The Best Travel Duffel Bags of 2017

A vital element of any adventure travel kit, you can find yourself easily overwhelmed with the options. After analyzing over 70 models, we purchased the best 10, testing them head-to-head. We awarded those that offered specific advantages as well as exceptional all-around performance. Our experts took them from Alaska to Patagonia, on muleback, llama-back, horseback, and on ski sleds and snowmobiles. Stuffing them to capacity with everything from climbing gear to ski gear to strictly beach-style vacation clothes, our testers scrutinized ease of transport and packing and compared the pros and cons of wheeled versus non-wheeled models. A water drench test helped determine how weather-ready they are and we kept track of the features they liked and didn't. With all of this data compiled, we help you narrow down the wide selection and find the ideal duffel bag for your needs.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 10 ≪ Previous | View All | Next ≫
Rank #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product
The North Face Base Camp Duffel
The North Face Base Camp
Gregory Alpaca
Patagonia Black Hole
Patagonia Black Hole
Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled
Marmot Long Hauler
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $139.01 at Amazon
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$98.95 at MooseJaw
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$129.00 at MooseJaw
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$329.00 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$76.26 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps, excellent pockets to help with organization, super durable, daisy chains and grab loops allow for easy lashing, six nicely spaced volume options, tons of color optionsHighly weather resistant, easy to pack, dual mesh zippered pockets under the lid, comfortable shoulder strapsLightweight, very weather resistant, easy to remove shoulder straps, fabric is less stiff, packing is easy, nice pockets, comfortable shoulder straps, easy to load, good lashing optionsEasy 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 removeFitting tight items is a squeeze, durable but not the toughest testedSome organizational options but not as many as othersNot quite as weather resistant as other models, not as durable as other contenders
Ratings by Category The North Face Base Camp Gregory Alpaca Patagonia Black Hole Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Marmot Long Hauler
Ease Of Transport - 22%
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Ease Of Packing - 22%
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Durability - 22%
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Weight - 24%
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Weather Resistance - 10%
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Specs The North Face Base Camp Gregory Alpaca Patagonia Black Hole Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Marmot Long Hauler
Weight (Pounds) 4.06 pounds (95 liter model) 3.9 lbs (90 liter model) 3.19 pounds (90 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 45, 60, 90, 120 L 40, 70, 120L S-XL
Volume Size Options (Liters) 33, 50, 69, 95, 150 L 30, 45, 60, 90, 120 L 45, 60, 90, 120 L 40, 70, 120 L 38, 50, 75, 105 L

Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Ian Nicholson
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Monday
November 6, 2017

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Updated November 2017
The duffel bag travel scene is rapidly changing we've upped the ante in our quest to find the best. The North Face Base Camp remains our Editors' Choice for the second year in a row, while the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled cinched its new spot as the best wheelie. Different adventures need varying amounts and sizes of equipment and might cater to specific features, which is why we've added a Top Pick for Expeditions, as well as a Top Pick for Lightweight Wheelies. We've even selected a wallet-friendly model for the budget-minded populace.

Best Overall Model


The North Face Base Camp


The North Face Base Camp Duffel Editors' Choice Award

$139.01
at Amazon
See It

Packable
Comfy shoulder straps
Pockets aid in organization
Durable
Grab loops and daisy chains
Various volumes and colors are available
Weight
In 2017, our testers' favorite burly bag is The North Face Base Camp, which barely edged out the Gregory Alpaca for the win. While the Base Camp wins Editors' Choice and remains a measuring stick for the duffel bag market, its scores don't make it a runaway winner. Some other models tested have slight advantages, like the Patagonia's Black Hole's low weight. However, the Base Camp clocked top or near-top scores in every category. Its shoulder straps made it one of the most comfortable models to carry "backpack-style," and the latest iteration, released in Fall '15, features an extra externally accessed zippered pocket, which adds organizational capacity. 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.

Read review: The North Face Base Camp Duffel

Best Overall Wheeled Duffel


Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled


Editors' Choice Award


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 beefy and water-resistant construction, which 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. And if 70L sounds like too much or too little space for your weekend or multi-week getaway, check out the smaller Black Hole Wheeled Duffel 45L or the more massive 120L model.

