Hit the Road
The 10 Best Rugged Travel Duffels of 2018
Features have gotten out of hand. No matter what the product is — be it as simple as a knife or as complex as a camera — we’ve come to expect that it’s jammed with as many bells and whistles (sometimes literally) as possible. Outdoor products are among the most egregious culprits here, fooling would-be adventurers into thinking that they simply cannot embark on a trip without bringing the multifunctional-jacket-pant-parachute-vest complete with eighteen camp-stove-dongle-ready removable pocket pouches (and it packs into its own hood!). It’s maddening.
Thankfully, the duffel has remained immune to the feature-packing epidemic. The design hasn’t deviated too far from the canvas sacks travelers used to throw over their shoulders before heading off to lands unknown. Improvements like weatherproof zippers and padded backpack straps are utilitarian, not gimmicky. Materials technology has made duffels all but bomb-proof, which is ideal for poor-weather adventures, but canvas has not been forgotten. Oftentimes the only “feature” is a simple zippered interior pocket. And that’s the way it should be. You already have enough stuff to bring with you; you shouldn’t have to worry about the bag that carries it all.
These duffels run the gamut of sizes and materials, but one thing is uniform in every case: resiliency is favored over contrivance. These are bags capable of withstanding countless well-planned weekends to a favorite hideaway, as well as expeditions to corners of the map that still contain question marks.
Editor’s Choice: Yeti Panga
Drawing on the success of its soft-sided coolers, Yeti stripped out the insulation and used the thick, laminated nylon skin to create a highly puncture- and abrasion-resistant duffel called the Panga. Like many Yeti products, what appears run-of-the-mill is actually innovation genius. The Panga has easily removable backpack straps, lash points on all sides and haul handles on either end. Speaking of those ends, they’re sturdy enough to keep this bag standing upright, and the bottom is padded with EVA foam, similar to the stuff in running shoes, to keep things protected when you decide to give the bag a toss. The Panga is also fully submersible thanks to a TIZIP airtight zipper. One way to test it? Close it up when the bag is empty and stand on it — not even a gasp will escape.
Available Volumes: 50L, 75L, 100L
Weight: 5.2 pounds or 2,359 grams (50L)
Best Discreet Duffel: SDR Traveller D3 Traveller
The D3 Traveller is made to take a beating, and go unnoticed. Why? Because when you’re traveling across borders where officers are more likely to request a bribe than a visa application, discretion is as important as durability. To the untrained eye, there’s nothing special about the unbranded black carry-all, but that’s the point. The bag is made from two layers of ultra-strong Dyneema composite fabric, allowing it to maintain a slackened look even when packed full. The D3’s detailing is in the same vein; the shoulder strap slider is machined from solid aircraft-grade aluminum, YKK zips are reinforced with water-resistant Uretrek. And, just to underline the brand’s thesis, the D3’s zipper pulls are accented with river stones from the Pamir Mountains, a vast and remote range located in a region where borders and laws are less tangible.
Available Volumes: 39L
Weight: 1.13 pounds or 515 grams
Most Versatile Duffel: The North Face Base Camp Duffel
The North Face has over 50 years of experience hauling gear to the most remote parts of the world, so it’s no wonder that the Base Camp was not only one of the original laminated expedition bags, but also one of the few that has stood the test of time so well. The Base Camp comes in a classic cylinder shape made of laminated ballistic nylon and opens wide to reveal a spacious main compartment and a mesh organizing pocket on the interior of the lid. Like many of the bags on this list, the Base Camp comes equipped with removable backpack straps, daisy chain attachments, tie-down points and multiple handles for carrying. But the Base Camp differentiates with a separate compartment on one end that can take care of any wet or dirty clothing and gear, so it doesn’t have to mix in with the rest.
Available Volumes: 31L, 50L, 71L, 95L, 132L, 150L
Weight: 3.5 pounds or 1,588 grams (71L)
Best Duffel with Wheels: Arc’teryx Rolling Duffel
Arc’teryx’s Carrier line has long been the brand’s signature in the rough duffel world, but its new wheeled bags, the V80 and V110, make carrying big loads all that much more manageable. Unlike most brands, Arc’teryx placed the extendable, anodized aluminum frame on the outside of the bag, which leaves its interior totally free for well, everything. The U-shaped zipper opens nearly all the way for easy packing and unpacking. Inside, there’s even a pocket-equipped flap that can be compressed over everything in the bag to free the exterior zipper from additional stress. The outer fabric is weather-resistant 630-denier nylon, and the oversized wheels are burly enough to roll over rough terrain (but they’re easily replaceable should the worst occur).
