Best Overall Duffel Bag
Sea to Summit 90L
: 4.30 lbs | Volume sizes: 45, 65, 90, 130 Liters
Super rugged fabric
Redundant and smooth double zipper
Light colored interior
Slick carry options
Only one smaller pocket
For the first time in many years, we have a new Editors' Choice duffel bag. It took an excellent product to unseat the long-time classic The North Face Basecamp. The Sea To Summit is clean, simple, clever, and ridiculously stout. It is reasonably light for the volume, offers the burliest of construction and materials (the main zipper is literally a double; we've never seen this anywhere else), and has a carry strap system that is clean and versatile.
Other online reviews complain about the briefcase-style carry option of the Sea To Summit. None of our testers found it to be an issue, but the handles, in that configuration, do not strap securely together; a light magnet holds them together until something dislodges them. Another more widespread gripe is the limited number of accessory pockets. There is just one pocket, and it can be found in the lid. Mesh-covered pockets - and more of them - would be very welcome. Overall, we can handily recommend this piece of travel luggage. For any kind of travels, the construction, design, and materials will hold up for years and years.
Read review: Sea to Summit 90L
Best Value for your Dollar
The North Face Base Camp
: 4.06 lbs | Volume sizes: 33, 50, 69, 95, 150 Liters
Comfy shoulder straps
Pockets aid in organization
Various volumes and colors are available
Despair not, fans of the venerable Base Camp Duffel from The North Face. While the Sea To Summit bounces it from the top spot, the TNF bag remains an excellent option, includes recent updates and additions, and drops in price. In overall scoring, it runs a very close second to the Editors' Choice but comes for at least a few dozen dollars less, depending on the chosen size. These bags, for decades now, have accompanied expeditions to all the world's corners. In our test team alone we have Basecamp Duffels that have decades of travel behind them. Additional pockets in recent years only sweeten the deal.
The primary drawbacks of the Basecamp Duffel are in the strap arrangement. Grab loops and briefcase straps are permanently affixed and easy to use. The shoulder straps, though, require threading to use. Each time you hand this off to the airlines, you need to unthread and stow the straps. Each time you retrieve your stuff, you'll need to rethread the shoulder straps for use. Further, the Sea To Summit is noticeably and objectively more robust: the fabric is heavier and the zipper is double the strength, theoretically.
Read review: The North Face Basecamp
Best Bang for the Buck
Wild Things Gear Mule
: 3.35lbs | Volume sizes: 42, 57, 106, 144 Liters.
Limited carry options
We have two Best Buy winners. The Wild Things Gear Mule (and the smaller bags in this same family and design, each granted their own model name: 42L "Carry On", 57L "Goat", 106L "Burro" and tested 144L "Mule") is even less expensive than the The North Face Basecamp Duffel. The Mule will last just as long, and is even lighter. Further, the Wild Things Gear duffel bags are made in the USA.
The primary drawback of the Wild Things Mule (and the other WT bags) is in carry options. There is a grab loop on each end, and a pair of briefcase style straps. There are no compression straps, no other tie-in loops, no backpack straps, and no long single shoulder strap. You can muscle it around, or you can drag it. There is no real good way to carry the bag on rough ground for extended distances. The design is long-lasting and classic. Modern bags mostly include shoulder straps for further carry.
Read review: Wild Things Mule Duffel
Best for Extremely Wet Environments
YETI Panga 100L
: 5.8 lbs | Volume sizes: 50, 75, 100 liters
Waterproof - fully; submersible even
Straight zipper through the stiff fabric is hard to load and unload
The Yeti Panga illustrates what we look for in a Top Pick award winner. It excels in a narrow niche; in fact, in the narrowest of niches. We have found no other submersible, durable, zipped duffels that have backpack shoulder straps. This is a narrow category, we realize, but it is a valuable contribution that will certainly have some appeal.
