Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018. As a result, some of the items in this list might be out of stock when you read this guide. We are currently in the process of updating it with new recommendations.
Unlike a traditional suitcase, a versatile duffel bag can expand or contract based on the amount of gear you need to bring with you. You can stuff a duffel with both hard and soft goods, which makes it well-suited for everything from weekend travel to camping, from stowing gear to moving across town.
We looked for duffel bags that were easy to carry, durable and well-organized. First, we sorted through hundreds of REI customer reviews to discover the top-rated duffels. Each duffel on our list has been packed full; dragged to summer camps, campsites and cabins; and carried onto airplanes by an REI customer, who then came back to tell REI how that duffel performed. After reading dozens of reviews, we then interviewed several duffel experts and ordered eight duffels meant for airline travel, outdoor adventures, weekend trips and people on a budget. We ran these bags through the ringer, packing each to within an inch of its life with clothes, shoes and gear; carrying the duffels around in the trunk of our car to rainy campsites and windy beaches; packing the bags onto a ferry boat headed for Canada; and carefully examining zippers and pockets. Eventually, we picked the following four duffels as our favorite options for travelers of all kinds.
The Best Duffel for Weeklong Trips
Capacity: 60 liters, 3,661 cubic inches
Dimensions: 25 x 13 x 10 inches
Weight (Unpacked): 2 pounds, 7 ounces
The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel – 60L is the best duffel bag for people who are traveling for a week or more. It’s a water-resistant and durable option with strong, comfortable straps. You can carry it onto most airlines when it isn’t filled to capacity, although it won’t fit in the overhead bin if it’s fully stuffed. (A word on carry-on luggage: Most airlines allow carry-on bags no larger than 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches. A roomy 60L duffel that isn’t filled to the gills may be compressed to meet those dimensions, but a full one probably won’t fit. Always confirm size limits with your airline before flying.)
There are three ways to carry the Black Hole Duffel: You can use the padded shoulder straps to wear the bag as a backpack; you can carry the bag with two handles (at your side); or you can use the haul loops on either end of the duffel. We found that the Black Hole’s backpack straps don’t attach to the bag very intuitively, but once you figure out how to connect them, you’ll be set up for an easy carrying experience.
The Black Hole comes in four sizes, but we think the 60L option is perfect for travelers, as it’s small enough that you won’t overpack and it fits in the overhead bin on most airlines (when it isn’t full). That said, the bag fits about five days worth of clothing or gear. If you plan to bring back extra purchases at the end of a trip, the Black Hole packs down small into its own stuff sack and fits easily into a suitcase. It’s also quite durable, as it’s made from water-resistant polyester ripstop with an outer laminate that prevents the bag from getting beat up during travel.
There are three pockets on the Patagonia bag: one with a zipper on the exterior and two in the bag’s main compartment, which are covered in mesh. These make organization fairly easy during longer trips and give you a place to store dirty clothes. The zippers are also well-made and surrounded by a fabric lip for extra protection, and many customers commented that the heavy-duty material and well-stitched seams of the bag held up over time.
One customer said: “I recently bought this bag for a week long trip I just took to Guatemala…. The quality is great and it stood up well. It doesn’t even look like it’s been used. With this trip I was on we did a lot of traveling around the country, in and out of hotels and a bus, and the backpack straps made it amazing to get around with. We flew all carry on and this bag had no problems getting through security and being in the overhead compartments. Having the backpack straps also made it great wandering through airports! Would highly recommend this bag to anyone!”
The Best Duffel for Weekend Trips
Capacity: 40 liters, 2,441 cubic inches
Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.4 x 10.2 inches
Weight (Unpacked): 2 pounds, 1 ounces
If you need a duffel for a weekend trip or even a trip to the gym, the REI Co-op Big Haul 40 Duffel is the best choice. The Big Haul 40 has customizable straps that allow you to carry the bag with handles, across your body, as a backpack, or even by the side handles. The bag also features lash points for hanging gear and a strap for compressing the bag down as needed. The straps can be tucked away during travel and the bag itself packs into a carrying case when it’s not being used.
The Big Haul is made with ripstop nylon and double stitching for extra durability. The bag has a DWR coating for water resistance and the zippers move smoothly. There’s one large mesh pocket divided into sections on the inside and one pocket on the outside to give you a place to store dirty clothes or small items. The Big Haul 40L is our favorite version of this duffel because it fits the size restrictions for a carry-on (for most airlines) and easily holds a weekend’s worth of clothes. However, if you plan to carry more than a few days’ worth of clothes or gear, you may want to consider one of the larger options.
“The efficiency of this duffel is excellent,” one customer wrote. “I took it on a four-day trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains and it held more than what I needed for the trip (had leftover clean clothes). I brought this fully packed on the plane and was able to have it comfortably stashed under the seat with room to spare for my feet. Durability seems top notch, pockets are great!”
The Best Budget Duffel Bag
Capacity: 60 liters, 3,661 cubic inches
Dimensions: 25.5 x 13.75 x 13.75 inches
Weight (Unpacked): 1 pound, 5 ounces
If you need a barebones duffel to carry gear or assist with a move, the REI Co-op Roadtripper Duffel is an excellent choice. It offers everything you need and nothing you don’t—it’s a durable bag with a nice carrying strap that packs down small and lasts for years. We like the 60-liter model best for travel, especially if you plan to take a trip and bring back extra purchases, because it packs down small in its own pocket and can be stowed in your luggage until you need it. If, however, you’re planning to lug several months’ worth of gear, the 100L or 140L models may be a better fit for you.
