"This bag is roomy enough for a weekend, but usually I bring it along when I'm checking a bag — it's the perfect in-between size for when a second suitcase is overkill but a purse seems too small. It looks pretty sleek (gold fixtures, leather trim, a nylon exterior that's easy to wipe down should you happen to, I don't know, drop the Shake Shack milkshake you just bought all over the floor in Terminal 4), and it has wheels and a zip-open suitcase sleeve, so you can stuff it to the gills and still tool around the terminal with ease. And oh, the pockets! So many pockets. Pockets are key." — Lila Battis, Food & Travel Editor
Whether you’re traveling by air, driving up to a cabin for the weekend, or venturing across the world on an expedition, you’ll likely be using a duffel bag to get your gear from one place to the next. Duffels are popular among all kinds of travelers for good reason: they’re easy to load and carry, and many are built to take a beating. Below we break down the best duffels of 2019, including top travel, outdoor, and waterproof bags of both the standard and rolling varieties. For more background information, see our duffel bag comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
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If you’re planning a long weekend getaway, the “Plambag Unisex Canvas Duffel” is a stylish-looking bag that is also functional and affordable. It's made of cotton canvas material that comes in grey, coffee, army green or dark grey, and it also features classic, attractive zipper pulls. Wear it on your shoulder or leave the strap and carry it like a tote. There are three layers of lining, rubber grips on the bottom (so if you set it on something wet it won’t seep through the fabric) and plenty of pockets. When fully expanded, it measures 24.4 x 9.8 x 11.8 inches otherwise it is 20.8 inches long – a great size for a short trip.
I bought a fabulous cross body satchel in dark grey canvas years ago it has flaps and zippered compartments – and plenty of room for a rain jacket – trouble is it is so heavy that by the end of a long day my neck hurts. So last time we went to the US I bought a small shoulder bag I wear it cross body and it has my phone credit card some cash and passports on it. Hubby gets a back pack with my scarf, rain jacket and a water bottle. Best reveal tip – make the husband carry the heavy stuff lol
I have been using PacSafe travel bags for over 10 years. Travelling the world for work as I do, and travelling to some areas where personal safety is not to be underestimated, I suggest only the smallest sized cross body you can find. Wear it under your jacket if necessary and keep the colours dull or in line with your wardrobes. No red or bright coloured bags. Don’t take it off to eat, go to bathroom, or sit in cabs/cars. etc.
"I recently tested this smart carry-on for a weekend trip and it impressed me from the get-go. For starters, it's only about 9 lbs. and has a built-in weight sensor, a USB charging port, and a lock that's activated by an app on your phone. I found it to be roomier inside than other smart suitcases I've tested, and love the added front pockets for exterior storage on a hard-sided case. Plus, the charger pack includes a set of converters, allowing for easy charging worldwide." — Richelle Szypulski, Assistant Digital Editor
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Made in Italy, Senreve's bags are designed to be used, not tucked away in a dust bag. The pebbled leather exterior of this tote is scratch- and stain-resistant (and the microsuede interior won't stain either). You couldn't ask for more pockets inside, with two tech sleeves, and size slip pockets for smaller essentails. And a zip-top is always helpful to have when traveling.
Both the strap and purse body are made of slashproof mesh, the straps and zippers lock, and the inner compartment blocks RFID thieves. And I know you could buy an LED light anywhere, but I love that this purse comes with one attached. This is an ideal lightweight travel handbag to slip into your luggage or use for the basics - passport, money, cards, phone...
For travelers torn between a standard duffel and traditional wheeled luggage, the Osprey Shuttle may be exactly what you’re looking for. This high-end duffel is extremely roomy, durable, and comes with tons of organization. Time and time again, we’ve loaded an entire vacation worth of clothing and other items into the Shuttle with ease. Unlike cheaper wheeled duffels that have a tendency to fall over when full and upright, it maintains its stability nicely. And all of the other features are there, from external compression straps to tighten down your load to a separate lower compartment for wet gear.
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The Gregory Alpaca is a high capacity duffel that checks all the boxes. It has a large U-shaped opening, padded and removable backpack straps, and is made with a durable 900D ripstop nylon fabric with a water-resistant coating. Throw in storm flaps over the top zipper, plenty of daisy chains, and a sleek design, and you have another attractive outdoor/travel duffel to consider.
If you’re on the go, nothing slows you down faster than a clumsy travel bag. Rushing off to the airport? Trying to pack for an extended, multi-city business trip? Or maybe you just like putting your organizational skills to use? A good travel bag—sturdy, efficient, stylish—can be worth its weight in gold, more as a necessity than a mere accessory. Travel + Leisure editors deliberate carefully over which luggage sets are ideal for bringing on a vacation, and make sure to feature only the best that money can buy.
It’s worth noting that Marmot did decide to use thinner materials on the current Long Hauler. With a burly 1,000-denier fabric, the older version was prized for its toughness and durability. Unfortunately, Marmot downgraded this bag to 600-denier while adding a side pocket. 600D certainly isn’t bad, but it’s now thinner than competitors like the Patagonia Black Hole and The North Face Base Camp while the price remains similar. We still like the Marmot, but it just doesn’t stand out like it used to.
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I’m a crossbody bag fan for sure, because I really like having my hands free. That said, there are times my shoulders begin to beg for a little relief. I’m seriously considering the Henri Bendel Jetsetter Convertible Backpack for my upcoming trip through the Czech Republic, because it can be worn so many ways…and I won’t have to transfer the contents from bag to bag!
