Duffel bags are commonly thought of as the workhorses of the carry world. Durable, versatile gear haulers with grab-and-go portability to get you and your gear on the move. Take a brief look at the history of the duffel bag and you’ll see this reputation is not without merit. From the grueling gear demands of WWII to the surfer subcultures of the 1960s, you’ll find this hard-working bag in one form or another, quietly getting on with the job.
The name ‘duffel’ stems from the 17th century and a Belgian town called Duffel, where the original duffel bag fabric was made. The duffel became particularly widespread during WWII, issued to numerous army and navy personnel as a simple and durable means of transporting their gear as well as military supplies. Commonly crafted from canvas and featuring a cylindrical design, duffel bags were sometimes also referred to as kit bags (stemming from carrying military kit), sea bags or ditty bags. Following WWII, many duffels became readily available through sources such as army surplus stores, encouraging their spread through civilian carry spheres. The duffel bag was popular in American and Australian surfer subcultures until around the mid 1960s, and the past few decades have played their own role in shaping this humble hauler, both from a fashion and functionality standpoint.
Duffels vs. Weekenders
Modern-day duffel use varies greatly, from travel to carrying sports gear or outdoor adventure/expedition equipment, to everyday use. The terms ‘duffel’ and ‘weekender’ are sometimes used interchangeably, though weekenders tend to be a little more boxy in shape, more formal, and more compact – essentially big enough to store a weekend’s worth of clothing and toiletries. Weekenders have a strong short-trip association (and usually within urban settings, such as airport to taxi to accommodation). Duffels on the other hand lean towards a little more versatility (for example carrying your work supplies one day and gym gear or a stash of travel essentials the next).
So now that you know a bit more about the duffel’s history, let’s dig a little into the key points to consider if you want to add one to your carry collection.
Obviously it’s important that a duffel meets your needs in terms of available space. Check the size dimensions to ensure it will fit everything you have in mind. Also make sure it fits airline baggage restrictions if you plan to travel with it.
More neutral colorways (such as black, tan, gray or navy) will make it easier for the duffel to blend into a greater range of environments. That being said, some users will be happy to go bold with a style that expresses their personality or signals fashion-forward sensibilities. Ultimately make sure the duffel style fulfils your needs and personal preferences, whether that’s low-key flexibility or a style statement that will really stand out.
Duffels have expanded greatly from their traditional canvas construction and are now available in a wide range of materials. If you want to get the most out of your bag, ensure it’s made with durable material, quality hardware and dependable construction. A good duffel will haul gear reliably without you having to worry about it holding up to the demands of frequent travel or regular EDC use. Features such as a reinforced base or feet will add durability, along with reinforced stitching in stress points. And water-resistant fabrics and zippers will add an extra layer of defence to protect your gear on the go.
Something to bear in mind though, in general the more durable a duffel is, the heavier it will likely be. So decide beforehand where your compromise point will be. Perhaps a lighter but slightly less durable duffel will better suit your needs if you won’t be dragging it through harsh environments all the time.
While you should ensure a duffel offers sufficient space for your needs, how you access that space is equally important. Being able to easily access the main compartment makes that space more usable, so consider things like wide openings, large D-shaped zippers and clamshell designs for maximized access. Additionally, you’ll want readily available pockets for smaller items to be stored within easy reach.
In addition to carry handles, some bags may offer shoulder straps and/or backpack straps for flexible portability. Grab handles on multiple sides can assist with moving the bag in tight spaces or over shorter distances. If you know you’ll be using the duffel across a range of environments, it’s best to opt for one with a choice of carry options to help you adapt as required.
Now that you have some ideas about key factors to consider, let’s make your duffel search that little bit easier. We’ve rounded up some of the world’s best duffel bags to cater to a range of carry needs. Check them out below…
GORUCK have built a reputation for crafting some of the toughest carry gear around. And their Gym Bag doesn’t disappoint, made in the USA with 1000D CORDURA® and backed by GORUCK’s SCARS lifetime guarantee. The 38L duffel features a wide-opening main compartment, an interior pocket for smaller items, and reinforced carry handles, with the option to add a shoulder strap if desired.
With its rugged wheels, telescoping handle and durable weatherproof build, the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel easily traverses a range of terrains while keeping your gear safe from the elements. A great option when you don’t want to shoulder the load on your travels, the duffel comes in a range of sizes such as 40L, 70L and 120L and offers a large opening to the main compartment, along with easy-access interior lid pockets and an exterior side pocket.
With its roomy 110L volume this duffel offers plenty of space to haul all your college essentials. Complementing its ample storage space is a durable and weatherproof build, flexible portability with carry handles and concealable backpack straps, pockets for smaller items, and a smart-casual styling that looks right at home on campus.
