The 7 best duffel bags of 2021

  • Durable and utilitarian, duffels can make for a great travel companion.
  • We found the best duffels for overnight trips, camping, taking to the gym, and more.

Though often overlooked in the carry-on luggage world, duffels provide a quick and easy way to pack, whether it’s for a short weekend getaway or as an extra bag on long-haul trips.

I’ve been a believer in the utility of a good duffel ever since my trusty red Reebok duffel got me through my first whirlwind tour across Europe with the USTA’s junior tennis team. In fact, I found it to be such an easy way to travel that I doubled down on my duffel bag game and bought a duffel that included wheels and could easily convert into a backpack. I used it for years as a travel journalist.

Now, with better design features and more durable fabrics and materials than ever, a good duffel can last a lifetime and make for an excellent travel companion. From long weekends to long-haul flights and everything in between, I put 17 duffels to the test with an eye for functionality, quality, and design.

Here are the best duffel bags

The best overnight duffel

best duffel bag travelpro

The Travelpro x Travel + Leisure Drop-Bottom Weekender is a thoughtfully designed and chic duffel just right for overnight trips. 

Pros: Lightweight, spacious interior, drop-bottom storage 

Cons: No interior laptop sleeve, pricey

Travelpro x Travel + Leisure Drop-Bottom Weekender offers many of the same features as Away’s Duffle, but with a few major differences. 

This bag’s greatest asset is the drop bottom zipper panel that’s great for storing anything you’d want to keep separate, like shoes or dirty clothes. The drop bottom can also unzip and detach completely if you want to consolidate or if you don’t find it necessary for a particular trip.

As far as usable storage space, this bag is plenty roomy enough to get you through an overnight stay, but you won’t fit too much beyond that. I used it on a recent overnight staycation and found it to be an ideal two-day, one-night bag that easily fit a change of clothes, gym wear, a pair of sneakers and sandals, as well as hair accessories like my travel-sized blow dryer and curling iron. 

Thoughtful details include a magnetic closure on the front button of the trolley sleeve, which attached effortlessly over the handle of my carry-on suitcase. This bag fits under the seat of an airplane and is also designed to fit in the overhead compartment on standard US airlines. 

The material is stain-resistant, durable, and didn’t show any sign of wear after a couple of uses. It’s also extremely easy to keep clean.

One major drawback with this duffel is the lack of a laptop sleeve on the interior, especially since I never travel without my laptop.

The best duffel on a budget

best duffel bag calpak

The CALPAK Luka Duffel is a lightweight bag with numerous pockets for easy organization that won’t break the bank.

Pros: Extremely light, stylish, lots of pockets, separate shoe compartment, affordable

Cons: Laptop compartment is small

The first thing I noticed when testing the Luka Duffel is it’s extremely lightweight. In fact, it’s the lightest bag I tested for this guide. I ordered the Luka in Metallic Bronze, and it was actually more elegant and a bit bigger than I expected based on the photos I saw online. The fabric is also extremely soft (it feels like your favorite puffy coat) and is made from scratch-resistant polyester. 

It’s big enough to pack a day’s worth of clothes if you want to use it as an overnighter, but I found it to be most useful as an oversized daytime bag; it’s stylish enough to wear to brunch or take to the office and fits all the daily essentials.

One of the best features is the pockets and compartments. There are nine pockets in all, including a separate shoe compartment on the bottom and a trolley sleeve on the back in case you want to take this bag on the road. There’s no built-in padded laptop compartment, however, there is an oversized zipper that can easily fit an iPad or 13-inch laptop. I have a 15-inch Macbook Pro, which, unfortunately, was a bit too big to fit into this sleeve.

For an easy everyday duffel for the gym, work, or running errands, this is an excellent option that offers exceptional value.

The best duffel for the gym

best duffel bag 73 originals

Made from water-resistant fabric with a separate compartment for storing gym shoes, the ’73 Originals Super Duffel is an ultra-lightweight gym accessory. 

Pros: Casual, lightweight, shoe garage, interior and exterior pockets and compartments for separating items, water-resistant

Cons: More of a standard size duffel than “super”

Between the water-resistant fabric, shoe garage, cloth side pockets, internal mesh accessory pocket, and pockets on each end, I was thoroughly impressed by the ’73 Originals Super Duffel

At first glance, this bag looks like your run-of-the-mill duffel, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover all of the little extras that set it apart. The lining on the inside is not only ultra-soft but water-resistant, which I learned quickly as I somehow managed to accidentally leave an unopened hand sanitizer inside which dried quickly and left no residual damage.

The shoe garage easily fits a pair of gym sneakers in a totally separate side compartment, and the front zipper pocket is great for keys or anything else you want to keep protected but accessible. There are also tons of storage compartments on the inside, which makes for super easy organizing.

