The best carry-on luggage in 2021, including hard-sided, soft-sided, lightweight, and aluminum options

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A durable and reliable carry-on suitcase is a must-have for any traveler.
  • Hard-side vs. soft-side luggage and budget is a personal preference, so we’ve included options.
  • Our top hard-side carry-on is from Samsonite and our top soft-side carry-on is from Travelpro.

Waiting in a long line when running late for a flight, having to pay hefty baggage fees, and your shoulder hurting from carting around a heavy duffle bag are all hassles that make quality carry-on luggage a must-have.

The best carry-on suitcases are reliable, durable, easy to pack, hold plenty of clothes, and fit on both domestic and international planes of all sizes.

As a travel editor who pre-pandemic frequently took more than 50 flights per year and was often in a destination for just a day or two before moving on, I practically live out of my carry-on at times. I’ve also had checked luggage lost or arrive late enough times to avoid going that route whenever possible, making a carry-on my go-to item even for longer trips.

While my luggage may go through a few more rigorous trials than the average leisure traveler, most people are looking for these same qualities in any good piece of luggage.

For this guide, I put 10 carry-ons to the test. You can read our full testing methodology as well as tips on what to look for in a carry-on bag at the bottom of this guide. You can also find additional carry-on options for traveling with kids towards the end of this guide.

Here is the best carry-on luggage of 2021

The best hard-side carry-on overall

Best Carry-on luggage - samsonite side by side

Form, function, durability, and an excellent price all meet to make the Samsonite Centric Hardside Expandable Luggage a winner. 

Pros: Excellent price for the quality, durable, scratch-resistant, wheels easily, expandable

Cons: Handle wiggles a decent amount when fully extended, slightly heavier than other options available 

This hard-side carry-on suitcase will fit in just about any overhead bin for domestic and international flights with the exception of tiny jumper planes. The twill texture is scratch-resistant with a slightly shiny finish that helps it stand out in an airport crowd.

I’ve used this bag consistently for more than two years, and while it has a couple of very small white marks upon close inspection, it has overall remained in remarkably good shape — especially in comparison to other hard-side cases I’ve tried. 

It’s easy to lift into overhead bins and a rubberized grip under the top and side handles add extra comfort when lifting. The zippers have good grip and run smoothly without catching and the expansion zipper even has a finger hole for extra ease and agility. There is also a TSA-approved lock on the right side.

The four multi-directional wheels are quiet and making rolling the bag in front of you, beside you, or behind you on almost any surface a breeze, though it was harder to pull on thick carpet. 

Despite its small size, I’ve been able to pack a week’s worth of clothes in and the 1.5-inch expansion capability comes in especially handy if you’re like me and always end up coming back from a trip with more than you originally packed. While there aren’t any fancy extras when it comes to interior storage, it’s more than sufficient with a mesh zip close on one side and a strong buckle to keep clothes packed in tight on the other. 

The bag’s one downside is the adjustable push-button handle. While I’ve never had any major issues with it and it does have two different heights it can lock into, the handle is a little bit wobbly when fully extended. As is the case with most suitcases, the handle poles do also take up some space in the interior compartment, making it harder to lay items completely flat on that side.   

After multiple lengthy trips with this bag, it has stood up incredibly well in terms of durability. There are no dents or major scratches, and from a cursory glance, the bag still looks practically brand new both inside and out. As an added bonus, the bag is also backed by a 10-year warranty. 

For the affordable price, this Samsonite carry-on is a serious winner.

Read our full review of the Samsonite Centric Hardside Expandable Carry-On

The best soft-side carry-on overall

Best carry-on luggage - travelpro side by side

The Travelpro Platinum Elite Expandable Carry-On holds everything you need and then some, but its attention to detail makes it stand out from the competition. 

Pros: Durable and high-quality materials, leather detailing, doesn’t tip forward even when fully packed

Cons: Easy to overpack

Travelpro is well regarded among serious travelers for a reason. The brand was pioneered by a pilot who knew exactly which small details make a world of difference in a bag, and that thoughtful care and attention is apparent in the Platinum Elite Expandable Carry-On. The brand offers a warranty against defects for life. 

This particular bag meets FAA regulations for carry-on sizing and the high-density nylon fabric is durable, stain-resistant, and has not torn or ripped at all in the time I’ve used it. Leather detailing not only adds a sophisticated look but also makes the top lifting handle extremely comfortable compared to those made from plastic. However, the additional handle on the side is a little bit tight even for my small hands.

