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

The Best Travel Duffel Bags of 2018

The Base Camp duffel features beefy daisy chains and grab loops on all-four sides that help facilitate lashing the duffel to a variety of vehicles and animals. Photo in route to Illimani  Cordillera Real Bolivia.
Friday December 7, 2018
  • Share this article:

When you are facing a big trip, there are exciting choices to make, and there are dreaded choices to make. We've done the dirty work, narrowing a giant field of over 45 duffel bags to 12 of the best. We then put those top 12 through the paces, dragged on travels of literally every type. Choosing your luggage is often in the "dreaded" category. It really matters, but all the options seem the same while spanning a massive spread of criteria. We assessed each piece, and compared them to one another, in terms of ease of transport, ease of packing, durability, weight, and weather resistance. The overall performance of a piece of adventure luggage is the sum of these, weighted according to general and specific preferences. Our rigorous process identifies six award winners and others that fill niches. None of what we assess here is lousy equipment. Read on to make your choice.


Compare Top Products

Displaying 1 - 5 of 12
≪ Previous | View All | Next ≫
 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award 
Price $99.95 at MooseJaw
Compare at 3 sellers
$115.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$399.99 at MooseJaw
Compare at 3 sellers
$329.00 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
Check Price at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
100
0
82
100
0
81
100
0
80
100
0
80
100
0
79
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps, excellent pockets, super durableHighly weather resistant, easy to pack, dual mesh zippered pockets under the lid, comfortable shoulder strapsDurable, waterproof, comfortable backpack strapsEasy to pack, bomber construction, burly frame, internal dual-zippered mesh pockets, very maneuverable, highly water resistantGood pockets for organization and access, lightweight, comfortable to carry as a briefcase
Cons Not super light, fabric is a little stiffExternally accessed pocket is on the smaller side, shoulder straps take a little more work to removeExpensive, narrow main opening, only two organizational pocketsSome organizational options but not as many as othersNot quite as weather resistant as other models, not as durable as other contenders
Bottom Line While the Base Camp Duffel faces stiffer competition than it used to, it remains the duffel that all others are compared against.A solid all-around excellent expedition bag, this model was built with remote adventures in mind.A burly, waterproof sack that comes in a few sizes, all with nice backpack straps; it has a narrow niche, but is the only product we’ve found that checks the boxes it checks.This model offers a top-notch blend that makes it easy to transport and highly weather resistant.A top-notch model that is slightly less expensive than others, without giving up much in the way of features, pockets, carrying options or overall durability.
Rating Categories Base Camp Gregory Alpaca YETI Panga 100L Black Hole Wheeled Marmot Long Hauler
Ease Of Transport (22%)
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
6
Ease Of Packing (22%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
Durability (22%)
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
8
Weight (24%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
9
Weather Resistance (10%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
7
Specs Base Camp Gregory Alpaca YETI Panga 100L Black Hole Wheeled Marmot Long Hauler
Weight (Pounds) 4.06 pounds (95 liter model) 3.9 lbs (90 liter model) 5.83 pounds (100 liter model) 7.5 pounds (70 liter model) 3.5 pounds (105 liter model)
Size options (Inches) XS-XXL 30, 45, 60, 90, 120 L 23.5, 28, 32.5 40, 70, 120L S-XL
Volume Size Options (Liters) 33, 50, 69, 95, 150 L 30, 45, 60, 90, 120 L 50, 75, 100 40, 70, 120 L 38, 50, 75, 105 L

Updated December 2018
Here in late 2018, as an autumn expedition wraps and we plunge into holiday travels, our crack test team is sharpened up on travel. We spent the last few months initiating a transition in the test team (long-time OGL legend Ian Nicholson hands duffel review coordination off to fellow globe-trotting mountain guide Jediah Porter) and testing a couple of unique pieces of luggage. We grant two new Top Pick awards. The exciting Yeti Panga is fully submersible and has category-leading shoulder straps. For super-wet adventures, you won't do better. On the other end of the spectrum is the budget-friendly and user-packable Bago Packable. Supplanting the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole, the Bago is our newest preference as a secondary duffel for adventure travel and day-to-day life.

