Great for a trip to the gym, this sturdy duffel from Elite Sports keeps all your gear in one place. The bag is composed of a heavy-duty material called Cordura, a high-grade ballistic 1200 denier that’s used in military gear, so it’s super durable and can handle being thrown in the trunk. The Warrior Series has plenty of storage, including a waterproof beverage pocket, a jacket strap, a secure internal pocket for valuables and an exterior pocket for shoes that keeps dirt off the rest of your gear. Plus, it has a ventilated mesh compartment for dirty gym clothes. But what really takes this bag to the next level is its convertibility — a pair of retractable shoulder straps transform the Warrior Series into a backpack in seconds. It is available in both medium (20 x 9 x 11 inches) and large (11 x 23 x 12 inches) sizes, and comes in six different colors, from neutral black and gray to bright pink and red.
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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.
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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 and what we prefer for traditional air-travel. The significant advantage of more conventional duffels over wheeled versions is much-lower weight and their ability to be more easily taken to far more rugged environments and locations. 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.
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The Gregory Alpaca is a high capacity duffel that checks all the boxes. It has a large U-shaped opening, padded and removable backpack straps, and is made with a durable 900D ripstop nylon fabric with a water-resistant coating. Throw in storm flaps over the top zipper, plenty of daisy chains, and a sleek design, and you have another attractive travel/outdoor duffel to consider.
For most types of travel, from a weekend at the cabin to an international trip, a casual duffel will do the trick. You still get plenty of features with these bags: backpack straps are common (more on that below), many have a water resistant finish for protection from light precipitation and wet ground, and organization can be good depending on the size. If you’re strictly using your duffel for air travel, a roller duffel is a good option: it will allow you to move quickly through the airport without having to haul your bag on your back or shoulder.
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Here in late 2018, as an autumn expedition wraps and we plunge into holiday travels, our crack test team is sharpened up on travel. We spent the last few months initiating a transition in the test team (long-time OGL legend Ian Nicholson hands duffel review coordination off to fellow globe-trotting mountain guide Jediah Porter) and testing a couple of unique pieces of luggage. We grant two new Top Pick awards. The exciting Yeti Panga is fully submersible and has category-leading shoulder straps. For super-wet adventures, you won't do better. On the other end of the spectrum is the budget-friendly and user-packable Bago Packable. Supplanting the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole, the Bago is our newest preference as a secondary duffel for adventure travel and day-to-day life.