Compromise on any one of the Panga's above attributes, and you can spend half or less. The Panga is super expensive, and some products come close to the Panga at a fraction of the price. Price is the primary drawback to the Panga, but it is the only thing going that meets its descriptions, at any cost. Another drawback is the straight zipper through the stiff fabric, as it's a challenge to pack and unpack compared to duffels with the U-shaped zipper of Editors' Choice winners. We tested the 100-liter version, but Yeti also sells 50 and 75-liter versions with all the same pros and cons.
Read review: Yeti Panga 100
Top Pick Secondary and Sled Duffel
REI Co-op Roadtripper 140L
: 1.86 lbs | Volume sizes: 40, 60, 100, 140 liters
No backpack straps
Water gets through zippers and seams
The REI Roadtripper is a sneaky entry here. It is so simple that it stands out. With REI's extensive distribution network, we are glad to see a simple, sturdy bag so widely available. Its lightweight with reliable construction, earning it our Top Pick award as the best bag when weight is a big issue. Whether the need is for an "auxiliary" piece of luggage for use part way through your travels, or as a sled and basecamp duffel on certain types of mountaineering expeditions, the Roadtripper is unmatched.
The light weight of the Roadtripper is mainly due to simple construction. The fabric is sturdy enough, and so is the zipper. Other duffels are more robust, but the tested 140L size the Roadtripper is perfect for a Denali expedition sled duffel. The shape is a little long and skinny for other types of travel. Also, the seams and zipper are vulnerable to weather intrusion.
Read review: REI Roadtripper 140
OGL tester Ian McEleney testing bags, slogging miles, and freezing his fingers. USA, March 2019.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by long time OutdoorGearLab contributors Jediah Porter and Ian Nicholson. Both are professional mountain guides who frequently pack huge piles of gear. Jed is based in Wydaho's Tetons and makes yearly visits to Alaska and South America. He racks up some impressive stats — he ascended 556,300 human-powered vertical feet in '18, and his four longest wilderness trips in '19 averaged 11 days each. Ian was the youngest person on record to pass his American Mountain Guides Association Rock and Alpine guide exams and holds AIARE Level III certification as well as Level I Avalanche Instructor Certification. Ian has climbed extensively in the western US and Canada in places such as the Kichatna Spires of Alaska and Waddington Range of British Columbia - trips which he had facilitated with two Mountain Fellowship grants from the American Alpine Club.
The legwork for this review began by connecting with our friends and co-workers and doing extensive market research. We made an initial survey of nearly 60 duffels, then selected the top 12 to purchase and take to the field. The bags went on a climbing trip to the French Alps, were dragged in sleds across glaciers in the Alaska range for a month, and were stowed in the forest for three weeks in Patagonia.
Related: How We Tested Duffel Bags
Analysis and Test Results
We reviewed our 12 favorite pieces of travel and adventure luggage and compared them head-to-head in five different categories. We based our scoring on the evaluation of five weighted criteria: Ease of Packing, Ease of Transport, Durability, Weight, and Weather Resistance, each of which are discussed in depth below.
Related: Buying Advice for Duffel Bags
This is not necessarily a "get what you pay for category", as a lot of our highest rated bags are also some of the best deals. For example, The North Face Base Camp is the second ranked bag and also one of the least expensive bags we tested. Another great overall value is the Wild Things Gear Mule but a bag like the Gregory Alpaca also scores very high and is relatively inexpensive. Even the Editors' Choice Sea To Summit Duffel is only 120% the cost of the Best Buy Basecamp Duffel. When these most robust bags will last so many decades, it is easy to justify the expense.
Of course, you can also pay tons for minimal gains. The Top Pick Yeti Panga 100 is significantly more than twice the cost of the Editors' Choice. For that additional cost, the Yeti does something special, but it's just so expensive. Additionally, the other Top Pick REI Roadtripper 140 is very inexpensive. It is among the least expensive products in our entire review. Its durability is compromised, and its function is more narrow and specialized than the products mentioned above.
