Features have gotten out of hand. No matter what the product is — be it as simple as a knife or as complex as a camera — we’ve come to expect that it’s jammed with as many bells and whistles (sometimes literally) as possible. Outdoor products are among the most egregious culprits here, fooling would-be adventurers into thinking that they simply cannot embark on a trip without bringing the multifunctional-jacket-pant-parachute-vest complete with eighteen camp-stove-dongle-ready removable pocket pouches (and it packs into its own hood!). It’s maddening.
Pros Easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps, excellent pockets, super durable Highly weather resistant, easy to pack, dual mesh zippered pockets under the lid, comfortable shoulder straps Durable, waterproof, comfortable backpack straps Easy to pack, bomber construction, burly frame, internal dual-zippered mesh pockets, very maneuverable, highly water resistant Good pockets for organization and access, lightweight, comfortable to carry as a briefcase
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As phones get smarter, and my travel experience grows, I find I really don’t need more than a wristlet most of the time. It’s lightweight and I grasp like a clutch while I’m walking but can let it dangle on my wrist for a moment if I need both hands. The amenity bags my husband gets on business class flight for work make great wristlets–ones from KLM look like leather, are generously sized (for a wristlet), unisex designs and have no logos on them.
In terms of capacity, the duffels on this list range from 25 liters to a whopping 150 liters, so there’s a bag to match every activity and intended use. For solo travelers on overnight and weekend trips where you won’t be bringing a bunch of gear, a smaller duffel in the 25 to 40-liter range should do the trick. A good number of these models are carry-on compatible, saving you the time and the potential cost of checking a bag. For U.S. airlines, there isn’t a universal carry-on size, but 22 x 14 x 9-inch is quite common (at the time of publication, these are the maximum dimensions for Delta, United, JetBlue, and others). It’s worth noting that almost all carry-on compatible bags will advertise themselves as such, but the general cut-off is right around 40 liters.
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.
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Hands down, the easiest duffels to pack, unpack, and rummage around in are those with a large, U-shaped opening. Duffels such as the Patagonia Black Hole feature this design: a zippered flap extends around three of the four sides of the top of the duffel and opens to reveal most of the contents. These bags provide easy access whether in a hotel, tent, or on the road. Other bags, such as the Filson Field Duffel, open in a more traditional style, with one zipper that extends across the top of the bag. With a smaller opening, access to the contents is more limited, and especially when full (this means more rummaging and disorganization). If you’re looking to prioritize convenience above all else, large roller duffels like the Osprey Shuttle offer the most rigid structure and largest opening for packing and unpacking.
Wheels naturally make it far easier to move the bag around on paved roads or other relatively even surfaces, and for most air travel applications, they are much easier to manage and what we prefer for traditional air-travel. The significant advantage of more conventional duffels over wheeled versions is much-lower weight and their ability to be more easily taken to far more rugged environments and locations. Let's start with weight: wheeled duffels are always heavier, most often four to six pounds heavier, meaning you get to bring more of your stuff by going with a non-wheeled, non-framed duffel.
If you know you'll be carrying heavy equipment, choose a duffel bag with straps and handles with comfortable features. Our assortment includes options with adjustable shoulder straps, dual carry handles and padded straps and handles, so you can carry your gear with ease. If you know that your load will be too heavy to carry, choose a rolling duffel bag or a wheeled duffel bag. Find even more travel bags and accessories from our entire travel and luggage assortment.