The interior packs a roomy punch for how small it appears. You could easily use this bag for a quick overnight trip in addition to your regular go-to for the gym. That said, the name “Super Duffel” is a bit deceiving, as it’s not big enough to really work beyond an overnight amount of clothes and accessories.

The best wheeled duffel

best duffel bag rei wheeled

The REI Co-op Big Haul Recycled Rolling Duffel is spacious enough to pack for a week and makes hauling it all easy with its oversized wheels.

Pros: Large wheels, sturdy frame, plenty of interior storage space, pockets and compartments 

Cons: Heavy, might be too tall for some travelers

I’ve used other wheeled duffel bags in the past, but I tested the REI Co-op Big Haul Recycled Rolling Duffel on my first trip since the pandemic and was so impressed with the quality and ease that came with it that I genuinely can’t wait to use it again on future long-haul trips. 

This bag is not only extremely sturdy, but tall to boot. I fit everything I needed for a week-long trip and then some, which was both a blessing and curse because it provided so much space that I found I was packing more just to fill it up. 

It’s also extremely high quality and water-resistant. Made from a recycled ripstop nylon with a tough nylon base, this bag is both heavy-duty and easy to wheel around thanks to its oversized and smooth wheels. It also lays flat on the top so if you have a smaller bag, purse, weekender, or tote, you can rest it across the top. The interior wall of the bag features mesh pockets and compartments that are great for keeping garments separate and organized. The side, front, and end handles also made the bag easy to grab and there are compression straps that help to keep the bag more compact.

Fully packed, this bag was heavy and because of its height, which might be a challenge for some travelers. While the two wheels were great, I did wish this bag had four wheels just for the ease of being able to push it instead of wheeling it behind me. Overall, and especially compared to other wheeled duffels I’ve used over the years, this is a winning option at a very reasonable price.

The best leather duffel

best duffel bag duluth

Rugged, roomy, and boasting thick, premium leather, this rough-and-tumble duffle by Duluth Trading Company is built to last. 

Pros: Durable, sturdy, roomier than expected with beautiful flannel lining

Cons: Heavy, no interior pockets

Made using full-grain cowhide leather that’s “built to take a pounding,” as Duluth puts it, this bag is not only a best-seller, but it’s sturdy. The detachable shoulder strap and no-frills U-shape zipper make packing and unpacking extremely easy and I loved the flannel lining on the inside. 

The bag also zips and clips for added security. The antique brass details on the zippers and belt buckles are a nice touch and the premium materials ensure this bag will last for years. The overall weathered look of the leather does give it a more casual overall feel than a typical leather bag you might take to work.  

This duffel is deceivingly spacious and you could easily use this bag for a long-weekend getaway, with enough internal packing space for shoes and multiple days’ worth of clothes (depending on how light you pack).  

That said, this duffel is not only heavy-duty, it’s also just plain heavy. Even without anything packed inside, the duffel has some heft to it, so if weight limits are an issue for you, keep that in mind. There are also no pockets on the interior or exterior, so if you’re a pocket person, this bag might not suit you. 

Duluth has a “no bull” guarantee so if you’re not satisfied with this duffel you have one year to return it for a full refund. 

The best splurge duffel

best duffel bag filson

The Filson’s Medium Rugged Twill is a high-quality bag made from premium materials that’s sure to last.

Pros: Quality, top-notch craftsmanship, durable, rich color 

Cons: Not many zippers or compartments

If you’re looking for a classic duffel that’s equally great as an elegant everyday bag or a weekender and worth the splurge, you can’t do much better than Filson’s Medium Rugged Twill bag. 

The duffel, which is one of Filson’s best-sellers, comes in a variety of colors. I tested the Chessie tan and was blown away by the understated but handsome color and overall craftsmanship. Details like the gorgeous, adjustable leather straps and the snap-secured flap that runs along the top of the bag add to its look, quality, and usability.  

Made from Filson’s signature rugged twill and bridle leather, the materials are scuff-resistant and the bag feels extremely sturdy with very little flop factor. The look is versatile enough to use for both business and leisure. Although pricey, the quality materials and construction ensure it will last year for years to come, making it a solid investment piece.

There’s one interior pocket, but no zippered compartment space and no exterior pockets, so if you like a lot of pockets this may not be the bag for you. 

The interior is roomy enough to easily fit all your daily work essentials or to pack for an overnight trip or as your under-seat personal item. It does become a bit cramped once you pack for a full weekend, but if you prefer a larger duffel, there is a bigger version of this bag available.

The best duffel for camping and hiking

best duffel bag north face

The Base Camp Duffel by North Face is built to withstand the elements and can fit all your gear and then some. 

