Throughout the last decade, our team of experts has bought and traveled with over 40 of the best duffel bags. In our 2020 update, we look at 12 of the most promising models that are available today. We hauled these bags across the globe for weeks at a time to evaluate their durability, weather resistance, and ease of packing and transporting. With so many similar-looking options to choose from, we'll help point out the small nuances that make each product unique. The right duffel bag should give you years and years of worry-free service, and we'll help you find the right model for you.Related: Best Carry On Luggage of 2020
Best Duffel Bag of 2020
Best Overall Duffel Bag
Sea to Summit Duffel
The Sea to Summit Duffel Bag narrowly escapes with a repeat of our top ranking, beating out an impressive lineup full of worthy competitors from many of the top outdoors manufacturers. This bag stands out with remarkable construction quality and thick, burly 1000-denier material, combined with a unique and versatile strap system. The two completely removable straps can be attached to 10 different mounting points around the bag, and are easily adjustable with built-in metal carabiner-style clips. Depending on your preference, they can be used either as backpack straps, a shoulder sling, or traditional briefcase-style carry handles.
One minor weakness of the Sea to Summit is that the briefcase-style carrying configuration feels a little awkward. This bag lacks traditional carry handles, but you can adjust the shoulder straps to carry it by your side, and the straps have small magnets embedded in them to keep the straps clasped together. While this is an innovative idea, the magnetic link is not very useful, and gripping the bag this way is less comfortable than with most other models. Further, it has just one pocket on the inside of the top lid, and its rugged material makes it one of the heaviest bags in our lineup. Overall, we can handily recommend this piece of luggage for its high-quality materials and construction.
Read review: Sea to Summit Duffel
An Excellent Model with Top-Notch Overall Performance
Patagonia Black Hole
Consistently one of the top pieces of luggage on the market, the Patagonia Black Hole just misses out on our top ranking with its high-quality design and top-notch performance. We appreciate the comfortable backpack straps that are easily removable, and the high-end design details like an external zippered pocket, two internal zippered pockets, internal luggage compression straps, and external daisy chain attachment points. The 900-denier recycled material is durable and water-resistant, and the reinforced bottom panel helps resist wear from dragging and hauling. This bag is durable enough for the most rugged expeditions, yet stylish enough for frequent business trips.
The Black Hole is an impressive and capable duffel bag, but just misses out on our highest honor. Our testers preferred the Sea to Summit for its slightly thicker and more durable material (1000-denier vs. 900-denier) and its more versatile and adjustable strap system. Others may prefer the Black Hole's style, its additional storage pockets, or its extra daisy chain attachment points. Both of these bags are excellent products, and the right choice comes down to personal preference.
Read review: Patagonia Black Hole
Best Bang for the Buck
The Gregory Alpaca has every feature you could want in a high-end duffel bag with a lower price tag than most of the top competitors, providing exceptional value. With a sleek and classy design and high-quality materials, the Alpaca has multiple storage pockets, full-length daisy chain attachment points on both sides, comfortable backpacks straps, and water-resistant 900-denier material. It successfully balances a large storage volume with convenient carrying options, durable and water-resistant material, and a reasonably low weight.
The Alpaca scores well across the board and shows no significant weaknesses. The only notable drawback is that the backpack straps can be a bit tedious to remove. You must unweave one end through a doubled-back buckle and then slide the strap through a girth-hitch at the other end. While this is not necessarily difficult, it could test your patience and your dexterity when trying to remove or replace the straps at a busy airport. Overall, the Alpaca is one of our favorite bags and provides excellent value.
Read review: Gregory Alpaca
Most Comfortable Carrying System
With a supportive and well-padded backpack harness design similar to their backpacks, the Osprey Transporter earns recognition for having the most comfortable carrying system. While most of the models in our lineup include backpack straps, the Transporter is the only option we tested with a chest strap and load lifter straps in addition to its comfortable and supportive harness. The entire harness can also be unbuckled and easily tucked inside a zippered pocket on the top lid for smooth airport transitions. The bag also has four heavy-duty grab handles for briefcase-style carrying, and high-quality materials and construction typical of Osprey products.
