How to Buy: Duffel Bags

Duffel bags, duffle bags, weekenders, holdalls, or whatever you choose to call them, are great pieces of luggage, praised for their simplicity and versatility. However, the factors that make duffel bags so charming also make it difficult to find one that truly suits our needs. A number of duffel bags on the market are, quite frankly, just high-ends sacks with a few straps and a zipper! Many lack the features, functionality, and durability that today’s traveler needs.

Our duffel bag buyer’s guide will show you how to buy duffel bags that suit your basic needs, whether you’re on a trip to Vegas, to the gym, or just visiting the in-laws.

All Access

Alpha 2 large soft travel satchel  

One of the major complaints about duffel bags is their lack of organization. Travelers are often expected to throw everything into a single compartment or a few side pockets and hope for the best. However, there are a number of duffel bags on the market that provide travelers with quick grab and go usability, along with great organization. Here’s what to look for:



  • The bag should be able to expand and contract a bit depending on your needs. It should be able to stretch for a weeklong trip as needed, and shrink back to its normal shape for a weekend getaway.
  • If you’re looking for a more versatile bag that will function as a quick suitcase or daily holdall, look for front pockets that will fit a book or sunglasses.
  • If you’re using the bag as more of a casual, grab and go suitcase option, go for a bag that features full pockets that can hold toiletries, socks, and other small personal items.
  • If the bag features an inside pocket(s), make sure the inside seams are secure, that it will not impact the bag’s inside storage, and that the pocket is actually useful and not just decorative.


Built Tough

A good duffel bag should be able to take a beating. You should be able to shove it in a crowded trunk, push it to the back of a closet, or punch it until it fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane. With that said, finding one that can stand up to the rigors of frequent travel can be tricky. Here are a few tips to help you determine whether your bag is a wimp or a champ: 



  • Select a material that fits your lifestyle. If you plan to use the bag daily, a breathable and washable fabric like canvas is your best bet. If it’s an occasional bag, select something waterproof but sturdy, such as ballistic nylon.
  • Leather, suede, or similar materials can either look really good from years of use or really bad. Make sure the material is high quality and that you’re comfortable with the required maintenance.
  • Make sure your bag is reinforced on the bottom to prevent scratches and wear and tear.
  • Pay special attention to the seams and zippers. All seams and zippers should be taped from the inside to reduce fraying.
  • The quality of the stitching depends on the weight of the bag and how much you plan to pack. A heavy bag will require more heavy duty stitching. Look for lock stitching for the sturdiest hold!


Strap Up or Wheels Up?

TUMI Alpha 2 Wheeled Carry-On Garment Bag

While we love the minimalist design of duffel bags, we can’t deny that adding a set of wheels can go a long way when we’re moving through a busy airport or carrying equipment. However, when you add wheels to a duffel bag, you cut down on some of the versatility and durability of this leisurely, low-maintenance piece of luggage.

Our advice is to select the duffel bag that best matches your needs. Whatever your decision, here’s what to look for when it comes to wheels and straps.



  • Look for wheels that are large and soft. They are less likely to get caught on pebbles or uneven surfaces, and will make less noise.
  • A two-bar, telescopic handle with internal housing will be sturdier and less likely to break from mishandling or standard wear and tear.
  • For straps, select a bag that has a center grab loop along with a shoulder strap that rests comfortably across your body and can be adjusted and/or removed.
  • While not essential, side straps or handles can be helpful, especially when removing your bag from a crowded overhead bin.
  • Pay special attention to the strength of the stitching of the straps and/or the device used to connect and remove the straps. You want something that feels sturdy and will be able to handle rigorous activity.


The Duffel Bag as a Carry-On

Duffel bags are popular as carry-on bags for their grab and go functionality. However, not every duffel bag will pass airline carry-on regulations. Here’s what to look for:



  • There are a number of bags on the market that are advertised as FAA approved. However, there is no such thing as an FAA approved bag. Research the carry-on guidelines of the airline you plan to fly to learn what is acceptable.
  • The most common airline carry-on dimensions are 22” long x 14” wide x 9” tall, or 45” combined. If your bag fits these guidelines you should be fine.
  • Check the airline’s weight limits on carry-ons to avoid additional fees.
  • If you’re traveling internationally, note that flights departing from different countries have their own carry-on rules and restrictions.


Any more questions before you buy?


Have you found a duffel bag that you absolutely adore, or do you have any additional questions on how to choose the right duffel bag for your next trip? Feel free to contact us for help picking out the perfect bag.