With an expansion option of two full inches, this bag holds a lot more than just your weekend essentials. There are three front pockets of varying sizes, including one that can hold a laptop. The main compartment has the standard layout of a soft-side bag with one deep side for packing most items and a smaller zipper compartment that is half mesh on the other side.

While the handle poles do take up some space, the bag is deep enough that it’s not much of an issue. Once buckled, there are also two additional mesh pockets available that are good for holding small items.  

Large chrome zippers are super easy to maneuver and the four, large PrecisionGlide wheels made this bag one of the easiest to wheel on every surface, including carpet. The adjustable handle is very sturdy and has a contoured grip making it extra comfortable. At 7.8 pounds, it’s a pretty standard weight for a carry-on and is easy to lift.

The bag also comes with several handy extras, including a garment bag, a built-in USB port (battery pack not included), and a removable clear plastic bag attached to the inside for holding toiletries and liquids.

However, I did find that with so many front pockets, the bag was very easy to overpack, especially when fully expanded, which defeats the purpose of having a carry-on if you end up having to check it in after all. 

Read our full review of the Platinum Elite Expandable Carry-On

The best budget carry-on

Best carry-on luggage - amazonbasics side by side

For the casual weekend traveler, the AmazonBasics Hardside Spinner Carry-On is an attractive bag that does the job at an extremely affordable price.

Pros: Very affordable, durable for the price, solid adjustable handle that doesn’t wobble

Cons: Marks up easily, may not hold up well over time, no lock

For a bag that costs much less than our top picks, I was thoroughly impressed by the quality and look of this carry-on. It was sturdier than I was expecting and the material only had a little bit of give when I pressed on the top and sides.

Though it is expandable up to 15% for additional packing room, I found that it held less overall than the similar Samsonite suitcase we recommend in this guide, making it a good option for shorter or weekend trips.

The interior has one mesh zip side and one side with a buckle. The buckle isn’t too sturdy, but it will do the trick of keeping clothes in place as long as you don’t overpack that side. The adjustable handle is comfortable and surprisingly didn’t wobble very much. The wheels also glided smoothly on nearly every surface (thick carpet gave it a bit of trouble), though they were just a little bit louder than others I tested. 

The ribbed exterior has a shiny finish, and other than the AmazonBasics logo on the front, is stylish enough that it won’t give away how little it costs. The zippers ran smoothly and for the most part, the bag held up throughout my tests, though it did get marks relatively easily and had a mark on the back after just one use.     

That said, some reviewers have complained that after about five or six trips the bag starts to break down, with complaints of broken handles, wheels, and zippers. It’s also missing a notable feature: There’s no lock, TSA-approved or otherwise.

But for the casual traveler who only takes a couple of trips a year, this is an extremely affordable option that still gets the job done.

The best high-end hard-side carry-on

Best carry-on luggage - blue rimowa essential lite carry-on suitcase side by side shut and open

True to its name, the Rimowa Essential Lite sets itself apart with its under 5-pound weight without compromising on durability or quality. 

Pros: Incredibly lightweight, durable

Cons: Not as good for organization, expensive

Rimowa is best known for its distinctive aluminum suitcases frequently spotted on celebrity Instagram accounts. While those bags will set you back a cool grand, the luxury travel brand has alternative high-quality options that won’t cost more than your monthly rent.

I was particularly impressed with the newer Essential Lite bag. When it first arrived, I actually assumed a vase I had ordered around the same time had come in an inexplicably large box because it never dawned on me that a suitcase would be that light.

The Essential Lite weighs less than five pounds, which is especially great for chronic overpackers who worry about their bag being overweight. Shockingly, the Lite suitcase actually holds slightly more than the classic aluminum suitcase, too.

To achieve this light-as-a-feather feat, the brand didn’t sacrifice when it comes to the quality of the materials. Although the bag has some give at the top when pressed, the suitcase is plenty sturdy. Its thicker glossy coating also keeps it from scratching or marking up as easily as matte-finished suitcases. I tossed it around several times and even after getting jostled around in a moving van, it came out the other side with no dents, scratches, or marks. 

If an aesthetically pleasing or eye-catching bag is important to you, you’ll also likely enjoy the glossy finish, subtle vertical ribbing, and array of rainbow-hued color choices that range from a candy apple red to a deep teal, along with classic black and white options.

The bag has a TSA-approved lock on top, a rubberized top handle that’s comfortable to grip, and a sturdy telescopic handle. The wheels are whisper quiet thanks to cushioned axles and worked beautifully on every surface from hardwood to carpet. I also liked that both sides of the interior had a mesh zipper, which I found made keeping everything organized and in place easier than the typical one-sided buckle system. 

