Duffel bags were once a mainstay for travellers. And it’s easy to see why. They’re simple, easy to pack and carry, plus they hold a huge amount of gear relative to their size.
But as the backpack improved, the popularity of holdalls waned. Backpacks are more practical and comfortable to carry over long distances. And as airline hand luggage limits got stricter, backpack manufacturers were the first to build carry-on specific baggage.
However, the last few years have seen a resurgence in duffel bags for international travel. Well-known bag manufacturers and new cottage companies have jumped in with their own reimagining of the classic travel duffel and some of them are truly excellent!
So, let’s break down some of the best duffel bags available on the market today.
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Best Duffel Bags for Travel — Quick Answers!
Best Duffel Bag for Travel
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Best Backpack With 'Duffel Mode'
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Best Duffel Bag for Photographers
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Best Osprey Duffel for Travel
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Best Collapsible Travel Duffel
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Best Eco-Friendly Travel Duffel
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What Is a Duffel Bag?
A duffel bag was once defined as a cylindrical bag you can carry over your shoulder. The name comes from Duffel, a small town in Belgium where the fabric used for the first duffel bags came from.
However, recent versions of the famous duffel bag come in a range of shapes and variations. From square models designed to stack well, to holdalls that look more like backpacks in shape and design, the world of duffel bags has never been so exciting… if you’re into that kind of thing. 🤓
Pros and Cons of Duffel Bags
- Easy to pack
- Good if you're travelling with bulky items
- Look smarter than backpacks
- Harder to carry than a backpack
- Not as comfortable as a backpack
- Draw more attention than backpacks
- Not as good for one-bag travel
The Best Duffel Bags for Travel
Monarc Settra Duffel – Our Favourite Travel Duffel
- The laptop compartment is badly placed
- Dual Function — Monarc’s Settra Duffel can be easily switched from a duffel to a backpack. It takes less than a minute to swap between the two and whichever straps aren’t in use can be hidden away. In backpack mode, the straps are reasonably well padded, there’s a hip belt and even a sternum strap. Plus, the padded back panel is more comfortable than you’d expect from a hybrid duffel!
- Size — The Settra is on the line for carry-on luggage. It has a 40-litre capacity and is 60 x 33 x 27cm (24”x13”x11”). This officially puts it a little over most international airline carry-on limits but it’s close enough that you can probably get away with it if you don’t draw attention to yourself – not that we’re encouraging you to break airline rules obviously… As far as travel duffel bags go, the Settra is heavy at 2kg.
- Organisation — Unlike many duffel bags, the Settra is flush with organisational features. Each end of the bag has an external pocket, plus there’s a pocket on the side too. Inside, the bag houses a removable shoe compartment (accessible from an external pocket), and a bunch of smaller pockets for various items. There’s also a laptop sleeve on the bottom of the bag but I’m nervous about leaving my laptop in there with the weight of my gear on top. The main access point is via the large U-zip opening at the top of the bag.
- Eco Credentials — Each Settra Duffel from Monarc is made from 50 recycled bottles. Plus, Monarc fund the removal of 2kg of plastic from the environment for every 1kg of recycled plastic they use in their bags. So with an overall weight of 2kg, each Settra bag is responsible for removing 6kg of plastic from the environment!
Nomatic Travel Bag – Best Backpack With ‘Duffel Mode’
- Very comfy in backpack mode
- Loads of organisation
- Excellent build quality
- Lacks a long shoulder strap
- Not as comfy to carry in duffel mode
- Nomatic vs Gomatic — First things first, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. In the USA this bag is sold under the Nomatic name but in Europe, it’s sold as a Gomatic bag. This is seemingly due to trademark laws. But it doesn’t matter whether your bag carries the ’N’ or the ‘G’, it’s the same great bag!
- Duffle vs Backpack — While the Nomatic Travel Bag is officially a backpack, it has a reliable duffel mode too. You don’t need to do much to go all Optimus Prime and transform this bag. The innovative strap system allows you to turn the shoulder straps into grab handles in just a few seconds. It’s not the most comfortable carry in duffel mode – the bag lacks a shoulder strap so must be held in your hands – but it’s good enough for short walks around airports or bus stations.
