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Published May. 12, 2022

Duffel bags are practically a way of life for athletes and the military alike. The large capacity and convenience of duffel bags are what made them popular in the first place. Originally named for the specific type of fabric they were made from, duffel bags were adopted by the military during the World Wars and enhanced thereafter to become the standard issue sea bag. Just for fun: Show any Marine a picture of a mountain of sea bags and watch them cringe.

Traditionally, duffel bags were shapeless woolen bags with rope drawstrings that held a lot of gear, but were difficult to carry. Today you can buy duffels with wheels and shoulder straps to make using them easier. We’ve done the research and have found the best duffel bags just for you.

Methodology

First and foremost, in any buying guide I assemble is what you’re going to need to get the job done in all areas of your life. This shapes the categories and gives me a heading when I begin searching the internet. 

We’ve got a great team here at Task & Purpose, and for duffel bags, I started with my fellow writers for recommendations and experiences. These added context to my own experiences, which is where I gain a larger perspective. Armed with perspective and categories, I began searching websites like Amazon, Cabelas, Walmart, and even specific manufacturer websites. 

To select the right duffel bags, I relied heavily on industry knowledge and experience around designs and materials. Each duffel was evaluated on its ability to function in the selected category and other performance criteria indicated in the reviews below. I also looked at the brand’s reputation and history as an indicator of trustworthiness. Your voice matters, too, and if you’ve got some experience you’d like to share, please leave a comment below.

Named after the mythical demigod with insane strength, the B3 Hercules Duffel is aptly named. This bag sports a whopping 192-liter volume for hunting, tactical, and recreational gear. One look and you know this bag isn’t like the others. On the outside are six lockable pockets for small gear, two hook-and-loop patch panels, a transport handle, and two compression straps to keep everything nice and tight inside. The main compartment opens up using YKK zippers and features internal pockets, as well as Velcro dividers for keeping gear separated.

What really sets this duffel apart is the bottom compartment that’s built into the rigid frame. Inside the bottom compartment are retention straps for stowing a compound bow and quiver. The depth also accommodates foam for rifles, handguns, and other hunting and tactical gear. For those times you’re not packing heat, there is a zippered layer for stashing dirty laundry, too. At the base of the frame are two wheels for rolling, because this duffel can easily get heavy with all the gear you can fit in it. An added bonus is that the B3 is available in dry earth, black, coyote brown, gray, multicam, and military green colors.

Product Specs
  • Material: 500D Ripstop
  • Dimensions: 41H x 18W x 17D inches
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: Yes
PROS

Insane storage capacity

Wheeled frame

Bottom compartment holds bows or rifles

Includes hook-and-loop dividers

CONS

High price point

Overkill for short trips

The sea bag is an iconic piece of military gear as it’s been issued to every sailor, soldier, and marine since World War II. Rothco pays tribute to the standard-issued sea bag with this canvas duffel. True to the original design, this duffel is a single compartment bag that opens from the top. It closes by folding the edges over and lining up the metal loop to the eyelets. This allows you to clasp it shut with the attached clip or use a lock to secure the closure. On the side is a 4.75-inch by 7.5-inch pocket with button closure and a carry handle. There are two-inch-wide shoulder straps for wearing the duffel with heavy loads.

Product Specs
  • Material: Canvas, cotton
  • Dimensions: 22W x 38L inches
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: No
PROS

Simple and familiar design

Two shoulder straps

Small external pocket

Can be locked

CONS

Flashbacks guaranteed

No convenient features

Editor’s Choice

Whenever I hear the word “travel,” it always creates images of terrain and wilderness instead of airplanes and buildings. Regardless of the destination, the STOL 4000 by Stone Glacier is a must-have duffel bag. The intuitive design is visible from the start with integrated shoulder straps and an Aquaguard YKK zipper that sits atop the bag. By having the straps on top of the bag, Stone Glacier solves a problem we use to experience in the infantry all the time: setting our sweaty pack down in the dirt and trying to wipe the mud off before we put the pack back on. This 4,000-cubic inch duffel sits on its highly durable and waterproof material instead. Smaller than the STOL 7000, this bag easily fits within the airplane carry-on dimensions.

Product Specs
  • Material: Xpac
  • Dimensions: 24L x 14H x 12W inches
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: No
PROS

Water-resistant

Integral shoulder straps

OK for carry-on use

Made in the USA

CONS

Limited color choices

Limited organization options

If you were to walk through the airport and try to count the number of rolling bags present, you would quite possibly go insane. Having a duffel with a light base weight that rolls on wheels can make travel much easier in the pro-TSA world we find ourselves in. That’s where the Protege 32 excels, at a truly affordable price, too. The overall size is large enough to carry anything you’ll need for a weekend vacation without being overly cumbersome. When not in use, the duffel easily collapses for convenient storage. What’s neat about this bag is how Protege uses inline skate wheels like you’d find on roller blades to offer superior performance, especially under a load. I wish this bag had an extendable handle for tall folks like myself, but there are two webbed handles for dragging the bag when heavy. If you’re packing light, you can still use the included shoulder strap for carrying as well.