The Transporter is undoubtedly comfortable in backpack carrying mode but lacks traditional briefcase-style carry handles found on most duffel bags. While the comfortable and heavy-duty grab handles help compensate for this, we appreciate carrying systems with more versatile options. Also, while this bag has both an internal and external zippered pocket, they are in somewhat awkward locations that reduce their effectiveness. Built for hauling heavy loads in comfort and style, the Transporter makes an excellent choice for those who prioritize backpack carrying capabilities.
Read review: Osprey Transporter
Best Simple and Rugged Expedition Bag
The North Face Base Camp
A mainstay on remote expeditions around the world for decades and near the top of our lineup for several years, The North Face Base Camp is our favorite choice for a simple and rugged expedition bag. Its simple and classic design has remained mostly unchanged through the years, and its robust 1000-denier material is among the toughest we've tested. Both an external and internal zippered pocket help sweeten the deal. These bags have withstood the test of time for decades on expeditions to all corners of the world. On our test team alone, we own several Base Camp duffels that have years of adventurous travel behind them.
The primary drawback of the Base Camp is its strap arrangement. The grab handles and traditional briefcase-style straps are permanently affixed and are straightforward to use, but you must thread the shoulder straps through a doubled-back buckle to remove or replace them. Many airlines require you to remove duffel bag straps, and so this adds a somewhat tedious task each time you hand off or collect your luggage. Also, the thick, burly material tends to show scuffs more than other models and has a more utilitarian look than some more refined options. But for a simple, dependable bag that can take you to all seven continents with ease, the Base Camp is a top choice.
Read review: The North Face Base Camp
Best On a Tight Budget
REI Co-op Roadtripper
While the Gregory Alpaca provides excellent value among the burlier, higher-end bags in our lineup, the REI Roadtripper offers excellent storage and utility at nearly half the price, giving it a massive bang for the buck. The Roadtripper is so affordable and straightforward that it stands out from the crowd. With its reliable lightweight construction, removable shoulder sling, single external zippered pocket, and basic daisy chain system, the Roadtripper provides tremendous value.
The Roadtripper's lightweight design is mainly due to simple construction and thinner material. It also lacks fancy features found on many higher-end models, like backpack straps, compression straps, internal pockets, or extensive daisy chains. While the fabric and zipper are sturdy enough for most general use, it won't stand up to the abuse that other more robust duffels will endure. But for general use, the Roadtripper is a versatile, lightweight, affordable option.
Read review: REI Roadtripper
Best Ultralight Packable Model
Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole
Weighing just a half a pound and packing down to the size of a Nalgene bottle, the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole duffel bag earns the distinction of our favorite ultralight/packable model. With a simple and classic design, this bag is an ideal choice for general daily use around town, or to pack along in your suitcase for a secondary kit on more extended vacations. With webbing handles that are adjustable in length and can be used as backpack straps or as a shoulder sling, this bag is light enough and versatile enough for daily use.
While the UL Black Hole makes a great everyday bag, it falls short of the durability and carrying capabilities of many of the larger expedition type models in our lineup. Its lightweight material and constriction that make it easy to carry and compress into its pocket also lack the durability and weather resistance of heftier models. Users looking for a versatile, featherweight bag will appreciate the Ultralight Black Hole.
Read review: Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by longtime contributors Nick Bruckbauer, Ian Nicholson, and Jediah Porter. Nick has a competitive running background and has transitioned to an all-around outdoorsman throughout the past decade. In the last four years alone, he has snorkeled in Thailand and the Maldives, trekked in Nepal, skied in Alaska, and climbed and skied 14ers in Washington, California, and Colorado. Jed is a professional mountain guide who frequently packs huge piles of gear, and is based in Wydaho's Tetons and makes yearly visits to Alaska and South America. Each year, he regularly racks up hundreds of thousands of human-powered vertical feet and completes several multi-week wilderness trips.
The legwork for this review began by doing extensive market research, surveying nearly 60 of today's top duffels, before selecting 12 to purchase for this review and take to the field. In addition to surviving our at-home testing, some bags have gone on climbing trips to the French Alps, were dragged across glaciers in Alaska, were stowed in the forest in Patagonia, and hauled paddling gear to the Indian Ocean.