- Pockets — The Nomatic Travel Bag is crammed full of pockets and compartments for organising your gear. There are small hidey holes for cables and headphones, padded sleeves for your laptop and tablet, and even a spot to store your shoes. If anything, the multitude of pockets can cause some confusion with the Travel Bag because if you overfill the smaller pockets, they begin to encroach on the main compartment.
- Dimensions — This is one of the squarest duffle bags available (and I don’t mean a super lame, rule-following dork kind of square…). The shape takes some getting used to but thanks to the straight edges, it’s easy to make the most of the 40-litre capacity. The bag measures 23 x 53 x 36 cm (9”x21”x14”), making it the perfect size for carry-on on most international airlines!
Boundary Supply Errant Duffel
- Very water-resistant
- Three ways to carry
- No laptop sleeve
- No padding on the shoulder strap
- Capacity — At 35 litres, the Errant Duffel from Boundary Supply works beautifully for short trips or for minimalist travellers. It’s 30 x 50 x 22cm (12”x 20”x 9”) and weighs just over 1kg, making it perfect as a carry-on bag. It features compression straps and buckles which means it can be made significantly smaller if required. This allows you to use the duffel bag as a daypack, as well as your main travel bag – in true minimalist style!
- Three Ways To Carry — Grab handles, backpack straps and an adjustable shoulder strap, the Errant Duffel is versatile. It doesn’t take long to switch between the different carry modes and the straps can all be hidden away when not in use.
- Durability — The 500D Kodra fabric used for this duffel is hyper-durable and heavily water resistant. You’d have to submerge the bag for water to get through. It’s abrasion resistant and wears very well. The duffel is also available in an X-Pac material which is lighter and stronger than Kodra but honestly, it’s not really worth the extra expense.
- Usability — The Errant Duffel features some small external pockets and a massive internal compartment. There’s also a ventilated compartment for shoes or wet clothes. This is accessed from outside the bag but takes up a good chunk of the internal space when full. However, when empty, it can be completely folded away so you don’t have to use it. All buckles on the bag are magnetic and as with all Boundary Supply bags, there are universal magnetic mount points for other Boundary Supply accessories.
Peak Design Travel Duffel — Best Travel Duffel for Photographers
- Sleek professional look
- Photographer friendly features
- Backpack carry mode isn't super comfy
- The green-coloured model isn't vegan
- Built For Photographers — As with all Peak Design bags, the Travel Duffel is made with photographers in mind. The tough water-resistant shell protects your gear from the elements and there’s a small amount of padding on all sides. Most importantly, the bag seamlessly integrates with Peak Design’s accessories such as their Camera Cubes and Pouches.
- Carry Options — The Peak Design Travel Duffel offers three different carry styles. There are magnetised grab handles which are comfortable over short distances and the padded shoulder strap which is a good choice for longer jaunts. Plus the grab handles can be used as backpack straps. To be frank, these are uncomfortable to use, especially when the bag is full.
- Packing — When it comes to packing and organising your gear, Peak Design’s Travel Duffel is as simple as it gets. The main compartment is just one massive space with a couple of mesh pockets on the side. It’s accessed through the long zip opening at the top of the bag which, when worn as a backpack, sits against your back protecting you from pickpockets. Then there are two external pockets for small items that you’ll need in a hurry, think passports, wallets and headphones.
- Options — The Peak Design Travel Duffel comes in two sizes; a 35-litre model and a 65-litre version. The 35-litre model is our favourite for travel as it can be taken as carry-on and offers just enough room for your most important gear – plus it weighs less than a kilogram! The 65-litre model must be checked at airports and will only suit travellers hauling a lot more stuff. It clocks in at 1.3kg. Both are lightweight for their size! It’s also worth noting there are two colour options available; black and green. The green model has leather flashings and grab handles so isn’t vegan. As a nice aside, the PD logo is an ambigram so hats off to the designers for that!
REI Road Tripper 40 Duffel
- Not much structure
- No padding on the shoulder strap
- No Frills — REI’s Road Tripper 40 Duffel does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a 40-litre duffel bag which isn’t trying to be anything more. It features the main pocket and a single external pocket for quick grab items. This keeps the price down while ensuring the bag is durable and reliable.
