, it’s understandable if you still have questions. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about duffel bags. If you’re still unsure about something after reading through this section, contact your duffel’s manufacturer and speak with a customer service representative.
Q. What do you use duffel bags for?
Duffel bags have many uses. The military uses them for moving all of a service member’s belongings to new posts. Most people use their duffel bags for trips to the gym or weekend getaways.
Q. Should I pick the rolling or the non-rolling type of duffel bag?
Whether you select rolling or not depends on how you plan to use your bag. If you prefer to keep it light, a bag without wheels often weighs less. They’re also easier to maneuver around. If you plan on really loading up your bag, you might want to consider purchasing a bag with wheels.
Q. What size duffel bag can I carry on a plane?
Regulations may vary a bit among airlines, but the standard dimensions are 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches long.