Related: How We Tested Duffel Bags
Analysis and Test Results
To help you find the best duffel bag, we reviewed each of our 12 products across five essential performance metrics. While we used the overall weighted scores to determine our top rankings, we recommend examining each category and prioritizing which performance metrics best match your needs. Our five performance metrics are ease of transport, storage and ease of packing, durability, weight, and weather resistance.
Related: Buying Advice for Duffel Bags
Duffel bags are an interesting product category when it comes to value, as there is not a very broad price spread among most of our highest-rated bags. For example, the Sea to Summit Duffel is one of the pricier models in our lineup, but only has a slightly higher list price than the high-value Gregory Alpaca. There is a minimal price spread among the top six or seven scoring models in our lineup. All of these products have robust materials and high-quality designs, so it is easy to justify their expense.
On the other end of the spectrum, the REI Roadtripper is among the least expensive products in our entire review. Although its durability and versatility are compromised compared to the more robust products mentioned above, its lightweight and affordable design make it an excellent choice for general use.
Ease of Transport
Part of what separates duffel bags from other luggage styles is that they are typically available in much larger sizes that can make them challenging and awkward to lug around. To make transport a more manageable, each bag employs up to four distinct carrying systems: traditional briefcase-style carry handles, backpack straps, over-the-shoulder slings, and grab handles. Each of these carrying methods can be useful depending on the situation and length of travel. Grab handles are convenient for hauling into or out of vehicles or luggage racks, and briefcase-style grips and shoulder slings are ideal for carrying a shorter distance or when you have other luggage to haul. Backpack straps are the most comfortable and efficient method for heavier loads or over longer distances. Daisy chain attachment points make it easier to lash a bag to a vehicle, cart, or pack animal, and easily removable straps help protect your investment from wear and tear during air travel.
The Sea to Summit Duffel has an innovative adjustable strap system that adds to the pack's overall versatility. The two shoulder straps have removable metal carabiner-style clasps at each that can be attached to any of the 10 different mounting points around the bag, allowing it to be carried briefcase style, like a backpack, or over the shoulder. The bag can also be hauled via the grab handles when the straps are entirely removed and stowed for air travel. While the briefcase-style strap configuration felt a little awkward to handle, we appreciated the versatility of this adjustable design and the ability to remove the straps completely.
Most of the duffels in our lineup are reasonably comfortable to carry with the included backpack straps. Different models have slightly different strap geometry, levels of padding, and ranges of adjustability. The Osprey Transporter has the most comfortable backpack carry system that includes well-padded shoulder straps, an adjustable chest strap, and adjustable load lifter straps. The entire backpack harness can be quickly unclipped and stowed inside its storage compartment on the top lid. While the Transporter doesn't include traditional briefcase-style carry handles, it has four heavy-duty padded grab handles — one on each end — the make it easy to lug around or to carry by your side for moderate distances.
The Patagonia Black Hole, the Gregory Alpaca, the North Face Base Camp, and the REI Big Haul also have reasonably comfortable shoulder straps for carrying heavy loads over longer distances. All four of these models also have traditional briefcase-style carry straps and reinforced grab handles for versatile carrying options.
Most of the products we tested forgo a traditional single shoulder sling in favor of the more comfortable and efficient backpack straps. Sometimes it's just easier to sling the bag over your shoulder though — like if you're only carrying for a short distance or hauling multiple pieces of luggage at once. You can adjust the length of most of the backpack straps to make it easier to sling the bag over a shoulder, although frequently the padding may not line up correctly on your shoulder, or that balance may feel awkward. The Filson Large Rugged Twill Duffel and the value-oriented REI Roadtripper are some of the only models we tested with a dedicated shoulder strap.
Also notable, the Marmot Long Hauler and the Patagonia Black Hole have either highly adjustable shoulder straps or extended padding, both of which help facilitate comfortable carrying on one shoulder. The highly-rated Sea to Summit also includes a convenient shoulder sling carry option with its adjustable strap system.
Many of the lightweight and packable models like the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole and the Sea to Summit Ultra Sil have more limited carrying options. However, they are still convenient to handle because of their lower weights and smaller sizes. Of the ultralight and packable models, the Ultralight Black Hole stands out for its adjustable dual grab handles and daisy chain attachment system.