Ease of Transport
What does it take to move the loaded bag around? All bags we test have some handles on them. Some have more than others, but all can be muscled by one or two people over short distances. All bags also have briefcase style straps. Beyond that, we look to discern between bags by the presence and design of backpack straps, a long should strap, durability for dragging over the ground, and presence and utility of lashing points.
The Editors Choice bag in backpack transport mode.
Nearly all the duffels with backpack straps were reasonably comfortable to carry, and because all of our reviews find this such a valuable feature, it was a design focus during our model selection process. A couple of standouts were the Osprey Transporter 130 and the Sea To Summit Duffel. These two surely top the charts. Quite serviceable were the shoulder straps on the Patagonia Black Hole and The North Face Basecamp.
When we say serviceable, we mean the blood circulation to your arms wouldn't be cut off, something that was the case with many models with poorly designed shoulder straps (even when worn for short durations when loaded with 50+ pounds). The Osprey Transporter has the best shoulder straps in our review. They are contoured, padded, and equipped with a sternum strap and "load lifters." They are mostly the same as what Osprey includes on their lauded backpacking packs. The Granite Gear 36 Packable has unpadded shoulder straps, but they are equipped with a sternum strap.
A fully loaded duffel bag is a bear to move around. Little things like the padding and dimensions of grab loops are surprisingly notable in actual usage.
It is the shoulder straps of the submersible and durable Yeti Panga that set it apart from other (untested) zippered waterproof duffels. They are comfortable and easily removable. On the market, we could find no other durable, submersible, zippered duffels that have backpack straps.
Many airlines will ask you to remove your duffel's shoulder straps before checking it, so they don't get hung up on the conveyor belt. The Black Hole and Sea To Summit both have shoulder straps that are easy to remove and re-attach. This is a bonus when wearing your duffel like a backpack to the check-in counter. Similarly, the backpack straps of the Top Pick Yeti Panga are easy to clip on and off. The Osprey Transporter shoulder straps tuck into a zippered compartment on the lid of the pack.
On the right is the backpack carry mode of the Top Pick Yeti Panga. On the left, the one-shoulder carry of the Bago.
The other model that sported easy-to-remove shoulder straps was the Helly Hansen 2. On both their 50 and 90 liter models, they use a slick design, commonly found on rock climbing haul bags.
Not only were models that featured shoulder straps nice for using backpack style, but most of them featured straps that were long enough to simply be pulled over one shoulder for convenience and shorter distances. Photo Ian Nicholson and Graham Zimmerman using such a feature while unloading bags onto the Cul De Sac (AKA Cool Sack) Glacier in the Kichatna Spires, Western Alaska Range.
The shoulder straps un-clip from one end and easily tuck away in a pocket just below the end of the bag, similar to some river bags or a haul bag.
Showing the Helly Hanson's convenient tuck-away shoulder strap pocket similar to many haul bags and some river bag designs.
The North Face Base Camp featured highly contoured backpack shoulder straps with high-quality foam that didn't collapse under loads. Both the Base Camp and Black Hole could be worn for extended periods and over distances with only minimal discomfort. Not that we'd recommend this, but a good friend of ours who doesn't own a large pack hiked into the Bugaboos (a 3-4 hour hike, 2,300 ft of elevation gain) with massive loads in a Black Hole Duffel. This isn't ideal but is a testament to both his toughness and to the comfort of some duffel bag shoulder straps.
While we talked about how nice wheels are for paved surfaces, non-wheeled duffels rule all for when the going leaves the pavement. Many small aircraft won't even left you bring wheeled baggage onboard or it just isn't practical. The various carrying options incorporated into non-wheeled models will simply be easier in the long run.
The Alpaca, Long Hauler, and Helly Hansen 2 all have above average shoulder straps. All the models we tested either have separate briefcase style straps or their shoulder straps are designed to be shortened and used for this purpose.
The excellent shoulder harness of the Osprey Transporter is likely unnecessarily robust and complicated, robbing the rest of the pack of durability and weather resistance, in a sense.
The Wild Things Gear Mule, REI Roadtripper 140 and Bago Travel do not have shoulder straps.