- Shape — REI’s Road Tripper Duffel has a square shape to it. This makes it easy to store in overhead lockers or the trunk of a car when full. At 40 litres and with dimensions of 53 x 25 x 25cm (21”x10”x10”), this budget holdall fits into carry-on limits while still holding a bunch of gear!
- Collapsible — The Road Tripper 40 is packable! When not in use, it compressed down into its own packing cube, taking up only slightly more space than a Nalgene bottle. When using the bag, the packing cube can be used to store other belongings inside the duffel! The downside of this packability is the lack of structure within the duffel. This means it doesn’t carry heavy loads as well as more built-up bags.
- Materials — This Travel Duffel is made from recycled polyester and meets the Bluesign criteria. It’s eco-friendly, durable and water resistant. The handles and shoulder strap are made from webbing which is tough but doesn’t offer the most comfortable carry experience. This webbing also extends down the bag to create some short daisy chains for lashing extra gear if required.
Cotopaxi Mariveles 32 Del Dia
- Socially conscious
- Very basic
- No shoulder strap
- Del Dia — The Mariveles Duffel Bag is only available as a Del Dia version. Every bag is made with (Re)Purpose fabrics – leftover materials sourced from other backpack manufacturers. This means every duffel made is one of a kind because the colour depends on what fabric is available!
- Simple — There are no bells and whistles on the Mariveles Duffel, just the one main pocket and a single external pocket on one end. The opposite end of the bag to the pocket features a grab handle. This simplicity keeps the bag super light at just over 300 grams!
- Straps — As well as the grab handle on one end, Cotopaxi’s Mariveles Duffel features just the main carry handles. There’s no shoulder strap which is a slight disappointment. But for the price and weight, this is still a very good budget-friendly duffel bag for travellers.
- Capacity — At 32 litres, this duffel bag might be a bit small for long trips – unless you’re a very light-packer! However, for shorter trips, it’s a great choice. It easily fits on a plane as hand luggage and is small enough to take on trains and buses without issue!
Osprey Daylite Duffel — Best Osprey Duffel for Travel
- Good value for money
- Some level of structure
- Osprey's All Mighty Guarantee
- No shoulder strap included
- Backpack straps aren't the most comfortable
- Water bottle pocket could be improved
- Daylite — The Daylite Duffel is an extension of Osprey’s extended Daylite family. These unisex packs lean on Osprey’s years of experience and it shows. They’re lightweight, durable, good value for money and are covered by Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee!
- Storage — The Daylite Duffel maximises storage space. It features a huge main compartment that’s an open space with no organisational options. On the exterior, there’s a large pocket running down one side and a smaller pocket on one end. These are perfect for smaller items that would otherwise get lost in the main compartment.
- Sizes — The Daylite Duffel is available in a variety of sizes. The basic travel duffel comes in 30 and 45-litre models. Both are lightweight and feature a large U-zip opening for easy access to the main compartment. They both fit into carry-on dimensions for most international airlines but the 45-litre option is right on the line!
- Rolling Duffel — As well as the 30 and 45-litre models, there are two rolling duffel bags in the Daylite Duffel range. These are 40 and 85 litres and weigh significantly more due to the extra hardware involved. However, if you’re on the hunt for a large duffel bag with wheels these are both excellent choices!
Osprey Stuff Duffel — Best Collapsible Travel Duffel
- Super Light
- Packs down very small
- Not very durable
- No structure
- No weather-resistance
- Collapsible — This packable duffel bag compresses down super small and weighs just over 180 grams. When packed into your backpack, you’ll barely notice it!
- Size — The Osprey Stuff Duffel has a 30-litre capacity. For most travellers, this would be too small for a main bag but that’s not its purpose. This collapsible duffel should be used as a spare bag for your trip. Hide it inside your main pack and use it for day trips, or to bring extra souvenirs home!
- Carry — The Osprey Stuff Duffel features just a single shoulder strap. There are no grab handles or other options. The shoulder strap is well padded, especially when you consider how small this bag packs down. It makes for a surprisingly comfortable carry experience! Just make sure you don’t pack bulky or sharp items in a way that means they’ll be pressed against your body as you move.
