The Best Travel Duffel Bags

We took our favorite burly travel bags (aka "duffle", but more properly spelled "el" for the town of Duffel in Belgium that first manufactured them) and compared them head-to-head to help you decide which one to take on your next adventure. We tested them while running through airports in Chamonix, dragging them on sleds across the Alaska Range and stashing them in the rain for weeks on end in Patagonia, packing them on mules in the Andes of Bolivia and Argentina. Find out which duffel bags scored the highest, and which will meet your needs the best, by reading below.

See also our related Travel Backpack Review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab March 29, 2013

Top Ranked Duffel Bags Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
The North Face Base Camp Duffel
The North Face Base Camp Duffel
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Video video review
Gregory Alpaca Duffel
Gregory Alpaca Duffel
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Patagonia Black Hole Duffel
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel
Read the Review
Cilo Gear Duffel
Cilo Gear Duffel
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Black Diamond Huey Duffel
Black Diamond Huey Duffel
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Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Top Pick Award     
Street Price Varies $72 - $200
Compare at 10 sellers
Varies $91 - $199
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $119 - $147
Compare at 8 sellers
$180Varies $140 - $147
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score 
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100% recommend it (11/11)
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1 rating
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67% recommend it (2/3)
Pros Many carring options, easy to LoadMost carrying options plus a padded lid, internal and external compression straps, great lash pointsLightweight, durable, a few extra nice pockets, comfortable, easy to load.Super tough, very light, extremely water resestant.Very durable, easy to load, carries nicely
Cons Doesn't fit longer items well, not lightHeavyDoesn't fit super long items as well as others we tested.No comfortable backpack straps, expensive.Heavy, doesn't zip all the way around and is a pain to close sometimes
Best Uses Expedition climbing, traveling anywhere you need a big, burly duffelExpedition climbing, road tripsExpedition climbing, traveling anywhere you need a big, burly duffel.Expedition climbing, traveling anywhere you need a big, burly duffel.Expedition climbing, road trips
Date Reviewed Mar 22, 2013Mar 21, 2013Mar 29, 2013Mar 22, 2013Mar 22, 2010
Weighted Scores The North Face Base Camp Duffel Gregory Alpaca Duffel Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Cilo Gear Duffel Black Diamond Huey Duffel
Ease Of Transport - 20%
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Ease Of Packing - 25%
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Durability - 20%
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Weight - 20%
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Weather Resistance - 15%
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Product Specs The North Face Base Camp Duffel Gregory Alpaca Duffel Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Cilo Gear Duffel Black Diamond Huey Duffel
Actual weight of a 90-110 liter model 4lbs (L) 4lbs 1oz (L) 3lbs 2lbs 10oz 4lbs 7oz (100)
Size options 4 (S-XL) 4 (S-XL) 4 (45,60,90,120) 3 (S-L) 3 (60, 100,150)
Volumne size options (liters) 42, 70, 90, 140 40, 60, 90, 120 45,60,90,120 40, 57, 110 60, 100, 150
D or I opening D D D I D
Back Pack Straps Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Number of pockets 2 2 4 1 3
Info window Yes No No No Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Wild Things Mule Duffel
$100-$115
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Gregory Alpaca Duffel
$109-$149
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Helly Hansen Duffel
$85-$100
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Cilo Gear Duffel
$180
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Black Diamond Huey Duffel
$119-$160
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Mountain Hardwear Expedition Duffel
$110-$160
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Gregory Long Haul Duffel
$69-$110
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testing in Penitentes, Argentina
Credit: Ian Nicholson
We reviewed our nine favorite travel options and compared them head-to- head in five different categories. Before reading further, you may want to first check out our Duffel Bag Buying Advice.

But first a little history: the name comes from Duffel, a town in Belgium where the thick cloth used to make the bag originated.

