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What Are the Best Duffel Bags for Travel?

Photo: JordinAlthaus/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Smaller than a suitcase but 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 hearkening back to the style’s military roots to luxe versions in buttery leather. To find the best duffel bags out there for travel, we asked frequent travelers, including writers, photographers, and a hotel exec, to recommend their favorites. Read on for their picks, which include duffels that convert to backpacks, duffels on wheels, and fancier leather styles that will only look better the more miles you clock with them.

Best nylon duffel bags

While it’s on the smaller side, this compact duffel from Paravel was mentioned by two frequent travelers who love its versatility and lightweight material. “Because it folds up so small, I don’t have to think twice about packing it,” says photographer Alice Gao. “If I do end up bringing home wine, ceramics, [or] other food items and need the extra bag, I’m able to shift my belongings around and won’t be stuck buying extra luggage on the spot.” Fellow photographer Lucy Rose Laucht, who’s also a co-founder of hat brand Tio y Tia, calls it “the Mary Poppins of duffels: It fits my camera gear, laptop, blanket, a change of clothes, and the kitchen sink.”

The Black Hole duffel lives up to its name, according to travel writer and photographer Michaela Trimble, who has toted it all over the world. “It fit everything I needed for a nearly two-month trip with room to spare,” she told us after traveling with the bag to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Madagascar. “And it barely came back with a scratch.” Laminated fabric and a water-repellent coating protect the duffel from the elements and any damage that may occur in transit, while keeping it lightweight (it’s under three pounds). Trimble also notes that it “comes with padded straps, so it can easily and comfortably be carried as a backpack.” Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens also likes the Black Hole duffel, which she says makes a great carry-on. “There are one zillion separate little pockets and perfectly sized compartments for things like chargers and night guards and passports and AirPods, as well as slim sleeves for a laptop and magazines,” Kitchens says. “It opens at the top, which means things won’t come tumbling out when you need to grab something.”

Like the Black Hole bag, this duffel converts to a backpack but fits as much as a small suitcase. “The very considered design is ideal for someone who is most at home hopping on and off planes and trains,” says Andrew Barker, the chief content officer of the travelers club, PRIOR. He appreciates the bag’s multiple compartments, such as the “zip-up shoe pockets at each end,” and the “TSA-friendly slip pockets [for] easy access to laptop and passport.” In general, Timbuk2’s bags have been on our radar for a while now — we’ve written about their equally durable work backpacks, and contributor David Pogue loves his laptop-friendly Timbuk2 messenger bag (which he’s carried for going on six years).

Another sporty duffel bag, this one comes 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. Strategist columnist Chris Black likes that it’s “a fully waterproof duffel bag” that will keep your clothes dry whether you’re tailgating or stuck in the rain.

“I look for a bag that can sit on top of my carry-on, fit a lot of items, and be easily stored when not in use,” says Daniela Velasco, the creative director of Drift and Ambrosia magazines. That bag, for her, is Longchamp’s Le Pilage tote because it carries her camera, laptop, chargers, and more and is water resistant, so she doesn’t have to worry about rain damaging her expensive gear. This duffel is basically a larger version of Velasco’s favorite tote: It’s made of the same durable nylon and fits everything you’ll need for a few days away.

Best canvas and twill duffel bags

Yolanda Edwards, founder of YOLO Journal travel magazine and the former creative director of Condé Nast Traveler, tells us people often stop to ask where her Paravel bag is from. While she has a (now out-of-stock) cherry-red weekender, we think this ivory one with black leather accents is equally striking. Plus, Edwards finds it very functional for flying. “It has a handy strap for slipping onto my suitcase handle, and if I’m lazy, even just the handles work for that.” She adds that “it stands up on its own, and I like how tall it is — although if you want to keep it under the seat in front of you on a flight, you do have to push it down.”

Another of Black’s favorites, this handsome duffel is water resistant and designed to fit in overhead compartments. As he says, “[It] will easily fit everything you need for a weekend of apple picking or skipping rocks on Long Island, without taking up too much space in a car or on a train.”

If you’re looking for a purchase you can feel good about, travel writer Jedidiah Jenkins recommends this weekender from Nisolo, which values fair trade and healthy working conditions for manufacturers. “They’re a really dope company that prioritizes ethical supply chains,” he says. In terms of functionality, Jenkins says the bag’s interior pockets help him keep his stuff organized, and its removable cross-body strap allows for hands-free carrying.

Best leather duffel bags

If you have the money to spare, this classy leather duffel also recommended by Black will probably last for a lifetime of traveling. “The bag is beautiful, functional (it’s carry-on appropriate and comes with a shoulder strap), lined with micro-suede, and has a U-shaped zippered entry to the main compartment for easy access,” he says. “You can get it monogrammed for an extra $10.”

Elyse Eisen, a travel blogger and the founder of the Chain Collective PR agency, loves this bright-blue bag that’s made in New York City by her friend and former client Alex Dabagh. “I really put all my bags to the test with the amount of travel I do, and I recently took this on a monthlong trip to Croatia, Montenegro, Italy, Istanbul, and Amman,” she says. Eisen likes that this duffel can be used as a carry-on when she flies and that it has a waterproof nylon lining for easy cleanup in the event of an unfortunate toiletry spill.

[Editor’s note: This bag is sold out of in blue, but you can still get it in black.]

Given the price points of our cool people’s favorite leather duffels, we felt it worth including this affordably priced one — which looks way more expensive than it actually is — for anyone who isn’t ready to drop nearly $1,000 on a weekender. Because the leather is soft and slouchy, the already nice-looking duffel will probably look even better with age.

Best wheeled duffel bag

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, the founder and editor-in-chief of hotel review site A Hotel Life and the vice-president of brand experience at Edition Hotels, trusts his wheeled North Face duffel because it has lasted through years of frequent travel. “It’s my favorite because it’s indestructible,” he said. “Waterproof, durable, and most of all, dustproof.” For a North Face duffel without wheels, Black recommends the brand’s Base Camp duffel, which he says is up for anything. As he writes, “Get in line to climb Mount Everest or head to Amagansett — either way, you’re covered.”

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What Are the Best Duffel Bags for Travel?