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.
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I love reading all of your articles. Even if I’m not visiting that particular part of the world! A great travel tip: Purchase a pair of foldable flats. Everyone says to never walk around an airplane in bare feet or socks. The minute I sit down in my seat, I take off my shoes & put on these. When we’re starting to land, I remove them & put my shoes back on. They’re soft, comfy, very affordable, lightweight & fold up into a soft pouch to throw in your carry on. Many colors to choose from on Amazon.
Although we do like the Base Camp line and have used them for years, we prefer the Black Hole for a few reasons. First, the outer fabric on The North Face shows scuff marks more easily than its Patagonia counterpart. Second, at 3 pounds 8 ounces, it’s more than a pound heavier. Finally, we found the backpack straps on the Base Camp Duffel to be slightly more difficult to detach than those on the Black Hole, making your airport check-in a bit more frantic. On a positive note, The North Face has brought back carry handles for 2018, which provide another easy way to haul around the Base Camp.
Almost all the non-wheeled models we selected for this review have decent daisy chains and grab loops. Two Top Pick winners are almost entirely devoid of daisy chains. The external profile of both the Yeti Panga and Bago Travel are almost entirely devoid of lash points. The Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole is similarly lacking in lash points. The rest of the non-wheeled bags have good options. The Gregory Alpaca, with its robust reinforced daisy chains, stood out. The daisy chains ran the full length of the bag, and its large grab loops made it easy to attach to almost anything, whether that be a sled or llama. The North Face Base Camp and the Patagonia Black Hole weren't too far behind, as both offer ease of transport. We feel wheeled duffels are great for traditional travel and duffels are better for non-traditional travel or for trips where getting every ounce possible without going over the 50-pound limit is of the utmost importance.
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Cotopaxi also offers roomier active duffle backpacks: The thick canvas Chumpi Travel Duffel Bag can hold 30 to 50 liters and is designed to carry all your necessary gear. Use it for camping, road trips, or as a larger carry-on bag (it fits most airline’s carry-on dimensions) to protect all your personal items. It’s made to last (61-year warranty) and has large outer pockets and thick straps that will keep you both organized and comfortable while you’re carrying it.
The Bago Packable is built and marketed as what we'd call "secondary luggage"; it is a fairly lightweight, full-size duffel that can be folded and zipped into a small envelope when not in use. Whether it lives in your car for getting unexpected purchases into your 7th floor walk-up apartment or in your expedition luggage for moving groceries from Anchorage to the Ruth Glacier, a duffel bag like this is handier than you might first realize. It is closely comparable to (and snags this award from) the Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole. The Lightweight Black Hole is a little lighter (in absolute terms, for the respective sizes we tested) and more waterproof, but is only available in smaller sizes and doesn't have the organizational attributes of the Bago. When corrected for volume, the Bago is definitely lighter than the Patagonia.
Made of durable, abrasion-resistant ballistic nylon, this tote is great if you're traveling with kids or pets (and may have to deal with spills and scratches) or if you’re just going somewhere where rain, sleet, and snow may be unkind to leather. Luggage-maker Briggs & Riley really thought of everything when they designed this tote: a waterproof pocket for a water bottle (or baby bottle), several exterior and interior pockets, and a sleeve for slipping this over a luggage handle for easy transport.
I’ve traveled extensively and, honestly, I would never use most of these suggested bags with the exception of the PacSafe and Travelon. The bags must have security features like wire lined straps, hook latches, scan-protected pouches, etc. It’s fine to use a crossbody as long as you have the right strap that can’t be easily cut and place your hand across the bag at all times and inside your coat or sweater when in public places. Never ever consider using a backpack. It’s a sure fire way of getting ripped off….
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
As I said, it’s smallish. The way the top flap cinches down means it’s more of a triangular prism than a rectangular one (for those mathematically inclined). So it definitely requires more thought and planning. But I just packed it with two pair of pants, three shirts, a pair of slippers, couple undershirts, a watch cap, couple of socks, and some other odds and ends. Not too bad. My new goal in life is “pack light” and this bag forces you to.
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The Patagonia Black Hole is one of the best duffel bags you can find out there. Why? It’s super lightweight (one of the lightest on the list) and it has many pockets and a big main compartment. It’s super versatile, featuring padded shoulder straps, so you can carry it in many ways, like as a bag or even a backpack. If you don’t need the shoulder straps, they are removable.
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Who should buy the REI Roadtripper Duffel? It makes a great gear hauler for those who need space and protection without the bells and whistles. We’ve used the 100-liter version on a number of big trips including all the way down to Patagonia (4 flights) and came away impressed. The bag is well built, functional, and has withstood quite bit of use and abuse. At the same time, it’s definitely not a fully featured bag for travel. If you want things like internal storage, side compartments, and backpack straps, REI does make the pricier Big Haul below.
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We have used this easy-to-pack model on several expeditions around the globe and love its array of pockets, outstanding lashing options, and organizational oriented features. Other bags might be just a little bit more durable and weather resistant but not by much, and the Marmot Long Hauler can often be found for $80, a fraction of what other bags in this review cost.
Larger diameter wheels help rolling luggage to be moved more easily over uneven terrain like gravel, grass or only very poorly paved streets far more efficiently. Even though the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel wheels were just half an inch larger than The North Face models, all of our testers felt it performed better on more rugged surfaces. The Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled sported the most massive wheels, and while due to other factors wasn't as maneuverable, it was nice to pull over old cobbles, gravel roads, or different rugged terrains. Why not just make all wheely bags with giant wheels? Well, wheel size, in addition to the width of the wheelbase, or how far the wheels are apart, affected a model's maneuverability.
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Thanks to Everlane’s transparent pricing model, this ethically made leather-and-twill weekender costs a fraction of what it would at a traditional department store. Both the all-black and dipped versions are gender neutral and suited to a range of styles, and the size is just right for hauling all the stuff you’ll need for a short getaway while still fitting easily in the overhead compartment.
The weight of a piece of luggage is important but exactly how important mattes a lot on the user. Folks who either travel light or go to places where they don't need a lot of clothing or equipment can often take a heavier bag because they rarely find themselves approaching an airline's 50-pound limit. However, for colder climates or for folks embarking on more remote adventures, that 50-pound limit often arrives a little too quickly; thus, having an additional 1-5 pounds (not eaten up by a piece of luggage itself) is quite valuable (literally).
Why isn’t the Thule ranked higher? The shoulder straps are functional but not as comfortable as many of the options above, not to mention they have such a simple attachment system that it has tendency to wiggle off while in use. And another small issue: the U-shaped lid that dips well below the top of the bag can be difficult to zip shut when its fully stuffed. But these are small gripes about an otherwise solid duffel, and we hope Thule continues to make strides with its bags.