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Graham McDowell with 15 minutes to load and comparing how easy it was to drag our overweight bags from the truck to the heli as fast as we can; just before flying into the Waddington Range of Central British Columbia
Credit: Ian Nicholson
Ease of Packing
In our Ease of Pack category, we compared how easily we could pack them with both normal travel items, as well as oddly shaped things that many people might want to travel with. We also compared how easily it was stay organized using smaller pockets and compartments as well as how easy it was to search for items and zip everything shut again when we were finished. After dozens of trips of actual testing and direct side-by-side comparisons we liked the big D-shaped openings of the The North Face Base Camp, Patagonia Black Hole, Helly Hansen and The Gregory Alpaca because their even sides made packing and digging for items easier. Ahead of the duffels that used a single strait zipper to allow access to our stuff, but a step behind the D-shaped opening models, were the Mountain Hardwear Expedition and the Black Diamond Huey. Both of these used a variation of the more common "D" shapped opening. The Mountain Hardwear Expedition, used a long and skinny "U" shapped opening, while the Black Diamond Huey used two zippers and a Velcro closure on on end. Both of these were easy to pack and search for stuff inside beacuse of their long, large openings we found both of these more difficult to zip closed when they were packed full.

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Showing the inside of a North face Base Camp.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Among the products that closed with a single straight zipper, we also really liked the Cilo Gear's variation on the standard straight zipper; it was extra long and rolled over the sides, so it was easy to pack and we could zip it shut even when it was brimming with gear. Our next favorite was the Wild Things' straight zipper, while not nearly as good as the Cilo Gear design, because the Mule wasn't as easy to close when it was close to full, especially full width wise. This was less of a factor among the Wild Things duffels in the smaller sizes and it didn't prove to be as big of a bummer as with the Gregory Long Haul in the larger sizes which was the hardest to zip close and was by far the worst when it was brimming with gear. We did like that Gregory Long Haul was the longest in the review and was the only model we tested able to fit two-section trekking poles. The Gregory Long Haul was not exceptionally hard to pack, it just wasn't as easy as the other models and was the hardest to close when full.
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Showing the twin zippered pockets under the lid of a Patagonia 120L Black Hole with SuperTopo book for size reference
Credit: Ian Nicholson
Organization
As far as organization goes, having a few zippered pockets goes a long way and we really liked the Patagonia's dual zippered pockets plus one outside pocket on their Black Hole model. Our Editors Choice The North Face Base Camp just had one large zippered pocket, this was nice, but we liked the two smaller ones on the Black Hole better. Many of the bags had flat outside zippered pockets such as on the Wild Things Mule. While this is nice, we thought these pockets were hard to get our hands into when the bags were full.

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Topping out Hearbreak Hill, with the mighty North Buttress of Mt. Hunter Looming above, just below Kahiltna Base Camp, while dragging 50lbs strapped to plastic sleds, Denali National Park, AK
Credit: Ian Nicholson
Ability to Carry and Transport
Nearly all the duffels with backpack straps were fairly comfortable to carry. A couple of standouts were the Gregory Alpaca, which has a removable single shoulder strap in addition to its backpack straps, and the Patagonia Black Hole that featured the most comfortable shoulder straps, something that we appreciated carry it for up to an hour at a time. The North Face Base Camp's shoulder straps were also among the top scores in this category. The Base Camp featured very articulated, backpack shoulder strap like shoulder straps that used high quality foam that didn't just collapse under loads. The least comfortable of the backpack-style bags was the Mountain Hardwear Expedition. Its shoulder straps were the least comfortable for long periods due to the short distance between attachment points of the straps. While the shoulder straps on most of the duffels we tested were removable, Helly Hansen made it one step easier and on both of their 50 and 90L models used a cool design, the shoulder straps just un-clip from one end and easily tuck away in a pocket just below the end of the bag, similar to a haul bag.
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Showing the Helly Hanson's convenient tuck-away shoulder strap pocket similar to many haul bags designs
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Lashing Duffels to Things
We liked the North Face Base Camp, Patagonia Black Hole and Gregory Alpaca's small side daisy chains to facilitate lashing to yaks, trucks or whatever else you might need. This feature is what helped the Base Camp and the Alpaca rank a hair above the others in this category. The Base Camp's long row of twin daisys that are made of a burly nylon material and are well sewn to inspire confidence. While less useful for standard airline travel, once we left the beaten path we used these daisys dozen of times in all manner of ways to better secure our bags.
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testing on Aconcagua, in route to Plaza De Mulas.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Durability
While all the contenders we looked at were tough, the Black Diamond Huey and the Wild Things Mule edged ahead of the competition as the toughest, with the surprisingly light Cilo Gear not being far behind. For its weight we didn't expect the Cilo Gear to be as tough as it was but after using it on 6 expeditions it is still looking great.
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Comparing for weather resistance and durability on the West Buttress of Denali.
Credit: Alex Straus