- Materials — The bulk of the bag is made from 40D ripstop nylon while the bottom has a reinforced 100D panel. This ensures the bag remains durable while also being lightweight and easy to pack away. It’s also mildly weather resistant but don’t rely on this in anything more than a light shower!
Terra Thread Bumi Duffel — Eco-Friendly Travel Duffel
- Sustainably made by hand
- Classic look
- Only ship within the USA
- Too big for international carry on
- Capacity — Terra Thread’s Bumi Duffel Bag has a whopping 56-litre capacity. The internal space is exactly what you’d expect from a minimalist duffel, with just a single floating pocket inside the cavernous space. The downside of this massive storage space is that the duffel is too big for most international carry-on dimensions.
- Carry Experience — This duffel features thick carry handles and a shoulder strap. Both are made from soft cotton webbing. There is no additional padding but the straps themselves are comfortable enough unless you’re carrying very heavy loads.
- Packing — The Bumi Duffel from Terra Thread is easy to pack thanks to the long zippered opening on top. It stretches across the length of the bag, so stuffing your gear inside is simple! The floating pocket is ideal for smaller items like your phone or wallet and there’s an external pocket for items you need on hand straight away. We don’t suggest storing anything too valuable in here though as it doesn’t secure shut.
- Socially Conscious — Terra Thread pride themselves on their social and eco-friendly practices. The Bumi Duffel has already made it into our list of the best sustainable travel bags! The cotton used is GOTS certified and for every Bumi Duffel sold, Terra Thread donate 20 meals to those in need via Feeding America. Plus, they only ship within the USA to reduce their carbon emissions – not good for the rest of us but great for the planet!
What to Look for When Choosing a Duffel Bag for Travel
When choosing the right size bag for travelling, you need to consider what you’ll be carrying. There’s no point opting for a 40-litre carry-on duffel if you’ve got a bunch of bulky ski gear to pack. Likewise, if you’re a minimalist traveller, a 100-litre expedition duffel isn’t going to serve you well.
As a general rule, a 40-litre backpack or travel duffel will fit into carry-on specifications for most airlines (you should always check the exact dimension requirements with your airline though)! Any larger and you’ll most likely need to check the bag when you fly.
The weight of your duffel bag is more important in smaller models. A 30-50-litre duffel should be relatively lightweight so it doesn’t weigh you down as you move from A to B. However, when it comes to larger duffels made for carrying bulkier items, weight isn’t as important. You’re unlikely to be carrying a 100-litre duffel bag for long anyway!
As with all travel bags, the materials used in the construction of a travel duffel bag have an impact. Most travellers are looking for a trade-off between durability and weight. Materials like ripstop nylon are an excellent choice because they don’t weigh too much and are very tough. Plus they’re relatively cheap to produce.
Travellers or adventurers heading into more rugged or remote locations should consider tougher, waterproof materials regardless of weight. If you’re carrying a lot of gear, you need to ensure your duffel bag is bombproof!
Not all travel duffels carry the same. Some have just a couple of grab handles so you can swing them about and carry them by hand. However, it’s more common to find duffels with grab handles and a shoulder strap. This longer strap can be used to sling the bag over your shoulder, leaving your hands free. This isn’t usually the most comfortable way of carrying a bag but it does the job.
Duffel bags with backpack straps aren’t a new creation but they’re growing in popularity as travellers seek out the most versatile bags on the market. These can be carried like a duffel or like a regular backpack. They’re not as comfortable as proper travel backpacks but the straps open up a world of possibilities, especially if you’re walking long distances or over tough terrain with your bag.
Finally, there are some rolling duffel bags available but these are essentially just soft suitcases. They’re good if you’re carrying a lot of very heavy gear across smooth surfaces but really, their utility ends there. You don’t want to be carrying one of these large duffel bags over your shoulder for too long!
Travel duffel bags tend to have two main opening and loading styles. The single zip and the U-Zip.
Single zip duffels are the classic choice. They have one long zipper running across the top of the bag. This gives pretty good access to all your stuff but can make it a pain to get things really well organised. It also makes it hard to dig through your gear when the bag is full.
