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

The 5 best airline-friendly cat carriers in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • An airline-friendly cat carrier is a must if you’re traveling with your pet in cabin.
  • The Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier offers an unbeatable combination of quality, durability, pet comfort, and safety features.

If you are traveling by plane, then you’ll need to purchase a pet carrier that meets a particular airline’s regulations, both in terms of size and design. We evaluated cat carriers that are suitable for in-cabin travel based on a number of factors, including durability, size, ventilation, security, and comfort, as well as feedback from experts and our testing results.

While these cat carriers are generally acceptable for use in airplane cabins, check your airline’s requirements before purchasing. Different airlines have different rules and regulations. For instance, United Airlines requires that a soft-sided carrier be no larger than 18-inches long by 11-inches wide by 11-inches high. However, Southwest Airlines allows a slightly larger maximum size of 18.5-inches long, 8.5-inches high, and 13.5-inches wide, while Delta Airlines has varying requirements according to the specific flight that you’re on.

You should also research an airline’s general rules for pets before you book, and be sure to have documentation that the airline might require. Your pet may need a veterinary examination and particular vaccines to fly, and if necessary, schedule an appointment with your vet to ensure your travel plans go smoothly.

Here are the 5 best airline-friendly cat carriers in 2021

The best airline-friendly carrier overall

sleepypod air in cabin pet carrier

The Sleepypod Air offers the durability and comfort your cat needs for frequent travel.

Pros: Compresses to fit under plane seats, durable construction, straps can anchor to a car seat belt, crash-tested

Cons: Heavier than other soft-sided carriers

The Sleepypod Air in-cabin pet carrier offers an ideal blend of a highly durable exterior and a soft, comfortable interior to keep your cat both comfortable and safe during travel. The exterior is made of luggage-grade ballistic nylon for strength, and tear-resistant mesh makes this carrier a long-lasting choice.

The Sleepypod Air’s unique design allows you to expand or compress the carrier’s size. When you’re in the car or the airport, your pet can enjoy increased space. Then, compress the carrier when you board so it meets your airline’s requirements and fits underneath a seat.  

A large opening provides easy entry, and there are zipper pockets on both sides for ample storage. Straps on both sides of the carrier can secure to a car seat belt for increased travel safety. This carrier also passed crash-testing conducted by the Center for Pet Safety

The best expandable airline-friendly carrier

mr peanuts gold expandable cat carrier

The Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier is compact enough to meet most airlines’ size regulations, but also expands to offer your pet extra space.

Pros: Expandable panel for extra room, two entry doors, folds flat for storage, washable interior bed, lightweight

Cons: Hand-wash only, no warranty

To comply with airline regulations, most pet carriers are small and offer limited space. The Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier solves the issue with a side flap that folds out — just unzip and, voila, your pet has extra space to stretch out while staying securely inside the carrier.

Top and front entrances make it easy to load and unload your cat and a privacy flap can help keep cats calm. The luggage sleeve and comfortable shoulder strap are particularly beneficial when you have to carry your pet long distances through the airport.

The carrier is made from durable nylon and includes a sturdy but lightweight plywood base. An interior fleece bed is removable and hand-washable. When not in use, the carrier folds completely flat for easy storage. 

The best hard-shell airline-friendly carrier

frisco hard shell kennel

Affordable and easy to assemble, the Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel offers extra protection.

Pros: Sturdy hard shell, ventilation on all sides, easy assembly

Cons: Only two color options, low weight limit, may be too large for some airlines

The Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel offers your cat the extra protection and spaciousness of a hard-shell carrier in a size that meets most airlines’ regulations. Thanks to the plastic kennel’s durable construction, you don’t have to worry about the occasional bump or nudge to your cat.

There are secure wire mesh doors on both the front and top of the carrier and ventilation openings on all sides. The doors latch securely and the top-mounted handle is strong.

It arrives in two pieces and requires assembly with the included bolts. The carrier is available in a larger 24-inch size, but it’s likely it won’t meet airlines’ regulations.

The best wheeled airline-friendly carrier

katziela rolling carrier

The Katziela Luxury Rider Pet Carrier is easy to pull through the airport and removable wheels ensure it meets size regulations.

Pros: Removable wheels, mesh top can be compressed to fit under a seat, carrying handle and shoulder strap for convenience

Cons: Can tip over if wheels aren’t properly centered, may be too large for some airlines

With the Katziela Luxury Rider Pet Carrier, you can pull the carrier with a telescopic handle, or opt for the handle or shoulder strap. Whichever way you choose to transport your cat, this carrier makes traveling with pets easier.

Six wheels give the carrier extra support, but they’re also easily removable to keep the carrier within the size limit of most airlines.  You can also squish down the top of the carrier to make it fit under a plane seat.