Our OutdoorGearLab Editors Choice the North Face Base Camp might not be quite as durable as the Wild Things Mule or the Black Diamond Huey it is still among the most durable duffels we tested. Tester Ian Nicholson has used one on over 20 expeditions and we spoke to over a dozen other OutdoorGearLab friends who have them and they are still going strong. The Gregory Long Haul and Alpaca series scored just behind The North Face Base Camp. They all feature the burliest material, big overlap stitching and YKK #10 zippers. The Wild Things Mule and the Cilo Gear bags had some of the nicest construction and are the only products tested that are made in the USA. Toughness was a prerequisite for this review and each of these duffels is bomber enough for most travelers.

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testing in Puerto Natales en route to Torres Del Paine, Patagonia. We brought four filled 50lbs bags, so that each bag weighted was an once less of gear we could bring.
Credit: Ian Nicholson
Weight
The Cilo Gear, the Wild Things Mule and the Gregory Long Haul were the lightest: 2.5 pounds and 2.75 pounds, respectively, for a 5000 cubic inch model. They were both over a full pound lighter than any other model we tested. The Mountain Hardwear Expedition was heaviest at nearly five pounds for a comparable volume. If you are someone who is regularly battling with the 50-pound weight restriction of the airlines, then these could give you a few more pounds of gear.

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Now that's a lot of bags.....
Credit: Ian Nicholson
Weather Resistance
Besides using them in the field we put dry towels inside and sprayed them with a hose in our driveway. The result: the Black Diamond Huey, the Cilo Gear and the Mountain Hardwear Expedition duffels are the most weather resistant with all the rest close behind.
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Ian Nicholson conducting side by side testing by spraying each bag with a hose then checking the dampness of the towels inside to compare weather resistance.
Credit: Rebecca Schroeder

The Bottom Line

Editors Choice
Our overall favorite burly bag was The North Face Base Camp, edging out the Gregory Alpaca. While the North Face Base camp was our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice and remains a bag against which all others are compared, it wasn't a runaway winner. There are slight advantages to some of the other products we tested, like the length of the Wild Things Mule, the light weight of the Gregory Long Haul or the toughness of the Black Diamond Huey. But the North Face Base Camp finished at or near the top in every category. It was one of the nicest to carry, one of the nicest to pack and also one of the most weather-resistant and most durable. It also was almost the lightest product to feature a D-shaped opening and backpack straps.
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testing on our way to Condoriri Base Camp, Bolivia
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Top Pick Award Winner
The Patagonia Black Hole was a close second and was nearly our Editors' Choice. It finished near the top in nearly every category and was the most comfortable to carry because of its awesome and easily removable straps. The Black Hole is lighter than most products we tested and it was the lightest we tested to feature padded shoulder straps. The only thing that kept the Black Hole from being our Editors' Choice is durability. The Black Hole is tough for sure, tougher than most and plenty durable for most users for many many years. However, after using it on several expeditions we didn't think it was quite as tough as a few of the other models we tested.
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Showing a 120L Black Hole of stuff
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Best Buy Award Winner
The Wild Things Mule gets our Best Buy award. We have used this easy to pack bag on expeditions around the globe for 10 years and it still looks in better shape than others do after only 3 or 4 trips. It wasn't a runaway winner of our Best Buy award. The US made Mule is slightly more expensive ($10-$15 for similar volumes) in price to the Helly Hanson and the Gregory Long Haul. But the Mule's toughness was the difference maker. The Mule uses a simple design with features that are nicer than the Long Haul's, like its grab loops that can be used as backpack straps and its information window. Its backpack straps aren't nearly and nice as the Helly Hanson, but the fact that it comes in larger volumne models and is significantly more durable is what helped it edge out the competition as our Outdoor Gear Lab Best buy.
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Using the grab handles as shoulder straps on a Wild Things Mule
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Ian Nicholson
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