If you've traveled to far-flung destinations around the world, you've probably seen your luggage strapped down to some form of transportation. During the years of testing for this review, we've had duffels carried by llamas, mules, horses, snowmobiles, motorcycles, campers, small prop planes, and helicopters. We've also pulled them ourselves, lashed to a sled deep in the Alaskan wilderness. Most of the products in our test group feature robust daisy chains (externally mounted webbing with sewn loops) that are versatile and easy to use to securely attach your duffel to various modes of transportation. Other single attachment loops, large grab handles, or permanently affixed shoulder straps are also useful when you need to secure your load.
Most of the highest-rated products in our lineup include daisy chains or some kind of external attachment loops. The Patagonia Black Hole, the Gregory Alpaca, and The North Face Base Camp all stand out for their robust and extensive daisy chain features. The REI Big Haul and the Mountain Hardwear Camp 4 Duffel both are also noteworthy with their burly, reinforced daisy chain loops that are thicker and stronger than most. The Sea to Summit doesn't feature a full set of daisy chains but does have four smaller attachment loops in addition to its four heavy-duty grab handles.
Storage and Ease of Packing
While most of these duffel bags have plenty of capacity to haul heavy loads for extended durations, each model has different nuances that impact its storage efficiency, organization capabilities, and ease of packing. In this category, we first compared each bag's overall storage compartment and how easy it was to load with both typical travel items and oddly shaped equipment. We also analyzed how useful smaller pockets or compartments were for keeping gear organized, and the ease of accessing both the smaller pockets and the main compartment.
After dozens of trips to the field and direct side-by-side comparisons in the lab, we prefer the big D- or U-shaped zippered openings rather than the straight "I" style zippers. Most of the duffels we tested have U-shaped openings, which makes it much easier to access the contents of your pack and securely fit more cargo. Most options have heavy-duty zippers that can be locked, but the Sea to Summit stands out with its smooth and robust double-decker zipper that makes it more difficult for a thief to access.
A bag's ease of packing is an important feature, and everyone has struggled to zip closed a fully stuffed bag when it is overloaded just beyond its capacity. In this case, we appreciated the internal compression straps found on many of the bags, including the Osprey Transporter, the Patagonia Black Hole, the Marmot Long Hauler, and the Mountain Hardwear Camp 4.
While most of these products feature massive internal storage compartments for hauling vast amounts of gear, a few internal or external zippered pockets go a long way towards keeping smaller items organized, or separating wet shoes or dirty laundry. The Marmot Long Hauler stands out with a large external zippered pocket on each end and two internal zippered pockets. Similarly, the Patagonia Black Hole, the REI Big Haul, and the Gregory Alpaca each have one external pocket and two internal pockets.
While most of the bags have at least one internal pocket, our testers agreed that two smaller pockets are significantly more useful for organization. Flat external pockets that share the same space as the main storage compartment, like on the Patagonia Black Hole or the REI Roadtripper, are better than none but were hard to get our hands into when the bags were packed full.
Most of the contenders in our fleet are super durable, with robust materials, reinforced bottom panels, and heavy-duty seams. Most of the bags we tested are constructed from a high denier laminate or a high denier ballistic nylon. In general, denier is the measure of a material's thread thickness and density, and a higher number corresponds to a thicker, sturdier, more durable fabric. Our lineup includes heavy-duty expedition packs with 1000-denier materials with additional reinforcements, all the way down to silky smooth 30-denier nylon bags that pack down to the size of a tennis ball.
The tried and true The North Face Base Camp Duffel set the tone for durability decades ago with its burly 1000-denier body material, and a similar heavy-duty construction has spread to several other manufacturers. Many of the top models in our fleet used at least a 900-denier nylon or polyester material throughout the duffel, with an additional reinforcement layer of at least 600-denier nylon on the bottom or other high wear areas. The Sea to Summit also uses 1000-denier nylon laminate for its primary body material, as well as beefy bar tacks on all of the critical stitching areas. Both the Sea to Summit and the Base Camp have an additional layer of material on the bottom panel. Gear tester Ian Nicholson has used a Base Camp duffel on over 20 expeditions, and it's still going strong.
The Patagonia Black Hole, the Gregory Alpaca, and the Osprey Transporter are all similarly sturdy but slightly less robust with fabrics in the 840- to 900-denier range. All three of these bags should withstand almost any abuse you could throw at them.