Pros: Durable, waterproof and can be used as a backpack or duffel

Cons: No exterior pockets, might be cumbersome for some travelers

It’s easy to see why the Base Camp Duffel by North Face is beloved by travelers and adventure seekers the world over. This duffel can not only withstand the elements, but it’s designed as an all-terrain bag that works for everything from scaling a mountain to weekend car camping trips. 

The shoulder straps easily detach and adjust with an ergonomic fit that’s designed to throw it right over your back when the going gets tough. Alternatively, you can use the padded carrier handles for a simple grab-and-go option.

Due to its height and width, this 95-liter duffel might be a bit cumbersome for some travelers who prefer to travel light, but is a boon for those who have a lot to bring with them. 

On the inside, the bag comes lined with a large mesh pocket as well as a detachable mesh bag which is great for extra storage for dirty clothes or anything you’d want to keep separate. As far as usable storage space, this bag has tons of room for at least one and up to even two weeks worth of clothes and gear depending on what you need to bring. There’s an interior zipper on the top of the bag, and the tag sets the tone with the famous John Muir quote, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” 

What else we tested

best duffel bag what else we tested

What we recommend and why:

  • Away The Duffel: This is actually my top overall pick for the best duffel. Its size is just right and there’s plenty of packable space for two to three days of clothes, plus room for accessories. It even features a hidden and padded 15″ laptop pocket, along with two interior side pockets. However, it’s unfortunately currently out of stock. 
  • Away Weekender Bag: I’ve owned an Away carry-on for years but this was the first time I’ve tested the canvas Weekender bags. While it offers some of the same features of The Duffle (which is my pick for the best overall travel duffel) this bag offers a separate shoe compartment on the bottom. While you do get more packing space with this option, it was much flimsier than The Duffel. 
  • Travelpro Crew Versapack-Weekender Carry-on Suiter Duffel Bag: Professional, spacious, and great for keeping clothes wrinkle-free, for serious business travelers, this a top option. There are a lot of great features but the real star of the show is the suiter which can accommodate up to three suits, or a few dresses, blouses, or other garments. There’s also a padded tablet sleeve on the outside of the bag and hidden pockets on the front.
  •  Escape 35L Duffel by Nixon: Another great option that was just edged out, this duffel features tons of interior packable space, including numerous zippers and compartments. It converts easily into a backpack and is made from recycled ocean plastic. The interior features a lining with a mesh zipper compartment that can fit toiletries. However, the bag felt flimsier than others I tested.
  • Sseko Designs Garment Duffel: Featuring a beautiful design and dual-functionality as a duffel and garment bag, this duffel by Sseko Designs is made with cotton canvas, leather straps, gold hooks, and zippers. Along with the removable leather crossbody strap, the bag completely unzips flat with a hanger hook at the top to keep your clothes wrinkle-free. You could easily use this duffel without the garment function, and includes an exterior pocket and a trolley sleeve. That said, the material is a bit on the thin side and the zippers didn’t connect all the way.
  • Duffle by von Holzhausen: If James Bond were a duffel man, I have no doubt this von Holzhausen would be his go-to bag. Made from a patented Technik-Leather that is 100% animal-free and sustainable, from the double zipper on top for easy packing and unpacking in the main compartment to the concealed large front pocket with zipper closure, this Italian-made beauty is as graceful as it is gorgeous. However, I personally preferred the overall construction and packability of the Filson. 
  • Herschel’s Little America Backpack-Duffel: This 25-liter backpack-duffel is sleek, long and narrow, and includes a 15-inch interior padded laptop sleeve. This model is a “mountaineering silhouette” and there’s a drawstring closure that ties the bag together at the top giving it more of a casual look. The front storage pocket with hidden zipper and key clip, interior pinstripe pattern, and two interior side pockets make this bag ideal as an everyday work duffel, but it doesn’t have quite as much space as other options I tested.
  • Eddie Bauer’s Expedition Drop Bottom Rolling Duffel: Another good option for a wheeled duffel that was barely beaten out by our top choice, this bag is lightweight while still being plenty durable. It’s available in three sizes, including medium, large, and extra large. I tested the large and was really impressed by how maneuverable this bag is when it’s fully packed. You could easily fit a week’s worth of necessities, and the bag expands and compresses. My main gripe is that the interior lining did tend to catch in the zipper.
  • Grand Tour Duffel: Currently only available for presale, Paravel has long been a leader in sustainable travel bags, and their Grand Tour Duffel is no exception. Made out of upcycled plastic water bottles and protected using a silicone coating to prevent stains, I love the design touches from the easy-grip handles on the top of the bag to the leather trim against the eco-canvas. On the inside, there’s beautiful blue lining along with two identical pockets on each side which are great for phone, passport wallet, and cosmetic bag. However, it’s better suited for an overnight trip or day trip as opposed to hopscotching around the globe as the name suggests.

