Alpkit DryDock 50L
Review 09 August

12 of the best new duffel bags for travelling

Easy to pack, versatile enough to cram into overhead compartments on planes and sturdy enough to strap to mules, yaks and overlanding trucks – enter the duffel…

Duffel or duffle? You’ll see both spellings out there, but the name of the original is Duffel – named after the town in Belgium where the cloth that made the first ‘holdall-type’ bags came from. Now it’s used generically to describe a style of bag and is spelt both ways.

Fabric: Ripstop, water-resistant, abrasion-resistant, weatherproof – you’ll see a host of these terms bandied around when it comes to duffel material. For travel, you need something that stands up to heavy handling, so look for durable fabric. Water resistance is good, but will add weight. Remember, anything with a zip – even if it is a coated zip – is never fully watertight.

Extras: Some keep it simple with a large main compartment only. Others use dividers inside or offer pockets (both internal and external). It’s a matter of personal choice. Remember, extra pockets can help organise, but will add weight.

Weight:
The more durable and robust – or the more water-resistant – the more likely the unpacked weight will be higher. Think about what you’re more likely to use the bag for: is it for water activities or use in wet climates? Then water-resistance will be key for you. Is it for porter-assisted trekking or overlanding? In which case, a robust, heavy-duty fabric is a must. Or is it just as a way to pack fast when staying in hotels on a road trip? Then a lightweight fabric that packs down small will do.

Carry system: Traditional duffels were all about the shoulder strap or two grab handles. Now many offer alternative methods of carrying, such as rucksack straps or even wheels for ease of use and versatility. Do remember that extra straps all add weight. Removable straps are handy.

Zips: Look for chunky, sturdy zips that won’t break easily – the ability to lock them is also handy.

Rohan

Stowaway Duffle 50L From £29

Rohan Stowaway Duffle 50L
Rohan Stowaway Duffle 50L

The test:
For the cheapest price, you get the simplest option. Made from a ripstop fabric – so it shouldn’t rip or fray if you tear it on a rock – it offers a level of durability but is very thin and less robust compared to others here. For carrying, there are two grab handles and a single shoulder strap. Inside, there’s one zip pocket. It is fairly no-frills, but it is very light (0.45kg – lightest on test). It also packs away inside its own pocket, making it great as a ‘just in case’ pack to take with you but less sturdy as your main luggage.

In Brief
Design: ★★★★✩  
Features: ★★★✩✩
Comfort: ★★★✩✩   
Versatility: ★★★✩✩
Value: ★★★★✩  
Overall: ★★★✩✩
rohan.co.uk

Alpkit

DryDock 50L From £45

Alpkit DryDock 50L
Alpkit DryDock 50L

The test:
Add some more cash and you get some nice extra features. For a start, this is made from a thick, robust fabric that is waterproof, with sealed seams and storm-coated zips that are also lockable. There’s one outside pocket, also with a sealed zip, and it can be held by grab handles or with detachable rucksack straps, which can also be stowed under fabric strips when not in use. It’s not the lightest (1.05kg), but for price and features, it’s a great, versatile choice. Wanderlust's best value buy.

In Brief

Design: ★★★★★
Features: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Versatility: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★ 
Overall: ★★★★✩
alpkit.com

Osprey

Transporter 65L From £60

Osprey Transporter 65L
Osprey Transporter 65L

The test:
Osprey is known for its rucksacks, so this bag – you guessed it – is a duffel that transforms into a rucksack. It starts, however, folded into its front pouch (a padded tablet pocket) – a good idea, but it is a little tricky to get in and out. Once unfolded, its grab handles transform into rucksack/shoulder straps (but are not removable). There’s one zipped pocket inside and a zipped front pouch that goes into the main compartment – good to separate clean/ dirty clothes. At 0.90kg, it’s the third lightest.

In Brief
Design: ★★★✩✩
Features: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★✩ 
Versatility: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★ 
Overall: ★★★★✩
ospreyeurope.co.uk

Eagle Creek

Cargo Hauler 90L From £100

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L
Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

The test: This one also folds into its own end pouch and zips up closed – but very easily. It’s a great option to take with you if you expect to come back with more stuff, as it packs down very small but opens up very large. Made from a light fabric coated with new enviro-friendly tech, it’s durable and water-repellent. There are removable padded backstraps/shoulder straps and grab handles, lockable zips and two zipped end pockets. At 1.05kg, it’s a great weight for the size (other sizes available) and features. Wanderlust's best in test.

In Brief
Design: ★★★★★
Features: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★★ 
Versatility: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★ 
Overall: ★★★★★
eaglecreek.com

Arc'teryx

Carrier Duffle 50L From £120

Arc'teryx Carrier Duffle 50L
Arc'teryx Carrier Duffle 50L

The test: Less sporty-looking than other bags here, this is a lot lighter than most, at just 0.50kg for the 50L (other sizes available). It’s second lightest on test, yet still packed with features, with grab handles and both removable and adjustable rucksack/shoulder straps (no pockets however). The light-but-robust fabric is very water-resistant, aided by taped seams and a storm-proof zip. Finishing touches are good, such as the white inner-lining that makes it easier to find thing,  and the finish means it looks smart outdoors and in cities.

