We are confident that the Sea to Summit Duffel is the best on the market. We will continue scouring, and eagerly anticipate the day when a bag displaces the Sea to Summit, but we are also content to use and abuse this excellent product for years to come. It displaces the first winner of our Editors' Choice award, breaking seven years of precedent. For all-around travel and day-to-day transport and organization, a sturdy duffel like this, maybe even owned in a variety of sizes, will clean up your systems and give you great peace of mind. We tested the 90-liter version, but you can extrapolate all of what we say to Sea to Summit's 45, 65, and 130L versions. There are lighter options, and there are more waterproof options, but others suffer in various significant ways compared to the Sea to Summit duffel.
Sea to Summit 90L Review
Cons: Only one smaller pocket, heavy
Manufacturer: Sea to Summit
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Our Analysis and Test Results
For all kinds of usage, the Sea to Summit Duffel is our top scorer and our most strongly recommended piece. It is very sturdy, simply constructed, made of the stoutest materials, and has just the right amount of innovation to smooth the otherwise straightforward use. Innovation shows up exactly where it is appreciated. A doubled zipper that acts as one? Brilliant. Straps that can be configured in all the conceivable orientations, yet still stowed easily entirely away? We'll take it.
The look is unobtrusive, while the inside is light-colored for easier organization. The fabric stands up tall so you can throw stuff into the wide u-shaped opening. We've literally dragged the bag down the road, testing for fabric integrity and have nothing more than minor scratches to show for it. Other bags come close, but this edges ahead for our Editors' Choice award.
Ease of Transport
A fully loaded duffel bag is tough to move around. There's no real way around that. Short of wheeled luggage, you are going to do some wrestling when traveling with a duffel. You can't escape this fact. However, as Sea to Summit shows us, you can integrate and innovate just enough to give your bag the right carry options.
The Sea to Summit bag is equipped with two adjustable padded straps, each with a carabiner-style clip on each end. There are a total of 10 anchoring positions on the bag itself, and a couple on each strap. The 14 anchor loops can be used, with the included straps, to arrange backpack carry, regular "briefcase" style carry, and long, over-one-shoulder style carry. Further, each end and each side is equipped with a semi-stiffened, protruding grab loop for short term transport.
It is incredibly well thought out, and we couldn't ask for more or better-configured transport options. Finally, in certain (fairly common) circumstances, dragging a fully loaded bag is the way to go, regardless of how you grab it, its gotta hold up to the abrasion. The fabric and overall construction of the Sea to Summit is proving to be the most durable we've ever tested.
If the plethora of carrying options sounds intimidating, note that the inside of the lid of the Sea To Summit is printed with the various carry configuration options. Also, note that this Editors' Choice winner has a simple ID card holder, protected by a clear cover that is, in turn, protected from damage by, but not obscured from view by, one of the grab handles. This little detail alone indicates the thought that Sea to Summit put into this bag.
Ease of Packing
What does it take to get your stuff into your duffel bag? It is really a function of three different variables. How big is, and what is the shape of, the main opening? Does the fabric and construction "stand up" when empty so as to receive your stuff? Finally, what is the configuration and availability of the smaller pockets?
First, the main opening of the Sea to Summit, is large, pulls open and closed smoothly, and is shaped like the letter "D" for maximum opening size. It is big enough to allow large items in, but not so big that you have to partially close it before topping the bag off. Next, the fabric is stiff enough that it stands up entirely unsupported. This may seem silly and minor, but we find that rigid construction like this makes a huge difference when loading and unloading.
Also, seemingly minor and something we hadn't thought of until reading other online reviews of the Sea to Summit, the light-colored fabric inside the bottom of the bag helps keep things from disappearing in the folds and behind dark-colored socks. We noticed this benefit on a number of occasions.
A main drawback of the Sea To Summit's ease of packing is the minimal extra pockets, and we aren't the only ones to comment on this. There is only one extra pocket, a fairly simple fabric affair inside the lid. More options would be nice, as would a divided inside the lid pocket. Mesh, instead of fabric, to see the contents more readily, would also be our preference. Fortunately, these are small complaints in the grand scheme of things.
The Sea to Summit is a very robust bag. In months of dragging it around the US Mountain West, on planes and in cars and RVs, we have made no real marks on the entire thing. The fabric is super robust and augmented in all the right places. Our experience with other Sea to Summit gear, primarily their smaller stuff sacks, indicates that the stitching and seam reinforcement will hold up even better than most.
The bottom of the tested bag is three layers. There is the outside heavy-duty nylon fabric, a sturdy, stiff and padded layer out of sight, and those above lighter colored (in our case, yellow) fabric inside. None show any wear at all. The webbing used to anchor straps and serve as grab loops and compression straps is the type we are more accustomed to seeing on climbing harnesses than on bags and packs.
All the durability adds up; this isn't a lightweight bag. We tested the 90L version and found it, on our calibrated scale, to weigh 4.30 lbs. For the robustness and performance, this weight is forgivable, but we wouldn't call it ultralight.
If you are knocking on the edge of your airline baggage weight allowance, the weight of your bag itself can make a difference. It is uncommon to move a bag like this very far exclusively with human power, but in that scenario, weight also matters. In all other situations, the weight is unimportant and something we largely overlook when durability and function are so high.
In a refreshing move, Sea to Summit themselves temper their promotion of the weather resistance of this duffel bag. Our experience in use and testing is exactly consistent with their statement. We find their honesty so uplifting that we can't help but quote it here.
The Sea To Summit website (remember that we have no obligation to equipment manufacturers. We thoroughly research other reviews and manufacturer's claims, which almost always includes a visit to the product's website) says, about waterproofness of this bag, "laminate is waterproof, but seams aren't taped, and the zipper would admit water. Light rain=not an issue. Monsoon=wet contents." This could describe most of the duffel bags we test, but few manufacturers are so candid.
All the above praise describes a bag that doesn't come cheap. For the size, this Editors' Choice costs more than most. However, the function and durability are excellent, and the range of prices in duffel bags is remarkably low. Tested all-purpose bags range from 115 dollars to 180 dollars. When compared to other categories of equipment, this is a remarkably small spread. The most expensive duffels aren't too far above the least expensive, all things considered.
It didn't take much testing to start considering the Sea to Summit for our Editors' Choice award. We've done our due diligence, packing and dragging and traveling the Americas. The conclusion is that this is the best darn all-purpose duffel bag we've used.
— Jediah Porter