Best Overall Model


The North Face Base Camp


Editors' Choice Award

$99.95
(33% off)
at MooseJaw
See It

Weight: 4.06 lbs | Volume sizes: 33, 50, 69, 95, 150 liters
Packable
Comfy shoulder straps
Pockets aid in organization
Durable
Grab loops and daisy chains
Various volumes and colors are available
Weight

In 2018, as it has been for over half a decade, our testers' favorite burly duffel bag is The North Face Base Camp. This perennial favorite is great, but so is the competition. The Base Camp barely edged out the Gregory Alpaca and the Patagonia Black Hole for the win. While the Base Camp wins Editors' Choice and remains a measuring stick for the all burly duffels, its scores don't make it a runaway Editors' Choice. Some other models tested have slight advantages, like the low weight of the Patagonia Black Hole. However, the Base Camp still clocks top or near-top scores in every comparison category.

For any long distance your kit must be transported, the Base Camp's shoulder straps made it one of the most comfortable models to carry "backpack-style". The latest iteration, released in Fall '15, features an extra externally accessed zippered pocket, which adds much welcomed organizational capacity. Overall one of the easiest models to load and rummage through, the Base Camp is also among the most weather-resistant and most durable models tested. It also comes in a large variety of sizes and colors. Our only wish is that it was lighter for the same durability and function.

Read review: The North Face Base Camp Duffel

Best Overall Wheeled Duffel


Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled


Weight: 3.19 lbs | Volume sizes: 45, 60, 90, 120 liters
Easy to stuff in the goods
Heavy-duty construction and frame
Mesh pockets are dual-zippered
Minimal options for organizational efforts

The Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice for the Best Wheeled Luggage because of its simple, but very easy-to-pack design. It also has a strong, abrasion-resistant and water-resistant construction. Icing the cake is the fact that it all checks in at an impressive light 7 lbs 8 oz. Our testers appreciated the Black Hole Wheeled Duffels above-average "off-road" performance on rougher terrain, as well as how easy it was to handle while maneuvering in crowded airports - thanks to its narrower wheelbase and good extension on its handle.

If 70 liters sounds like too much or too little space for your weekend or multi-week getaway, check out the smaller 40L model. On the other hand is the more massive 120 liter model.

Read review: Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel

Best Bang for the Buck


Marmot Long Hauler


Weight: 3.5 lbs | Volume sizes: 38, 50, 75, 105 liters
Exceptionally designed pockets and shoulder straps
Not as weather resistant as other models in our fleet

The Marmot Long Hauler wins our Best Buy award. While it's not a runaway winner of this award (it's only slightly less money than several of the other models in our review), it remains a pretty solid value. It is super functional, offers sweet pockets, is weather resistant, and very long-lasting.

We have used this easy-to-pack model on several expeditions around the globe and love its array of pockets, outstanding lashing options, and organizational oriented features. Other bags might be just a little bit more durable and weather resistant but not by much, and the Marmot Long Hauler can often be found for $80, a fraction of what other bags in this review cost.

Read review: Marmot Long Hauler

Top Pick for Expeditions


Gregory Alpaca


Top Pick Award

$115.95
(23% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 3.9 lbs | Volume sizes: 30, 45, 60, 90, 120 liters
Exceptionally packable and durable
Offers a high level of weather resistance
Various lashing options for pack animals, sleds, and jeeps
Extremely comfortable and easy to load
Externally accessed pocket is just okay

The Gregory Alpaca was nearly our Editors' Choice. It earned high scores across the board and was one of the most weather resistant and easiest to lash/strap to various modes of transportation.

The only thing that kept the Alpaca from being our Editors' Choice was The North Face Base Camp's additional pockets and organizational oriented features, which our testers thought helped it as a better all-around piece of travel baggage. However, the Alpaca provided a high level of durability and was burlier than most of the models in our fleet. In fact, it will be plenty durable for most users for many, many years.

