I bought the bag this summer for a trip to South Africa as a carry on. It was perfect for a complete set of hunting clothes, boots, personal items and snacks. I now use it every week as I travel. With the use of a garment bag its great for extended business travel. I always get compliments and questions about this great looking, unsual bag. The more I use it the better it looks.
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The roller duffel is one of those “have your cake and eat it too” scenarios for travelers wanting the ease of wheeling their bag with the packing convenience. We’ll start by noting that roller duffels are quite popular, and particularly for air travel. You simply take the bag out of your car, wheel to check-in or your gate if it’s a carry-on, and you’re off. Roller duffels are ideal for those who don’t want to carry their bag on their back or shoulder, and some of the smaller versions (in the 40-liter range and under) are carry-on compatible.
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Priced at $80, the Gregory Stash is an affordable duffel with an attractive design. We’ll start with the Stash’s simple zipper opening that extends the length of the duffel, which is not our preferred closure (U-shaped is better). The zipper does reach the end flaps, however, allowing the main compartment to expand up and out when packing and providing better access than others of its kind. You also get generous padding on the straps and a large outside pocket for valuables.
The Base Camp Duffel from The North Face is a fully-featured bag and a direct competitor to the Patagonia Black Hole above. It’s similarly tough and water resistant, offers easy access to the inside, and can be carried as a backpack, which we love. Both bags offer comparable organization pockets, but the Base Camp’s medium and large models add an exterior compartment on one end that allows you to separate dirty clothes and shoes. The Base Camp comes in more colors and designs than we can count, and is available in capacities ranging from 31 liters (XS) to a whopping 150 liters (XXL). For everything from a carry-on to an expedition workhorse, this is one of the most popular duffels on the market year after year.
Anyone who has traveled a fair amount knows the value of a good tote. The workhorse of the travel bag ensemble, it’s the perfect carry-all for your essentials. You can toss everything in one roomy bag (we’re talking wallet, passport, phone, headphones, tablet, book, scarf, sweater, toiletry bag, water bottle, snacks — don’t forget the snacks!, and even a travel pillow), grab it, and go.
For frequent travelers, there is something to be said for the convenience of a wheeled duffel, and especially one that can be used as a carry-on. At 42 liters, the Eagle Creek Load Warrior is an optimal size for travelers who don’t pack the kitchen sink (if you and a travel partner each use one of these bags, that’s a very solid 84 liters of carry-on space). The wheels are reasonably sturdy and allow you to move quickly through the airport, and the bag expands nicely to accommodate full loads (although be careful about carry-on rules as it can get rather wide).
What would you recommend to avoid being robbed? One place I read, suggested a backpack. A backpack surely seems unsafe and you can’t see them going into your bag. I was in Egypt in 09 and a lot of people were robbed while sightseeing. Please advise as I’ll be traveling to South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town) soon and doing a lot of sightseeing. I like the idea of the anti theft one mentioned in your article.
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Models with handles attached via two bars (all current models in our review) are significantly easier to stack bags with. The dual bars lend stability to the perched second bag. Also, we have personally witnessed a second 50-pound bag bend and eventually break the handle of a wheeled piece of luggage. While we don't worry about that with any of the options we have chosen, its something to consider if looking elsewhere. This is where the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled 70L and both sizes of The North Face Rolling Thunder particularly stood out, offering a stable and bomber platform to help manage another 50-pound duffel (as we wheeled it through an airport or wherever our adventure might take us).
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While many companies advertise luggage as being “waterproof” they are often just water resistant – a major difference. For those traveling to rainy areas, the “Aqua Quest White Water Duffel” is fully waterproof (unless completely submerged underwater). The company is based out of the Pacific Northwest and knows the importance of keeping necessary items dry. The Aqua Quest weighs 1.6 pounds, measures 24 x 12 x 12 inches and can carry 50 liters of travel gear. Like other waterproof bags, it rolls to stay closed and is made of abrasion-resistant fabric. It can also be carried using handles or with a shoulder sling strap.
Most duffels have carry handles of some sort, whether they’re dedicated straps or a simple padded handle connecting the backpack straps to each other. Carry handles are useful for picking up a bag and moving it a short distance, and they’re great for carrying small capacity bags in one hand. Some duffels like Osprey Transporter omit carry handles altogether in favor of shoulder and backpack straps. This can make sense for big, heavy bags, but we still prefer having the option.
Though less comfortable than backpack straps over extended periods, a single shoulder strap is a quick way to carry your duffel short distances. In particular, we like shoulder straps on smaller duffels that don’t weigh a ton (they can start to get uncomfortable around the popular 60-liter range). Not all duffel bags come with shoulder straps, but we see them frequently on smaller capacity, travel-specific bags. Shoulder straps usually are removable, allowing you to streamline your duffel for transport.
Many duffels on this list are made by big outdoor brands like Patagonia, The North Face, Osprey, and Marmot. Outdoor use can vary substantially, from throwing your bag in the back of a truck to hardcore expeditions (often tied to the side of a horse or put in a sled). The good news is that like many types of gear, many outdoor-oriented duffels are tough but versatile and cross over nicely into everyday use. For example, the Patagonia Black Hole, our top pick, can be used from anything from serious outdoor use to standard air travel (and looks the part for both). Because of this versatility, outdoor brands dominate the duffel market.
What are the shortcomings of the Eagle Creek? The build quality isn’t quite up to Osprey or Patagonia standards, although we do like the reasonable price (the 40-liter wheeled Black Hole is $299, for example). And we do appreciate the low weight as well, which at 4 pounds 13 ounces, makes it easy to carry and put in the overhead bin. For those who want more space, Eagle Creek makes another version of this bag: the 63-liter (67 liters expanded) Load Warrior 26”. It’s worth noting that while it gives you a nice increase in capacity, this version is not carry-on compatible.
For most travel where you will be checking a bag but won’t be bringing bulky outdoor gear, a medium duffel in the 50 to 75-liter range is a good match. For this reason, the 60-liter version often is the best seller of all: it’s perfect for most trips ranging from short weekend excursions to one week or more. Of course, the right choice also depends on how much stuff you like to bring, but we find ourselves reaching for our 60-liter Patagonia Black Hole more than any other duffel in our closet.