U-Zip duffels have some sort of U-shaped zipper on top – more like a suitcase or clamshell backpack. This makes it a bit easier to search through your stuff and keep everything organised. However, the shape of the zip means there’s more that can go wrong. If you opt for a U-zip duffel, ensure the zipper is top quality!
Most travel duffels feature just one massive storage compartment. There are rarely organisational pockets or internal dividers. However, as with all things, there are exceptions to the rule and some duffel bags have plenty of organisational options.
It’s not uncommon to find duffels with small external pockets. They’re usually big enough for items like your wallet, passport and a book or two. Often you’ll be able to hide some snacks in there too – because you know, you always need snacks! 🤤
As far as pricing goes, good travel duffels tend to be cheaper than backpacks of the same size and use case. It’s for a number of reasons but mainly because they’re simpler, easier to make and require less R&D.
Expect to pay anywhere from $40USD – $150USD for a good travel duffel.
Packable, or collapsible, duffels are a great choice if you’re short on space at home or not relying on the duffel as your primary travel bag. They can be squashed down really small, hidden in a drawer, or tucked into a backpack or suitcase.
And, even though most duffels aren’t packable, they’re usually easy enough to squash down relatively small when not in use. They don’t often have a frame like backpacks because they don’t need to offer the same level of support or weight distribution.
Travel Duffel FAQs
What size duffel is best for travel?
The best size duffel bag for travel depends on a number of factors. If you’re on a weekend city break, a 20-30-litre duffel is a great choice. But if you’re travelling for longer, say four weeks to multiple months, you’re likely to want a bag around the 40-50-litre range.
If you’re taking specialised kit, or need a huge amount of stuff, consider a gear hauler. These large duffel bags can be up to 200 litres in size – plenty of room for all your important kit!
Are duffel bags good for backpackers?
Yes, duffel bags are good for backpackers. These days, both duffel bags and backpacks are so good that it all comes down to personal preference. One isn’t necessarily better than the other.
Duffel bags tend to be better at hauling large amounts of soft gear. Think bulky clothes. Backpacks excel when it comes to carrying your stuff over long distances or rougher terrain. The type of travel you’ll be doing effects which will be the best choice for you but either is fine!
What’s the best way to pack a duffel bag?
Packing a duffel bag isn’t as intuitive as packing a backpack. However, when you get the hang of it, it’s just as easy, if not easier! The best way to pack a duffel bag for travel is as follows:
- Large, bulky items on the bottom
- Clothes in the middle (rolling your clothes is the best way to save space)
- Awkwardly shaped items on top
- Remember to put items you might need in transit on top too
If you’re using packing cubes for your clothes, you can always lay these in the bottom of the duffel before you put larger items in. This way they offer some protection to the rest of your stuff and act as a supportive base to the bag.
Do duffle bags count as carry-on?
Duffel bags can be carry-on depending on their size. Generally, international carry-on size is around 55 x 35 x 22cm (22”x14”x 9”), although this can vary between individual airlines. Most travel duffels under 40 litres fit into these dimensions.
Can you fit more in a duffel bag or a suitcase?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a duffel bag or a suitcase. If they’re the same volume, they should hold the same amount of stuff. It all comes down to how you pack!
Is there a difference between men’s and women’s duffel bags?
Aside from gender-based aesthetic choices, there are no real differences between male and female duffel bags. Unlike backpacks, duffel bags haven’t reached a place where manufacturers are making different strap configurations for male or female bodies yet.
The Best Travel Duffel Bags Roundup
Travel duffels are entering a new era of relevance. Everyone from big backpack brands like Osprey to small cottage companies like Monarc are making their own versions of these timeless bags. Some are excellent, while some leave a little to be desired.
Our favourite duffel bag for travel is the Boundary Supply Errant Duffel. It’s rugged, versatile and comfortable to carry. For photographers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better duffel than the Peak Design Travel Duffel.
As for packable duffels, the REI Roadtripper is tough and reliable but the Osprey Stuff Duffel is lighter and cheaper, although not as durable. Both are very budget-friendly!
And if you’re concerned about what capitalism is doing to the planet, opt for a duffel bag from Cotopaxi or Terra Thread, both of whom are doing wonderful things with their profits!
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