Read review: Gregory Alpaca

Top Pick for Extremely Wet Environments


YETI Panga 100L


Top Pick Award

$399.99
at MooseJaw
See It

Weight: 5.8 lbs | Volume sizes: 50, 75, 100 liters
Waterproof - fully; submersible even
Rugged
Shoulder straps
Expensive
Straight zipper through stiff fabric is hard to load and unload

The Yeti Panga is basically the definition of our Top Pick award winners. It excels in a narrow niche; in fact, in the narrowest of niches it fills it is the only thing on the market. We've looked long and hard and have found no other submersible, durable, zipped duffels that have backpack shoulder straps. This is a narrow description, we realize. However, it is a valuable construction that will certainly have wide appeal.

Compromise on any one of the Panga's above qualifiers, and you can spend half or less. The Panga is super expensive, and there are products available that come very close to the performance of the Panga at a fraction of the price. We'd say that price is the primary drawback to the Panga, for what you get. However, it is indeed the only thing going that meets its descriptions, at any cost. The other drawback is the straight zipper through the stiff fabric. This makes it difficult to pack and unpack, as compared to the U-shaped zipper of something like either 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 Duffel


Bago Packable


Top Pick Award

$29.99
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 1.4 lbs | Volume sizes: 60, 80, 100 liters
Stows compactly
Lightweight
Excellent selection of organizational pockets
Flimsy fabric
No backpack straps

The Bago Packable is built and marketed as what we'd call "secondary luggage"; it is a fairly lightweight, full-size duffel that can be folded and zipped into a small envelope when not in use. Whether it lives in your car for getting unexpected purchases into your 7th floor walk-up apartment or in your expedition luggage for moving groceries from Anchorage to the Ruth Glacier, a duffel bag like this is handier than you might first realize. It is closely comparable to (and snags this award from) the Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole. The Lightweight Black Hole is a little lighter (in absolute terms, for the respective sizes we tested) and more waterproof, but is only available in smaller sizes and doesn't have the organizational attributes of the Bago. When corrected for volume, the Bago is definitely lighter than the Patagonia.

Realize the limitations of the Bago Travel Bag. The lightweight construction is not durable. With rough treatment and hard contents, holes could form in the Bago in minutes. We wouldn't hand this duffel off to the airlines or to donkey drivers and we also wish that the Bago had backpack straps. The only reasonable ways to move the Bago are in briefcase mode or over one shoulder. For big loads and longer distances, this isn't ideal. Basically, all the other bags we tested can be backpacked or wheeled longer distances.

Read review: Bago Packable

Notable for Airline Travel and Organization


Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled



$209.29
(30% off)
at REI
See It

Weight: 7.56 lbs | Volume sizes: 76, 91.5 liters
Well-designed pockets
Lightweight
Comfy straps and big wheels
Hard to zip when full
Less maneuverable than other models

The Eagle Creek Gear Warrior is a rad piece of luggage. It has tons of well-designed pockets and compartments to help with organization. It also sports the biggest wheels in the review, which help it dramatically when being pulled over uneven ground. It's on the lighter side of wheeled models we tested, weighing in at 7 pounds, 9 ounces.

It is harder to pack super full, and it felt the least nimble of our wheeled luggage. It has one of the least maneuverable feels of any rolling models we tested. That said, these are only small downsides and think that the vast majority of travelers would be pleased with this competitor.

Read review: Eagle Creek Gear Warrior


Analysis and Test Results


We reviewed our twelve favorite pieces of travel and adventure luggage and compared them head-to-head in five different categories.

The first questions most people will likely ask themselves before buying a piece of luggage is: Should I buy a bag with wheels on it? Photo: Waiting at Denver International airport en route to Boulder.
The first questions most people will likely ask themselves before buying a piece of luggage is: Should I buy a bag with wheels on it? Photo: Waiting at Denver International airport en route to Boulder.

We based our scoring on the evaluation of five weighted criteria: Ease of Packing, Ability to Carry/Ease of Transport, Durability, Weight, and Weather Resistance, each of which is discussed in depth under their respective headings below. First, we examine value.


Value


Some want the best, while others will benefit from a niche Top Pick. Others want the best bang for their buck and are willing to go to the ends of the earth to find it. For all of the penny pinchers out there, we've compared overall score and retail price for all these bags. Figure out what your budget is, then choose a higher scoring duffel within that price range to maximize value.