Product Specs
  • Material: 600 Denier polyester
  • Dimensions: 32L x 12.6W x 13.8H inches
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: Yes
PROS

Inline skate wheels

Collapsible

Weighs less than 3 pounds

Budget-friendly pricing

CONS

No extendable handle

Limited color options

Air travel is rife with compromises. What you gain in travel speed often comes at the cost of the amount you can take with you. Tight cabin spaces are where the Gonex Canvas Duffel Bag thrives. This cotton canvas duffel offers 50 liters of capacity with a total of six zippered pockets. It also expands to offer an extra four inches of space. You can easily compartmentalize your packing for easy access, even when you’re cramped in coach.

Product Specs
  • Material: High-density cotton canvas
  • Dimensions: 20.8L x 18H x 9.8W inches
  • Expandable: Yes
  • Rolling: No
PROS

Perfect for carry-on

Expands four inches

6 zippered pockets

Professional appearance

CONS

No shoe compartment

Not ideal for more than 1- to 2-day trips

There are tons of sports and activities where your gear would get soaked without a waterproof bag. The White Water duffel by Aqua Quest is a solid choice, and not just because it claims to be 100 percent waterproof. Offered in 50-, 75-, and 100-liter options mean you’ve got plenty of room to stow your gear. It is made from Oxford 420D Ripstop material, TPU lamination, and DWR coating with the design offering a wide opening for organizing your gear. It closes with an internal hook-and-loop to keep it tight while you roll the excess, buckle it shut with the heavy-duty hardware, and then sinch the webbing down. On the outside are two mesh pockets, six D-rings, and four webbing loops for storage and securing the bag to your car, bike, or kayak. And, if style matters, you’ll be happy to know there are six color options.

Product Specs
  • Material: Oxford 420D Ripstop
  • Dimensions: 24L x 10W x 11H inches (50L)
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: No
PROS

Guaranteed waterproof

Backed by a lifetime warranty

Multiple tie-down points

Three sizes available

CONS

No internal pockets

Few brands are as synonymous with sports as Adidas. The Defender 4 duffel bag is a prime example of why that is. Designed with the athlete in mind, a gym duffel has large compartments and easy access pockets. One of the side pockets is ventilated so you can stash smelly shoes or gym towels without fearing the reopening. Knowing that athletes work in all environments, Adidas added a waterproof material to the base of the duffel to keep your gear dry. It’s even sized to fit as a carry-on if you’re traveling for competitions.

Product Specs
  • Material: Polyester
  • Dimensions: 24.75L x 12W x 13H inches
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: No
PROS

Large pockets and compartments

Ventilated shoe pocket

14 embroidable color choices

Budget-friendly pricing

CONS

Doesn’t roll or expand

Since the stone age, leather has been a staple material for clothing and equipment. While we may have more technological materials available to us, leather is a statement worth making, especially for duffel bags. The KPL 32-inch duffel is just the bag for the job, too. This is a canvas-lined, full-grain leather duffel bag big enough to pack for the weekend or more. The main compartment is flanked by a zippered pocket on either side that works great for shoes or similar items. The front pockets, which are ideal for small items, are secured with metal buckles. The top of the duffel has two thick grab handles and a two-thong shoulder strap for extra support. While I wouldn’t recommend this for deer camp, it’s the perfect choice for any urban adventure.

Product Specs
  • Material: Full-grain leather
  • Dimensions: 32L x 12H x 10W inches
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: No
PROS

Canvas-lined

Easy-to-access side pockets

Durable grab handles

Dual shoulder straps

CONS

Not expandable or rolling

Not ideal for sports or outdoor rec

Any camping trip requires a sturdy duffel for packing in the essentials. The North Face Base Camp duffel is perfectly at home when camping in any terrain. This is the large 95-liter option, which is one size down from the XL featured in the best go bags review. What sets this bag apart is the 1000D polyester material that has a PVC coating for increased durability and weather resistance. It has one external side pocket that works great for smaller items. The main compartment features a D-style opening with a weather-fighting flap. Inside the main compartment are two mesh pockets for organizing smaller items. Two durable grab handles allow you to quickly move this bag around and the horizontal webbing helps tie down points for extra security.

Product Specs
  • Material: 1000D Polyester with PVC coating
  • Dimensions: 28L x 16W x 16H inches
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: No
PROS

Rugged and durable

Internal mesh pockets

Water-resistant ID pouch

Includes shoulder straps

CONS

High price point

Not expandable or rolling

The point of a tactical duffel (as I see it) is to carry mission-critical gear, which is what the 5.11 Patrol Ready duffel is great for. It’s like the 5.11 range bag, but it’s designed to be used for vehicle-based patrol, but you can stage it anywhere. The duffel’s primary construction comes from 600D polyester, which gives it some natural weather resistance. Because it is designed for tactical purposes, there are tons of pockets and organization built into the bag. On the outside are two water bottle pockets, one side pocket, and a zippered pocket on either end of the bag. There is a clear ID pocket on the backside of the bag and a hook-and-loop panel on top. The main compartment has a hook-and-loop divider for customizing the loadout. A neat feature is the two zippered pockets and notepad/pencil pocket on the inside of the lid. You can easily use this as a range bag, go bag, or weekend trip bag.