Read review: Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel

Top Pick Expedition Duffel Bag


Gregory Alpaca


Top Pick Award

$98.95
at MooseJaw
See It

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 access 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 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

Best Bang for the Buck


Marmot Long Hauler


Best Buy Award

$76.26
at Backcountry
See It

Exceptionally designed pockets and shoulder straps
Weather resistant but not as much 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 as 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 Award Lightweight Wheeled Model


Osprey Ozone Convertible


Top Pick Award

$247.50
at Amazon
See It

Lighter than other wheeled models and has excellent wheels
Converts into a backpack for use as a carry-on or extra organization options
Wheels are compatible on bumpy and rugged terrain
More challenging to pack full to the brim
Not quite as durable or stable as other models
The Osprey Ozone Convertible cinches the award for the best lightweight rolling duffel. Most wheely bags weigh between 7.5-10 pounds, but this model clocks in at 6 pounds 14 ounces with its detachable backpack. What's even more impressive if you leave the removable daypack behind (which weighs one pound 10 ounces) or use it as your carry-on, then the bag itself weighs an incredible 5 pounds 4 ounces!!! Even at such a low weight, the Ozone Convertible is packed full or rad features like the removable daypack, along with the backpacking pack quality shoulder straps and a waist belt that can be easily stowed. It comes complete with larger-than-average wheels, which make it easier to pull the bag through rough terrain, and it has some useful compartments and pockets. Its only real downsides are that it's harder to maximize its complete volume when packing it super full and it can be challenging to zip shut when it has been loaded to the brim. It's also a little less stable than other models in our fleet.

Read review: Osprey Ozone Convertible

Top Pick for Airline Travel and Organization


Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled


Top Pick Award

$289.00
at Amazon
See It

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 "weildy," which means 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

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
83
$145
Editors' Choice Award
The Base Camp remains our favorite all-around model.
82
$150
Top Pick Award
From its streamline design to its top notch weather resistance and multitude of lashing options, this is a solid duffel.
81
$150
A incredible contender, the Black Hole falls in between award winners and is exceptionally lightweight and weather resistant.
81
$329
Editors' Choice Award
There are models that offer more pockets and are slightly tougher, but this model offers a top-notch blend of the two.
80
$149
Best Buy Award
This Best Buy award winner has a wallet-friendly price tag and is lightweight to boot.
80
$289
An all-arounder except in the weight metric, this roller bag is highly durable, and exceptionally easy to pack and transport.
79
$299
Top Pick Award
Our top choice for organization, this model excels across the board.
78
$330
Top Pick Award
Equipped with large wheels, this design features top-notch shoulder straps and is lightweight.
73
$319
If you don't have a weight limit and don't care about paying a little extra for additional volume, this roller is excellent.
67
$140
This sleek contender is weather resistant and was a solid performer across the board.

Analysis and Test Results


There are dozens of duffels on the market and we picked our top ten favorites. We put them head-to-head and presented our findings in the review below. Here we're duffel testing in Penitentes  Argentina.
There are dozens of duffels on the market and we picked our top ten favorites. We put them head-to-head and presented our findings in the review below. Here we're duffel testing in Penitentes, Argentina.

We reviewed our five favorite travel duffels as well as our five ideal wheeled options and compared them head-to-head in five different categories. The name comes from Duffel, a town in Belgium where the thick cloth used to make the bag originated. Duffels started gaining popularity in the United States as well as other parts of the world in post WWI area. They originated with a strong association of surf culture during that time as having a "duffel" was considered nearly synonymous with surfers and surf culture.

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 in-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 in-route to Boulder.

We based our scoring on the culmination of five 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.

The Base Camp duffel features beefy daisy chains and grab loops on all-four sides that help facilitate lashing the duffel to a verity of vehicles and animals. Photo in route to Illimani  Cordillera Real Bolivia.
The Base Camp duffel features beefy daisy chains and grab loops on all-four sides that help facilitate lashing the duffel to a verity of vehicles and animals. Photo in route to Illimani, Cordillera Real Bolivia.

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 for items and then zip everything shut again when finished.


After dozens of trips of in-the-field testing and direct side-by-side comparisons, we liked the big D-shaped openings rather than a straight "I" style zippered opening. We also loved bags that acted more like a box, where we could just fill up rather than ones that were more of a clam-shell style design and closure.

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 most natural models to pack and unpack were easily The North Face Rolling Thunder 30" and 36" models. Both of these duffels 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.

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.

The two most difficult models to maximize their volume and zip shut when full were the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled 32" and the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22.

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.

Both featured clam-shell style designs that our entire review team felt were challenging to pack once they were starting to get full - and even more difficult to close once we passed that point.

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. Among non-wheeled competitors, our Top Pick for Organization, as well as our Editors' Choice The North Face Base Camp Duffel, offered up a sizeable external zippered pocket and an internal mesh divider along. 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.

Ability to Carry and Ease of Transport


Backpack Straps
Nearly all the duffels with backpack straps were reasonably comfortable to carry. A couple of standouts were The North Face Base Camp and the Patagonia Black Hole, which were exceptionally comfortable.


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.