Whether you’re traveling or hauling groceries on the way home, sometimes you just need to be able to pack extra. And this is where the TAD Azimuth Packable Duffel comes to the rescue. Lightweight and compact enough to fit inside your luggage or day bag until needed, the 33L duffel features top and side handles as well as a removable shoulder strap that can be configured for backpack carry. Made in the USA with a weather-resistant VX-21 ripstop and VX-07 ripstop shell, the duffel also offers pockets and interior attachment points to keep your gear tidy.
This rugged hauler lends itself to a variety of travel and day-to-day needs. The padded base and sides offer protection against the duffel’s contents, while a choice of carry handles, stowable backpack straps and a removable shoulder strap give you the flexibility to handle a range of carry settings. Plus with exterior and interior pockets at the ready, smaller items will remain close at hand when you need them.
If you love leather bags, the Boxcar Duffel is sure to tug on your heartstrings. Crafted with durable full-grain vegetable-tanned leather, this handsome bag is carry-on compatible and includes a leather ID tag for your travels. In addition to the top handles the duffel also includes a removable shoulder strap, and features a removable zippered pocket to keep smaller items within easy reach.
While weatherproof bags are sufficient for a lot of carry situations, sometimes you need that extra peace of mind. And the YETI Panga delivers it in rugged style. Extremely tough and fully submersible, this duffel will take a beating for years to come, while keeping your gear safe and dry wherever the next great adventure leads. And with multiple grab handles and the option to carry the bag backpack-style, you can easily maneuver it wherever you need to go.
The KILLSPENCER Duffel offers a great balance of durability and clean, classy style, with a versatile design that can haul your travel essentials or gym gear equally well. The duffel is made in the USA with 18 oz. filter twill waxed canvas, bullhide leather detailing, and Riri zippers. In addition to top and side handles, the duffel also includes a removable shoulder strap.
Boreas are well experienced in creating carry gear to help you get out there and explore. So when they make a duffel designed to embrace travel with plenty of carry comfort, you know it’ll be good. The Erawan Duffel Pack features comfy stowable shoulder straps for backpack portability, as well as grab handles for hand carry. The clamshell-style main compartment lets you easily pack and reach your travel gear, while further features include a useful wet/dry compartment and a waterproof pocket.
The Red Oxx Air Boss is a rugged carry-on bag designed with one-bag travel in mind. The duffel features three clamshell compartments to organize your gear, with compression straps in the side compartments and quick-access exterior pockets for smaller essentials. The Air Boss includes a removable non-slip shoulder strap and top carry handles for flexible portability. And since traveling is often grueling on your carry, you can enjoy extra peace of mind that this extremely tough, American-made duffel is backed by a lifetime guarantee.
The Thule Subterra Duffel 45L is an adaptable and understated duffel that lends itself to a variety of uses, from short business trips to weekend getaways and day-to-day carry needs. The duffel suits carry-on use for most airlines and opens wide for easy packing, with an interior pocket for smaller items. Externally a quick-access top pocket keeps items such as your phone within reach. The duffel’s top flaps can be secured down for a sleeker look or kept up for a tote-style bag. Grab handles and a removable shoulder strap provide convenient carry options, and the low-key style works well across formal and informal settings alike.
When you’re putting the effort in at the gym, why not have a bag that works hard for you too? Aer’s Gym Duffel 2 is that bag, packing in handy features such as a ventilated main compartment and shoe compartment, separate storage for clean clothes, and a choice of top handles or shoulder strap carry. Multiple pockets keep your EDC and gym accessories tidy, and there’s even a padded 15″ laptop pocket. Pair the bag’s useful organization with smart aesthetics that suit work and play, and you’ve got a great one-bag solution for gym and the office.
You don’t have to shell out a lot of money in order to get a good duffel. The Matador Transit30 Duffel is a tough and weatherproof duffel made with CORDURA 30D material, water-resistant zippers, and reinforced stitching at stress points. The design is both ultra-lightweight and highly packable, with two carry handles that can be slung over the shoulders to carry the bag in backpack mode. All for under $50, making this duffel great value for money.
If you love your sneakers as much as you love your carry, the Portland Sneaker Duffel is the bag for you. Crafted with durable, weather-resistant materials, the duffel features a central rolltop compartment designed to hold sneakers of any size. Two side compartments and plenty of pockets provide storage for clothing, tech and other travel or day-to-day essentials, making this a versatile piece for trips to the gym or further afield.
Your carry needs change, and sometimes one bag is just too small or too big to meet them. So you could get multiple bags…or you could get The Adjustable Bag. One bag that adjusts to three different sizes, expanding from 31L to 46.5L to 62L to handle a variety of loads. And for added functionality, you also get three carry options for each size, including backpack, shoulder bag and carry handle mode.
Refined and elegantly eye-catching, this Troubadour duffel is handcrafted in Italy with premium Italian fabric and vegetable-tanned Italian leather. The duffel combines function and fashion, with easy access to the main compartment, exterior and interior pockets for storing smaller items, and a choice of carry handles or backpack straps. If understated luxury is what you’re after, this duffel delivers.
Others duffels that we love!
What’s your favorite duffle? Hit us in the comments.
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