Available Volumes: 80L, 110L
Weight: 7.4 pounds or 3,374 grams (80L)
Best Backpack Carry System: Mystery Ranch Mission Duffel
The Mission Duffel sits firmly in between backpack and duffel. As such, its shoulder straps aren’t an afterthought but a fully fleshed-out component that draws on the brand’s success with everyday and expedition packs. The straps are padded for comfort and equipped with a sternum harness. They also stow away neatly into a flap on the bottom of the bag. In addition to that, the Mission contains a main compartment that feels bigger than it looks and is home to multiple mesh organizing pockets. Like the Base Camp duffel, the Mission offers a separate section at one end for wet, dirty, or bulky items.
Available Volumes: 40L, 55L, 90L
Weight: 4.2 pounds or 1,905 grams (55L)
Best Minimal Duffel: Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole
Patagonia hit the nail on the head with the name of its line of heavy-duty carry-alls: Black Hole. That’s what a duffel should be — a bottomless pit into which you can toss anything and everything you might need for a day at the crag or an entire week in the opposite hemisphere. The brand recently released a pared-down version of the popular bag — goodbye padded backpack straps and D-shaped zip opening. It’s lighter, but no less durable than its predecessor. The Lightweight Black Hole is made from 7.1-ounce 210-denier nylon ripstop with a TPU-film laminate and a DWR coating. Best of all? It weighs just 510 grams.
Available Volumes: 30L, 45L
Weight: 1.1 pounds or 510 grams (45L)
Best Budget Option: Mountain Hardwear OutDry Duffel
There’s nothing flashy about the OutDry Duffel. Without shiny plastic-like fabric and flashy “outdoorsy” colors you probably wouldn’t expect much of it till you saw the nut in the brand logo. This bag is capable of taking a beating. Mountain Hardwear’s OutDry tech entails a custom-shaped waterproof membrane laminated to the bag’s inner, which seals fabrics and seams all at once. Just to be sure it worked, the brand sealed the bag away in a rain room for 24 hours, so although the fabric may not feel waterproof, rest assured that your stuff will remain dry once inside. The simplistic look won’t draw attention to would-be bag thieves, either.
Available Volumes: 50L, 75L, 95L
Weight: 1.6 pounds or 737 grams (75L)
Best Waterproof Duffel: Ortlieb Duffle
Here’s a duffel for those heading for inclement climates and expecting the worst. Ortlieb’s take on the duffel is an expedition bag made from tear-resistant, PVC-coated, polyester fabric that’s reinforced at the base. The interior contains two pockets for essentials, while the exterior features a mesh pocket, daisy chains for rigging and an impregnable TIZIP zipper (also frequently used on diving suits as well as Yeti’s soft sided coolers). You know water, or anything else for that matter, can’t get in when the excess air can’t get out.
Available Volumes: 40L, 60L, 85L, 110L
Weight: 3 pounds or 1,360 grams (85L)
Best Canvas Duffel: Fjällräven Duffel No.6
Fjällräven’s Duffel No.6 looks a lot like the standard-issue bag you might find hanging on the wall at a military surplus store. It’s not. The Swedish outdoor brand started with its proprietary G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco fabric, a canvas-like blend of recycled polyester and organic cotton that’s incredibly tough, windproof and water-resistant (especially after treatment with Greenland Wax). Then the bottom was reinforced with padded waterproof, PU-coated, polyamide fabric, and double handles were added at the ends along with stowaway backpack straps on top. There’s also a nice padded top panel, to cushion your back from the bag’s contents when you’re carrying it backpack-style.
Available Volumes: 70L, 110L
Weight: 3.3 pounds or 1,500 grams (70L)
Best Ultralight Bag for Big Loads: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dyneema Duffel
To say that Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Dyneema Duffel is massive and indestructible borders on understatement. The narrow profile was designed specifically for harmonious integration with the Paris Expedition Sled, commonly used during longer trips to the world’s unreachable peaks. The primary material is right in the name. Dyneema, when taken at its strength-to-weight ratio, is the strongest fiber in the world — stronger than steel and Kevlar. It’s also waterproof and UV resistant. You could say the Dyneema Duffel is ultra-everything: ultralight, ultra large, ultra durable, ultra minimal.