Sea to Summit Duffel Review
Cons: Only one small pocket, heavy, pricey
Manufacturer: Sea to Summit
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sea to Summit Duffel is a top scorer across the board and is our most strongly recommended duffel bag for all kinds of travel and adventures. It is made from very stout materials, has a simple and sturdy construction, and has an innovative strap adjustment system that improves its otherwise straightforward use. It also has unique features like a burly double-layer zipper that secures the wide D-shaped opening, and metal carabiner-style strap attachments that enable easy adjustments. Its aesthetics are simple and unobtrusive, and the inside material is light-colored for easier gear organization. Other bags come close, but the Sea to Summit earns our top award with its top-quality construction and innovative design features.
Ease of Transport
There's no way around it; a large-capacity duffel bag can be difficult to haul around when it's fully loaded. Short of hiring a porter or stealing a luggage cart, you're eventually going to have to do some wrestling when traveling with a duffel. However, the Sea to Summit Duffel Bag has an innovative strap system that is easily adjustable and provides a handful of comfortable carrying options.
This bag has two adjustable padded straps, each with a metal carabiner-style clip on each end. The straps are constructed from the same heavy-duty material as the rest of the bag, include a layer of dense, supportive padding, and are heavily fortified with a strip of webbing and plenty of stitching reinforcements.
The metal carabiner clips can be attached to a total of 10 different anchoring positions around the bag itself and two on each strap. Using the 14 total anchoring loops, you can arrange the straps to carry the bag backpack-style or traditional "briefcase" style, or you can combine the two straps into one long strap to sling the bag over one shoulder. With the briefcase-style carry option, the straps have curves that create a smaller and more ergonomic spot to grab, and each includes small embedded magnets to help hold the straps together. While this is a thoughtful approach, the briefcase-style carry option is not as comfortable as other duffels with more traditional carry handles.
Finally, the bag includes a total of four heavy-duty grab handles — one on each side and one on each end — ideal for lugging around or grabbing it out of trunks or off of baggage claim belts.
With 14 total attachment points and the convenient carabiner-style clips, it's easy to transition between the different carrying methods with a quick adjustment of the straps. It's similarly easy to completely remove the straps to stow them away when necessary.
Storage and Ease of Packing
While most duffel bags have a similar design that features a primary massive storage compartment with a wide zippered opening, small nuances in the storage design can impact its convenience and efficiency. In addition to a duffel's overall storage volume, the size and shape of the central opening, the availability and accessibility of additional storage pockets, and the stiffness of the fabric can have an impact on the storage efficiency and the ease of packing. The Sea to Summit scores well in this performance metric thanks to its thoughtful design and high-quality construction.
First, the Sea to Summit's main storage compartment is easily accessed by a massive D-shaped zippered opening that reveals easy access to the pack's 90-liter volume. The extent of the opening is noticeably larger than most other models, as the zipper extends further down on the front and back of the bag, allowing for more convenient access to your gear or easier packing of larger or awkward shaped items. The burly double-layer main zipper provides extra strength and security and helps prevent potential thieves from picking their way through a locked bag.
Next, the 1000-denier material is stiff enough that the bag holds its shape well and can stand up entirely unsupported. It may seem like a silly and minor point to note, but we've found that rigid construction like this makes loading and unloading a bit easier. Another seemingly insignificant feature is that the light-colored fabric lining inside the bag helps you locate your content and keep things from disappearing in the otherwise dark nooks and crannies. We noticed and appreciated this benefit on several occasions.
The main drawback of this performance metric is that the Sea to Summit only has one additional storage pocket, located inside the top lid. An extra pocket or pockets would be nice, such as the divided mesh pockets found on many other duffels that allow you to see the pocket's contents more easily. An exterior pocket would also be helpful, although an additional zipper could reduce the bag's weather resistance. Fortunately, these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things and barely detract from the duffel's utility.
The Sea to Summit is a very robust bag with its 1000-denier body material and rugged reinforced bottom panel. In months of dragging it around the US Mountain West, on planes and in cars and RVs, we have made no real marks anywhere on the thing. The fabric is among the thickest of any duffel around and is reinforced in all the right places. Our experience with other gear from this manufacturer, primarily their smaller stuff sacks, indicates that the stitching and seam reinforcement will hold up better than most other products.
The bottom of this duffel bag has a 3-layer construction. There is the outer heavy-duty nylon material, the inner lightly colored (in our case, yellow) lining fabric, and then there is an additional padded layer sandwiched between the two. None of the materials show any wear at all after our testing period. We were also impressed with the quality of the heavy-duty webbing material used to anchor the straps and serve as grab loops and compression straps. This webbing is more robust than most other bags and is the type that we are more accustomed to seeing on climbing harnesses than on duffel bags or backpacks.
Finally, the small buckles on the compression straps are more durable than most and are designed as field repair buckles. A small stainless steel screw holds each buckle together and allows it to be removed from the pack to replace a broken buckle on a backpack, compression bag, or any piece of gear with a similar buckle.
All of the rugged, heavy-duty materials and reinforcements add up; this certainly isn't a lightweight bag. The 90-liter version that we tested weighed in at 4.3 pounds on our calibrated hanging scale, making it one of the heaviest models in our lineup. For its robust performance and durability, this weight is forgivable, but we wouldn't call it ultralight.
If you are creeping up to the edge of your airline baggage weight allowance, the weight of your bag itself could make a difference. However, the maximum weight difference between this and other similar duffels is only around one pound, and most domestic baggage allowances are 50 pounds. When considering that the bag's actual weight makes up such a small portion of the overall loaded baggage weight, it becomes less critical and something we largely overlook in favor of durability and function.
This bag is among the most weather-resistant products in our test group. The 1000-denier laminate material does a great job of repelling water, the top lid includes an extended flap that protects the main zipper, and the most of the bag's interior has an additional layer of lining material. Further, there are no external pockets that would add extra zippers that would be a vulnerable spot for moisture to penetrate the inside.
While this is one of the best-performing models in this rating metric, it is not completely waterproof or submersible. Sea to Summit tempers their promotion of the weather resistance of their duffel bag with a uniquely clear message on their website. "Laminate is waterproof, but seams aren't taped, and the zipper would admit water. Light rain=not an issue. Monsoon=wet contents." Our experience in use and testing is exactly consistent with their statement and could describe most of the duffel bags we test, but few manufacturers are so candid. Remember, we have no obligation to any equipment manufacturers, and we thoroughly research the manufacturer's claims and formulate our own opinions from our own experiences.
All the above praise describes a premium bag with a premium price tag to match it. This Editors' Choice Award Winner costs more than most, and there are other high-end options in our lineup with very similar features and performance that will save you a few bucks. However, there is a remarkably small range of prices among the top competitors in our lineup, and the Sea to Summit's function, versatility, and durability should give you years and years of trouble-free service.
Once again, the Sea to Summit Duffel comes away with our Editors' Choice Award with its top-notch materials and construction and handy adjustable carrying systems. We've done our due diligence, dragging this bag across town and across the country, and continue to be impressed. While others come close, this once again earns the distinction of being our favorite duffel bag.
— Nick Bruckbauer