Lashing Duffels to Things
If you traveled to far-flung destinations (or even sometimes not very far-flung), you've probably seen your luggage be attached to some form of transportation. If you are more commonly just looking at luggage options for catching buses, trains, and more typical commercial airplanes, then this isn't a super important factor for you. If you plan to travel to exotic locations or climb (or anything else) in remote parts of the world, you will undoubtedly need to strap your baggage to any number of things (and there can be a lot of different things and ways they will be attached).
When traveling to more remote regions, having a duffel that can be easily and securely tied down to a bus or some sort of pack animal can be the difference between losing your bag or not.
During the research for this review alone, we had duffels carried by llamas, mules, horses, snowmobiles, motorcycles, campers, three different type of small prop planes, and helicopters. We also pulled them ourselves, lashed to a sled deep in the Alaska wilderness.
Look for models with daisy chains that have beefy bartacking between each loop and reinforced grab loops made of robust webbing. This can help make sure your duffel stays attached to your sled if you fall into a crevasse. Photo climbers walking on the Kahiltna glacier in the Alaska range each pulling a sled with a duffel tied to it. Shoulder straps and briefcase style straps are good things to thread when tying your duffel down - as long as they are beefy enough.
Robust daisy chains (webbing with loops separated by stitches) is the feature that best facilitates secure attachment of your duffel to various modes of transportation. Daisy chains are versatile and easy to use, provided enough slack is left, at manufacture, in each webbing loop. Large grab loops and shoulder straps are also particularity useful things to thread through when attaching your baggage to things.
Almost all we selected for this review have decent daisy chains and grab loops. The external profile of both the Top Pick Yeti Panga and Bago Travel are almost entirely devoid of lash points. The Top Pick REI Roadtripper and Best Buy Wild Things Gear Mule are similarly lacking in lash points. The rest of the non-wheeled bags have good options. The Gregory Alpaca, with its robust reinforced daisy chains, stood out. The daisy chains ran the full length of the bag, and its large grab loops made it easy to attach to almost anything, whether that be a sled or llama. The North Face Base Camp and the Patagonia Black Hole weren't too far behind, as both offer ease of transport. We feel wheeled duffels are great for traditional travel and duffels are better for non-traditional travel or for trips where getting every ounce possible without going over the 50-pound limit is of the utmost importance.
The Gregory Alpaca is a simple, solid adventure duffel.
For extended dragging across the ground, we found the Basecamp, Mule, Sea To Summit, Alpaca and Panga to be more robust than most. At the other end, you will quickly destroy the Bago Travel and REI Roadtripper with such treatment.
Ease of Packing
In our Ease of Packing category, we compared how easy it was to load each bag with both typical travel items as well as oddly shaped things that many people might want to include. We also compared how simple it was stay organized using smaller pockets and compartments and how much of a hassle it was to search both in these pockets as well as the main compartment and then the difficulty of zipping everything shut again when we were finished.
After dozens of trips of in-the-field testing and direct side-by-side comparisons, we liked the big D- or U-shaped openings rather than the straight "I" style zippered openings. Bags that have some structure stay upright and open while packing. These are easier to pack.
Most of the duffels we tested have U-shaped openings. This is good, and our preferred orientation. To save weight and increase bag strength, some companies include a straight zipper. The Bago, Best Buy Wild Things Gear Mule, Top Pick Yeti Panga and Top Pick REI Roadtripper all have straight "I-shaped" zippers and were subsequently harder to load and unload.
Shoulder season, dreary weather, repacking. Duffel testing in Alaska, April 2019.
Ease-of-packing is an obviously important feature, and everyone has struggled to zip close various bags when they are too full. We like the internal compression straps of the Osprey Transporter and Yeti Panga. The double zipper of the Sea To Summit is innovative (two pairs of tooth rows are joined and separated by one zipper pull) and super confidence inspiring when you are really cramming it full.
The large "D" shaped opening on The North Face Base Camp Duffel was among the easiest duffels to pack and search for items in.