In Brief
Design: ★★★★★
Features: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★★ 
Versatility: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩ 
Overall: ★★★★✩
arcteryx.com

Pacsafe

Duffelsafe AT 80L From £130

Pacsafe Duffelsafe AT 80L
Pacsafe Duffelsafe AT 80L

The test: This bag conceals some nifty security features. Firstly, the walls are made of a slashproof ‘eXomesh’; second, the zips are puncture-resistant; and third, the kissing zips are lockable. To carry it, there are grab handles that also double as rucksack straps/shoulder straps and are removable. There are two outside pockets. The security does come at an increased weight – at 1.45kg it’s the seventh lightest, and the slit opening makes it harder to pack than some, but it’s a great option if heading to places where security is a concern.

In Brief

Design: ★★★★✩
Features: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Versatility: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★✩✩ 
Overall: ★★★★✩
pacsafe.com

Exped

Transit 60L From £65

Exped Transit 60L
Exped Transit 60L

The test: Weighing in the same as the Osprey, Exped show that simple can be just as effective. Featuring a fairly robust fabric (though not as thick as some here), it has a really long zip opening, which makes packing a doddle. Inside, there are four mesh pouches to help keep things organised, while there are two external zipped pockets on the side – a smaller one for documents and a larger one. There are also grab handles, a clip for a shoulder strap and two rucksack straps that fold away inside the base.

In Brief

Design: ★★★✩✩
Features: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Versatility: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★✩
exped.com

Craghoppers

Holdall 70L From £75

Craghoppers Holdall 70L
Craghoppers Holdall 70L

The test: Made from water-resistant and thick, rugged fabric, this bag is built to stand up to the rigours of travel. There’s a detachable shoulder strap and two stowaway rucksack straps, as well as grab handles. Inside, there are compression straps and an internal divider to help you keep organised and a large mesh lid pocket. Outside, there’s a mesh pocket that’ll fit a waterbottle when used as a rucksack. There’s a zipped pocket too. But all these features come at a heavier weight: at 1.50kg, it’s the third heaviest here.

In Brief
Design: ★★★★★
Features: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★✩✩
Versatility: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
craghoppers.com

Lowe Alpine

AT Kit Bag 80L From £90

Lowe Alpine AT Kit Bag 80L
Lowe Alpine AT Kit Bag 80L

The test: Taking the original duffel and evolving it, the AT Kit Bag feels and looks like a soft suitcase – a nice idea but it does mean it’s quite wide compared to some. It’s made from very strong fabric that’s water-resistant and feels robust. There are three metal grab handles and two rucksack/shoulder straps that pack away into the top zipped pocket. There’s also a second zipped pocket. Inside the large opening, there is a mesh pocket and compression straps. The zips are lockable and tamper-proof. At 1.10kg, it’s fifth lightest here.

In Brief
Design: ★★★★✩
Features: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Versatility: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
lowealpine.com

Millican

Miles the Duffle Bag 40L From £140

Millican Miles the Duffle Bag 40L
Millican Miles the Duffle Bag 40L

The test: If you like your duffel a little more traditional-looking, this one is made from 57% recycled ‘Bionic Canvas’ (and all buckles are metal, rather than plastic), harking back to its Belgian origins. It has an impregnated finish to make it very weatherproof, yet it’s still impressively light (1.20kg; sixth lightest). It offers shoulder/rucksack straps that unclip and stow away, a document pocket at the top (for phone/passport), a padded laptop sleeve, a zippable internal pouch and compression straps. A great option if you like your bag retro but the technology modern.

In Brief

Design: ★★★★★
Features: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★★
Versatility: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
homeofmillican.com

The North Face

Base Camp Duffel 150L From £140

The North Face Base Camp Duffel 150L
The North Face Base Camp Duffel 150L

The test: Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, this is the modern classic duffel. Its mission is simple: to allow you to pack in as much as possible. With a generous opening and chunky zips, the bag’s made from water-resistant, heavy duty, robust fabric – great for porter-assisted treks and able to stand up to all rigours of travel. There are grab handles, convertible shoulder/rucksack straps and lash straps on the side for extra gear. There are no outside pockets, but inside there’s a mesh lid pocket and pouch at one end. It is heavy – 2kg, but then it’s also the biggest here by far.

In Brief
Design: ★★★★★
Features: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Versatility: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
thenorthface.co.uk

Ortlieb

Duffle RS 85L From £215

Ortlieb Duffle RS 85L
Ortlieb Duffle RS 85L

The test: You have to pay a larger price for it, but this duffel bag does everything. It has wheels to help hoist it around, grab handles, shoulder straps that double as rucksack straps and an adjustable grip to hold – rather than an extending handle. The fabric is very durable and waterproof (all seams are sealed), and the zip is coated to keep water out and is lockable. Inside, there’s a zipped pouch that also holds things down. There’s even a zipped pocket on the outside. At 3.05kg, it’s the heaviest, but, for a highly portable, durable option, it’s worth the weight.

In Brief
Design: ★★★★★
Features: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Versatility: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★✩✩
Overall: ★★★★✩
ortlieb.com

How we did the test…
We asked gear manufacturers to submit duffel bags that they felt were most suitable for travellers – offering a good balance between weight and durability, as well as versatility and ease of use. Our editor, Phoebe Smith, took the 26 we were sent out on the road; the 12 here are all ‘Wanderlust approved’. Our ‘Value Buy’ and overall ‘Best in Test’ are shown.

Main Image: Alpkit DryDock 50L