What we don’t recommend and why:

  •  Herschel’s Sutton Duffel Mini: I also tested the Sutton Mini Duffel in Ash Rose. This bag comes in three sizes including mini, mid-volume, and standard, each of which come with a removable crossbody strap and offer more of a traditional duffel look and feel. I enjoy the mini, but it really operates more like a purse than a true duffel and can only fit a handful of everyday items. 

What we look forward to testing next

best duffels go pro backpack duffel
  • GoPro Backpack Duffel Bag: GoPro fans and gearheads might find this to be an interesting duffel option because of the mount that’s actually attached to the strap of this bag. The bag also looks deep and roomy and features interior zip pockets on the top flap for additional storage. As an added bonus, it can also transition from a duffel to a large backpack.
  • The NOMATIC 30L Travel Bag: Known as the “go anywhere, do anything bag,” the Nomatic is made with durable, water-resistant materials and zippers. The patented strap system also transitions from duffel to backpack and there’s a shoe compartment with a ventilated door and a water-resistant flap.
  • YETI Crossroads 60L DuffelYeti recently released a new collection of premium bags including their expedition-grade duffel, which is made from water- and abrasion-resistant material and features three interior divider panels, pockets, and modular compression straps to keep your stuff nice and snug.

Testing methodology

For this guide, many of the duffels I tested are by brands that I know and have used personally for decades as a travel journalist and adventure junkie. In addition to my own thorough research, I also tapped colleagues and fellow travel writers to see what duffels they love and use on a regular basis to narrow down the field. For this guide, I first-hand tested 17 duffels to find the best. 

While many elements of a duffel come down to personal preference and needs, there are some key features I looked for across every bag I tested, including: 

  • Packability: While I’m not traveling at the rate I once was pre-COVID and couldn’t test all of these bags in a real-world setting, I did pack, unpack, and do a simulated test run of each and every duffel included in this guide from home, in my car, and around my neighborhood. I packed everything from my daily essentials to a week’s worth of clothes when I could into these bags to determine both ease of packing and the amount of clothes the average traveler could fit into each bag. 
  • Functionality: From smooth wheels and adjustable straps to comfortable handles and numerous interior pockets for organizing, I tested every bag through a critical lens to determine which ones stood out from the pack and made travel easy. I also considered the bag’s primary function and how it worked in that space, since a durable camping pack needs very different features than a chic overnight duffel.    
  • Durability: I tested these duffels for about two months. Several went on real trips with me, and those that didn’t I still put through rigorous stress tests to simulate travel conditions. Additionally, I’ll be continuing to test top recommendations to see how they hold up over time. 
  • Extras: Whether it’s separate shoe compartments or the ability to convert into a backpack, I considered extra features when choosing my top picks and whether those extras really added additional value. 

What to consider when buying a duffel

Finding the right bag that fits your overall needs will depend on numerous factors. Here are a few things to keep in mind before buying a duffel.

  • Use: Duffel bags come in a wide variety of styles, materials, sizes and price points. There’s really no one size fits all, so the first thing you really want to ask yourself is: what am I using this for? If you want an extra personal item for trips or an easy bag to grab for an overnight, you’ll have very different needs than someone looking to take a duffel on a long-haul trip as their main bag.
  • Function: If you’re someone like me who likes to bring their laptop with them wherever they go, having a duffel that offers little details like a laptop sleeve is crucial. An exterior trolley sleeve is also a really nice design detail and can go a long way especially when you travel. Many duffels I reviewed also had dual-functionality, which can come in handy. Additionally, if one strap tends to make you uncomfortable, look for a duffel that can convert into a backpack.
  • Weight: Another major consideration when picking a duffel is weight. If you’re picky about this, go for lighter materials like cotton or polyester over leather, which tends to be heavier. However, bear in mind that leather also tends to be more durable. Since the majority of duffels don’t have the luxury of wheels, having something on the lighter side is generally a good idea.
  • Budget: Once you’ve established what you’re using your duffel for, then you can narrow down your choices. A great duffel doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg and there’s a ton of great deals to be found out there. If you’re testing out a new duffel for the first time, see if there’s a warranty and what the return policy is. Many brands offer a limited lifetime warranty, so make sure to read up and see what that covers and what it doesn’t.
  • Style: Much like carrying a purse or a briefcase, the style of your duffel, is very much an extension of you and your personality. While it might not be the most important consideration, with so many options to choose from, you don’t have to sacrifice on style if that’s a key factor for you.
Read the original article on Business Insider