The suitcase also comes with a complimentary leather luggage tag and is backed by a five-year warranty. One added bonus of owning a Rimowa bag is that the company not only does in-store and send-away repairs, but also works with a network of luxury hotels that do repairs onsite should anything happen to your bag while you’re traveling.

Read our full review of the Rimowa Essential Lite carry-on

The best high-end soft-side carry-on

Best carry-on luggage - briggs & riley side by side

The Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic Carry-On is worth the investment thanks to an impressive compression feature and high-end materials that stand the test of time.

Pros: Durable, high-quality materials, smart and unique features to help fit more in 

Cons: Pricey, heavy

With a hybrid fiberglass frame, ballistic nylon exterior, reinforced corners, and smooth YKK zippers, this Briggs & Riley bag is made to withstand the test of time. The bag is incredibly durable and mine has experienced no rips, tears, or marks to speak of.

This suitcase is also full of ingenious tricks that make packing it a breeze and help you sneak in those extra outfits. For starters, the bag has a CX compression-expansion system that increases packing capacity by 25% before compressing back down to fit carry-on size regulations. I tried the feature out myself and it worked beautifully. 

The main compartment is extremely spacious and unlike every other bag I tested, Briggs & Riley has taken the smart step of making sure the adjustable handle is entirely on the outside of the bag so no packing room is lost to the poles. That said, it does mean that the poles are visible on the outside of the bag and may make it slightly harder to slide the bag into the overhead compartment.

Like other soft-side bags, it has one deeper side and a smaller side with a zippered compartment. But another smart feature that adds packable room to this bag is a fold-out divider in the smaller zippered compartment so you can stack clothes, fold it in, and then stack more clothes before zipping it all up. The zippered compartment also has an additional small mesh pocket. Sturdy mesh panels clip together to keep the deeper compartment secure.   

The wheels expertly navigated every surface, and the handle is sturdy and easy to grip. Two outer pockets on the front add additional space, but I found they didn’t expand quite as much as the Travelpro front pockets, which was actually a plus since it wasn’t as easy to overpack. There’s also a small zippered pocket on the back ideal for keeping your phone (especially when going through security) that also comes with a hideaway ID tag.

The biggest downside to this bag is the weight. It’s heavier than the other bags I tried and could be hard for some people to lift into the overhead, especially when fully packed. It also became front heavy and tipped forward slightly when completely full.

The best carry-on for extra space

Best carry-on luggage - monos side by side

If you’re not restricted to smaller overhead bins, the Monos Carry-On Pro Plus is a sleek suitcase with extra room inside and a smart front pocket for easily stowing accessories.  

Pros: Significantly more packable space, smart front pocket that doesn’t protrude when packed

Cons: Doesn’t meet all carry-on size requirements, marks up easily

At 23 inches, the Monos Pro Plus is just a hair too big for many standard flights. However, if you mainly take larger cross-country or transatlantic flights where overhead bins are bigger and space isn’t usually an issue and relish every last ounce of packable space, this carry-on is worth a look. 

It offers more packable space than any other bag on this list. It features one side with a zippered mesh compartment and an alternative side that has a fold-out mesh pocket and two wide and sturdy buckles that help to seriously compress clothes when pulled tight. 

But what really sets this bag apart is the front pocket space, which is unusual for a hard-side suitcase. The padded pocket holds a 15-inch laptop and has additional pockets of varying sizes for easily organizing everything from your phone to headphones. Unlike soft-side bags with front pockets, this pocket also zips up to fit its original size even when items are inside rather than protruding out. While some Away bags also feature a front pocket, this one has significantly more pockets for far superior organization. It’s also cheaper than other suitcases with front pockets like  Arlo Skye and Rimowa.

The bag itself has a simple and chic look and comes in an array of attractive colors like pale pink and royal blue. However, my bag did get several small white marks rather quickly. Though the company does include a small eraser with the bag that worked remarkably well when I tested it out. The adjustable handle is sturdy and doesn’t wobble, the YKK zippers didn’t catch, and the wheels glided smoothly on all surfaces. 

As an additional bonus, the bag is guaranteed for life and has a 100-day trial period. 

For those who want to ensure their carry-on fits on all flights, Monos recently launched a smaller carry-on option with a pocket, the Carry-On Pro. However, you do lose 10 liters of packable space, so the Pro is best for shorter trips.   