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. We also loved bags that acted more like a box that we could just fill up rather than ones that were more of a clam-shell style design and closure. Bags that have some structure stay upright and open while packing. These are easier to pack.

Graham Zimmerman contemplating the "Ease of Packing" of five different duffels we tested  with far too much stuff to make it easy and not nearly enough time before the bus gets here in El Calafate  Argentina in-route to Torres del Paine Chile.
Graham Zimmerman contemplating the "Ease of Packing" of five different duffels we tested, with far too much stuff to make it easy and not nearly enough time before the bus gets here in El Calafate, Argentina in-route to Torres del Paine Chile.

For Ease of Packing: The easiest models to pack and unpack were The North Face Rolling Thunder 30" and 36" models. Both of these duffel bags featured a large opening that still was easy to zip closed when the bag was full. The Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled was also extremely easy to pack up as well as all the more traditional non-wheeled duffels we tested. A rigorous criterion for them to even be selected for non-wheeled models was their ease of packing. Most of the duffels we tested have U-shaped openings. The Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole, Top Pick Yeti Panga, and Top Pick Bago all have straight "I-shaped" zippers and were subsequently harder to load and unload.

The North Face Rolling Thunder makes it easy to pack and unpack  as well as search for items in. It features more of an "open box" style opening that is far easier to deal with than clam-shell type designs.
The North Face Rolling Thunder makes it easy to pack and unpack, as well as search for items in. It features more of an "open box" style opening that is far easier to deal with than clam-shell type designs.

Ease-of-packing is an obviously important feature, and everyone has struggled to zip close various bags when they are too full. The most difficult model to maximize volume and attempt zip shut when full was the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled 32".

The large "D" shaped opening on The North Face Base Camp Duffel was among the easiest duffels to pack and search for items in.
The large "D" shaped opening on The North Face Base Camp Duffel was among the easiest duffels to pack and search for items in.

The Top Pick Eagle Creek features clam-shell design that our entire review team felt was challenging to pack once it was starting to get full. When overstuffed, closing the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior is a full-on wrestling match. The sides just weren't very high and as you piled clothing and other items in it was hard to judge just how full you could fill.

While we liked a lot of other features on the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled  like all of its pockets and the compartment  its clam-shell style design was more difficult to pack to the brim and even more difficult to close when we were close to capacity. One advantage of this design is that it's easier to locate items in since it opens wide.
While we liked a lot of other features on the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled, like all of its pockets and the compartment, its clam-shell style design was more difficult to pack to the brim and even more difficult to close when we were close to capacity. One advantage of this design is that it's easier to locate items in since it opens wide.

Organization

As far as organization goes, having a few zippered pockets goes a long way. The North Face Rolling Thunder offered the best level of organization, using a review high of eight compartments, which were all well thought-out. We granted our Top Pick award to the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior for its organizational attributes. Among non-wheeled competitors, our Editors' Choice 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.
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 just enough organizational options. The same could be said 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 Black Hole Wheeled Duffel, Gregory Alpaca, and The North Face Rolling Thunder.

Our entire review team absolutely loved the twin mesh pockets featured on several models we tested. 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 120L Black Hole  with SuperTopo book for size reference.
Our entire review team absolutely loved the twin mesh pockets featured on several models we tested. 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 120L Black Hole, with SuperTopo book for size reference.

Our testers thought having the pocket divided made it significantly more useful compared to the single giant mesh pocket. In fact, they missed it when we used models that didn't offer this feature. This was one of the most significant drawbacks of our Editors' Choice 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 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.

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.
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 Top Pick 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.

Ability to Carry and Ease of Transport


Backpack Straps

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 North Face Base Camp and the Patagonia Black Hole, which were exceptionally comfortable and even still reasonable. When we say reasonable, 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).

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.
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 had shoulder straps that were the easiest to remove and re-attach, which is a bonus when wearing your duffel like a backpack all the way to the check-in counter. Similarly, the backpack straps of the Top Pick Yeti Panga are easy to clip on and off.

