REI Co-op Roadtripper Review
Cons: Limited durability and weather resistance, no backpack straps
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Duffel bags tend to get fancier, more comfortable, and more durable as the marketplace progresses, which, for many types of travel and expeditions, is only a good thing. On the other hand, as products improve with better materials and newer design features, they also tend to get heavier and more expensive. With tighter baggage allowances and the frequent use of duffel bags on human-powered adventures, a simple, lightweight, high-capacity bag is sometimes the best option. The REI Roadtripper 100 strikes that balance and does so with a surprisingly affordable price tag. It could have more high-end features, more carry options, and could be more durable, but it's perfect for simple travel or for any trip that involves extensive gear transport by human power (think of a Denali expedition; you load your gear in a sled and drag it up North America's highest peak).
Ease of Transport
The REI Roadtripper is a simple high-capacity duffel bag. It has no backpack straps, no wheels, and no padding on the handles and straps it does have. While not as comfortable as others, its carry options are simple and effective.
The traditional briefcase-style carry straps are permanently affixed to the bag and are joined together by a carry handle with a velcro clasp. A removable and adjustable shoulder sling provides an additional carry option, but the thin webbing material is not padded and is not very comfortable when the duffel is fully loaded. A grab handle on each end makes it easy to drag out of the trunk or off of a baggage claim, and a series of vertical daisy chains on each side provide convenient attachment points for lashing to a sled, a vehicle, or a pack animal.
Virtually every other full-size bag in our lineup has more comfortable and convenient carrying features than the Roadtripper 100. Most notably, it is missing padded backpack-style shoulder straps that are the preferred carry method with most other heavy-duty duffels. The good news is that this REI bag is lighter than almost every other large-capacity model and comes in at less than half the price of most top contenders. If you're going to wrestle with your gear through the airport, at least this Best Buy Award winner isn't going to add much extra mass to that load.
Storage and Ease of Packing
The long, straight-shot zipper of the Roadtripper 100 opens pretty wide for an I-shaped zipper but doesn't entirely reveal all of the pack's nooks and crannies as effectively as D-shaped zippers do. This performance drawback is a tradeoff for the bag's lightweight design and the ability to stay at a very modest price point. If you want a broader primary zipper opening, you're going to pay the price with extra weight and extra cost.
Compared to other duffel bags with straight I-shaped zippers, the REI Roadtripper has a large opening that extends halfway down each end of the pack. Of course, we typically prefer D-shaped openings, but in choosing the Roadtripper for its affordability, simplicity, and lightweight design, you must also accept certain potential limitations.
The Roadtripper features one external zippered pocket for organizing smaller items that also doubles as a stuff sack to store the empty bag compactly and securely. Another internal pocket would be appreciated, but that's another feature sacrificed to save a few more ounces and maintain simplicity and affordability.
The Roadtripper scores reasonably well in this performance metric, even with lighter materials than most other high-end contenders. Simple construction goes a long way towards durability, and the Roadtripper has precious few moving parts that could eventually fail.
Nonetheless, to keep the weight low and the packability high (attributes for which we grant this bag one of our Best Buy Awards), REI keeps the fabric and zippers relatively lightweight. The 610-denier Cordura polyester material is surprisingly rugged for its weight but simply doesn't compare to the 900 and 1000-denier materials found on some competitor models that cost twice as much. This bag, when packed carefully, will last through several big airplane trips or human-powered adventures, but likely won't hold up as well over time to the heavy beatings that frequent airport travel entails.
The Roadtripper's simple construction is more robust than other lightweight/packable bags, but the fabric is thinner and more tender than that of the most durable competitors.
In the two specific contexts for which we most highly recommend the REI Roadtripper, weight definitely matters. Whether brought on a human-powered adventure or packed along as an auxiliary piece of luggage, you want your duffel to be lightweight. The Roadtripper, on our calibrated scale, weighs in at 1.6 pounds in the 100-liter version. The same model is also available in 40, 60, and 140-liter volumes.
Any bag that comes close to or exceeds the Roadtripper's overall performance is going to be quite a bit heavier. And any model that is similar or lighter in weight is going to be much smaller or less durable. The Roadtripper strikes an ideal balance of weight and durability. The other giant bags in our review weigh 2-3 times as much as this Best Buy Award winner.
Similar to our durability rating metric, weather resistance can get compromised with lightweight materials and a simple, packable design. A water-resistant coating protects the Roadtripper's main body fabric, but the seams and zippers remain vulnerable and let water right through. Virtually all of the other full-size bags in our testing lineup are more weather resistant than it. Most have heavier-duty waterproof materials, and protective weather flaps over the external zippers.
With use and time, the 610-denier fabric's water-resistant coating will eventually wear off and will further reduce weather resistance. To extend the life of the protective coating, be sure to pack carefully, padding the edges of your harder or sharper items. This both saves your gear from wear and tear and protects the outside and inside fabric from abrasion.
The Roadtripper 100 is one of the most affordable duffels in our entire lineup. It comes in a variety of sizes to suit your needs, and it is surprisingly durable and capable of having such a simple and lightweight design. While other models have more comfortable carrying options, fancier features, and more substantial materials, most close competitors weigh two to three times more and cost twice as much. The price is low, the performance is ideal for certain situations, and the construction is durable enough to last through many memorable adventures, earning it our Best Bang for the Buck Award.
For extended rugged use, other duffel bags may be more durable and more comfortable to haul around, but when you need a large, lightweight, reasonably durable, packable bag, this is the one we suggest. Best Buy Award winners may not always score highly in our overall ratings, but the REI Roadtripper hits the mark for its weight, price, and performance. For human-powered adventures, light-duty general travel, or as a secondary option to pack along on an extended trip, your bag needs to be durable enough but also as light as possible. The Roadtripper walks this delicate tightrope and does so at a great price.
— Nick Bruckbauer