Read our full review of Monos carry-on luggage

The best aluminum carry-on

best carry on away aluminum suitcase

Away’s heavy-duty aluminum carry-on is as sleek and eye-catching as it is durable. 

Pros: Durable, sleek look, dual locks, ample packing space

Cons: Heavy, expensive

Aluminum suitcases are more expensive than standard polycarbonate options. However, they’re supremely durable and built to seriously last. They also have a sleek and shiny look that stands out from the crowd at the airport.  

Though I’ve only been testing Away’s The Carry-On: Aluminium Edition for about two months, it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite suitcases. I was worried it wouldn’t easily fit into all overhead bins because it has a bulkier look, but I was even able to fit it on a small regional plane recently. 

As for that shiny look, I receive compliments every time I take this bag out. And on durability, this carry-on has held up remarkably well so far, with no scratches, dings, or dents to speak of, even after I also threw it around on my rooftop to simulate the wear and tear that comes with typical plane travel. 

Its 360-degree spinner wheels are a breeze to roll on numerous surface types, though they are a bit louder than some other carry-ons I own and have tested. Rather than a typical zipper, this aluminum suitcase features two sturdy TSA-approved locks that easily click into place.

What most impressed me was the huge amount of packing space. I took this bag on a weekend ski trip and was able to fit my long underwear, sweaters, ski pants, gloves, and a light jacket on just one side. I easily fit a weekend’s worth of everyday clothes on the other side. 

However, that durability and packable space does come with a price: the weight. At just under 11 pounds, this bag is heavy. While that isn’t too big of an issue on car trips, train trips, or some flights, with airlines that have stricter weight limits I would hesitate to use this carry-on.

As with almost all Away bags, you have the option to choose a standard bag or one that comes with a removable and TSA-approved battery. While the battery isn’t totally necessary and you will have to remember to remove it each time before you get on a plane, it can be a handy perk for on-the-go charging.  

The best carry-on luggage for travel with kids

carry-on luggage for travel with kids

Traveling with kids makes it significantly more complicated to bring just a carry-on bag. You have no choice but to think of every single thing your kids might possibly require, then pack it where you can actually find it.

You also need space for snacks, entertainment devices, and materials to change your child’s bottom mid-air. And of course, you’ll need several extra outfits on hand and within reach during the trip — you know, just in case your kid vomits unexpectedly or spills chocolate milk at the worst possible time.

That means your carry-on needs significantly more pockets for organizing and space-saving options will reign supreme. Here are some carry-on options to consider for family travel:

Genius Pack G4 Carry On Spinner ($219): This carry-on has a compartment for everything. Extra pockets you can use to stay organized include a hidden interior lining pocket perfect for shoes, a removable laundry compartment, and separate spaces for chargers, socks, underwear, and more. If you wind up needing extra room on the ride home, a simple pull of a zipper will garner a 20% increase in space.

Biaggi ZipSak Boost ($89.99): If storing bulky luggage is an issue for you, this bag will wow you by folding down so small that it can easily fit under your bed or inside a drawer. It also features a flexible outer shell that makes packing in lots of stuff a breeze. Its exterior pockets are perfect for storing baby wipes, tablets, or snacks, and you can haul this bag in more than one way — either wheel it along like a regular carry on or use the side handle to carry it like a briefcase.

Timbuk2 Quest Rolling Duffel ($139.30): Ideal for families with toddlers and babies, this rolling duffel has multiple exterior compartments perfect for diapers and wipes, bottles and formula, and extra onesies and sleepers. Not only does it roll like a spinner, but you can throw it on your back like a backpack if you need to free your hands. Extra exterior storage compartments are ideal for everything you’ll need for your baby in the air, and this bag is still appropriately sized as a carry-on.

— Holly Johnson

What else we tested

What else we recommend:

  • Away Carry-On ($225): I’ve had an Away bag for years and it’s another good option. I have found that over the years it’s gotten quite a few marks and scratches though, and it’s more expensive than the Samsonite bag and not as high-quality or lightweight as the Rimowa bag. That said, I would recommend this bag to anyone who absolutely wants charging capability for their phone or who wants a wide array of fun color options.
  • Tumi International Carry-On ($750): This is a high-quality, premium bag that will likely last you years. However, the extremely high starting price point is prohibitive for many. 
  • Target Open Story 21-inch Hardside Carry-On ($149.99): Travel Editor Emily Hochberg tested out this bag and found it to be another great option at a similar price point to the Samsonite bag. It features a durable but lightweight polycarbonate shell, heavy-duty zippers, quiet spinner wheels, and a telescoping aluminum handle. She also liked the multiple interior compartments for easy organizing and the built-in USB port for use with a power bank or battery charger, though that’s not included. However, the lighter colors especially show marks easily and more than one reviewer has noted that the lock didn’t work properly. It also doesn’t have an option for expansion.
  • Roam The Jaunt ($495): This bag is on the pricey end and didn’t hold quite as much as other options I tested, though it would be just right for a long weekend trip. However, when it comes to being able to customize, this bag stands out. If you want to be able to mix and match colors from the handle to the spinner wheels, this may appeal to you.