On the right is the backpack carry mode of the Top Pick Yeti Panga. On the left  the one-shoulder carry of the Top PIck Bago.
On the right is the backpack carry mode of the Top Pick Yeti Panga. On the left, the one-shoulder carry of the Top PIck 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, which is most 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.
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.
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 all the way 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.

TNF Base Camp Duffel features two padded shoulder straps that our testers thought were above average in comfort. We also thought the face fabric felt best against our skin while wearing thin t-shirts or tank tops.
TNF Base Camp Duffel features two padded shoulder straps that our testers thought were above average in comfort. We also thought the face fabric felt best against our skin while wearing thin t-shirts or tank tops.

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.

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.
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.

Wheels

Any bag with wheels naturally performs better than non-wheeled versions when it comes to transporting your luggage in the airport or on other smooth surfaces. There are a lot of good (and bad) wheeled bags out there. We looked at dozens of options and selected our favorite four, comparing them here. Among all of these top rolling duffels, a feature our gear selection team and review staff look for, and that all the models shared, is larger-than-average wheel size.

The 3.5" wheels (even though it looks like 3" in this photo) on the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel are larger than normal and do an above average job at rolling over uneven surfaces like gravel  dirt roads  and grass.
The 3.5" wheels (even though it looks like 3" in this photo) on the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel are larger than normal and do an above average job at rolling over uneven surfaces like gravel, dirt roads, and grass.

Larger diameter wheels help rolling luggage to be moved more easily over uneven terrain like gravel, grass or only very poorly paved streets far more efficiently. Even though the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel wheels were just half an inch larger than The North Face models, all of our testers felt it performed better on more rugged surfaces. The Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled sported the most massive wheels, and while due to other factors wasn't as maneuverable, it was nice to pull over old cobbles, gravel roads, or different rugged terrains. Why not just make all wheely bags with giant wheels? Well, wheel size, in addition to the width of the wheelbase, or how far the wheels are apart, affected a model's maneuverability.

The width of a given bag's wheelbase plays a significant role into how easy it is to maneuver in tight spaces or crowds. Wheel size  handle length  and how far the handle extends above the bag itself are also important factors. Shown here: the bottom of the Rolling Thunder.
The width of a given bag's wheelbase plays a significant role into how easy it is to maneuver in tight spaces or crowds. Wheel size, handle length, and how far the handle extends above the bag itself are also important factors. Shown here: the bottom of the Rolling Thunder.

Maneuverability, Frame Stiffness, and Extended Handle Height

Some of the most prominent factors that contribute to how comfortable a bag is to maneuver are the width of its wheelbase, how stiff its frame and handle are, how far its handle extends, and how far it extends above the bag or load. With lighter weights, it makes only a little bit of difference; once a piece of luggage becomes more massive, the difference is more apparent.

The three largest contributors affecting a bag's maneuverability are the width of its wheelbase  the stiffness of its frame & handle  as well as how far its handle extends above the bag. The Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled 70L was the most nimble and maneuverable wheeled bag we tested.
The three largest contributors affecting a bag's maneuverability are the width of its wheelbase, the stiffness of its frame & handle, as well as how far its handle extends above the bag. The Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled 70L was the most nimble and maneuverable wheeled bag we tested.

The Patagonia Black Hole, with its narrow wheelbase and long handle that extended well above the bag itself, is easily the most nimble feeling bag we tested. This maneuverability contributed to its overall scores that earned it our Editors' Choice award.

Stacking Bags

Another feature to consider when assessing the quality of wheeled luggage is how stable it is and how easy it is to use when overloaded. We tested the ease of stacking another piece of non-wheeled luggage on the wheeled piece. This method gives our shoulders a break and can be used on a carry-on or 50+ pound non-wheelie duffel. In this sort of improvised luggage cart application, a single traveler can move well over 100 pounds of stuff (carry-on backpack, 50-pound wheely, and 50-pound non-wheeled duffel) fairly far. A wheeled bag that is robust enough to support and move more than its own contents is of great value.