Product Specs
  • Material: 600D polyester
  • Dimensions: 18.5L x 13H x 8.5W inches (main compartment)
  • Expandable: No
  • Rolling: No
PROS

Customizable compartments

Plenty of pockets

Durable grab handles

Heavy-duty shoulder strap

CONS

Limited color options

Not ideal for lengthy trips

Our verdict on the best duffel bags

The aptly named Eberlestock Hercules duffel is unbeatable in capacity and functionality. It’s a big step up from the Rothco Sea Bag. The Stone Glacier STOL series, The North Face Base Camp duffel, and AquaQuest White Water duffel are meant for outdoor recreation from bodies of water to mountain tops and everything in between. Modern travel is also made convenient with the Protege 32 rolling duffel, Gonex Canvas duffel, and KPL Leather duffel. Sports get simpler with the ADIDAS Defender duffel, the same as tactical missions with the 5.11 Patrol Ready duffel. 

What to consider when buying a duffel bag

Not just any duffel will accomplish your mission. It is important to understand what you’re going to need from your duffel in order to know what to look for. Let’s take a look at the different types and features of duffel bags so you can make the most informed purchase. 

Types of duffel bags

Travel

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, you’ll most likely need to keep things organized. Many duffels in this category are smaller in size to accommodate one- to two-day trips while fitting in airplane compartments. These duffels should have pockets/compartments on the outside for convenience. 

Sports

Football, baseball, soccer, tennis, bodybuilding, and any other sport you can think of require equipment or specialized clothing or gear. Duffel bags are perfectly suited for athletes because of the size and capacity they offer. Sport duffel bags should have a large main compartment and multiple smaller compartments to keep messy gear from clean clothes. These duffels will often have weather-resistant material and other features for outdoor use.

Tactical/hunting

Easily the most specialized type of duffel, bags made for tactical and hunting purposes are easy to spot. The materials used will be rugged and durable with camo patterns or earth tone colors. Pockets will be abundant because everything needs a place. They’ll also be larger to accommodate firearms, bows, or other tools. Because they’re specialized, these duffels will also be in the higher price range. 

Key features of duffle bags

Straps

Not all straps are equal. Cheap duffel bags will have cheap straps that will be uncomfortable to use for any length of time due to width or material. Good duffel bags have heavy-duty hardware with webbed straps that have adjustable or built-in padding. 

Pockets 

My worst nightmare is losing gear or personal items because I wasn’t organized and left them behind. Duffel bags that have internal or external pockets allow us the ability to give order to the chaos and keep track of our stuff. Mesh pockets are great for seeing what’s inside or avoiding smells, but regular material works great, too. Make sure the duffel you’re buying has enough pockets for your gear. 

Rolling system

A large duffel bag with tiny wheels is like a weightlifter who always skips leg day: top-heavy and difficult to handle. If you’re looking for a rolling duffel, you’ll want wheels that are proportionate to the bag. These will make rolling the duffel a lot easier. Having an extendable handle is another nice feature of rolling duffels, but since the design of these bags is rather long, it’s not necessary.

Duffel bags pricing 

When you’re looking at the price of duffel bags, you want to evaluate the price based on how much the duffel will do for you. Budget duffels can be found for under $50 and often consist of one compartment or are very small. I recommend stepping up to the moderately priced duffels between $50 to $120. This range allows you to find better materials and features that can compete with premium equivalents without having to spend as much. That being said, premium duffel bags are well worth the price tag above $120. These bags will have the best designs, materials, and features which are complemented by great customer service. 

Tips and tricks

As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and duffel bags. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • You can use dry bags if your duffel isn’t weatherproof. 
  • It’s best to pack the most needed stuff in the easiest-to-reach place. 
  • Pack a sewing kit and extra material for out-of-the-way excursions.
  • Get creative with your duffel; the bag’s very nature is versatile. 

FAQs on duffel bags

You’ve got questions. Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: What’s the biggest duffel bag size?

A: There is a limit to sizing, but the Eberlestock Hercules is 192 liters and the largest I’ve been able to find. 

Q: How big is an Army duffle bag?

A: Sea bags like the Rothco G.I. Canvas duffel are typically 38L x 22W x 22D inches.

Q: How do you secure a military duffle bag?

A: Old-school sea bags have a metal loop that you can put a padlock through. 

Q: Are Army duffle bags waterproof?

A: No, the canvas is treated to be weather-resistant though. 

Q: What are Army duffel bags made of?

A: Sea bags are made from a durable cotton canvas. 

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