A unique offering in this lineup, the Filson Rugged Twill Duffel uses natural materials to achieve its robust build, with a 100% cotton rugged twill body and bridle leather accents and straps.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have a handful of ultralight, packable models in our lineup that range from 30-denier up to 70-denier in material thickness. While these wouldn't stand up to the prolonged abuse of the heftier expedition duffels, they have different design applications. Their lightweight and packable designs make them ideal for daily use or as a secondary bag to pack along on a more extended vacation. Their versatility makes them incredibly useful, and their lightweight materials are just robust enough for their intended use. We used the Patagonia UL Black Hole as a daily gym bag, and used the Sea to Summit Ultra Sil to carry toiletries and dirty laundry on longer trips.
This year's lineup has a selection of ultralight/packable duffel bags that each tip the scales at a half a pound or less. The Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole and the Sea to Summit Ultra Sil each pack into their tiny stuff sack and are all surprisingly durable considering their weight. These models easily pack away into your main luggage and make a great secondary bag for shorter day trips, grocery runs, beach outings, or picnics. Of course, as weight increases, so does durability, so these ultralight, packable models obviously won't be as robust and dependable as the heavier-duty expedition duffels.
For the full-size duffel bags, we bought and tested products in the same general 90-liter to 100-liter size range to get a more accurate direct comparison for storage capabilities and measured weights. The Mountain Hardwear Camp 4 and the REI Big Haul are among the lightest full-size models in our lineup, both weighing in at 3.0 pounds or less in their 95-liter capacity. These bags are constructed from 400-denier and 420-denier material, providing a nice balance of durability and weight savings. They are not as robust as the 900-denier and 1000-denier products like the Sea to Summit and The North Face Base Camp, but they weigh over a pound less in the same size range.
Providing an excellent blend of storage volume and durability in a surprisingly lightweight package, the REI Roadtripper clocks in at a mere 1.6 pounds in a 100-liter storage volume.
While there is a relatively broad range of different pack weights within our lineup, keep in mind that many of these bags have a 90-liter to 100-liter storage volume. Once they are fully loaded, you might be hauling up to 50 pounds of gear, so an empty luggage weight difference of a pound won't be noticeable for very long.
Protection from the elements is crucial whether you're loading and unloading your car on a soggy day, watching your bag get driven around the airport tarmac, or hauling it through exotic locales with wet, muddy, or snowy conditions. To compare each model's weather resistance through the years, we hauled them around the world on expeditions to Denali, Bolivia, Aconcagua, Central Chile, and Patagonia. More recently, we used them on road trips, camping trips, and beach outings. Additionally, we ran systematic tests where we put dry towels or clothing inside each bag and sprayed them with a hose.
The rankings for weather resistance look relatively similar to our durability ratings, where bags with heavier-duty materials tend to score better. One difference is that models with multiple exterior pockets with additional zippered closure are a bit more vulnerable to the outside elements. Simpler designs with fewer openings offer better protection. The Sea to Summit and burly The North Face Base Camp both score well with their 100-denier material and limited vulnerabilities. The Sea to Summit has no external pockets and a burly double zipper, while the Base Camp has only one external pocket protected by a weather flap. Both bags have a 1-inch protective flap where the top lid overlaps the main zipper. While neither bag has sealed seams to make them waterproof, they both provide excellent protection from the weather.
Several of the remaining top contenders all scored similarly well in this performance metric. The Osprey Transporter, the Gregory Alpaca, the Patagonia Black Hole, and the Filson Rugged Twill all provide exceptional protection from the elements. Most of the remaining bags in our lineup have waterproof or water-resistant fabrics but don't have sealed seams or waterproof zippers. All of these will repel some light rain, snow, splashes, and spills, but won't withstand extended downpours or complete submersion.
Today's duffel bag marketplace includes several impressive products from top manufacturers that will perform well for general travel or rugged expeditions. While each model is capable of hauling your gear around town or around the world, distinct nuances between each design can significantly impact the comfort and convenience of hauling your gear. We hope that this review helps you find the right product for your needs, and we wish you luck wherever your travels take you.
— Nick Bruckbauer