Two posts (instead of a single post) on a bag's retractable handle make stacking a second (or third) bag much more stable. This is true regardless of if it's a light carry-on or a fully loaded second 50-pound bag. The handle on the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled duffel is shown here.
Two posts (instead of a single post) on a bag's retractable handle make stacking a second (or third) bag much more stable. This is true regardless of if it's a light carry-on or a fully loaded second 50-pound bag. The handle on the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled duffel is shown here.

Models with handles attached via two bars (all current models in our review) are significantly easier to stack bags with. The dual bars lend stability to the perched second bag. Also, we have personally witnessed a second 50-pound bag bend and eventually break the handle of a wheeled piece of luggage. While we don't worry about that with any of the options we have chosen, its something to consider if looking elsewhere. This is where the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled 70L and both sizes of The North Face Rolling Thunder particularly stood out, offering a stable and bomber platform to help manage another 50-pound duffel (as we wheeled it through an airport or wherever our adventure might take us).

The North Face Rolling Thunder was particularly good at managing a second bag. We think this is a combination of the stiffness and robust nature of the handle as well as the width between the bars and the length at which it extends. In fact  if we know we are going to have a second 50+ pound second non-wheeled duffel  the Rolling Thunder is our top-choice to "piggyback" them.
The North Face Rolling Thunder was particularly good at managing a second bag. We think this is a combination of the stiffness and robust nature of the handle as well as the width between the bars and the length at which it extends. In fact, if we know we are going to have a second 50+ pound second non-wheeled duffel, the Rolling Thunder is our top-choice to "piggyback" them.

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.
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.
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 the non-wheeled models we selected for this review have decent daisy chains and grab loops. Two Top Pick winners are almost entirely devoid of daisy chains. The external profile of both the Yeti Panga and Bago Travel are almost entirely devoid of lash points. The Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole is 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.

Not only does having robust tie-down points ensure that your stuff makes it to its destination (by not falling off whatever it is attached to) but it likely won't last longer than a trip or two if it isn't durable. Photo duffel comparisons on the approach to Aconcagua  in route to Plaza De Mulas.
Not only does having robust tie-down points ensure that your stuff makes it to its destination (by not falling off whatever it is attached to) but it likely won't last longer than a trip or two if it isn't durable. Photo duffel comparisons on the approach to Aconcagua, in route to Plaza De Mulas.

Durability


All the contenders in our fleet are super robust. However, The North Face Rolling Thunder stood apart from the rest as a freaking burly piece of luggage (maybe bordering on overkill), with the beefiest materials in the review. Most of the bag is constructed of the same material as the tried and true Base Camp Duffel (1000D polyester laminate), which is still slightly thicker than most of the models in our review. To make this model even more long-lasting, it has been reinforced with 1680D nylon (compared to the Base Camp's mega burly 840D).


Most of the models in our fleet used 900D PU, PE rip-stop nylon, or polyester material throughout the duffel, with an additional layer of 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.

There are a lot of tough duffels out there  but The North Face Base Camp is among the toughest  as it uses the thickest fabric of any non-wheeled model in our review. Tester Ian Nicholson (not in this photo  he took it) has taken his on over 20 expeditions  including seven Denali trips and seven trips to South America and it's still going strong. Here one such Base Camp duffel on yet another adventure on Denali.
There are a lot of tough duffels out there, but The North Face Base Camp is among the toughest, as it uses the thickest fabric of any non-wheeled model in our review. Tester Ian Nicholson (not in this photo, he took it) has taken his on over 20 expeditions, including seven Denali trips and seven trips to South America and it's still going strong. Here one such Base Camp duffel on yet another adventure on Denali.

The North Face Base Camp* uses the thickest material of any model in our review, as well as beefy Bartacks on all the critical stitching areas. Tester Ian Nicholson has used a one 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 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 is padded for additional protection to both the bag itself and to the contents. At the other end of the spectrum, the ultralight Bago Packable won't hold up to much rough use.

Weight


Weight is one of the biggest advantages of more traditional duffels over their wheeled counterparts, as models without wheels are often four to six pounds lighter. That, of course, means you get to pack four to six pounds more of your stuff before hitting most airline's 50-pound limit.

The Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole most certainly lived up to its name and tips the scales at a scant 1 pound 2 ounces; this makes it the lightest model we tested. However, before we continue, we want to be clear that while this is the lightest-weight model in our review, it is also the smallest volume bag (45 liter, largest volume this the Lightweight Black Hole is made) of any option we tested. The Top Pick Bago Packable is a few ounces heavier but is much larger. Both the Patagonia Lightweight and the Bago come in different size options. The Patagonia is available in 30 and 45 liter versions. We tested the 1.1 pound 45 liter version. The Bago comes in 60, 80, and 100-liter versions. We tested the 1.4 pound 80-liter version. For almost twice the volume the Bago is only 27% heavier. When corrected for volume, the Bago is much lighter than the Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole.

The Top Pick Bago Travel Bag in its compact  stowed form. iPhone SE for size reference.
The Top Pick Bago Travel Bag in its compact, stowed form. iPhone SE for size reference.

Of the full-sized duffels, the Patagonia Black Hole is impressive for its size. At three pounds three ounces, this proved to be the lightest model in the larger volume range. Comparatively the The North Face Base Camp was the heaviest, ringing in at four pounds one ounce for the 90-liter size. One pound more for the greater organizational and durability attributes of the Editors' Choice winner is well worth it.

The Editors Choice Yeti Panga has a clean and simple exterior.
The Editors Choice Yeti Panga has a clean and simple exterior.

Among rolling models, there is a much more significant difference between models. Take, for example, the heavy end of the spectrum; The North Face Rolling Thunder 30" and 36" models, weighing 9 pounds 14 ounces and 10 pounds four ounces, respectably. That means 20% of the weight you get to take on the plane is already eaten up by the bag. We much prefer models like the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior and the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled, which are closer to 7.5 pounds.


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. Among the wheeled duffels, the Patagonia Black Hole Wheelie is the lightest at eight pounds 10 ounces, nearly 1-1.5 pounds lighter than either size of The North Face Rolling Thunder.

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.
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.

Weather Resistance


In addition to using them in the real world, we conducted a number of 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 Lightweight Black Hole was an incredibly weather-resistant model in our side-by-side comparisons and real-world tests.
The Lightweight Black Hole was an incredibly weather-resistant model in our side-by-side comparisons and real-world tests.

The top competitors were reasonably close; however, the Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole performed a step above most of the rest for weather resistance. Its 100% ripstop nylon with a (most importantly) TPU-film laminate and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish was weather resistant in both our real-world and our side-by-side testing. Even its water-tight zipper lived up to its name, and even after several minutes of directly spraying it with a garden hose it only let a few drops of water in. Exceeding the waterproof performance of the Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole (and therefore all of the other bags we tested) 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.
Not all luggage is up for this sort of weather testing. The Yeti Panga makes bold claims about waterproofing, and backs them up.

If you're looking for a weather resistant expedition-style model and need something larger than the 45-liter volume that is the Lightweight Black Hole's larger size, we have the runners-up. After the Lightweight Black Hole the Gregory Alpaca, The North Face Base Camp Duffel, and the Patagonia Black Hole proved to be the most weather resistant.

For wheeled models, The North Face Rolling Thunder and the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel were the most water resistant. Waterproofness may be essential to you, or it may be inconsequential. Everyone needs to move their luggage around and needs for it to survive rough treatment, but not everyone needs their duffels to be waterproof. Choose according to your needs and demands.

TNF Base Camp duffel offers above average weather resistance. Tester Ian Nicholson has used his on a half dozen Denali expeditions where for three weeks the duffel is either strapped to a sled or buried in the snow. The Base Camp Duffel is still his go-to favorite for expedition use  alongside the Gregory Alpaca.
TNF Base Camp duffel offers above average weather resistance. Tester Ian Nicholson has used his on a half dozen Denali expeditions where for three weeks the duffel is either strapped to a sled or buried in the snow. The Base Camp Duffel is still his go-to favorite for expedition use, alongside the Gregory Alpaca.

