Smaller than a suitcase, bigger than a tote, the classic duffel is a perfectly sized carryall for a long weekend. Peer out at a train platform full of city dwellers fleeing town on a Friday afternoon and you’ll see all varieties of duffels — from waxed-canvas bags harking back to the style’s military roots to luxe versions in buttery leather. To discover the best travel duffel bags out there, we asked frequent travelers — including writers, photographers, and a hotel exec — to recommend their favorites, and then sought out more bags that fit the experts’ requirements across a range of styles and price points.
Best fabric duffel bags
The “black hole” duffel bag lives up to its name for travel writer and photographer Michaela Trimble, who has toted it all over the world, most recently to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Madagascar. “It fit everything I needed for a nearly two-month trip with room to spare,” she said, “and it barely came back with a scratch.” Laminated fabric and water-repellent coating protect the bag from the elements and any damage that may occur in transit, while keeping it lightweight (under three pounds). Trimble also likes that it “comes with padded straps, so it can easily and comfortably be carried as a backpack.”
Another sporty duffel bag, this one from the makers of our all-time favorite cooler, can also be worn as a backpack and is made from thick, laminated nylon that’ll withstand any rough baggage handling. It’s also completely waterproof — the zippers tuck into enclosed docks — so there’s no need to fear a rainstorm or wet ground ruining your clothing or gear inside.
“I look for a bag that can sit on top of my carry-on, fit a lot of items, and that’s easy to store when not in use,” said Daniela Velasco, creative director of Drift and Ambrosia magazines. She likes Longchamp’s Le Pliage totes because they carry her camera, laptop, chargers, and more, and are water-resistant, so she doesn’t have to worry about rain damaging her expensive gear. This duffel version is made of the same durable nylon and fits everything you’ll need for a few days away.
Best leather duffel bags
Photographer Nicole Franzen loves her Voyager 2 bag, which stands out both aesthetically and functionally. “I like good pockets for organization, and tend to go leather and black because it’s effortless, goes with anything, and ages well,” she said. Made from soft Italian leather, this sleek bag features a front pocket with compartments for storing your phone, passport, pens, cords, and other items you’d like to have easily accessible — and even more pockets inside.
Best wheeled duffel bags
A fully loaded duffel bag can be a heavy burden to bear, but a bag with wheels takes the weight off your shoulders. Ben Pundole, founder and editor-in-chief of hotel review site a Hotel Life and vice-president of brand experience at Edition Hotels, trusts his wheeled North Face duffel for lasting through years of frequent travel. “It’s my favorite because it’s indestructible,” he said. “Waterproof, durable, and most of all dustproof.” The 36-inch bag must be checked on flights, but a carry-on-size version, also featuring lots of useful exterior pockets, is available here.
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