As far as organization goes, having a few zippered pockets goes a long way. Bago Travel offered the best level of organization, using a review high of four well thought-out compartments. Among the other competitors, our Best Buy The North Face Base Camp Duffel, offered up a sizeable external zippered pocket and an internal mesh divider. The Marmot Long Hauler also provided a similar design.
Our testers found the externally accessed zippered pocket on Base Camp extremely useful when separating wet, dirty clothes, or as another helpful sized pocket for staying organized.
After using the newer Base Camp model on just a few trips, our testing team unanimously gave the thumbs up to this additional pocket, which added only benefits. The same is true for the Long Hauler. Other organizational features that our testers appreciated were the dual inner, zippered mesh pockets featured on the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel and Gregory Alpaca.
Our entire review team absolutely loved the twin mesh pockets featured on several models. In fact, several review team members commented how much they missed it when using models that lacked this feature. Here we show the twin zippered pockets under the lid of a Patagonia Black Hole, with a SuperTopo book for size reference.
Our testers thought the divided pocket made it significantly more useful compared to the single giant mesh pocket. They missed it when they used models that didn't offer this feature. This was one of the most significant drawbacks of our Best Buy The North Face Base Camp; it just had one sizeable inner mesh zippered pocket, which was nice, but again, our testing team enjoyed having the two smaller pockets significantly more. Many of the bags had flat outside zippered pockets, like the Helly Hansen Duffel Bag 2, Wild Things Gear Mule and the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel. While this is a good thought, these pockets were hard to get our hands into when the bags were full.
The Editors' Choice Sea To Summit has just one additional pocket, located under the lid. It is closed in with fabric. We wish there were more organizational options and we wish that they were made with mesh so we could see into them more readily.
From a short commuter flight to traveling deep in the Alaskan wilderness, we went all out to compare how each model stacked up in our ease of transport category. Photo: Topping out Heartbreak Hill, with the mighty North Buttress of Mt. Hunter Looming above, just below Kahiltna Base Camp, while dragging 50lbs stowed in duffel bags that are strapped to plastic sleds, Denali National Park, AK.
The Bago Packable has four pockets in addition to the main compartment. Among lightweight bags, this is well above the competition. One of the Bago pockets is an externally accessed, large, and variable volume "shoe/wet" compartment that sequesters dirty or damp things from the rest of your gear. Its volume is shared with the main compartment. If the main bag is full, you won't get much in the sequestered compartment. It is a clever and welcome design that we've seen in other bags and are happy to observe and use in this ultra-lightweight piece of equipment. The close competitor REI Roadtripper eschews many of the organizational attributes of the Bago in favor of simplicity and added durability.
Wide, u-shaped openings are definitely preferred for frequent in and out.
All the contenders in our fleet are super robust. The tried and true Base Camp Duffel (1000D polyester laminate) set the tone decades ago and this sort of construction spreads to other manufacturers. Most of the bags we test are made of a high denier laminate. Those that aren't are made with high denier ballistics nylon. All these thick materials are super robust. Many bags further reinforce the bags with padded bottoms and double or triple layers of material in wear points.
Most of the models in our fleet used at least 900D PU, PE rip-stop nylon, or polyester material throughout the duffel, with an additional layer of at least 630D nylon on the bottom, or other high wear areas, which help to maximize a given model's life. While these materials are straight-up burly and will last the vast majority of user's decades of abuse, the Base Camp Duffel has proven itself as one of the longest-lasting contenders out there.
Whether you like it or not, a primary method of moving your duffel luggage will be dragging. Choose sturdy fabrics for this reason and many more.
The Sea to Summit uses the thickest material of any model in our review, as well as beefy bar tacks on all the critical stitching areas. The close runner up and Best Buy winning The North Face Base Camp is nearly as robust. Tester Ian Nicholson has used a Base Camp bag on over 20 expeditions, and we spoke to over a dozen other OutdoorGearLab friends who brought them on various trips and they are still going strong.