The Roadtripper Duffel is made with 610-denier Cordura polyester, which is water resistant and rarely rips. You can carry the duffel by its handles or you can use the removable shoulder strap, which optionally attaches to either end of the duffel. There are also handles on each end of the duffel, should you want to carry it in both arms. The Roadtripper contains small loops for hanging things off the side and there’s one outer pocket for stashing small items.
The Roadtripper does feel thinner and it offers fewer features compared to the other duffels we considered. That said, at nearly half the price of the other duffels we tested, this is a solid, simple buy.
Says one customer: “I took this on Amtrak across country (It fits their carry-on specifications). I had mine weigh in at about 28lbs in the Amtrak station. It was convenient using the shoulder strap, and just fine using the two handles carrying up and down stairs. It packs down into a pouch when not in use. The shoulder strapping is unique, and removable. The water-resistant fabric is so durable, the seams are double sewn in the proper places. I never felt it would tear, or a seam would pop loose.”
The Best Indestructible Duffel
Capacity: 50 liters, 3,051 cubic inches
Dimensions: 23.5 x 14 x 10 inches
Weight (Unpacked): 5.2 pounds
The YETI Panga Dry Duffel is a monster. Most people won’t need a duffel that shields their possessions from every element possible but if you do, or you like the idea of owning an indestructible tank of a bag, this duffel is for you. The Panga Dry Duffel weighs more than five pounds unpacked and is made with a laminated, high-density nylon shell that’s durable and waterproof. HydroLok zippers make the bag completely submersible and there are several optional strap systems, including six lash points, two sets of handles and two long straps that can be used to tie your bag to you, a boat, a horse or pretty much anything else. The bag also offers two internal mesh pockets for storing small items.
We like the 50-liter model for carrying surf, snorkel, ski and hiking gear, or for river rafting or sea kayak trips when you need a bag that will keep your possessions completely dry. But if you have bigger gear to take on your next trip, you might test out the 75- or 100-liter options.
One customer summed up the YETI Panga series best: “Have you ever wanted to put something in a duffel bag throw it off a waterfall, and carry it through any kind of weather imaginable knowing that your gear is protected by the most durable soft but still tough as nails product known to mankind? Or even just attach it to the side of your river tube and float down some rapids? Doesn’t matter how you do it, this product will stand up to the test. Amazing quality, even more amazing durability.”
How to choose the best duffel bag for you:
According to Alex Clouse, assistant category merchant manager at REI, and Rebecca Randall-Lally, category merchandise manager at REI, you should look for a duffel bag that’s durable, comfortable and storable. Most people will use duffel bags for travel or carrying gear in the back of the car, so you want something that will fit everything you might stuff into it but can still retain its shape and won’t get too beat up if it gets tossed around in a car, plane or campsite. “You can throw a duffel around and it should bounce right back,” says Randall-Lally.
Most durable duffels are made with TPU-coated denier nylon and a DWR finish. Nylon gives the bag strength, the TPU coating allows you to keep things clean (you can just wipe the bag off) and the DWR finish makes the bag water resistant.
You also want a bag that’s easy to carry (think: straps or a backpack-like arrangement). Additionally, you should pick a bag that can pack into a small shape when you’re not using it. Some people buy duffels to travel with, so they can bring extra gear or purchases home from a large trip. If that’s your goal, storability is key.
What size duffel should I get?
A 40–45-liter duffel bag is considered a weekender bag. It’s meant for taking a weekend’s-worth of clothes and shoes on a trip, or for carrying a small amount of gear, and it’s a great size for carrying onto an airplane.
A 60-liter duffel bag is the most versatile option and tends to be the most popular size for retailers. It works for a weekend trip but can contain enough clothing for up to five days, although it remains easy to carry so you can’t bring too much with you. This is the largest size you might be able to carry on to an airplane for an international adventure, although it will be borderline too big if it’s stuffed to the gills with clothes and gear.
A 90-liter or 120-liter duffel bag is serious business. These bags are mostly used for carrying ski or diving gear, which is bulky and weighs a lot but needs to stay together. Some people will use them for carrying 4 to 6 months of clothing, or for a multi-month excursion. This size can be tough to carry, so that should be a consideration if you decide to buy a bag this size and need to carry it long distances.
“For storing larger car camping gear, such as tents, backpacks and sleeping bags, a 90-liter or 120-liter duffel likely would be the right size,” says David Crumrine, gear designer at REI.
Can I carry on my duffel bag or do I need to check it?
For the most part, you can carry most 40–60-liter duffels onto a plane. This will, of course, depend on how full you pack the bag, what capacity you choose and each airline’s specific restrictions. A 40–45-liter duffel will almost certainly fit in the overhead bin, and a 60–liter duffel may fit depending on how you’ve packed it. Any duffel that’s full of more than 60 liters of clothing or gear is not likely to fit in the overhead bin and will need to be checked. Before you head to the airport, check your bag’s dimensions against the airline’s published size restrictions.
Duffel care & maintenance tips:
If you’ve bought a TPU-coated duffel, you can take a sponge soaked in dish soap and water and wipe off the bag’s exterior to remove any dust or mud. You can use the same method to clean around the zippers, so debris doesn’t collect between the zipper teeth.
“You should also consider giving your bag a good shake out, like you would with a tent,” says Clouse. “If the bag is damp on the inside, turn it inside out and let it air-dry before you stow it. You don’t want to build mold.”
One more thing, from Crumrine: “Washing a duffel in a washing machine is discouraged as it can prematurely wear the fabric coating.”