A mesh top and windows give your cat plenty of ventilation. Pockets can hold small supplies, a name tag attached to the handle allows for easy identification, and zippers can be locked to prevent your cat from opening the side flap and escaping. Just make sure you can unlock it, in case of an emergency.

The best budget airline-friendly carrier

frisco travel pet carrier

Affordable and appropriately sized, the Frisco Travel Carrier is a practical option for the occasional trip.

Pros: Front- and top-loading, secure luggage strap, washable interior bed, folds flat for storage, one-year warranty

Cons: Less ventilation, shoulder strap is uncomfortable for shorter individuals

For an affordable option, the Frisco Travel Carrier offers a combination of comfort, durability, and features to make traveling with a pet easier for cats up to 16 pounds.

The durable nylon bag includes doors at top and front and includes privacy flaps. Along with a shoulder strap, there is a luggage sleeve and convenient carrying handles. The removable interior mat provides your cat a soft place to rest.

The downsides: This bag’s ventilation is more limited than that of our top picks. We also found that the shoulder stap lacks padding and can be uncomfortable to carry.

What we’re looking forward to

We’re testing additional airline-friendly carriers for an update to this guide, including the following:

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 best men-sized backpacking packs, perfect for everything from multi-day treks to weeks spent on the trail

  • The right backpacking pack makes trekking with a 30-pound bag on your back a more comfortable experience.
  • The best packs evenly distribute large loads, have several access points, and feature adjustable straps and hip belts. 
  • Our top pick, the Osprey Atmos AG 65, carries tons of gear yet stays comfortable with mesh venting and padded straps.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Backpacking is a fun but grueling outdoor activity – but it doesn’t always have to be. With the right equipment, a multi-day trip into the backcountry could feel like a literal walk in the park, and achieving this starts with purchasing the right backpack. 

Since backpacking requires you to haul everything you need to survive, your pack needs to both hold up to the harshness of the outdoors yet remain comfortable across long distances. This means finding one that’s capable of packing everything from a change of clothes and a sleeping bag to ample food and water (which includes gear like backpacking stoves, changes of socks, and, of course, equipment for making coffee). 

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve embarked on my fair share of backpacking trips, both big and small. Some had me spending just a couple of days on the trail with minimal mileage hiked each day while others were more intensive multi-day to week-long treks with tens of miles of ground covered between camps. While some of the gear you bring may be influenced by the season (like sleeping bags or hiking apparel), the pack you wear depends entirely on the trip you plan on taking.

But finding the right pack isn’t always an easy process. With so many on the market, it’s difficult to know which are best suited to the type of backpacking you prefer. To help, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite packs from brands like Osprey, Arc’teryx, and Gregory, all designed to function well in a variety of use cases. 

A note on fit

The backpacking backpacks featured in this guide are marked as “men’s” packs for a few reasons, all pertaining to their specific fit. Men’s packs tend to have larger carrying capacities, wider straps, taller hip belts, and larger torso dimensions.

Though they’re marketed as “men’s” packs, this doesn’t mean someone of any gender wouldn’t be able to find a men’s pack that fits them well and serves their backpacking needs (same goes for women’s backpacking packs, too). 

Here are the best men’s backpacking backpacks:

Best overall

Atmos AG backpack

With 65-liters of cargo space, upper and lower compression straps to stabilize heavy loads, and Osprey’s Anti-Gravity mesh back panel, the Atmos AG 65 is a backpacker’s dream.

Pros: Osprey’s Anti-Gravity mesh back panel molds to your back to create a comfortable, custom fit, included FlapJacket fly helps protect against rainy weather, upper and lower compression straps reduce load weight

Cons: Size could be bulky for smaller people, not ideal for short, day trips

The Osprey Atmos AG 65 focuses on providing absolute comfort no matter how far you’re hiking or how much cargo you’re hauling. Its 65-liter capacity may be too much for anyone setting out on an overnight trip, as it’s meant more for a weekend or longer excursions. Even when it’s not completely full, the pack never feels as though it’s flopping around on your back or creating a poor fit. 

It features a top-loading design in its main compartment, as well as several exterior pockets designed to hold water bottles, ice climbing tools, or trekking poles. The Atmos also has a zippered bottom area designed to hold a sleeping bag, as well as removable exterior straps which are used to secure a sleeping pad. 

For load management, Osprey’s LightWire frame connects the upper part of the pack to the hip-belt and central core to help distribute weight. Compression straps located on both the upper and lower part of the pack also reduced the pack’s bulk and balanced out heavier loads during my tests. 

Its best feature is the Anti-Gravity ventilated mesh back-panel that contoured to our back to create a snug fit. This helped evenly distribute weight, specifically taking it off our shoulders, hips, and back. This allowed us to carry more weight without feeling bogged down. 

The Osprey Atmos AG 65 is one of the best values among any picks on this list. Being uncomfortable can quickly ruin any backpacking trip, so investing in a pack like this one is always well worth the money.  

Best for short trips

REICoop

REI Co-op’s Flash 45 offers ample cargo room for weekend-long adventures but remains lightweight enough for quick day trips or overnighters.

Pros: Smaller capacity perfect for day trips, compatible with hydration pouches, contoured foam hip belt provides a snug and comfortable fit, UpLift Compression tech raises the load to improve stability, and it’s inexpensive

Cons: Not suitable for venturing off-grid for multiple days

Backpacking trips don’t always need to be grueling multiday treks, so when shorter day trips or overnighters are on the agenda, REI Co-op’s Flash 45 is the pack you’ll want. Small enough to avoid slowing you down but with enough cargo space to support you for one or two days on the trail.

Even for a smaller pack, it’s loaded with features geared toward making backpacking easier. REI designed its back panel to provide extra lumbar support while remaining breathable and flexible. It has a contoured hip-belt with foam padding throughout which sits snug against your body to create a custom fit.

On longer trips when I had more cargo, its compression straps helped raise its load while pulling it toward my center of gravity. This helped with pack stability which left me better balanced, and the pack better supported, while I hiked.

Other features include compatibility with a hydration pouch and external tool keepers for trekking poles or ice axes. It also has conveniently-placed bottle pockets that allow you to easily remove and place back water bottles. 

The Flash 45 is a great option for anyone just getting into backpacking but not interested in investing in a larger, more expensive model. 

Best for durability

Hyperlite backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 2400 Southwest Pack features a Dyneema composite exterior that allows it to hold up to hanging branches, sharp rocks, or anything you come across while on the trail.

Pros: Constructed out of durable and lightweight Dyneema fabric, 40-liter volume offers enough cargo space for weekend trips, dedicated hydration pack pocket, seamed seals to keep the rain out

Cons: Only offers a few external pockets that can fill up easily

It’s not just your body that will take a beating on backpacking trips — your gear inevitably will, too. If you plan on backpacking in densely wooded areas or you find that your gear tends to get more scratched and scraped than you’d like, then check out the Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 2400 Southwest Pack.

Constructed out of durable Dyneema fabric, the pack can be taken into the harshest environments with confidence. Dyneema’s light weight also helps reduce overall pack weight, something that proved beneficial when we packed this 40-liter bag to the brim. Its size is perfect for three-day treks and can even be an option for ultralight backpackers setting out for four or five days. 

Its roll-top closure system is easy to secure, though it did make it slightly difficult to reach gear in the bottom of the pack while we were on-the-move. There are a few external pockets to store gear that we could quickly access, but these are limited to the front of the pack. Vertical and horizontal compression straps along the sides of the pack help properly secure loads, which was especially useful when the pack wasn’t completely full. 

Its interior houses a mesh hydration sleeve that’s separate from the main compartment, so it won’t take up valuable gear space. Other features include fully-seamed seals to keep water out, as well as ice ax loops. The pack is a little expensive at $310 but its durability more than validates the investment.

Best for heavy cargo

Gregory backpack

With a lightweight aluminum chassis and an innovative suspension system, the Gregory Paragon 58 weighs less than 4 pounds, saving wearers some valuable packing weight.

Pros: Lightweight frame and suspension system makes heavy loads easier to haul, matrix ventilation system allows for increased airflow to keep your back cool, adjustable hip-belt makes it easy to customize the perfect fit, hydration sleeve doubles as a small daypack

Cons: The stitching on the daypack isn’t very durable 

Every backpacker knows that despite their best-laid plans to keep their pack light, they often end up bringing much more gear than anticipated. With Gregory’s Paragon 58, those heavy loads become much easier to handle, no matter how long the trip might be. 

The pack achieves this by way of an incredibly lightweight frame and suspension system that clocks in several pounds lighter than any other pack on this list. Though it may not seem that crucial, every pound counts when you’re hiking 10-plus miles for days-on-end and living solely out a backpack. 

Along with its matrix ventilation system that promotes increased airflow, the Paragon 58 is best-suited for trips anywhere from three to five days long. The final days of any backpacking trip can feel as though food, water, and clean socks are at a minimum but we took its lower weight into consideration and packed extra. This let us get through even a five-day trip with ease. 

One of its highlight features is its hydration sleeve that also doubles as a removable daypack. If we had camp set-up, this allowed us to not have to haul our big 58-liter pack on short treks to a nearby river just to tote along water or food. The daypack’s stitching isn’t the most durable and although it didn’t come undone on our trips, we could see how it might when used often. 

For $230, the Gregory Paragon 58 is a great backpacking option with incredible value. It’s best used for longer backpacking trips, or for anyone who has a hard time deciding on what to bring or what to leave behind. 

Best suspension system

Arc'teryx backpack

The Arc’teryx Bora AR 50’s innovative suspension system, which allows wearers to freely move without worrying about shifts in weight, is worth its high price tag.

Pros: Best suspension system on the market makes heavy loads feel lighter and promotes a wide range of movement, pivoting hip belt helps avoid the displacement of pack weight, constructed out of weatherproof materials, large enough capacity for weekend trips

Cons: Expensive

A backpacking pack’s suspension system has the ability to make or break a backpacking trip. Not only are they responsible for distributing the weight of a pack to make it more manageable for the wearer, but they help promote a range of motion and establish a comfortable fit. Right now, no pack does suspension better than the Arc’teryx Bora AR 50.

Thanks to the brand’s RotoGlide hip-belt, its suspension system is designed to completely rotate side to side while also offering free movement up and down. What this does is that with every step, the pack slides in either direction to allow for a natural stride, even when it’s packed full. This also reduces chafing and helps wearers maintain balance. 

Though this is helpful for any length of trip, we found it to be especially useful during weekend trips where our pack needed to carry the most gear. Whether crouching underneath a fallen tree or stepping up onto a high rock, the suspension system helped the pack remain stable through a wide range of motion. 

The pack also features a number of internal and external pockets that helped keep our gear organized. Its exterior kangaroo pocket was great for storing snacks we could access quickly, and would also function well for stashing wet gear. There are also side pockets sized for water bottles, as well as loops for trekking poles.

Arc’teryx designed the Bora AR 50 as a top-loading pack but included side zippers to make it easier to access gear stored at the bottom. The pack is also compatible with hydration pouches and features external storage loops for ice axes.

It’s the most expensive pack on this list at $500, but no other model offers as functional a suspension system as the Bora AR 50. If it wasn’t for the high price, we could easily see this as our overall pick.

Backpacking packs FAQ

Backpacking packs differ from traditional travel backpacks in that they’re designed to hold upward of 30 or 40 pounds of cargo, while still being comfortable to wear. The best packs do this by distributing weight across its frame to avoid having the bulk of the weight sit on any one part of your body.

These packs also tend to feature an abundance of pockets to hold a variety of gear, a sleeve for a hydration pouch, and multiple points of entry to make accessing what you pack along easier than just dumping everything out and repacking. You’ll also find most packs come with a series of adjustable (and padded) straps to fine-tune the fit, ventilation systems to promote airflow and keep you cool, and some sort of durable fabric to hold up to the harshness of the outdoors. 

How do you pick out the right size?

Many backpacking packs come in sizes such as small, medium, or large, but finding the right fit also comes down to personally customizing the pack yourself. This means adjusting the hip belt and changing the size of the pack’s torso length. You’ll also want to make sure the shoulder straps and any other stabilizing strap (sternum, load-lifter, etc.) are able to customize to your liking. 

A good rule of thumb for initially picking out a pack, too, is that your specific torso length is far more important than your height. Just because you wear medium shirts doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll wear a medium pack. Fine-tuning these adjustments and picking out the correct size allows the pack to be far less fatiguing while on the trail, and assures you’re able to get from point A to point B in as comfortable a way as possible.

How important is the pack’s fit?

Aside from packing the correct gear like sleeping bags, tents, and food and water, how your pack fits is one of the most vital steps to any backpacking trip. An ill-fitting pack can spell the difference between making it to camp without immense back pain or having to stop and readjust your load every few feet.

What are the most important features that it should have?

All backpacking packs should come with some form of padded hip belt, padded shoulder straps, a load-fitting strap (this is separate from the shoulder straps), and a sternum strap. Beyond those which help with the fit, you should also look for packs that come with a variety of useful storage pockets.

Personally, I like packs that have pockets on the hip belt for easy access to snacks, sunglasses, or anything else small I might need on the trail, as well as easily accessible water pouches (if it doesn’t come with space for a hydration pouch). Some packs also come with removable top pouches which can serve as day packs if you venture off from camp. 

You also want to make sure your pack can carry everything you need it to (but don’t go overboard). It’s not always smart to just buy the largest capacity backpack, even for long trips, because you run the risk of overpacking and a heavy backpack can severely weigh you down on trail. The best way to judge how much gear to bring is by weight, and you generally don’t want to pack more than 20% of your body weight. 

Read the original article on Business Insider