The weight of a piece of luggage is important but exactly how important mattes a lot on the user. Folks who either travel light or go to places where they don't need a lot of clothing or equipment can often take a heavier bag because they rarely find themselves approaching an airline's 50-pound limit. However, for colder climates or for folks embarking on more remote adventures, that 50-pound limit often arrives a little too quickly; thus, having an additional 1-5 pounds (not eaten up by a piece of luggage itself) is quite valuable (literally).
The Top Pick Yeti Panga is constructed with super thick, laminated fabric that is "welded" together for maximum strength and abrasion resistance. The bottom padding is for additional protection to both the bag itself and the contents. At the other end of the spectrum, the ultralight Bago Packable won't hold up to much rough use. At a similar overall weight, the durability of the REI Roadtripper is what sets it ahead of the Bago.
The Bago Packable is the lightest bag in our review. But it is also the least durable. There is a clear and indirect correlation between weight and durability. Heavier is more rugged. The Top Pick REI Roadtripper is a weight-to-volume winner. It is huge, and only a little heavier than the other lightweight option.
Since we tested bags in at least slightly different sizes, it is difficult to compare their weights directly. We can make some deductions and extrapolations to compare apples to apples.
On a unique Western Wyoming public transit ski adventure, our lead test editor appreciated the comfortable shoulder straps of the Osprey Transporter. In most other contexts the shoulder straps are unnecessarily complicated and heavy.
Of the full-sized duffels, the Osprey Transporter 130 is impressive for its size and carrying comfort. At 3.4, this proved to be the lightest model in the larger volume range. Comparatively the The North Face Base Camp and Sea to Summit are the heaviest options, each ringing in at well over four pounds one ounce for the 90-liter size. One pound more for the greater durability attributes of these award winners is well worth it.
The Yeti Panga has a clean and simple exterior.
Of course, with weight, the most significant thing is what type of packer you are and the kinds of trips you like to go on. Its far easier to stay under weight going to a tropical climate than a cold one. So if you find yourself regularly battling with the 50-pound weight limit, going with a little lighter model can save you from a slight headache, excess weight fees, or extra weight in your carry-on.
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.
In addition to using them in the real world, we conducted several side-by-side tests in an attempt to measure each contender's overall weather resistance. We didn't weigh Weather Resistance as high as other categories like Ease of Packing and Comfort to Carry but it remains an important category never-the-less. Weather resistance is important when you want to keep your stuff dry as you take it out of the car on a soggy day or when it's being driven around on the tarmac. We also find it useful for travel to more exotic locations where it may spend longer periods in the elements.
To compare models, we both used them in the real world on expeditions to Denali, Bolivia, Aconcagua, Central Chile, and Patagonia where these models were all directly exposed to weather. Additionally, we exposed each to a more routine test. For our systematic testing, we put dry towels inside each bag and sprayed them with a hose in our driveway.
The top competitors were reasonably close, with one major exception. Topping the charts, by a long way, is the Top Pick Yeti Panga. The Panga replicates river rafting equipment performance and is completely submersible. To the attributes of a river rafting duffel bag, the Yeti adds greater durability and backpack straps. It truly stands out.
Not all luggage is up for this sort of weather testing. The Yeti Panga makes bold claims about waterproofing, and backs them up.
Behind the Panga is the Osprey Transporter. The Osprey has taped seams, but a vulnerable zipper. Virtually all of the remaining bags have waterproof fabric but unsealed seams and non-waterproof zippers. All of these will keep out some light rain and splashes and spills of all kinds, but won't withstand extended precipitation, being set down in a puddle, or submersion.
For medium to long moves, shoulder straps are the preferred way of moving equipment over rough ground. Wheels work best on smooth terrain.
Allow our thorough advice and testing to enable a luggage purchase that will enable your greatest adventures. If it requires flexible, stout luggage, it is probably a worthy pursuit. If it requires flexible, stout luggage, we have outlined above all you should need to know for your purchase. We are confident in our assessment, and wish you luck wherever your travels take you.