Over that last decade, our expert testers have 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. We've identified the best models if cost is no problem, as well as more affordable options that provide the best value. The right duffel bag should give you years of worry-free service, and we'll help you find the right model for you.Related: The Best Carry-On Luggage
The Best Duffel Bags of 2020
Best Overall Duffel Bag
Sea to Summit 90L
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 in High-End Bag
The North Face Base Camp
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
REI Co-op Roadtripper 140L
We have two Best Buy Awards. While The North Face Base Camp provides great value among the burlier, higher-end bags in our lineup, the REI Roadtripper provides excellent storage and utility at nearly half the price, earning it our overall Best Bang for the Buck Award. The Roadtripper is so simple and affordable that it stands out from the crowd. With REI's extensive distribution network, we're glad to see a simple, sturdy bag so widely available. With its reliable lightweight construction, huge storage volume, and lightweight price tag, the Roadtripper provides tremendous value.
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 zippers are vulnerable to weather intrusion.
Read review: REI Roadtripper 140
Best for Water Resistance
YETI Panga 100L
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
Best Ultralight Model
Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole 30L
Weighing just a half a pound and packing down to the size of a Nalgene bottle, the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole duffel bag comes away with our Top Pick Award for the Best Ultralight/Packable model. With a simple and classic design, this bag is an ideal choice for daily trips to the gym or around town, or to pack along in your suitcase for a secondary bag on longer 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 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, ultralight 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 OutdoorGearLab contributors Jediah Porter, Ian Nicholson, and Nick Bruckbauer. 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. 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. 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.
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 a very highly ranked bag and also one of the least expensive bags we tested, and a bag like the Gregory Alpaca also scores very well 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 with its fully waterproof construction, but it's just so expensive. Additionally, the other Best Buy Award Winner REI Roadtripper 140 is among the least expensive products in our entire review, but its durability and versatility are compromised compared to the more robust 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 shoulder strap, durability for dragging over the ground, and the presence and utility of lashing points.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the comfort of some duffel bag shoulder straps.
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.
Many of the lightweight and packable models like the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole, REI Roadtripper 140, and Bago Travel do not come with 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).
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.
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. However, many top-rated bags like the Top Pick Yeti Panga, the Best Buy REI Roadtripper, and the Bago Travel are almost entirely devoid of external 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.
For extended dragging across the ground, we found the Basecamp, Sea To Summit, Alpaca, and Panga to be more robust than most. At the other end, you might quickly destroy the REI Roadtripper and Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole 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 to stay organized using smaller pockets and compartments. We evaluated 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 REI Roadtripper, and Top Pick Yeti Panga all have straight "I-shaped" zippers and were subsequently harder to load and unload.
Ease-of-packing is an important feature, and everyone has struggled to zip closed 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.
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.
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 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 2and 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 that they were made with mesh so we could easily see into them.
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. However, 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 Best Buy REI Roadtripper eschews many of the organizational attributes of the Bago in favor of simplicity and added durability.
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 tested 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.
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. Gear 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 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 Best Buy REI Roadtripper is what sets it ahead of the Bago.
The Bago Packable and our Top Pick for Best Ultralight/Packable Bag, the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole, are the lightest bags in this year's lineup. However, there is a clear and indirect correlation between weight and durability, and it makes sense that these two lightweight bags are some of the least durable in our review. Heaver bags are typically more rugged and durable, while lightweight bags are more versatile and packable. The Best Buy REI Roadtripper does a great job of balancing weight, volume, and durability, weighing in at a mere 1.9 pounds for the huge 140-liter model.
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.
Of the full-sized duffels, the Osprey Transporter 130 is impressive for its size and carrying comfort. At 3.4 pounds, this is one of the lightest options 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.
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. It's 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.
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 essential 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 subjected each one 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.
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.
Allow our thorough advice and testing to enable a luggage purchase that will enable your greatest adventures. 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.
— Nick Bruckbauer & Jediah Porter