The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Duffel Bags

By Nick Bruckbauer ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday August 20, 2020
After purchasing our lineup of duffel bags at retail just like you  we compared each model side-by-side in our home lab and out in the real world.
After purchasing our lineup of duffel bags at retail just like you, we compared each model side-by-side in our home lab and out in the real world.

To help you find your next duffel bag, we carefully analyzed each model head to head in a controlled environment, and then took to the field to test each bag in real-world conditions. Our testing team has traveled across the globe with these bags, often living out of a duffel for weeks or even months at a time. We have taken these duffels with us on everything from casual weekend getaways, to family camping trips, to remote expeditions in unforgiving environments. Finally, we ranked each product across five crucial performance metrics to identify any strengths and weaknesses and to help you find the best bag for your needs.

Ease of Transport


We first closely examined each bag's carrying options. Most models have some combination of traditional briefcase-style handles, backpack straps, a longer shoulder sling, or heavy-duty grab handles. We focused on the comfort of each carrying method while considering features like the length, size, shape, adjustability, and amount of padding of each handle or strap. We considered whether the straps could be easily be removed and stowed away or if they are permanently attached. Finally, we identified any external lash points or daisy chains for strapping the duffel to a vehicle or pack animal. Our testing experience includes side-by-side evaluations in our home lab, and real-world hauling through airports and train stations, strapping to vehicles or pack animals, and dragging across remote glaciers.

Most duffels have some combination of traditional carrying handles  backpack straps  a shoulder sling  and grab handles. Carrying the bag with the backpack straps is usually the most comfortable option.
Most duffels have some combination of traditional carrying handles, backpack straps, a shoulder sling, and grab handles. Carrying the bag with the backpack straps is usually the most comfortable option.

Storage and Ease of Packing


In addition to our in-lab gear analyses, regular use of these bags through several seasons helps draw out the pros and cons of each storage design. In this metric, we consider the main compartment opening shape and size, the smoothness and sturdiness of the zippers or other hardware, and the stiffness of the fabric itself. We also consider the availability of internal and external zippered pockets and their usefulness and accessibility. We've packed everything from normal clothing and toiletries, to camping gear and cookware, climbing and skiing equipment, and snorkeling and paddling gear. On one adventure to the Maldives, we were able to fit an inflatable paddle board, its pump and paddle, two sets of snorkeling gear, and two weeks' worth of beach clothes into a single duffel and still keep it under the 50-pound baggage weight limit.

We loaded and unloaded each bag with an assortment of gear to evaluate which storage features are the most convenient.
We loaded and unloaded each bag with an assortment of gear to evaluate which storage features are the most convenient.

Durability


Most of our information on durability is obtained from our team's historical use of many of these products, and is deduced from our thorough understanding of materials and construction techniques. Since we do not test these bags to total failure, we cannot fully assess their durability, be we are confident in our assessments. Most manufacturers are transparent with their materials information, so we can comfortably make our evaluations by combining this information with our abundant real-world experience.

Durability examination. Expedition life is hard life  for duffels and for people. If it holds up on an expedition  it will hold up elsewhere.
Durability examination. Expedition life is hard life, for duffels and for people. If it holds up on an expedition, it will hold up elsewhere.

Weight


We weighed each product on a calibrated hanging scale to get accurate measurements and to compare to manufacturer claims. We bought and tested most of our duffels within the same 90-liter to 100-liter size range to help get a more accurate weight comparison, but we also take a bag's size and intended use into account with our scoring.

Weight is an important consideration  but shedding the pounds or ounces usually means sacrificing durability or features. Here  some of the lightest bags in our test demonstrate their packability.
Weight is an important consideration, but shedding the pounds or ounces usually means sacrificing durability or features. Here, some of the lightest bags in our test demonstrate their packability.

Weather Resistance


Routine use of almost every single bag in our lineup involved regularly exposing our contents to wet or snowy weather conditions. Further, we filled each duffel with towels and clothing and hosed them down at our home lab. While weather resistance is closely correlated to durability, there are certain features — like rain flaps, the number and location of zippers, and the location and quality of seams — that impact weather resistance.

To test weather resistance we mainly relied on our hose test. However  throwing them in puddles in northern Patagonia is pretty fun too.
To test weather resistance we mainly relied on our hose test. However, throwing them in puddles in northern Patagonia is pretty fun too.