Wheeled Bag Versus a Traditional Duffel


One of the first questions people often ask themselves before buying a piece of luggage is: Should I buy a bag with wheels on it? This is a good start; let's weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each design.

Wheeled luggage obviously make it far easier to move your bags around on paved roads or other fairly even surfaces. For most air or bus travel applications  wheeled duffels are far easier to deal with  particularly if you are carrying a significant amount of weight.
Wheeled luggage obviously make it far easier to move your bags around on paved roads or other fairly even surfaces. For most air or bus travel applications, wheeled duffels are far easier to deal with, particularly if you are carrying a significant amount of weight.

Wheels naturally make it far easier to move the bag around on paved roads or other relatively even surfaces, and for most air travel applications, they are much easier to manage and what we prefer for traditional air-travel. The significant advantage of more conventional duffels over wheeled versions is much-lower weight and their ability to be more easily taken to far more rugged environments and locations. Let's start with weight: wheeled duffels are always heavier, most often four to six pounds heavier, meaning you get to bring more of your stuff by going with a non-wheeled, non-framed duffel.

While wheeled duffels are easier on paved roads and in airports  traditional duffels excel when the going gets rough. They are known for their ability to be strapped to everything from sleds to llamas. Here's a common expedition scene while duffel bag testing in South America.
While wheeled duffels are easier on paved roads and in airports, traditional duffels excel when the going gets rough. They are known for their ability to be strapped to everything from sleds to llamas. Here's a common expedition scene while duffel bag testing in South America.

More traditional duffels are also easier to carry anytime you are not on a smooth surface. While the wheels help on the pavement, they are a down-right hassle when the going gets rough. Wheeled bags typically offer limited, or no other carrying options (for instance, no bags we tested have wheels and backpack shoulder straps. We're working on testing products that do both), making traveling with them difficult in remote or exotic locations. It is often far easier to deal with non-wheel luggage when you are strapping your bag to jeeps, yaks, sleds, snowmobiles, llamas, rafts, or anything else that your adventure might require. Lastly, we've experienced flying in small 2-5 person "commercial" planes in both Africa and Alaska that wouldn't let us bring hard-sided luggage along.

For a majority of travelers  having a wheeled bag is an advantage  as it's just so much easier to move your stuff around with you. However  with two bags there are different cases where one wheeled bag and one non-wheeled bag is easier to deal with rather than trying to pull or push two large pieces of baggage through crowds or tight spaces.
For a majority of travelers, having a wheeled bag is an advantage, as it's just so much easier to move your stuff around with you. However, with two bags there are different cases where one wheeled bag and one non-wheeled bag is easier to deal with rather than trying to pull or push two large pieces of baggage through crowds or tight spaces.

For more traditional air or bus travel, wheeled duffels are excellent, as they are just plain easier to get around with and their heavier weight is typically less of an issue. For expeditions or more exotic travel, we prefer traditional duffels because of their low weight, ease of transporting on non-smooth surfaces, and ability to be transported by non-traditional means (AKA strapped to animals, boats, snowmobiles, etc.)

Graham McDowell with 15 minutes to load-up while unintentionally comparing how easy it was to drag our overweight bags from the truck to the heli as fast as we can. Pictured just before flying into the Waddington Range of Central British Columbia.
Graham McDowell with 15 minutes to load-up while unintentionally comparing how easy it was to drag our overweight bags from the truck to the heli as fast as we can. Pictured just before flying into the Waddington Range of Central British Columbia.

Conclusion


If you are looking for more of a carry-on or a travel bag geared more towards airline travel  check out our review of The Best Carry-On Luggage.
If you are looking for more of a carry-on or a travel bag geared more towards airline travel, check out our review of The Best Carry-On Luggage.

Traveling can be challenging, particularly at those times when you are trying to get around with all your belongings. To help take some of the unnecessary hassles out of your adventure, we loaded up our duffels and our experts and sent them packing. After determining each model's overall performance, we found something unique about each of the models we selected, for one reason or another. To find out more about each competitor's performance, we encourage you to browse the individual reviews. To further your purchasing experience, visit our Buying Advice for more tips and tricks on choosing the best duffel for your adventures.


Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson