Nowadays, duffel bags are built to do more than carry clothes. Thanks to smart designs and features for every travel scenario, the average duffel is expected to be a certified gear hauler with durability to boot. After putting a handful of these bags through the wringer, here are my favorites.
Marmot Long Hauler ($110 and Up)
Plenty of duffels have straps that convert them into backpacks, but the Long Hauler rises above the crowd because it’s actually comfortable when worn on your shoulders. When fully-loaded, the pack carries well because cushy, padded straps with top and bottom fasteners keep the duffel tight against your back. And the organization is off the charts: it features a small zipper pocket for keys, a wallet, and a phone, two shoe pockets (on either end of the bag), a large interior bag for dirty clothes, and a big zippered pocket on the lid that works for magazines or snacks. It comes in four sizes, too: 35, 50, 75, and 105 liters.
The North Face Rolling Thunder ($269 and Up)
This is as much of a piece of rolling luggage as it is a duffel, but that’s what I love about it—it gives me the cavernous space and packability of a duffel with the “I need to catch my connection” convenience of a roller. The North Face took its bomber Base Camp Duffel (made from 1,000-denier polyester) and reinforced it with nylon for added durability. There aren’t many frills—just a few long, slim zipper pockets on the top panel and a separate external pocket that’s big enough for toiletries or dirty clothes but not big enough for shoes. I’d like for this “sweaty laundry” pocket to be bigger. I have the 22-inch version (40 liters), which is plenty big for a weekend trip yet still small enough to fit in most overhead bins, but you can opt for larger sizes (80 and 155 liters).
OtterBox Yampa Dry ($250)
You don’t need a waterproof duffel…until you do. OtterBox’s watertight Yampa has more features than your typical overbuilt drybag, including a low-density foam exoskeleton that adds a layer of protection to your goods inside, interior pockets, and a surprisingly comfortable backpack harness system. The body of the bag is made from waterproof TPU nylon with a thicker nylon material on the ends and body, so you can throw it around without worry. The only bummer (other than the price)? This heavy-duty bag isn’t light. The 35-liter version I tested weighs almost five pounds. There are multiple grab handles, and tie down straps make it easy to lash this thing to a boat. Otterbox also offers the Yampa in 70 and 105-liter models.
Filson Tin Cloth Field Bag ($150)
Filson loves to build its products with tin cloth, a canvas that’s waxed and oiled under high pressure to make it puncture, tear, and water-resistant. As a result, this small duffel looks like something Indiana Jones would load into a sea plane and take around the world. I wouldn’t submerge this bag, but it can handle the rain and get tossed around the bed of a truck and somehow come out looking better for it. (Seriously, tin cloth improves with age and use.) Consider this your statement-making carry-on duffel that can put up with years of abuse.
Cotopaxi Uyuni ($80)
In true Cotopaxi form, the Uyuni is a little bit weird, but in all the right ways. Crazy colors aside, the first thing that stands out about the duffel is the single cross-body strap, which I like because it’s well padded and secures the bag to your body better than your standard shoulder strap. I also like the messenger-style release on that strap, which makes for easy removal after a long day of hauling clothes and snorkel gear through multiple airport connections. But my favorite attribute? Unlike most duffels, the Uyuni has a dedicated padded laptop sleeve, which means I can use this as my one and only bag on short trips when I don’t want to check luggage. It’s 46 liters and overhead compatible.
Matador Transit ($32)
I take this bag on 95 percent of my trips. At five ounces, it’s light and packs into a stuff sack the size of a soda can, so I can tuck it into my bag and bring it out to carry dirty clothes or souvenirs for the kids. And it’s more than just a glorified grocery bag: the Transit is made from waterproof Cordura nylon with interior sealed seams. I wouldn’t use it on a river trip (it’s waterproof but not submersible), but it can keep 30 liters of goods dry in a rain shower.