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The “black hole” duffel bag lives up to its name for travel writer and photographer Michaela Trimble, who has toted it all over the world, most recently to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Madagascar. “It fit everything I needed for a nearly two-month trip with room to spare,” she said, “and it barely came back with a scratch.” Laminated fabric and water-repellent coating protect the bag from the elements and any damage that may occur in transit, while keeping it lightweight (under three pounds). Trimble also likes that it “comes with padded straps, so it can easily and comfortably be carried as a backpack.”
Our team of travel experts will teach you how to optimize your packing experience, and get the most bang out of your luggage set. Using tricks like the “roll-up squeeze,” or the layer cake technique, find out what packing style makes the most sense for which trip. Our packing shortcuts and hacks will amaze you when it comes time to pack, making the whole process go more smoothly.
If you’re in the market for basic storage and protection for your gear, the REI Co-op Roadtripper is one of the best values on this list. At just $60, this bag is made from burly 610D water-resistant Cordura and sports a large detachable shoulder strap and handles (no backpack-style straps here, which is notable for those who plan on carrying their bag long distances). We also love the minimal weight, which at just 1 pound 8 ounces makes it one of the lightest duffels on this list.
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I always try to blend in like a local. I don’t talk loudly or draw attention to myself even when I am lost. I always keep my valuables in two safe places, one being a discrete Anti-theft mini cross body bag and had no problems all over Italy and Berlin last year. I have just purchased a Travelon messenger bag for an upcoming trip to Europe, where I will travel alone for most of it.
The No Matter What is made of bi-tech fabric that’s water and abrasion resistant. It also comes with compression straps to compress your gear in transport and #10 anti-theft locks. When you’re bag isn’t in use, it collapses into a “stuff pouch” so you can store it inside another piece of luggage to avoid the checked bag fees or to store in your closet clutter-free between trips.
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Compression straps, both internal and external, can help make a duffel’s load more compact. Internal straps remove strain from the zipper and compress your gear inside the duffel to keep it from shifting during transit. We see these on models like the Patagonia Black Hole and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dyneema Duffel. External compression straps can be on the ends (such as with the Gregory Stash) or sides (The North Face Base Camp) and tighten the duffel after the zipper has been shut. External straps are especially useful on large duffels that might not be stuffed to capacity, and they help make your bag less unruly for travel. Additionally, if you plan on frequently carrying your duffel as a backpack, we encourage you to consider a model with compression straps—it makes the whole operation a lot more comfortable.
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One travel tip I have is to pack two or three binder clips with you. They are small to pack but useful for securing hotel/hostel/accommodation curtains shut. This helps block out the light more and make it easier to sleep which is helpful when you are adjusting to a new schedule & overcoming jet lag. Another tip is to try to switch whatever toiletries you can to solids. There are great options for solid shampoo bars, body wash bars, face wash bars, lotion bars, etc.
I haven’t traveled much, but my husband will be retiring soon so we will definitely be traveling more in the near future. I learn so much from you, Alex, and all readers that follow you. The one trip to Japan, last year, made me realize that although I LOVE the RM Julian backpack, it was not practical when taking the train so often. A crossbody is more practical. Not only in having to get your ticket out and your usually rushing, but when you’re inside the train. Whether you’re sitting or standing, you’re always taking off and putting on your backpack. Kind of a slight inconvenience. With a crossbody, it stays in one place and everything is at your fingertips. I still love my RM for walking around because it feels better to my shoulders. Thank you again for all that you offer to all of us. I really appreciate it. Have a great day!
Alex, thank you for the blog post and especially your FB group, I learn so much from TFG and fellow admirers! I love cross body bags for travel, I’ve wish listed some of the Travelon bags above for an upcoming trip later this year. One of my favorite travel tips are freezer-strength Ziplock bags – sandwich sizes for credit cards and another for foreign currency, medium size for TSA and larges for medicine, charging cords/headphones. I find it helps me locate exactly what I need immediately (and helps my husband, too).
But many standard totes tend to have two straps and a main compartment, and that’s about it. While they’re perfectly fine for day-to-day use, travel requires something that's far less prone to organization chaos. You don’t want to spend tons of time digging through the depths of your bag to find your chapstick (the ultimate in-flight essential), having your headphones and charging cords tangled in a mess with your keys, or even worse, holding up the security line as you rummage for your ID or boarding pass.
A small percentage of people want waterproof protection from their duffel (think rafters, fisherman, and backcountry winter adventurers). The market is limited, but two bags on the list are waterproof: the YETI Panga and SealLine WideMouth. The Panga is a beast of a bag, with the shape of a traditional duffel but with extra thick materials and a fully waterproof zipper. The SealLine, on the other hand, is a roll-top bag that more closely resembles a dry bag. Given their over-built nature, we wouldn’t want a waterproof duffel for anything but the harshest and wettest of environments. They simply are too heavy, expensive, and technically-oriented (minimal organization and straps) for everyday use. And it's worth mentioning that the Arc’teryx Carrier and Hyperlite Dyneema Duffel can also be used for some scenarios in which a waterproof duffel is being considered. They won’t handle submersion, but should be able to keep out rain or snow with similar waterproof fabrics, taped seams, and water-resistant zippers as a rain jacket.