What we don’t recommend:

  • London Fog 20-inch Spinner Carry-On ($139.99, currently out of stock): I couldn’t fit in quite as much to this bag as other options I tried. Additionally, it comes in very limited color options and there is no plain black.

What we’re testing next

How we tested

For this guide, I narrowed down the field to the 10 top contenders based on my own considerable travel experience and knowledge as a travel editor, as well as additional research and user reviews. While some of these bags I’ve personally owned and used for several years, others I tested extensively specifically for this guide.

I put all 10 of the bags through the same tests, which considered durability, packability (both ease and how much the bag could actually hold), maneuverability across multiple surface types, as well as the weight of the bag. I also took into account the price point, style, quality of materials, and any extra features the bags included. 

Due to the pandemic, I have not been flying recently, but I still mimicked the conditions carry-ons would typically go through in a number of ways. I packed each bag to capacity, rolled them for several blocks on the street, tested the wheels on wood floors, thick carpet, and concrete, stress-tested the zippers, and lifted each bag onto a high closet shelf roughly the same height as an overhead bin.

I even used all of the bags in a recent move where they were thrown around the back of a moving van in a similar fashion to how they might be tossed around on and off a plane by bag handlers to test durability. 

What to consider when buying carry-on luggage

briggs and riley carry on amazon deal

Size

While this may be the most obvious thing to consider, it’s also the most important. Think about how you’ll be using your carry-on most frequently and factor that in. For most standard domestic flights, anything 22 inches and under will suffice. However, if you frequently travel on short jumper flights or often fly on budget airlines overseas, you may want to consider going even smaller. On the flip side, if you mostly take large cross-country or transatlantic flights, you might prefer a bag with a little extra space since overhead space won’t be as much of an issue.

Hard-sided vs. soft-sided luggage

While people on both sides of this debate swear their preference is the right one, this is pretty much a matter of personal choice. Soft-sided bags tend to have more front pockets you can stuff extras into, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on how prone you are to overpacking and going over weight limits. Hard-sided bags tend to have two compartments of equal size, one on each side, while soft-sided bags usually have one deep side and one small zipper compartment on the other. Your personal packing style will largely dictate which option is best.

Weight

Of course, in general, the lighter the bag, the better. But if weight isn’t a huge concern for you, you might like a bag that comes with some extra bells and whistles in lieu of one that’s more minimal to save on weight. However, if you frequently take small flights where every last ounce matters, you may want the lightest bag you can get your hands on. If you have mobility issues or trouble lifting bags into the overhead bin, weight will especially be a consideration. 

Wheel type

I am a staunch believer in the four-wheel systems that most newer bags have. While some are still adamant in their use of two-wheel bags, I have found four-wheel bags to be lightyears ahead in terms of maneuverability. If you are still living in the two-wheeled past trust me on this: Being able to easily wheel your bag in front of you, beside you, or behind you will change your life.

Materials

Materials will be dictated largely by your budget and choice of hard- or soft-sided suitcase. It can be worth splurging on a more durable option if you travel frequently or just want to invest in a suitcase you’ll have for years to come. In general, look for bags that are tear- or scratch-resistant. The most common materials for hard-sided suitcases tend to be aluminum, polycarbonate, and ABS. Aluminum is extremely durable, but also extremely pricey, and ABS is less durable but more affordable. A good polycarbonate bag can hit the sweet spot of price and quality. When it comes to soft-sided suitcases, ballistic nylon is one of the most durable options, but again can mean a higher price point. Regular nylon can still be high-quality while being more affordable, while polyester tends to be a good budget option.   

Style

The look of your bag is a very personal choice. Some suitcases are all about function but a bit of an eyesore, while others prioritize aesthetics and come in pleasing pastels practically made for Instagramming. How important a chic bag is, and what exactly that means to you, should be taken into consideration when choosing luggage.

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Read the original article on Business Insider

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.
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