Best Duffel Bags Updated December 2020
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Duffel Bag
Buying a duffel bag can be difficult because there are so many different factors to consider. Here we break down the most important factors we found through hours of research and product analysis.
The most important factor is durability. A duffel bag make the rounds and racks the miles, typically on trips to the gym or weekend travel, and it'll get thrown down often in tough environments. By far, our biggest consideration was whether the bag would take the wear. The last thing we'd want is for the strap to snap or the bag to develop a hole. Both scenarios might result in spoiling the cargo.
Among the bags we compared, we noticed some had padded lining while others did not. The padding makes the bag thicker, which gave us more confidence that it wouldn't tear a hole as easily. The padding also serves to add a little protection for electronics in the bag should there be slight shocks, though we'd still recommend storing those electronics with their own protective cases. Aside from padding, the lining material itself makes a diference in whether the bag could take a hit. Some bags have higher quality fabric while others appeared more likely to rip.
The bags also had shoulder straps clipped on with different materials. Some bags used metal clips while the majority used plastic. The metal clips seemed like a more durable choice. Even among the plastic clips, some plastic clips seemed more fragile relative to other clips. While none of them broke in our testing, we still had more confidence in our top pick compared to others.
We considered water resistance an important feature because gym bags need to be protected in the locker room, while travel bags need to be protected against rain. Some bags had water resistant lining all around with an extra-resistant bottom that gave us more confidence that the bag could be placed down on a wet grass field or the locker room floor.
One thing that impressed us about the Kuston gym bag was the wet pouch. Even though it's our budget pick, it's the only bag that has a wet pouch among the ones we tested, and it was useful for storing toiletries and wet towels or a change of clothing.
Bags with holes on the bottom seemed to cater toward allowing greater breathability, which might help with dirty laundry or shoes, but the holes also increase the likelihood that things inside might get wet.
Though a duffel bag is fundamentally a way to store a large quantity of clothing for lightweight trips, we found that extra compartments made our trips easier.
The compartment we found the most useful was the shoe compartment. Most of the bags we tested had an extra shoe compartment with the notable exception of the Herschel bag. For the gym, the ability to carry an extra pair of shoes without a separate plastic bag was particularly useful when traveling from the office. For weekend trips, the shoe compartment served to store dirty laundry.
The easy-access pockets in front of some of the duffel bags also served a useful role. Car keys, phone and wallet found a temporary home in that compartment while on-the-go. The pocket might also be useful for travel documents or gym membership cards.