While all the duffel bags in our review sported shoulder straps  only one of the wheeled models did. The Ozone Convertible has backpacking pack quality shoulder straps and a waist-belt that tucks away quickly behind a zippered flap. These features proved to be extremely useful for long stairs or when we traveled across terrain too rugged to pull our baggage through. In this photo  the zip-on backpack is attached.
While all the duffel bags in our review sported shoulder straps, only one of the wheeled models did. The Ozone Convertible has backpacking pack quality shoulder straps and a waist-belt that tucks away quickly behind a zippered flap. These features proved to be extremely useful for long stairs or when we traveled across terrain too rugged to pull our baggage through. In this photo, the zip-on backpack is attached.

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 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 articulated 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 of time and over great distances with only minimal discomfort. Not that we'd recommend this, but a good friend of ours just happened to have 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, as he didn't own a large pack.

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.

With that said, 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 five, comparing them here. Among all of our top five favorite 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 and the Osprey Ozone Convertible's 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 is 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; but 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. While the Black Hole Wheeled was our Top Pick for Maneuverability, it's also worth noting that the Osprey Ozone Convertible or other tight space.

The Osprey Ozone Convertible shown here was the second easiest bag to maneuver featuring one of the narrower wheelbases of any model we tested.
The Osprey Ozone Convertible shown here was the second easiest bag to maneuver featuring one of the narrower wheelbases of any model we tested.


Stacking Bags
Another feature when considering the quality of wheeled luggage is how stable it is and how easy (or hard) it is to use. We also tested the ease of stacking another piece of luggage (non-wheeled) 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.

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 except the Osprey Ozone among models in our review) are significantly easier to stack bags with. Also, we have personally witnessed a second 50-pound bag bend and eventually break, a wheeled piece of luggage handle. While we wouldn'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 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're 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 ski (or anything else) in remote parts of the world, you will undoubtedly need to strap your baggage to any number of things.

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, three different type of planes that seat less than seven people, helicopters, snowmobiles, and pulled it ourselves with it 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.

Features that help facilitate securely attaching your duffel to various modes of transportation include daisy chains (webbing with loops separated by stitches), to give options as to where to connect your duffel that is either reinforced or at minimum use, beefy stitching that is less likely to blow out. Large grab loops and shoulder straps are also particularity useful things to thread through when attaching your baggage to things. In the case of grab loops, the more, the better.

All the non-wheeled models we selected for this review have decent daisy chains and grab loops, but 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.

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 tough and all on the strong end of the spectrum. However, The North Face Rolling Thunder stood apart from the rest as a freaking burly piece of luggage (maybe boarding 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, as well as beefy Bartacks on all the critical stitching areas. Tester Ian Nicholson has used one on over 20 expeditions, and we spoke to over a dozen other OutdoorGearLab friends who brought them on various trips. 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).

Weight


Weight is one of the biggest advantages of more traditional duffels over their wheeled counterparts, as those without wheels are often four to six pounds lighter. That, of course, means you get to pack four to six pounds more of your gear before hitting most airline's 50-pound limit. The Patagonia Black Hole, three pounds three ounces, was the lightest models we tested. The North Face Base Camp was the heaviest, ringing in at four pounds once ounce (which isn't a huge difference in the scheme of 50 pounds).

While there are all weights of duffels  it is generally less of a difference than the difference in weight among rolling models. Photos: Now that's a lot of bags while getting ready for another adventure.....
While there are all weights of duffels, it is generally less of a difference than the difference in weight among rolling models. Photos: Now that's a lot of bags while getting ready for another adventure.....

Among rolling models, there is a much more significant difference. 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.


The weight metric is where the Osprey Ozone Convertible is so impressive. It weighs six pounds 14 ounces but comes with a detachable daypack that weighs one pound 10 ounces. You can opt to use this as your carry-on or leave it at home. If you leave it behind, you still have a feature-rich wheeled piece of luggage that only weighs five pounds four ounces! 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 underweight 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 The North Face Rolling Thunder or the Marmot Long Haul.

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 side-by-side tests, measuring each contender's weather resistance.


We put dry towels inside each bag and sprayed them with a hose in our driveway. The top competitors were extremely close, but in the end, the Gregory Alpaca was the most weather resistance. A slew of models closely followed it, including The North Face Rolling Thunder, The North Face Base Camp Duffel, and the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled Duffel. Consider if this metric is important to you and proceed accordingly.

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 weight 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. The significant advantage of more traditional duffels over wheeled versions is weight and their ability to be taken to far more rugged environments. 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, making traveling with them difficult in remote or exotic locations. Its 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.

We think 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 is difficult, but packing up your gear can be even more challenging. To take the hassle out of your adventure, we loaded up our duffels and our experts and sent them packing. After determining each model's 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.
Ian Nicholson

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